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Today we finish up our journey through Four Views on The Historical Adam. Yesterday we looked William Barrick’s young-earth perspective on the historical Adam, and on Tuesday we looked at C. John Collins’ view. For the full table of contents, click here.

Rather than closing with additional editorial comments (like Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy did), this volume closes with two brief pastoral reflections. I suppose technically this makes it six views on the historical Adam. However, since these are pastoral reflections, the focus is much different than the views. Rather than defending whether Adam existed or not, the question is how pastorally relevant is his existence (or non-existence).

Interestingly, both Greg Boyd and Phil Ryken think Adam was a historical figure. Boyd is more tentative (“I am currently inclined to the view that Adam was, in fact, a historical figure”). Ryken is more dogmatic (“To deny the historical Adam is to stand against the teaching of Moses, Luke, Jesus, and Paul”). What they disagree on is how dependent our faith is on the historical Adam. For Boyd, our faith is secure either way. For Ryken, much like Barrick, it is a gospel issue.

This plays out in the tone and content of each essay. Boyd’s essay is more autobiographical. He too was once a young-earth creationist and had a significant faith crisis in college. The role his experience plays is his significant and informs the pastoral stance he takes on the issue. Honestly, though I am not inclined to agree with Boyd’s perspective, his essay was more pastorally sensitive to people wrestling with the issue.

On the other hand, Ryken’s essay reads more like a treatise on the doctrinal importance of the historical Adam. He gives an outline of seven doctrines connected to Adam as a historical person, and only briefly flirting with personal experience in an opening anecdote. His response is thorough and I imagine, hoped to be semi-definitive in the short space allowed. It is thankfully less combative than Barrick’s perspective, though Ryken clearly thinks a historical Adam is just as important as Barrick does.

In this sense, I think the strength of each essay is also the weakness of the other. Boyd is more pastorally sensitive and having wrestled with the issue, has an insider’s perspective. Ultimately, he does not take a real definitive doctrinal stand (e.g. “I am merely inclined to the view that Adam was a historical figure.”). His position on Adam, like his theism, is quite open. 1

Ryken on the other hand does take a clear doctrinal stand. Had he presented his view with a little more personal engagement with the issue, it might have been more pastorally effective. But at the same time, I realize there is a trade-off when you’re dealing with space considerations. The more personal experience he infused, the less space there would have been for sketching out the doctrinal importance. Perhaps it could have been balanced better in the essay, but I don’t know. I do know it could be better balanced in a real life conversation scenario, something I am still learning to do well myself.

My vantage point at the moment is that there is no significant reason to deny a historical Adam. I taught high school biology for a year and during that time explored the question of evolution from the perspective of a teacher. 2 In the time since then, life has considerably evolved, but not so radically that everything is traced back to lower life forms. Relations are somewhat provable, but lines of descent are harder to definitively establish. For that reason, I am highly skeptical that a) they could be proven, and b) that mankind can be brought into a provable line.

The reason I put it this way is that just based on scientific evidence, I don’t find the evolution of man compelling. I realize of course that mainstream science thinks otherwise, but I investigated the evidence for myself, and I found it wanting. I could see how someone could believe wholesale in evolution. But my background in philosophy and particularly philosophy of science influences the way I see the connection of evidence/data and theories. In this case, the connection seems to me, highly improbable.

Moving to Scripture, I think the case that Adam was historical is much stronger than the case that he wasn’t. I think this book more or less shows that since of the 6 voices, only 1 thinks Adam wasn’t historical. And he clearly has to do some revisionist hermeneutical gymnastics to still hold that Scripture is trustworthy and true. It seems that the predominant Christian intuition in this matter is to take the text at face value and believe that Adam is a real historical person who existed in the past. This isn’t to say someone who doesn’t share that intuition isn’t a Christian, but merely to say they represent a minority report within Christian thought. They also exclusively seem to do so for scientific reasons. That is, I don’t know anyone doubting that Adam was a real historical individual apart from also believing whole-heartedly in evolution. 3

Considering that there are ways of believing in much of scientific data regarding evolution and believing in a historical Adam, it doesn’t seem necessary to revise our interpretation of Scripture to fit something that is not conclusively proven as true (or really could be given the limits and scope of origin science). This book underscores that fact from a variety of angles. At the end of the day, I think we should read Genesis like Collins (and to some extent Walton), express the significance of a historical Adam like Ryken, and try to relate to people struggling with the issues like Boyd.

Notes:

  1. To be clear, I am making a joke about Boyd’s open theism. I am not questioning his belief in God or his being a Christian. I actually have not interacted much with his writings until recently. But, I have found myself enjoying my way through disagreeing with him. Considering the number of Spectrum Multiview books I have to read in which he is a contributor, this won’t be the last time I engage Boyd.
  2. In terms of my biological studies, I didn’t come across any compelling evidence to belief that humans evolved from lower forms of life (the “common ancestry” component of the definition of evolution). Even if we grant a billions of years old universe, Big-Bang cosmology, and even macro-evolution (evolution from one species to another), there is no hard evidence definitively proving man evolved from lower life forms. Now, there is evidence that points in that direction, but it only compelling for people who do not have any other options when it comes to origin stories. If you’re not a Christian, evolution in its totality has to be true, it’s the only game in town as Alvin Plantinga says. You could just as easily believe that the universe itself was created billions of years ago, but then God formed the earth we live on in six successive days. 4Keep in mind that even if you believe that creation took place in 6-24 hour days, the earth already existed as a watery planet (v.2) in the dark before Day 1 (v.3). How long it has been there is not something Genesis addresses, but on any “plain” reading of Genesis, the earth and space itself are not created on any of the days.
  3. Whereas I do know people who do not believe that the earth was created six thousand years ago in 6 literal 24 hours days and also do not believe whole-heartedly in evolution. One of those people is me.

