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A couple of months back, I introduced the review series for John Frame’s Systematic Theology. Then, a few weeks ago, we looked at the first part, Introduction to Systematic Theology. Today, we’re looking at the second section, “The Biblical Story.” Much like Bird’s placement of eschatology in his systematic, Frame puts his discussion of the kingdom of God sooner rather than later. Before that, he explains his understanding of the covenants.

The Lord’s Covenants

Frame thinks that “a preliminary sweep over its landscape” is important before a detailed study of the theology of Scripture (53). This helps to set the context, which is important to avoid the negative version of proof-texting. Frame is for proof-texting, when it is done right. What he means is that “anyone who seeks to validate a theological idea must be willing to show where his idea comes from in Scripture” (55).

To set the context, Frame sees three valid perspectives. Under one, you can map the landscape of Scripture according to the covenants. This is the focus of the current chapter. The other perspectives are the Kingdom of God and the family of God, the next two chapters. Attentive readers will notice this is Frame’s normative (covenant), situational (kingdom), and existential (family) perspectives on the biblical terrain.

As he moves through the chapter, Frame unpacks the following covenants:

  • The Eternal Covenant of Redemption (among the persons of the Trinity)
  • The Universal Covenant (God’s covenant with creation in general)
  • The Edenic Covenant (God’s covenant with Adam and Eve in particular)
  • The Covenant of Grace
  • The Noahic Covenant
  • The Abrahamic Covenant
  • The Mosaic Covenant
  • The Davidic Covenant
  • The New Covenant

With a list of covenants that would make a dispensationalist proud, Frame offers an extensive map of Scripture. I think it is a bit hard to prove a formal covenant on the universal scale. Likewise, the eternal covenant of redemption, to me, is ontologically problematic. In normal person speak, it is hard to have a covenant among the persons of the Trinity before creation. That is unless you are comfortable with the covenant being somehow part of the divine nature. The concept can help explain the intentions of God in creation and election. But it is perhaps a stretch to suggest an actual covenant existed. Scripture suggests plans, but does not invoke the concept.

Beyond this, readers will find Frame’s exposition of the other covenants helpful and concise. If you want a good overview of the covenants in Scripture, Frame provides just that. He will help you see how they make up the framework of the Old Testament. In the end, he makes a case for how the time-transcending covenants (Eternal, Universal, and New) are triperspectivally related (you can guess how).

The Kingdom of God

Having parsed Scripture according to the covenants, Frame turns to doing the same according to the kingdom. This is Bruce Waltke’s organizing motif in his Old Testament Theology (which is the best you can buy), and it’s a good one. Waltke’s focus is on the irruption of the kingdom of God as Scripture moves along. All I could think of was Van Halen, and how much I needed to improve my tapping. Frame’s approach here is more generalized and less exhaustive. He explains the overlap of the ages, as well as the theme of God and then Christ as king. This leads to a discussion of the gospel of the kingdom, as well as the distinction between law and gospel. For Frame, this entails a short deconstruction of two kingdom theology. In case you didn’t know, Frame is not a fan of it, especially the kind that emanates from Escondido.

The Family of God

Finally, to complete the triangle, Frame offers a third map. This time, he focuses on the family of God and God as Father. This is a much more intimate understanding. Whereas in the covenant, God is Lord, and the kingdom God is King, in the family God is Father. To underscore this, Frame spends a considerable amount of chapter space explaining why God is Father and not Mother. As the footnotes flex their muscles, Frame points out the use of feminine images in Scripture. But, he explains the theological importance of masculine imagery. For Frame, it comes down to Father as a revealed title, feminine imagery is understand of light of that, not the other way around.

Overall, this section offers the helpful context Frame aimed to provide. The covenants receive the primary extended focus, while kingdom and family motifs receive much shorter space. While they could each receive more exposition, this does fit with the biblical emphasis (for the most part). The covenants loom large in the Old Testament. Kingdom connects the two testaments. Family is more of the focus in the New Testament. In this way, God’s relationship with his human creatures grows more intimate. Frame provides connective tissue for holding together our understanding of Scripture. He also sets the stage well for his next section on the doctrine of God. Whereas this section was around 70 pages, the next is almost 400. Because of that, I’ll be breaking it into two treatments, which you can look forward to next month.

Recently, I’ve noticed a bothersome use of language in Christian circles. What’s new? you might wonder. Not a whole lot, just the latest issue of Christian buzzwords, which I have a long history of hating.

For instance, in seminary, everything was “missional.” That was the coveted adjective for every book, movement, and public figure. No doubt this started with motivations above reproach. Later it seemed to become a code word you could use to let people know your new initiative or book was hip and with it.

I hated it.

First off, I didn’t see anything in the adjective “missional” that wasn’t already in the noun “Christian.” That is to say, there is no genuine Christian who isn’t missional in the best sense of the terms. Saying this or that movement or person was “missional” implies that others without the label aren’t. That may or may not be intentional, but I think it happens. In short, I saw it as less than clarifying as well as something people just said to show they could speak Christianese.

These days, I don’t have much of a problem with “missional.” It has receded into less aggressive usage, and we can all rejoice. But, since nature abhors a vacuum, the death of one buzzword hails the rise of another. This one has a hyphen so you know it means business.

I am speaking of course of “gospel-centered.”

This is déjà vu all over again. Like missional, there isn’t anything in the adjective “gospel-centered,” that isn’t already included in the noun “Christian.” Also much like missional, I think it is something that should be something true of many Christian endeavors. But, it is also code for “better” in some uses, and that is not particularly helpful. If I write a book on Christian living, and you write a book on gospel-centered living, your book isn’t necessarily better because it has the “right” adjective at the front. It may well be, but calling things “gospel-centered” doesn’t baptize them into some special rank of first importance. In fact, just because you label something “gospel-centered” doesn’t mean it is. Some of the best “gospel-centered” writing I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard never use the terminology.

