Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’
I 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.
**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:
- 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.
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
Along with other reading I am doing in the Bible, for example, just today I finished reading the book we call Isaiah, I am reading the Psalms and the Proverbs. I'm not sure I remember exactly where I picked up on the idea, but when I read the Psalms and the Proverbs I do so like this: five Psalms per day, 1 chapter of Proverbs per day. This enables me to read both books entirely in 30 days. This is a good practice for anyone, at any time, but it's an especially helpful practice during Lent given that we have 40 days to work with. So even if one gets behind a day or two, the books can still be completed in a relatively good amount of time.
Personally, I think the book of Psalms is likely the book that persuades me of the veracity of the Christian claim. Perhaps that sounds strange given that New Testament books speak directly to and announce rather loudly those claims; perhaps even speak primarily those claims. It's true. I don't deny that. At another level, however, there is the working mind and all of us, regardless of who we are, have a mind that functions in different ways. For example, as a man my mind is, according to some theories, supposed to connect with and be moved by a sort of raw masculinity, a blood and guts kind of appreciation for dirt and adventure. To an extent, I suppose I am. I love watching Rambo and Terminator movies for example. But if I told you I watched them for reasons other than the violence and blood you'd probably call me a liar.
But I do.
I watch Rambo, at least First Blood, because it is a redemption story and it moves me. Emotionally. I watch Terminator movies because they evoke in me a sense of hopelessness that only finds solace in someone outside the film. I do not watch any film for the sake of mere bloodsport or violence–which is why traditional horror films do nothing for me at all: there is simply no emotion. Jason Vorhees killed to kill and we never saw any emotion. Same with Michael Myers. At least Freddy Krueger had the scars to prove his emotion. Funny how the killers in these horror films always have to have their faces rearranged, isn't it?
I watch movies for the story they tell and because in movies I am permitted to experience the full sway of my emotions without repercussion from anyone. Truth? I still cry at the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke throws away his light saber and chooses certain death over unlimited power and during the last scene of Return of the King when the king bows before the hobbits of the Shire and at the end of The Shawshank Redemption when Andy and Red share a hug on a beach. Hope. And don't get me started on The Sound of Music. That film wipes me out with each note they sing.
There are many other movies that do the same thing to me. It's not sentimentalism and since I don't watch cheap romance films, I am scarcely moved by simple boy-gets-girl or girl-gets-boy stories. I am moved by love–raw, uncontrollable, undeniable, sometimes angry and proven love in movies. I get that from heroes who die for those they love. I get that from characters who make hard choices in the face of evil or have to take matters of justice into their own hands and wrestle with that decision frequently. I get that from justice being done and the world being set to rights. I get that when dragons are slain and color returns the gray void. It's like seeing Dorothy open her door for the first time in Oz and seeing color–which is a scene, perhaps more than any other in The Wizard of Oz, that moves me.
I connect with those people and the story they tell. I connect with the emotions they share–and some actors are far better at it than others which is why I gravitate towards their films rather frequently. I have even seen Tom Cruise emote in a way that moves me.
So, the Psalms. The Psalms are like little films to me. Each one tells a story and yet each one is part of a fabric woven together to form part of a greater quilt. And the Psalms are nothing if not raw expressions of emotion and love. As a man, I'm not supposed to be in tune with my emotions, but I promise you there are times when the Psalms have made me weep. Each Psalm is a script in a movie and there are heroes and goats; there are gods and men; there are women and men; there are props and animals; there is a soundtrack; there is a back story. Not all of them feature each element yet some have all of these elements.
I love the Psalms because the Psalms are raw emotion. There is virtually no emotion the Psalms avoid. There is no scenario the Psalms haven't explored. There is drama in the Psalms–in every one of them. And for some reason, I like it.
I like that these men who wrote the Psalms were not afraid to let that emotion pour out in a very public way to God. Whoever put the book of Psalms together was a pure genius because they understood that YHWH invented emotions. And the writers of the Psalms–whether they knew they were writing Scripture or not is beside the point–understood that God was not afraid of their anger, their fear, their sadness, their joy, their anxiety, their boredom, their bloodthirsty-ness, their hunger, their tears, their uncertainty, their loneliness, their exhaustion, their guilt, their sin, their shame, their love, their hate, their hurt, their shame, their exaltation, their indifference, and much more besides. And for this reason, I connect deeply with the Psalms. Jesus did too given that he quoted from them even as he hung on the cross. In these drama filled, emotion laden scripts Jesus found a voice for his own emotion: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22)
The Psalms are a roller coaster of emotional outpouring. We can relate to the Psalms because these are all the things we feel and experience everyday of our lives and the Psalms tell us that we can pour out all these things on God, that he hears, that he (eventually) answers, and that at the very heart of things: God cares about his covenant people; deeply. Deeply enough that there is scarcely a word we can utter that offends him. The message of the Psalms: Pour it out and if you don't have your own words, pilfer from these 150 poems.