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Yesterday, we resumed the series review of Four Views on The Historical Adam. C. John Collins provided an alternate old-earth perspective on a historical Adam to go alongside John Walton’s. Today, we’ll look at the final view, which is William Barrick’s young earth creationist perspective on the historical Adam.

Barrick opens with a section on the importance of a historical Adam for Christian thought. He says that “without Adam’s historicity many of the teachings of Scripture will look very different from common evangelical theological concepts or fail the test of logical consistency” (198). He goes on to affirm what all is at stake for maintaining the traditional view, and in doing so explains that young earth creationism and the historical Adam are “integrally related” (199).

This relationship is made plain by Barrick’s explanation of four assumptions the traditional view holds:

  1. God gave the Genesis account of creation to Moses by special revelation (199)
  2. The declarations of Genesis bear the stamp of divine truth, historical fact, and historiographical accuracy (200)
  3. The Genesis record does not limit its scope to one ethnic or national group (201)
  4. The biblical writers in both testaments appear to take for granted a common origin of all human beings in Adam whenever they touch on topics related to Genesis 1-11 (201)

Barrick then unpacks the biblical evidence for the traditional view. He starts with Genesis 1:1-25, and asks why it is structured the way it is. He then quotes David Cotter’s insights on the “orderly sequence of days”:

This storyteller must convince the reader that this account can be trusted; to achieve this, the storyteller creates the impression that everything is being told, that nothing is being held back. Therefore the narrator has to be omniscient. (202)

Barrick then makes an unwarranted jump and concludes, “In other words, by taking a detailed, step-by-step, objective tone the author reveals everything just as it actually happened.” Unfortunately, this is not what Cotter says. Note, Cotter says the storyteller “creates the impression that everything is being told,” which is quite different than revealing “everything just as it actually happened.” Accordingly, Barrick has a hard time with anyone pointing out similarities with other ancient Near East accounts. If we all agree those accounts are mythological, we shouldn’t use them to inform our understanding of Genesis. Especially if Genesis is recording events in exact detail.

As he transitions from Genesis 1:1-25 to 1:26-2:3, he mistakenly calls the entire story a metanarrative (206). He does it twice within the span of 4 sentences, and then again when referring to the fall in Genesis 3 (213). I could see why he might refer to Genesis 1-3 as a metanarrative. But it is a common word in philosophical discourse, so a consistent misuse is concerning. I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of it, but then again, he keeps using a word when I’m not quite sure he knows what it means. This doesn’t inspire confidence in trusting his presentation.

The rest of Barrick’s survey covers Genesis 4-5, the rest of the OT, and the NT). Ultimately, he concludes, that a historical Adam is a gospel issue (222). As he says, “Denial of the historicity of Adam, like denial of the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, destroys the foundations of the Christian faith” (223). When you look at the argument from this point of view, some of Barrick’s rhetoric makes more sense.

In his concluding thoughts, Barrick drives the point home by looking at interpretation itself. Here, he asserts that the reasons for re-thinking the historical Adam are first, evolution, and second, seeing ancient Near East myths as prototypes for the Genesis account (223). On the latter, he suggests a possible reverse flow (Genesis 1-3 is the original that has been corrupted in other culture). While plausible, there isn’t any evidence for this.

More problematic is Barrick’s understanding of interpretation itself. We can this in the first two of the four assumptions he presents for the traditional interpretation. If God dictated to Moses the events of Genesis 1, and it is also pure historical fact (with something similar to modern notions of historiographical accuracy), then it is by definition unlike any other ancient Near East creation account. Even if it looks very much like all of Israel’s neighbor’s creation stories (from a perspective of genre), it is still sui generis. This understanding of what the text is goes hand in hand with how we understand what the text means. Barrick says that “we should assume that the Scriptures are accurate until proven otherwise by equally accurate, equally authentic, and equally ancient evidence” (226). This is clearly impossible. But it is also conflating the Scriptures themselves with our interpretations of them.

Interpretations can be accurate until proven otherwise, and that is exactly what the debate is here. Barrick recognizes this with respect to science when he says “we must remember that declarations by scientists represent their interpretation of the evidence, not the evidence itself. Science changes, the Scriptures do not” (227). He should also recognize that declarations by biblical interpreters represent their interpretation of the Scripture, not Scripture itself. Interpretations change, the Scriptures do not.

Since I’ve somewhat embedded my response within the exposition, I’ll be briefer here with the other responses within the book. Lamoureux notes that he himself once used “roughly 90 percent of his [Barrick's] arguments” (228). He then critiques young earth creationism itself, and then points out that while Scripture is inerrant, Christian tradition is not.

Walton’s critique is more devastating, and focuses on Barrick’s method and his rhetoric. Though he gives 10 specific points, the most damaging were Barrick’s slippery slope tactic, logical non sequiturs, frequent hermeneutical missteps, unnuanced readings of his areas of investigation, and treating his conclusions in places as the only possiblity and obvious to anyone. The result was an itemized list of problems that felt like a professor grading an underdeveloped undergraduate paper.

Collins is less brutal in his critique. But, interestingly, he notes that Lamoureux and Barrick essentially read Genesis with the same (overly) literal hermeneutic. He concedes Barrick has a point about the misuse of ancient Near East evidence. But points out that abuse does not negate proper use, and in Barrick’s formulation, there is no proper use.