While I could go on about how I don’t like the use of the lingo, that’s not the point. Just so we’re not confused, I have no qualms with the concept, and agree with our need to be gospel centered in our various ministries. I would say in everything we do, but I don’t think that’s the case. We should be “God’s glory centered” in all that we do. This is not synonymous with “gospel-centered,” but it is also not opposed to it. You can do both.

My real problem here is how we “reify” the gospel. In case you’re not familiar, “reification” is giving a concept or abstract idea a concrete existence. We do this in our Christianese when we talk about the gospel, but use it as the active subject of a verb. For example, if you say something like “The gospel changes us by showing us our need for grace as demonstrated on the cross.” In this usage, “the gospel” is the subject of the sentence and it is treated as something that acts upon an object. This is just one example, and I just made it up, but I think you’ll find that language floating around. I could do a search to prove it, but I don’t want to implicate anyone and I’d rather just keep writing.

The first reason I think this is a problem is that it is not the way the Biblical writers use the term. Certainly we aren’t limited to the way Scripture uses theological terms. But it should give us pause that in 76 uses of the word “gospel” in the New Testament, it is only used as the active subject of a verb once (1 Thess. 1:5) and in that case, there is no reification since it is talking about the way in which the content of the gospel was delivered. Of the other 5 instances when it is a subject of a verb, 4 times it is being preached, and once it is veiled. In all cases, it is a passive recipient of the action of the verb. So when we use “the gospel” as an actor that does things in, to, and for believers, we are using it in a way that, is foreign to the biblical writers. If I were being uncharitable, I could say it is unbiblical. I’d rather say it is a usage that doesn’t fit the biblical logic of what the gospel actually is.

The second, and more important reason I think this is a problem, is that it cuts God out of the picture. To go back to the previous example: “The Holy Spirit changes us by showing us our need for grace as demonstrated in the gospel.” In this case, the change is attributed to the action of a real divine person rather than an abstract concept. When people misuse the gospel as an actor in our sanctification they are slighting the Spirit without realizing it. A better theological subject verb agreement would involve the Spirit being the agent and the gospel being part of the means.

If the gospel isn’t an actor that accomplishes things, we should not speak about it as if it is. Rather, we should speak of the God of the gospel who works through the gospel to accomplish his purposes. If we insist on making the gospel itself an actor in the drama of redemption, we are engaging in a kind of gospel-centered reduction. I doubt anyone intends to do this, but it is an unintended consequence of buzzwords. They can be helpful, but often are not. Instead, they shortchange clear thinking by leading to reductions in our language. We rely on them as shorthand, but in this case, what gets left out is what is really of first importance.

We would do better to speak with accuracy of the God of the gospel, even if that means not using the word gospel. We can be gospel-centered in the way we talk about God and the Christian life without using the term “gospel-centered.” If what we are saying really is gospel-centered, people will be able to tell. And if it is really “gospel-centered” it is ultimately “God-centered.” What God has done in Christ and continues to do through the Spirit should be front and center. And our language should reflect that in our subjects, verbs, and everything else.

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Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things DoneGrand Rapids: Zondervan, March, 2014. 352 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy and Matt Perman for letting me be part of the street team!

Every now and then, a book comes long that is actually life changing. Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done is one of those books. Looking at the subtitle, this shouldn’t be surprising. If the gospel is what Christians claim it is, it certainly ought to transform how we get things done, and radically so. Perman’s book is aimed at both unpacking the connection and helping tease out how it affects your day to day work. 1

He does this in 7 parts. The first, “Making God Supreme in Our Productivity,” takes four chapters and debunks the first four productivity myths. Here, Perman is explaining how our understanding of who God is should connect to how we get things done. Having a God-centered understanding of our day to day activities puts them into a context that prizes effectiveness over efficiency. It also means that our work stems from a love of God and love of our neighbors. In the end, the most unproductive thing we could do is attempt to be super productivity while ignoring the role that God plays.

In the second part of the book, Perman moves from the God-centered, gospel foundation of productivity to its initial application in our day to day lives. If our understanding of productivity is truly God-centered, it affects the core motivations we have in getting things done. Ultimately, we should want to be productive for the good of others, not just to feel better about ourselves. Because we stand fully justified before God, we are not earning a status and thus are able to freely do good works out of love for our neighbors. What’s more, we do not have to feel the burden of needing to have everything under control. Our peace of mind comes from resting in the gospel, not getting everything done or having the perfect plan to do so. Further, redeemed productivity is animated by prayer and helps us to know what is most important, put that first, and then focus on doing what’s best next.

With this theology foundation in place, the next 4 parts of the book unpack Perman’s approach to getting things done. It can be summarized in the acronym DARE:

  • Define
  • Architect
  • Reduce
  • Execute

Part 3 covers how to “Define” your tasks. That is, know what’s most important and what needs to really get done. In order to really know this, you need to have a life mission statement as well as a thorough understanding of the various roles you fulfill in life. Ultimately, your mission is to go and make disciples, bringing glory to God in all that you do. Your vision on the other hand, relates to your calling, and is the specific way you are going to fulfill the mission. Because of this distinction, you can fulfill the mission but miss your personal vision. That’s not ideal, and what Perman writes in this section should help you clarify your understanding of mission as your particular calling and vision.

Having defined your calling and roles, it is much easier to actually plan what you need to be doing. Part 4 explains how to architect this out. The key is to actually plan on a week to week to basis and to focus more on setting up routines rather than endless to-do lists. I’ll probably have more to say on this in a later posts as I found this especially helpful. Readers who have used David Allen’s Getting Things Done will probably find Perman’s tweaks helpful. I am familiar but haven’t been utilizing it, but I can see how Perman has gotten around a typical problem people run into when managing individual tasks vs. larger projects (and where the line between the two is). It’s not a radical enough shift to through people off, and if you don’t use GTD, it’s not a huge issue.

