Earlier this year, The Gospel Coalition ran a series with “Advice to Young Pastors.” The answers given by these pastors and leaders is in response to this question:

In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

I found the answers illuminating and also noticed a pattern emerge. Keep in mind that these answers are offered with the assumption that pastors know the Scriptures and sound doctrine well. Without realizing that, you might come to the assumption study Scripture isn’t all that important since none of these guys seem to think so. If that’s not where you’re at, you should start there. But if you’re growing in that and are pursuing or already in pastoral ministry, this is some good advice. See if you spot the two things that come up the most frequently:

Conrad Mbewe

  • Study church history (particularly through biographies)

Ligon Duncan

  • Study church history
  • Read up on Islam
  • Read cultural analysis

Ken Jones

  • Learn how to do Christ-centered preaching well
  • Learn different models of Christian cultural engagement

R. C. Sproul

  • Study prayer.
  • Study the lives of great preachers and Christian leaders.
  • Study the Old Testament law and its relevance to New Testament saints.
  • Study the history of sacred music and its effect on the church.
  • Study especially the doctrines of Christology and justification.

Tom Schreiner

  • Read Christian classics

Carlos Contreras

  • Read objective theological truth that helps your devotion to God
  • Read in areas of current social/political concern
  • Read literary classics

Bryan Chapell

  • Understand the thought processes of a generation whose worldview is primarily informed by media impressions
  • Understand the differences in the ways North Americans over 50 and those under 40 understand the obligations of Christians in society
  • Prepare to be a multi-ethnic church
  • Help church members perceive themselves a vital members of a global Christian community that is interdependent for its mission and moral status
  • Help each member understand the gospel’s application to everyday decisions, occupations, and ethics
  • Help a younger generation of preachers address each of the previously mentioned concerns from a compulsion of grace, rather than a theology of doing better than other generations, traditions, or churches.

Miguel Núñez

  • Read, study, and meditate on topics related to morality, ethical and bioethical dilemmas, the nature of truth, worldviews, and biblical wisdom and discernment.

Darrell Bock

  • Study what drives culture
  • Exegete the culture

Sam Storms

  • Make every effort to read every book that will deepen your delight in the Lord

Wayne Grudem

  • Learn how to teach biblical ethics well

David Wells

  • Learn to walk with God through life
  • Study the Word more deeply and reflect on the world more seriously

Don Carson

  • Know more of God
  • Do broad reading (church history, missions, evangelism, Bible studies)
  • Read up in area of particular problem in your ministry context

Danny Akin

  • Read the great hymns of the faith.
  • Read missionary biographies.
  • Read books on marriage and family
  • Read books on preaching and hone your skills.
  • Read books on evangelism.

Scotty Smith

  • Get equipped in conflict management (conflict is inevitable, but healthy conflict is all too rare)
  • Understand family systems theory
  • Understand emotional intelligence
  • Develop servant leadership
  • Understand transition theory and planning
  • Grapple with suffering, depression, and loss
  • Learn fly-fishing, photography, hang-gliding, rock guitar playing . . . whatever will put a huge smile on your face and joy in your heart

David Powlison

  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Talk with people—“the human documents”—so that you are studying primary sources. Listen, notice, ask questions, ponder, interact, remember.
  • Read histories and biographies. People are so different from each other, yet so alike. You need to learn how these realities intertwine.
  • Listen to the music and watch the films that capture hearts and minds.
  • Read good novels and poetry.
  • Read the daily newspaper and some thoughtful commentary—The Economist or The Atlantic, perhaps.
  • And, of course, read your Bible. Let your eye for what people are like and for what people experience be just as keen as your eye for what God is like.

David Dockery

  • Seek to be as technologically savvy as possible in order to communicate well and effectively in this brave new world
  • Recognize that the needs of people are not dissimilar from previous generations
  • Reading well-written biographies of influential Christian leaders can also be inspirational, informative, and genuinely helpful
  • Learn to take truths that have been taught or the ministry models that have been practiced and then adapt them with insight and great sensitivity in light of the shifting cultural dynamics and demographics

Tim Keller

  • Study up on cultural analysis
  • Study up on leadership

Paul Tripp

  • Commit yourself to be a student and accurate exegete of Scripture
  • Commit yourself to be a constant student of and accurate exegete of people

