9781601782342__79122.1357758779.1280.1280Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and also a pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation. Oh, and also he writes books in his spare time, which is facilitated in no small measure by his teacher’s assistant Paul Smalley. Together, they’ve put together Prepared By Grace For Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ.

As they explain in their introduction,

This book addresses the question of how God ordinarily brings sinners to the point of trusting in Christ alone for salvation. Specifically, is conversion an event or a process? If a process, how does the work of conversion begin? There may be exceptional cases, but in general, is there a pattern of conversion?

Important questions no doubt, and it is not an understatement to say “this subject has massive implications for how we preach the gospel” (1). What the remainder of the book will discuss is the doctrine of preparation.

Though the Puritans used the word in many contexts to mean many things, the specific focus is the preparation for saving faith in Christ. At issue is whether the Puritans held to a 1) evangelical or legalistic version of the doctrine and 2) whether they were consistently Reformed or more Arminian. In Beeke and Smalley’s study the goal is to simply let Calvin and the Purtians speak for themselves to clarify where they stood. 1

Chapter 1 further orients readers by introducing how modern scholarship has handled this question in Puritan studies. 2 With this orientation, Beeke and Smalley then turn to the two most important forerunners in Reformed/Puritan theology. See if you can guess who they are. If you guessed Augustine and Calvin, you nailed it! No study in Reformed theology would be complete without some foray into Calvin’s thought. 3 So once Beeke and Smalley have taken us there, we’re on to Puritans proper.

We start with early English Puritans (Perkins, Sibbes, and Preston) and then William Ames gets a chapter all to himself, as does Thomas Hooker (4 & 5 respectively). Ames however is a little more important since he gets his Theological Disputation on Preparation reprinted as an appendix to this volume. 4 Then to round out the picture in early New England, chapter 6 is devoted to Thomas Shepard and William Pemble.

From there the stage is set for discussing the antinomian controversy involving John Cotton (chapter 7), 5 while chapter 8 focuses on the Westminster Divines, particularly Jeremiah Burroughs, as well as (now) little known Scottish preacher William Guthrie. Beeke and Smalley locate the apex of Puritanism with this latter chapter. Part of this may have to do with the Westminster Standards being put together at this time, but as the authors note, “No chapter, section, or question and answer in the Westminster Standards is specifically devoted to preparation for saving faith” (130). Because of this, there was room for continued commentary and refinement.

The latter chapters move in this direction first by looking through a scholastic lens courtesy of John Norton and then through the critiques of Thomas Goodwin and Giles Firmin, both of whom are predominantly responding to Thomas Hooker. The next chapter allows two Johns, Flavel and Bunyan, the opportunity to speak before a chapter devoted to the last of the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards. Before the true concluding chapter we are able get a summary of continental Reformed perspectives. This means voices like Zwingli, Bullinger, Beza, van Mastricht, Ursinus, Turretin, Brakel, and Witsius, 6 and includes a look at how the Heidelberg Catechism and Canons of Dort handle the question of preparation.

The concluding chapter wraps everything together nicely with the adding bonus of undermining the thesis in popular scholarship that Calvin’s views were somehow opposed to later Puritans on the question of preparation. The positive lessons from this historical study of the Puritans’ doctrine of preparation are as follows (254-260):

  • It assists the free offer of the gospel
  • It is thoroughly Reformed, not Roman Catholic or Arminian
  • It highlights the common work of the Holy Spirit
  • It engages sinners with the law but not with legalism
  • It respects the mystery of regeneration and its timing
  • It honors God as Creator and Savior
  • It reveals the sufficiency of Christ
  • It is biblical

All in all, I think this is a valuable book. Readers who are most interested in the Puritans in general will find it most valuable, as will those who are interested in time tested wisdom on this theological question. Really, anyone who is interested in the gospel and Christian theology can find value in this book. Even though it is allowing a lot of room for these Puritan writers to speak for themselves, it is still readable and anyone giving semi-concentrated effort should have no trouble following the argument. Pastors will especially benefit from the Puritan wisdom on preparation since it gives insight into gospel preaching. But, that wisdom from the past isn’t just reserved for pastors, and so anyone who wants to better understand how the doctrine of preparation works should probably pick up a copy of this book and give it a read.