Once you’ve defined and planned (“architected”), it is important to know when and how to reduce what you do. This is the focus of part 5. One key is to only schedule to 70-75% capacity rather than entirely filling up your plate. You need a flexible schedule to account for, well, life. If you’re always scheduled full to the brim, there are always going to be things that don’t get done and you’re probably going to carry out a very frustrated existence. By only planning for 70-75% you’ve reduced your day to day load and will actually be more productive in the long run. Helpful also in this section is the chapter on harnessing time killers and working with interruptions and procrastination.

Finally, you actually need to get things done. Execution is the focus of part 6, and Perman has many valuable insights. Particularly helpful is the chapter on processing e-mail, in which he suggests you can, and then explain how you can get to inbox zero everyday. I’ve been doing this for a while thanks to Mailbox app, but that’s probably another post as well. The insights on e-mail are part of Perman’s overall helpful tips for processing what comes your way. He relies heavily on Allen’s system in GTD, but he makes it his own and has clearly put a lot of thought into optimizing it further.

Before bringing the book to a close, Perman offers one last section on how to live out the system he is suggesting. He also connects it to larger concerns about the improvement of society and being responsible citizens of the kingdom of God in this world. After this, there is a toolkit section that includes a helpful 500 word summary, a list of recommend further reading, and a link to the online toolkit for further resources from Matt.

As I said in opening, this book is truly life changing. The reading of the first couple parts really opens your eyes to see productivity in a God-centered way. It helps to redeem management books and the like by setting them within a gospel-centered framework. The life-changing part of the core 4 parts I think comes more in the implementation rather than in the reading. In that light, this is a book that I’ve now read, but am certainly not done with. I’ll be back in it multiple times in the coming days and weeks and I seek to wisely implement the insights Perman has for productivity to the glory of God. If you are serious getting things done effectively and want to glorify God in your day to day activities, I highly recommend picking up this book. It will easily repay the investment of time and money you put into it. While I’m reviewing it now, this probably isn’t the last post that I’ll have on it. As I put much of what Perman says into action, I plan to post here and there about how I do it. In the meantime, pick up a copy for yourself and join me on reorienting productivity in a gospel centered, God-honoring direction so that we can do more for God and our neighbors.

Notes:

  1. Here is his post explaining more about why he wrote the book. Also, check out his post with more goodies from the book, and his online toolkit to go with the book.

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You may have noticed that there was no expository blogging post last Monday. Part of that was so I could talk about my trip to Louisville. The other part was that I intended to move the series to Saturdays. But life happens, and my plans to post this Saturday did not materialize, so here we are.

You may also notice I am offering a title rather than just a reference. Part of this is because you can tell what it is now without me announcing it. The other part is I just thought it would be better to give the posts in the series more interesting titles. And so here we are.

Exodus 4:1-9

When we last checked in on Moses, he was talking to God via the medium of a flaming shrubbery. God had announced his intentions to show Pharaoh what’s up, and in the process save Israel from their oppression. This is all well and good, but Moses has a key pragmatic concerns:

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (4:1)

In response, God offers Moses 3 distinct signs he can use to validate his prophetic message:

The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (4:2-9)

Some of the significance of these signs can be lost on us 3000 years later. Concerning the staff to snake and back trick, Alec Motyer explains:

The kings of Egypt wore crowns adorned with the ‘uraeus,’ a cobra with raised hood threatening Egypt’s enemies. The cobra crown was also associated with the sun god Re [Ra], the ‘Living King,’ who, when united with Amon [or Amun], was the most powerful deity in Egypt. Victory over the serpent was, therefore, a comprehensive motif for challenging and overthrowing the central realities of Egyptian religion and sovereignty, and thus by this sign, Egypt’s power, whether divine or royal, is shown to be under the Lord’s sovereign sway. Moses may well have fled from it in the past, but by obedience he can also subdue it.” 1

As far as being able to conjure leprosy, one could see this as the most significant physical disease in that culture. Being able to manifest it and then get it rid of demonstrated a power of the body that would be similar to being able to summon skin cancer onto a person and then just as easily “cure” it.

Although mentioned as an almost last resort, the sign involving the Nile is actually a prominent foreshadowing of the eventual first plague. Stuart explains that this is sign is “hinting at the fact that God had in store some serious threats to unleash upon the Egyptians, which he would first demonstrate, through this sample, to his own people. The third sign, in other words, was not so much about Moses as it was about Egypt, and specifically the Nile. For God’s servant Moses to demonstrate through this simple act God’s power over the Nile would be to demonstrate God’s power generally over Egypt and the Egyptians a fortiori.” 2 Furthermore, if you keep in mind that Egyptian religion would have considered the Nile to be a personification of a certain god, turning it to blood implied that god had been killed. The primary source of life in the region was now dripping death.

4:10-17

I imagine most of us would have been content to head on back to Egypt at this point. But not Moses. Though you can read this as cowardice on Moses’ part, it is also kind of ballsy to argue with God about whether you should do what he says. If God was speaking you audibly from a fire in your backyard, how comfortable would you be pushing back on what he’s asking you do to? Moses it seems was pretty comfortable:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” (4:10-17)

If you’re keeping score, this is Moses’ 2nd and 3rd objections, with the 3rd one finally getting to the root problem: Moses just doesn’t want to go. In his anger, God makes a concession which will come back to haunt Moses. Since Moses isn’t keen on being the spokesman for God to Pharaoh, Aaron will do all the talking with Moses being the go-between. In this sense, the word of God comes to Moses, who relays it to Aaron, who relays it to Pharaoh. This is a rather cumbersome setup and Aaron will prove to be a liability, but we see God accommodate Moses’ insecurities. While this is gracious on God’s part, we can also see that it would have probably been better had Moses simply acquiesced to God’s initial request.

