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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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As we continue through Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, we come to his section on the doctrine of God. You can refer back to the introduction to see the table of contents for the past section we covered, as well as upcoming review sections. For now, here’s the rundown on Bird’s foray into theology proper.

§ 2.1 God and the Gospel

Bird begins with a short section to orient readers to the relationship between the gospel and the doctrine of God. As he sees it, “an evangelical theology is really a mix of extrapolation and exposition of the gospel of God. Such a study of a God-shaped gospel will magnetically draw us toward a study of God’s triune nature, his manifold attributes, his creative and revealing works, as well as his ultimate purposes” (89). He then gives four reasons why this is so (89-90):

  1. The gospel draws us into the mysterious reality of God’s triune being
  2. The gospel provides the best means to answer the question “What is God like?”
  3. The gospel is a story about Jesus set within a larger story of creation, redemption, and new creation
  4. Like all stories, there is an ultimate aim, and like all stories there is an underlying unity

In the end, studying the God of the gospel takes us on a journey into such things as God’s triune being, his attributes, and his actions of creation and revelation. Ultimately, “the gospel is the offer of God himself” (91).

§ 2.2 Getting an Affinity for the Trinity

This is probably the meatiest section/chapter so far, and I appreciate that Bird starts with the Trinity. Often, Trinitarian theology can be tacked onto the end of a presentation of the doctrine of God, but here Bird puts it front and center. Though not as exhaustive, Bird’s presentation is rather Letham-like. He begins by meeting readers in their perplexed state, offers some comic belief (a recurring type section in this book), and explains that though the Trinity is not easy per se, we can grasp some of the mystery. The reason to push forward says Bird is that,

At the end of the day, if we are going to try to know God better, we have to learn about the Trinity. We have to delve into how the church has explained who God is in light of its Scriptures and through its controversies and creeds. Only when we know who God is can we properly pray to him, worship him, proclaim him, imitate him, and serve him! This isn’t easy. It means trying to penetrate into what is an impenetrable mystery, catching a glance of it, and being left in wonder. It will take patience and hard work. You might feel like it is over your head, so lift up your head in order to understand. Once the study is done, the implications and applications will hopefully flow like milk and honey in the promised land of theological labor. As Augustine said: “There is no subject where error is more dangerous, research more laborious, and discovery more fruitful than the oneness of the Trinity [unitas trinitatis] of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Toward this end, readers first explore the Trinity in creeds and confessions (to show the agreement through history), then briefly how the doctrinal formulas were developed. Then, most importantly, the biblical roots of the Trinity are presented. We then come back to the church fathers for a moment, before digging into the intra-Trinitarian relations, and the practical implications of Trinitarian theology.

§ 2.3 What Is God Like?

Having discussed God as Trinity, the following chapter turns to the divine attributes. The usual suspects are present here, and Bird divides them into incommunicable and communicable attributes. This is a useful way of parsing them out, but doesn’t entirely work if you press hard on the margins. Frame I think is the only one who does, so we need not fault Bird for following pedagogical convention.

Interestingly, after his presentation of the attributes, Bird tackles the question of God’s gender (or lack thereof). Frame’s exploration of this discussion is more exhaustive, but the bottom line is that “God will always remain a ‘he,’ since God is a personal being, and the substitution of the noun “God” for the personal pronoun inevitably makes him impersonal in his speech and actions. The fact that God is described as “he” does not mean that God is intrinsically male, but he relates to us primarily in the masculine mode, as Father, Son, and Lord” (137). Ultimately, what is more important is that God is fundamentally glorious, holy, and loving, which is Bird’s unintentional tip of the hat to seeing God as fundamentally triperspectival in his attributes.

§ 2.4 The God Who Creates

The next chapter/section tackles creation, and in doing so gets into alternate “isms” (deism, pantheism, henotheism, gnosticism) as ways of misunderstanding God’s relation to creation. This is followed by a distinctively creation perspective on the doctrine of creation, which is to say, it is Trinitarian to the core. Bird bookends this nicely by a discussion of the new creation, before an extended discussion of creation ex nihilo. While noting that the doctrine itself did not arise ex nihilo (always the jokester), it has a history of being used to defend God’s sovereignty, “for if any molecule in the cosmos is coeternal with God, then it would be either an impersonal deity or a personless demiurge” (162).