In Barrick’s rejoinder, he doubles down and asserts that “only God witnessed the six days of creation, so no man can claim to speak of that series of events unless he has received revelation directly from the Creator himself” (254). When it comes to interpreting Genesis 1, this is clearly begging the question. He then concludes by further suggesting that any old-earth viewpoint “relies on human scientific authority to arrive at adherence to partial biblical inerrancy.” Or, to put it another way, the only way you can get to an old earth viewpoint is to reinterpret the “plain” reading of Genesis in light of modern science.

In the end, I agree with Barrick that a historical Adam is important for Christian theology. However, I don’t agree with his insistence that it is integrally related to a young earth perspective, and I don’t think he provides a convincing case for that perspective either. His rhetoric makes it hard to be sympathetic to his position, even if I once held it myself. Overall, his argumentation wasn’t very well developed and he seems to lack of a sophisticated understanding of the literary genre of Genesis 1-11 as well as the nature of interpretation. These aren’t necessarily decisive points against the young earth view, but to the extent that the view depends on these presuppositions, I don’t think it’s viable. We can have a historical Adam (important) without arguing a young earth (not important and not clearly in Genesis) and still believe in a fully inerrant Bible.

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If you were anxiously waiting on the next post from the Four Views on The Historical Adam series last week, I apologize. I decided to take a mini-blogging break and didn’t post from any scheduled series. Because of that, we’ll actually finish the series this week with three posts in a row (today, tomorrow, Thursday). You can see the table contents for this series here.

Today, we’re looking at C. John Collins’ view, which is a more traditional old-earth creationist perspective. Some might object to my use of “traditional” in reference to old-earth positions. But, since there is no single traditional view, I think it is apt.

Collins, like Walton, has written a Genesis commentary. But, in his case, it was just on Genesis 1-4. I found it very insightful and I would highly recommend it to you if you’re interested in this subject. You can read more of my thoughts about that book and my appropriation of it in my Genesis series.

Here, Collins utilizes his work from that commentary, but also more importantly for this book, relies on his own Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Collins is particularly interested in making sure we understand that prose is not equivalent to history in the modern sense. Likewise, we should understand that historical does not mean “complete in detail,” or “told in exact chronological sequence” (unless the text claims that, 148).

With this understanding of history in mind, Collins then addresses the unity of Genesis 1-11. Unlike Lamoureux, he sees it as entirely historical and a unity on the literary level. According to Collins, “these chapters parallel basic worldview-shaping materials from Mesopotomia, it is no surprise to find that whoever put these chapters together did so in such a way that they display their unity at the literary and linguistic level” (157).

From here he moves to the biblical storyline as a whole. After his survey of the biblical material related to a historical Adam, Collins comments:

It is therefore quite a surprise to read in authors who think Adam and Eve are not historical the suggestions that the apostle Paul is really the only New Testament writer to make use of Genesis 3 and that the Gospels and Revelation do nothing with it! (163)

Next, Collins tackles some of the scientific questions, focusing on DNA. This leads to a discussion of what options he sees open to someone who wants to be faithful to Scripture. He is open to Adam being the chieftain of tribe of people who were all created together (172). This is not Collins’ actual position, but is similar to Walton’s hypothetical reconstruction. In his version, Adam and Eve are appointed to be the covenant representatives from a pre-existing group of humans or humanoids who had evolved. For both, these are options presented for someone who becomes convinced that there were more human beings than just Adam and Eve at the beginning.

When it comes to responses, Lamoureux can’t get over the concordism hump. So again, any attempt to “connect” Scripture to science is scientific concordism (177). If God had any involvement that is “special” or “supernatural” in the creation of Adam (or anything else), then that is “God-of-the-gaps” (178). He says this because “every time someone has proclaimed a point of divine intervention, it has later been shown to be not a gap in nature, but a gap in that individual’s knowledge of nature” (179). One wonders what Lamoureux would say about the virgin birth and the resurrection. If you are going to argue that the second Adam came about miraculously, I don’t see why it is so wrong-headed to argue that the first Adam did also. . It seems like Lamoureux’s ardent methodological naturalism is coloring the way he understands God’s providence and it’s not for the better.

As for other responses, Walton’s is brief and quibbles with some of Collins’ approach. This isn’t surprising since they are both arguing for a version of a historical Adam within an old-earth framework. For Walton, Collins takes too many tangents not relevant to the larger discussion. For Barrick, the differences between him and Collins fall more on dating creation (not that kind of dating). He sees any form of old creationism as a rejection of the traditional Judeo-Christian interpretation. Additionally, Barrick has a hard time with the nuance of Collins (and too Walton) about how we understand the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors. Somehow, the stories of Israel’s neighbors are pure myths, while Genesis 1-2 is pure history with no literary flourishes whatsoever. There are no similarities of genre in Barrick’s book. Genesis 1-11 records events “exactly as they happened,” (190) just the way we modern people would expect them to. When it comes to these historical details though, Barrick misses reading the events as they happened. At one point, he argues that “the first recorded animal death in Genesis comes with the description of Abel’s sacrifice” (190). The animals God slaughtered to provide clothing for Adam and Eve after the fall are forgotten. To me, this seems like a rudimentary mistake, but it’s a bit ironic coming from the one contributor most adamant about a plain reading of Genesis.

