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John E. Phelan Jr., Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October, 2013. 203 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Eschatology can be a divisive subject in some circles. I say “some” because in other circles, it’s not even a topic of conversation. It almost seems as if eschatology provokes only extreme reactions. Either you love it and have an end times chart on your wall that you consult often, or you avoid the topic whenever possible.

In reality, neither of these positions is correct. To simply ignore eschatology is to ignore a significant branch of Christian theology. It is also to ignore something that seems pretty important to guys who wrote big chunks of the New Testament. I am speaking of course about Paul and John, but you could see eschatological emphases throughout the New Testament. The Old Testament likewise is very eschatological, when you understand “eschatology” as “last and ultimate things,” not just “end-times scenarios.” On the other hand, to have an unhealthy fascination with end times scenarios and fret over the news reports from the Middle East isn’t a good approach either (they’ve been bad for thousands of years, it’s not new).

Into this discussion comes John E. Phelan Jr. with his book Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope. As he explains in the introduction,

This book is written to encourage individual Christians and churches to take Christian eschatology seriously. In it I argue that far from being an esoteric fringe doctrine, eschatology is a most practical and pastorally significant doctrine. Everything done in the church is, or should be, done in light of the presence of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ ministry, message, death and resurrection. The church’s message, ministry and communal life are all given shape by the promise of resurrection and judgment, and the coming of the new heavens and new earth. Christians are a people of hope. And our hope is not merely personal but corporate and universal. Christians are also people of mission, and that mission is motivated by God’s love and longing for the renewal and reconciliation of his creation to himself. The church lives in light of that coming renewal and in hope of the reconciliation of all things to God. By its worship and witness it anticipates that renewal and participates in that reconciliation (13).

With those bearings, Phelan then connects each chapter to the motif of “hope.” We start with an overview of hope and promise (chapter 1). Then, hope in cultural context (chapter 2), the hope of the resurrection (chapter 3), the hope for judgment (chapter 4), hope for the fullness of the kingdom of God (chapter 5), and hope for Christ’s return (chapter 6). Starting in chapter 7, Phelan gets into what most people think of when they think of eschatology. Here, he tackles the book of Revelation. In the final three chapters, he gets into detail about the millennium, the future of Israel, and the future of the church.

He does this from a postmillennial perspective, which honestly is probably the least mainstream in evangelical circles. There have been several recent books from an amillennial perspective, and the varieties of premillennialism get pretty good coverage. Postmillenialism on the other hand, not so much. If you are particularly interested in the different millennial views, this book is worth checking simply because it is a kind of minority report.

The real reason though is that Phelan does a good job of trying to focus on the essentials. The importance of this was reinforced for me while I was a student at Dallas Seminary. Interestingly, though Dallas is known for a certain eschatological perspective (dispensational premillennialism, in case you didn’t know), to graduate, you only have to affirm the literal bodily return of Christ. In other words, for orthodoxy, they only consider Christ’s second coming essential. Your view of the tribulation, millennium, rapture, etc., is not considered an essential of the faith (though they have particular perspectives on each that they think are correct). This helped me focus on being clear about essentials, and be open-handed about peripherals. I lean amillennial, but am open to a better postmillennial or premillennial argument. My hope though is not in an end times scenario, but in the promises of the coming kingdom that a King will bring here one way or another with all its fullness.

For the most part then, what Phelan offers should be essentials of escathology that people from different traditions and millennial vantage points can agree on. Probably not everyone will agree with what Phelan considers the essentials. But, he makes a step in the right direction by presenting the core issues first, and then exploring distinctive views on the millennium, Israel, and other sometimes divisive subjects. If you’re interested in a book on eschatology that focus on core issues, and offers postmillennial perspectives on the peripherals, then this book is for you.

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Earlier in this movie mini-series, I talked about the need for a nuanced take on movies. Then, I started unpacking some basic perspectives that need to be in place. First, I explained the need to see movies as artistic creations. Second, I pointed to the moral messages woven into the fabric of most movies. Today, we’ll look at how most movies are essentially redemption stories, and what kind of implications that has for how we watch them.

