Archive for the ‘Old Testament’ Category

ThrivingI love when a book just sort of 'shows up' and it has immediate relevance to my life or ministry. Such was the case with Thriving in Babylon. I was searching through the David C Cook offerings on NetGalley and this book just appeared…I'm fairly certain I heard the sound of 'ahhh' sung by angels as a halo of gold surround the book. Needless to say I was happy to see the book, a book, any book focused on the Book of Daniel.

I have been engaged in serious study of the book of Daniel since sometime in 2014 as I prepared myself to teach an undergraduate level course on the book at a small Bible College located near my home in the Fall of 2015. I mean it must be providence because this is the fourth book on Daniel I have managed to get for review from publishers in the last year (and in fact, I just received a fifth one in the mail today from another publisher). All of the books have had unique perspectives on the Book of Daniel and have lent their insight to me as I sought to understand Daniel.

It does make me wonder though why there is currently so much popular and scholarly level interest in the Book of Daniel–so much interest that one noted author even published a lifestyle book based on something he read in Daniel. It's curious how it seems that perhaps people are slowly beginning to realize that all our American dreams are not quite the stuff that being a disciple of Jesus is made of. Or maybe what people are seeing is that the time is ripe, the axe is at the root, the signs are converging and coalescing, and maybe we imagine we hear just the faintest hint of a trumpet blast being carried by the wind.

This book started out strong with a heavy focus on the Book of Daniel and I was rolling along with Osborne nicely. He is correct: Daniel is neither an adventure story nor a prophecy manual. Where he kind of lost me is when he stated what he does think the main point of Daniel's book is: "When it comes to the book of Daniel, his incredible example of how to live and thrive in the most godless of environments is the main lesson we don't want to miss. It's a template that's particularly relevant today" (Location 128). Unfortunately, this kind of made me yawn a bit because I started sensing where the book was going–a mere manual for living, something the church does not need. Fact is, if we read the Book of Daniel as a book of mere examples for living, however incredible, encouraging, and faithful they may be, then we may as well read it as an adventure story and we probably miss the bigger story he is telling us about ultimate redemption of the world, of His saints, of his Son, and of a victory that even death cannot prevent. 

A deeper look at Daniel reveals a deeply theological story, one that is entirely focused on the sovereignty of God over the nations and of how, despite the terribly negative outward appearance of things in this world, God will rescue and redeem his exiles from Babylon, establish his Messianic Kingdom by uprooting, supplanting, subverting, and at times destroying the kingdoms of earth, and establish his Son and People as the rightful heirs and rulers of the kingdoms of earth.

Somewhere in this, yes, we are called to live and thrive. Clearly the prophet Jeremiah, one of the books Daniel read, told the exiles that they should settle down, build houses, raise families, live, and seek the welfare of the city where they were confined, but I doubt Jeremiah did so without first giving those people a picture of the great God who led them there in the first place. I doubt that living and thriving are the main focus of the book–or of any book of the Bible for that matter. I'm not saying they are absent; I am saying they are the trees we see when we take our eyes off the forest. 

I absolutely agree that we live in a world of chaos. I agree that for all intents and purposes our times are no different than those of Daniel and that Christians are, by and large, living in the shadow and confines of Babylon. I disagree that we are going to change this world simply by displaying hope, humility, and wisdom–the three ideas explored in the book. To me, however, this sounds like a convenient outline–kind of preacherly (if that's a word). Needless to say, however well he may find these ideas in the Book of Daniel, I was fairly disappointed that this was the route he chose to go. It's not that anything he says in the book is wrong or that it cannot be found in the book of Daniel. It's just that this is not the point of Daniel's book and, therefore, I think Thriving in Babylon was wanting for something more.

So let me wrap up by noting a couple of things that did resonate with me and ultimately were good constructs–even if I think the foundation upon which they were built was a bit beyond the blueprint. First, I agree that '[F]rom the first page to the last, Daniel clearly saw God's hand in everything that happened' (Location 203). I agree. This is laid out for the readers in Daniel chapter 1 and it carries all through the book. He goes on to note that 'God is in control of who is in control' (Location 222). Here I think Osborne nails it and, to this point, he is correct: upon this understanding of God we can indeed thrive in Babylon. I only wish he had explored his point a little more with respect to how Christians respond to the the kings of this world. Daniel is a decidedly political book and I think it needed to be explored, and could have been even at this popular level.

Second, he brings out some import and valid points about suffering in this world and our response to it. Key among his points is this: 'Those who walk away from God in anger and disillusionment in the midst of their suffering never do so because their test was too hard. They do so because their faith was not genuine' (Location 541). Whatever else I may have written, I want to be clear that Osborne has written a good book with much worth lauding. His points about our suffering as Christians in the midst of the Babylonian shadow are important and timely. We do well to listen. Yet we also do well to remember that there is no resurrection needed for those who remain alive. The saints of God will suffer at the hands of kings. Perhaps this timely message needed to be explored a little more.

My main disappointment with this book is that I don't think Osborne handled the Book of Daniel very well. Frankly, it was a huge disappointment. At times, it was like he utterly forgot he was even taking us through the book at all. Besides this, as noted above, I think he failed to get to the heart of what Daniel is teaching us. I get that the book is not designed to be a thorough exposition of Daniel and in this Osborne succeeds. The book of Daniel is a complex book and the character of Daniel–one of only two characters who 'survive' the entire book from start to finished–is a complex character. He has good days and bad days. He spends a lot of time sick due to the visions he has. He has to make difficult choices at times and seems at times to be all about his own self-preservation. Sometimes he doesn't tell the whole truth when interpreting visions and dreams. At times he us utterly brilliant and at other times he seems confounded. Sometimes he appears to compromise a bit and other times he is utterly bold and forthright. It is, therefore, difficult to make Daniel the sort of hero I think Osborne wants him to be.

Daniel is complex and I wish that complexity had been explored with a little more nuance than Osborne did. Again, it's not that anything Osborne said was wrong or out of place. It's just that Daniel is not so black and white as he leads us to believe.

It's a good read for the most part and I didn't disagree with all that much. He says a lot of important and timely things. There are some surprisingly fresh anecdotes and I like that he doesn't fall back on the the so-called standard sermon illustrations–oh thank God for that! I found the book to be honest and readable; accessible and, at times, challenging. It has plenty of Scripture references quoted and/or alluded to (notes are at the end of each chapter.) I also found the book a bit unbalanced. Chapters 1-4 talk about 'Daniel's Story'; Chapters 5-7** discuss 'Prepared for Battle'. He discuss all these things before diving into his thoughts about hope, humility, and wisdom. Chapters 8-13 are 'Hope'; 14-16, 'Humility'; 17-20', 'Wisdom'. It's slightly unbalanced as you can see, it's a small thing to be sure, but it bothered me.

One last thing. Daniel's book warns us over and over again of putting our hope in the kings who derive their position and authority 'out of the earth' or 'out of the sea' (see Daniel 7). Christians in America are particularly susceptible to this scheme of the devil–the one where he tries to convince us that our hope is found in the next great ministry or the next great up and coming politician. We are continually told about how important it is to vote for a particular political party or a particular political candidate. Sometimes we are even told that Daniel himself is a fine example of why Christians ought to be involved in the political process. At one point Osborne makes an utterly brilliant point when addressing this scheme: "[Satan] is still at it. Today, he's convinced many of us to replace our passionate hope in Jesus with a passionate hope in politics or the latest ministry on steroids. It's taken our eyes off Jesus and put our hope in that which can't deliver" (location 1334). Here I think he nails it because it is here, at this point, that I think the point of the Book of Daniel is clearly in view.

What the church needs is a formidable and robust picture of a great God who will wreck the systems born in this world, born of this world, born from this world, and who will set up his own kingdom which is 'not of this world' (Daniel 2; cf. John 18). Daniel gives us this vision–as a prophet should. I find that looking at mere examples of mere humanity is not enough to strengthen us in our current need. This is why, for example, when John the Revelator was writing to the seven churches in province of Asia who were muddled in persecution and complacency, he began not with a robust picture of an exemplary human being but with a picture of the cosmic Jesus who is the Alpha and the Omega. In short, I think the focus on Daniel as a person is misplaced.

So I'm a little disappointed with this book, but not entirely. There are times when Osborne gets Daniel brilliantly and other times when he falls down. It's a preacher thing to narrow down a book to a set of memorable ideas. In this case, hope, humility, and wisdom are the memorable ideas he wants us to remember. I think we would have been better served if he had asked us to remember that it is God's faithfulness to his people, to his own plans for this world, not his people's mere example, that is why and how and for what we thrive and survive and ultimately own this world and how he ultimately conquers Babylon.

4/5 Stars

**I would make one correction to the book. In chapter 7, he begins with an illustration of living near Camp Pendleton, a US Marine Corps recruit depot in San Diego, California. In paragraph 2, he refers to those who train recruits as 'drill sergeants.' This would be fine if he were talking about Army recruits, but those who train Marines are called Drill Instructors. Trust me when I say this is a big deal to Marines. It should be addressed in future editions of the book.

