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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Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!

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

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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:

  • No Historical Adam: Evolutionary Creation View (Denis Lamoureux)
  • A Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View (John Walton)
  • A Historical Adam: Old Earth Creation View (C. John Collins)
  • A Historical Adam: Young Earth Creation View (William Barrick)
  • Pastoral Reflection on The Historical Adam: Greg Boyd & Phil Ryken

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.

We’ve all been there right? You’re putting together a message for Sunday and you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, this is really coming together. But I don’t want it to be too good. I wonder what I could do to make this sermon less effective.”

Hopefully that’s never been what you’re thinking. I know there are a lot of sincere pastors out there who still preach less than stellar sermons, but I don’t know of any who are consciously trying to be bad. Everyone should be striving for excellence in preaching the word, regardless of how well equipped they may feel for the task.

Though it may be a bit presumptuous of me, a lowly high school Bible teacher to offer advice on preaching, I’ve listened to my fair share of sermons and took several preaching classes in my Bible school/seminary career (from which I retired as a back-to-back-to-back graduate). I’m also a freelance theoretician and have to keep many of the same principles that undergird a good sermon in mind when I’m teaching. I’m a hopeless analyst (kind of like a hopeless romantic, but less songs more blog posts) and so continually think about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to preaching and teaching the Word.

So that being said, here is my tongue-in-cheek advice for how to take an otherwise good opportunity to preach the word and ruin it.

Don’t exegete

I mean you can read the text and all, but definitely don’t explain what key words mean in context or how the different phrases and clauses fit together. People don’t have the attention span for that kind of thing, much less the grounding in English grammar and syntax. Definitely don’t have a single big idea that you’ve drawn from the text by careful study and then cross-referenced it with reliable commentators. Who has time for that? Just get up there and read the passage and then kind of comment on whatever sticks out to you in the moment.

Then, use some part of the text you’re supposedly preaching as a spring board to talk about some bit of doctrine you’ve been really into lately or connect it to some popular theological book you’ve been reading. Sprinkle in adjectives like “gospel-centered” and “missional” for good measure. Your sermon will be so theological, it will hardly be noticed that you didn’t really unpack the text you started with. Do this often enough, and you’ll perfect the “Start with the text, expand to a rant” approach.

Don’t illustrate

Serious preachers of the word don’t have time to tell personal stories, much less draw connections from current events, history, sports, or pop culture. If you’ve only got 40 minutes to an hour to hold people’s attention, you better explain as much of TULIP as possible, or at least make sure everyone’s on-board with substitutionary atonement. Taking time to tell stories instead of teaching theology is what those postmodern emerging church types do. People came to hear you bring it and the more doctrinal heat you can throw the better. They get enough personal interest stories on the news and social media, they don’t need you wasting time in your sermon when you could be explaining the finer nuances of covenant theology.

Don’t apply

Mainly this is because knowing sound doctrine is an application in itself, but also because you shouldn’t need to make concrete applications in your sermon anyway because if people just knew theology better, they’d live better. If you help them grow in knowledge and teach doctrine well, application will take care of itself. If you just reckon more and more with your justification, you’ll naturally grow in sanctification.

Do This Instead

Now, while hopefully nobody reading this will take my advice seriously, I don’t think it’s too far off the target of how some young preachers who are restless and Reformed think when it comes to preaching. Often this is the case with a certain type of pastor, one who is heavily into doctrine and might be more on the self-taught well-read end of the spectrum. What is supposed to be an occasion to preach the Word ends up turning into a theological lecture. Nothing against theological lectures, but that’s not what the Sunday sermon is supposed to be. Interestingly enough, if you lean toward theological lectures, you’re reducing your sermon to imparting knowledge, which means you’ll probably lose anyone in audience more knowledgeable than you. If nothing else, you’ll only challenge people who know less than you, instead of faithfully expounding the Word in a way that challenges everyone.

Also, a sermon will seem longer than it needs to be if it is just relentless exposition or theological explanation. Maybe you don’t struggle to clearly explain and stay focused on the text. But, part of exposition is illustrating the text in a way that enhances modern understanding. Not only that, but it will really help boost your audience’s attention to illustrate the text well. Not every little part of the text, but as many of the main points as you can. Don’t be afraid to tell stories and use other connection points your audience would find meaningful.