When it comes down to it for Barrick, there is no room for an old-earth interpretation of Genesis that isn’t scientifically motivated (i.e. evolution, 191). As he puts it, “the young-earth view does not accept reinterpreting the Scriptures to force it into the evolutionary mold.” He leaves no room to reinterpret a contested passage in light of better understandings of its cultural background, linguistic features, or literary style. This is unfortunate, especially when it comes to his own exposition. Collins is seeking to faithfully interpret the text of Scripture in light of many variables (go back up and click on his commentary and note the subtitle). He is scientifically astute, but does not seem to be scientifically motivated. In the end, I think that’s the best position to be in, and Collins’ view provides a helpful perspective from that vantage point.

moral-premise-stanley-d-williams_mediumLast week, we discussed how movies, at their core, are the creative responses of creatures made in the image of God. While that’s what a movie is, people are usually more interested in what a movie means. There are at least two ways to answer this question at the general level. I’d like to talk about both, and so first, let’s look at the moral messages in motion pictures.

In A Matrix of Meanings, Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor draw a comparison between our pop culture and the Old Testament wisdom literature (11). A more apt comparison is probably between the collected wisdom of our pop culture and the wisdom literature of the Israel’s neighbors. Just as in the ancient Near East the wisdom literature of the surrounding cultures shed light on the beliefs and native religion of Israel’s neighbors, contemporary film does much the same for us.

For many in our popular culture, movies appear to be the “modern arena of ideas.” (Godawa, 254) These ideas, rather than being presented in a paper, or are being presented in story form. As Robert McKee notes, “Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence” (12). Stories in our films today retain much of the function that ancient mythology did for Israel’s neighbors in the Old and New Testaments. As Brian Godawa observes, “Since the beginning of time, humankind has used story to convey the meaning and purpose of life,” which means that, “In essence, story incarnates the myths and values of a culture with the intent of perpetuating them” (61). In this way, the stories in film can provide a window into what our cultures believes and how it thinks we should live in light of that. The focal point here will be on the moral dimension of film and seeing that as an expression of people’s religion.

In his book, The Moral Premise, Stanley Williams observes that “a cursory examination will affirm that psychological moral dilemmas are at the heart of every successful story” (17). He goes on to say that “Good stories tell us something that rings true about our experience as human beings” (49). From this perspective, “the goal of the storyteller is to take the audience through an emotional and psychological journey that reveals a poignant truth about the human experience” (35). What this journey reveals about how we should then live is the film’s moral premise. It is essentially the practical lesson of a particular story (19). It has been recognized to some degree by other film critics before Williams, but he is the first to do systematic research to validate the connection between a film’s moral premise and its box office success. He argues is that if a film refuses to integrate a sound moral premise into its plotline, it will not do well at the box office. A similar note could be said about movies with non-redemptive plot lines.

Other writers have expressed the idea differently, for instance Robert McKee says “the story’s ultimate meaning expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act’s climax” (115). For McKee this is called the “controlling idea.” Elsewhere, McKee has said “Storytelling is the creative demonstration of truth. A story is the living proof of an idea, the conversion of idea to action. A story’s structure is the means by which you first express, then prove your idea…without explanation” (113). In Christopher Vogler’s analysis, the equivalent of a moral premise is the Elixir that the Hero brings back to the Ordinary World. The Elixir can be a physical object as well, and those objects would then be considered metaphorical for a lesson learned, which is what Williams argues the moral premise is. As Williams sees it, the moral premise is a kind of natural law of storytelling, and it reflects the natural laws about morality that are wired into the universe.

Typically the moral premise “is comprised of four parts: a virtue, a vice, desirable consequences (success), and undesirable consequences (defeat).” As Williams concludes, “these four parts can be used to create a statement that describes precisely what a movie is really about, on both physical and psychological levels” (61). In this structure, a comedy is where the protagonist is confronted with the virtue in a “moment of grace” and embraces it to find the success he has been seeking. A tragedy is where the protagonist is similarly confronted with the virtue in a moment of grace, but embraces the vice instead, leading to defeat. These elements can be brought out by taking note of the story’s spine, which connects the physical quest with the psychological quest of a particular story. In a way, the visible story is a metaphor for the invisible story; or the psychological goal of the protagonist is revealed by the physical goal; or again, “the protagonist’s inner journey is shown to us in the protagonist’s outer journey” (68). In this way, the journey to redemption as noted in the last chapter contains a practical application for the here and now. Since “The redemption in a particular worldview or belief system is its proposal for how to fix what is wrong with us,” (Godawa, 24) it necessarily implies some kind of action on part of the audience. That action, or the moral premise of the film, sheds light on how our culture believes we should live in our world.

Because man is by nature an image bearer of God and because he knows certain things to be right and wrong (Rom. 1:32), the moral premise of most films, if it is to achieve the natural law status that Williams sees as necessary, will actually be in accord with the teachings of Scripture. Many films can usually be applauded as upholding biblical virtues, albeit from a non-Christian standpoint. There will usually be a tension given the worldview that informs the moral premise. While the moral premise may be exemplary and even fit well into a Christian worldview, it may often contradict the philosophical vantage point of the actual film. The fact that many people will still find the moral premise compelling, given the worldview of the film, suggests further confirmation of Scripture’s teaching in Romans 1 and 2. When God has been jettisoned from the picture, there is no inherent reason why anyone should have to follow an exemplary virtue, other than the desirable results offered. But people still want to live the good life (for the most part) and look to film either explicitly or implicitly for guidance on how to make sense of living in the world. What they see on the screen is the embodied morals of the surrounding culture.

27597James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., The Nature of The Atonement: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October 2006. 208 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

In a rare turn of events, I’m reviewing a book I finished reading earlier this morning. Given that it is Holy Week, I decided to read The Nature of The Atonement: Four Views. With all of these spectrum multiview books IVP sent me, I’ll probably make the decision in reading whether to make it a series or not. In this case, I didn’t see the need to do a series. It’s not that this isn’t an important subject, or that the individual essays are not helpful and stimulating. Before really explaining why, let’s dow a quick rundown of the views.