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Thriving in Babylon (Amazon: Kindle $9.28 ) Christian Book Distributors (Paperback $9.99) David C Cook (Trade-Paperback $15.99)
  • Author: Larry Osborne
  • Larry Osborn on Twitter
  • Academic Webpage:
  • Editor:
  • Publisher: David C Cook
  • Pages: 224
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: Mostly Christians, but others too (maybe)
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided an advance reader's copy courtesy of David C Cook via NetGalley.

**All page locations are relative at this point because I'm using an uncorrected proof. Pages should be checked against the final publication for accuracy.

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CircleI came across this book quite by accident. I don't even remember what other resource I was reading when I saw a reference or a quote to Fewell's book. I do remember being immediately drawn to the book because I had my suspicions that it was not mere commentary on the book but true exegesis. I was not disappointed. This book is a whirlwind of wonderful understanding and exegesis and application of the Book of Daniel.

If a book's worth can be judged based on the amount of underlines and margin notes a reader makes, then this book is worth a lot. I scratched and scribbled and underlined and underscored something on nearly every page of the book. The most important thing for me about this book is simple: I found the author was in agreement with a lot of the things that I was already seeing during the course of my own study of Daniel. For example, many people read the book of Daniel and see nothing but monsters and maniacal masters and mayhem–i.e., apocalypse. And that is then the hermeneutical lens through which the book is interpreted. 

I don't deny there are elements of apocalypse in the book, but I take issue with anyone who says that is the only way to read the book. Fewell notes this too: "Despite the appeal of the apocalyptic to subsequent generations and the propensity of scholars in recent days to classify the entire book as an apocalypse, the book of Daniel introduces itself as a narrative. An extended story comprised of six episodes about Daniel and his friends provides the literary context of the visions that follow" (11). Right. And Fewell's scheme follows this observation: the bulk of her work focuses on chapters 1-6 of Daniel while only chapter is devoted to an exegesis of chapters 7-12. In some ways this is frustrating and disappointing. In other ways it is wonderful because so many authors want to focus on chapters 7-12 and figuring out who is who and what is what that the beauty and depth of 1-6 is often left behind.

That said, she digs deep in the few pages she devotes to chapters 7-12 and helps the reader understand their relationship to 1-6. The time stamps given at the beginning of chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 show us where to place the chapters historically with respect to chapters 1-6. This aids in understanding both the narrative and vision cycles. So Fewell, "The temporal settings of the visions mark them as expansion of the plot. Some visions take us back in Daniel's career, some move us forward; but they all continue to reveal character and to sustain political themes" (119). I agree. I didn't always agree with Fewell's final analysis of a text (e.g., I wholly disagree with her that Daniel 4 is a triumph of 'the human imagination…able to overpower human history' or that Daniel 3 is mere metaphor.) but I certainly agree that it makes much better sense to interpret these visions based on their historical position than their canonical position.

Fewell pays very careful attention to the details of the text–something I appreciate very much in those who dare write books about the Scripture. She consistently makes observations about the text of Daniel and brings out details of the story that might otherwise be overlooked or underplayed. It is too easy for scholars and preachers to overlook simple narrative techniques whereby the author tells us what a story is about simply forming a chiasm and narrowing the reader's focus, or tirelessly repeating some aspect of the story (note how in Daniel 3 the list of people and instruments are repeated numerous times), duplicating vocabulary from chapter to chapter, or by connecting a later story with images from an earlier story.Fewell does an outstanding work of drawing our attention to the intentions of the author of Daniel by noting the subtleties in the text and redirecting our attention to plot devices and character development (e.g., noting for the reader that in chapter 1 the reader is privy to information that the characters in the story are not, especially the king, 14).

It was somewhat difficult to tell where Fewell comes down as far as Daniel's authorship is concerned. I finished reading with the idea that she sees the book as a unified piece of literature based on her literary reading of the book. She does not delve into authorship, redaction, or dates, but reads the book as a whole piece and interprets it thus. At this juncture in all our lives, debates about times and dates seems a bit pointless and, to be sure, those things are not the focus of her exegesis of the Daniel text.

Fewell tells us at the beginning of her book what the point of Daniel is, and for her the point is decidedly political: "The central political issue in Daniel is that of sovereignty. Who is sovereign in the human world? The question is, of course, also a theological one because the principal conflict in the book is between God and human monarchs over the very question: Who rules?" (12) I absolutely agree with Fewell's point here. Over and over in the book of Daniel we see this point being made to one person after another as one king rises and another falls. By the time we get to Daniel 7-12 our minds are hardwired to see God's sovereignty so much at work in the seemingly mundane details of local and world politics that God is scarcely mentioned. We have come to expect it because we have been conditioned to see it by the way we see God interacting with Nebuchadnezzer, Belshazzar, and Darius. Perhaps we would do well to ask ourselves, even now, if God is not more involved in the political world we live in, bringing about his own ends, than we truly consider.

One final note about the book. It seemed somewhat incomplete. I fully appreciate when a book of the Bible is allowed to stand on its own and be read for its own sake without feeling the need or compulsion to automatically attach or derive meaning from elsewhere. With that said, I note that Fewell not once talks about the church, Jesus, or the New Testament. Not once. I understand the need to interpret Daniel as it stands and in its own context–and I respect that–but it seems to be somewhat of a loss that when Jesus himself quotes from Daniel or adopts key imagery (i.e., 'son of man') or when an entire book adopts key language and imagery for its own construction and narrative (i.e., the Revelation) that it is not taken into consideration how this might affect our understanding of the book. In this regard, Circle of Sovereignty was a bit of a disappointment and an otherwise complete book was left incomplete, the circle was a bit broken.

Overall, I think the book is excellent. Fewell's attention to narrative detail is outstanding and her interpretation of the book as a complete book is excellent too. My only misgiving is that there is no attention paid to the New Testament or to Jesus. For all the care and attention given to the book in situ, it seems to me that even an appendix might have been warranted to broach the subject of its place in the entire corpus of Scripture.  Nevertheless, the well read reader will have ample opportunity to forge his own connections with the New Testament and even though this neglect of the New Testament was a disappointment for me, it doesn't detract from the quality of Fewell's  exegesis of Daniel.

4/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Circle of Sovereignty Amazon (Paperback $20.63); Abingdon Press (Paperback $21.99)
  • Author: Danna Nolan Fewell
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Pages: 136 (+notes, bibliography, indexes)
  • Year: 1991
  • Audience: preachers, scholars, students of OT, well read general audience
  • Reading Level: College
  • Disclaimer: Purchased

0664220800Title: Daniel: A Commentary

Series: The Old Testament Library

Author: Carol A. Newsom with Brennan W. Breed

Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press

Year: 2014

Pages: 384

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review of the commentary. I'm not even allowed to keep the book after I have finished reviewing it.]

My interest in reading and review this book is from not purely personal enjoyment of reading commentaries. Soon I will teaching the book of Daniel to undergraduates at a small Bible College near where I live. In a sense, it was somewhat providential that I came across this book at NetGalley and was offered the opportunity to read and review it.

But this is a different sort of review than I normally do here at the blog where I normally review made for the masses books printed quickly and on cheap paper. This is the kind of book that requires a slow reading and deep thinking–and there is no doubt that this was not an easy book to read. The author digs deeply into the text and draws conclusions about the text of Daniel based on this deep reading, based on historical evidence, and based on a plethora of critical commentaries that have been available throughout the years. Newsom also gives us a detailed account of recent archaeological evidence which she depends upon greatly for her interpretive framework. I wondered, often, about her interaction with this evidence because I have read other commentaries on Daniel, by notably 'conservative' scholars, who seem to interpret some of this evidence quite differently. And where those conservative scholars have made a habit of 'explaining away' evidence from extra-biblical texts that might appear contradictory to Daniel's text or thinking about different ways this evidence might be interpreted, Newsom takes them, and their contradictions, more or less at face-value. In other words, for Newsom there is very little Daniel has to offer in the way of historical accuracy. It is the extra-biblical writings which hold the key to interpreting the history of the time periods Daniel purports to be writing about not the Book of Daniel itself.

Thus the commentary does not engender any trust or confidence in the book of Daniel as an historical document even if the book might inspire some courage to readers who are looking for a stand your ground theodicy. Newsom interprets Daniel from a looking backward point of view and not from a looking forward point of view. That is, there is no predictive prophecy in Daniel only a state of the moment, retroactive courage builder for those undergoing persecution at the hands of people like Antiochus Epiphanes. Of course, there is a sense in which all of us are looking back now, but Newsom's allegiance to a late date for the writing of Daniel significantly affects her interpretation of the book as a whole (there are plenty of reputable scholars who adhere to an early date for Daniel and come away with similar ideas as Newsom; not all, but some.) This, to me, was the most disappointing aspect of the book. In my mind, I cannot see how fictional stories, with fictional characters, in fictional situations will ever do anything to inspire faithfulness and courage in real, living, and breathing people. I'm sure someone could challenge this idea, so I'm not staking my life on it.

