Archive for the ‘Scripture’ Category
I 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.
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
Publisher: Baker Academic
Kindle Price: $14.57
[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.
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.
Another of my theme verses during this Lenten season is Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and please to God–this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Like the passage I noted from Hebrews 12 here, this verse begins with the word 'therefore' which indicates that what came before it must have led to the conclusions that are about to follow. In this case, at minimum, from chapter 8 on (where we also see a section led with the word 'therefore') we must consider that the present verse (12:1) serves as a conclusion or 'so here's what you ought to do with your life' kind of verse. "If everything I said previously is true, then, therefore…" And so it goes.
And chapters 1-8 are heavy, heavy teaching.
Therefore….offer yourselves to God. In view of God's mercy–'For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all' (11:32)–offer yourselves back to God. Give yourselves over to him. Make a sacrifice back to God–of yourselves. Offer yourselves to God…your bodies. This is the first step. I don't think it means that we are literally to die; I don't think it means we are not literally to die.
I wake up each day and I wonder about what life means and how I am going to manage yet another day…especially after yesterday. The thing is, living sacrifices have a tendency to crawl off the altar. I think the thing here is this: we have to be continually offering ourselves to God. Even after we crawl off the altar. We have to get right back up on top and bring the knife down again. I think anyone reading this, anyone reading who takes Jesus seriously, will agree that dying to the self is very, very difficult. We continue to struggle.
One of the hardest things for me to recognize and confess is this: I will always be a sinner. This will never change as long as I am encased in this corrupt flesh. What can I do? I'm starting to really understand this constant struggle….this wanting to be near Jesus every minute…and knowing every same minute that I am a sinner and that I will continually fall, fail, and forget that I want to be near Jesus every minute. We are walking paradoxes. It probably doesn't bother us enough that we are to worship God in this way–you know, asked to offer ourselves as living sacrifices who are prone to crawl off the altar.
Living. This is key, isn't it? We are to die each day we are living. I take this to mean that every second after we fail is another second we have to offer ourselves back to God. So long as we are alive…living…we are to offer ourselves to him; holy and pleasing.
So Paul goes on to write this, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
There are a lot of ideas floating around the world just now–as there always has been. It is very easy to just go with the current and conform to the thought patterns and processes in this world. It is very easy to succumb to the valueless values of this world. It is very easy to give up and become another drone forgetting to whom we belong. And every single minute of every single day our minds are bombarded with the latest philosophy or idea that is making the rounds. I am finding that, frankly, all of this clouds my mind and makes understanding God's will profoundly difficult. So much media, day in, day out is stifling me. If I may be honest, it is killing me slowly because the brain is flexible and susceptible to conform to whatever we allow into it.
This is the problem…the same problem I think when it comes to prayer (I mentioned this in another post). If we are not allowing our minds to be filled with truth, then our minds will become full of lies and the only language we will know how to speak is lies. If we never fill our minds with the Word of God then our prayers will be little more than 'thank you God for the day and thank you for keeping us safe and bless the gift and giver' kind of prayers (these are good thoughts, yes, but there is a lot more we can pray about, don't you agree?). I know what my problem is: my mind knows a lot of Scripture, but my mind is not saturated with it. My mind is filled with a lot of words of God, but I'm not thinking about it deeply enough day in and day out.
I understand all too well how easily how the day in day out business of living crowds out all thoughts of holiness and righteousness. Dare I say that we have to make the effort, we have to create space, it is imperative that we make time each day to renew our minds with the Word of God. We conform to the world when all we take in all day long is the world, but when we allow something contrary to the world, something diametrically opposed to 'the world,' to break in from the outside our minds then start to become renewed. Frankly I don't think we can survive very long if all we are doing is taking in the world. "Did God really say?" I recall it was Jesus who won the battle we constantly lose precisely because his mind was saturated with the Word of God.