§ 2.5 The God Who Reveals Himself

The content of this chapter/section is usually grouped with prolegomena. Here we get extensive discussions of God’s modes of revelation (nature, special, Christological, another latent triperspectivalism), which entails a discussion of natural theology and the traditional proofs of God’s existence (which are nicely charted out). Van Til even makes a brief appearance, though he ends up getting chastised for aspects of epistemology. Specifically, Bird understands Van Til to be rejecting natural theology (185, which is not technically correct) and overemphasizing the extent to which natural man’s reason was autonomous. He sees Van Til’s methodology problematic, and opts instead for taking the approach of Alvin Plantinga. Shortly after, a sidebar explaining Barth’s relationship to evangelicals is included, since we’re talking about natural theology and all.

Though many people might put Scriptural revelation and the revelation through Christ together under “special revelation,” Bird, helpfully I think, separates them (but not entirely). From our standpoint, we see Christ through Scripture, but in the disciples case, they had Scripture and they had Christ (and nature). Eventually, we will have Christ face to face, and still have Scripture and nature.

§ 2.6 God’s Purpose and Plan

Finally, Bird gets into the decrees of God. Rather than focus on the dispute between infralapsarians and supralapsarians, Bird thinks more big picture. He discusses the overall purposes of God, and then gets into a discussion of dispensationalism vs. covenant theology under the heading of the unity of God’s plans for the world. Bird does a much better job than Horton did of briefly expositing dispensationalism and chooses to focus on the progressive variety (and uses more up to date sources). This is probably because Bird doesn’t completely agree with covenant theology either, so he has no need to demonize one or the other (or both in his case). He opts for a modified covenant theology, which is more or less the view I would have. It relies primarily on the covenants as a structuring device, but is not directly tied to traditional covenant theology.

On the whole, I found this section of the book helpful. Though I think chapter 5 above would have been better placed in the first section, I understand the flow of thought and why it is where it is. I think Bird gets Van Til wrong in some respects, but many of his criticisms are not new. Van Til’s rhetoric doesn’t help matters, but I’m glad Bird brought him in as a conversation partner on the topic.

I really like Bird’s emphasis on the importance of the Trinity and that he put it before discussing the attributes. I think that sets a better context, and I think he did a good job of balance theological, biblical, and historical reasons for believing the doctrine.

I thought it was interesting to get into dispensationalism vs. covenant theology in this section, but again, I understand the flow of thought. It also makes a nice segue to the 3rd section, which surprisingly (given most systematics) is on eschatology. But, you’ll have to wait until the next installment to hear about that.

Bill-Nye-debate

Though I was too tired to actually watch it, last night Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated one another at the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Personally, I didn’t think the debate was the best idea, but it did have the advantage of setting the starkest contrast possible. If we take a book like Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate, Ham and Nye (or #HamOnNye if you want to scroll through Twitter comments) are opposite ends of the spectrum. Given the fact that it is very difficult to persuade someone they are wrong in this area, it didn’t see like a fruitful endeavor (as is true of most debates). They are the extremes in the discussion, so naturally a conversation between them is going to generate some sparks.

Ok, so I guess I see why they had the debate.