John Frame

  • Learn how to show godly love to people—in evangelism, counseling, church administration
  • Study logic

John Yates

  • Read commentaries
  • Read church history (both biographies and sociological accounts)
  • Read leadership books
  • Read Christian fiction
  • Read news sources
  • Read Tim Keller
  • Read other biographies
  • Read the Bible thoughtfully, carefully, and prayerfully every day

In triperspectival terms, there is a big emphasis on the situational aspect. I think we could sum it up as cultural engagement with three emphases: (1) the past culture of church history, (2) the present culture of our world, (3) the interior culture of our hearts and those we minister to. This goes back to my review from yesterday emphasizing the importance of context. In this case though, it is a wide variety of contexts and the careful pastor will endeavor to understand each of them with more diligence. For the first context, there are numerous resources on church history and great biographies you could pick up. For the second, I’d recommend thoughtful sociological writing, but also thoughtful writing on pop culture like we do at Christ and Pop Culture. For the last, I would try to read more wise pastoral counselors, some of whom show up in the above list.


I was barely into my four years at Dallas Seminary when John Piper published The Future of Justification. For better or worse, that was my introduction to both the New Perspective on Paul and N. T. Wright. I say that because context is important and initially, my understanding of Wright was filtered through Piper and mostly as a rebuttal. I would eventually read most all of Wright’s work on Paul for myself and come to slightly different conclusions than Piper did.

In reading Wright, you often run across the implication that Paul has been misread since the Reformation. In part, this is because we got Judaism wrong and then wrongly correlated it to medieval Catholicism. Actually, it’s not really an implication, Wright more or less says this from time to time, I’m just not running the quotes to ground for you. This again suggests that context is important, since Paul is invariably understood against the background of Second Temple Judaism.

When E. P. Sanders went back and read many of the Second Temple Judaism documents and published his study Paul and Palestinian Judaism, it set the stage for a re-reading of Paul that birthed what is now called the New Perspective. The questions that emerged were first, whether Sanders got the first century context right when it came to the Jewish religion, and second whether the medieval context was similar. Context, is after all, king.

If you’re interested in sorting all this out, you will probably be interested in reading Aaron O’Kelley’s Did The Reformers Misread Paul? A Historical-Theological Critique of the New Perspective. Because this is a doctoral dissertation (from SBTS), his thesis is stated boldly right off the bat:

This study will argue that the new perspective’s hermeneutical presupposition generated by Sanders’ view of Second Temple Judaism is a non sequitur; as such, it does not overturn the Reformation paradigm for interpreting Paul’s doctrine of justification. The hermeneutical presupposition does not follow specifically because Sanders’ argument has no bearing on the categories that defined the concepts of grace, merit, and justification in the Reformation debates (2).

Ultimately, O’Kelley will suggest that rather a “new perspective” on Paul, we need to further refine the old one in light of recent research (3). To validate that, O’Kelley spends the opening chapter outlining the New Perspective’s understanding of justification and Sanders contribution in the aforementioned work. With the current context set, O’Kelley delves into the medieval one in chapter 2. Here, he explores grace and merit in theological discussion prior to the Reformation. He then spends a chapter unpacking 3 prominent Reformer’s understandings of justification (Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin) before a follow up chapter on the post-Reformation developments. The latter solidified, but did not diverge drastically from the Reformation understanding. In the final chapter, O’Kelley summarizes his observations and then adds some exegetical observations on three key texts: Galatians 3:10-14, Romans 9:30-10:13, and Philippians 3:2-11.

A big upshot of reading O’Kelley’s book is that you should takeaway a much clearer understanding of the theological climate in which the Reformation doctrine of justification emerged. Once you have that, you are apt to say as O’Kelley does that “the fact that first-century Jews might be better described as ‘covenantal nomists’ rather than ‘legalists’ has no bearing on the categories that gave shape to the historic Protestant doctrine of justification” (121). Granting Sanders argument (and it is not without its critics), Paul is not reacting to legalism and neither are the Reformers since neither first-century Jews or medieval Catholics were purely legalistic (or fully Pelagian for that matter). While there are similarities between the two, “nothing that Sanders has argued necessarily implies that the Reformation reading of Paul cannot be sustained” (121).

