Category Archives: Review

Book Review: The Lord is Good (Christopher Holmes)

b

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34:8). In his new book, The Lord is Good: Seeking the God of the Psalter, Chris Holmes says that “God’s goodness is a spiritual and moral good that must be experienced before the theology is truly understood” (7). David calls out to God to be something God hasn’t been to him beforehis helper. David knows God will be his help because God is good. Holmes says, “God does good because God is essentially good. God is what he always is, his own goodness, world without end, and thus does good” (32). In fact, “Goodness and God are one in the same, even if there were no world” (29). It is not only God’s works that are good, but God himself who is good. God’s goodness is why everything he does and says is good. God doesn’t aiming at perfection. Rather, he is perfection. He is the standard to which we compare everything else.

In this work, Holmes uses systematic theology to examine how the Lord can be called good, and it is done primarily within the Psalter. Why is the Lord called “good,” his law is “good,” and his wonderful works express his “goodness”? Psalm 119.68 says, “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.” What is it about God that is so lovable and desirable that his people want to know his law, and how can they say it is “good”? It is through the law that Israel could know God, though not so fully as in Christ, the perfect image of the good God.

Throughout his book Holmes has a chat with Aquinas (particularly from his Summa Theologica), Augustine, Calvin, and Barth. The point here is to listen to those who have spoken about many of the Bible’s grand ideas and to think about how they relate to the Psalter’s language of God’s goodness (Pss 4:6; 23.6; 25.8; 86.5). Holmes is not trying to impose anything on the Bible (as he notes in his first chapter on God’s simplicity). He is merely using certain systematic ideas (such as ‘simplicity’) to show certain patterns in the language of Scripture. Gos is love, is honest, is loyal, is good, is holy. His goodness is a loving, holy goodness; his honesty is a loyal, holy, loving honesty. We die because we do evil (Ps 14.1, 3; 53.3) and move away from the perfect One. Like David, we should cry out to God to teach us his ways that “to heal us of our propensity to invert and reverse the Creator/creation relation” (113). God’s law teaches us that we belong to him who is good and who belongs to no one else.

Recommended?

For a short book, this requires a slow read. One should not zoom through Holmes’ work. With topics ranging from the Trinity, to God’s creating works, to evil, to the law, to Jesus, there is plenty for of space for readers to become absorbed in. Readers interested in the Psalms and/or systematic theology will enjoy eating up this book. Biblical theologians shouldn’t be ruled out, though this book isn’t so much on the Psalms as it is on God’s goodness as seen in the Psalms. Holmes doesn’t examine most of the psalms, nor does he try to show a psalm’s original context or meaning. Looking at the whole of Scripture, and particularly Psalms, how can the Psalter say and know God is good? Holmes gives his readers plenty to feed on to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34.8).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture
  • Author: Christopher R. J. Holmes
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (January 30, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

Book Review: Old Testament Wisdom Literature (Bartholomew and O’Dowd)

What does the Bible have to say about wisdom? Can pithy poetics really form character? In their new book Old Testament Wisdom Literature, Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd present a theological introduction to the Bible’s wisdom books—Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 3.19 says God created the world by wisdom, yet most 21st century Westerners have lost the wonder of creation. Christians are saved through the blood of Christ, what do we need to understand about the world? Being in a real covenantal relationship with Yahweh brought Israel together with the God who both created the universe and who redeemed Israel out of Egypt. Knowing his law meant knowing how to life. It meant wisdom and understanding (Deut 4.6). How can man expect to find it, and how can 21st century Christians apply 3,000-year-old Old Testament wisdom to their lives?

Summary

Chapters 1-3 bring us into (1) Israel’s world of wisdom—they believed that they were in covenant with the one God who created all of reality and who was the source of knowledge. Yet, as Job expresses, they knew their knowledge was limited. Next (2), the authors take a tour through Egyptian and Mesopotamian wisdom to bring us into the flow of thought around Israel. Chapter 3 makes a plea for poetry, which “gives us a nuanced understanding of people, language and culture” (51). Stating a mere proposition such as “God is omnipotent” is very different than “declaring that God rules ‘the raging sea'” or that he can “draw in Leviathan with a hook” (69). Poetry brings imagery to the stories which make up our life. 

At 160 pages, Chapters 4-9 make up the core of the book. The authors spend two chapters on each of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. In the first chapter on each book, rather than rehearsing the main gist of each book, they describe the book’s theological function. Each book’s second chapter (“Chapter B” as I call it) explores a particular theme in that book.

