9781596382176A few weeks back, I introduced the review series for John Frame’s Systematic Theology. Today, we’ll get started in the review proper with the first section, “Introduction to Systematic Theology.” As far as sections go, it’s one of the shorter ones, clocking in at just under 50 pages. Much of that is because Frame deals with prolegomena issues in 4 separate sections. This one introduces the nature of theology and some distinctives of Frame’s approach. The next offers a covenantal framework for theology before section three covers the doctrine of God. Interestingly, Frame puts the doctrine of the Word of God and the doctrine of the knowledge of God after the doctrine of God. Typically, theses two discussions form the prolegomena, but hey, it’s John Frame, and he does thinks different. 1

What Is Theology?

Because opening sentences are fun, here is how Frame’s systematic begins:

Theology is full of definitions of things. One of the useful features of a systematic theology is that you can turn there and get quick definitions of terms such as justification, glorification, or hypostatic union. Definitions are useful, but we should be warned that they are rarely, if ever, found in Scripture itself. Such definitions are themselves theology in that they are the work of human beings trying to understand Scripture. (3)

This presents one aspect of the task of theology. Frame goes on to say that theology is also application. That is, it is not just the study of God (it is), but a study of God as revealed in Scripture (5). But even this is not enough. It is true as far as it goes, but Frame wants to see theology defined with a purpose in mind, and he sees that purpose as edification (6). He grounds this exegetically with the biblical concept of sound doctrine (7) and proposes that we understand theology as synonymous with the biblical concept of teaching, which has an emphasis on edification. At the end of this discussion he concludes that “theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life” (8).

From here Frame lays out the different kinds of theology:

  • Exegetical (interpreting the Bible verse by verse)
  • Biblical (traces the narrative of Scripture for application)
  • Systematic (summarizing the whole Bible’s teaching on a topic)
  • Historical (analysis of past theological work)
  • Practical (though he sees this as a department of systematics, focused on communication)

He goes into much more detail in The Doctrine of The Knowledge of God (DKG), but here he lays out his maps clearly enough. He then discusses theological method, which necessitates a mild rant about the importance of focusing on explaining Scripture in systematic theology and not so much on either the history of the doctrine, or what all the relevant other systematicians have said. Specifically he says,

I think, however, that theology today has become preoccupied with these auxilary disciplines to the extent of neglecting its primary responsibility: to apply Scripture itself. Theological literature today is focused, especially, on history of doctrine, and contemporary thought. Often this literature deals with theological questions by comparing various thinkers from the past and from the present, with a very minimal interaction with Scripture itself. (10)

It is worth weighing what Frame says here and coming to your own conclusions about how much of a problem it is in theological discourse today. He goes into much more detail in DKG, but still hammers home the point here. I agree to some extent, and personally do not care what someone like Karl Barth thought about much of anything. I realize he is influential and “important,” but I don’t think he needs to be an extended conversation partner for every systematic theologian writing today. 2

Still, I think Frame’s approach is open to weakness. I wouldn’t have thought this when I first got into Frame late in my seminary time. However, I’ve come to see the value of including the historical and contemporary dimensions in theological analysis. I think Frame is reacting against an over-emphasis, and his point is duly noted. However, I don’t think the solution is to focus only on Scripture or even predominately on Scripture to the exclusion of other sources. Bird in this regard represents what I think is a better approach, though Frame is refreshingly biblical in some respects. Readers do well to note here Frame’s method. While he might be open to criticism later, he is at least consistent with his intent to focus on Scripture to the exclusion of extended historical or contemporary conversation partners.

The Lord

In the second chapter, Frame presents his understanding of God’s lordship. As he sees it, it is known primarily through three attributes:

  • Control (21-22)
  • Authority (22-29)
  • Presence (29-31)

It is from here that Frame introduces his hallmark “triperspectivalism” approach to knowledge. Perspectives are not “parts” but are aspects of the same object of study (not saying God is an object). Our understanding is enhanced by viewing the same reality through different lenses, which in this case are the lens of norms, facts, and subjectivity. Frame then explains,

I have suggested that the three lordship attributes presuppose and imply one another. If God controls all things, then his commands are authoritative, and his presence is inescapable. If his commands are supremely authoritative, then God can command all things, thereby exercising control, and since we cannot escape from his authority (Ps. 139:7-12), he is necessarily present to us. Further, God’s presence is a presence of divine control and authority. So it is not as if God could be divided between three parts, each representing one attribute. Rather, each of the lordship attributes describes God as a whole, from a different perspective. (31)

In this way, triperspectivalism can be seen as a way of coming to grips with something we cannot fully understand (in this case God’s lordship over us, his creatures). By parsing it out into different aspects, our understanding is enhanced but not exhausted. This has important implications of our knowledge in general, which is a creature kind of knowledge that should be submitted to the lordship of Christ. Because He is Lord (32),

  1. The highest rules or norms of knowledge come from him
  2. The course of nature and history is under his control
  3. Our knowledge faculties are gifts of God and operate in his very presence

This suggests our knowledge corresponds to the three perspectives on God’s lordship, which Frame then explains using his names for the perspectives (32-33):

  • In the normative perspective, we understand the whole world as a revelation of God, governing our thought
  • In the situational perspective, we understand the whole world as the factual situations that God as controller has brought to pass
  • In the existential perspective, we understand the whole world as a set of personal experiences granted by God, who is present with us and within us

These three perspectives figure prominently throughout the book, and the most popular diagram, as you might imagine, is the triangle.

