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Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before The Fall: Biblical Literalism and The Problem of Animal Suffering. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, February 2014. 197 pp. Paperback, $25.00.

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Ronald Osborn has published articles in numerous journals and magazines and was a Bannerman Fellow at the University of Southern California (where he also received his Ph.D). He is not a biblical scholar, but he is a Seventh-Day Adventist. The latter group is almost exclusively young-earth creationists, and as he portrays them, it would seem like Ken Ham could be their patron saint (if they were into that sort of thing).

Osborn grew up as a missionary kid in Zimbabwe where animal on animal violence was much more commonplace than here (squirrels in my backyard notwithstanding). This forms a backdrop to his reaction against young earth creationism.

As the subtitle suggests, Osborn is exploring the problem of animal suffering. The basic question is whether or not animal suffering is a result of the fall of man, or whether it is to a certain extent woven into the fabric of nature. Osborn thinks the latter, but rather than confront that head on, he begins with the hermeneutics of young earth creationism. Hence the first part of the subtitle “biblical literalism.”

After reading the book, I think the subtitle is a bit misleading. The book is actually an extended critique of a literalistic (not necessarily “literal” in the true sense) hermeneutic, with a follow up exploring the problem of animal suffering. The first part of the book is about 100 pages, the second is about 50. Nothing wrong with this of course. It just means you should realize most of the book is focused on deconstructing not only literalistic hermenuetics but also its philosophical underpinnings.

Now, I keep saying “literalistic” rather than “literal.” As Osborn sees it, “literalism” is a product of buying into Enlightenment categories of thought. To a certain extent, he is correct. Reading Genesis (or any other part of Scripture) in a woodenly literal way such that everything is interpreted in its “plainest sense,” is a kind of Enlightenment way of doing things. There isn’t much nuance, and in that sense it isn’t really “literal” in the truest sense of the word. Rather, it is “literalistic,” ignoring markers of genre and going with what makes the most straightforward sense to a modern rational reader. Osborn is attacking this latter approach, which is part of a general fundamentalistic ethos. As he notes in a later chapter in part 1, fundamentalism can fall prey to gnostic temptations, something no one would want to actively be apart of.

Still, he is to be commended for critiquing this wrongheaded way of reading Scripture. He even marshals support from historical figures who’ve grappled with Genesis (chapter 8), focusing on Barth, Calvin, Augustine, and Maimonides (chapter 8). Unfortunately, in Calvin’s case (and perhaps Augustine’s as well), they don’t necessarily say what he thinks they say. His treatment/interaction with Calvin was particularly disappointing, mainly because a misinterpretation of the Servetus affair was trotted into the conversation to make a point about Calvin’s personality.

Included in the critique of literalism is a critique of foundationalist epistemology. They do go together to a certain extent. I would imagine that most people who read Genesis in a literalistic way also hold to a correspondence theory of truth and believe foundationalism is the best account of the structure of knowledge. Osborn hopes that undermining the foundationalist epistemology literalism is founded on will be the death blow to the whole way of reading Scripture. However, he really only argues against strong foundationalism and neglects to offer a good argument against a modest foundationalist paradigm. Alvin Plantinga is referenced once in the book, and for a different issue entirely. I had hoped if he were going to really try to argue against foundationalism, he would have dealt with Plantinga’s re-booted model, but that didn’t happen.

All of this is a precursor to dealing with the second part of the subtitle, and what the title actually implies is the main subject of the book. Instead, Osborn deals mostly with issues of theodicy, which granted, do pertain to animal suffering before and/or after the fall. The book of Job gets a good treatment (chapter 12) and C. S. Lewis makes an extended appearance (chapter 11). In the end though, it didn’t seem to me much of an exploration of the nature and purpose of animals, and whether there was nature red in tooth and claw before the fall.

Now this isn’t to say the subject isn’t touched on. Rather, actual discussion of the problem of animal suffering occupies about less than half of the book. His basic conclusion is that the biblical writers do not consider animal death and suffering an effect of the fall. I would in general agree with this. I think “death” in Romans 5 refers to human death, and even before Adam and Eve sinned, death was present at the cellular level (and seems woven into the seed cycle of Day 3). While I agree with Osborn on his main point, I would have liked more actual discussion of the issue rather than an extended deconstruction of a literalstic hermeneutics. It seems like this book would have benefited from being much longer. It’s not that the setup dealing with hermeneutics is misplaced, it just that it leaves the book imbalanced.