On the other hand, this is the sort of book that challenges my belief that, to an extent (and although I hold to a traditionally 'conservative' point of view when it comes to Scripture), it doesn't really matter how a book came together or who wrote it but that what really matters is that we have a book and we interpret that book we have as a whole. There were times when Newsom blew my mind and I believed, for just the smallest of moments, that she and I were going to click and hit it off theologically. For example, when Newsom was writing about the first chapter of Daniel, I confess that I was nearly in whole-hearted agreement. Her point that the early narratives of Daniel (1-4) focus more on the 'Gentile king' (i.e., Nebudchadnezzar) is, I think, dead on the mark. She rightly sees this as an 'encounter between the power of the Most High and of the Gentile kings' that will eventually 'establish that it is the God of the Jews who is in control of history and who delegates and eventually takes back sovereignty over the earth' (p. 33). Putting this chapter (and most of the book) into a firmly theological position is a brilliant move on her part and, in my opinion, is the best way to interpret the chapter. When I read the book of Daniel, this is how I see the whole book and it seems to me that Newsom does a fine job, over and over again, of bringing this point to the surface. This is unlike much of what we hear preached from Daniel in the pulpit.

There are small features within each chapter that some will find disturbing if they approach the book from a wholly 'conservative' point of view (not that Newsom is writing from a wholly 'liberal' point of view; although, perhaps a case can be made for that too.) What I mean is this: there will be disagreements over interpretive matters, dating matters, and authorship. This commentary is written with a massive amount of source criticism at its disposal and the author never blinks at this. I have noted above that this is a challenge for me personally. There is, to be sure, some value to source criticism, but I am of the school of thought that believes we should interpret the book we have without being too terribly concerned about how it was cobbled together. I think some readers will have a difficult time with some of the conclusions Newsom arrives at given this interpretive framework and will dismiss the work quickly.

I like the format of the book. There is a lengthy introduction to the book of Daniel outlining important points one would typically find in a commentary–authorship, historical setting, genre, etc. Each chapter of Daniel then receives a treatment–brief introductory remarks, translation and textual notes, overview and outline, comments. Each chapter then concludes with a review of the 'History of Reception' by Brennan W. Breed. I found Breed's contribution to the book both unique and exciting. Often we readers, preachers, and teachers forget about the lengthy history of reception of the books of the Bible–especially the Old Testament books. We tend to forget that we are not interpreting in a vacuum, as isolated individuals who are encountering these books for the first time. Rather, as Breed's contributions make clear, we are a part of a long history of historians, preachers, and teachers who belong to a wider circle–a wider circle of saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles, alike who have taken these books into themselves and used and abused them. Breed's contributions show the beauty and ugliness of how the Biblical books have been used throughout history and it is a welcome, refreshing contribution to the world of Biblical commentary.

The commentary also made use of plenty of graphics–pictures of historically significant archaeological evidence, charts, and paintings. These are helpful contributions and, in my opinion, do not unnecessarily disrupt the flow of the text. There is no want for depth of scholarship: there are six full pages of abbreviations of the various sources (journals, etc.) Newsom has consulted in one way or another in preparing to write the commentary. There is also a lengthy bibliography at the front of the book. Interestingly, the most recent commentary referenced is Beckwith's 2012 commentary from IVP Academic Press. Beyond that, many of the commentaries are from the 1900's and a few are from the 1800's. She also lists many, many significant monographs and articles related to the book of Daniel (if I counted correctly, 32 pages worth).

What is unfortunate, is that this is not a book designed for mass appeal. It is a sad reality that many preachers and teachers in our local churches simply have no use for the sort of commentary that Newsom has given us–and this is probably due to her overwhelming reliance on source criticism (as opposed to this being a book written by a prophet guided by the Holy Spirit) and Newsom's flat out denial of anything historically 'true' about the book of Daniel. This will cause many to ignore the work and what it has to offer. I prefer to mine books for anything that is useful; there is much useful in the book despite what some will label as flaws. The presence of such things leads more 'conservative' preachers to dismiss out of hand books like this. Or maybe it is due to a certain lackadaisical attitude that local preachers have towards doing the hard work of theology and preaching. (If you want to verify my point, go to any sermon clearinghouse on the internet and read what many preachers have written. Or get a book like The Daniel Plan to see how Scripture is misused on a frequent basis.) For example, it's much easier to look at Daniel 1 and think it is all about how Daniel and friends made a stand against the king by becoming vegetarians. It is much more difficult to follow Newsom's point that chapter one is merely the introduction to a long confrontation between the God of Israel and the gods of Babylon–what Newsom later calls 'the Eschatological Class of Sovereignties' (211). This really gets me worked up because, frankly, so many people spend so much time trying to figure out all the times and dates and identities in Daniel 7-12 that they miss the bigger picture of a great God prevailing while all the kings of earth continue rising and falling. It's a trees and forest kind of thing. I think Daniel is best viewed as a forest.

My objections noted, this is a carefully written commentary. It takes into consideration a wide range of evidence, sources, and interacts enough with the story arc of the Bible that we are wise to pay attention. And because Newsom is willing and able to cut out and through all the baby-talk about Daniel, I think she has given us a brilliantly written commentary that has dug deep enough to get to the main theological points of Daniel. We may disagree about dating and composition and her considerable disregard for Jesus in the book is troubling (given the nature and length of the book, Jesus is scarcely mentioned, let alone is he the lens of her hermeneutical framework), but at the end of the book, I found myself more in agreement with her at select points of interpretation than in disagreement. That Daniel is not just a book of courage stories, or Sunday School myths ('Dare to be a Daniel' kind of stuff) but is a deeply theological book discussing the nature of God's sovereignty and the destiny of the righteous is evident throughout.There is a lot to consider and I am hopeful more folks will interact with her work (I am sure someone else will interact with her interpretation of the archaeological evidence. I never cease to be amazed at how one person sees such evidence and comes away with distrust of the Biblical books and someone else sees the same evidence and comes away with more trust.)

The book needs an afterward because Breed's conclusion is utterly disappointing.

This is a book I think more preachers ought to read. If anything, it demonstrates there is no widespread consensus on how to interpret Daniel, but that there is room for different ideas within the circle of those who read, preach, interpret, and teach it. And that at the end of the day, God is sovereign and his plans will not be thwarted by the kings of this earth.

4/5 Stars

I waited all day. All day it was cloudy, foggy, rainy and just plain miserable. I waited and waited–hoping against hope that the sun would come out and burn away the dreariness of the day. And at last, it happened. The sun came out, the mist faded away, and the day became clear.

It was a glorious thing and after the sun came out the day only seemed to get better. 

Spent the evening at the church. Talked to an old friend who was one my youth sponsors when I was a younger man–he and his wife were a blessing to my family when I was learning how not to be an idiot and again when my wife was sick. Back at home, I was told by my wife that the son of some friends of ours had died. He was 45. I had the privilege of baptizing his parents when I was still a preacher. I am sad for them. Very sad. 

In Bible study, we spent some time talking about God's Word, the 'importance of learning and keeping God's teaching.' It was an interesting study of Proverbs 3:1-7. 

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
    and bring you peace and prosperity.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
    bind them around your neck,
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.

There's a part of me that thinks Solomon, or whoever wrote this, was reflection on the words found in Deuteronomy–especially that first sentence where he admonishes his son to 'not forget his teaching.' I agree with the teacher tonight that Solomon, or whoever wrote this, was thinking about the Scripture, the Law. In Deuteronomy, it was the king's task to do this very thing: "When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of the law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees" (Deuteronomy 17:18-19).

In an interesting twist, Solomon forgot nearly everything the Lord said the king was not to do, but I suspect he may well have done this thing: I suspect he did make a copy of the Law. I suspect that much of what is written in Proverbs is a reflection on that Law that he read and copied. I could be wrong and I have no proof, but I have a suspicion. These seven verses in Proverbs 3 kind of reek of Deuteronomy 17 and other chapters. 

I like the lesson we had tonight because it spoke to some of the things that I too believe about the church and the Scripture. I think as a church (generally, not specifically) we do not do enough corporate reading of Scripture and I'd like to see that change. Maybe. We were warned by the prophet that a time would come when there would be a famine in the land for the word of God (Amos 8:11-12). 

What I was thinking about, though, was this passage in Proverbs. It could be that it's merely an English phenomenon that the word 'heart' appears in three strategic places in these seven verses, or maybe not. I don't have time right now to dig deeper, so let's assume that the word 'heart' really is there in Hebrew. If it is, then here's the progression of the verses:

3:1: "…keep my commands in your heart…"

3:3: "…let love and faithfulness never leave you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."

3:5: "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart…"

There's a lot I could say here, but I want to just say this much: maybe the path to being able to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and leaning not on our own understanding begins by keeping the word of God close to our hearts, by keeping love and faithfulness close to the heart as well. Maybe we can trust God more when we know God better and that we know God better when we spend more time with him–in his word and by drawing near to him in love and faithfulness. Maybe the key is to replace our own understanding with an understanding that is far superior in every way.

Whatever else might be said, there is a connection here in these three verses between the Word of God, the Love of God, and Trusting God–and not just trusting, but being able to trust. I think the connection is easy to see. When we go through dark times in life, it seems to me that those who know God best are those who are able to walk through the valleys without fear or without losing hope. The people who have spent the most time walking with God through his Word are those who, it seems to me, practice love and faithfulness the most. And isn't it interesting that those who do these things are the very ones who never blink when the valley is dark and the mists of March cloud the day?

I'm not perfect by any stretch of the word. I have failed more than I care to remember–and many of my failures are indelibly etched into my brain. Sometimes these failures cause doubts and fears and even worse days than mere days. There is way through, at least I have found it so, and that is by being in the Word of God and walking with God constantly. There is a way to have those failures erased and that is by allowing the Word of God to cover over them, to rebuild our hearts cell by cell, to scratch out the sorrow and bitterness and once again be clothed with love and faith.