We might have to put something else away if we find ourselves losing more often than we are winning. We might have to stop with all the input from the world and dedicate more and more time to the Word of the Lord. We might need to carry a Bible with us and read it at work. Or add the app to our phones so we can read it.
Why do you think the Psalmist wrote, "Blessed are those…who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2). It's this person who meditates day and night who prospers–and by prospers I think he means what Paul wrote in Romans 12: this person is able to test and approve God's will. This is also what Moses told the people of Israel in his great sermon Deuteronomy:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9; see also Deuteronomy 11:16-21)
I'm reading this book called God in the Whirlwind by David F Wells. Part of the early pages of the book were dedicated to exploring something similar to what I'm talking about here in this blog. "It is Scripture alone," he writes, "that is God-breathed and, therefore, it is the source of our knowledge of God. Is it not entirely sufficient, then, for all we need to know about God and his character?" (17) He then goes on to answer his question this way:
The answer, of course, is that Scripture is indeed sufficient. However, there is a proviso here. Scripture will prove sufficient if we are able to receive from it all that God has put into it. That, though, is not as simple as it sounds. The reason lies in what Paul says elsewhere. We are to 'be transformed by the renewal' of our minds–which is surely what happens when we take hold of the truth God has given us in his Word–but also, he says, we are not to be 'conformed to the world.' The shaping of our live is to come from Scripture and not from culture. We are to be those in whom truth is the internal drive and worldly horizons and habits are not. It is always sola Scriptura and it should never be sola cultura…Being transformed also means being unconformed. (17)
All of our ideas and thoughts are to be formed and shaped and daily renewed by our intimate contact, study, memorization, and meditation upon the Word of God. I confess my own failure. There is a huge difference between knowing the Word of God and depending upon it second by second. I think to dig deeper into these thoughts, but I suppose for now it is enough to know these things, to stop writing, and open my Bible.
Maybe you should too.
[Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of The Daniel Plan in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of the book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review. So, there you go.]
I'm sitting in my study tonight enjoying some music, playing a game on my NOOK, and enjoying a fine adult beverage–which is loaded with carbs and calories and was probably made from the sorts of things that the authors of The Daniel Plan would advise me to eschew. I'm actually fine with that. It seems to me that the key to living, and enjoying life, is moderation. But let's be honest: most Americans would just as soon cut their leg off than to practice moderation.
This is a long book. A very long book. It is all of the 261 pages of text about the Five Essentials (Faith, Food, Fitness, Focus, and Friends.) One would think it would be a quick and rather whimsical read, but it wasn't. It was boring. The remainder of the pages (263-346) are filled with recipes, fitness plans, meal plans, detox charts, and more. Really, it is terribly boring reading–even the multitude of personal testimonies marked off in green text boxes gives the book very little depth because all the testimonies are, predictably, supportive of the wonders of the Daniel Plan. I'm not suggesting the authors should have included negative testimonies; that would defeat the purpose. I am suggesting they could have eliminated most of them and the reader would not have missed anything.
I'm going to just cut to the chase, so to speak, in this review. Rick Warren is very popular and has written several books that have been remarkably helpful to thousands of people around the world. This is a fact no one disputes–well, except for some online 'ministries' who think it their job to police the church. I'm not concerned about Rick Warren as an individual nor is it my objective here to review him. I will review the book. The Daniel Plan is the third of Warren's books I have read and the same problem I had with the first two is the problem I have with this one: I dislike to the nth degree the way he uses Scripture to suit his own agenda. And with this book it starts with the title and gets worse.
Let's be honest: the Old Testament book of Daniel has absolutely nothing to do with what 'a healthier lifestyle' and frankly it is simply pastorally irresponsible to suggest that it does. Yes, in chapter 1 of Daniel, Daniel and his three friends refuse to eat the king's provisions and instead consume only vegetables and water. The next verse says, "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds" (1:17). The emphasis is on what God did, not on the reasons why Daniel and his friends went on the peculiar diet in the first place.