Lastly, don’t get up, exegete the text, illustrate it well, and then fail to draw any clear and concrete applications. Building on the previous two points, don’t get up and just try to impart knowledge, either in a bland, un-illustrated sense, or even in a fully developed picturesque sense. Imparting knowledge and teaching information in a sermon is good, but not enough. The goal is not just to show people more things (like additional facets of doctrine), but to show people how to see things differently (like how this particular text comes to bear on this particular cultural context). If you major on the latter, it doesn’t really matter if people in the audience know more than you. They might have read every commentary on the passage you’re preaching, but the way you illustrate and connect the passage to the daily life of your church is unique and potentially life changing. In fact, it’s really the only unique thing you have to offer. Your exposition should be tried and true. Your application should be fresh and new. If you shoot for that, you can’t go far wrong.

contend

Aaron Armstron, Contend: Defending The Faith In A Fallen World. Place: Cruciform Press, October 2012.  108 pp. Paperback, $9.99.

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Back in the spring, at TGC to be specific, I had the privilege to not only meet Aaron Armstrong, but to also hang out with him and some of his friends at a Chik-fil-a. I was the only American in the mix, and I think that made it more interesting (read: fun). All that to say, Aaron is a great guy, and you should read his blog if you don’t already. He not only reviews a lot of great books, but he posts a lot of great original content. Plus, he can help restore your faith in Canadians to be fine upstanding world citizens.

Contend is Aaron’s second book published with Cruciform Press (his first, Awaiting A Savior, is worth checking out as well). However, from what I’ve read (and I think I’ve read all the Cruciform) titles, this is the most researched book (or at least the most footnoted). Much of that I imagine is because a strong case for contending in our postmodern culture needs to be made. Unless you’re already one of those people who gravitate naturally toward apologetics, you might feel like either a) there isn’t really a big need for apologetics (wrong) or that b) apologetics is an exercise in futility (wrong, but possibly true the way some people do it).

Enter Contend. The book itself is grounded in Jude’s appeal, and early on Aaron comments,

One thing we can draw from Jude’s appeal is that sometimes it is more important to defend the faith than to examine and rehearse what we believe. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, Jude is affirming that there is a time and purpose for all godly behavior. To face inward, affirming and clarifying among and between orthodox believers everything God has done for us— this is a necessary, ongoing activity of the church. But that must not and cannot be our exclusive preoccupation. We must also at times— as a necessary complementary activity— be intentional about facing outward, contending with those who deny who God is and what he has done, whether these voices come from within the church or without. (Kindle Loc. 122-127)

From here, Aaron traces the context of our modern culture and why contending for the faith is necessary. As he concludes, “Contending must be understood and exercised as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived, regardless of whether they claim faith in Christ.” (Kindle Loc. 323-329)

In the next chapter, Aaron then begins the journey of helpfully guiding the reader through the content of what we’re defending (the doctrine of God and the Gospel), and the challenge before us (to do the contending well and wisely). At the end of chapter 3, he notes that everything up to that point has been groundwork, and so the practical turn happens with the final two chapters. First, we read about the job of the clergy (most importantly, to faithfully feed the flock, but also to correct errors, and protect from wolves), and then the role of the congregation (build up your faith with Scripture and persevere). Since he alliterated with C’s, it is only natural to have a final chapter titled “conclusion,” in which Aaron encourages readers to put into practice what they’ve read, and to do so with love and humility.

In a way, I think this book has something to offer both types of people I mentioned earlier. Aaron does a good job of setting the context in chapter 1, establishing the need for apologetics, both inside and outside the church. I’m not sure you could read that and walk away thinking that we don’t have our work cut out for us. On the other hand, his practical suggestions in the final chapters help to ward off the feeling that apologetics is a waste of time (i.e. needed, but not effective). He sets modest goals by using the idea of “contending” for the faith, which is not the same as “having all the answers” or “destroying all the false theology out there.” By defending key doctrines against assault, you can focus on what’s most significant and see more fruit in your labors (though your job is to contend, the Spirit’s job is to produce fruit).

All that to say, I would commend you Aaron’s work here. It is a thoroughly researched, easy to read, motivational exposition of Jude’s appeal for our modern context. He focuses on the basic, foundations of our faith that need to be defended and then gives sage advice on how to do so. The book strikes a fine balance between doctrinal exposition and practical application, making it very epistolatory. Yes, I just said epistolatory.

But, don’t just take my word for it, watch this video of Aaron explaining more:

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Have you ever tried to start watching a new TV show in the second season instead of the first? 1 It is certainly possible, but often it feels disconnected and hard to follow what is going on.