It's a rough thought I have written tonight. I might need to think about it some more, but there's a kernel here for all of us. There's a reason why God gave us the Bible. It's not a riddle book. It's not merely a story book. It's not rules and law and this or that. It is God speaking to us, telling us about himself and who he is, and what he is about, and his hopes and dreams for us. I don't understand it all and I don't try to. But for those who have ears to hear, Jesus said, let them hear. Sometimes the best we can do is just to listen to what God is saying and learn just a little about him that might help us through a dark time that is even less understood than the God we don't understand.

Read. Write. Trust.

Sounds like a perfect recipe to me.

I wish I could do this for a living–blogging or writing or spending all my time thinking about Scripture and helping others discover kernels of delight and morsels of joy. There's so much to take in on every page and it sincerely makes me happy to share it with others.

My Psalm reading is still going strong and I am discovering new things with each turn of the page. I wrote a post called Learning to Talk in my Lenten Reflections series about learning how to pray the Scripture and making the words of Scripture the words of our prayers. I found some more notes I had made on the subject and something I came across struck me as a compelling piece of evidence for my thoughts.

It's a very simple thing concerning Jesus, the Psalms, and his prayers. The book of Hebrews tells us that 'during the days of Jesus' life, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and was heard because of his reverent submission' (Hebrews 5:7). Sadly, we do not have a written record of these prayers. Wouldn't it be kind of neat to know that while he was on earth, 2,000 years ago, he mentioned you or me or our friends by name?

Well, even if he didn't mention us by name back then, we can take comfort in the fact that he is mentioning us by name right now, today, in the Father's presence. Consider Romans 8:34: "Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us." Or consider Hebrews 7:25: "Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." I love that when I struggle, He is praying for me. I love that when I sin and condemn myself, He is interceding for me.

I love knowing that Jesus is mentioning me, and you, by name.

But back to my main point which is simply that we have only a very small written record of the actual prayers of Jesus. Of course John 17 comes to mind. John 12:27-28 too. John 11:41-42 also come to mind. Maybe we can also include Matthew 6 and it's parallel in Luke 11–what has been traditionally called 'The Lord's Prayer.' I think also Luke 22:39-46 and it's parallels in Mark 14:32-42 and Matthew 26:36-46.

There may well be others, but my point is that there are not many examples of Jesus' prayer words. Even in Luke 6 where we learn that Jesus 'went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God,' we do not have a recollection of his actual words. I think it's probably safe to assume that he had spent the night praying about the Twelve and perhaps mentioning them by name, but in truth we do not know. Yet, we are not entirely without hope in this area of Jesus' prayer words. There was one other occasion when I specifically recall Jesus praying and what is interesting is the words he used when he prayed. It was on the cross.

Jesus famously spoke seven times on the cross. Here's the catalog:

1. John 19:26-27: Jesus asked one of his disciples to care for his mother.

2. John 19:28: "I am thirsty."

3. John 19:30: "It is finished."

4. Matthew 27:46 (Mark 15:34): "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"

5. Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

6. Luke 23:43: "Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise."

7. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

It is probably understandable that Jesus wasn't preaching sermons while on the cross and that his words were few and choice. What is amazing to me, however, is that four of the times he spoke, he was praying. What is more amazing, is that three of the four prayers were quotations from Scripture. Numbers 3, 4, and 7 are all from the Scripture.

1. Number 3, when Jesus declares 'it is finished,' I take to be a direct reference to the creation account found in Genesis 1-2: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."

2. Number 4, when Jesus cried out asking why God had forsaken him. This is a direct quotation of Psalm 22:1–a Psalm laden with allusions and imagery of crucifixion. But it's not a mere 'cry of dereliction' as some would have it–not if Jesus quoted the first verse while having the entire Psalm in mind. The entire Psalm ends on a note of triumph: "They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!" It gives me chills reading that. "He has done it!" Wow.

3. Number 7, when Jesus breathes his last. This is a direct quotation of Psalm 31:5: "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, Lord, my faithful God." It is a Psalm of trust that God will 'preserve those who are true to him' (23). It is a Psalm of confidence, 'But I trust in your, Lord; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.' (14-15) It is a Psalm of hopeful expectations. Yet it is also a Psalm that seems to be saying, "I will not exercise my will in these matters. I will trust you Lord to do that for me." Again, all I can say is, "Wow!"

As a side note, number 5 (and perhaps number 7), when Jesus asks the Father not to hold this sin against his enemies, I find a parallel in Acts 7:59-60 when Stephen is being executed. So even early in the church, the Church was praying the Scripture. Stephen was not only praying the Psalms, but he was praying the very words of Jesus as his own!

Amazingly, the church practiced this earlier too in Acts 4:23-31. There the church prays Psalm 2 and claim the words of the Psalmist as their own: "Why do the nations rage and the people's plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one." So we see the church and individuals in the church using the words of Scripture as their own words of prayer. It is profound to me that so many of the occasions in Scripture when the church is praying they are praying the words of Scripture right back to God, making the Word of God their words to God.

And it makes me wonder why we do not do the same thing in our prayers–especially in our public and corporate prayers. It makes me wonder sometimes why we complain about God not moving in our churches or in our communities–I mean maybe it's because we a) don't know the Scripture well enough, b) trust our own ideas more than God's ideas, or c) think our own words are more powerful than those that the early church prayed.

Let's be honest, the prayers we pray in the church are anemic and empty. I'm not even going to say this is a matter of 'well, church folks are simple folks and we don't need to worry too much about the depth or quality of the prayers they pray; we should be happy that such folks even get up in front of people and pray at all.' I call hogwash on that. The point is that we should know Scripture, we should pray Scripture–Scripture should be infused into our conversations and prayers and thoughts. Those leaders who lead churches should take this very seriously and teach the members of the church the Scripture and teach them how to pray the Scripture and how to make God's words to us our words to God.

If it was good enough for Jesus and the church in the Bible, why isn't it good enough for us? Maybe we are afraid to pray the Scripture? Maybe we are afraid that if we pray something like Psalm 2 that something will happen in the world and we might be the blame? Maybe we feel if we are suffering and praying Psalm 22 people will think us arrogant. But isn't that the very point of those words existing? Are they just for us to read and take note of and perhaps hear a sermon from every now and again?

Or is there something deeper in the Words of God that we should be praying?

Are we as a church truly committed to the Scripture? Do we really believe what God says in Scripture? Do we really believe the Bible is God's Word to the church? Are we really committed to praying these  promises of God back to God? It's not that God needs to be reminded, it's just that when we do this very thing we are saying, in effect, that we are more concerned about what God wants than we are about what we want. It is our way of saying to God, "Father, into your hands we commit our church." It is the church's way of saying we trust more in God's word to us than we do in our words to him.

It's not that God needs to be reminded of his words as much as it is that we need to be reminded of his words. Praying the Scripture grounds us in the reality of God's working in the world, grounds us in the reality of God's plans for the world, and grounds us in the reality of God's purposes for his church in the world. We can set our own agenda or we can pray God's agenda.

This is the point.

9780801039447Title: Engaging the Christian Scriptures

Authors: Andrew E. Arterbury, W.H. Bellinger, Jr., Derek S. Dodson

Publisher: Baker Academic

Year: 2014

Pages: 286

Kindle Price: $14.57

Paperback: $20.33

[Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.]

When I went to Bible College between 1991-1995 I was introduced to the brilliant and wonderful world of academia and Biblical scholarship that to this day, 20 years later (although I am no longer in located ministry) I thoroughly enjoy. I read theology now as a sort of hobby, still subscribe to theological journals, and still read commentaries for fun. But sometimes I think that it was my love of the academic side of Christian faith that caused my ultimate downfall in the pulpit–not that I am particularly smart, but that perhaps I didn't learn how to filter well enough the material I studied during the week in preparation for preaching. At the heart of it, I think many Christians sitting in the pew on Sunday morning do not care all that much about what the learned have to say and what those who read the learned think about it.

Thus I was excited to read this volume of introductory articles to the Bible. My own experience in Bible Survey in my undergraduate work left little to be desired and was often a source of frustration given how shallow it was. Well, I get it: it was a freshmen level class, so I shouldn't speak too harshly. So I read. I commend the authors of the book on a job well done. I like it because it has a rare combination of scholarly astuteness and pew sitter awareness. Frankly, I needed this book 24 some years ago when I was sitting in freshman Bible Survey. I needed the balance that this book brings to the difficult issues that surround the Scripture, its composition, its collection, and its interpretation. For example, I regret that when I learned of JEPD I only learned that it was the tool of liberal devils who wanted to uproot the Word of God from its Source and render it unreliable. What I didn't learn was that there are sincere reasons for accepting it as a reliable tool that was used to bring a certain cohesion to the Scripture, that it may have been useful to God, and that those who were the JEPDs were righteous in their intentions.