For many of us, God won’t ask us to lead a nation out of centuries long slavery. Most of us also aren’t wanted fugitives in our hometown either. But, God has callings for each of us that may involve missions that are not our first choice of a lifestyle. When that calling becomes clear, we should learn from Moses’ story that a certain level dialogue with God is acceptable. But after a certain point, God’s accommodation might not prove to be what we think it is in the long run. It would be better for us to obey and go when God has made himself clear. The clarity might not be as brilliant as an audible voice from a bush that burns but is not consumed. But if God is calling us to something specific, he has his ways of making sure we get the memo. While we have our ways of playing Jonah, we’ll be far better off to respond in faith rather than fear and take the next step toward whatever Egypt or Ninevah God has called us to pursue.

In the end, if you feel God is calling you toward a specific mission, is it perfectly ok to ask questions about it. You can ask God for clarification, you can push back on the nature of the mission and your role in it. But, what you shouldn’t do is say, “Hey God, thanks for the offer, but can you find someone else?” God’s specific calling for you to join his mission is not a job offer you can take or leave. It is a vital part of your purpose in the body of Christ. Take your cues from Isaiah instead of Moses and say “Here I am, send me” not “Here I am, send someone else.”

Notes:

  1. J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus: The Days of Our Pilgrimage. Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005, 77
  2. Douglas K Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 131

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Step 1: Start With Yourself

Prior to Descartes, philosophy typically started with metaphysics. It was, in a way, metaphysics seeking epistemology. Truth was considered objective in itself, while a person’s reason was understood to be subjective. In Christian terms, this worked out to faith seeking understanding. What Descartes decided to do was turn this on its head and start with epistemology. What he hoped to accomplish was to construct a philosophy built on clear and distinct ideas. He would systematically doubt everything he could until he got to the bottom of his thinking. In the midst of this, he realized that his own doubting was proof of his existence, and so he found his first clear and distinct idea and we all remember that by cogito ergo sum.

From this point on, philosophy began to proceed not from a metaphysical starting point, but an epistemological one. It was now understanding seeking faith. This created an epistemic gap that no one has successfully closed. Descartes, along with Leibniz and Spinoza were the in the rationalistic school of philosophy and all relied on formulating their epistemology on the basis of clear and distinct ideas. What is baffling is that they all supposedly started from “clear and distinct” ideas and proceeded logically to the conclusions that followed from those; yet each had a radically different outcome. It seemed then that the ideas were not quite so clear or so distinct.

Rationalism was still more or less following a correspondence theory of truth, assuming that truth is what corresponds to reality. The problem became how to bring ideas and reality itself into fruitful contact. It was believed that truth was objective, but contra pre-modernism, now it was assumed that rationality was objective too. It was simply a matter of following the right steps to get to the truth. It was now believe possible to gain a “God’s eye” objective view of any subject at hand. By starting with yourself, you could build a non-religious, rational philosophy of yourself.

Step 2: Prioritize Your Senses

Rationalism was not the only approach. The other option on the table was empiricism. Philosophers in this school include John Locke first, but later George Berkeley and David Hume. This approach, first formulated by Locke relied on sense perception as a starting point. In Locke’s account, we have substances and properties. Substances are the more basic of the two, and are capable of having certain attributes attached to them (i.e. properties). I can formulate the truth about the chair, to use an example, by bringing my ideas of the chair and the chair itself into spatio-temporal union. I must examine the chair in detail to make sure my ideas of it correspond to how it really is.

This still maintained the epistemic gap, and the issue arose as to how to know whether or not we know the substances themselves, or merely the properties that they have as attributes. The question of whether or not I know the “chairness” of the chair apart from its specific attributes is what Locke was wrestling with to some extent, but was certainly what those after him would pick up on. Hume jumped all over this, and eventually acknowledged that given the empirical approach, we are all basically “Locked” up in our own perceptions. We can’t actually know reality itself. For Hume, all we have are bundled of properties, there are no substances.

Taking this further, one can see it affects our understanding of causation. Fundamental to Hume’s philosophy is his account of causation. He argued that our minds are conditioned to perceive causation, but we don’t actually apprehend it directly. We see temporal sequences of events, and then infer causality, but we don’t actually “see” causality. I may see the cue stick strike a cue ball that then strikes the 8 ball sending it into the corner pocket and infer that my opponent just caused all of that to happen but I don’t actually see, in an empirical sense of actually witnessing with my senses, the actual causation. If all I can perceive then are bundles of properties, and I can’t link validate that events are linked through causation, I really can’t know much of anything.

So, after Hume there is not only an epistemic gap between appearance and reality, there is no way to bridge it, although it could be argued that wasn’t Hume’s goal in the first place. Hume would eventually get frustrated with all of this and instead of writing more books opt for backgammon with his friends. It was around this time though that Immanuel Kant arose from his dogmatic slumber and decided to move things on to step 3.

Step 3: Create Your Own Reality

Kant, like Plato was a synthesizer. Whereas Plato synthesized two different streams of pre-Socratic thought, Kant attempted to synthesize the rational and empirical approach. Kant, like Berkeley saw reality as mind dependent, but with one huge difference. Berkeley saw reality as mind dependent and structured by God, and we merely sought to think God’s thoughts after Him. For Kant though, reality is mind dependent but structured by the individual. In a sense, you create your own reality by structuring your perceptions of reality into some kind of coherent system of thought. In a way, this shifted the burden of truth from corresponding to reality to merely cohering with the rest of one’s knowledge. Truth was now in some ways what cohered to my way of thinking, whether or not it actually corresponded to external reality.

In critiquing pure reason, he proposed there are 4 types of judgments:

  • Analytic (subject contains predicate)
  • Synthetic (subject neither contains nor denies predicate)
  • A priori (independent of experience)
  • A posteriori (dependent on experience).

Each kind of judgment is to be one of the first two, and one of the second two. The prize was synthetic a priori judgments, those that brought us new information, yet were not dependent on experience. Kant also made the distinction between what he called the noumenal realm which is reality as it is in itself, and the phenomenal realm, which is reality as I perceive it. God may well exist, but if he does, it is in the noumenal realm of which we don’t have direct access (except for Kant).