Book Details

Notes:

  1. This means lots of footnotes and historical exposition if you’re keeping score at home
  2. Which is different than how the question is handled in “Puritanical” studies
  3. Fun fact I probably can’t use anywhere else: When Calvin was a student, his nickname was “The Accusative Case”
  4. Ames originally published this in Latin under the title Praeparatione peccatoris ad conversionem (1633). So, next time you feel smart, remember that really smart people write books in Latin even though no one speaks it. Also, this wasn’t the only book Ames published in Latin during 1633. Think of that next time you open Netflix on your iPad
  5. If you haven’t experienced an antinomian controversy in your theological lifetime, just wait, you’ll get one eventually
  6. Or if we’re using first names, Ulrich, Henry (or really Heinrich), Theodore, Peter, Zacharius, Francis, Wilhelmus, and Herman

51wT49D8sIL._SY300_John D. Harvey is Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Seminary & School of Ministry at Columbia International University. He has written several books and is not only the author of the book at hand, Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook, but serves as the NT series editor. Future titles will include Interpreting the Gospels and Acts, Interpreting the General Letters, and Interpreting the Apocalypse (15). Each volume will include the following elements (16):

  • The nature of the literary genre
  • The background of the books
  • The major themes of the books
  • Preparing to interpret the books (textual criticism, translation)
  • Interpreting passages in the context of their genre
  • Communicating passages in the context of their genre
  • From exegesis to exposition
  • A list of selected resources and a glossary of technical terms

This is more or less a table of contents for Harvey’s book since a chapter is devoted to each topic in this list. If his work is any indication of the others in this series, then Kregel’s Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis is one to keep an eye on. Each chapter contains a wealth of information, some of which is in handy charts, and is bracketed by a bullet point “chapter at a glance” and a closing “chapter in review” section. Rather than themes of the books, Harvey devotes his chapter to offering a summary of the theology of Paul’s letters (which is different than a theology of Paul). After briefly surveying the four models for Pauline theology suggested by James Dunn, Harvey settles on a fifth model that he sees as being more inductive. This model begins with Paul’s antithetic language of flesh vs. Spirit, law vs. grace, Adam vs. Christ, and old man vs. new man. Though these pairs do not exhaust the theology of Paul’s letters, they “provide a starting point for understanding the major contours of his theology” (80).

I found the chapter on communicating Paul’s letters to be particularly helpful. Harvey suggests that in order to appropriate the message of a passage, we need to connect, correct, and commend as part of our homiletical packaging (149-151). By connecting, we are looking for ideas, words, or images that people today can easily relate to. By correcting, we are pointing out what ideas, beliefs, values, or behaviors that the passage passes judgment on. By commending, we are pointing out the thought forms and behavior patterns that promote God’s glory and humankind’s good. Using this rubric will help preachers as they develop their sermon objective and central point. Harvey then demonstrates what he has in mind in the following chapter by offering two examples of moving from the text to a sermon, one on Colossians 3:1-4 and the other on Philippians 3:12-16.

For pastors and teachers who are seminary trained, this handbook on Paul’s letters is a handy volume to utilize. For those who are not, it is a great resource to fill in the gaps in your training. Harvey guides readers through all the relevant background details of Paul’s letters and provides step by step guidance for how to move seamlessly from the text to a sermon or lesson. His resource section at the end of the book even has great tips on where to start in building a NT library, as well as resources specifically aimed high level exegetical work. All in all, a great start to the NT series and a promise of more great volumes to come!

Book Details

9780830839025_p0_v1_s260x420Keith E. Johnson is national director of theological education for Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). He also serves as guest professor of systematic theology for Reformed Theological Seminary, which is more or less right across the street from me. The book at hand, Rethinking The Trinity & Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment is a revised and expanded version of his doctoral dissertation completed at Duke University. This continues a trend that I’ve noticed in the Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology series from IVP Academic. That is, several of the titles are revised dissertations (this one, as well as The God of The Gospel) and they have connections with Duke (this one and Addiction and Virtue). Just some trivia for you.