Maybe it's the years that have softened me or maybe the authors did a fine job of saying something like, "There are sources that critical scholars consider but the fact of these sources does nothing to render this less than the Word of God–useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness." Maybe. Maybe I didn't read them well enough. Frankly, I have gotten to a point in my life where I really don't care how the books came together: whether through various sources and editors or by the hand of one author who was 'carried along by the Holy Spirit.' I think ultimately what matters when reading the Bible is that we read it as a whole. That is, Genesis may well have been 'edited' by 50 different people for all we know or it may have been written by one person, say, Joshua or Moses. But what matters is that right here, right now, we have one book that we call "Genesis." And we interpret Genesis as one book with one overarching theme from front to back and as God's word given to us.

The book was written with a clear audience in mind: "We intend for this volume to serve as an introductory textbook to the Christian Scriptures for students who are engaging in an informed reading of the Bible within an academic setting" (xi). To this end, I think the authors did a fine job. Their goal is not to undermine personal faith or catholic Christianity but rather to set the Scripture in a context where it can be properly understood in light of historical context, literary development, and theological contexts. In other words, they are not telling the student what to believe, but they are helping the student to see that even though the prophets spoke and wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, these books were not written in a vacuum devoid of context or unaware of the strictures of written language. These are two areas, especially, where I think the Christian church gets it wrong–both in the academy and the pulpit.

We tend to picture Scripture being written in a void as if the Holy Spirit took over a person's mind, set them on a mountain in the lotus position, and dictated word for word what was to be written. He may have at times, but I think one only needs to read the Bible to see that the authors who wrote the books had an agenda and were consummately aware of their surroundings. So when Christians read, we do not need to be afraid that there are scary things happening in the Bible or that some of the things might be culturally obscure to us. To this point, I suspect that even though this is a book written for an academic setting, perhaps that is too limited a market: not everyone goes to Bible college or seminary, but most Christians sit in a pew listening to someone who has and for too long that pulpit has not been challenged on a critical, local level. I'm not saying run the preacher down, but I am asking: Isn't there room within the church to discuss heady and deep issues we find in the Bible or that we find about the Bible?

Isn't there room for intelligence among people of faith? I think there is. I'd like this book to find its way into the local church and not remain merely in the classroom where ignorant freshmen waste away their days and squander opportunities to bring real change to our churches–real change that starts in the pulpit with the person preaching the Scripture. In my opinion, a book like this will go a long way to that end precisely because it is not so heady that the average pew sitter cannot understand it.

"We want the reader not only to know the contents of the Bible but also to gain a critical appreciation and respect for the historical distance between us as modern readers and the ancient contexts of the Bible. We want the reader to consider how these texts were heard or read by their ancient audiences by asking historical, literary, and theological questions of the texts. We hope this study of the Bible initiates a journey of both discovery and intellectual curiosity, and thus deepens engagement with the biblical text." (2)

The only thing I wish they had done is gone one step further and also indicated that they hope the book would strengthen faith and foster trust in the Scripture as God's word. The Bible is not a merely influential document or a tool for debate or a window into the past. It is those things, yes, but not merely and in their introductory comments I wish they had made further comment about the Bible being the Word of God to his covenant people. They ask, "Why study the Bible?" (2) and I agree with their answer that we may "evaluate contemporary interpretations of the Bible that one may encounter in various ways: in church-related and religious literature, in sermons, in politics, through the media, and in informal conversations with family and friends" (2). I give a hardy 'amen!' I think many would agree that the church's knowledge of Scripture is woefully inadequate to the tasks and pressures we are facing in this world today and no amount of television preaching is going to alleviate that inadequacy.

If this book helps people to be more informed, then good. But more: if it helps pew people read and engage their Bible with more consistency and regularity, then better. If it helps bring a certain note of wisdom to young men and women in bible college, then this is best.

I'm not sure I buy the Documentary Hypothesis to be honest. I might; I might not. I'm not sure that it harms the Scripture, but I'm not sure it helps. Again, my point is: we have the text so does it really matter how it came together or whose name is attached to it? Jesus accepted the OT Scripture so shouldn't I? It used to be that those who accepted and taught JEPD were on the outside, sort of fringe scholars one ought to be wary of. Now, I see in this book that the DH is becoming more mainstream, a more accepted thought among scholars and pew people. Make of that what you want.

I like the charts, graphs, maps, and pictures in the book. They are helpful and not intrusive. They help break up lengthy texts and explanations that may bore a young college student (as do the grey call out boxes where the authors give readers extra insight into structure, definitions, and more.) I like how explanations are given to difficult terminology–such as JEPD (Documentary Hypothesis (42). I like the engagement with historical documents, criticism, and manuscripts. I like that the authors take their time and explain difficult concepts to the reader in plain language. I also like that at the end of each chapter or section of Scripture examined the authors take the time to print a short bibliography of source material. Many of the sources are very recent and some of the authors may be a bit obscure to new readers or students. Some of the sources are from recognized evangelical scholars whose names will be immediately recognizable and will thus lend some credibility to the authors' work.

Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.] – See more at: http://specialeducationteacher.typepad.com/my-blog/#sthash.L9A7040Y.dpuf
Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.] – See more at: http://specialeducationteacher.typepad.com/my-blog/#sthash.L9A7040Y.dpuf
Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.] – See more at: http://specialeducationteacher.typepad.com/my-blog/#sthash.L9A7040Y.dpuf

I want to say that I am glad this book is not merely a rehashing of what is already in the Bible. Too many times scholars write Bible surveys or introductions to the Bible and the book ends up being little more than a retelling of what is in the Bible–so much so that the person reading would get more from just sitting down and reading the Bible. I like that the authors seemed to keep the overarching theological strand of God's redemptive plan in Jesus in view from Genesis to Revelation and that their 'retelling' includes outlines of the texts, discussion of significant textual issues, and theological reflection on themes (context), purposes (audience), and literature (genre, author) (their discussion of the Book of Revelation beginning on 252ff is especially helpful and on the mark.)

Indeed, the authors conclude:

"The Christ even represents the beginning of God's end-time action to reconcile all creation to God's self. As it awaits the consummation of this redemption in the coming of Christ, the community of Christ followers gives witness to this divine action in its life together and its proclamation. This overarching story, of course, provides another context in which to interpret the texts of the Bible." (259

Scripture index. Subject index.

A helpful volume for new students and perhaps for students who worship each week in a local church. And given that this fall, September 2015, I will begin teaching at a small local Bible college, this will be a helpful volume for my students.

5/5

In a little book I have called Answering God, author Eugene Peterson writes,

"But the first requirement of language is not to make us nice but accurate. Prayer is not particularly 'nice.' There is a recognition in prayer of the fiercer aspects of God…Psalm language is not careful about offending our sensibilities; its genius is its complete disclosure of the human spirit as it makes response to the revealing God. Given the mess that things are in, it will not be surprising that some unpleasant matters have to be spoken, and spoken in the language of our sin-conditioned humanity, for the language of prayer is, most emphatically, human language. It is not angel talk." (41-42)

Sometimes we simply do not have the words though. Sometimes talking to God is difficult because perhaps we think what we have to say might be offensive or too caustic for God's ears. When I read through the Psalms–or the Bible in general–I am quickly disabused of that idea. Those who pray use real words and often rather salty language. It seems that God's ears are quite accustomed to our complaints and our verbal atrocities. He's been around a while; he can handle it.

But that's not how we pray. It really isn't. I have been involved in the church since I was born. I cannot remember a day when I haven't been involved with the church in some way. And I am one of those people who actually listens to everything that is said in church. I pay close attention because I want to hear the Scripture read and preached, I want to hear the prayers prayed and offered, and I want to hear the Spirit move among God's people. On the other hand, I'm also like Stanley Hauerwas who wrote,

"I do not trust prayer to spontaneity. Most 'spontaneous prayers' turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous. Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, 'Lord, we just ask you…" Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much. I prayer that God will save us from 'just.' (Hannah's Child, 255)

Hauerwas goes on to note that because of his fear he took to writing out his prayers. I'm OK with that. Some folks need to do just such a thing. When I was younger I objected to such things, but the older I get and the more cut & paste prayers I hear from people leading worship or in small groups, the more I am fine with the practice. Nevertheless, I think there might also be another solution though and that solution has to do with the Scripture.

Part of the reason I think corporate prayers are so anemic is because our minds have not drank deeply enough of the Scripture to let it saturate the part of our brains that generates language. Or we are simply content with formulating our own nonsense. But if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then why shouldn't we pray back his words to him? Why shouldn't we remind him of what he said? Why shouldn't we pray the very words he gave us and hurl back to him the words he hurled at us?

I'm not sure why we think our words are better than his words. But to my point: the prayers we offer in public worship, the prayers offered by our leaders (preachers, elders, deacons), those prayers are weak and speak nothing: "Thank you God for this day. We just pray for this or that. Bless the gift and the giver so that your message will go out in this community and around the world. Be with us."

There's nothing wrong with these words at all, but when these words are the meat and substance of our prayers, and when these are the same words repeated time and time again from pulpits and by leaders, it makes me stop and wonder if we are even in tune with what the Bible has to say about the work God has planned for us, through Jesus, in this world? Jesus said that the very gates of hell cannot count an offensive to stop the church or mount a defensive position that the church cannot conquer. Yet our prayers are prayers thanking God for the day. Again, nothing wrong with thanking God for the day, but don't you think our prayers could have a little more urgency? Don't you think our leaders should pray with a bit more expectancy? Don't you think our prayers should have a little more prophecy infused? 