God’s Lordship as a Unique Worldview

In the final chapter of this section, Frame explains how this understanding of God’s lordship gives a unique worldview. He also introduces two key diagrams. The first is the “Rectangle of Opposition” which illustrates the different between transcendence and immanence in biblical perspective and in their opposing nonbiblical corruptions. It’s very similar to the kind of squares you get in logic differentiating modal statements. If that’s not helpful, just imagine a square where each vertical side represents either the biblical or nonbiblical position, and the top corners are the different understandings of transcendence and the bottom corners of the different understandings of immanence. That still might not help, so you better just pick up the book.

The second diagram is Van Til’s famous Creator/creature distinction. It is a circle with three dots in it (representing the Trinity) over another circle with lines connecting to the two. This illustrates the nature of reality, which in the Christian worldview is two tiered. Reality is not a single circle of which God and man both take part. Rather, there is a vital Creator/creature distinction, but God has bridged the gap through the incarnation.

Taken together, all of this provides a good framework (get it?) for studying theology, and though I was introduced to most everything vital here in Frame’s previous work (specifically, DKG), it was helpful to see him distill the distinction down to brass tacks and smooth out some of the rough edges. The next section covered somewhat newer ground, but you’ll have to wait until next time to hear about it.

Notes:

  1. But still uses a PC from what I can tell when I’ve dropped by his office.
  2. I realize most of them would disagree. The key word is “extended,” just to be clear. It’s not that I don’t think you should reference someone like Barth (although I wish you wouldn’t), just that I agree that the main focus should be Scripture, just not to the detriment of other sources of systematic theology.

chooseyourown

In light of James Anderson’s recent book, What’s Your Worldview, I began thinking how the “Choose Your Own Adventure” genre could be applied elsewhere. He does an excellent job of using a variant of that genre to help readers diagnose their worldview. I wondered how a similar idea might be applied to studying systematic theology, and then it hit me.

What if you took books like Zondervan’s Counterpoint, and read them in such a way that it traced a journey through the terrain of systematic theology in non-linear fashion.

These books could be a good starting point, for several reasons. First, because of the stand-alone nature, these books offer a good window into various theological discussions. The subjects that most interest you can be read first. Second, they present extended expositions of opposing views, giving you the reader the opportunity to decide which position you find most convincing. Third, your overall understanding of many significant issues would be more developed by seeing the different positions available, something done to an extent in some systematic theologies, but ultimately the writer has his view and explains it the best.

The downside would be that you can’t actually get through all the various intricacies of the doctrines in a systematic theology in this fashion. But, you can get a pretty good running start, especially since right now Zondervan is running their Counterpoints series on sale for $3.99. To help organize your adventure choosing, I used the various doctrinal headings of a systematic theology and organized the different Counterpoint books into their appropriate location. I took the liberty to add in IVP’s Spectrum Multiview books as well (noted in parenthesis and not on sale). As you can see, you can cover a lot of ground choosing your own adventure through the landscape of systematic theology

Theological Method

Doctrine of The Word of God

Doctrine of God

Doctrine of Man/Creation

Doctrine of Salvation

Doctrine of The Church/Spiritual Life

Doctrine of Last Things

9781587433443

Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social LivesGrand Rapids: Brazos Press, November, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback, $17.99.

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Brazos Press for the review copy!

Craig Detweiler is professor of communication and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University. He also writes a lot, and he’s make a film or two. In other words, a book on technology is right up his alley.

I first encountered Detweiler when I was writing my thesis, and I found his work in Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century to be helpful. Mainly, he was interacting thoughtfully at the theological level with films, and more open to it being a revelatory encounter than many Christians who write books on movies. Maybe a little too open for some people, but I nonetheless thought he had many valuable ideas when it came to watching movies responsibly.

So, when I saw he wrote a book on technology, I expected similar thoughtful interactions. Flipping through the table of contents, you can see that Detweiler focuses on the big tech giants:

  • Apple (chapter 2)
  • Amazon (chapter 4)
  • Google (chapter 5)
  • Facebook (chapter 7)
  • YouTube/Twitter/Instagram (chapter 8)

In his writing, he is trying to sketch a theology of technology, “to point out how spiritual our designs can be and how material theological concerns should be” (10-11). Doing so requires interacting with the “iGods” who are first identified as the founders of the above tech giants (8). Obviously this is a play on Apple’s “I” language, and it certainly fits the point Detweiler is making on the whole. That is, the technologies that we use so often are meant to be centered around us, but eventually they start to mold us. As an extension of us, they are separate, yet intimately connected. Detweiler wants to explore this interface.

There is some fluidity in language, so that Google and Facebook themselves take on iGod status (9). As you continue reading, this isn’t really a problem, so perhaps it is best to consider the “iGods” as a way of referring to the tech company itself when it reaches a certain stature, or may relate to the man behind it. YouTube/Twitter/Instagram have not yet reached “iGods” status, which is why they get a combined chapter. But they are well on their way.

In his opening chapter defining technology, Detweiler notes that “from each tech company profiled in this book, we can deduce a creation narrative” (40). If that is true, there is a sense in which each company is promoting a worldview that involves telling their creation story, explaining what problem they are here to fix, and how to achieve true redemption through the product they are selling.