Rather than comment on the debate proper (which I haven’t seen and don’t particularly plan to), I thought I’d do some heavy link sharing. This is a conversation I have a vested interest in as I was quite the young earth creationism (YEC) crusader in undergrad. Later, I learned Hebrew and studied ANE backgrounds, and moved toward a more old-earth view (but still would not classify myself as a theistic evolutionist). I would have more or less agreed with Ham on his reading of Genesis (which is a reading of Genesis that takes the Bible seriously, not the reading of it). My perspective has changed, but before getting to that, here are several recaps you might find helpful (the first includes full video):

Overall, I’d have to say I’m more interested in the discussion itself than the content of the debate last night, mainly because I don’t agree fully with either debater. I’m kind of somewhere in between the two. So for instance, here is a rundown of how I read Genesis 1 from back in my time in seminary. I might change some here and there, maybe even pick it back up with Genesis 2 in the future:

I think this is a much better contextual understanding of the early chapters of Genesis. It has the benefit of being mute on the age of the earth, which is a theologically irrelevant question. For more on that, here is R. C. Sproul’s answer to the age of the universe, which Keith Mathison wrote an eBook commentary on.

As far as the scientific aspect goes, it is perhaps a little known fact that I taught high school biology and anatomy for a year. This allowed me to review the scientific aspects of the question of origins post-seminary. The results are captured in these two posts:

In light of that, I think the much more significant discussion is the historicity of Adam. It is a much more theologically important question, and unlike the age of the earth/universe, there are Christian worldview implications involved (as Albert Mohler would say on The Briefing). Unlike other in-house Christian debates like the days of Genesis (which Albert Mohler and Bryan Chapell briefly debated at TGC), the historical Adam overlaps with scientific inquiry. It is also where interpretations of the Biblical account, no matter how you take it, directly contradict the interpretations of modern science (notice I’m pointing out interpretations in conflict). For me, this was where the line was drawn because a) the Bible seems pretty clear about direct special creation of man, and b) the scientific evidence of common descent as it relates to man is less than compelling. I just didn’t see anything in the data that would compel me to accept that man evolved from lower life forms unless I was already committed to a naturalistic worldview and so didn’t have any other explanatory options. If nature is my Bible, then I’ll structure my “religion” accordingly and probably follow the “high priests” even into logically folly.

Other Christians see it differently. Case in point, Peter Enns (most notably in The Evolution of Adam), and Denis Lamoureux (the first contributor in Four Views on The Historical Adam). Still, there are others who have a background in science, but argue in favor of Adam’s historicity (see the other 3 contributors in the Four Views book, as well as Collins’ full length book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, and Vern Poythress’ Redeeming Science). I tend to find myself siding with the latter groups, and see their readings of both the Genesis narratives and the scientific evidence to be the most compelling.

Although I haven’t changed much, my views have certainly evolved in the past decade. What hasn’t evolved though is my worldview. While I might not agree with Ken Ham’s approach, I have more in common with him than Bill Nye. I think that’s worth keeping in mind regardless of how you answer the origins question and relate Genesis and modern science. This is certainly a discussion I like to keep tabs on, and something I may do even more reading on in the future.

9780801039119Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, October, 2013. 304 pp. Paperback, $22.99.

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Lately, I’ve been really into philosophy. This is actually a return to an early love that I had kind of abandoned, rather than a new fling. Also, I’m prepping/studying for Ph.D entrance exams at the end of this month. Part of that has been doing a lot of reviewing, but also, it has been a lot of new reading.

Although I didn’t plan it like this, I bought for myself a copy of Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction back in the fall, before deciding to apply to do Ph.D work. I really liked this compact history of philosophy, so I later requested a review copy. Obviously, I could have reviewed it without a review copy. But, I couldn’t offer to give away my own personal copy now could I? Read on to get a feel for this book, and then at the bottom of the post, enter the giveaway.

Overview

Authors Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen have collaborated before. First, they offered an introduction to the Christian worldview, and then an overview of the biblical storyline (which is a very helpful book FYI). Now, the tackle the story of western philosophy, using two characters, Abby and Percy, who they introduced in The Drama of Scripture. Though kind of gimmicky, it is not obtrusive to have their fictional e-mail exchanges at the end of the chapters as Abby is supposedly studying at a Christian university and Percy at a secular school. It is imaginative if nothing else, but I would have been ok if it were left out.