I mean seriously: Why are all those prayers we read in the Bible there in the first place? Are we just supposed to read them? Are they there for decorative purposes? Are they there so we can marvel at how wonderful the saints of old prayed? Or are they there to guide and direct our own prayer life, to give us words to pray, directions for our journey, and/or language to fatten up our prayers? Think about Jesus on the cross and the prayers he prayed. Luke 23:46: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" is from Psalm 31:5. Mark 15:34: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" is a quote from Psalm 22:1. Or think about Stephen in Acts 7 who was stoned to death because of Jesus. He prayed twice during his execution: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and "Lord do not hold this sin against them." Well, it seems to me that these are both allusions to the words that Jesus prayed on the cross, words that Jesus quoted from Scripture.

Or think about Revelation 6:10: "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" This was prayed by the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. But here again is my point: How many times in the Older Testament, especially the Psalms, do we see these words or words similar to them? Look at Psalm 13:1, for example. Or Psalm 6:3. Or Habakkuk 1:2 for that matter. The point, of course, is that even these dead saints in Revelation are still praying the Scripture.

This post could go on for a while because I haven't really even laid out all of my reasons for believing these things or the reasons why I think we should pray the Scripture. And by 'pray the Scripture' I do not only mean using the language of Scripture but I mean literally praying through it. That is, opening up a book of the Bible and literally praying it's words back to the Father–kind of like we do when we recite the Lord's prayer. Like I said, this post could go on for a while and I want to end it for now. Suffice it to say, in conclusion, that I think perhaps it would do us well to dig deeper into the Scripture as congregations. Our lives as members of the church should be centered around the Scripture. Scripture should be read frequently from the pulpit. Scripture should be sung. Scripture should be read as part of the worship. Scripture should be prayed. Scripture should be preached. Scripture should be read privately and publicly.

I hear the words of Amos the prophet:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will send a famine through the land–not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it" (8:11-12).

I get this. I think it's going on right now and is evidenced in the prayers we pray.

ImagesTitle: Simply Jesus:  A New Vision of Who He was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Author: N.T. Wright

Publisher: HarperOne

Year: 2011

Pages: 240

I am typically disinclined to give an N.T.Wright book a poor review. I'm not going to start doing so here. That's not to say I have no criticisms; I do. But I really have a difficult time understanding why so many folks get their pants in a wad when it comes to Wright's work.

Every now and again an author comes along on our planet who understands that deep inside the human heart there is a profound emptiness–an emptiness that cannot and will not ever be filled by the things this world has to offer or withhold. What I think N.T. Wright does is points his readers in the direction where that emptiness, that intellectual, spiritual, psychological void, can be filled. But he doesn't do so in the way of so many other authors–where Jesus is a mere helper who teaches folks how to be a good American. Many theologians are just that: therapists or counselors. That is, they have an eye for the great God of the universe, but very little idea of how that great God has effectively taken back this world. Oh, yes, God is sovereign, they say, but only in some sort of strange and controlling way that most folks can scarcely relate to or understand. Thus the stories of the Gospels, the Old Testament, Acts, and the Epistles are merely the stories a good counselor might tell a patient: here's how to pray, here's how to be compassionate, here's how to have a good marriage, or here's what Jesus said about conservative (or liberal!) American politics.

Wright will have none of that. His is the voice not of a counselor or therapist who sics Jesus on a would be patient who is having a bad day or a bad year or a bad life. N.T. Wright is the voice of the prophet crying out in the wilderness: here is your King! So the subtitle, a 'new vision,' is not entirely accurate because what Wright is really doing is pointing us back to what has always been there but what has been covered over by so much encrustation and (wrong) theology in the 2,000 or so years since Jesus walked among us. If Wright is doing anything he is chiseling away the barnacles that have been built up around the Scripture–barnacles I suppose that may have at one time been designed to protect the Bible but that in more recent years have been thickened over in order to protect a theological and/or political system from scrutiny. It is this action of Wright that I suspect lends many folks to label him a theological liberal. To wit:

We have reduced the Kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself. (5)

This is the point in a nutshell. And sermons that do little more than teach me how to be a good Christian or worse a good American (complete with the requisite 'special worship services' on significant holidays) do nothing for me. I want to hear about Jesus and what he has and is doing to upbraid the world and bring about his rule and reign. This is why I read N.T. Wright over and over and over again. He shows me Jesus. "We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world!" (5) And so right he is.

Wright has a way of making God understandable, but certainly not palatable in the 'I'm now comfortable with this God' kind of way, to everyone and I don't really care if you are reading his lofty theologies or if you are reading his 'made for the popular reader' books. He challenges readers at every step of their presuppositions. He confounds them at every point of their preconceptions. He unravels every blanket of theological safety they believe they have wrapped themselves up into. He does this in such a way that, you might not believe me unless you read it, neither political (or theological) conservatives nor liberals come out unscathed. And, frankly, this is so because Jesus spared no such pain to anyone either. Jesus is the King. God is taking back the world. Get on board or get left behind, but there is nothing anyone can do to stop Jesus from being King and, in Wright's words, 'setting things to rights.'

Simply Jesus is another of Wright's books that does so much the same. He places Jesus firmly in the context of his culture and is quite content to interpret the New Testament within that context. And let me be frank: that's exactly where Jesus ought to be interpreted. Preachers spend far, far too much time trying making Jesus 'relevant.' I say leave Jesus in the first century, understand what his words and actions meant then and there, and then figure out how that works out in words and actions in our own time and place. But here's the key: Jesus' words and actions really have one meaning and purpose. Preachers around about our times have made Jesus far too predictable. "Blessed are those who can see this, who can spot what's going on, who are prepared to go with Jesus rather than with the princelings of the earth, even though what Jesus wasn't what they had expected" (84).

The only quibble I have with Wright, in general (and as it particularly pertains to Simply Jesus), is his take on the event of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent war afterwards. I fully understand that, ultimately, our battle is against the satan. Yes! (See pp 126ff.) With this I find no disagreement. I have no doubt that the satan uses people and powers to his/her own end. Yes! But he writes, "It is the battle against the satan himself. And, though the satan no doubt uses Rome, uses Herod, uses even the chief priests themselves, Jesus keeps his eye on the fact that the satan is not identified with any of these, and that to make such an identification is already to give up, and so to lose the real battle" (126). But Wright appears to mitigate human responsibility when he says such things. Maybe I'm not reading closely enough; maybe I'm reading too closely. I'm not sure.

That is, I'm not sure how to understand Wright when he accuses (!) the U.S. government in power during 9/11 (a conservative government, to be sure; yet a government that passed bi-partisan legislation authorizing the sword) and fails to see what those who might otherwise be labeled 'enemies' did to provoke the U.S. government (and many nations around the world besides, including his own!) He is fond of Romans 8; not so fond of Romans 13. I think this is bothersome. He is fond of criticizing the United States (and not so subtly George W. Bush) but eschews criticism of other governments who were also involved in action against those who attacked the U.S.A on September 11, 2001. Here I think Wright is unable to make the correct theological connection and fails to understand the difference between a secular government charged with responsibility to protect its citizens (Romans 13 and elsewhere) and an ecclesial authority not authorized to use the sword ('put your sword away', Jesus said to Peter).

In my opinion, Wright makes a serious error here. Yes, war is bad. Yes, we should avoid it. But the truth is this: in international politics, in global politics, the ethics of the kingdom of God are not always so neat and tidy or evenly applied or understood or appreciated or cared for. Ask one of the folks who flew an airplane into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 if he cares a lick about what Jesus said about war, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. I'm not sure what the answer is; I'm not sure Wright's ongoing criticism of the United States government (he rarely says anything about the current government of Barack Obama) is wholly justified. I do know this: the radicals who continue to kill (women, children), main, murder, and provoke wars in the name of God are not the same as those folks who take up the sword to defend women, children, the weak, and others whose daily goal is simply to live life. Is it fair to apply a biblical standard of ethics (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc.) to a secular government?

The reality of this life is this: sometimes evil does have a face. Sometimes evil is more than an invisible being or force. Sometimes evil does have a name and we do well to name it as such. I'm not suggesting I have all this worked out, and at times (like when Jesus looked at Peter and commanded Satan to get behind) I am stretched too thin to wholly justify my position. What I am suggesting is that Wright's position at this point is weak and, in my opinion, mitigates human culpability. Suggesting there are no evil people really fails to understand the full workings of evil and the evil one in this world.

I can go on and on telling you how important this book, along with any other by Wright, is. I could tell you that Wright is at his best when he is engaging the text and tying together all the threads he is remarkably twisted from so much ancient history and text. I could tell you of his masterful understanding and application of Daniel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. I could tell you about his superior interpretation of the historical events from the time of Jesus. But to what end? Those who have read Wright already know and those who haven't will not be disappointed.

I have read enough of Wright's work to see and know that a lot of what is in this book is repetitive. How God Became King is a similar, and in my opinion, superior book by Wright. His monumental Jesus and the Victory of God is a much expanded and academic version of Simply Jesus that may appeal to more detail oriented readers. Simply Jesus kind of distills a lot of what is written in the academic volumes to a more popular level; it is no less potent.