Detweiler then traces the cultural history of each of these tech companies, with interludes on the internet (chapter 3, 73-77) and social networking (chapter 6, 131-135). The focus is mostly on explaining the development of the particular company. So for instance, the Apple chapter (45-71) follows a similar trajectory as the Steve Jobs movie, and goes from Job’s parents basement to the announcement of the iPhone (46-65). The final 6 pages then get into more detail of the implications of this particular technology, how it affects us, and how we can respond. This is a pretty typical breakdown of the other 4 main chapters.

While this is informative and interesting, I didn’t find much of the discussion particularly illuminating. Overall, I would say the book is more historical than practical. A better title might have been “The Rise of the iGods” to bring out this fact. I think I was expecting the chapters to be more focused on thinking theologically about the particular technologies than they actually were. But, from the opening chapter, Detweiler alerts readers that “we will study the leading technology companies as a means of determining what theological shifts are occuring. We will measure these general revelations against the special revelation of Scripture to figure out whether they need to be embraced and encouraged or resisted and reframed” (43). Given that, this isn’t a case of false advertising. From a general glance over the cover and table of contents, you might assume this is a much different book. But Detweiler defines his study well early on, so once you’re reading, you know where you’re going.

The question then is whether or not this is the journey you want to take. And whether or not this kind of journey is even helpful. Going back to Detweiler’s last quote, I don’t particularly think that “theological shifts” brought on by tech companies qualifies as general revelation. We can certainly bring special revelation of Scripture to bear on them to understand them better, but its seem like a stretch to bring in the category of general revelation. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about Detweiler’s film book. His eagerness to listen to the culture and to bring Scripture to bear on it is to be commended. But, in the midst of that, it sometimes feels like the culture is being elevated to a revelatory status that is sometimes not appropriate. Does not mean God cannot reveal himself through culture, but rather that the human products of culture are perhaps better thought of as indirectly revelatory. The reveal more about the person made in God’s image, which thus reveals God. But the product itself is not revelatory.

Having said all that, this book can still prove useful. I don’t know who I would particularly recommend it to because of its emphasis on the historical dimension. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are sparse and sometimes vague (it’s hard to write good questions!). I had thought about using it in my digital media class, but since I’m teaching high schoolers, this is really out of their league. There are other books I might consider (From the Garden to The City for one), but this book didn’t seem suitable for that purpose to me. Still, the storytelling involved in explaining the rise of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon was compelling. If that is what you’re particularly interested in, this is a perfect fit. If you’re more interested in thinking theologically about technology, this book has some fruitful lines of thinking. But on the whole, I didn’t find it all that thought provoking. I could maybe give it another read through to decipher whether that was my problem or the book’s problem, but given what I’ve said above, I’ll let you decide.

1545546_10101264373757208_785687467_n

When we left our story, a Hebrew child named Moses had just been adopted into Pharaoh’s household. If you could imagine knowing how big of a deal Moses is, but reading Exodus for the first time (or hearing it read to you), you would probably hear a “Dun dun dun” at the naming of Moses in v. 10. Moses it seems, was the original Trojan Horse. The man who would lead Israel out of Egypt and humiliate the nation in the process was growing up right under Pharaoh’s noseless face (this mental reconstruction is based on the Sphinx).

It would take a while for all of that to unfold, so in the meantime, we need an “inciting incident” in the life of Moses to get the ball rolling. Between verse 10 and verse 11 we fast forward approximately 36 years. I know this, because Douglas Stuart did the math and explains why the story jumps like this:

The narrative now jumps ahead approximately thirty-six years, skipping completely over Moses’ later childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. This sort of leap from infancy/childhood to later adulthood is not only efficient for purposes of getting to the heart of the story but apparently was preferred often in ancient times, when the story of an important person’s birth might be recounted if it had special significance but his “biography” in effect began with the first truly prominent actions he undertook. 1

This really shouldn’t seem all that strange. It’s what happens in the Gospels after all. At any rate, just so there are not any skeletons in the closet, here’s the first thing Moses actively does in the book of Exodus:

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (v. 11-12)

Premeditated murder is not usually the best way to open up a life story. There is a long history of debate on whether Moses was justified in what he did. Perhaps surprisingly, Jewish commentators tend to exonerate Moses, and the bulk of Christian commentators up through Luther and Calvin tend to give Moses a get out of jail free card. Augustine is one of the few with some sense and compares Moses’ actions to Peter’s impulsiveness (the whole ear removal incident), and so sees it in the appropriate negative light.

Rather than whitewash the records of biblical heroes, we should take accounts like these for what they are: real events involving real sin. Adam didn’t have a spine. Noah liked wine a bit too much. Abraham was a habitual liar. Moses murdered a guy. David stole a guys wife and then indirectly made sure he was “taken care of.” Just because they are in the Bible and may be considered “heroes of the faith” doesn’t mean they have to be perfect. In fact, it’s probably better if they’re not.

Commenting on this particular incident in the life of Moses, Phil Ryken says:

The more we learn about Moses, the more we realize how tragic his mistake was. For all his admirable qualities – his hatred of injustice, his opposition to slavery, his sympathy with those who suffered, and his deep affection for God’s people – with one rash act Moses threw away forty years of spiritual preparation. Although he had a holy zeal to rescue God’s people, his zeal was not based on knowledge (cf. Rom. 10:2). His failure had nothing to do with his motivation, for his heart was in the right place. Rather, the problem was his method: Moses was trying to save God’s people by his own works rather than letting God save them by his grace. 2

Moses’ methods will get him in trouble again later. For now, we needed an inciting incident to get the story going, and this incident certainly incited Pharaoh. It also, interestingly incited the other Israelites (who you would think would have been grateful for one less slave driver):

When he [Moses] went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together [as in with each other. Technically all the Hebrews were "struggling together" in slavery]. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? [Probably the first recorded use of this line, now a go-to when you want someone off your case] Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well. (v. 13-15, brackets are my comments)

When you read this, you should see it as foreshadowing the story of Israel. They too would end up on the receiving end of Pharaonic death threats and have to book it to the wilderness. This sets Moses up as the representative of the nation as a whole. He came down from an Egyptian palace to identify with their suffering and shame, and in doing so, became identified with them, and had to flee the wrath of Pharaoh. He stood rejected by both the people he was trying to save and the King whose house he had called home.