How Kant knew there was such a distinction is curious. In essence, Kant proposed to have god-like knowledge of the limits of reason and thus must have transcended human knowing in order gain this understanding. The only way to really critique his proposal of the limits of reason would be to transcend his transcendence. This of course isn’t possible, so ironically, philosophy has somewhat taken Kant’s word final, and many postmodern philosophers are basically just hyper-Kantians. However, before getting there, someone needed to come along and simplify Kant’s two structured reality (noumenal/phenomenal) into a simpler form.

Step 4: Get Rid of the True Creator

Enter Nietzsche. Unlike the previously mentioned philosopher (except for maybe Hume), Nietzsche didn’t see a need to salvage the belief in God. In fact, for Nietzsche, belief in God had become unbelievable and rather than arguing against it, he assumed it as a starting point. “God is dead, and we have killed him,” the madman in Nietzsche’s writing would proclaim. As I understand it, Nietzsche basically sought to go ahead and just dispense with the noumenal realm altogether. If we can’t know it, let’s just get rid of it. Nietzsche doesn’t seem as preoccupied with epistemology as the previous philosophers surveyed do, but he did have a bent toward naturalizing everything. Interestingly, in this process the self gets deified to some extent as once God is removed from the picture the aseity vacuum has to suck something into place. If God is not in that position, man will occupy it.

Nietzsche in effect helped shift the definition of truth further away from corresponding to reality on to what “works.” Truth in this sense is what gets me to my goals. Nietzsche rightly understood that without God in the picture, there is no foundation for meaning, for morals, or for logic. There is only the power play left. We are to celebrate the joy inherent in this revelation. While we may not be able to truly know reality in itself, that is no matter, we need to rush headlong into creating a beautiful life for ourselves that we would be content to relive over and over again. It seems by the time we get to Nietzsche, we have gone from faith seeking understanding, to understanding seeking faith, to now just understanding, and an understanding that exerts power. As we embrace this joyful wisdom, we are all on our way to becoming Übermenschen in our own unique ways.

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We’re continuing on our journey through Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. You can refer back to the introduction to see the table of contents for the upcoming review sections. Today we’re looking at his section on eschatology.

§ 3.1 Gospel and Kingdom

In an interesting turn, Bird places his section on eschatology right after the doctrine of God, rather than at the end of the study. As he explains, he thinks it should be pushed up earlier in the theological curriculum. Because eschatology has its emphasis on the final kingdom of God, and that it both an important motif in biblical theology and in Jesus’ preaching and teaching, Bird thinks we should situate it prior to soteriology.

I think this is a bold move, but it fits with Bird’s overall structure. If he is truly producing a “gospel-centered” systematic theology, then the introduction of the kingdom comes pretty early. Interestingly enough, when I was taking Eschatology at Dallas Seminary, we spent the bulk of the class in Genesis, both looking at what was lost in the fall, and what was promised to Abraham. We didn’t get into what people think of as the stereotypical eschatological discussion (rapture, tribulation, millennium) until fairly late in the course. The context setting proved invaluable. Bird seems to be doing much this same thing with his discussion of where redemption history is headed taking place before the discussion of redemption itself.

§ 3.2 Apocalypse Now and Not Yet!

Having the importance of the kingdom stressed, the second section turns to a brief discussion of different ways the church has understood the “apocalyptic.” Worth keeping in mind is that “apocalypse” technically means “revealing” not “end of the world as we know it.” So the book of Revelation is the “Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.” Accordingly, Bird sketches out in this section a concise rundown of biblical eschatology. Key to this is his presentation of the overlap of the ages in eschatological thinking. Regardless of one’s understanding of the end times, all pretty much agree there is certain element of already but not yet when it comes to the inauguration of the kingdom of God. It gets parsed out differently as the views are explained, but Bird is still pretty focused on big picture issues here.

§ 3.3 The Return of Jesus Christ

In addition to the overlap of ages, all orthodox Christians believe in a bodily return of Jesus. Here Bird gets into issues related to how you understand the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (as well as Mark 13), and how the destruction of Jerusalem is related to what Jesus says in those passages. Bird takes a preterist view that sees AD 70 destruction as a fulfillment of what is spoken of in the Olivet Discourse (265). He avoids however a hyper-preterist view which would see no relevance beyond AD 70 (267). He sees rather the destruction of Jerusalem as the beginning of the final judgment (266).

Within this section, Bird gives a bullet pointed “in a nutshell” rundown of the return of Jesus (269). This provides a good summary of the essential takeaways about Christ’s return:

  • His return will be accompanied with angels (1 Thess 3:13; Jude 14; cf. Zech 14:5).
  • Reference to a trumpet at his return is symbolic for the royal nature of the event (Isa 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zeph 1:14-16; Matt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; Rev 11:15). The trumpets mark the arrival of the day of the Lord and are a rallying sound for the gathering of God’s people.
  • Around the time of Jesus’ return “all Israel” will be saved, meaning a large segment of ethnic or empirical Israel (Rom 11:26).
  • Jesus’ return will involve a resurrection of believers (1 Cor 15:20-23, 52; Phil 3:21; 1 Thess 4:14-17; Rev 20:4).
  • At his return Jesus will judge and subjugate all of his enemies (1 Cor 15:24-28; Rev 19:11-21)

§ 3.4 Millennium and Tribulation

Having covered the essentials, Bird turns to the different millennial views. Bird himself is a historic premillennialist, but he gives very fair treatment to both amillennials and postmillennials. He notes at one point that were it not for Revelation 20, he’d be an amillennial. Parentheically, he even suggests he almost changed his mind while writing this section, and concurs with Craig Keener’s statement that “Theologically I am amillennial, but exegetically I am premillennial” (280).