The person who knows Jesus will appreciate very much Wright's work to interpret Jesus within his own context. The historical details Wright brings to our attention, the cultural phenomena of the time, the complexities of would be messiahs, revolutionaries, and temple authorities, and the sophistication and intrigue of secular politics are all woven together nicely and interpreted brilliantly to help the reader see that God's plan has always been the same: to reclaim the earth for himself through his appointed Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God.

And God wins.

4/5 stars (because he has written better versions of these thoughts elsewhere and it gets repetitive, and because I struggle with his interpretation of evil and his seeming inability to distinguish the role of a secular government in protecting innocent people from the forces of evil at play in this world.)

The-word-of-the-LordTitle: The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets

Author: Nancie Guthrie

Publisher: Crossway

Year: 2014

Pages: 272

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament

[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book (e-book) via Crossway Publishers online. I was not required to write a positive review and I was not compensated in any way.]

Back in 2010 the publishers of Modern Reformation magazine decided to devote an entire magnanimous year to Scripture. Eric Landry wrote in an editorial, "The theme for this year was born out of the conviction that we all need to recover Scripture: in our churches, in our devotional lives, as the source of our theology, and as the living voice of God today" (MR, Jan/Feb 2010).

I actually happen to agree with Landry even if there are a plethora of points at which we might disagree concerning just how such a task might come about in our time. His thought reminds me of a young kind just ascended to the throne of Judah who wanted to make things right in the land. So he started with temple repairs when he was in the 18th year of his reign. Yet it was something else that ended up being the catalyst for renewal he was looking for. While the workers were working the high priest, Hilkiah, said, "I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord." Well, to be sure, it's not like the Book of the Law had ever been far from anyone, let alone the priest. And it has always struck me as odd that the book was 'found' just around the time the king asked for repairs to the temple, but that's another story.

My point is that here in America, not one of us is far from the Word of God and yet I suspect that most of us are a couple of miles away. Yet here we are in a land where more Bibles are sold on a yearly basis than we can scarcely imagine–and the publishing houses reap a windfall in Bible sales. Really it's a shame, but I suppose it is what it is.

This is all so much segue into my thoughts on Nancy Guthrie's book The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets. What disturbs me about many of the books I read and review from Christian publishers is that the books typically claim to be about the Bible and then it turns out that the Bible is merely pepper on the pages, if we are lucky. What I like about Guthrie's book is that it is Scripture–front to back. She really digs deep and I appreciated it. She leaves no stone unturned and tackles hard questions that the prophets raise for readers.

This is not to say that I find perfect doctrine on every page nor is it to say that I particularly agree with every point she happens to make. There are times when I found the writing to be a little on the self-centered-American side. There are times when I found that she had a broader, more comprehensive swath of the church in mind. There were times when she fell into cliche and other times when she was downright prophetic like when she wrote this about God's word to a powerful king from Babylon: "He put impressive power and progress into perspective for us. The final word of history does not lie with a new and improved version of man or anything he has made or accomplished. Rather, it lies with something radical: a rock not hewn by human hands. This stone is going to put an end to Babylon and all successive powers, while establishing a kingdom that will fill the whole earth and never be destroyed" (158, NOOK version).

Those could very well be the best words in the book, the most powerful words in the book. I think that this is when Guthrie is at her best in this book: when she is writing as the prophets she is reading. I think she is at her worst when she is trying to persuade us of a theological system and this is, frankly, because the Scripture itself is not trying to persuade us of a particular theological formulation. It's trying to persuade us of what she wrote on page 158: The final word of history does not lie with a new and improved version of man or anything he has made or accomplished. I hear echoes of CS Lewis in this and I'm glad I here them: "For mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man" (Mere Christianity, 182).

And this we learn about in the Scripture: that it is God's work, in and through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, that makes new people. In my opinion, Guthrie does a beautiful task of drawing our attention to this Jesus as he appears in the prophets of the Old Testament.

All in all, I like this book very much. I don't think this is the sort of book one sits down and reads straight through–as I did for review purposes. I think this is a book that one must take their time reading: slowly, quietly, and thoughtfully. I do believe, however, that if one reads this book in such a way they will be blessed by the richness of God's Word and the depths to which Guthrie has mined it.

So much Bible prophecy is misunderstood because it is read under the covers with only a quick peek every now and again to see if God is watching. Or, worse, they are read by folks looking for clues about the future and all such 'end of the world' type stuff. But there is a passage in Luke's Gospel, near the end, which gives us an insight into a better way of reading the prophets: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27; see also 24:44 and Acts 8). Here is the key to interpreting all prophetic utterance: it points to Jesus. I think Guthrie gets it right in this book. Again, we may quibble about specific points, but by and large, she gets it; she nails it; she reads the prophets as they are meant to be read.

I think Eric Landry was on to something 4 or so years ago when he suggested we needed to recover the Word of God. We need each and every person who calls on the name of the Lord to start taking the Scripture a little more seriously. Turn off the TV preachers. Turn off the TV 'prophets'. Throw away the worthless books about Me. And just start reading the Bible again. Like Josiah did. Like Nancy Guthrie did.

You will like this book.

5/5 Stars

Four-Views-on-the-Historical-AdamTitle: Four Views on the Historical Adam

Authors:

Publisher: Zondervan

Year: 2013

Pages: 289 (e-book)

Additional Information:

Counterpoints: Bible & Theology Logos Software

General Editors: Ardel B. Caneday | Matthew Barrett

[I was provided with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased and fair review. On another note, the government spends too much time worrying about what books I read and get for free. Thank you.]

I have provided plenty of links for you, the reader, to do your own research into this book because I have a particular point of view on this sort of work that may or may not be particularly helpful. To be sure, I read an 'uncorrected proof for review purposes' which is a bit frustrating because page numbers in references appear as (ooo) which is kind of annoying.

The book is laid out in a fairly manageable format. There is a lengthy introduction by the series editors (Barrett and Caneday) which explains the format and lays out some preliminary observations such as historical background, history of debates, and the various points of view that the authors will subsequently take up in the bulk of the text. Next comes the presentation of the four authors' points of view. Each author presents his view which is followed by responses from the other three authors and, finally, a rejoinder from the original author. I'm not sure if there was a reason for the order in which the various views are presented but they seem to follow from the most 'liberal' (Lamoureux) to the most 'conservative' (Barrick) with the two 'fence straddlers' (Walton & Collins; it's probably unfair to call them 'straddlers'; their positions are as robust as the others) resting in the middle of the sandwich. Finally, pastoral reflections are offered (Boyd & Ryken) representing a broad spectrum of opinion of how these various points of view might affect the church. Surprisingly, this is a debate left entire to the male point of view–that is, no women have left their mark on these pages. Not surprisingly, Boyd takes the more 'liberal' post and Ryken the more 'conservative.'

I should start off right away by noting that Lamoureux's point of view holds no sway with me whatsoever. When an author has to continually defend himself against the charge, imagined or otherwise, that he is saying 'God lied' or that 'Scripture cannot be trusted' then there is a serious problem. On the other hand, Lamoureux, out of all the authors, probably holds to the most literal reading of the book of Genesis even though he doesn't believe a word of Genesis 1-11 to represent anything close to a historical record. This is strange. I never cease to be amazed at those who hold to evolution as a means antithetical to pure ex nihilo creation. They always remind us that they find the evidence 'for evolution is overwhelming' (40). What is amazing is that so many equally trained theologians and scientists find the evidence underwhelming. Frankly, I decided a while ago that I will no longer live in fear of evolution or those who teach it. In my opinion God is a big God and doesn't need me to get all worked up about defending him or what he has done. I'm fairly certain Lamoureux is the only author who felt the need to talk about his academic credentials and, to be sure, much of his article is autobiographical–another defense mechanism.

I think the problem, for me, is that Lamoureux believes that Genesis 1-11 is merely indicative of the way God talks to humans. His evidence is that this is how Jesus talked to his disciples: "The Lord himself accommodated in His teaching ministry by using parables" (54). Honestly I think this is a rather poor understanding of why Jesus spoke using parables; furthermore, the parables were not merely "earthly stories [meant] to deliver inerrant heavenly messages" (54). This is a shallow and rather naive way of understanding parables and, to be sure, has nothing to do with the way God talked to people through Genesis. What I find amazing is the utter lack of faith Lamoureux has in Scripture. This is evident in that he really doesn't seem to get that the Holy Spirit had quite a lot to do with the actual final composition of the original autographs and, I would venture to assume, their translation and transmission to future generations. I'm not sure he gets this or if he does if he just rejects it as more unreliable biblical rhetoric. It is hard to tell at times.

 At the end of each author's presentation there is a hefty response from the other writers of the book. It's all fairly typical, as one might expect, with this type of book. Of course every author has a point of view, of course he defends it, of course others tear apart his arguments, and of course there's all sorts of moving 'what-a-great-guy-he-is' kind of comments. There is much mutual respect, in other words, except that there is some obvious tension between Lamoureux and Barrick. This is how it goes page after page. Honestly, the four points of view are not terribly difficult to understand and the responses are largely predictable. And even though the book is about four views of the historical Adam when it's all said and done there's really only two: you either believe he was a real, historical figure; or you don't. The book really revolves around the points of view concerning creation mechanisms (and various theories about the 'days' in Genesis) and how these points of view impact readings of later Scripture.