If you start reading the Bible in the book of Exodus the effect is similar. Though obscured in English, the first Hebrew word is “And,” which shows the continuity with the book that came before it, Genesis. 2 As we drop into the first 7 verses we read:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:1-7, ESV)

If we were to outline these verses, they fall into what’s called a chiastic structure:

A.  The names of the sons of Israel who came into Egypt with Jacob (1a)

B.  Sons with household/families (preliminary fruitfulness) (1b–5)

C.  DEATH of Joseph, his brothers, that generation (6), but

B´. The later generation bore fruit exceedingly (continued fruitfulness) (7b)

A´. Descendants of the sons of Israel fill the land (7a, c) 3

When it comes to the names, it would be a mistake to make too much or too little 4 It is important that they are listed, but the order does not appear to be significant. The significance is that these are the sons of Israel who have prospered in a promised land, and it is a glimpse into the fulfilled promise to Abraham that out of him would come a great nation.

While v. 2-6 point the readers back to Genesis 12:1-3 and the original promise to Abraham, v. 7 points readers back to Genesis 1:27 and the command to be fruitful and multiply. As Stuart comments,

The point made by such language is twofold: (1) that Israel’s amazing population growth was the result of God’s original design and ongoing care and (2) that Israelites were living, at least in small colonies or scattered families, in sufficient numbers as to dominate the population of one part of Egypt at the time of the persecution, that is, just in the eastern Nile delta area of Goshen, even if they were not the sole inhabitants of that general area. 5

So on the one level, it is showing how God was fulfilling his promises, but it does more than that. As Blackburn points out,

When interpreted firmly within the context of Genesis 1, God’s mandate to be fruitful and exercise dominion has the distinctly missionary purpose of making himself known throughout creation. Because humanity is the image of God (1:26), the command calls for God’s image to spread throughout, and ultimately fill, the earth. Furthermore, as humanity spreads throughout the earth, he is called to exercise dominion, governing God’s creation as befits his status as God’s image. The effect of the commandment, then, is that life on the earth would witness to the character of God, as God’s image spreads and governs according to his likeness and character. 6

This then is the stage setting for the book of Exodus. This is a book about God’s work in and through the nation of Israel. It is a book with a missionary heart as it reveals more and more of who God is. In fact, if we only had the book of Exodus, we could learn many things about God 7

  1. God controls history
  2. God’s name is Yahweh
  3. God is holy
  4. God remembers his people
  5. God acts in salvation
  6. God acts in judgment
  7. God’s anger can be averted
  8. God speaks
  9. God is transcendent
  10. God chooses to live among his people

As you can see, Exodus, while telling the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, is also telling us a lot about the God who did the delivering. It’s probably for this reason Philip Ryken can say that “In some ways the whole Bible is an extended interpretation of the exodus.” 8 The story of the Exodus becomes the paradigm for redemption throughout the Old Testament, effectively making it the gospel of the Old Testament. As Ryken further explains,

Beyond the Pentateuch, the book of Exodus has wider connections with the rest of the Old Testament. The exodus was the great miracle of the old covenant. Thus many passages in the Psalms and the Prophets look back to it as the paradigm of salvation. The people of Israel always praised God as the One who had brought them out of Egypt. The New Testament writers worshiped the same God, and thus they often used the exodus to explain salvation in Christ. Indeed, a complete understanding of the gospel requires a knowledge of the exodus.

He concludes that “a complete understanding of the gospel requires a knowledge of the exodus.” The story of the Exodus is then our story. Though we cannot completely identify with the nation of Israel, we share much in common. Looking to the shape of their story, we can see that “as we trace their spiritual journey, we discover that we need exactly what the Israelites needed. We need a liberator, a God to save us from slavery, and destroy our enemies. We need a provider, a God to feed us bread from Heaven and water from the rock. We need a lawgiver, a God to command us how to love and serve him. And we need a friend, a God to stay with us day and night, forever” 9

Notes:

  1. Last week, Joey Cochran had a great idea on his blog. What if Christian bloggers spent more time on expository blogging through books of the Bible? I thought about it for a bit, and then decided to start with Exodus since our church is starting a new series on the book on Sunday. After Exodus, I plan on doing Hebrews.
  2. As Cole comments, “The initial ‘and’ found in the Hebrew makes clear that Exodus is not a new book, but simply the continuation of the Genesis story, and the fulfillment of the promises made to the patriarchs.” See R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary. TOTC. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973, 59.
  3. See Eugene Carpenter, Exodus. Edited by H. Wayne House and William D. Barrick. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012.
  4. According to Douglas Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 58.
  5. Douglas Stuart, Exodus,62
  6. 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, 29
  7. This list is from Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, 22-43
  8. Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory. Preaching The Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005, 19
  9. Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, 24

I’ve waited a bit to say anything directly, but back in December I submitted an application to start Ph.D studies in the modular format through Southern Seminary. My original plan when I went to Dallas was to stay all the way through to complete a Ph.D (or go elsewhere and do so). Getting married changed the trajectory of that, but the idea of Ph.D work never really went away.