All of this is to say, if we need to re-read Paul, it is not because the Reformers misread him. O’Kelley does a fine job of arguing as much. There is probably more work to be done in Paul’s first century context to understand him better, but an essential revision of a new perspective entirely is not necessary. I’ve appreciated insights I’ve drawn from Wright and others, but often they offer them with the hubris of insinuating that the majority of gifted exegetes drastically misread Paul. Ironically, in Wright’s case at least, he practices a reading of the Reformers (particularly Calvin) that is not well acquainted with the historical context, yet chides old perspective advocates for doing the same thing with Paul. In the end, both could use a bigger dose of context, but in different ways. Without it, the interpreter is quite likely to set himself up as king instead.

Aaron O’Kelley, Did The Reformers Misread Paul? A Historical-Theological Critique of the New Perspective. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, October, 2014. 188 pp. Paperback, $23.00.

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Thanks to Wipf & Stock for the review copy!

These guys are, no surprise, a bit cleaner on their recordings. But given the extensive use of whammy bars, I was pleasantly surprised they turned out good live in a session like this.

If you’re not familiar with the background of these videos, it is an alien explaining human culture to other aliens, via our movies. I’m sure you picked up that the LEGO movie had some philosophical undertones, but now you can know it for sure.


Because I spend a good bit of my time teaching the Bible, books on biblical interpretation always catch my eye. On my book review page, the “Hermeneutics” section gives you a good idea of volumes I’ve read in the past few years. One of those, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation, now has an abridged version. Although it goes by a different title, For The Love of God’s Word follows the same structure as its predecessor and contains much of the same great content.

In terms of differences between the two volumes, the main thing missing is more advanced discussions wrestling with history of interpretation, discourse analysis, original language business and all that jazz. It is not altogether absent, but the authors give us a heads up in the preface that it has been thinned down. This is because, predictably, this abridged version is aimed at the high school to early college age demographic in hopes that someone like me would use it as a textbook. Additionally, the sample exegesis sections from the larger book, as well as sections on preaching got the axe. Bibliographies were likewise trimmed because as you might know, high schoolers are typically not looking for more non-fiction books to spend their time reading (maybe it’s just the ones I know and used to be myself).

The result is a book that follows the same triperspectival outline of history, literature, and theology, but is more compact (yet still over 400 pages). As for its usability as a textbook, I’ll have to see over this coming year. Right now, the curriculum structure at the school I teach at does Old Testament in 9th grade and New Testament in 10th grade, and I only teach the former. Much of the material here might find itself incorporated into my 9th grade class since I do prioritize understanding how to read the different genres of Old Testament literature. Ideally what I will probably do is to add some sections to my lecture schedule that unpacks interpretive principles alongside the typical material you’d expect in an Old Testament survey class.

My main concern in using the book in my current teaching load is that it might be still too advanced for 9th graders and that’s who I’d use it with. I may adapt the material into my lectures, but that’s different than assigning the book as required reading. I’ve typically found that reading isn’t always completed in the way a teacher might like and it has worked better for me to do the reading myself and then distill the information into a more interactive format. That being said, this book will be something I profit from over the next few weeks and months as I tweak and update my classes. If you are looking for a book on biblical interpretation and missed the original version of this volume, maybe consider giving the abridged version a good perusal.

Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson, For The Love of God’s Word: An Introduction to Biblical InterpretationGrand Rapids: Kregel Academic, May 2015. 448 pp. Hardcover, $34.99.

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Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!


It is no secret at this point that I’m a fan of multi-view books. Scroll through my review page and you can see several titles from IVP’s Spectrum Multi-view series as well as Zondervan’s Counterpoints. Most recently I worked through Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on The Bible’s Earliest Chapters. The title is perhaps a bit misleading since the actual views are as follows:

If you follow the above links to each author you can read an excerpt from the book with some context to give a feel for their positions. The reason I say it is a bit misleading because no one fully argues the “Neither” position, although Wenham comes close. His idea of “Protohistory” could still be plotted along a continuum with Hoffmeier’s “History and Theology” position. Arguably, it is not a useful descriptor, something the other contributors lament. Essentially, Wenham sees the chapters as historical in their core, but using language, imagery, and symbols usually connected with mythology. I thought his position was probably the best argued, but I’m not sure I fully agree with him. Also interesting to his position, Wenham believes that all the contributors agree on the theological message of the chapters, and to a certain extent he is right. But, that leaves the question of genre up for debate, which is what the rest of the book tackles.