Moses, now in Midian by a well, is probably wondering what he’s going to do next. He doesn’t get much time to think before injustice rears its ugly head again and gains Moses’ attention:

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. (v. 16-17)

For whatever reason, after being saved from the evil shepherds, these seven daughters didn’t think to bring the single guy from out of town home with them:

When they came home to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come home so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds and even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Then where is he? Why have you left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” And Moses was content to dwell with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah. She gave birth to a son, and he called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (v. 18-22)

Moses’ early adventures are now bookended with his birth and the birth of his first son. Zipporah, we can assume, is the fairest of them all since Reuel/Jethro gave her in marriage to the guy who saved them all. Moses, knowing he can’t go back to Egypt, seems perhaps content to settle down. However, he hasn’t lost his identity, and probably hasn’t forgotten his roots so to speak.

This is good because, meanwhile back in Egypt, things are still not going so well. However, two turning points take place, unbeknownst to Moses:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (v. 23-25)

An evil dictator is shuffled off the scene, and God appears. Not only does he appear, he acts, but an undetectable way. Given the four verbs used (heard, remembered, saw, and knew), we can read this as God’s attention being focused on the matter of Israel enslaved in Egypt. There is a bit of humanizing going on since God had not actually forgotten about Israel. By presenting it this way though, it is showing God is about to act in a mighty way. Fretheim comments:

These verbs show that God has a new “point of view” with respect to the situation. The context has changed among both Egyptians and Israelites such that God’s creational intentions for the world can now take a new turn. God can move forward with respect to the divine purposes in new ways. Israel is to be the object of God’s special care; this action is grounded in God’s prior relationship with the ancestors of this people.

This brief narrative ends by putting a question in the reader’s mind: What will God do? What will happen now? 3

Before leaving this part of the narrative though, it is worth noting how it sets up further foreshadowing. The trajectory of the nation of Israel as a whole is seen in Moses’ flight into the wilderness. It also prefigures Christ’s wilderness experience. This could be literally his wilderness experience of temptation, or of the rejection he experienced from his people. Enns helpfully clarifies:

Moses, in other words, foreshadows both the redeemer and the redeemed. He first experienced Israel’s rejection and became and an outcast and alien before he himself became worthy to her redeemer. Christ, too, became like us before he could deliver us (Heb. 2:17). But he did not simply descend from the comfort and prestige of an Egyptian palace, but from heaven itself, becoming not only a man but a despised man – for our sake. As Moses became Israel’s savior by truly embodying her suffering, Christ from highest heaven took onto his own body the sin of humanity. He is the Savior through suffering. 4

His later conclusion fits for us as well:

The Moses of Exodus 2:11-25 must precede the Moses of Exodus 14. The Christ born of lowly circumstances, who was despised and rejected by men, who died with great shame, must precede the Christ of the resurrection. We, too, must be broken before we can be built up again, for his sake. 5

Though no one wants to go out into the wilderness, great things tend to come out of it. But we’ll see that next time.

Notes:

  1. Douglas Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 94-95
  2. Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory. Preaching The Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005, 63. Earlier, Ryken also comments, “One way or another, an expert legal team could have come up with a winning strategy for Moses’ defense. Indeed, many Christian commentators from Tertullian to Aquinas have sought to clear Moses from the charge of murder. But that does not change the fact that what he did was wrong. It was wrong because it was unnecessary. Moses could have protected the slave without resorting to killing the slave driver. It was wrong because it was not Moses’ place to do this – it was an abuse of power. He was still a private individual and not an officer of the state administering solemn justice. Rather than appointing himself as judge, jury, and executioner, he should have worked within the system. It was also wrong because it was not God’s will. God had not yet called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. And it was wrong because it was not God’s way. God had not commanded Moses to take up arms against the oppressor, as if somehow he could liberate Israel one Egyptian at a time. Later God would smite the Egyptians himself, but that was his business, and the time had not yet come.” (58)
  3. Terence Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988, 50)
  4. Peter Enns, Exodus. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, 88
  5. Enns, Exodus, 91

tumblr_n0fvrji5aa1qbxrsuo1_500

Before formally embarking on philosophy Friday discussions, I thought it would be helpful to post some suggested reading. From what I gather, most people don’t take a philosophy class as part of their education (the horror!). Unless you’re a bookworm, you probably don’t have the random philosophy book at your disposal. Even if you are, you might not have the best starting point for wading into the wide world of philosophy. To keep drowning to a minimum, I thought I’d share my reading path and you can decide what suits you best.

First off, I became interested in philosophy when I took it as part of my degree completion through Liberty University. The textbook for that particular class was Questions that Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy. As with most textbooks, don’t pay full price and get the most recent edition. There is a shorter version, but just go with a good used copy of this edition if the book looks inviting.