Overview

Johnson’s book is an exercise in resourcement, looking back to Augustine’s Trinitarian thought as a way to evaluate contemporary models of religious pluralism. Chapter 1 explains the modern fascination with using the doctrine of the Trinity as a way of theologically explaining religious pluralism. These models are formally known as a Christian theologies of religions. Having briefly surveyed the contemporary scene, chapter 2 gives an overview of Augustine’s Trinitarian theology. Johnson focuses primarily on De Trinitate in his exposition, though he is not limited to that work in the scope of his study.

The bulk of the book is chapters 3-5, which each focus on a particular author’s work (or in 4′s case, two). In chapter 3, Johnson evaluates S. Mark Heim’s Trinitarian theology of religious ends. In his understanding, there may be multiple “religious ends,” of which Christianity represents one. Heim sees the other competing religious ends as somehow insufficiently Trinitarian, in that they only focus on one aspect of the Trinitarian divine life. Johnson responds with an Augustinian assessment, that long story short, shows that Heim’s proposal ends up severing the connection between the economic and immanent Trinity.

In chapter 4, Johnson evaluates Amos Yong’s Discerning the Spirit(s) and Jacques Dupuis’ Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. Yong is seeking to see the work of the spirit in other religions, while Dupuis is arguing that non-Christian religions can somehow mediate God’s saving grace. For both, they only gain steam by “employing deficient accounts of the relations among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (102). The quandary that Yong in particular finds is explained by Johnson:

Inasmuch as Yong emphasizes a distinct economy of the Spirit in order to legitimize a non-Christological approach to other religions, he implicitly severs the two hands of the Father. However, inasmuch as he acknowledges the intrinsic relatedness of the two hands under pressure of classical Christian concerns regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, he undermines his quest for non-Christological criteria (126).

Dupuis doesn’t fare much better, as he inadvertently introduces subordinationism into the Father-Son relationship and like Heim, severs the economic and immanent Trinity.

In chapter 5, Johnson turns to Raimundo Panikkar’s attempt to find vestiges of the Trinity in other religions. He sees three forms of spirituality: iconolatry, personalism, and mysticism. In his analysis, iconolatry is the spirituality of the Father, personalism, of the son, and mysticisim, of the Spirit. In this sense, religions that emphasize one of these is drawing on a vestige of the Trinity. However, as Johnson uses Augustine to assess Panikkar, it turns out he is making a flawed appeal to the vestige tradition and has the methodological problem of reinterpreting the doctrine of the Trinity in light of world religions instead of vice versa.

Chapter 6 is kind of reassessment of the whole project of evaluating world religions in light the Trinity. As Johnson explains, pretty much of all the attempts end up “revising trinitarian doctrine in order to affirm (in varying ways) the validity of non-Christian religions” (189). In a similar vein, Johnson sees problems like this in other attempts to put Trinitarian doctrine to use in contemporary theology. Many of these stem from using the immanent Trinity as a kind of “blueprint.” Johnson lists several problems with this, such as: it can fail to take into account the Creator-creature distinction, it projects ideas back into the divine life, it tends to bypass Scripture in moving from God to societal structures, and only the most general claims can be supported by the immanent Trinity (201-208).

In contrast, Johnson lists 6 appropriate uses of Trinitarian doctrine (210-215):

  • Theological (teaches about God)
  • Doxological (guides worship)
  • Hermeneutical (helps us read Scripture)
  • Anthropological (helps us understand ourselves)
  • Formative (in the spiritual sense)
  • Soteriological (explains the gospel message)

In the end, the doctrine of the Trinity is important and has many uses, but that does not mean it can be the explanatory principle for any field of study. Johnson explains this graciously by resourcing Augustine.

Conclusion

On the whole, Johnson’s book is a very valuable resource, both for studies in Trinitarian doctrine, and confronting religious pluralism. While it can be attractive to try to find some measure of divine truth in world religions by using the doctrine of the Trinity, Johnson shows very convincingly that this is a misguided quest. Like all the books I’ve read in the Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology, it is a work in academic theology that draws on a key thinker in Christian theology. In that way, it serves both as an introduction to that thinker’s ideas (in this case Augustine) as well as a thorough assessment of some kind of contemporary trend. I’ve been very pleased with the volumes I’ve encountered in this series and if you like to think deeply, you will as well.