The biggest problem though is not the imbalance, which is forgivable, and may just reflect my personal preference. The biggest issue is one of audience. As I was reading the book, I was trying to figure out who the book was for. People who espouse the type of hermeneutics Osborn is arguing against (Seventh Day Adventist or otherwise) will probably not find his argument inviting. It could be much worse as far as the rhetoric goes, but it’s a strident critique that left me wondering who exactly the book would convince.

I more or less agree with Osborn’s point, but found his critique of literalistic readings unhelpful. This is especially true if I were going to recommend the book to someone who is trying to sort through the issues. The explanation of animal suffering would have worked better in a book that was aimed at people already on-board with a more nuanced reading of Genesis. Instead, Osborn tries to tackle a poor approach to reading Genesis, doesn’t offer a ton of nuance, and then is left with little space to actually cover what would appear to be the main topic of the book (given the title and cover). Given that he isn’t a biblical scholar, he might do a fair job of deconstructing a bad way of reading Scripture (and showing its antecedents), but he doesn’t offer much in terms of a useful constructive approach.

As a result, while I found parts beneficial, I’m not sure I’d recommend the book. I think if you’re interested in Genesis, you should probably pick up a copy. If you’re a young earth creationist, you’ll probably hate it, and I wouldn’t blame you. While Osborn is trying to move the conversation forward, the end result isn’t very successful, but it does have a pretty metal cover for a book on hermeneutics.

8520610Over at Christ and Pop Culture, you can read my latest review. It’s just a brief overview of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Not mentioned in the review, but worth checking out is the part where she compares and contrasts a Tony Robbins workshop and a church service at Saddleback.

To help further the conversation, I thought I’d point you along to several other posts at Christ and Pop Culture that interact with the book and introversion in general:

The Kiddy Pool: Ins and Outs—Reading Susan Cain’s Quiet

The prevailing mainstream mentality is that wanting to be by oneself sometimes (or a lot) is selfish, anti-social, and ultimately broken. Yet Cain’s Quiet argues precisely the opposite. Throughout her text, Cain asserts that critical traits like creativity, exceptional achievement in any field (from technology to the arts to athletics), and ethical-decision making require working alone. It is in the intensely thoughtful, sometimes obsessive ruminations of introverts that the brightest ideas often occur—not in the ubiquitous group work that Cain says produces lots of ideas but few brilliant ones. Introverts and extroverts alike need to balance group interactions with time alone, a dualism known throughout monastic history as the active and contemplative lives.

The Persecution Complex of the Modern Introvert

The last few years have been pretty good for introverts. Researchers have found that activities usually regarded as “extraverted”—meetings, brainstorming, group work—are not nearly as effective or productive as people think they are, and that better results occur if you just leave people alone and let them work. A host of books, including Susan Cain’s acclaimed Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, have been published in recent years that proclaim the value that introverts bring to the world, and offer advice to introverts on how to be better and happier. There’s even a book—Adam S. McHugh’s Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture—on ministering to introverts in the Church and recognizing their unique gifts.

I’ve detected an underlying theme in these things: It’s an extravert’s world out there, and we introverts are just passing through as best we can, and hoping nobody talks to us along the way. Extraverts rule the world because, well, they’re extraverts, and they put themselves out there more often. What’s more, many of the economic, social, and power structures in place reward extraversion. Meanwhile, because introverts prefer to sit on the sidelines and in the shadows, we are marginalized and forgotten along with any gifts and contributions that we might bring to the table.

Introverts, Unite! Stop Calling Us Shy!

I immediately clicked on Jessica Lahey’s article “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School” because I am both a teacher and an introvert. As far as the headline goes, I agree with Lahey’s argument as well as her premise—that the outside world demands dialogue and discussion, and educators who coddle children and never require them to speak ultimately do the children a disservice.

What Memes Mean: A Disheartening Meme On Introversion

God created each of us with certain attributes, according to a sovereign plan and with a certain vocation, “[making] from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26-27).  Temperament is an integral part of this calling, a fascinating divine ordainment.  It is something to be praised, properly understood, and developed, and never an excuse to avoid personal growth.

This meme illustrates a frustrating misunderstanding of many of the qualities of introversion, painting them with a level of neediness that is much more aligned with base immaturity than the particular personality type in question. I was hoping that our culture was getting over some of its stigmas.  But then a meme like this pops up, and I’m disheartened once again.