Greg Boyd begins by arguing for the Christus Victor view of the atonement. You can tell in his exposition that it is an integral part of his overall theology, connected as it is to his version of a theodicy (which unfortunately involves open theism). For Boyd, it is hugely significant that Christ came and defeated the evil powers (an idea for which he leans heavily on Walter Wink). This is what incorporates all the pictures and upon which all the other facets of the atonement rise or fall.

This is followed by the penal substitutionary view, argued by Thomas Schreiner, and presented as equally integral. This book was written a few years back when seveal quarters of evangelical theology weren’t really enthusiastic about penal substitionary atonement. This makes Schreiner a bit more defensive than the other views since his position is the one most under fire. Since there is still pushback here and there on a rather important doctrine, Schreiner’s essay is just as timely now as it was then.

When it comes to the third and fourth views, one is concerned with seeing the atonement primarily as offering healing (Bruce Reichenbach). The other is called the “Kaleidosopic view,” and is argued by Joel Green, who also happens to be one of the critics of penal substitution that Schreiner interacts with in his essay. As this view is presented last, I found it a fitting end to the book since Green is attempting to synthesize views. I think he is moving in the right direction, but his synthesis wasn’t all that convincing.

Stepping back to look at the overall structure of the book, what sets it apart from some other multiview books is the level of agreement between contributors. The argument is not whether each picture of the atonement is valid. Rather, the argument is over which picture is primary. Just one the face of it, I think this is hard to argue. Two of the contributors actually don’t even try. Bruce Reichenbach does an excellent job of explaining how the atonement brings healing. But, he doesn’t argue that is the primary way of understanding the atonement, something Schreiner calls him on (149). Likewise, Green’s kaleidoscopic view is essentially saying there isn’t a primary picture. By it’s very nature, the atonement is meant to be multifaceted, something Trevin Wax blogged about just recently.

In this way, though the book is presented as four views on the atonement, it is two essays strongly arguing for primary foundational views of the atonement, one view sketching out a neglected aspect, and one view trying to synthesize. As I was reading, this seemed like a good place for John Frame to jump in and drop a triangle on the playground. In his Systematic Theology, he treats the atonement as a situational aspect of the total picture of salvation (normative is God’s decree, existential is application of redemption). While other triangles get parsed further, the atonement does not. It actually gets surprisingly little treatment. But, had Frame explained it further, here’s how I think he would have done it.

It is certainly helpful that there are three full views articulated here. Within Frame’s triperspectivalism, the real argument is whether to see Christus Victor or penal substitutionary atonement as normative. Keep in mind “normative” here is not the same as “foundational.” Rather, it is which perspective deals a norm that affects the subject at hand. In that light, Christus Victor is actually the normative perspective since it affects the entire cosmos. While I might not want to explain Christus Victor the same as Boyd does, nor capitulate his view of spiritual warfare, it is the cosmic norm that is changed by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Equally important, and not less primary, is penal substitutionary atonement. Since for the believer this changes the situation, it is best thought of as the situational perspective on the atonement. The believer is transferred from being subject to the wrath of God for their personal sins to being united to Christ as a result of an event that took place in human history. In this way, it complements rather than conflicts with the Christus Victor and provides a necessary second perspective on the atonement that highlights another integral aspect.

Lastly, the healing view articulated by Reichenbach is an existential perspective of the atonement since it is the most personal. True, penal substitutionary atonement is personal, but the healing aspect ultimately changes a person from the inside out. Atonement brings shalom both in a real personal sense. While you could perhaps switch this to situational since it renews the situation (and eventually the entire cosmos), it seems the most person focused.

The atonement accomplished by Christ’s person and work is a cosmicly significant event that defeated the powers of sin and death, provided a suitable substitute for the penalty owed by guilty sinners, and brought shalom to the hearts of God’s people. By linking normative, situational, and existential aspects, we can see they are interdependent upon one another. An atonement that only accomplished one aspect wouldn’t be true atonement. Likewise, by accomplishing all equally significant events, it doesn’t seem necessary to argue which is primary. Rather, it makes more sense to glory in the multi-faceted nature of all that Christ has accomplished for us his people.

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Over at the 9Marks blog, there are two different views about music and meaning posted. The first one is from Harold Best. The second is from Ken Myers. Both were asked to answer the following questions:

  • Can God employ any musical form for redemptive purposes?
  • Even if God can employ any musical form redemptively, are some musical forms spiritually or morally “better” than others?
  • Are some musical forms “better” for the sake of the gathered church?

Best answers more or less point by point. Myers offers a broad answer meant to cover each question. Best’s answers are clear and persuasive. Myer’s answer is not entirely clear, and not really persuasive. He actually deals with the first question toward the end of his response and says this:

Can God use musical forms that evolved to express autonomy and defiance for “redemptive purposes”? Of course, but that is to say something about God, not about our responsibility to behave wisely. I believe God could use someone’s steady diet of fatty and sugary foods to improve cardiac health, or that he could use the cultivation of aggression and vengeance to promote a spirit of gentle humility. But should we give our children stones when they ask for bread, insisting that God perform a work of transubstantiation at every meal?

Earlier in the article, Myers laments the rise of postmodern nihilism and its encroachment into musical forms. The result is the view that musical forms are neutral and meaningless. Myers is not a fan, and probably much like T. David Gordon, would argue that certain forms can be inherently inappropriate, especially if being considered for use in worship.