Book Details

Gareth Lee Cockerill is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He has previously contributed to a book on the warning passages in Hebrews, as well as written numerous journal articles related to Hebrews. Now, he has gifted us with the newest installment in the NICNT series, which is an upgrade from F.F. Bruce’s original. I guess upgrade isn’t the word for it, but replacement doesn’t sound much better. Bruce’s volume is one of the best (83.7 on bestcommentaries.com), so Cockerill has some big shoes to fill.

Cockerill envisions the book of Hebrews as a sermon on the Old Testament in light of Christ. He sees this as helping to explain some of the rhetorical features, and also to use the title “pastor” instead of “the author of Hebrews.” He leans toward Apollos as author (10) but says, rightly, it cannot be confirmed. After exploring the pastor’s congregation and the pastor’s worldview, Cockerill digs into the sermon’s use of the Old Testament. As he says:

The OT is the “bone marrow” of Hebrews. From beginning to end this book is an expository “sermon” that rests on careful OT interpretation. The pastor quotes the OT, alludes to the OT, summarizes OT passages, recounts events from the lives of OT persons, and often echoes the idiom of the Greek OT. (41)

I was tacitly aware of this before reading Cockerill’s introductory matter, but I hadn’t really reckoned with the full extent. Cockerill does a masterful job of both expositing it in the commentary proper and giving a thorough overview in the introduction.

Once he has done that, he offers his take on the structure of Hebrews, drawing on his understanding of its rhetorical function. Here I think things get a bit confusing. Hebrews is notoriously difficult to structure, and Cockerill’s proposal is nothing if not interesting. It is semi-chiastic, and involves parallels within parallels, so naturally I’m drawn to its Inception-esque nature.

 

Once Cockerill has made you aware of these parallels, he then introduces his full outline that looks like a pretty normal outline and he breaks the book into four main parts (you can see three of the points in the picture above):

  • 1:1 – 4:13 (A Very Short History of the Disobedient People of God)
  • 4:14 -10:18 (The Son’s High Priesthood)
  • 10:19 – 12:29 (A History of The Faithful People of God)
  • 13:1-25 (Instructions for the Life of Gratitude and Godly Fear)

You can see there is a bit of an overarching chiasm if you disregard chapter 13 (which seems almost like a cover letter). With this “rhetorically effective” structure in place, the main commentary commences.

Like most NICNT volumes, the technical discussion abounds, but is pushed to the footnotes (and thank goodness they are footnotes!). You could say Cockerill’s work is pastorally sensitive, but is still more of a reference work than a NIVAC or TNTC volume. It is less technical than Lane’s two volume commentary in the WBC series, but more so than O’Brien’s in the Pillar series. I don’t think I can weigh in on whether it is better than Bruce’s original (bestcommentaries.com doesn’t think so), but it is definitely more detailed, more up-to-date in its research, and from a Wesleyan/Arminian perspective. That, I think makes it a valuable addition to a library like mine. I found in reading through passages for a short-lived Hebrews Bible study I led earlier this year, Cockerill and O’Brien agree on much, but things do get rather interesting in the warning passages. I think Cockerill’s work would have been stronger had he interacted with patristic interpretations of 6:4-8 since that has influenced the way I understand the passage. But, he still spends considerable time wrestling with the issues it presents.

Conclusion

All in all, this is another great volume in the NICNT series. From what I can tell, it is an indispensable resource for serious study of the book of Hebrews. The most original contribution is in the structuring, which can be a tad confusing, but is intriguing nonetheless. I also thought the emphasis on Hebrews as a sermon was helpful for the way I approached the book as a whole (even though not all commentators would agree that it is an appropriate designation). For those of us who are predominantly young, restless, and Reformed, Cockerill’s commentary is good balancing work that presents Wesleyan scholarship at its finest. Another recent Hebrews commentary (David Allen’s in the NAC series) is also from an Arminian perspective (which is not synonymous with Wesleyan), but I think Cockerill’s is a cut above. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant secondary literature and is very well studied in the book of Hebrews (like every commentator should be). His commentary, while not suitable for introductory study of the book (don’t make this your first commentary purchase on Hebrews), is still highly readable and easy to track with (the rhetorical structure notwithstanding). If you’re looking to dig deeper into the book, I would put this volume high on your list maybe even in tandem with O’Brien’s to get two slightly different perspectives.