As to the main contents of the book, the introductory chapter asks “Why philosophy?” 1 The authors answer that is important for apologetics, missional cultural engagement, Christian scholarship, and the Christian life. As they say early on,

Philosophy, from our perspective, is the attempt to discern the structure or order of creation, and to describe systematically what is subject to that order. The difference that a Christian philosophy makes is that the whole of life, apart from God, is studied as creation. (p. 3)

Accordingly, they see a primary motive in philosophy as “wonder,” and that animates their pursuit. In chapter 2, they move on to the question of how faith and philosophy relate. This leads naturally to a discussion of the relationship between worldview and philosophy. Ultimately, they see themselves working in the Augustinian tradition of Abraham Kuyper and his followers (p. 24). This means no subject of study is pursued neutrally, and that the correct mode of study is faith seeking understanding. Reading Scripture according to the rule of faith yields a biblical theology which produces a Christian worldview that is then the lens through which all other disciplines are pursued. In the tree-like diagram they draw, philosophy and theology are the first branches off the trunk of worldview/biblical theology (Scripture is the roots underground and faith is the soil).

From here, the story of western philosophy proper starts. Prior to that, the authors list their “major building blocks” in offering a Christian narrative telling of this story (p. 26):

  1. The origin of philosophy in its pagan form among the ancient Greeks
  2. The Christ even as the fulfillment of the Old Testament with its major implications for philosophy
  3. The synthesis of the gospel – for better and worse – with pagan Greek philosophy in the centuries following the time of Jesus and the establishment of the early church, as evidenced particularly in the works of Augustine (Plato) and Aquinas (Aristotle)
  4. The unraveling of this synthesis in the late Middle Ages and following centuries
  5. The emergence of modern, autonomous, humanist philosophy in the Enlightenment
  6. The development of distinctively Christian philosophy

Chapters 3 and 4 deal with point #1 (pre-Socratics and Plato/Aristotle), and the start and culmination of the medieval synthesis occupies chapters 5 and 6 respectively. In chapter 7 we are introduced to the impact of the Reformation, while chapter 8 segues to the Enlightenment. Modern philosophy takes two chapters to cover, and then postmodern philosophy takes the last installment of the story.

There is a turning point here toward Christian philosophy specifically in the final four chapters. First, we are introduced to key figures in the Catholic tradition. Then, we are given two chapters on Reformed Epistemology and the legacy of Alvin Plantinga (chapter 13) and Nicholas Wolterstorff (chapter 14). Finally, we are introduced to the distinction between Reformed Epistemology (primarily an American movement) and Reformational Philosophy (primarily a Continental movement). The authors identify with this latter stream, seeing it as the outworking of Kuyper’s legacy in modern Christian philosophy. Particularly of interest in Herman Dooyeweerd, as well as Dirk H. Th. Vollenhoven. That brings readers nicely up to speed in the present, and so with a brief conclusion, and an annotated further reading list, the book comes to an end.

Strengths/Weaknesses

While there are many strengths of this book (clear style; accessible size to average reader, engaging prose), I’m going to focus on the negatives, of which I think there are a few. First, while many of the main divisions in western philosophy had key figures profiled in their respective chapters (Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc.) no so figures are given extended treatment in the chapter on postmodern philosophy. I would have liked to see Foucault, Derrida, and maybe Rorty given more treatment. Certainly the authors are free to choose who to profile and who to leave out, but I felt this would have strengthened the presentation.

Second, I’m not the first to notice this, but a clear absence in the final chapters was a mention of the influence of Cornelius Van Til in Christian philosophy. I could perhaps understand his absence in a book like this, but when the authors spend time dealing with Dooyewerd and Vollenhoven and not even mention Van Til it seems a bit odd. Clearly Van Til was intentionally excluded, I’m just curious why. He doesn’t really fit in either the Reformed Epistemology/Reformation Philosophy (he predates the former but was writing during the same time as the figures in the latter), but he was an influential Christian philosopher/apologist that at least deserves mention. I would have liked extended interaction, but I can only really fault the authors for not commenting on his connection at all.