He interestingly does not give much detail or treatment to dispensational premillennialism, but does at least note its existence. While he may not agree with dispensationalists, he gives very strong arguments in this chapter for a premillennial understanding of the return of Christ as being the earliest view. He suggests towards the end of his presentation of the evidence that a chiliasm (belief in a literal millennium) fell out of fashion once Constantine made Christianity the official religion, making postmillennialism seem more likely (though we should note that term is anachronistic).

Having discussed the different approaches to the millennium and sided with a historic premil position, Bird now has to discuss views of the tribulation (something not particularly necessary in other schemes). He is somewhat predictably post-trib, but explains pre-trib well. Unmentioned is the mid-trib option, mainly because almost no one holds to it.

§ 3.5 The Final Judgment

Beyond the millennial views are views of the final judgment. Once again though, there is a certain level or harmony across Christian views in that every orthodox person holds to a future physical judgment. There is a question of whether believers will be judged, and if so, on what basis. Bird says yes, and follows N. T. Wright in arguing that our works will be judged to show that they are the necessary evidences the saving faith the Spirit has produced in us. Interestingly, this is more less Tom Schreiner’s position as well, as outlined in the Four Views of The Role of Works in The Final Judgment.

Resonating Jim Hamilton, Bird says that “God’s glory is revealed when creation is purified from evil and the exile from Eden comes to an end” (307-308). Judgment then serves to manifest the glory of God, in addition to it being a triumph of grace and means of retribution toward the wicked. It is the final culmination of the victory that Christ won, and when faced with the evil in this present world, we can look forward in hope to the day of eternal reckoning.

§ 3.6 The Intermediate State: What Happens When You Die?

At this point, Bird turns to personal eschatology after having covered dealt with cosmic eschatology (309). He sketches out death as the final enemy, and the explores the options for understanding the intermediate state. He argues against the idea of the immortatlity of the soul, or of soul sleep. I’ll admit I’ve been in favor of a kind of understanding that your consciousness is tied to having a physical body, but Bird has convinced me otherwise. Instead, death introduces a disunity that is not dealt with until the final resurrection (314).

He then parses the afterlife according to the biblical categories. Bird sees Sheol/Hades as a single place having two divisions prior to Christ’s death/resurrection/ascension. Whereas prior both the righteous and the wicked were there, now it is just the place of the wicked with the righteous having been brought to heaven with Christ. He sees “paradise” as referring to the division of Sheol for the righteous, and therefore an intermediate state that is neither heaven nor hell (319). The thief on the cross then went there when he died, was met by Christ, but then brought up to heaven with the other righteous souls upon Christ’s ascension.

§ 3.7 The Final State: Heaven, Hell, and New Creation

Finally, Bird turns to the eternal state. He argues for a fairly traditional understanding of heaven, hell, and the new creation. He does rely on Wright a bit more, specifically Surprised By Hope, and the idea that the final state is heaven on earth, not some disembodied existence with clouds and harps.

With that, Bird is now poised to discuss the Gospel of God’s Son. Christology is a strong suit of Bird’s and this next section is one of the longer ones. I might split it in two, but I guess we’ll see once I’ve read it.

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Yesterday, I posted this picture of Matt Perman’s just released book, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while, and now it’s finally arrived (You can read a sample here).

In the preface of the book, Matt lays out 12 myths about productivity that many of us may have unwittingly bought into (13-16). Originally, I thought I’d list these out for you followed by the corresponding truths that Matt explains in his book.

Instead, I thought it would be interesting to quiz yourself and see how God/gospel centered your view of getting things done is. At the end I’ll list the myths and truths in total. Let’s see how you do:

Quiz

  1. Productivity is about getting more done faster
  2. The way to be productive is to have the right techniques and tools
  3. It is not essential to give consideration to what God has to say about productivity
  4. It is not essential to make the gospel central in our view of productivity
  5. The way to be productive is to tightly manage yourself (and others!)
  6. The aim of time management should be our peace of mind
  7. The way to succeed is to put yourself first
  8. We will have peace of mind if we can get everything under control
  9. To-do lists are enough
  10. Productivity is best defined by tangible outcomes
  11. The time we spend working is a good measure of our productivity
  12. Having to work really hard or even suffer in our work means our priorities are screwed up or we are doing something wrong.

Results

Think you did pretty good? I’m hoping you guessed that #3, #4, and #7 are definitely myths. The truth is though that these are all productivity myths in one way or another. Matt sheds light on this by presenting the corresponding truth for each of the above myths:

  1. Productivity is about effectiveness first, not efficiency
  2. Productivity comes first from character, not techniques
  3. We cannot be truly productive unless all our activity stems from love for God and the acknowledgment that he is sovereign over all our plans
  4. The only way to be productive is to realize that you don’t have to be productive
  5. Productivity comes from engagement, not tight control; when we are motivated, we don’t need to tightly control ourselves (or others)
  6. Productivity is first about doing good for others to the glory of God
  7. We become most productive by putting others first, not ourselves
  8. Basing our peace of mind on our ability to control everything will never work
  9. Time is like space, and we need to see lists as support material for our activity zones, not as sufficient in themselves to keep track of what we have to do
  10. The greatest evidence of productivity comes from intangibles, not tangibles
  11. We need to measure productivity by results, not by time spent working
  12. We will (sometimes) suffer from our work, and it is not sin

If some of these truths seem counter-intuitive, or liberating to the way you approach your daily work, you should probably check out What’s Best Next. You should probably read this post by Matt explaining more about why he wrote the book. If you’re interested in trying to secure a free copy, there are other bloggers offering giveaways, here, here, and here. As always, Justin Taylor has a good write-up too.

Hopefully, I’ll have a fully review of my own by next week. So far, it’s a very beneficial read that I’m hoping will reshape the way I approach juggling my current schedule. I’m definitely tempted to believe that efficiency is more important than it is and that tangible results are most important. I expect to have a better understand of why that’s not the case as I continue reading and applying the wisdom in this book.