While I would say there are forms of music that would not be entirely appropriate in the worship service (i.e. most of the music I like), it’s a stretch to suggest that there are forms of music (or genres) that in and of themselves express autonomy and defiance. Certainly there are lyrics that do so, but I don’t think there are genres of music that do so. If there are, I don’t think that’s too different than asserting certain chords are expressing autonomy and defiance.

This, to me, is problematic. I’m not sure what it evens means to suggest that musical forms express meaning. It feels like asking, “what does a C# minor mean?” Or, to expand, “what does the chord progression C#m-A-E-B mean?” Whatever it means, it is certainly not an absolute meaning that is abstracted from all individual uses. Perhaps an artist that wants to express autonomy could employ that chord progression in doing so, but that is more an expression of the artist than something inherent in the chord voicings and progression.

Let’s draw an analogy with the normal mode of expressing meaning: language. To assert that musical forms (absent lyrics) express attitudes like autonomy or defiance, is like saying certain sentence structures express autonomy and defiance regardless of authorial intent or the propositional content of the sentences. It makes more sense to say certain authors want to express autonomy or defiance and do so through certain sentences. The form the sentences take doesn’t in and of itself express the autonomy or defiance. Likewise, certain musicians and artists want to express autonomy and defiance, but they can do so through just about any genre and form of music. But, the message won’t be clear unless lyrics are attached because music in and of itself does not communicate meaning. That’s a category confusion.

I could probably go on, but this might be more of a series of posts rather than a one time statement. Read the articles I linked to and see what you think. I really like what Best has to say, and I think would generally agree with his position. His thinking certainly seems to be more in line with how music actually functions. It resonated with me at least. Maybe next post I’ll be a little more positive and expand on some of what Best said. Until then, I’ll be continuing to get used to those two extra strings on my guitar.

9781433535109Andreas J. Kostenberger & Justin Taylor, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of The Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. Wheaton: Crossway, January 2014. 217 pp. Paperback, $17.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Download a study guide40-day reading plan, or excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

During this holy week, I’m going to be reading through The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of The Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. I’m guessing you might have already heard about the book, so here I’ll just offer some short thoughts about the value.

Some may remember Justin Taylor’s past blog posts during holy week that have collated the texts of Scripture about each day. This book is an extension of that which adds Kostenberger’s commentary, as well as some other goodies (like maps and such). Each chapter of the book is devoted to each day of the holy week, starting with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter. The bulk of the book is obviously Friday through Sunday. But, it is helpful to follow the build up to those days by understanding what happened on Sunday through Thursday.

Though I feel like I say this often, I’m not a huge fan of devotionals. This however, is no devotional. It can be read devotionally, but given the extensive commentary, it lies somewhere between an actual devotional, and an actual commentary. For me, this is probably the sweet spot. Not all commentaries are conducive for devotional reading (nor are all devotionals). Some can be read that way, but devotional reading tends to flow quite a bit smoother than the average commentary (unless its someone like Dale Ralph Davis). The combination of harmonizing Scripture chronologically across the Gospels and explaining where necessary is definitely a winner in my book.

At this point, it might be too late for you to pick this up and read this week. However, this won’t be the last Easter (unless Christ returns), so now you know for next year. If nothing else, because the first few days are relatively light reading, as long as you’ve got this by Friday, it would make for some great weekend reading. I’m looking forward to doing that, as well as reading some of my other atonement/gospel related reads. I’m also looking forward to what I’m tentatively calling Soteriology Summer that will review in more detail several relevant books on the doctrine of salvation. Given my shift to philosophical innundation this fall, the next few months seem like the ideal time to really dig into this doctrine, and Easter weekend is going to be my kickstart. I hope you’ve got something lined up that will help you do the same!

 

john-calvin

In our modern culture, cinematic literacy is an important skill. Particularly for the average Christian going to the movies, but even more so for pastors and teachers. According to Craig Detweiler, “The next generation of pastors, teachers, and therapists must not only learn the language of film but also develop the art of interpretation – seeing and hearing what’s happening on big (and small) screens.” (Into The Dark, 29) One way to do this effectively is to attempt to utilize a kind of “theological interpretation of cinema” which takes cues from the theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS). Because Scripture is a theologically rich text, how one interprets this text must also be theologically rich. This applies to theologically rich texts elsewhere.

Before attempting to read an individual film theologically, it is helpful to think theologically about film in general. The first step in this direction is to affirm is the genuine creative artistry of film-making. In The Liberated Imagination, Leland Ryken observes that “human creativity is rooted in divine creativity.” (65) This he says, “affirms human creativity as something good since it is an imitation of one of God’s own acts and perfections.” (67) He then concludes, “the biblical doctrine of the image of God in people is thus the theological reason why people write literature and paint pictures and compose music.” (67) If this is true for those activities, it is even more so for film. Movies are, according to Grant Horner, “a rich combination of storytelling, painting, philosophy, history, and politics wrapped in technology.” (Meaning At The Movies, 27) In this light, movies can be an avenue of evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview.  Movie-making embodies an activity that one would expect given the Christian teaching about man’s nature. No other worldview provides an adequate justification for why man delights to create.

Elsewhere, Ryken summarizes the general contours of John Calvin’s thought about man’s creativity.(“Calvinism and Literature,” in Calvin and Culture: Exploring a Worldview102) First, because God is creator “all the arts emanate from Him, and therefore ought to be accounted divine inventions” (Calvin’s commentary on The Last Four Books of Moses, 3:291). Second, artistic ability is a gift from God and “whatever ability is possessed by any emanates from only one source, and is conferred by God” (3:291-292). Third, artistic ability that people have is evidence of God’s image (Institutes 1.15.2). Fourth, because human beings image a creative God, they are capable of genuine creation (Institutes 2.2.14). These boundaries help us avoid deifying man’s creative ability on the one hand, and denying man has genuine creative ability on the other (Ryken, 102-103).