Lastly, a kind of an extension of the previous point, the explanation of Christian philosophy today was very narrow. I would have liked another chapter that covered influential Christian philosophers who are very modern, and perhaps even still writing, but that don’t fit into Reformed Epistemology/Reformational Philosophy camps. They hit on many of the main figures, but I think more could have been highlighted.

Conclusion

In the end, I wouldn’t let these negatives take away from the overall value of the book. I thought it was an enjoyable read, and obviously wanted to be able to offer a giveaway copy. It is a useful snapshot of Western philosophy and introduces many of the major thinkers and their ideas. If you’re interested in either beginning to study philosophy more seriously, or would just like a fresher that isn’t a 500 page textbook, this book is probably worth checking into.

Giveaway


 

Notes:

  1. The correct answer is “why not?”

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Last week, we began our trek through Exodus with the first 7 verses. In many ways, those verses are setting the stage for the story in v. 8-22, which are themselves setting the stage for the story of Moses’ birth in 2:1-10. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves just a bit.

Every story needs a villain, and we meet ours right off the bat in v. 8:

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

The fact that this is the only the description of the new Pharaoh is not a good sign. In many ways, Joseph was the mediator between Egypt and the sons of Jacob. He was by birth a member of the latter group, and by providential means, a ruling member of the former class. He thus bridged the gap between the two, representing Egypt and her resources to his family, and representing his family and their interests to the ruling class of Egypt (sound like any NT Person you know?). But now, in v. 8, we see this gap is no longer bridged, and that leads to Pharaoh making a declaration:

And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”

Here we see exhibit A when it comes propaganda in service of a dictator’s agenda. As Stuart comments,

This sort of propaganda has worked countless times in history. If a regime wishes to be given freedom to oppress a given group within a nation, it defines that group as an undermining force, a real danger, and potentially the agent of overthrow of the established order. The pharaoh was spouting ethnic hate propaganda of the sort still widely employed in the modern world to justify ethnic persecution and eventually genocide. Like most propaganda, it was a distortion of the truth rather than entirely false. 1

This speech thus sets in motion the enslavement of Israel, which is laid out in v. 11-14:

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

Though Pharaoh means to subject Israel, his speech and the results are actually rather ironic. Fretheim points out several layers:

  1. The king is the first to recognize the children of Israel as a ‘people,’ giving them a status like his own people just mentioned.
  2. In echoing the narrator’s words of verse 7 (cf. Gen. 18:18), and exaggerating the numbers, an ‘outsider’ highlights the fulfillment of God’s promises. His acts of oppression confirm that God’s word to Abraham in Gen. 15:13 was on target.
  3. His concern to act shrewdly will be shown to be folly; even with his wisest counselors (cf. 7:11) his policies will again and again be turned to Israel’s advantage. Pharaoh’s efforts will lead to an end precisely the opposite of his intentions.
  4. Storage cities built out of a concern for life (Gen. 41:34–36) are here used as a vehicle for death.
  5. Strikingly, he speaks of the exodus, echoing Joseph himself (Gen. 50:24). The phrase ‘escape (‘alah) from the land’ is exactly the wording used in 13:18, which also uses battle language. This verb is also used for God’s saving action in 3:8, 17 (‘bring up’; cf. Gen. 46:4). Pharaoh says more than he knows! 2

It is perhaps safe to say that Pharaoh’s initial enslavement policy backfired. But, as Blackburn points out, it is worth lingering here, “for if we don’t understand the plight of Israel from the beginning, we will fail to appreciate both the magnitude of the deliverance that communicates the nature of God and thereby reveals his name, and the difference between Israel’s serving Pharaoh and serving the Lord.” 3 A more literal translation of v. 13-14 highlights how oppressive Egypt was for Israel:

And the Egyptians forced the sons of Israel to serve with violence. And they caused their lives to be bitter with hard service, with mortar and with brick and with all kinds of service in the field. In all their service with which they served, in violence. 4

This emphasis on “service” sets up a contrast that will span the book of Exodus. As Blackburn later comments, “The plight of Israel in Egypt illustrates this larger truth that runs throughout the Scriptures,” 5 Ultimately, “The exodus does not constitute a declaration of independence, but a declaration of dependence upon God (cf. 14:31).” 6

Right now though, there are deep in Egyptian enslavement. And if that weren’t enough, Pharaoh decided to kick it up a notch for a good measure (v. 15-16):

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.”