As a leading screenwriter in Hollywood puts it, “The art of story is the dominant culture force in the world, and the art of film is the dominant medium of this grand enterprise” (15). Robert Johnston concurs stating, “the nature of film is story,” and “we go to the movies to see stories.” Stories however, are rarely just stories, but rather, “Storytelling from its inception was expected to be more than entertainment. Through their craft, the first storytellers were expected to teach the culture how to live and behave in their world.” (Godawa, 76)

Interestingly, this quite often takes the form of a character going on a quest to achieve some kind of redemption. As Craig Detweiler observes, “The most timely, relevant, and haunting films resonate with the shaping story of Scripture: from the beauty of creation, through the tragedy of self-destruction, to the wonder of restoration.” (Into The Dark, 257) One could easily say that “The essence of storytelling in movies is about redemption,” and, “Movies are finally, centrally, crucially, primarily only about story. And those stories are finally, centrally, crucially, primarily mostly about redemption.” (Godawa, 86, 89)

Stories are “universally perceived as the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.” (Wright, 40) This in turn implies something about reality itself: “Storytelling is meaningless gibberish unless reality itself is narratable. And reality is unnarratable in a universe without a transcendent narrator.” (Godawa, 70) In other words, the prevalence of storytelling across cultures is an apologetic for the existence of God. Without a being who fits the description of the biblical God, there is no unity that makes sense of the diversity of storytellers, nor is there a unity of world history itself. Assuming a grand narrator, it would make sense that there is also a grand narrative of which all the individual narratives told by human storytellers are analogical reflections.

Joseph Campbell, who formulated the idea of the Monomyth underlying all mythologies, was certainly on to something, but in the absence of a Christian perspective, he failed to notice that “Christianity is itself the true incarnation of the Monomyth in history, and other mythologies reflect and distort it like dirty or broken mirrors.” (Godawa, 70) This being the case, the story of redemption as exemplified in the Christian gospel is the ultimate story of redemption that the redemptive storylines in the movies analogically reflect. The individual redemptive stories that are displayed in the movies follow the same trajectory as the grand narrative of redemption told in Scripture. They are situational reflections of the divine norm of how redemption really works.

As the blueprint for all other redemptive storylines, “The Bible narrates the story of God’s journey on that long road of redemption. It is a unified and progressively unfolding of God’s action in history for the salvation of the whole world.” (The Drama of Scripture, 12) This is not to suggest that film-makers are consciously modeling their stories after God’s story of redemption. It is simply to observe that the prevalence of redemptive stories found in movies indicates not only that this type of story is the most satisfying, but that there is an innate human desire for redemption that leads to the creation of “gospel stories” that mimic the Gospel. (Frame,902)

To see this clearly, consider the stages of Christopher Vogler’s adaption of Campbell’s Monomyth that is used by numerous screenwriters. In the first act, called Separation, there are several stages. They are:

  • Ordinary World
  • Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting with the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • Approach

In the second act, which can be split into two parts itself, Descent and Initiation, there is the single stage:

  • Central Ordeal.

In the last act, called Return, the stages are:

  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

In his analysis of story, Vern Poythress breaks the story of redemption accomplish by Christ into three acts as well. (206-208) In the initial act (Challenge), Christ is in heaven (his Ordinary World) and is sent by the Father to redeem the world, which is a Call to Adventure that lacks a Refusal of the Call (Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 4:14). At the outset of Christ’s public ministry there is a Crossing of the Threshold (Matthew 4:1-11). From there Christ makes Allies (the disciples) and Enemies (Satan, the Pharisees) and amidst the many Tests (challenges from Pharisees and demons) he breaks away often to meet with his Mentor (God the Father). All the while, Christ has set his face to Approach Jerusalem (for this emphasis, see Luke’s Gospel). In the second act, it is not a stretch at all to see Jesus’ crucifixion and death as the Central Ordeal of the gospel story (Matthew 26-27). In his death which is the start of the final act, Jesus was vindicated and received the Reward, completed the Road Back and was Resurrected from the dead. He then returned to his Ordinary World (heaven) having accomplished redemption and made the Elixir available to all who would believe (1 Timothy 3:16; Philippians 2:8-11; Romans 4:24-25). From a Christian perspective, even though it happened in the middle of history, the Gospel is the archetype for all stories with a redemptive trajectory. Film is no exception.

As God acts on the stage of world history to accomplish his purposes, so man acts on the stage of his own personal history to accomplish his purposes. Stories in their basic form are accounts of a main character’s purpose, action, and the result. In this basic sense, all stories are accounts of a man imaging God, who as Scripture teaches has purposes, acts in history, and brings about his intended results (Ephesians 1:10-11; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Revelation 21:1, 22-27). In a more specific sense though, God does not just act randomly in history, but as stated before, acts to accomplish redemption. This redemption “is at the heart of God’s purposes for the world, it is the one central story.” (Poythress, 206) If this is true, then “in the end, all the other stories about working out human purposes derive their meaning from being related to this central story.” If man in general derives meaning as a human from imaging God, at the particular level of stories told by man, meaning there would be derived from imaging The Story.