And for this same reason, in my mind, the Psalms more than anything else persuade me of the truth claims of Scripture: because of their raw honesty and their childlike expression of this honesty. The Psalms are not out to 'prove' anything even if the Psalms happen to demonstrate many things. The Psalms' only objective, and of course I recognize that the Psalms are doing more than this, is to lay out this deep yearning and longing that finds no resolution here on earth or among people. They take us to the very heights of the world to the very depths of hell, they leave us with unanswered prayers, they leave us weeping on couches and suffering bouts of insomnia.
What I like about the Psalms is that for all their perfection and beauty they teach us that the world we live in is not perfect, is not always beautiful, that life is not always predictable, and that YHWH is not a cosmic vending machine who is at our beck and call. Sometimes he waits….off in the distance…maybe just to see if we have the nerve to cry out to him and trust him while we wait. He cares; yes, deeply. Yet ultimately even the Psalms tell us a story with a greater plot–a story in which we are characters who play a vital role. In his short book A Case for the Psalms, NT Wright wrote:
In the same way, the story the Psalms tell is the story Jesus came to complete. It is the story of the creator God taking his power and reigning, ruling on earth as in heaven, delighting the whole creation by sorting out its messes and muddles, its injuries and injustices, once and for all. It is also the story of malevolent enemies prowling around, of people whispering lies and setting traps, and of sleepless nights and bottles full of tears. (31)
I like the Psalms because they allow me to drink deeply of the emotions of others and to pour out my emotions. They are a place where my masculinity is not called into question when my emotions are on full sleeve display. I know of a congregation or two where the preacher was not allowed to be so emotional. I distinctly recall him being told to 'fake it' because it's not 'professional' to be emotive. It's not professional to weep openly or to express deep grief and sorrow and hurt. I think congregations like this bore God. Most preachers are accused of being liars; this one was accused of being honest. I think these are also congregations where preachers are constantly on edge because the congregation constantly wants him to subdue his emotions–imagine telling Jeremiah, the weeping prophet to stifle his emotions.
I also think these congregations are the ones who pour salt into the wounds of the preachers or twist the knife in his back a little harder and deeper. These are the congregations who have no clue how to come alongside one who is suffering and just sit and mourn or laugh or sing. These are congregations who are very unfamiliar with the man who 'took up our sorrows', the man acquainted with suffering and grief, the man who cried out to God in desperation, and wept openly at a funeral.
I suspect that congregations like this should spend more time reading the Psalms. Or the Bible in general. They should become acquainted with the people who poured out such emotion before God. They should become acquainted with Jesus who affirmed them.
Author: N.T. Wright
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.)
I'm doing some research on the Old Testament book of Daniel in preparation for a project I am about to undertake in the not too distant future. I'm taking it slowly. I'm still in chapter 1.
Daniel 1 is an interesting place to begin a book. I mean, Daniel isn't typical prophecy. It has prophetic elements in it as well as some so-called apocalyptic elements too, but it's not typical of a book of prophecy like, say, Isaiah or Jeremiah. There's no long poems or sermons. There's no real sweeping judgments against nations even if there are some heavy judgments against individuals who happen to rule those nations. Daniel is stories and dreams and visions. And that's about it.
With that in mind, I was thinking: why does Daniel begin where it begins? I mean, what's the point of opening a book of prophecy or a book about a prophet, by telling a story about who will eat and what food they will eat? Then I got to thinking that perhaps Daniel 1 isn't really about food or eating after all. Maybe the subtle point Daniel is making is that there is more going on in his life than mere appetite–there is more going on in his life than the king can possibly satisfy with portions from his table.
Several years ago, I wrote something similar in a devotional I had prepared for my congregation. I wrote:
I do not think Daniel and his friends felt they had a mandate to change the Babylonian culture and make it Jewish. What Daniel and his friends did have a mandate to do was to remain faithful to God–at any cost. They resolved not to be dependent on the culture in which they lived by eating food from the king's table. To eat from the king's table was like saying, 'we are going to be dependent upon the king. We will ingratiate ourselves to his providence.'
I think the short and long of it is this: when you eat like the king, you become like the king. Daniel and his friends were ultimately saying: we do not want to be like Nebudchadnezzer, and by not being like him, we will be better and more useful. It seems to me this is a larger story for us too: when we partake of the culture, we become like the culture. The culture of Babylon, in particular the person of the king, started changing because Daniel and friends remained faithful. It's a short road to the compromising of faithfulness. Daniel and his friends want to remain distinctly Hebrew in the context of Babylon. I'm not even certain Daniel's motive had anything to do with seeking God since there are no explicit commands anywhere that prohibit people from eating the king's food in captivity.