This is how Warren consistently uses Scripture. He quotes it piecemeal–as if that is how the Bible was written. A verse here, a verse there; a particular translation that renders a verse with just such language that it suits Warren's thesis. It's old and tired. Just once I'd like Warren to write a book where he deals with a whole text–say, a book length church program about the church living in exile and what the Bible says to us about keeping in stride with Jesus all while focusing on one book of the Bible, from one translation, and with clear theological exposition of the book. But that is just not what I get from Warren's books. It is disappointing. And if I might say one final thing about this point, it would be this: his use of Scripture is, in my opinion, dangerous because it betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Scripture. That is, it may not necessarily be wrong, but neither is it necessarily right. It really fails, at a significantly deep level, the grapple with the hard truth of the Bible. The Bible isn't necessarily interested in better people, but new people. Books like The Daniel Plan might make us thinner, healthier, and better. They will not necessarily make us new.
As much as I hate to say it, Warren is a master of abusing context to make Scripture match his ends.
As for the rest of the book, what can I say? There are those who agree; there are those who disagree. I've read other reviews suggesting his take on wheat and gluten and other grains is wholly off base. I disagree that the diet plan suggested in the book is affordable. Whole foods and organic foods are incredibly expensive and the meals they suggest we prepare for our families probably are not entirely realistic for families where both adults work full-time. I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that people who are already in a financial position to eat the sort of foods suggested are going to have a much easier time following through than people who are not.
A couple of final points. First, I disagree that red meats 'should be cooked medium rare or medium' (146). I think this is a matter of taste. Second: "That is why we believe that once The Daniel Plan is embraced by the faith community, it will spread the gospel of health and change through America and the world" (148). Well, there you go. This is a worldwide initiative. I can think of a few other things the church ought to embrace–but this is a 'faith community' initiative not necessarily a church initiative.
Here's the bottom line: I am sure The Daniel Plan has helped a lot of people. I am sure there is nothing in it that is entirely unhelpful. I am sure it is a radical thing for the 'faith community' to embrace. I am sure it is somewhat countercultural. I am sure getting healthy is a good thing that many of us in the church need to think about–especially in America where our poor are among the wealthiest people in the world. Rick Warren continues to produce books that are meaningful to a large portion of the population and that make a lot of money for his publishers. (There's a whole line of The Daniel Plan products including journals, apps, exercise gear, etc.)
As far as content is concerned, I'm indifferent. It's nothing more than another in a long line of lifestyle books on the market. Strangely enough we have a market for these books in America where we have everything we need. Others can testify to the medical content of the book; although, I have read reviews that suggest he is misguided on the issue of wheat, grains, gluten and other things. (And I might add that I don't trust Dr Oz who happens to be a proponent of the content of this book.)
But I'm not going to pretend for a minute that this book has done any justice to Scripture and I'm not going to pretend that just because it was written by a Christian preacher that it necessarily has anything to do with faith in Jesus. The 'faith community' is where it's at for this book–whatever faith that may be.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1 ESV)
Title: Plain Faith
Author(s): Irene & Ora Jay Eash with Tricia Goyer
[Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of Plain Faith by Zondervan in exchange for my faith and unbiased review. I hope that helps clear up any confusion.]
I'm going to go out on a limb and break my book review tradition by stating upfront how I feel about this book: I loved it!! This is a book that I will definitely read again and will share with others too. In fact, I cannot wait for my wife to read it and my landlord.
I live in a rural community in the southernish part of Ohio. We are surrounded on all sides by Amish folks and their families. In fact, two out of my three years teaching I have had a young Amish girl as a student. The community where we live is largely populated by Mennonites and there is a fairly large Mennonite congregation about 500 yards from our rented house. Living in this community has given us a new perspective on simplicity and quietude. After reading this book, maybe some of my opinions will change.