Book Details

  • Author: Gareth Lee Cockerill
  • Title: The Epistle To The Hebrews
  • PublisherEerdmans (April 12, 2012)
  • Hardcover: 792pgs
  • Reading Level: Bible School/Seminary
  • Audience Appeal: Bible students and Pastors looking for an up to date commentary on Hebrews sensitive to rhetorical concerns
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Eerdmans)

It’s that time of the week again. Here’s a new round of tweets:

 

 

 

 

51UaYOuaK2LIn early April, IVP Academic sent me a copy of Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies. I don’t think I formally requested it since it is a bit more of a niche NT book than I would normally read. But I was definitely intrigued, especially after reading Peter Leithart’s Between Babel and Beast. You can read my review of that book here. I was more interested in it for its discussion of the biblical theology of empires and how America relates to it. This collection of essays, edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica, is focused more on what kind of concerns with the Roman Empire may lay behind many New Testament texts. Moreover, the concern is that for certain scholars holding an empire polemic hammer, every NT text starts to look like a nail. Hence the subtitle, “Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies,” as in, “how relevant is Empire as a backdrop to New Testament exegesis?”

The short answer is that it is relevant, but to varying degrees, and probably not to such an extent as some scholars make it out to be. After a lengthy (and insightful) foreword by Andy Crouch, McKnight and Modica raise the question of whether we are “reading Rome and Caesar into the New Testament” rather than “reading what is actually there” (17). The problem of seeing the theme everywhere once it is inserted is what this volume aims to address. They then offer the five methods at work in empire criticism (17-19):

  • Looking for statements that overtly and directly anti-empire and anti-imperial worship
  • Looking for passages that use more than one term that has distinct and notable usage in Roman imperial ideology
  • Looking for texts that have hidden empire criticism
  • Listening to claims made my sensitive historians to then see connections in the NT
  • Using empire criticism as a vehicle for advancing progressive, left-wing, neo-Marxist, or whatever, politics

McKnight and Modica wholeheartedly affirm the first two methods, but then point out that things get trickier with the last 3, and most obviously, with the last one. It is finding “hidden” critiques of empire, seeing latent connections, and then misusing empire criticism to advance political concerns that this volume seeks to most address.

To do so, the opening chapter by David Nystrom explains some of the background to Roman imperial ideology and the imperial cult. Then, Judith Diehl offers the lengthiest chapter in the book, which focuses on anti-imperial rhetoric in the NT. With two foundational chapters in place, the remaining chapters focus on key individual books and assesses the state of empire scholarship related to that book and offers constructive criticism where necessary. The NT books covered are Matthew (Joel Willitts), Luke (Dean Pinter), John (Christopher Skinner), Acts (Drew Strait), Romans (Michael Bird), Philippian (Lynn Cohick), Colossians (Allan Bevere), and Revelation (Dwight Sheets), the last of which is the most clearly connected to empire criticism.

McKnight and Modica wrap up with a brief conclusion that highlights three principles that emerged from the study (212-213):

  • The reality of the Roman Empire needs to be reckoned with in the New Testament
  • The purpose of the kingdom of God i not to replace, so to speak, the Roman Empire; rather it is to overcome the kingdom of Satan
  • The New Testament writers show the earliest followers of Jesus how to live in the “already but not yet” day-to-day realities of the empire

For readers who are interested in New Testament exegesis, this volume definitely belongs on your shelf. It offers a thoughtful critique of a method of New Testament criticism that can tend to be excessive. It accomplishes this critique in a way that does not discount the legitimate insights the tool offers. For readers who may not even be familiar with what empire criticism is, this book will offer a good overview of the methods as well as essays that interact with the main scholars employing those methods. All of this is done in a way that is not overly technical so Bible school students will be able to take and read if their interest suits them.

Book Details

babel-and-beastI don’t usually read books on politics. I did review Grudem’s Politics According to The Bible a while back, but that might be the only book that was expressly political. In conjunction with my lack of political reading, I don’t usually read a lot of books on America, either from a pre-millennial eschatological perspective or otherwise. But one thing I do, is read books by Peter Leithart. So, when he writes a book about America and empires in biblical perspective, I do what I can to take and read.