The particular class I took was taught by Mark Foreman, whose new book, Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians is probably the best starting point for most readers. It is just what the title says. That is, it is not an intro to philosophy per se, but a introduction to the study of philosophy, why it’s important and all that jazz. He also has an introduction to epistemology co-authored with James Dew which looks like it will be good as well. Also along these lines, you could check out Philosophy: A Student’s Guide, as well as other books in that series.

After that initial undergrad philosophy class, I didn’t do much philosophical reading until my second semester of seminary. At that point, I was taking Trinitarianism, discovered philosophical theology, and read Van Til for the first time. Quite the semester. During this semester, which was thankfully the only one in which I worked two jobs and took full time classes, I read Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview and almost transferred to Talbot. Thankfully I stayed, because Dr. Blount the faculty that semester and I was able to do my emphasis in systematic theology and philosophy while staying at Dallas.

While I would recommend picking up Philosophical Foundations (flirtations with heresy aside), some readers might not want to embark on a nearly 700 page book. A different route, is to read the individual volumes in the series that I display in the above picture. Both the Contours of Christian Philosophy and Contours of Christian Theology series are worth adding to your library. While it might be difficult to replicate my collection (since they’re the old school versions), you can piece together your own collection of new editions:

I’ve found these (the ones I’ve read) to be helpful in giving an introductory framework. They’re not exhaustive, but they’re not intended to be. If you’re looking to expand your philosophical horizons, these little volumes can be a great place to start.

If you want to do a little more heavy lifting, you could read the 4 books I’m having to plow through to prepare for entrance exams:

These are listed in order of difficulty. I’ve read the two by Nash and found them both helpful and enjoyable reads. I’m familiar with Plantinga (the aforementioned Blount studied with him at Notre Dame, so I’m kind of a educational grand-kid), but haven’t completed my trek through either title listed. That’s on the docket for today, so I better get to it.

9780310331360Coming up on a month ago, I told you we were doing a series review of Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Now we’re ready for the first monthly installment, and the essay by Albert “From A Christian Worldview Perspective” Mohler is up. 1

Just from the title, you can guess the direction Mohler takes. Not one to mince words, Mohler makes his position clear on the first page:

In affirming that the Bible, as a whole and in its parts, contains nothing but God-breathed truth, evangelicals have simply affirmed what the church universal had affirmed for well over a millennium – when the Bible speaks, God speaks (29).

For Mohler, much is at stake in defending this claim. Perhaps more so than any other contributor (except maybe Enns from the other direction), Mohler is concerned with the implications of a denial of inerrancy. This is not to say the others are not concerned, just that Mohler is all the more. In his own words,

I will make my position plain. I do not believe that evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy. Given the pressures of late modernity, growing ever more hostile to theological truth claims, there is little basis for any hope that evangelicals will remain distinctively evangelical without the principled and explicit commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible (31).

If you’re familiar with Al Mohler, none of what I’ve said so far is surprising. Indeed, I wasn’t particularly surprised by anything he said in his essay. It was a mainly historical defense of inerrancy centered Scripture’s own testimony and unpacking the Chicago Statement for Biblical Inerrancy (something all contributors had to address). I think it’s fair to say Mohler is doing historical theology, and of the contributors, makes the most historical/traditional argument. His exegesis of the problems texts was a little superficial (in comparison to the biblical scholars in the mix), but it was consistent with his position. I would agree with Mohler’s position on the whole, but I probably wouldn’t articulate a defense in the way he did.

It has the feel of someone sketching out a presupposition they bring to interpreting the Bible, which is why is at least one reason I imagine Enns reacts so strongly against it. For Enns, what Mohler actually thinks is not so concerning. Rather, the issue (to Enns) is that he is using his position of power and influence to wield the axe of inerrancy as if it were the Acts of the Apostles. Enns sees this as “alarmist” and a position that will “not bear up under the scrutiny of the biblical data or biblical scholarship” (59).

Bird and Vanhoozer are more appreciative of Mohler’s take. But since the point of the response is to highlight disagreement, they both offer their dissent. For Bird, it centers on taking away Mohler’s argument that the CSBI more or less encapsulates what Christians have always thought. Bird sees it as a retrieval of what Christians have confessed, but also a reaction to modern crises in the primarily the American church (66). Bird then objects to Mohler’s use of the CSBI when it comes to defending inerrancy, not the doctrine itself. In a literary reference I imagine many people reading the book miss, Bird suggests “Mohler has turned the CSBI into a type of horcrux upon which Scripture’s own life depends” (69). 2 In the end, Bird objects to Mohler’s particular way of formulating a defense of the basic doctrine, but is happy to agree with the doctrine itself.

Vanhoozer found himself “affirming virtually all of the positive things Mohler says about God and the importance of biblical truth” (72). However, his impression is that “Mohler is a better storyteller than conceptual analyst.” Since Vanhoozer goes to the trouble to summarize his response with “three cheers (minus one),” I doubt I can do little better than reproduce it here (76):

  • As to the Bible’s being the wholly true and trustworthy word of God: hooray!
  • As to the necessity of evangelical theology’s maintaining the above: huzzah!
  • As to the “classic” doctrine of inerrancy: say what?

From Vanhoozer’s point of view, “When the Bible speaks, God speaks” is the classic view. But as it is articulated in CSBI, it is more of a modern classic the way that say, Coke is “classic.” Mohler is therefore not classic enough. Vanhoozer wants to go really old school on this classic stuff, but we’ll get to him a few posts down the road.