Sparks on the other hand essentially argues that the chapters are mythological and goes to great lengths to validate a fanciful version of the JEDP theory couched in different language. Clearly, he fits the “Fiction” category in the subtitle and Peter Enns would be proud of his colleague’s work. On the plus side, Sparks’ responses to the other two contributors were the most well thought out. He attempted to capture each argument in a number of theses and respond to each individually with his thoughts. His thoroughness was refreshing, but one might wish he applied the same thorough critical eye to the lack of evidence for anything approaching a viable JEDP theory of authorship for the Pentatuech.

Hoffmeier ruled the day with his familiarity of ancient Near East mythology. While Wenham had the most convincing exegetical arguments, Hoffmeier’s expertise as an Egyptologist shouldn’t be overlooked. While he argues for a more or less straightforward historical reading of Genesis 1-11, Hoffmeier isn’t a young earth creationist. Given that, he still sees no compelling exegetical or cultural reason to not consider the earliest chapters of Genesis aimed at telling history from a theological point of view.

On either end of the contributors essays is an introduction and conclusion from editor Charles Halton (watch a video of him here). There, he first explains how the book provides an interesting case study in genre categorization. In the conclusion he attempts to put together the pieces after it is clear there is strong disagreement on the genre of Genesis 1-11 (strong, yet cordial throughout). He essentially argues that the interpretation of these chapters shouldn’t be a dividing line among Christians, something John Walton also echoed in his recent book.

At the end of the day, I think the value of a book like this is that it offers one the building blocks for putting together their own understanding. Hoffmeier primarily gives important cultural background considerations, and at the same time shows that they do not undermine historicity. Wenham offers a slightly different take on the historicity, but grounded in primarily exegetical arguments (which isn’t to say Hoffmeier doesn’t exegete, but Wenham does more). Sparks offers a creative, yet more or less mainline critical take on the chapters. To the extent that you find either his arguments or data compelling, you’d need to integrate it into how you interpret Genesis 1-11. Wenham may be right that most people agree on the message of Genesis 1-11. But, it is hard to not think it significant whether one sees that message coming from the pages of history (Hoffmeier) or mythology (Sparks) or some blending of both (Wenham). That, I think is the real question, and this book moves in the right direction toward helping readers answer it.

Charles Halton, ed., Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on The Bible’s Earliest Chapters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, May 2015. 176 pp. Paperback, $16.99.

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

mewithoutYou has a new album, Pale Horses, coming out tomorrow. The above video is the first song off their last album, Ten Stories. You can watch a teaser for the new album below:


More often than not, I give books a 4 out 5 star rating after I read them. This is mainly because I’m fairly selective in what I choose to read and have a good idea what I might like. Occasionally, one of these books turns out to be a dud, and then I end up writing a post like this to explain why I thought that. The particular book in question is part of a series that I have otherwise enjoyed. Crossway’s Reclaiming The Christian Intellectual Tradition has offered several useful primers on various subjects from a Christian worldview. Unfortunately, the volume on Art and Music is not one of them. And yes, I made the title of this post intentionally ambiguous.

Before being critical, it’s worth noting that the opening chapter is quite useful. In it, authors Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake explain the difference between modern and postmodern understandings of beauty. When they are set to explain what we mean we say “beauty” the authors guide students well. Likewise, the bulk of chapter two is quite helpful. In it, the authors offer an apologetic for cultural engagement with art and music. As they see it, “There can be little doubt that the leisurely contemplation of general revelation is an essential part of the Christian life and that our capacity for joy depends, in part, on our being good stewards of leisure” (Kindle Loc. 452, emphasis original). Then, they go on to give four reasons why you should enjoy art and music:

  1. Artists and musicians expound general revelation in much the same way that preachers expound special revelation
  2. Art and music are communication from our fellow man
  3. Art and music help us avoid being desensitized
  4. Failure to enjoy art and music invites folly

So far, so good. Had the book ended there, I would probably commend it to you. However, there is huge exegetical blunder at the end of this chapter, and everything kind of goes downhill from there.