What do you think?

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John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical AuthorityDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October 2013. 320 pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

John Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, where D. Brent Sandy teaches New Testament and Greek. Together, they’ve written The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority. In a way, this book is a follow up to Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, but not strictly a sequel (which is what The Lost World of The Word will be to this book). Here, Walton and Sandy are explaining the nature of ancient literary culture and how that affects our understanding of biblical authority. I suppose you might have guess that from the subtitle.

A less vague, but perhaps more revealing subtitle would have been “How the Orality of Ancient Literary Culture Impacts Inerrancy.” In other words, the primary focus of the book is on how ancient literary culture was primarily oral rather than written. This means that for many books, there was a preceding oral tradition. This tradition was not simply discarded once the book was put into writing, but rather continued on.

In chapters that are given propositional titles, Walton and Sandy try to explain in an accessible way the nature of an oral literary culture. The first part of the book focuses on the Old Testament background culture, while the second on the New. The third part applies this understanding to the different literary genres of the Bible. In the fourth part, they summarize the entire argument about ancient literary culture, and then draw some applications to our understanding of biblical authority in general and inerrancy in particular. The result is a book will potentially be a conversation changer when it comes to modern inerrancy debates.

Because of the oral nature of much of Scripture’s origin, Walton and Sandy use speech-act theory to explain where the authority lies. According to speech act theory, statements have three parts:

  • The locution (the actual words)
  • The illocution (the intended meaning)
  • The perlocution (the intended effect)

Walton and Sandy propose that the authority of Scripture is in the illocution rather than the locution. This is a way of dealing with some of the issues related to science and history in the Bible, but primarily with discrepancies in the details of the Gospel accounts to give one example. If it is the locutions themselves that are inerrant, that doesn’t account for an underlying inspired oral account. But, if it is the illocutions (or the concepts/propositions) that are inerrant, and so also where the authority of Scripture is, then some of the issues that appear to threaten inerrancy at the exegetical level no longer do so.

In the end, I don’t know how many people will find this aspect of Walton and Sandy’s thesis helpful. I did, but I can also see how some might be less than quick to jump on board with it. To relate it to the Five Views of Inerrancy, I can see Franke, Vanhoozer, and Bird (maybe) more or less agreeing. Enns might agree but still say inerrancy doesn’t account for the biblical text. Mohler probably would not agree because he would want to tie inerrancy to the actual words of Scripture (making it therefore verbal and plenary). In that light, Walton and Sandy’s proposal might resonate with progressive accounts of inerrancy, rather than those more traditional ones.

I think it is a thesis worth exploring. And if much of what they are claiming about the oral nature of Scripture is true, then our understanding of how Scripture came down to us will need to be revised. The result will be an understanding in harmony with the background culture that the Bible was produced in and will help defend Scripture’s authority in a more nuanced way.

Here’s another episode of 8-bit philosophy:

 

bible-and-believer1Marc Brettler, Daniel Harrington, S.J., Peter Enns, The Bible and The Believer: How to Read The Bible Critically and Religiously. New York: Oxford University Press, September 2012. 224 pp. Hardcover, $27.95.

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Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy!

A Jew, a Protestant, and a Catholic walk into a bar…

…to talk about reading the Bible in light of their scholarly commitment.

Marc Zvi Brettler is the Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies at Brandeis University. Peter Enns teaches Biblical Studies at Eastern University. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. was a Professor of New Testament at Boston College until his recent passing. Together, these three scholars have written a kind of multiview book on reading Scripture in light of critical and religious commitments.

The book opens with a concise history of critical biblical scholarship. Because Brettler is Jewish and Enns is an Old Testament scholar, the specific focus is on the Old Testament in modern historical criticism. After this context is established, each contributor offers an extended essay on his perspective of reading the Bible both critically and religiously. Then, the author gives an example of his critical/religious reading in action. The other two contributors then offer their responses as additional headings within the same chapter. The end of each chapter offers suggestions for further reading more or less in line with the author’s perspective.