As for Franke, his main difficulty is that Mohler’s position “takes a particular notion of inerrancy and biblical authority, that of CSBI, and asserts that it is a universal ideal that must be affirmed by all who would seek to be faithful to the Bible” (77). This is more than likely an implication of Franke’s more postmodern leanings when it comes to philosophical and theological foundations. Later he says that “with appropriate nuances, I share Mohler’s basic outlook: the Bible is divinely inspired and, as such, is a form of the Word of God. Hence, when the Bible speaks, God speaks” (79). However, once you read Franke’s essay, you realize he doesn’t necessarily mean the same things Mohler does and it is questionable whether they really share the same basic outlook.

Because of Mohler’s significance in this discussion, I’m glad he had the opening essay and I’m glad he articulated it the way he did. In giving a modern traditional evangelical defense, Mohler lays out what he thinks is at stake and why he is taking the stand where he is. His co-contributors have interesting pushback, some more insightful than others. The discussion then moves to Mohler’s polar opposite in the discussion, and you can read my thoughts on that next month.

Notes:

  1. That nickname is from the constant refrain I hear every morning on The Briefing. If you don’t podcast it, you should.
  2. If you don’t know what a “horcrux” is, you need to read Harry Potter. The short explanation is that the villain in the series, Voldemort, creates horcruxes out of valuable objects and animals. It becomes a horcrux because he invests part of his soul into it. To kill him, you must also destroy all the horcruxes he has hidden part of his soul within. This was Rowling’s way of illustrating “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” which for Voldemort was quite literally true. Not to spoil it, but he dies in the end. And hopefully now, you can understand what Bird is saying.

tumblr_n0c9zxZcy71qbxrsuo1_500

I love a good vintage theology book. Vintage, in this usage, means late 70′s or early 80′s, and I’m mainly talking about cover aesthetics. The particularly book pictured even comes with sweet character sketches of each of the authors before their respective essays. We’re talking about back when D. A. Carson had a mustache and Wayne Grudem still had his hair.

I found this particular gem a Saturday ago while browsing my local used bookstore, which happens to be on the RTS Orlando campus (which happens to be across the street from my neighborhood). As is my custom, I gave it a good internal perusal before spending the $6 (or rather using $6 of my credit). In the front cover, I noticed a personal note, which reads as follows:

To John Frame,

With deep appreciation for your very significant influence in the development of my own understanding of the doctrine of the Word of God.

Wayne Grudem

Sept. 19, 1983

Ps. 12:6

As soon as I read that, I knew I had stumbled onto the kind of find you dream about when you’re in a used bookstore (or maybe that’s just me). Upon more significant perusal, I found a typed letter from Grudem included inside. 1 If you keep track of these things, Grudem went to WTS and so Frame was one of his systematic profs. At the time of writing, Grudem is starting his 3rd year of teaching New Testament at TEDS. He tells Frame that he has some level of remorse that he forgot to include a footnote acknowledging Frame’s influence on him. His particularly essay in this volume, “Scripture’s Self-Attestation and The Problem of Formulating A Doctrine of Scripture,” is clearly indebted to Frame. Judging from his C.V., this is the first thing Grudem published that was not just a version of his dissertation (The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians) or an article in a journal or magazine.

Speaking as someone in a similar situation (though lacking the Ph.D and higher level teaching job), I can really relate to how Grudem felt in sending this book to Frame. You’re just embarking on a scholarly career of teaching and writing and you get an essay published in a collection edited by Don “The Dragon” Carson. You neglect to mention that one seminary prof that really sparked your interested in a particular doctrine and heavily influenced your thought. So, naturally, you send him a copy of the first book you get an essay published in, and include a personal letter as a way of thanking him.

The way Grudem wrote in the letter is the way I feel when I write (now via e-mail) to my seminary profs to check in and occasionally thank them for their influence. It’s kind of encouraging to see Grudem in the same position. Certainly we all realize that people like Grudem were once seminary students themselves who were awed by their professors. I thankfully got to see it in writing in a letter from over 30 years ago.

Toward the end of the letter, Grudem mentions in passing that he’s starting to get interested in systematic theology. Though his published articles throughout the rest of the 80′s and early 90′s don’t slant strongly in that direction, come 1994, Grudem published Systematic Theology. What was merely a “strong interest” in 1983 became a 1000+ page, fairly standard evangelical textbook in systematic theology 11 years later. To read Grudem tell Frame he’s pretty much only teaching New Testament at the moment, but is finding himself drawn to systematics was quite the delicious piece of irony. Just goes to show what you can do if stick with it and cultivate an interest a discipline for 10 years.

So, let that be an encouragement to you, current seminary student or recent seminary graduate. Grudem used to be one of us too, and though we all start out in fairly inauspicious settings, if we are faithful in our callings, and diligent in our work, we can carry on the influence to another generation. Eventually some things can come full circle. Now some 30 letters after that letter, Frame has a systematic of his own (which shares a title but different sub-title than Grudem’s), and who do you think shows up in the bibliography and footnotes?

That’s right, Wayne Grudem and his Systematic Theology.

Notes:

  1. If you’re curious, I returned the letter to Frame. Given the wonders of Evernote, you’d think I’d have captured a good picture of it for posterity. You’d be right, but you’d also not realize that somehow I didn’t save the picture. Oh well, it wasn’t mine to keep anyway.

9781441240453

Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, March, 2013. 224 pp. Paperback, $24.99

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

Matthew Levering is professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton. He also knows a thing or two about St. Augustine. Actually he knows quite a bit, and this introductory guide, The Theology of Augustine shows it.