As the authors begin to conclude the chapter, they quote Genesis 1:10 with the word “saw” missing. The point they are trying to make is that most people would assume that the word missing should be “said.” Instead, God looked around and saw what he created was good. The authors then say this:

Notice that God does not look back with fond memory on the formlessness that has now been displaced. He shows no regret for the lost deep over which he once brooded. Instead, he pauses to enjoy the most beautiful physical objects around. We follow his example when we elect to fill our leisure hours with the very best things we can— among which are the best works of art and music. Lamentably , many Christians justify their fondness for things nearly “without form and void” by trying to point out one or two good things in those leisure activities. “Sure, the pop song I like isn’t as good as Beethoven, but there’s more in it than you think.” Yes, and there may have been something poignant about the earth without form and void, so pregnant with potential as it was. But this will be true of all created things, even the ones that humanity has, as far as possible, muted. We are to pursue the best things. (Kindle Loc. 591-598)

The last line is certainly something worth pondering and perhaps debating. But, making that point as an application of Genesis 1:10 is not a sound exegetical move to say the least.

To begin, the word “good” in Genesis 1:10 cannot be synonymous with “most beautiful” which is what the authors here assume. The former is a designation that may have aesthetic overtones, but it is not being used in context to communicate a superlative quality. Here it probably has a functional meaning related to order, which is essentially what God is doing in Genesis. Order is desirable, and both of those connotations connect with the word used, as well as with the way it would have been used in parallel ancient Near East creation accounts. While it is a stretch to base the idea that we should spend our time enjoying good things on Genesis 1:10, it is even more of a stretch to suggest that verse supports the idea that we should “fill our leisure hours with the very best things we can.” This could be true, but this is the wrong text to try to make that point.

Once the authors have concluded this chapter with the conviction that we must pursue the best in our leisure time, they have to have a criteria for establishing what that is. They thankfully shy away from making the high/low culture divide a way of determining what is best. The distinction has racist and imperialist roots and makes anyone who employs it seem like an elitist. Instead, they rely on C. S. Lewis in the following chapter to parse out the difference between use and reception of culture. If the art or music can be received, rather than merely used, it is an acceptable pursuit.

As the rest of the book unfolds, it seems like this was just a roundabout way for establishing a distinction between high and low culture and then arguing that only high culture is worthy of a Christian’s time. One sees this in the conclusion to chapter 3:

The reason partakers of popular culture and high culture are mystified by each other’s tastes is that they apply entirely different criteria for judging culture, according to whether they are accustomed to using it or receiving it. There are many appropriate uses for art and music, which need not be denigrated. But for the leisurely contemplation of general revelation, for what we do when we listen to (as opposed to “put on”) music and look at (as opposed to “put up”) art, the best works will be those that, like the Grünewald and the Raphael, reward reception. (Kindle Loc. 800-805, emphasis original)

While I would agree that we should aim for reception in our leisurely contemplation, I don’t think pop culture is excluded. The reason for that is that I don’t make the mistake the authors make in chapters 4 and 5. There, they apply criteria for evaluating a work of art to a scene from a movie (chapter 4) and criteria for classical music to a pop song (chapter 5). This is a slight oversimplification, but the point is that once you set up the evaluating criteria in a way favorable to high culture, folk and pop culture come out looking unworthy of your time (especially in the latter case).

Much of this could have been avoided if the foundational exegetical mistakes didn’t set the tone in chapter 2. By seeing a call to only enjoy the best in leisurely cultural contemplation, the authors would not have had to come up with criteria for determining the best. This is the wrong category to employ when deciding on cultural pursuits. For one, it doesn’t actually work in practice other than to decide that some genres of music are better than others. Also, it doesn’t work within a given genre of music. If Rachmaninoff is the best when it comes to piano concertos, should you bypass Chopin? If Bach is the best, does that mean downplaying Beethoven?

A better conviction is to enjoy everything to the glory of God. This entails actually figuring out how to do that with whatever cultural pursuits you have. At bare minimum it would mean reflecting on them well instead of passively consuming them. Another post would be need to sketch out what I think that looks like, and motivated by the lack of helpful direction in this book, I might just do that.


I have a complicated history with commentaries. It is somewhat reactionary at times. As an example, there was a time in seminary that I was almost militantly against using them. My thesis adviser wasn’t a big fan of them, especially in their modern iteration. I felt that if you knew the original languages well, commentaries were a kind of after thought. Later, I would go too far in the other direction, and am now trying to strike a healthy balance between these extremes.