With this understanding of creativity in general, we can now look at movie-making in particular. Before that though, it is helpful to see John Frame’s threefold division to describe how man images God (see his SBL). Frame sees the image of God having a physical, official, and ethical dimension. By being physically present, man is able to image God’s attribute of control. By ruling and having dominion in an official aspect (as God’s vice regent) he is able to image God’s authority. By reflecting God ethically in his knowledge, righteousness, and holiness man is able to image God’s presence. One finds a similar threefold division in Calvin in a rather distinctive feature of his theology: the threefold office of Christ as prophet, king, and priest. Relating these to Frame’s parsing, Christ as prophet images God’s authority by bringing the true word of God. As priest, he imaged God’s presence by becoming the personal sacrifice for our sin and mediating God’s presence to us. As king, he images God’s control by ruling and reigning.

If Christ himself is the express image of the invisible God, then one way in which God’s created images image him may be by imitating Christ in this threefold office. As applied to filmmakers, first, they image God’s attribute of authority and Christ’s office as prophet by revealing images of the divine in their films. Additionally, they attempt to proclaim truth in their films. Second, filmmakers image God’s attribute of control and Christ’s office as king by creatively constructing a world from their imagination that they then “rule.” Sometimes the “ruling” is part of a collaborative team of people, but whether singularly or collectively, the creators of a film world are directly involved in creatively exercising control and ruling over that world. Lastly, filmmakers images God’s attribute of presence and Christ’s office of priest by both investing themselves personally into their creative efforts and trying to mediate to the people a new way to live. By incarnating images from their own imagination onto the screen, filmmakers are putting their own presence into the final product.

In this way, a film is essentially an image-bearers of God making images themselves. Man is made in God’s image and in turn, man makes things in his own image. One creative way that is done is through film-making. A film then represents a creative activity on the part of man that images his maker. Rather than just the static images of a painter, film-makers make moving pictures and thereby have the ability to tell stories through their images. That aspect also images God, but we’ll pick that up next week.

In the meantime, I think it is important to affirm the genuine creative activity of movie making as something that brings glory to God when it is done well. A well-made film, even one you don’t like, can bring God glory even if made by a non-Christian. Just because a person doesn’t believe in God doesn’t mean they cannot create culture that is good, true, and beautiful. It just means they are doing so for potentially wrong reasons. As Christians we do well to commend what we can from the start and then later move to critique. By starting with critique, we are bypassing the opportunity to affirm God’s goodness in creation and instead moving straight to the fall. We do live in a post Genesis 3 world, but we do better to understand it correctly when it is contrasted with a Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 reality.

Top Links

Together For The Gospel Main Sessions

All the audio for the main sessions of Together For The Gospel are online now. I’d really recommend Kevin DeYoung’s and John Piper’s messages.

Holy Week Day 1: Palm Sunday (Justin Taylor)

This series of videos will run all week corresponding with the book The Final Days of Jesus (see my review Tuesday)

Hollywood, Movies, and The Bible: Should We Rewind on How We View? (Darrell Bock)

I have watched with great interest the thumbs up or thumbs down on the host of recent Hollywood movies. I have seen those opinions raised often with a sense that if you think otherwise, the Holy Spirit must have departed your soul while you were at the movie or departed from it before you made the decision to go.

As one tasked to discuss cultural engagement at a seminary, I’m interested to see how church leaders respond to these films. And I am worried we are missing the boat on Noahand other movies, whether made by those inside or outside of the church. The questions we are asking about their content are important, but the tone and how we are reacting may be missing the mark. We may need to push rewind and rethink how we review what Hollywood produces for us.

Is Mental Illness Actually Biblical? (Stephen Altrogge)

I recently read two articles by a well known Christian author who is also closely connected to a Christian counseling foundation. The articles essentially argued that mental illness was a social construct created by secular doctors and psychiatrists, and therefore, is not biblical. So, when a person is depressed, he is really just experiencing sadness, and to try to treat it medically is to short circuit the power of God. When a person is anxious, she is really just experiencing worry, and to treat it medically is a secular answer to a spiritual problem. You get the idea.

The desire behind the article was good: the author was trying to demonstrate that Jesus is sufficient for every facet of life. However, I believe that treating mental illness as only (or even primarily) a spiritual problem is both profoundly unbiblical and incredibly hurtful to those who struggle with mental illness.

This List Reveals The Heartbleed Affected Passwords to Change Now (Lifehacker)

By now you’ve probably heard about the massive Heartbleed security bug that may have compromised the majority of the world’s web sites. Everyone should change their passwords on the affected sites—but only after those sites have patched the issue. Mashable is maintaining and updating a list of the most popular sites you should change your passwords for ASAP.

Random Thoughts

  • I had a great time in Louisville last week. It was good to actually hang out in person with several friends I know through blogging and Twitter. Also, I was able to meet my Ph.D adviser and talk with the director of doctoral studies about some independent study options. It more less sealed the deal since I found out I could have my cake and eat it too (more on that later).
  • I will probably have some book giveaways in the near future. For one, I need to reduce, but also, I got about 30 free books at Together For The Gospel and now I have duplicates. Some of those I have reviewed, so I’m thinking I’ll add a giveaway to the existing review and then post about it on Twitter/Facebook.
  • With the prospect of doctoral studies on the horizon, I’m trying to decide how to spend my free time the next few months. Do I get a head start? Do I just pleasure read? Do I start working on French/Latin/German? Do I just not read at all for a while? (No). Probably will do some planning this next week since, because of testing, functions like a second spring break.
  • They just opened a new Panera literally across the street from our neighborhood. Though I am Starbucks loyalist, I am more of a “nice outdoor patio” loyalist, so I think I found a new hang out and study spot. Also, I see many discipleship meetings on the horizon, and potentially an apologetics or theology group. We’ll see.