Anyone interested in studying theology more seriously ought to be familiar with Augustine. To facilitate that, Levering has written a fine book. While a bishop writing over 1500 years ago might not seem super relevant, that is not the case. In answering why he is still relevant today, Levering says:

[H]e is among the greatest theologians of the living God, the Triune whose nature is first revealed in his covenants with his people of Israel and who is most fully revealed by Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The “new atheists” of today would not be new to Augustine. Not only does he have responses to their questions about God, but also he perceives the way in which our lives are shaped by our loves – and the way in which Christian faith opens us to the greatest possible commitments of love (188).

Even for those of us who are on-board with learning more from Augustine, it is not always reading. There are few reasons for this as Levering explains:

Augustine wrote over one hundred treatises, countless letters and sermons, and more than five million words in all [!]. Although few scholars can become acquainted with all of his writings, there are certain pivotal works that one simply must know if one is interested in development of Christian theology, biblical exegesis, and Western civilization. This is especially the case because Augustine has always been, and remains today, a controversial thinker whose insights into the realities of God and salvation can be easily misunderstood (xi).

To help readers navigate, Levering chooses seven pivotal works of Augustine and then exposits their main contours. Rather than other approaches that “treat his ideas on this and that topic, drawing upon a wide variety of treatises, letters, and sermons,” Levering instead introduces Augustine’s major ideas through a survey of his most important works (xii).

Those works, and the ideas they illustrate accordingly to Levering are:

  • On Christian Doctrine (his approach to biblical interpretation and teaching theology)
  • Answer to Faustus, A Manichean (his view on the relationship of the Testaments)
  • Homilies on the First Epistle of John (his view of the unity of the church)
  • On The Predestination of The Saints (his view on God’s eternity/simplicity and grace/election)
  • Confessions (his view of his own conversion)
  • City of God (his view on the meaning of history)
  • On The Trinity (his view on the divine)

By picking these works, he includes works from each of Augustine’s major disputations (Manichees, Donatists, Pelagians), as well as a triology of works (the last three above) on the soul’s ascent deeper and deeper into full participation in the life of God (xiii). As he notes, his survey work inevitably leaves much out (7 expositions are under 200 pages), but he tries to point readers to the relevant secondary sources (xviii). This is mostly through the footnotes, which to be honest, are a bit sparse. However, at the end, there is a list of secondary sources for further reading.

As I was reading, it was sometimes difficult to tell whether Levering was summarizing Augustine or offering his own commentary. Perhaps that is part of the difficulty in writing an introductory survey like this. It would have been helpful to have more direct quotes from Augustine, but as it stands, the text was fairly readable and easy to follow. Still, it would have helped to have a clearer distinction between commentary and summary.

On the whole, I think this would be a great starting point for a motivated reader to dig deeper into Augustine. I suppose you could just as easily pick up and read The Confessions, but this gives a broader overview and sets the context better for Augustine’s life and work. More advanced readers will profit from Levering’s analysis of The City of God and On The Trinity. Additionally, many readers will profit from understanding Augustine’s work on predestination and his insights into teaching theology. While nothing can replace actually reading the primary sources for yourself, this book will give you a head-start on your Augustinian journey.

1545546_10101264373757208_785687467_n

When we ended the story last week, Pharaoh had upped his game and opted for a more brutal policy of infanticide. Since the midwives refused to do his dirty work, he enlisted all of Egypt to make sure all the baby Israelite boys ended up sleeping with the fishes. So far as we can tell, that policy was more successful, and now Israel was not only brutally enslaved in Egypt, but were also well on their way to dying out.

Against this backdrop, several more women emerge in the tradition of Shiprah and Puah. Fearing God more than Pharaoh, a Levite woman named Jochebed marries and has a son (v. 1). She raises him for 3 months in secret (v. 2), “when she could hide him no longer,”

She took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.

Technically, she had followed Pharaoh’s orders and “cast” her son into the Nile. She just chose to include a flotation device, literally an “ark.” Then, the most unlikely of persons stumbles upon the scene:

Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.”

This story would have taken a decidedly different turn if she then said, “And Dad wanted all these little guys drowned, so let’s get him out of that little boat and feed him to the crocodiles.” But she didn’t. Instead, Moses’ older sister, Miriam, who had been standing off at a distance, rushes up and tries some diplomacy

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

This was a pretty risky move considering the imperial policy and all. Presumably Miriam intuited a possible maternal instinct kicking in with Pharaoh’s daughter and decided she better act fast. Surprisingly, or we could say providentially, it went well:

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

In this story, as one commentator notes, 1 ironies abound, eight to be precise:

  1. Pharaoh’s chosen instrument of destruction (the Nile) is the means for saving Moses.
  2. As in 1:15–22, the daughters are allowed to live, and it is they who now proceed to thwart Pharaoh’s plans.
  3. The mother saves Moses by following Pharaoh’s orders (with her own twist).
  4. A member of Pharaoh’s own family undermines his policies, saving the very person who would lead Israel out of Egypt and destroy the Dynasty.
  5. Egyptian royalty heeds a Hebrew girl’s advice! The princess may have been gently conned into accepting the child’s own mother as a nurse, but her pity is clearly stated.
  6. The mother gets paid to do what she most wants to do, and from Pharaoh’s own budget (anticipating 3:22)!
  7. Moses is educated to be an Israelite leader, strategically placed within the very court of Pharaoh.
  8. The princess gives the boy a name that betrays much more than she knows (including a Hebrew etymology for an Egyptian name): what she has done for Moses, Moses will do for all the people of Israel.