At the moment, I primarily interact with commentaries through Logos. My usual workflow could be explained in more detail in a different post. Here, I’ll at least give you an overview and use Galatians and Ephesians from the ZECNT series to illustrate. Logos graciously unlocked these resources for me to give a review. If you follow the previous links it will take you to my review of the commentaries themselves. Below I’ll show you what it looks like to use these resources in Logos.

I usually read commentaries and make my highlights on my iPad, and then do more detailed cross-referencing and studying on my desktop. Because of the visual layout that comes with the ZECNT, I was curious how it would carry over into the iPad screen. For the most part it works fairly well as you can see below for the overview of Ephesians 4:1-6:


On most passages, this works just as well, but it is kind of glitchy if the chart extends to the right beyond the iPad screen. As for the rest of the reading experience, I prefer a single column and the ZECNT are setup in the print edition to be two columns per page. Logos allows me to set it to single column and infinite scroll which is my preferred visual layout.

Once I’ve down some reading and may want to do some cross referencing, here’s what my layout looks like for NT study in Logos:

Logos Screen

(see full size)

On the right you see my preferred Bible, and you’ll notice the small “A” next to the cover. You’ll also notice on the left the same small “A” on the cover of the ZECNT commentary. That means I’ve linked these panels so that whenever I navigate to a reference on one side, the other changes accordingly. You’ll also notice that when the Bible is set to Ephesians 4, the commentary panel starts right at the exposition proper, not at the beginning of the chapter devoted to the first few verses of chapter 4. So, for example, if I wanted to see what’s in the iPad screenshot from where I’m at in the desktop screenshot, I would need to scroll up to get there.

You’ll also notice several other small book covers on the same side as the ZECNT. These are all my other commentary series, so while I’m working through Ephesians 4, I can see what Clinton Arnold says in the ZECNT, but as I’m doing that, I can toggle over and see what Frank Thielman says in the BECNT volume, or what F. F. Bruce says in the NICNT volume. On the right side, I have other Bible translations, the NA27, and my IVP dictionaries ready to resource as well.

All of this works well for me, and I was pleased with how the ZECNT transferred over to being used in Logos. So far I’ve enjoyed all of the commentaries series I’ve brought into Logos, but I was curious how the ZECNT would transfer because of the visual layout. Because of the flexibility of the panel size in the desktop version, there isn’t an issue with charts being cut-off. An added benefit is that when I’m teaching, I can display the layout visually to students and then explain it.

Even though I have the entire series in print, I’m planning to convert them to Logos titles. That means if you’re interested in one of the ZECNT volumes, let me know, they’ll show up on Amazon soon. In the meantime, I’ll continue to utilize these resources in Logos for both personal study and my teaching opportunities. However, like me, you might rather have these volumes in your Logos library.

Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic November, 2010. 432 pp. Hardcover, $34.99.

Clinton Arnold, Ephesians (ZECNT). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic October, 2010. 544 pp. Hardcover, $36.99.

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Thanks to Logos for the review copy!


When I look back at the books I read in seminary, few are as game changing and paradigm shifting for me as John Walton’s Ancient Near East Thought and The Old Testament. It was even for a class, but was recommend by two of my Hebrew professors as a good resource into the cultural background of the Old Testament. That journey into what Walton called the cognitive environment of the Old Testament revolutionized the way I understood parts of the Old Testament. Chief among them was the early chapters of Genesis.

This was accelerated after I read Walton’s next book The Lost World of Genesis One. I’ve blogged about it before, and you can read some of the fruit here. Later I would read The Lost World of Scripture, a kind of sequel, which has another followup on the way. Around that same time I read Four Views on The Historical Adam in which Walton argues for the “Archetypal View.” And then just recently I made my way through The Lost World of Adam and Eveand that brings us up to speed.

Walton’s modus operandi in these sorts of books is to set out his ideas in the form of propositions. Kind of novel right? Each chapter focuses on a different proposition that Walton gives evidence for. They move in a kind of sequential order, but you could still read the chapters in isolation. I don’t know why you’d want to do that, but you could.

For this volume, much of the legwork is done in The Lost World of Genesis One. Walton rearticulates his main thesis from that, which is that creation is primarily functional rather than material. He probably presses this too far, but the functional aspect had been overlooked. This takes the first five propositions, and then from that we move into territory directly related to how we understand Adam and Eve.