We felt God leading us to move back to Florida when I graduated, and so I put Ph.D work on hold in favor getting involved in a local church and spending some time in the classroom teaching. Much of what I’ve been doing as a book reviewer has been a placeholder activity for “school” when I’m not in school so that the eventual transition would be easier.

For a while, I even contemplated just not doing a Ph.D and even this past summer was looking more for a job in as either an associate or youth pastor rather than as a teacher. But, all of those doors closed, and in the fall I started back at the same school I’ve been at since we moved.

Later in the fall though, Ali and I thought independently of each other that God might be leading me back to school. Also throughout the fall I felt more confirmed in the classroom and pursuing excellence in teaching, rather than pursuing vocational ministry in the church. I still want to be heavily involved in the local church, but I really want to work with college students in the classroom. In order to do that though, I need to complete a Ph.D since I’ll always be at a disadvantage for teaching opportunities without one.

I realize having one is not an instant guarantee of a job, so I’ll continue to teach where I’m at, and hopefully add some adjunct positions to compliment other work that I do (like working for Docent Research Group, something I might talk about in another post). I do think that it will improve my thinking skills and ability as a researcher. I hope that in doing so, it will also lead to professional development as an educator.

Though I’m glad I waited a few years before embarking on Ph.D studies, I kind of came full circle to where I would have applied if I went straight from Dallas. In my last semester, I started an application to go to SBTS and focus on some aspect of Christian Philosophy. Now, 3 years later, I’m applying for the same thing, but with a bit more focus and direction. I’ll be applying for the general Ph.D in Christian Philosophy, and if I pass the entrance exams, I’ll be starting this fall. I really don’t know how good my chances are, but if this is God’s leading, and Ali and I think it is, then I’ll hopefully be going back to school this fall and racking up the mileage points going back and forth to Louisville.

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John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. November 2013. 1280 pp. Hardcover, $49.99.

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Thanks to P&R Publishing for the review copy!

Back in the fall, P&R Publishing was gracious enough to send me a review copy of John Frame’s latest 1000+ tome. Not only have I been reading, but several guys in the systematic theology read-thru have as well (see my post on Sunday Night school).

In order to give myself time to read through the book, and to interact with a little more depth, I thought I’d do a series review. The idea is that it will run in parallel to the series review of Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, which also came out last fall (see my intro post, and the first part of the review).

But, Frame’s is much longer, and contains more sections, so here’s what the series posts will look like:

  • Introduction
  • The Biblical Story
  • The Doctrine of God Part 1
  • The Doctrine of God Part 2
  • The Doctrine of the Word of God
  • The Doctrine of The Knowledge of God
  • The Doctrine of Angels and Demons
  • The Doctrine of Man
  • The Doctrine of Christ
  • The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
  • The Doctrine of the Church
  • The Doctrine of the Last Things

Alert readers might notice that several of Frame’s systematic sections share titles with full length books in his Lordship series. Frame knows what you’re thinking and so he just goes ahead and clears things up in the preface:

Certainly these earlier books have been a great help to me in writing this one, and readers of those books will see here a basic continuity of thought and approach. They might even suspect (rightly) that in many places some text has been cut and pasted from those past books. But I have tried to do more than to summarize the big books and to expand chapters of the smaller one [his Salvation Belongs to The Lord]. Rather, I have tried to rethink everything to make it more biblical, clear, and cogent (xxxi)

What I’ve read so far is original material, but looking at the sections on the Word of God and knowledge of God, much of the material is similar, but it is very condensed. This still leaves his section on the doctrine of God at almost 500 pages (the largest of the book). This is compared to the section on angels and demons coming in at under 20 pages (similar incidentally to Horton’s treatment).

Typically, I’d expect that the the areas of systematic theology that an author has extensively treated elsewhere will be stronger than others (very true of Horton’s work). This also appears to be true of Bird who is light on philosophical foundations and epistemology, but heavy on Christology (which he has published several books on). It is hard to say at this point if it is a detrimental defect, but it is certainly a weakness if a one is attempting to systematically treat all the topics (though I realize there is some justification for less space on angels and demons than other doctrines).

In any case, I’ve enjoyed the opening two sections and am looking forward to reading the rest in community and offering up thoughts to you here. It’ll probably take until later this fall to finish, so hopefully you’re willing to commit to the long haul.