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Andrew J. Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr., eds., The Psalms: Language For All Seasons of The Soul. Chicago: Moody Publishers, November 2013. 288 pp. Paperback, $26.99.

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Thanks to Moody Publishers for the review copy!

Every few months, I focus on just the Psalms in my devotions. This exclusive psalmody usually lasts a month since I read 5 a day. I realized a while back that I didn’t know Psalms all that well. So, I decided to remedy that and immerse myself in the book several times a year.

In addition to reading the Psalms more often, I’ve found several resources helpful for understanding the book better. One such book is The Psalms: Language For All Seasons of The Soul. Edited by Andrew Schmutzer and David Howard Jr., this collection runs the full gamut of material. The collection of essays grows out the Psalms and Hebrew Poetry section of the Evangelical Theological Society (est. 2009). The present book is all the papers read in the the first three years of the section, as well as four sermons to round out the material.

The book is split into 5 parts. The first has three essays that set the context for Psalms studies in the recent past. Bruce Waltke exposes the connections to biblical theology. Willem VanGemeren explores the different routes of literary analysis. C. Hassell Bullock explores the role the book plays in our faith and traditions. These opening essays, as well as the closing sermons, are the most accessible and give readers a good understanding of where Psalms studies are situated these days.

The 2nd and 3rd parts go into detailed analysis of select psalms of praise and psalms of lament respectively. In the first, we are treated to in depth exegesis of Psalm 46 (Francis Kimmitt), 91 (Andrew Schmutzer), and the 74/89 (Robert Chisholm Jr.). The section on laments covers broader sections more so than individual Psalms, although perhaps the most technical paper is the examination of the Septuagint version of Psalm 54 (Randall Gauthier). In addition, Walt Kaiser compares the laments of Lamentation to that of the Psalter. Allen Ross looks at select “Thou” sections in lament psalms (with emphasis on their boldness). Daniel Estes goes into detail on individual laments, while Michael Travers focuses on how laments confessing sin transform into praise.

The 4th part of the book moves into considerations of canon. Robert Cole examines the opening 2 psalms and their role introducing everything that follows. David Howard Jr. traces the organizing motif of divine and human kingship. Michael Snearly looks specifically at the 5th book of the psalter and its emphasis on the returning king/Messiah. Tremper Longman then rounds out the section by focusing on the last psalm and its role in concluding the psalter.

The book closes with a section of 4 sermons. The first is on Psalms 16 and 23 (Mark Futato). This is followed by sermons on Psalm 84 (David Ridder), 88 (David Howard Jr.), and finally Psalm 117 by none other than John Piper. These concluding sermons give the book an overall nice balance between more in-depth exegetical analysis and practical applications.

Since the collection of essays springs from a section at ETS, it’s not necessarily the most practical book on Psalms coming down the pike. However, there is pretty much something for everyone in these essays. Like most essay collections, the quality is not uniform throughout. I found Chisholm, Waltke, Kaiser, and Ross most interesting. On the whole, I found parts 1 and 3 to be the most helpful for my understanding, but some of this is compared to what I already knew or had read in previous books. In the end, if you’re really serious about Psalms study, you might want to check this out, and to make that easier I’m offering you an opportunity to win a copy for yourself. Just follow the steps in the PunchTab widget (click thru if your’e in RSS).

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This is Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just before 8 last Friday morning. There is a set of windows at the bast of the tree that is somewhat centered in the shot. Through those windows is the classroom where I took a Ph.D entrance exam. Taking the exam is no real guarantee you’ll get in. It’s really the last phase of your overall application. That, and the faculty interview (which I thoroughly enjoyed).

The exam was at 9 in the morning. You had (or at least the philosophy exam had) two questions. You picked one, and spent the better part of the next 2 hours trying to answer it well. Somewhere within my 10 page response, I think I did ok. I guess we’ll see once it is graded. I’ll find out sometime late March or early April whether I got in, got wait listed, or got denied. You could also get invited to the Th.M program, but I already have one of those, so that’d be kind of pointless.

Over the course of my time in Louisville I was able to reconnect with my good friend Todd and his wife Megan (and their 16 month old Simon, who I think likes me). Todd and I go way back to like 2006 or so. He attended Boyce briefly, then worked at Apple, met a great girl, got married, and is now fairly settled down. He works for Forest Giant, a mobile app and web develop you should probably check out if you have needs in that area. He is also quite the photographer and has his own photo company, ABNY, you should also check out. Thanks to his handiwork, I now have a newer headshot, which you may or may not have noticed around the interwebs.

Also during my time in Louisville, I was able to meet up with of guys I knew from Dallas that are now in the SBTS Ph.D program, as well as connect in real life with several people I’ve known digitally. One was a guy named Garrick Bailey who is also hoping to get into the Ph.D program after he graduates DTS. We had lunch with J.T. English, Coleman Ford, and Sam Tyson, all DTS grads who overlapped with us in one way or another.

Another is Richard Clark who is co-founder and editor in chief over at Christ and Pop Culture. They just did a sweet re-launch, and now have an interesting podcast to go with their online magazine and stellar weekly blog posts. We were able to sit down and have coffee (for Rich) and Ale-8 (for me) in the seminary coffeeshop. During our talk, I happened to Matt Smethurst as well, who is an associate editor over at The Gospel Coalition, and whose inbox I will be sending book reviews to in the future.

While waiting on my faculty interview, I bumped into Andrew Walker, who works with the ERLC and is also applying to the program. Later, because my interview ran late, I missed meeting up with Mike Leake, but we were able to connect on Saturday after many Twitter @ replies. Along with Tim Challies, he is spearheading a 31 Day Purity Challenge right now that you should probably be involved in. It started Saturday, so you’re not too late if you haven’t heard (plus there will probably be an app later just like Pray For Your Wife).