In a horrible turn of events, the book has endnotes instead of footnotes. However, the valuable takeaway from this is that the publisher (Oxford) seems to be hinting that this is a book for laypeople. The underlying message is that the critical reading scholars from all perspectives use (Jewish/Protestant/Catholic) is compatible with the religious way the average person in the pew/synagogue reads. The writing is conversational and accessible, but doesn’t shy away from critical discussion. Since the three essays and responses taken together are about 150 pages (which gives you an idea how long each chapter is), it seems reasonable that the average person could make their way through the book and learn how to read the Bible the way the scholars do.

This way of reading though is not without problems. Perhaps the key one has to do with inerrancy and the historical value of the Old Testament. In these three scholars’ perspectives, the history of the Old Testament is minimized to say the least. Brettler says in his essay that “Jewish tradition is much less concerned with the literal truth and the historical accuracy of the biblical text than is the Protestant tradition (52).” Coming to terms with this says Enns, was what “set the course for much of my academic and spiritual thinking about the nature of Scripture (72).” Likewise, Harrington says that “Catholicism is not a religion of ‘the book,'” and “is more a religion of a person (85).” When it comes to the book though, “while inerrant in what pertains to our salvation, [it] is not necessarily inerrant in its worldview or chronology or what we currently regard as the province of the physical sciences (87).” As you can see, from a true critical perspective, there is no such thing as full inerrancy.

From my particular Protestant/Christian perspective, I think this book is a valuable read. I say this not because it provides actual insights I will use, but because it shows how what a critical reading of Scripture actually looks like from a religious perspective. I requested a review copy of this book mainly because Peter Enns was the Protestant voice and I wanted to see what he was up to. Also, I was intrigued by the format and thought it might be interesting to be a fly on the wall for a three-way discussion about Bible reading from three perspectives I don’t share. Enns does represent the Protestant perspective, but though I wouldn’t say he is a liberal Protestant (others might), he is definitely no conservative trying to maintain historical traditional orthodoxy when it comes to the Bible. More than originally anticipated, Enns seems right at home talk about reading Scripture with both a Catholic and Jewish scholar.

For readers who adopt this critical perspective, particularly evangelicals, Enns is a sort of Mosaic figure. After his own exodus from Westminster, he has been instrumental in helping others chart their way out of the Egypt of traditional inerrancy and into the Promised Land of critical, inerrancy-free Bible reading. Whether it’s his Evolution of Adam dealing with science and the Bible (mainly just deconstructing traditional understandings of Genesis), or explaining why he doesn’t think inerrancy works, Enns’ is progressively charting out a different approach to Scripture than Protestants have traditionally used. In this book, Enns offers a good overview of how he thinks we (Christians) should read Scripture critically and religiously. Since younger evangelicals who question inerrancy will likely find an affinity with Enns, it is probably good to know how Enns thinks we should read Scripture. In the midst of recent discussion of the future of Protestantism, this book provides an insight into how reading Scripture might look if views of Scripture like Enns holds win out. The result isn’t compelling to me, but I’m afraid it might be compelling to quite a few pilgrims on the way.

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James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, and Sexuality: Reframing The Church’s Debate on Same Sex RelationshipsGrand Rapids: Eerdmans, February, 2013. 312 pp. Paperback, $29.00.

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Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy!

James Brownson is the James and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan. He is also an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America. In Bible, Gender, and Sexuality he is attempting to look at the issue of same sex from a fresh angle.

The reason Brownson wants to look at the issue from a fresh angle is twofold. First, there are “gay and lesbian Christians who exhibit many gifts and fruits of the Spirit and who seek to live in deep obedience to Christ (11).” While Brownson was able to engage this issue from a “moderate, traditionalist position,” he was unable to continue doing so when his son announced he was gay.The second motivating factor made Brownson realize his former work “had stayed at a level of abstraction that wasn’t helpful when it came to the concrete and specific questions” he now faced with his son. His own son didn’t seem to fit the typical narrative used by traditionalists to explain homosexual orientation (and divide orientation from behavior). Likewise, his son seemed to him like a normal and healthy high school senior, in need of the grace of God, but not particularly or deeply troubled (12).

As a result, Brownson wanted to discern “what the most central and truest message of Scripture” was for his son, and “not to justify a certain conclusion” but discern as best the truth as best he could. In other words, because of personal issues, Brownson felt the strong need to go back and ask “Does Scripture really say homosexuality is wrong?”