Even more than that, this whole story could be seen as a polemic against a popular Egyptian myth. Many people have pointed out the connection between the birth story of Moses and the birth story of Sargon. More likely the connection has to do with the birth story of Horus since Sargon was much later than Moses. 2 John Currid explains:

Although the persecuted-child motif appears throughout the ancient Near East, it is clear that the biblical narrative of Moses’s birth most closely resembles and echoes the Myth of Horus from Egypt. This makes perfectly good sense, since the setting of Moses’s birth is Egypt. In fact, the biblical author may have employed this echo from a well-known Egyptian myth for polemical reasons. In other words, the writer takes the famous pagan myth and turns it on its head in order to ridicule Egypt and to highlight the truth of the Hebrew world-and-life view…

In other words, whereas Egyptian thought teaches that Pharaoh is the incarnation of the persecuted Horus, the biblical writer is saying that, in reality, he is not the persecuted Horus but the persecutor Seth! Moses, on the other hand, is the Horus figure who survives infant persecution to grow up and deliver his people from the evil figure of Pharaoh as the Seth figure. This ironic twist is a polemic that serves as an overwhelming assault on Pharaoh and his status as the living embodiment of the god Horus. 3

Added to the irony and polemics is the fact that Moses’s story foreshadows the story of Israel as a whole. As Enns comments,

Moses’ safe passage through the waters of the Nile not only looks backward to the flood story, but forward to the passage through the sea in Exodus 14 for all of God’s people. Ironically, this child, once doomed to death by Pharoah’s decree, will become the very instrument of Pharaoh’s destruction and the means through which all Israel escapes not merely Pharaoh’s decree, but Egypt itself. 4

Later he expands this idea and applies to believers today:

In this respect, Moses’ infancy, his ‘death and rebirth’ on the Nile, is itself a microcosm of the people’s plight as a whole. As their leader, he experiences what the Israelites will experience later on. This identification of Moses’ and the people’s plight is similar to how Paul describes the effects of Christ’s death and resurrection. By virtue of Christ’s work, the church has been united to him (Rom. 6:5; Phil. 2:1). One way this union works itself out is in the believer’s journey from death to life, from being an enemy of God to being reconciled to him by the blood of Christ. Becoming a Christian means in a real (but imperfect) sense going through what Christ went through. 5

This story then works on multiple levels. As ancient Near East literature, it foreshadows the story of Israel, while simultaneously subverting a popular myth in Egypt. This would have helped the original readers to see how God works in unexpected ways to fulfill his promises. As Christian Scripture, this story shows how our own spiritual journey follows Moses/Israel and ultimately Christ himself.

The story is far from complete, and next week we’ll see where this unlikely birth goes and how it sets in motion the deliverance of God’s people from enslavement in Israel.

Notes:

  1. Terence Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988, 37
  2. “James Hoffmeier rightly argues: A further problem for those wishing to find a correlation between the Sargon legend and the Moses birth story is, as noted above, that the earliest surviving copies of the Sargon text date from the Neo-Assyrian or later times. This factor, along with others, suggests that the legend may have been recorded by (or for) the late 8C Assyrian king, Sargon II, who took the name of his great Akkadian forebear and identified himself with that monarch. This possibility diminishes the case for the Sargon legend influencing Exodus because if we allow that J or E (usually dated to the 10C and 8C respective) is the source behind Exodus 2:1-10, and follow the traditional dating for these sources, both would predate the reign of Sargon II (721-705).” Quoted in John D. Currid, Against The Gods: The Polemical Theology of The Old Testament. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.
  3. Currid, Against The Gods
  4. Peter Enns, Exodus. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, 62
  5. Enns, Exodus, 71

tumblr_n0g0mmTq2Y1qbxrsuo1_500

Back in the day, I started a very ambitious blog series on philosophy. It was a bit too much. I didn’t particularly care about post length and so was just kind of thinking out loud. If you’re interested (and even if you’re not), here’s the posts:

Seminary got busier, and I realized the project wasn’t really going anywhere. Times have changed now, and I’ve been doing a lot more philosophy reading lately to gear up for Ph.D entrance exams. As part of that, I’d like to get back into blogging about philosophy, and we’ll it just fits Fridays.

This time around, rather than give you my thoughts on worldviews, I’d like to commend you James Anderson’s newest book What’s Your Worldview. There are several reviews floating around (not literally), and I’m sending one off to TGC later today. I liked the book so much I took advantage of the sale at Westminster and ordered them for my apologetics students. We had probably one of our best class discussions yesterday, and we really only scratched the surface.

To give you some more food for thought on worldviews, their importance as well as their diagnosis, here are five posts that Anderson did over on the Crossway Blog:

This is only scratching the surface, but it is a helpful head-start into the discussion. Much of the substance in these posts are expansions of the introductory material in Anderson’s book. His book is the best tool I’ve seen for the diagnosis aspect since it lays out the questions that need to be answered to construct a worldview. I could say more, but just read my review (when it posts).

As far as Fridays from here on out, I don’t have a plan for topics. I’m open to suggestions, but I’d like to keep posts in the 300-500 word range. Bigger topics would obviously take multiple posts. If you’d like to talk philosophy though, this is now the place. In the meantime, let me know what you think about Anderson’s posts and his book if you’ve got it!