All stories then image the Christian story of redemption, which is another way of saying all stories are reflections of the gospel. This is not to say every movie has a gospel presentation. Rather, all stories, including those told in movies, are following a pattern that is woven into the fabric of storytelling by the Original Storyteller. That pattern is chiefly displayed in the Christian Gospel, and is imitated by every well told story in or out of the theater. The Gospel is the universal redemption story of which any given movie is a particular redemptive story. This means that almost any movie can be a starting point for sharing the gospel since it will connect in some way. Making that connection is difficult, and so that’s what I’d like to spend the summer sketching out.

18167386Paul M. Gould & Richard Brian Davis, eds., Loving God With Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J. P. Moreland. Chicago: Moody, December 2013. 272 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I love a good festschrift. If you’re not familiar with German, a festschrift is a collection of essays presented to a scholar on the occasion of his (or her) 65th birthday. Sometimes it’s also on the occasion of retirement, or some other milestone late in a scholarly career.

In this case, the honoree is J. P. Moreland, and the occasion is his 65th birthday (in 2013). The collection is edited by Paul Gould and Richard Brian Davis, and features contributions from Paul Copan, Doug Groothuis, Klaus Issler, R. Scott Smith, Scott B. Rae, and others. The contributions are divided into three parts which correspond with the broad divisions of philosophy. The first section is essays related to metaphysics (“The Building Blocks of The World”), and focuses on Platonism and the soul among other topics. The second section turns to epistemology (“Thinking For Christ in The World”) and deals with a range of topics from natural theology, to rational apologetics, to epistemic virtues. The final section closes with ethics (“Living for Christ in The World”) and discussion ranges from Jesus as a guide to spiritual formation to the importance of self-disclosure in cultural apologetics.

As a whole, this collection has much to offer people interested in philosophy in general and the development of J. P. Moreland’s thought in particular. The latter is seen both in the contributor’s engagement with Moreland’s ideas as well as the fact that he had a significant influence on the contributor’s themselves. I’m not completely on the same page as Moreland, but his Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview significantly influenced my interest in philosophy. I’d like to go back and read it now whenever I get a chance (probably not happening soon), especially after reading some of the essays in this collection.

What I actually found most interesting, and challenging, was some of Moreland’s advice in the afterword. In a section called “The Christian Thinker, Spiritual Formation, and The Cultivation of a Tender Heart,” Moreland suggests that some Christian scholarship is “too self-promoting” and suffers from a deep seated spiritual problem. It seems like he is talking more about Christian scholars who “jump the shark” and try to court the mainstream unbelieving academy, but his advice applies to anyone trying to do Christian scholarship. In fact, it dovetails nicely with some recent blogosphere conversations (like here, here, and here).

Moreland suggests that we need “to engage in serious self-examination on two fronts: commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and the supremacy of His cause, and efforts to sustain one’s first love” (237). Toward this end, Moreland says he regularly looks at Matthew 16:24-27 to examine himself. He also seeks to examine a tender, affectionate heart toward God. He does this several ways:

  • Calling God Abba
  • Envisioning himself on a blanket in a field and picturing Jesus walking toward him, reaching him, and grabbing his face and telling him that he loves him
  • Talking to God hundreds of times a day whenever there is a minute here and there
  • Listening to and singing along with praise music in his car
  • Spending 5 years in good Christian therapy to learn to live in his heart and feel his feelings

In addition to this, Moreland says that he also tries to regularly practice the disciplines of solitude and secrecy. The solitude he practices 4-5 times weekly for short time periods. As far as the secrecy, he will often refrain “from sharing victories (e.g., a good lecture or something published) with others, even though it would be permissible to do so” (238). In the context of recent conversations on Twitter and blogs (see above), the question isn’t really whether or not you can retweet (or republish) compliments. Rather, I would say it is spiritually healthy to intentionally not share some of what you’re up to in ministry even if it’s really great. I’ve tried to practice this for the past year or more, and I’ve found it beneficial. I’ve had speaking opportunities that went un-Tweeted and un-Instagrammed. I’ve stopped commenting on every free book I get in the mail. Here and there I think I’ve overshared, but I never retweet compliments and don’t necessarily share everything I write online. Though it might be going too far to try to say everyone should try to see how much they can keep a secret, I’ve found that it has helped curb my impulse to share and say “look at me!”

This practicing of secrecy goes hand in hand with the last two considerations that Moreland mentions. The first is placing a priority on cultivating deep, intimate relationships with his wife and a group of safe Christian friends. This helps to keep his focus outward instead of overly inward. The second is practicing gratitude, which takes his focus away from his propensity toward anxiety and depression. The full effect is that you can tell Moreland is not a scholar who worships his curriculum vita, however impressive it might be. In the example he presents, I think we can all, especially those of us pursuing Christian scholarship, can follow.

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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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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.

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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!