Predictably, Brownson comes to the conclusion that Scripture doesn’t really say that. Once Brownson shared his personal motivations in his book project, I knew immediately this was the conclusion he would come to. That I read the rest of the book, I didn’t need to in order to see that Brownson would conclude from his study that same-sex relationships would be ok if they follow the same guidelines as opposite-sex relationships (sexual activity only within marriage). Having spent time depressed “grieving the loss of the heterosexual future” his son would miss (12), it was only natural that Brownson would now envision a “healthy” homosexual one instead.

To get there, Brownson concludes that same-sex relationships are not condemned by Scripture primarily by digging into what he calls “the moral logic” of what Scripture means by what it says. To be honest, it felt very much like the idea was to see if we could get behind what the text plainly says in order to see if actually applies to our modern situation. Lo and behold, it we dig deep enough we find that behaviors that are condemned in no uncertain terms can actually be morally acceptable in a different cultural context (if you also think that context isn’t anticipated by the biblical authors).

To make this case stick, Brownson has to argue several things. To begin, he denies that Scripture teaches gender complementarity (chapter 2). He focuses almost exclusively on Genesis 1-2 to prove this. Interestingly, he does not interact with any major commentary on Genesis in his interpretive efforts, nor does he really present a case from biblical theology. He simply examines the text for himself and finds it wanting.

Having done this, he then proceeds to try to distance himself from revisionist interpreters (chapter 3).Though it might appear like he is distinguishing himself from both traditionalists (complementarians) and revisionists by critiquing both camps, as mentioned above, he is ultimately part of the latter. He just thinks he is not as extreme. But, since he comes to more or less the same conclusions, that is really a hard sell to the reader.

After this preliminary ground clearing in the first part of the book, Brownson turns to four crucial topics in the second:

  • Patriarchy (chapter 4)
  • The one-flesh union of marriage (chapter 5)
  • Procreation (chapter 6)
  • Celibacy (chapter 7)

To summarize briefly, Brownson argues that the rules of a patriarchal culture are not normative (this builds on the denial of gender complementarity). Then, he says that the one-flesh union of marriage is primarily a kinship bond (and so not necessarily sexual). Given this, procreation may be part of marriage but not the ultimate goal, and so is not necessary. Lastly, it is wrong to argue that all people who want to gay or lesbian and Christian must be celibate because it is a gift not given to all.

This is all done without really engaging Romans 1:24-27 because Brownson devotes the entire third part of the book to this passage. He is concerned to understand what Paul means by lust and desire (chapter 8), purity and impurity (chapter 9), the dishonorable use of the body (chapter 10), and finally the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality (chapter 11). Briefly summarized, Brownson concludes that Paul condemns homosexual behavior that is driven by unrestrained lust. Then he suggests that for Paul and the rest of the NT authors, purity moves away from actions toward attitudes and dispositions. Next, if gender roles evolve, certain sexual behaviors that violate those gender roles may be acceptable. Lastly, in light of all this, there is no objective basis on which to classify homosexual behavior as “unnatural” and hence in the proper moral framework (marriage or civil union), the church should be open to accepting it.

In all this, no major Romans commentaries are consulted in reference to Romans 1. It is frequently asserted that neither Paul nor the other biblical writers were aware of something like sexual orientation. Frequently, sociological and psychological research in the abstract is referenced if it helps make the point and overlooked if it doesn’t. Speculative background contexts are used to try to reframe what Paul is saying.

But all of that pales in light of what Brownson says way back in chapter 5:

The fact that the Bible uses the language of “one flesh” to refer to male-female unions normally does not inherently, and of itself, indicate that it views such linkages normatively. (105)

This allows him to later make the following expanded conclusion:

It is clear that Scripture assumes that this one-flesh bond only takes place between a man and a woman. Yet there is nothing inherent in the biblical usage that would necessarily exclude committed gay or lesbian unions from consideration as one-flesh unions, when the essential characteristics of one-flesh unions as kinship bonds are held clearly in view. (109)

In other words, “what is normal in the biblical witness may not necessarily be normative in different cultural settings that are not envisioned by the biblical writers.” This is essentially a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture may depict certain cultural relationships as normal, but it is not our norm for understanding cultural relationships. That “norm” is whatever the deeper moral logic of Scripture is, which from Brownson’s point of view, seems to be an almost entirely cultural human product. Brownson is only interested in the moral logic of the biblical writer, as understood only as the text’s human author.