Leithart is a Senior Fellow of Theology and Literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho and serves on the pastoral staff of Trinity Reformed Church. He has written numerous books, and as he explains, the present book, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, is a kind of book length footnote to Defending Constantine (x). He then cautions, “If you are not the kind of person who likes reading footnotes, you ought, as Lemony Snicket would say, set this book down immediately and look for something less wonkish for your beach reading.”

When I read that, I knew this would be another Leithart book I liked (because unlike endnotes, I love reading footnotes).

But then, I read Leithart’s further warning and knew I was in for a treat:

My reading of Scripture will offend scholars whose political sympathies incline toward the left, but the reading of American history that occupies the latter half of this book will offend Christians whose political sympathies incline toward the right (x).

Leithart thus wants to challenge “popular understandings of American history and the political stances that result from them.” As he continues:

For a generation, conservative Christians have accepted and taught a one-sidely rosy view of America’s Christian past, and in practice Christians have confused “restoring America” with promotion of God’s kingdom and His justice. Against this American mythology, I contend that the “American faith,” though unthinkable without the heritage of Christendom, represents a heretical departure from the political heritage of the church. American Christians need to assess our past accurately if we are going to act faithfully in the present. Until American churches actually function as outposts of Jesus’ heavenly empire rather than as cheerleaders for America – until the churches produce martyrs rather than patriots – the political witness of Christians will continue to be diluted and co-opted (xi).

As you might expect, Leithart anticipates offending many (“I expect to offend many, perhaps everyone.” – Leithart) but sees stumbling blocks as necessary. I’m not sure we have to pick between martyrs and patriots (a concluding point of his), or if I fully want to follow Leithart’s ultimate practical suggestions. But, I think his book presents a necessary corrective and critique on how Christians view America. Since it is delivered from within conservative evangelicalism rather than from without, I think it will gain more traction. But then again, Leithart is often a voice from the margins (he does live in Idaho).

Overview

As for the actual flow of his book, Leithart divides it up into 3 parts. First, and perhaps most valuable, he presents a survey of the biblical presentation of empires, or a kind of biblical theology of empire. He spans everything from the pre-flood cities of Cain and Lamech to the harlot Babylon in Revelation. Chapter 1 presents a tale of two imperialisms: God’s and Babel’s. Chapter 2 fleshes this out further and introduces the concept of a messianic empire, as well as a beastly empire. As he concludes:

The struggle of the Old Testament is not empire verses non-empire, but between rival imperialisms, rival visions for the political salvation of a human race divided linguistically, culturally, and religiously in the wake of the rebellion at Babel. This is why empire is always a seduction for Abraham’s children. For Israel, looking at Babel is like looking in the mirror. Israel is a parody of Babelic empire, and empires counterfeits of Israel (33).

Chapter 3 then moves into the New Testament, simultaneously fleshing out the vision of the messianic empire known as the kingdom of God and the ultimately beastly empire seen most clearly in Revelation.

Part 2 is more historical and starts with a chapter revising our understanding of America. It is titled “Heretic Nation” and here Leithart fleshes out the roots of “Americanism.” In the introduction he defines this as “the fundamental theology of the American order, a quasi-Christian, biblical laced heresy” (xi-xii). Its roots go back to the Puritan settlers, the Founding, and the Civil War. Leithart explains further in chapter 4:

“Americanism” was initially constructed from the misshapen fragments of the metapolitical outlook of Christendom. The Puritan Founders of New England were orthodox Christians in all their theological beliefs, but they laid the foundations for Americanism because of their tendency toward a nationalist, an-ecclesial reading of Scripture, their enthusiasm for nationalistic eschatology, and their privatization and individualization of the Eucharist. As Americanism developed, these tendencies settled into habits, and the result was the fourth great biblical religion (66).

The reading of Scripture he mentions tends to confuse typology related to the kingdom of God with America, resulting in a confused eschatology in which America is the political future to which all nations should aspire. This can go hand in hand with a notion of sacrifice that confuses patriotism with martyrdom (which was mentioned above in this review) and makes the American community the primary sacred community rather than the church.

Chapter 5 then explains America’s relationship to the broader world, especially highlighting our forays into empire building early in our history. Leithart sees America as acting “neither more or less foolishly or wickedly than other nations have” (109). We have more or less acted like a Babel but have thought to ourselves “that we are fulfilling a divine mission on behalf of the human race.”