There is a verse in the Bible that reads thus: "As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields see for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:10-11). I intend someday that this verse will be inscribed on my headstone because it is the very foundation upon which I constructed my ministry when I used to be a preacher. The problem I believe we have in our world today is that most preachers simply do not believe it. So concerned are they with growth, so concerned are they with ideas, so concerned are they with themselves they fail to have the simplest of faith in the unadulterated, unfiltered word of God. Does that sound too simple? Does it make no sense that if a preacher stood up on Sunday morning and simply read from Scripture that the congregation would go home filled and satisfied? Is that too naive?
"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near" (Revelation 1:3). It seems to me that the Scripture is powerful to effect such results that we can scarcely imagine. Yet we think we have to be so innovative and imaginative in order to 'get results'–I'm not sure yet what the word 'results' means just yet–but that's what I constantly see from leadership gurus: get results! results matter!
Well this is all so much of a rant to say that this book proves exactly the opposite is true. It tells the story of a man and a woman, Amish, who were thrust into a wilderness none of us would every wish upon anyone: the death of two of their children. This event in their lives began to reveal the emptiness of their Amish way of life, their Amish way of Christianity, and their Amish way of thinking about the God they claimed to worship. In other words, it thrust them into a wilderness not of their own making and the Enemy, taking every advantage to keep them enveloped in pain and sorrow, kept pressing the issue of their faith. But the enemy is shortsighted and did not foresee what his pressure and chaos would give birth to in their lives.
What may seem at first glance as arbitrary, as pointless, as utterly devoid of anything remotely resembling fairness ended up being the very thing that opened their hearts to a greater and more fuller expression of faith and trust in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. And to think that all of this, happened simply because at some point during their journey they opened up a Bible and started reading for themselves what it said: "As God's Word grew clearer, we found more freedom" (105). They go on:
Even as our eyes were opened, change came slowly over time. Our Amish traditions were deeply ingrained, including the belief that it was by our works that we are saved. But as we read, we saw a little spark of grace. The Word of God came alive, almost as if God was tapping us on the shoulder and saying, 'Take a look at this.' (104)
Isn't that just like God though? They tell the story about getting in trouble for reading the Bible on their own. "Bible reading was for preachers," they were told, and "to read too much was to make one 'wise in their own eyes'" (99). And prayer was "taking pride in your own words" (99). They conclude by writing, "Yet that taste of reading God's Word wasn't something we could shake" (99). Wow. I mean it is amazing that as the book went along they kept seeking and hoping and eventually, naturally, they became who they became. There didn't seem to be anything acting on them save for the Word of God and God's Holy Spirit.
For me this book is far less about their conversion from an Amish way of life–which brought them great struggles as a family–or the tragedy that in its own way served as a catalyst for their exodus and far more about how the Word of God continued to provoke them, prod them, and pursue them down every alley, every struggle, and every step. I was in awe at their development and growth in Scripture and how they continued pleading for their family to see the grace that God was leading them in and to.
This is a remarkable book. I love the alternating style of hearing from both Irene and Ora Jay. I enjoyed reading the letters they sent to family members and the circle group (for greiving families). I enjoyed very much learning about the Amish culture. The main point for me though was simply reading about how the Word of God did exactly what it was sent forth to do: it went back to the Lord with results.
The reader will enjoy this book too. It is a quick read, but not shallow. This is a book to be shared with people who are going through their own struggles with faith. This is a book to be shared with someone who is struggling with the legalism of a church. This is a book for someone who needs encouragement to simply and daily read the Bible. It is packed with raw emotion that is not easily shaken off. In other words, it's a difficult book to put down or to forget. Read this book and marvel at God's mysterious ways, and his amazing Grace.
Title: What is Biblical Theology?
Author: James M. Hamilton, jr.
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.
“I suspect that Jesus spoke many of his parables as a kind of sad and holy joke and that that may be part of why he seemed reluctant to explain them because if you have to explain a joke, you might as well save your breath.”
–Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, 63*
*This is a book you really should acquire and read. Buechner is simply brilliant when it comes to helping us understand the role of preacher.