In the end, it was a pretty great trip. Even I don’t get in this go around, I’m glad I was able to connect with people and spend time with my good buddy Todd. I got pretty good (it’s not Texas) BBQ two meals in a row, and went to Indiana two days in a row, which is a personal record. I also got to check out some pretty sweet indie coffeeshops, eat the best burger in town (at The Holy Grail), and find a nice Mexican dive for next time I’m there.

Plus, I picked the early flight out yesterday morning, and so beat the Icepocalypse that apparently followed shortly behind me. And, I even surprised myself by having the longest conversation with someone on a plane I can remember. Turns out it was a guy who is a town councilman in Louisville, heading with his wife to Houston to M.D. Anderson for her checkup. They go to Southeast Christian in Louisville, which is the church Kyle Idleman (Not A Fan, Gods at War) is at. They were really hospitable and basically offered for me to stay with them next time in town, and even for the 3 week stretches that I would need to be in town if I get into the Ph.D program.

That pretty much puts all the pieces in play, but I’m still not holding my breath. I’ll be slightly anxious until I get something in the mail, and then we’ll just take it from there. First things first though. I need to sit outside and read all day tomorrow and thank God that it’s 80 degrees and sunny and not whatever is going on in Louisville today. Based on the picture below, I’m guessing it won’t involve tanning.

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9780830839605_p0_v1_s260x420Mark W. Foreman, Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, November 2013. 208 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

When I started at Liberty University, had already completed two years of Bible college, earning essentially an associates of Bible (if there was such a thing). I intended to major in psychology, so one of the first classes I took was developmental psychology. 1 The other class was introduction to philosophy. The instructor was Mark Foreman.

My first foray into philosophy was literally 2 mind-blowing. I probably would have changed majors, but that wasn’t an option. Instead, it became a background interest that when would then get ignited further during my second semester of seminary, and then come full circle to where we are now. In that sense, I owe quite a bit to Mark Foreman’s teaching, and I’m glad to see him producing a popular level book introducing others to the wonders of philosophy.

Rather than an actual introduction, this is just what the title says (always a good thing): a prelude. The typical divisions of philosophy are not discussed in detail until chapter 4, and then the final three chapters after that are focused on logic and rational argumentation. Before getting to those divisions, Foreman spends time explaining in general terms, what philosophy is (and is not), why it is an important field of study, and most importantly, why it is important for Christians. Each of these topics occupy an entire chapter, and I thought provided good reasons for studying philosophy (though I am biased), as well as fending off objections to it as subject for Christian attention. That makes this a good book for a) people wanting to get their feet wet in the streams of philosophical thought, as well as b) anyone wanting to think clearly about any topic.

In the course of his discussion, Foreman defines philosophy as “the critical examination of our foundational beliefs concerning the nature of reality, knowledge, and truth, and our moral and social values” (24). After unpacking this a little further, Foreman lists 6 distinguishing features of philosophy and philosophical study (29-41, my formulations):

  • It helps define the criteria we use to study facts
  • It regulates the nature and method of studies
  • It relentlessly seeks clarity of thought
  • It examines and evaluates everything
  • It focuses on foundational issues and perennial questions
  • It is based on principles and guidelines of sound argumentation

With a definition and description in mind, Foreman then explains why philosophy is important. Though more could be said, Foreman highlights the importance of living an examined life, clarifying our thinking, cultivating a worldview, and refining our ethical decisions. This provides a transition to the chapter on why philosophy is important for Christians. Foreman suggests five ways it plays a vital role (89-93):

  • It plays a large role in the task of interpreting Scripture (hermeneutics)
  • It provides the principles of systematizing utilized in theology and helps draw out and express theological concepts
  • It heavily utilized in apologetics, as in presenting a rational case for the Christian faith
  • It can help with polemics against objections to Christian orthodoxy
  • It is useful in evangelism, especially in the point of contact with differing worldviews

Building off the first item listed, Foreman goes into greater detail about the role philosophy plays in biblical interpretation. One extreme is to keep the two thoroughly isolated. There is philosophical study, and biblical studies, and never the two shall meet. The other extreme is to disregard the role of philosophy altogether. This extreme looks at Scripture as solo scriptura, and therefore sees no need for philosophical study at all. Without some of the fruits of philosophy to inform their thinking, people who take this approach often end up misusing the Scripture they think is all they need. The solution isn’t to exalted philosophy, but to be willing to utilize insights and harness it to help one be a better Bible interpreter.

At this point, Foreman presents the divisions of philosophy, and it is pretty standard fare. The final three chapters, as mentioned, are on logic and argumentation. Very helpfully, Foreman includes a few brief exercises to limber up the mind. Worth mentioning as well are the seven virtues of the Christian philosopher listed in the epilogue (191-197):

  • Love of truth
  • Diligence
  • Intellectual honesty
  • Fairness and respect
  • Intellectual fortitude
  • Epistemic humility
  • Teachableness

I would say those are all attributes I would live to strive for, and even if you don’t plan to be a philosopher, 3 they are virtues we should all strive for in our lives.

With that, Foreman’s prelude comes to an end. Along the way he is clear and concise, and demonstrates the virtues he extols at the end. It is an ideal book for an intro to philosophy class at say, the high school level. Because there is no extended discussion of the major thinkers, it couldn’t be a stand alone philosophy textbook, but it doesn’t aim to be, so that’s ok. I could see it being used profitably in tandem with Bartholomew and Goheen’s Christian Philosophy. As a prelude, it really whets the appetite for the fugue that is higher level philosophical study. I’ve been onboard since I took philosophy with Foreman 8 years ago this month. If you’re interesting in diving in, this is a good book to help you do so.

Notes:

  1. Fun fact: I never took general psychology. At Liberty you could take developmental or general psychology first and then you could take the other required classes from there. I completed all the required classes for a psych major except general psychology, and then just Clepped out of it. This adds an irony within an irony given that I am a home schooled high school teacher who teaches general psychology as an elective.
  2. Not literally
  3. You are one whether or not you plan to, the question is whether you do it well or not