This is fleshed out further in part 3 which starts with a chapter on America’s activity as a Babelic empire. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, but is a reminder that there is only one kingdom of God, and it’s not America. Acting as a Babel is where most empires find themselves, though it is not the “cherubic” or guardian-like ideal.

In chapter 7 Leithart explores how America is prone to consort among beastly empires like Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other lesser beasts. This chapter, along with chapter 6, is a well-researched treatise on current events in American politics, though not necessarily the events that make the news. Leithart makes a good case that America is in a precarious position, one of being between being a Babel or a Beast. We certainly aren’t beastly at the moment, but Americanism actually lends itself toward beastial policies which are what lead to persecution of the church. We are perhaps seeing hints of that in current events, but time will tell.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Leithart’s work is most valuable in its descriptive aims. He clearly loves America and the church even as he critiques the former out of his more zealous love of the latter. He identifies the problem as Americanism, not so much the nation of America per se. This keeps him from demonizing empire in general and American in particular. Because he has rooted his study in a biblical theology of empire, he is able to evaluate America’s imperial status more objectively. His concluding thoughts offer his vision for a way forward that I don’t think all will agree with, even if they like his reorienting of our understanding of America. He basically presents a call to martyrdom that will force America in its Babelic state “either to acknowledge Jesus as imperator and the church as God’s imperium or the begin drinking holy blood” (i.e. become a beastly empire). Whether or not that is the way to do things is probably a question for a different post, but it gives you an idea of where Leithart is coming from.

Book Details

Better late than never, once again, this week’s tweets of the week:

 

 

 

 

 

_225_350_Book.873.coverIt is hard to imagine two books could be any more different. Back in the fall, I reviewed Constantine Campbell’s Paul and Union With Christ, an encyclopedic study of both the exegetical and theological usage of Paul’s “in Christ” language. It was thorough, exhaustive, and top of the line NT scholarship.

Apparently, Campbell is not just a top-notch NT scholar, he is also an incredible jazz saxophonist, who uses his artistic giftings for outreach. To give his insight into this endeavor, he has written Outreach and The Artist: Sharing the Gospel With the Arts. Unlike the 500+ page book published by Zondervan Academic, this book weighs in at just over 100 pages, and is really even shorter than that implies.

But, if you are looking for some seasoned wisdom on how to integrate artistic endeavors into the mission of your church, this is the book to get. In it, Campbell provides 7 short chapters as well as 7 artist profiles (mini-interviews that span 2-3pgs). In the chapters, Campbell explains first, his own testimony and background in music. Then, he explains to readers how to best do outreach with the arts (chapter 2) and goes the extra mile to explain what does and does not work (chapter 3). Evangelistic outreach is not limited to being done with the arts, but as Campbell explains, it can be done through the arts (chapter 4) as well as to the arts (chapter 5). Building off this last chapter, Campbell offers first and explanation of the uneasy relationship artists sometimes have with the church (chapter 6) and then how for many artists, there is the constant struggle to make the arts their idol (chapter 7). You can tell as you read, this is a struggle he knows from the inside (both the relationship to the church and the idolatry issue) and his insight is valuable.

Overall, this book can be read in a little over an hour, but the guidance it offers takes much longer than that to apply. In some ways, this would be a good book for both artists and church leaders alike. Campbell writes as someone who straddles both worlds, given his status as a seminary prof as well as performing jazz musician. Artists of all types, but especially musicians will resonate with his writing. Having been involved in outreach with, through, and to the arts for a long time, his advice on how to do it all well will be a great help to church leaders who want to branch out into this territory.

Though I would have liked a longer book, this book works as a conversation starter and perhaps part of the shortness is to entice artists who might not have the patience for a lengthier work. Campbell’s advice is not definitive, nor the last word (nor would he lead you to believe that), but as an intro to the subject, I think he hits his mark.

Book Details

Logic_Print_2First off, you’ve gotta admit this is a pretty incredible cover. Logic textbook or not, there’s just something about this design that just draws you in. This is perhaps a good thing since most people won’t take a formal class on logic at any point in their education, much less read a textbook on it.