I have posted new prayer thoughts and homiletical points at A Pastor’s Prayer Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
I have studied through Mark in depth five or six times and taught it in various situations at least four or five times. It is my favorite Gospel of the four perhaps because of it’s quick pace, literary value, and brutal honesty. The Gospel itself is marked (no pun) by the constant use of a small Greek phrase ‘kai euthus’, which means something like ‘and then’ or ‘immediately’ or ‘at once.’ The NIV, as do most translations, I noticed translates it differently so as to give the Gospel ‘flavor’ (although it appears that the NASB is fairly consistent in its use of ‘immediately’). This creates a sense of urgency in the Gospel as if Mark were always in a hurry to get us from one point to the next, never content to leave us lingering too long at one scene. In the overall picture, we know where Mark is in a hurry to get us and by the time we get to the crucifixion the pace has slowed (in my judgment) considerably. He wants us to drink deeply at this point.
The thoughts are from Mark 1 and 2.
I started this blog for the primary purpose of writing 90 days worth of meditations from John’s Gospel. Those meditations coincided with a 4 1/2 month sermon series from the same and were posted here under the heading “90 Days with Jesus”.
We also coordinated our Bible School classes and all ages were taught from the same lessons (adapted of course to each age group). I am currently uploading those files to my box.net account and there they will be freely available to any who so choose top download them.
In this post, I am providing links to the Bible School material. The exegetical notes file consists of 114 pages of variously written notes (many quotes, outlines, etc.) and the lesson pages themselves are provided under separate links. The notes are according to my style and may be unedited or otherwise unfinished. There are 18 total lessons. The chapters I didn’t write a lesson for are covered in the sermon aspect of the series. I will post the sermons in a separate post later. Thanks for stopping by. jerry PS–Let me know if any of the links fail.
The sermons to go along with these Bible School lessons are now available. Click the link: 90 Days with Jesus, John’s Gospel and you will have access to 17 of 18 of the sermons (I have to retype one) and the box.net links. Thanks, jerry
Lesson 1 John 2:1-11
Lesson 2 John 2:12-25
Lesson 3 John 3 :1-21
Lesson 4 John 4:1-54
Lesson 5 John 5:1-47
Lesson 6 John 8:1-30
Lesson 7 John 11:1-57
Lesson 8 John 12:1-19, 37-50
Lesson 9 John 13:1-38
Lesson 10 John 14:1-31
Lesson 11 John 15:1-16:4
Lesson 12 John 16:5-33
Lesson 13 John 17:1-26
Lesson 14 John 18:1-40
Lesson 15 John 19:1-42
Lesson 16 John 20:1-31
Lesson 17 John 21:1-25
Lesson 18 Overview/Review
I finally managed to find my CD copies of my manuscripts from The Dangerous God sermon series of which I have posted a couple of the mp3’s here. I will be posting more of the mp3’s, but for now I would like to provide you with the sermon manuscripts. These sermons are filled with quotes from authors like David Wells, PT Forsyth, Mark Buchanan, Philip Yancey and more. Expository sermons from the lives of Gideon, David, Joshua, the disciples and more. I hope they are a help to you.
Dangerous God, pt 2: 1 Samuel 17:1-58, The God Who Does Greater with Smaller
Dangerous God, pt 3: Joshua 1:1-18; 5:13-27, The God Who Does the Impossible with the Improbable
Dangerous God, pt 4: Matthew 1:18-25, Revelation 12, The God Who Enters Chaos to Bring Order
Dangerous God, pt 5: Luke 23; Various, The God Who Saves in the Midst of Loss
Dangerous God, pt 6: Acts 2:22-36, The God Whose Life is Greater than Our Death
Dangerous God, pt 7: Acts 9:1-18, etc., The God Who Uses the World’s Rejects
Dangerous God, pt 8: Matthew 5-7, The Dangerous God’s Message to His People: A Radical Way of Counterculturally Living
Thanks for stopping by. Again, I hope you find these sermons helpful.
And, as always,
Soli Deo Gloria!