Adding forced infanticide to enslavement is more than just insult to injury. It is Pharaoh setting himself up in direct opposition to God who, making good on his promises, has caused Israel to be fruitful and multiply. As Enns points out,

We see, then, already at this early stage of the book, what will become much more pronounced later on: the real antagonists in the book of Exodus. This is not a battle of Israel versus Pharaoh, or even of Moses versus Pharaoh, but of God versus Pharaoh. The Egyptian king, as we will see in the following chapters, is presented as an anti-God figure; he repeatedly places himself in direct opposition to God’s redemptive plan, and this behavior is already anticipated here. 7

Opposition to God is not a wise path. Proving this rather effectively are the two mid-wives, who rather than implement Pharaoh’s plan, opt for undermining it instead (v. 17):

But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.

Pharaoh is not pleased when he finds out (which might have been years later):

So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.”

Though one could make the case that the midwives are lying to Pharaoh, it is not absolutely necessary to argue this. They very well could have simply arranged things with the Hebrew women to not call for help until it was basically two late, thus ensuring live births. They certainly were directly disobedient, but they did so in service of God, whom they feared more than Pharaoh. This sets them up as models for later Israel to follow in their transition from serving Pharaoh to serving God.

If they did lie, it would be because they feared the Lord and were seeking to protect the lives of others, which is unlike Abraham in Genesis who lied out of fear of man and to protect his own skin (and endanger his wife). This story also takes place prior to the giving of the law, which specifies that you should defend your neighbor’s right to the truth, and even if we allow a NT understanding of “neighbor,” Pharaoh doesn’t qualify, especially in light of his demands. 8

This kind of understanding is confirmed in the verses that follow (v. 20-21):

So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

What the midwives did was clearly acceptable in God’s sight, so we would do well to see the principle at work and know when to wisely apply it in our own lives.

Though God was pleased, Pharaoh was not, and so takes his oppression a step further:

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

Since clearly he could not trust the mid-wives, he now enlists any and every Egyptian willing to help plunder the wombs of Hebrew women. This is presents a “proleptic irony” though a reversal lies down the river, as “Later God would kill large numbers of grown-up boys, that is, Egyptian soldiers, by drowning them in the Red Sea (e.g., Exod 15:4: ‘Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea./The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea’).” 9 But, before we get to that irony, another irony lies in the next chapter, which we’ll talk about next Monday.

Notes:

  1. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 64
  2. Quoted from Terence Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation: A Biblical Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988, 28.
  3. W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of The Book of Exodus. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012, 33
  4. From Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known, 32
  5. namely, that no man can serve two masters, and we are all either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15-19). The question is not will Israel break free entirely, but who will she ultimately serve? As Stuart points out, “What Israel needed was not independence from Pharaoh and Egypt per se but a shift of dependency, a switching of masters from Pharaoh and the Egyptians to the true and living God.” 10Stuart, Exodus, 71
  6. Fretheim, Exodus. 30
  7. Peter Enns, Exodus. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, 43
  8. For the idea of the 10 commandments as protecting your neighbor’s rights, see Daniel I. Block Deuteronomy. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, 161. This is also why you could argue it is perfectly ethical to lie in the always overused “hiding hypothetical Jews during WWII” scenario. A Nazi soldier is not your neighbor and has forfeited his right to the truth because of his intent to use that truth for evil purposes. It is more important to preserve the sanctity of human life (and keep the Noahic covenant) than to be truthful in a situation where you know it will lead to greater evil.
  9. Stuart, Exodus, 84

imagesAmerican-Football-lover

Over at the Christ and Pop Culture website, I got an article published on cultivating sports atheism:

Football, more so than other sport, cultivates the idea of a sold-out, totally dedicated fan base (e.g., those Bud Light commercials about superstitions). Perhaps it is because unlike the eternal season of baseball that spans spring, summer, and fall, football takes place more or less through a single season (fall) with teams playing once a week. That makes each game loaded with significance in a way that other sports cannot match. Couple this with the fact that the games are either Saturday (college) or Sunday (pro), and you have the makings of a substitute religious service each week where you can worship with the team of your particular denominational affiliation.