From My YouTube History

A History of Pizza

Nan’s First Roller Coaster Ride

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Since my post divisions on here has been the same as those of our church going through Exodus, today we’re covering the plagues in their entirety (7:14-11:10). I’ll be making some general overview comments rather than a blow by blow exposition. For an interesting take offering a blow by blow, I found Fretheim’s analysis in his volume in the Interpretation series interesting.

For a general overview of the plagues’ structure, here is Douglas Stuart:

The plagues built in intensity. The early plagues (blood, frogs, biting insects) were relatively brief in duration, did not cause death, and affected mainly people’s patience and convenience—though certainly severely. The Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the first two plagues (though presumably on a very small scale only; see comments on 7:14–25; 8:1–15), but they could not duplicate the third, evidence that the “quality,” not just the quantity, of the plagues was becoming more intense. None of the first three plagues produced a lasting willingness on the part of Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Plagues four, five, and six (swarming insects, animal disease, and skins sores) were much more harmful. The fifth killed off many livestock, and the sixth brought serious disease upon humans. Even so, these plagues were not enough to result in Pharaoh’s relenting from his resistance to Israelite demands for freedom. The seventh, eighth, and ninth plagues (hail, locusts, and darkness) were even more severe since the seventh plague resulted in the destruction of both animals and certain crops, the locusts ruined what crops remained, and the darkness plague was so frightening and debilitating during its three-day duration that Pharaoh was actually willing—at first—to allow all Israelites to depart if only they would leave their animals behind as surety of their eventual return (10:24). 1

Another way of looking at the plagues is to realize that Egyptian deities were believed to permeate the natural world. A breakdown in the natural is therefore not just disastrous, but demonstrates a lack of sovereignty on the part of the Egyptian gods. Consider the following list of plagues. In parenthesis I have listed a relevant Egyptian deity:

  • Nile to blood (Hapi, Nile goddess)
  • Frogs (Heqt, fertility goddess, head of frog)
  • Mosquitos/Lice (Geb, earth god)
  • Flies/Gnats (Kephri is the god of creation/rebirth)
  • Animal death (Ptah is associated with cattle/bulls, as are Amon and Hathor)
  • Human sores (Serapis and Imhotep are goddess of healing, shown to be impotent)
  • Hail/Thunderstorms (Nut is the sky goddess and Isis is the crop/fertility goddess)
  • Locust (Seth is the god of storms and disorder)
  • Darkness (Ra is the sun god who can be blotted out)

Now, some of these might be a stretch, but there seems to be at least some connection. It is certainly part of the story, given how tightly wedded Egyptian deities were to natural phenomena. Indeed, for Egyptians and other ancient Near East people, there really isn’t a distinction between “natural” and “supernatural.” Everything is more or less supernatural, which is to say everything is a manifestation of the gods at work. To have a breakdown in nature, to the extent of basically being a “de-creation,” suggests that the gods of Egypt are not really in control after all.

Again, I think Stuart is instructive here:

The first nine plagues were special, divinely produced manifestations of God’s sovereignty over Egypt—its king, its people, its environment, and its gods—accomplished by imitations on a huge and destructive scale of phenomena thought by the Egyptians to be the province of their gods. God turned things believed to be the specialty of “the gods of Egypt” against the Egyptians, and showed himself in control of all events and powers they would have attributed to the objects of their faith. The tenth plague, on the other hand, was in no way a magnified imitation of a natural phenomenon but stood apart from the first nine as a decisive imposition of the death penalty on the nation that tried to enslave and mortally oppress God’s special people, his “firstborn son.” 2

With this in mind, I think the lesson of the plagues is that God will not tolerate the oppression of his people. He may pass over sins for a time, but eventually, those who set themselves up in the place of God and oppress his people will be judged. And the judgment will be severe. While the book of Exodus started with the Nile running red with the blood of Hebrew boys being drowned, the plagues open with God supernaturally turning the Nile completely into blood. Later, after the plagues secure the departure of Israel, the Red Sea will run red with the blood of drowned Egyptian soldiers. What Pharaoh took from God’s people comes later out of his own army.

When it comes to actually drawing applications from the plague cycle, Enns is helpful:

The key to applying the plagues is found in struggling with the theology of the plagues and how the significance of that theology is given fuller expression in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The answers are not straightforward and obvious. It takes study, contemplation, and patience. We must look again and again at what this theme has to tell us about the nature of God and how we, in Christ, are to respond to that God.

On one level, we apply this theme by simply saying, ‘Wow!’ We should not feel short-changed if our understanding of a passage does not translate directly into some overt, specific behavior. The point of the plagues for today is not so much in what we do with it, but in having our hearts and minds opened to what God has done and thereby understanding him better. Who else but the supreme judge of the universe can make the heavens and the earth do his bidding. 3

Enns then suggests that the application is primarily doxological. We see God demonstrating that he is mighty to save in the plagues against Egypt. We see his justice and his love. We see his commitment to his covenant promises finally culminate in taking Israel out of Egypt by force. And ultimately, next week specifically, we see a picture of the gospel in the Old Testament which will eventually be fulfilled in the New.

Notes:

  1. Stuart, 187
  2. Stuart, 194
  3. Enns, 236