He first notes that “Adam” is used in multiple ways (Prop. 6), before suggesting that Genesis 2 is a sequel to Genesis 1 rather than an in-depth focus on the sixth day (Prop. 7). From here, he explains how to reconcile the dust of the ground and rib from Adam’s side reconcile with his emphasis on creation begin functional rather than material (Prop. 8). The next two propositions explain how the archetypal view would have been more natural to both the ancient Israelite audience and the New Testament audience (Prop. 9/10).

Anticipating an objection, Walton next reiterates his belief that Adam and Eve were real historical people in the past (Prop. 11). The next section fleshes out what Adam and Eve’s role would have been in the garden and how it relates to the functional emphasis (Props. 12-16). This also connects to Walton’s insistence that a large part of creation is not the material creation of stuff out of nothing but often the establishment of order out of chaos.

Having established all of this, the final few propositions are probably the most controversial and not helped by an excursus courtesy of N. T. Wright. First, Walton argues that we are subject to sin and death because of disorder rather than genetics (Prop. 17). That is to say, he wants to move past a typical Augustinian paradigm for original sin. The next proposition, that Jesus is keystone of God’s plan to restore a more perfect order in the creation is less controversial (Prop. 18). But then, the next chapter centers on Paul’s understanding of Adam and comes from Wright’s pen. If you’re familiar with Wright, you can guess what he says. You can also guess that his tone is not helpful in the discussion, and Doug Wilson explains it so I don’t have to.

From here, the grand finale is Walton’s suggestion that it is not essential that all people be descended from Adam and Eve (Prop. 20) and that we could be distinct and special creations of God even if common ancestry was true (Prop. 21). Had he led with this, I’m sure most readers would have balked. But, given the territory he covers ahead of time, I think he at least makes a good case for his position.

I am more inclined to buy Prop. 20 and have continued reservations about Prop. 21. Overall, I am sympathetic to Walton is trying to do and tend to agree with him more than I disagree. I think he pushes the functional emphasis too far, but I appreciate his meticulous approach to trying to argue for it. Likewise, I appreciate his understanding and insistence that Adam and Eve were real historical people, and his interest in exploring interpretive options. He strikes me as wanting to be faithful to the text as it stands, rather than being driven by scientific motivations to scrap a traditional understanding of Genesis 2-3.

But, then he concludes the book saying this:

It does not matter whether you as a reader are sympathetic to scientific conclusions or not. It does not matter whether you find the exegetical and theological conclusions in this book persuasive or not. If we can think beyond ourselves and accept the fact that a vital Christian faith need not have exactly the same interpretive profile that we believe, we might see that the church is bigger than any of us (209-210).

He says this in the context of arguing that we need to “stop the hemorrhaging” of young people leaving the church after coming to scientific conclusions that are incompatible with traditional interpretations of Genesis. On the one hand, I agree that we need to deal with the issue. On the other hand, I think he undermines his whole case if I’m free to dismiss his position after reading his book. It seems at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what I think about the early chapters of Genesis as long as I don’t make my interpretation a shibboleth.

To use Walton’s own favored speech act theory (put to interesting use in The Lost World of Scripture), the locutions of the book are about understanding Adam and Eve in Genesis. It would be normal to assume that the illocutionary effect intended would be to adopt the view argued for. Instead, at the end of the book you discover that the real intended effect is to see that other non-traditional interpretations of Genesis are available, so maybe you shouldn’t be so dogmatic about your personal view (especially if it’s the traditional one). It is an interesting twist for sure, but I would have rather not have the author give me the option to dismiss his argument after spending several hours working through it.

The upshot is that I personally benefited from reading the book and am now re-thinking some things of my own. I’m still processing it all, so I won’t share in detail right now what I’m thinking. To give you a hint, it has mainly to do with Genesis 2 as a sequel and Prop. 20 mentioned above. It also ties in with Genesis 6. In the meantime, I’d suggest picking up and reading Walton’s book if you’re interested in the early chapters of Genesis. The conclusion notwithstanding, I think he models a good way to argue your case. The endnotes are an abomination, not because of content though. I look forward to his next installment in the The Lost World series, and will be thinking on this one until then.

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and The Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2015. Paperback, 256 pp. $17.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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