There is no concern for God’s moral logic and what might bring him glory through our sexual relationships. There is only the deeply personal experience of gay and lesbian persons that forces us to reinterpret what Scripture means by what it says. There is no recognition that we are all sexually broken in way or another and that homosexual patterns of desire represent one type of brokenness that needs the grace of God just as much as every other kind of brokenness.

In the end, there is book is a father’s attempt to affirm his son by re-reading Scripture and re-imagining a future for his son that can include a valid, church approved same-sex union. To do this, he must fight against the tide of traditional biblical interpretation and consult outlying sources to support the conclusion he was inevitably moving toward when he went back to “see what Scripture really means by what it says.” On the one hand, this book shows how tightly inter-related the case for traditional gender role is with the case for traditional marriage, and for that we should be grateful. But on the other hand, it shows what happens when experience becomes normative over and above Scripture, and for that we should take warning. Many people will find Brownson’s case compelling. Those same people may claim sola Scriptura, but approving the argument of this book requires affirming sola experientia instead.

20140429.membership

A couple of weeks back, I joined Christ and Pop Culture as a staff writer. I’m mainly doing book reviews, but of popular and not necessarily theological works. My first post was on The Power of Habit.

Last week, Christ and Pop Culture launched a membership option as a way to show your support. Though the content has been free up to now, that needed to change. As editor in chief Richard Clark explains:

Let me be blatantly honest: while we believe wholeheartedly in what we’re doing here, we can’t consistently dedicate this much time and attention to a hobby. We’ve decided that without financial growth and sustainability, Christ and Pop Culture simply cannot continue.

We want Christ and Pop Culture to be something more than a hobby, because in our hearts, it already is. Lord Willing, that’s the future of Christ and Pop Culture. In a very real sense, that future is in your hands.

Should you decide to support Christ and Pop Culture for $5 a month, here’s what you get:

  • Creator Spotlighta rotating bundle of three or four offerings from creators we love and admire (see this month’s offering)
  • A subscription to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine
  • The CAPC Report: An inside look behind the scenes at Christ and Pop Culture.
  • Podcasts: In addition to the regular podcast, members get a special podcast that skews longer than the standard one (and is directed by member input)
  • Wallpapers: Access to an ever-expanding library with wallpapers from illustrator, Seth T. Hahne based on previous CAPC magazine illustrations.
  • Access to a members only forum (on Facebook)
  • Unlimited browsing on the website! (as of now, your views are counted and capped each month)

Obviously, I’m a little biased since I’ve been a reader for a while and am now contributing as a writer. But, that doesn’t mean this isn’t objectively a good deal if you’re willing to let go of a Lincoln on a monthly basis. The free book in the Creator Spotlight would cost you more than $5 if you wanted to buy it. That shouldn’t be your primary motivating factor, but if you’re like me, getting what feels like a free book is always a good thing.

If you value thoughtful interaction with popular culture (which is really all culture that is getting noticed by a broad audience), then you’ll value what’s going on at Christ and Pop Culture. And in this case, not only is the interaction thoughtful, it’s from a Christian perspective and seeks to think theologically about the culture in which we live and move and have our being. It might be a stretch to say the apostle Paul would approve, but since he innovated interacting with pop culture from a Christian perspective, I think he might. But, don’t just take my word for it. Go see what others are saying and consider becoming a member!

Here’s an excellent rundown on Plato’s theory of the forms in under 3 minutes:

Who knew philosophy could be so fun? (I did.)

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C. Marvin Pate, Apostle of The Last Days: The Life, Letters, and Theology of PaulGrand Rapids: Kregel Academic, November, 2013. 320 pp. Paperback, $22.99.

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Thanks to Kregel Academic for the review copy!

Today’s review is by Jennifer Guo. She is a bean counter by day and a book eater by night. She is passionate about the gospel and loves biblical and theological studies. Besides  books, her other great love is the performing arts. She regularly posts book reviews and other goodies at her blog, and you can connect with her on Twitter.

Introduction

I love the Apostle Paul. His life inspires me, his writings are some of my favorite in the Bible, and the theology of his corpus is my favorite to study. When it comes to monographs on Pauline theology, his soteriology seems to receive the most attention. Especially in the Reformed world, writings on Paul are dominated by studies on his ordo salutis. And with the advent and growing popularity of the new perspective(s) on Paul in recent decades we have seen a proliferation of response books from the “old perspective,” arguing for the traditional understanding of Paul and justification.