I enjoyed reading the responses from the pastors at the end of the book the most and I enjoyed Greg Boyd's best of the two if for nothing else because I think it captured the spirit of his assignment ('pastoral reflections') the best. Ryken wrote a fine reflection, but I thought he focused less on the pastoral implications and more on the theological implications of whatever view one chooses to adopt. 

Every author has something to contribute to the discussion (even though Lamoureux's view, in my opinion, lacks teeth). No one has it perfectly right and no one is absolutely wrong–which is evident by the responses. Frankly, there is a lot of agreement among the authors and this is healthy. It shows that the debate isn't as scary as one might think. It demonstrates that there can be a variety of orthodoxy amongst Christians and that satisfying and healthy debates are indeed possible. It seems to me that any of these men would stand up for one of the others if the debate were to include a die-hard, dyed in the wool atheistic evolutionist. Of this I have no doubt.

The evolution/creation debate is interesting and, sadly, ongoing. There will never be resolution to this discussion this side of the new heavens and new earth. The main question of this book is: does there need to be a real historical Adam in order for the Bible (Lamoureux believes 'real' biblical history starts in Genesis 12) to be true with respect to redemptive history? According to the book, yes and no. Whatever side of the debate the reader happens to side with, this much is true: all of the authors point us to Jesus. We may not necessarily agree with the path they take through Scripture to arrive at Jesus, but they all get there. For this I am glad. At times, however, I do wonder if perhaps we have carried on this debate long enough. It could be that it is time to move on to weightier matters and perhaps see how it is that we can take care of the earth we have been given whether by a Creator or through evolution. That is a different paper altogether.

This is a helpful volume. I don't think it adds anything new to the debate (as far as evidence, one way or the other, is concerned) and those who are well versed in the history and literature of the creation/evolution debate will find the book rather redundant and tired at points. Newcomers to the debate will find this a worthy volume that will help them sort through some of their early questions (about the debate) and develop some clear thinking on certain issues (such as the theological implications of there not being a historical person named Adam). They might even be persuaded to change their minds at certain points. Seasoned readers probably won't find much challenging and will probably only find their a priori arguments bolstered by fresh looks at Scripture (esp. Genesis; I think all four authors contributed some stunning ideas about Genesis even if, again, I didn't happen to agree with all the conclusions they arrived at from the evidence) and repetition of old arguments.

I give this book 3.5/5 Stars and recommend it for readers who are newer to the conversation.

*My page numbers may not align exactly. I read an draft version (.pdf) on my Nook and sometimes the pages and numbering are adjusted later.

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Four Views on the Historical Adam

Book-Review-James-Hamilton-What-is-Biblical-TheologyTitle: What is Biblical Theology?

Author: James M. Hamilton, jr.

Publisher: Crossway

Year: 2014

Pages: 130 (e-book)

Additional: For His Renown

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my fair and honest review of the the book What is Biblical Theology? I hope this clears up any confusion.]

Happily, this book was a quick and not terribly difficult read. I took me all of an evening at home to read it on my Nook. The Nook format is very nicely finished. The cover is in nice color and the pages are a nice soft yellowish color which makes it easy on the eyes. The paragraphs are nicely space and the font face is easy to read. I am grateful to Crossway for making this volume available on their available books list.

Unfortunately for authors, the content of a book review cannot rest on the aesthetic value of the book. If that were the case, anyone with a copy of a nice publishing software could write a book. So we must press on an examine the content of the book and see how our author handled his material.

I will note first of all that what I appreciated most about this book is that I hear echoes of other authors/theologians/preachers I have listened to in the past. For example, I have listened to a number of lectures on the Old Testament by Dr John Currid (a lecturer with Reformed Theological Seminary among other things) and I found that Hamiliton's thoughts often align very nicely with what Currid has taught about such things as typology and seeing the 'big' picture in Scripture. Other times I thought I was reading something written by NT Wright. His 'five episodes in the Bible's plot' (p 28) sound very much like Wright's '5-Act hermeneutic' (I think Wright's is superior, but Hamilton's is not without considerable value; see Scripture and the Authority of God, p 124-125; also his reliance upon Isaiah 11:9 as kind of an overarching theme in the book echoes Wright.) And finally, his idea about the world being a 'cosmic temple' sounds very much like John Sailhamer (Genesis) and John Walton (Lost World of Genesis 1.)

Now my point is not that Hamilton is unoriginal or anything of that sort. Rather, it is to demonstrate that the points he makes in his text are solidly grounded in scholarship and have been echoed by others. For me, as a reader and a theologian, I love this. I love when I am reading an author and I see him/her develop the ideas of others and incorporate shadows of that work in their own. This was my first experience with Hamilton so to know that I have seen/heard his ideas elsewhere by scholars with whom I have far more experience, is a sign of security: I can trust this author's ideas even if they do not perfectly align with my own or others. He's on the right track and that matters.

Another thing this tells me is that the author is not afraid to interact with the ideas of others and to allow them to seep into his own work. I appreciate that there are certain aspects of this book where the author demonstrates his humility toward his understanding and application of the Scripture. That being said, I did not appreciate the author's (almost) continuous use of words like 'apparently,' 'appears,' and 'it seems.' Frankly the over-abundance of such qualifiers was a huge distraction and disrupted the flow of the author's thoughts. I have no problem with an author saying flat out what he or she thinks about a text, but just say it and let be what will be. I'd rather a little more authority in the book than less. If I disagree with the author, I disagree. The attempt to mitigate disagreement by using qualifiers is frustrating (see especially chapter 5) and annoying.

I have a couple other minor complaints about the book and, to be sure, these are probably merely stylistic preferences. First, I'm not really sure this book is about Biblical Theology in the strictest sense of the meaning. The author defines the purpose of biblical theology as the aim to 'understand and embrace the worldview of the biblical authors' (13). He then tells us he will use the phrase 'biblical theology' to 'refer to the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors' (15). He elaborates:

…by the phrase biblical theology I mean the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses. (14-15)

So my point is this: I think the book might be a little mis-titled. I think what Hamilton is describing in the book are the clues, hints, literary techniques, and things that might be used to develop a biblical theology. Don't get me wrong. There are hints of what might be described as theology proper–such as the last four chapters where he writes about the church. From what I can tell, however, the book is not giving us a drive to a theology proper, but rather a scenic drive through the country where he  points us to various landmarks and signposts that will help us develop a proper biblical theology. To that end, I think the book is absolutely outstanding.

And he's correct: typology is an important signpost; patterns are important signposts; the 'big plot' is of major importance; symbols are important; imagery is important; understanding the narrative flow of the Bible is important. Nevertheless, these are the signposts we look for along the way which help us develop a biblical theology. (I know, he gives away his intentions in the sub-title of the book: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Again, I don't think there is any intention of misleading readers, I just think he answers the question in the first chapter.

Second, I thought the book was a little too full of cliched language. I'm not going to dwell on this point except to say that even for a popular level reading there was too much 'christianese'. In order for the book to have more appeal to a wider audience, I think some of this could stand to be cleaned up a bit. Again this might be a matter of stylistic preference.

In conclusion, I will note a couple of the book's more salient and outstanding points to ponder.

First, Hamilton makes this statement on page 30: "Israel's prophets used the paradigm of Israel's past to predict Israel's future" (30). This is a significant feature of the Bible's story and it can be traced over and over again through the Scripture. Hamilton does well to highlight this for his readers. Seeing this pattern repeat itself time and time again in the Scripture allows the reader to have a glimpse at what God's plans are for this world and for what we might call the future. Creation. Sin. Exile. Redemption. Re-creation. The pattern continues to repeat itself and so we might ask where we are now and what God has planned for us, the church? (Hint: Revelation 21-22 gives important clues. Hamilton writes about this in Chapter 5: The Mystery.) Furthermore, it's not only in the narrative sections where we find this pattern being exposed: "We are not the first to attempt to read these promises in light of the patterns. The biblical authors of the Psalms and the Prophets have blazed this trail for us" (33). I agree.

Second, Hamilton writes, "Don't make this harder than it needs to be. Read the Bible. A lot (81).* I happen to think this is one of the better things he writes in the book. It comes up every so often, the idea of 'biblical illiteracy' among Christians. One author recently went so far as to say we are facing a 'crisis' of biblical illiteracy. It's probably too true. So I am pleased with the way that Hamilton ended his tome. Sometimes I have this sneaking suspicion that we take the Bible for granted here in America. If we are ever going to solve the problems the church currently faces we are going to have to find a way to get people more involved in the Word–and it starts with those in the pulpit. 

This is a helpful book for newer believers. I don't agree with all of his teachings (his thoughts about all 'living Jews' seeing, believing, etc., p 41). I didn't quite get all of his anecdotes (the way he told the story of Gene and Phineas (ch 6). Nevertheless, this is a short, helpful volume that will help newer believers work their way through some of the more challenging ideas in Scripture and lay a good foundation for future, more in depth Bible studies. Understanding the big picture, seeing patterns, and understanding how literary devices like typology and imagery work within a Biblical text will provide useful to the new reader of Scripture. Thinking about how the church fits into these patterns will also prove useful and may provide a wake-up call for churches stuck in the mire of mediocrity.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

*My page numbers may not be exact. For some reason the Nook does page numbers in a strange way. Check your own volume for exact references.