There's probably no such specific commands for Christians either. We are free to enjoy life and liberty and, if we choose, to eat from the king's table. Paul did write that all things are permissible. He also wrote, however, that not all things are profitable. So here we are faced with the crazy idea that we have to decide what is and is not compromise here in America where the king's table is so abundantly spread.
Given where Daniel's book begins (1:1): In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebudchadnezzer king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And given where chapter 1 ends (1:21): And Daniel remained there until the first year of king Cyrus. I would say that Daniel's decision not to take his sustenance from the king's table benefited him, and many others besides, well: He outlived them all and provided counsel for many kings and peoples. I would say that his decision to remain unique and distinct among the culture of Babylon was well played.
Author: Nancie Guthrie
[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.
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.
Author: John Goldingay
Publisher:Westminster John Knox Press
[I am required by the FCC to inform you that Westminster John Knox Press provided me with a free e-book preview copy of this book for review purposes. Truth is, I'm afraid not to tell you because, well, one never really knows about the long arm of the FCC. Anyhow, there you go; it was free and so are my opinions of the book.]
I have read other books by John Goldingay (in particular, his WBC commentary on Daniel) and have enjoyed his keen sense of seeing the finer details of the biblical text and his understanding of and attention to the grand narrative that stretches from one end of the canon to the other (context). Some writers get too caught up in one; some too much so in the other. Goldingay balances both nicely in his writing.
I have also listened to lectures Goldingay has delivered at Fuller Theological (they are accessible through iTunes) and I have appreciated his sense of humor and the depths he is willing to probe in order to understand what Scripture is and what Scripture is not. The Bible would be better understood if people took time to unhook themselves from whatever preconceptions they have and listen to the text from front to back and, for that matter, if they would stop viewing it merely as a collection of sayings and start view it as a library, full of books, each with its own literary purpose. An example is his understanding that even the Penteteuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) is best and properly understood as one book with some rather artificial divisions imposed on the text.
This is all so much backdrop to my review of The Psalms for Everyone, pt 2 which I think is necessary because if a person just jumps into this book without ever having read or listened to Goldingay they might get frustrated early on and simply walk away from the book. This is not a book that is necessarily easy to read or easily understood. It is definitely not a book to sit and read cover to cover (as one must do when writing book reviews). This is a book that is meant to be read slowly, deliberately, and with brain fully engaged and in concert with the Holy Spirit of God.
I say this as a sincere compliment to the author because one thing I have grown weary of is the rather shallow writings on Scripture that get published by publishers in today's world–worse the amount of people who buy and read them and then wonder why life makes no sense. They (publishers) seem to think that the average everyday Christian cannot handle digging deeply into the Scripture or understanding the Scripture as a complete, unified body of work designed to teach us something less about ourselves and something more about God. For example, "the division of the Psalter into five books thus draws our attention to the reason that the book of Psalms exists. It's to teach us how to praise God and how to pray to God" (3). It also, thus, neatly parallels with the Penteteuch too. But I suspect that Christians are not so much interested in depth, nor the prophets who sound those depths, in this strange apocalyptic driven wasteland of shallow Christianity we live in today. We are not so many Bereans. People want the big, the noise, the amazing and glittery Christianity. Goldingay's thoughts on the Psalms invite us to plod along each day, slowly, whatever may come, and live God's thoughts to us and offer our thoughts to Him.
A perfect example of this plodding is found in Goldingay's translations of the Psalms. I belong to a generation of Christians who have been raised on the New International Version of the Bible. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that except that the NIV translations of the books of the Bible are thin and, almost, too easy to read. The first thing the reader will notice about Goldingay's translations is that they are thick, heavy, and deep. They are complex and startling–I'm still debating how I feel about 'God Almighty' being translated 'YHWH Armies'–and sometimes downright frustrating, but, like Shakespeare, as a professor used to tell me, they are worth the effort.
I have a practice of reading through the Psalms monthly (5 Psalms per day) and I can usually get my reading done in about 15 minutes or so. This would not be the case with Goldingay's Psalms. They force the reader to slow down, to think, to sort of chew their way through the molasses like language he uses. This is a good thing. It means that I have to make space each day to read the Psalms (or any Scripture for that matter) and not merely do it as a matter of habit or add-on to each day. One must have strong chops to read these Psalms; one must have strong will to press on when the language gets thick, hits too close to home, or confounds us. Sometimes I simply read the Psalms (Goldingay's translations) aloud in order to better appreciate the language and the content and, frankly, in order to understand them. I'm not ashamed to admit that I often had to re-read his translations in order to understand them. Again, this is a good thing because it is good to be challenged and startled out of complaceny–which I suspect is a large problem when it comes to a people where there are so many thin translations available.