Though it is very conducive to being used as a textbook, Vern Poythress’ Logic: A God-Centered Approach is part logic textbook and part theology of logic. It comes as the newest installment in a long line of “God-centered approaches” offered by Poythress (see also science, language, and sociology). Much like those volumes, this one draws on John Frame’s triperspectivalism which is something we can all rejoice about. However, Poythress also blends in insights from his background in mathematics (he did a Ph.D in math at Harvard before seminary) and the result is a book that every serious Christian thinker out to have on their shelf.

Overview

The book is split into three main parts and a fourth part that is composed of supplements. Part 1 introduces elementary logic and has four sub parts. The first is 6 shorts chapters that introduce the basics. And by short, I mean some chapters are only a couple of pages long. However, that is nothing new for Poythress. After presenting a very basic overview, the second sub part introduces God’s relationship to logic and is worth the price of the book. Well that part and the third sub part which covers the issue of classification and how we ascribe meaning to statements. He briefly intros the theistic arguments and then offers a re-vision of western thought. The final sub part of part 1 introduces aristotelian syllogisms and venn diagrams.

Part 2 has three sub parts, and is where the book starts getting technical and symbolic. Intending to cover aspects of propositional logic, in the first sub part he explains the relationship of truth to logic. In the second, he begins unpacking the different ways truth can be logically represented. Finally, in the third and final part he gets into propositional logic per se.

Part 3 is where the real heavy lifting comes. Here Poythress discusses predicate logic (sub part 1), quantification (sub part 2), functions (sub part 3), formal systems (sub part 4), and special and more enriched forms of logic like modal logic and multivalued and intuitionist logic (sub part 5). Many of the chapters build on symbolic notations introduced earlier so it may as well be a foreign language if you weren’t tracking closely in the earlier chapters.

The final part, which is an almost 200 page assortment of supplements. These supplements are grouped into to six sub sections. The first sub sections goes with the first part of the book and the second goes with the second (which is helpful). Sub sections 3 and 4 both go with the main part 3 of the book, which the 5th and 6th sections are miscellanies and concluding thoughts on philosophy and logic respectively. All in all these various supplemental chapters cover topics as diverse as the different figures for syllogisms, Godel’s incompleteness theorem, the halting program for computer programs, the failure of Kantian subjectivism, and the general role of logic in modern philosophy.

In navigating all of this, readers have two options. The first is to cherry pick chapters to get a feel for the nature of logic and it’s role in modern thought. To do that, I’d read the first 3 sub parts of part 1. Then the chapters in the rest of the sections that present Poythress’ summary thoughts of how that facet of logic is centered in God. That would be these chapters:

  • 26 (theistic foundations of syllogisms)
  • 31 (divine origin of logical functions)
  • 37 (harmony in truth)
  • 44 (imitations of transcendence)
  • 47 (theistic foundations for predicates)
  • 49 (theistic foundations for quantification)
  • 57 (theistic foundations for proof theory)
  • 59 (theistic foundation for computation)
  • 61 (theistic foundations for models)
  • 66 (theistic foundations for modal logic)

The second option is to track with Poythress chapter by chapter and answer the questions for further study at the end of the chapters. If you’re a teacher, you’re already setup for using this as a textbook since it has problems to be solved (too bad there’s no answer key!) If you’re not, and you’re disciplined, you could use this book to learn much of what you would learn in an actual logic class. And the bonus would be that you see the theistic foundations of it all and gets some keen theological and apologetics arguments to boot.

Conclusion

As you might guess, I’m going to heartily recommend this book. It isn’t exactly beach reading, but if you’re a student with your summer free, it might just be a good time to get some logic foundations in place. I think every seminary student, and really every one who wants to be taken seriously when they make arguments, ought to take a class on logic or read this book (or both I suppose). Knowing sound principles of logic is an invaluable apologetic tool and Poythress’ book is set firmly in that context. If you’re going to take the time to learn logic, this book with its God-centered focus is the route to go.

Book Details

  • Author: Vern S. Poythress
  • Title: Logic: A God-Centered Approach
  • Publisher: Crossway (February 4, 2013)
  • Paperback: 736pgs
  • Reading Level: Early parts general reader, later parts, heavy lifting unless you like symbols
  • Audience Appeal: Anyone who wants a God-centered textbook on logic
  • Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)