As important and precious as justification by faith alone is, there’s actually more to Paul’s theology and this doctrine does have a competitor for the coveted spot of “the center of Paul’s theology.” This contender is inaugurated eschatology, and in Apostle of The Last Days C.Marvin Pate surveys the entire Pauline corpus to demonstrate that this is indeed the theme that unifies Paul’s life, letters, and theology.

Overview

Pate begins by introducing how Paul was a product of the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian worlds, which influenced him in increasing significance. Then he discusses the traditional attribution of thirteen letters to Paul, the liberal attribution of only seven of the letters, and the traditional response. Subsequently he surveys Paul’s life as documented in the book of Acts. Next, Pate summarizes the four approaches to identifying a center in Paul’s thought: justification by faith, the Tübingen school, the history of religions approach, and eschatology. Here he notes that while Jewish eschatology saw the present and the coming age as consecutive, in the New Testament the two ages overlap (inaugurated eschatology). “Thus, with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the age to come/kingdom of God broke into this present age but without ending it” (16). In other words, the age to come was inaugurated with the first coming of Christ but awaits the second coming for consummation.

The last idea presented in the introduction is that of Paul’s ministry being characterized by conflict in eschatologies. Here (pp 20-26) Pate summarizes six types of eschatology that were current during Paul’s time:

  1. Paul’s inaugurated eschatology
  2. non-merkabah non-Christian Judaism (consistent eschatology)
  3. non-merkabah Judaizers (inaugurated eschatology)
  4. the Roman imperial cult (realized eschatology)
  5. Hellenistic/syncretistic religion (realized eschatology)
  6. merkabah-Judaizers (realized eschatology).

He then takes the five components of the realized eschatology of the Roman imperial cult developed by Helmut Koester and applies the model to all of the above eschatologies except that of the non-merkabah, non-Christian Judaism (which is a consistent, i.e. futurist, eschatology):

  1. The New Age has dawned
  2. It is cosmic and universal
  3. A Savior inaugurates the New Age
  4. The New Age/Savior is predicted in sacred writings
  5. The New Age is celebrated through rituals

The thesis of this study is that conflict erupted as Paul presented his apocalypse of Christ in the face of the various competing eschatologies. Chapter 1 sets things up by demonstrating from Acts, Paul’s letters in general, and especially Galatians 1 and Romans 1 that Paul’s conversion and call were eschatologically driven. The fourfold eschatological message proclaimed by Paul and rooted in his conversion/call is that “Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, whose death and resurrection inaugurated the age to come, which is entered into by faith apart from the law, and which includes Gentiles” (49).  These four components became flashpoints of conflict between Paul and opponents influenced by the competing eschatological constructs of the day, and the next ten chapters highlight this conflict in the different cities that Paul wrote to, surveying each of his letters and further expounding upon the competing eschatologies in each city.

The last chapter, Chapter 12, presents an overview of Paul’s theology by using the seven typical categories of systematic theology. For each category, Pate launches the discussion from a word count of a key word related to the topic at hand (e.g. “God” for theology proper, “Christ”/“Lord” for Christology, etc.) and then draws out the eschatological nature of each. God is viewed through an apocalyptic lens (theology proper); Jesus’s death and resurrection inaugurated the age to come (Christology); the presence of the Holy Spirit, received by faith in Christ alone, is a key sign that the new age has dawned (pneumatology); the first Adam is the head of the old humanity and the last Adam is head of the new humanity (anthropology); justification, sanctification and glorification span the two ages (soteriology); and the church is the beginning of the new creation of the age to come, the restored Israel of the end times, the eschatological temple of God, the eschatological flock of God (ecclesiology). Finally, the section on eschatology looks at the various signs of the end times and how Paul viewed them through the lens of the overlapping of the two ages.

Evaluation

Apostle of The Last Days is a valuable contribution to Pauline studies. The majority of the book is a survey through Paul’s entire corpus, demonstrating the eschatology of each epistle vis-à-vis the competing eschatologies of the respective cities. It’s written at a moderately academic level, with most Greek words untransliterated. This book is definitely a treat for anyone with particular interest in Pauline studies and/or eschatology; but because the thesis is advanced through a survey of all of Paul’s epistles, it would benefit any semi-academic student of the Word by imparting a greater understanding of each of Paul’s epistles.