Another important aspect of this book is the personal anecdotes and the connections he made between life or movies or news and the Psalms–the way he made them as relevant to a today Christian as they were to a yesterday Israelite. I do not know how long it took Goldingay to write this book, but I can imagine him sitting down to morning breakfast each day, reading a Psalm, reading the daily paper, then heading off to the study to see how the two relate to one another. Or maybe he sits down at the end of each day and thinks about all that his life experienced throughout the day, read a Psalm or two, and then reflected on his life again to see how God has instructed him through this or that occasion.
This is exactly the way it has worked for me. Again, reading through the Psalms each day makes me think carefully about what I have experienced in that day and provides a better clarity to the life I have experienced. On the other hand, if I read them in the morning, it gives me opportunity for a perspective on the day that I may not otherwise have. Either way, we are invited to look on life with a God point of view: "The psalm makes that assertion by faith against the evidence of present experience" (48) he writes commenting on Psalm 85. I love that Goldingay keeps the focus squarely on the way YHWH speaks to us in and through the Psalms and invites us to new reflection on life or better perspective on living. Continually he draws us back into the text, the ancient song-book of Israel, and invites us to repent and return to YHWH: "We are in perpetual need of such reframing, one way or another, so that we stop thinking in a way that leaves out God's involvement with us and resume thinking in a way that puts God's involvement with us at the center" (11). It is, to be sure, a beautiful way of thinking about God. It makes God personal and our response is worship.
I judge a book based on whether I will read it again and this is a book I will reread (but this time much more slowly and deliberately). I will return to it precisely because of its depth and precisely because it forces me to slow down and savor the Psalms, to have courage to speak to God with a certain chutzpah (his word, p 14), and to love the community of believers from whence these Psalms sprung and were read (see Psalm 78 comments). Goldingay has given me an entirely new language to use when I pray (because his translations are deep, wordy, and thick). I appreciate this book and I believe that if someone wants depth and wants to savor and enjoy the Psalms as desperate cries of a broken people to a faithful God, then this book is a good place to start or to return.
The other day I was looking for a lecture by NT Wright on itunes. I found the lecture I was looking for, but I also found much more. I ended up linking up to Reformed Theological Seminary. RTS has a virtual academy where you can earn your degree the new fashioned way–online. But this is no mere advertisement for RTS. What I found is even better: You can download lectures for free. Click here: RTS on iTunes U. Once you are here, you can click to open itunes or download itunes software. When the whole thing is done, you will be presented with a smorgasbord of serious, seminary level lectures.
There are courses in the Old Testament, New Testament, church history, practical theology, systematic theology and more. There are lecture series and chapel messages too by top Christian theologians. Two ago, I downloaded a 38 lecture class covering Judges through Song of Solomon. The class is taught by Dr John Currid. This is not, as he says, a mere survey of the literature but an in depth theological discussion. I have already started listening to the lectures. If you have a hunger for Scripture and you want to get more involved in your study of God’s Word, this is an excellent place to start (especially if you wish to move beyond the basic Sunday school type of material.) I also downloaded a series of lectures by Dr Currid in which he discusses Polemical Theology, that is, the relationship between the Old Testament texts and ancient near eastern literature. Far from devaluing the Old Testament texts, Dr Currid argues that much of the OT was written precisely with these texts in mind and that they work very hard to counter those works of the early near easter pagan writers. Fantastic lectures!
I also found these lectures at Learn Out Loud.com. Search: Reformed Theological Seminary.
Enjoy your study of God’s Word.
I am happy to bring you my second podcast. This is part 1 of a six part series from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. The six parts come from a sermon I did about two years ago. Part 1 is the introductory material. The sound isn’t too bad considering I do not have professional equipment. This episode is 10 minutes and 45 seconds long. Don’t forget to leave feedback after you have listened and you can use the button below to subscribe to this and future podcasts from Life Under the Blue Sky. Thanks for stopping by. (You can use the link above to open in a new window, or you can use the inline player below.)
Soli Deo Gloria!
Barth sometimes escapes me, and other times he is as clear as crystal. Here’s a thought I appreciate:
“As regards the handling of the Old Testament texts, we maintain that for us the Old Testament is valid only in relation to the New. If the church has declared itself to be the lawful successor of the synagogue, this means that the Old Testament is witness to Christ, before Christ but not without Christ. Each sentence in the Old Testament must be seen in this context…As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ…Preaching must bring out what the Old Testament passage actually says, but in a way that affirms the basic premise on which the church adopted the Old Testament…The Old Testament points forward, the New Testament points backward, and both point to Christ.” (Homiletics, 80, 81)
I appreciate most that he directs our attention to the Person of Christ. But even though Barth makes this point, I don’t think it was entirely original. I think, rather, he understood what Jesus meant himself:
36″I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41″I do not accept praise from men, 42but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? 45″But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
So take courage today in your studies.