On close inspection, the “liturgy” of a football game is hauntingly similar to a worship service. You put on the garments that identify you with worshipers of the same deity (mascot). You gather at a temple (stadium, or couch in front a big screen) where priests (refs) mediate the festivities where the most devoted worshipers (players) lay it all on the altar (field). The resulting spectacle delivers an intensity that can easily translate into a worship experience for some fans.

Read the rest and find out why you might want to pursue sports atheism.

9780310499282

Matthew Barrett & Ardel B. Caneday eds. Four Views on The Historical Adam. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, December, 2013. 288 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

Buy itAmazon

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

Much like Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, I thought it was best to do a series review for this book. Here’s what it will look like:

In the introduction to this book, editors Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday outline the models of origins from Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate. This is a way of getting at the debate behind the debate over the historical Adam. The models, if you’re curious (and even if you’re not) are:

  • Naturalistic Evolution
  • Nonteleological Evolution
  • Planned Evolution
  • Directed Evolution
  • Old-Earth Creationism
  • Young-Earth Creationism

Where you fall on the question of whether or not Adam is historical has a lot to do with how you understand creation itself. If you’re interested in digging into this background debate, pick up Rau’s book (or read my review).

Additionally, even if you are a young or old Earth creationist, that doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with others of the same view on how to understand the days in Genesis 1. Barrett and Caneday outline three gives on how to take Genesis 1:

  • The framework view (the days in Genesis are a literary framework focused on what not how)
  • The analogical day view (the presentation of the days of creation is mainly to present the model work week for man to follow)
  • The cosmic temple view (the creation of the world is also the creation of God’s cosmic temple in which he takes residence on day 7)

If that’s not enough, there four views on how to take the days in Genesis 1:

  • The gap view (a gap between Genesis 1:1-2 that may have been millions of years, 1:2ff is a “recreation”)
  • The intermittent day view (each day is 24hrs but there are gaps between the days of an indeterminate amount of time)
  • The progressive or day-age creation view (each day was a long period of time)
  • 24 hour day view (each day is a successive 24 hour period)

All of this together somewhat outlines the debate behind the debate, and helps to separate 3 of the 4 contributors who agree Adam was historical, but do not agree on other aspects of interpreting the early chapters of Genesis.

The contributors were asked to answer three key questions in defending their position (27-28):

  • What is the biblical case in your viewpoint, and how do you reconcile it with passages and potential interpretations that seem to counter it?
  • In what ways is your view more theologically consistent and coherent than other views?
  • What are the implications your view has for the spiritual life and public witness of the church and individual believers, and how is your view a healthier alternative for both?

To complete the book, we not only have the four contributors making their case based on these questions (and responding to one another), we also have two pastoral responses in light of everything that precedes them. One if from Greg Boyd and the other is from Phil Ryken. Their questions are different, and are as follows (35):

  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence affect the rest of the Christian faith and those doctrines Christians have historically affirmed throughout the centuries?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence shape a Christian worldview, especially the biblical story line from creation, fall, and redemption, to new creation?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence have an impact on the gospel, or how the gospel is preached and applied, specifically in the church?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence have influence on how we live the Christian life and “do church” as the body of Christ?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence make a difference in our evangelical witness to a watching world?
  • What is at stake in this debate for evangelicals in the church today?

Not to offer too much of a spoiler, but Boyd is going to answer more along the lines of “it has little impact” and Ryken will answer the opposite.

On the whole, this looks like it will be an interesting discussion. I’ve already read Lamoureux’s essay and the responses. He is the only contributor who says no historical Adam, but you’ll have to read next month to see why.