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)

It’s that time of year. The time when you look at your book shelves and think, “I need to make some room for some new books!”

Actually, it’s more, “Hey, there’s a bunch of books here that I don’t need/want, maybe I should liquidate them” (and maybe buy some new books).

In all seriousness, I do have some books that I’d like to sell, whether or not I use the money to replace them on my shelves. Some of these I’m letting go because I got the digital version in Logos (the commentaries for instance) and others it’s because they just didn’t grab my interest, or I don’t care to keep them in my library. Part of what comes with doing so many book reviews is that I request books to evaluate that I might be a little more hesitant to buy. Sometimes it ends up being a great addition to my library, and sometimes it ends up being a book that I think would make a great addition to someone else’s library (if you catch my drift).

So, without delay, here’s the books. I’ll be putting them up on Amazon on Friday, but you can secure them directly from me now. Once they’re up on Amazon, you’ll have to buy them through Amazon. Just FYI.

First, I have several Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries:

All of these are in fairly good condition, some like new. Most are the original printing, which means they have the old looking cover but have the same content are the new reprint. Job is hardback, the rest are paperback. I’m leaving price off so we can negotiate. Generally, I’ll undercut the best price on Amazon for a similar item. If you combine several, it saves me on shipping and moves them off my shelf quicker.

Then, I’ve got several different theology and Christian living titles:

Same on these as well, I’ll undercut Amazon’s low price. These are all used, except for the last two which are unread and like new. All of the others are in very good condition with only minor wear and/or markings. I’ll give specific details if you’re interested.

Like I said, I’m listing these Friday. Until then we can work out deals directly. I’ll update this page as people claim books.

Once again, here they are:

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, here are my picks for tweets of the week:

 

 

 

9781441240484Edith M. Humphrey is the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She has written a few books including Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven and And I Turned To See The Voice (in Baker’s Studies in Theological Interpretation series). Here in Scripture and Tradition: What The Bible Really Says, she tackles the sticky issue of Christian relations with tradition. Helpfully, she wants to keep the focus on how Scripture directs us to focus on tradition rather than how certain traditions urge us to focus on tradition.

Overview

This is a relatively short book that would make a good reading companion to Carl Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative. Humphrey highlights three questions that will ultimately animate her study (21-22):

  • Can we separate Scripture from tradition?
  • Is there a difference (and if so what is it) between “traditions” and Holy Tradition?
  • What is the relationship between the Church, Scripture, and Tradition?

Though she does not aim to definitively answer each of these questions, she does attempt “to make a start using a kind of ‘common denominator’ approach, something shared by Christians: What does the Bible really say about tradition?” To make this start and answer this specific question, Humphrey says “Our major business will be to compare Scripture with Scripture, with all the help that we can get from others in the Christian community, past and present, who have read with care these text that touch on the nature of tradition.” (22)

This project, first of all, involves an examination of the NT passages that involve the Greek paradosis (a handing over or giving down) and paradidomi (to hand over, or to gift), as well as places where tradition may be invoked with this specific word group being used. She raises the question whether something is lost in translation. In other words, there are several places in the NT where these words are translated in a way that fails to highlight their connection to tradition being passed (or gifted) on.

Chapter 2 then takes a look at the transmission of Scripture itself, the teaching of the rabbis, and eventually Jesus’ condemnation of tradition. Here Humphrey seeks to show that Jesus’ condemnation was not a blanket disapproval of any and all traditions, but rather a certain kind of tradition. Also dealt with is whether or not we should take Jesus and Paul’s condemnation of the Law as applying equally to any and all traditions.

Chapter 3 turns the focus to Acts and how the early church functioned, especially as it relates to the apostolic basis underlying it. She also uses Paul’s letters to the Corinthians as a window into how he appropriated tradition in his own ministry. Here we see tradition functioning as a kind of apostolic precedent for how to handle issues in the life of the church.

Chapter 4 is a sermon turned book chapter in which Humphrey discusses how God’s “blessed delivery” to the Church. God is not only the Giver and the Gift, he is in and among us the recipients. We are not the first to be given the gift of life with God, nor will we be the last. Tradition in this light is seen as a kind of divinely instituted connective tissue. Not that better than or superior to the Gift, but a means of joining into it.

Chapter 5 brings this into sharper focus. Humphrey sees a connection between the giving of the Holy Spirit and God’s personal gift of tradition to the Church. Here she brings up issues of mediation, both in terms of how God is mediated through leaders in the church like the apostles and prophets, as well as how tradition can continue that trend into the present. If the tradition being referred to is properly apostolic, then it is extending that mediation.

Finally, chapter 6 digs into issues that readers already tuned into this discussion might have expected. Humphrey uses Scripture to dig into the differences between Holy Tradition and human tradition. Here she examines four examples from church history of “mutable traditions.” They are: (1) how the Gospels reinterpret Isaiah 6:10, (2) Sabbath keeping, both in terms of changing the day, and the nature of keeping it, (3) Acts 15 and nature of the decision making there, and (4) the habit of praying to the Holy Spirit even though it is not commanded or modeled in Scripture. She then concludes with a brief discussion of some other debated traditions and how to approach them in light of the preceding study.

Conclusion

As she writes in the conclusion, “Our main quest in this study has been to examine the theme of tradition in the Scriptures, rather than Scripture as read by the Tradition. At every point, however, these two concerns are linked, since Scripture is enveloped by Tradition and Tradition is enshrined in Scripture.” (160) I think the quest is successful, although I imagine there will be some debate about how to exactly appropriate tradition even if one is in general a fan of it. Humphrey’s book though seems more aimed at popular level and simply making the case to Protestants that tradition isn’t bad in and of itself. Footnotes are fairly sparse in this book and it is an easy read. Much like Trueman’s The Creedal Imperative, the audience seems to be an evangelical world that seems intent on reinventing the ecclesiological wheel. Rather, as both Trueman and Humphrey urge, there is guidance to be found in tradition, but never in such a way that it subordinates Scripture. Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean Solo Scriptura although many treat it this way. Scripture and tradition work in tandem and Humphrey’s book does a good job of illustrating from Scripture itself why this is so. For readers interesting is testing her case, I would encourage you to pick up a copy and read for yourself.

Book Details