Proverbs

Proverbs 1-9 develops a character-consequence scheme. Here, your character (wise/foolish) determines the consequences in your life (life/ruin). Proverbs 10-30 nuance this idea and bring exceptions to the rule. These proverbs are not categorized by topic, but seem to be written chaotically and at random, just the way life is. In chapter B, the authors examine how wisdom is embodied in the Proverbs 31 woman, though she is not a real person for no one person could do what she does. Rather, that figure represents the extent to which wisdom reaches and the practical ways of living in which wisdom is required.

Unlike Proverbs 1-9, Job and Ecclesiastes “focus on profound experiences of apparent contradictions to the character-consequence theme,” which deepen our faith and our wisdom and form our character (285). The authors note, “Ecclesiastes is performatively enigmatic, just like suffering, and Job is long, at times tedious, with all those speeches, just like suffering” (318). Sometimes the text’s form is just as important as what it says.

Job

Job asks “Where can wisdom be found?” (28.20). His friends think they know it all, yet in the end Job is to make sacrifices for their foolish words. Job replies like a human being—he gives strong responses, fears, worries, and contradictions. Just like the process of suffering, all people learn as the conversation of suffering goes on. They change their answers from one idea to another, even being hopeful at points (Job 28), before plunging back into suffering again, and still yet before God shows up in a revealing way. Chapter B examines Job 28 and how we, limited in our understanding of all things, must go to the One who stands outside of creation to obtain wisdom.

Ecclesiastes

Similarly, Qohelet in Ecclesiastes looks for meaning in the world through his own autonomous wisdom—which is actually “folly” because Qohelet’s search occurs apart from God. The book “ultimately affirms life and joy… but only as the end result of a ferocious struggle with the brokenness of life” (189). Job presents bodily suffering; Ecclesiastes presents mental anguish. It’s not enough to have a high IQ. Job had money. Qohelet asked difficult philosophical questions. But wisdom requires us to admit our finite creatureliness before the infinite Creator. We, like the woman in Proverbs 31, can embody wisdom and image God. Chapter B takes up the topic of time, seeing the larger story, and using our time well.

Chapters 10 looks at wisdom in the NT through the coming of Jesus. Chapter 11 gives an OT theology of wisdom. The chapter both summarizes and expands on what has been said previously. Wisdom is related to creation and how the world works. It is brought about by the Creator who is also Israel’s Redeemer. God’s good creation links his wisdom with his law/covenant with the prophets. Chapter 12 applies wisdom to our present life concerning education, politics, spirituality, the ordinary, and the dark night of the soul. For example, even after we receive salvation, we still want to be the captains of our souls. We have “false selves” that we want to put on to protect ourselves, and God uses suffering to dismantle those false selves. The authors refer to C.S. Lewis’ image of someone buying a small cabin in the woods. She thinks it’s great to have God come live with her… until he begins to tear down walls and change out the stairs. He wants to revamp the whole house, and it hurts. But believing that he is great and good will help carry us to the end of the darkness that feels like our closest friend.

Recommended?

I greatly appreciated Bartholomew and O’Dowd’s theological interpretation. According to Ecclesiastes, how can we know if we truly have wisdom? Job 28 tells us that man searches high and low for treasure, yet even Abaddon and death themselves do not have wisdom (v. 22). God doesn’t come out and give us all the answers we need. How can man expect to find it, and how can a 21st century person apply 3,000 year old wisdom to their lives? The authors look at the meaning of the texts and what is really going on. Teacher and pastors would do well to read this book. Hopefully more people will grasp the importance of these important, often ignored Old Testament books. All people of all statuses everywhere can receive wisdom and they can use it, but it starts with fearing the Lord who both calms the raging seas, who condescends to know us, and who has descended and ascended to save us.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Craig Bartholomew/Ryan O’Dowd
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 27, 2011)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

Book Review: The Decalogue (Baker), Theologygrams (Wyld)

We’ve come along way from the giving of the Ten Commandments (AKA, the Decalogue or the Ten Words).  Do we still need them? Are they still relevant? Who doesn’t know that murder is wrong? If so many don’t believe in God, why have them around anyway? Should we enforce them as laws?

The Decalogue consists of two groups of five commandments concerned with loving God (1-5) and loving one’s neighbor (6-10). In his book, the Decalogue, David Baker believes the Decalogue “expresses the essence of the covenant but is not a treaty document in itself” (12). There are strong parallels between the commandments of the Decalogue and that of other ANE treaties (e.g., not to commit murder, adultery, theft, etc.). However, other ANE texts are not “as comprehensive in scope as the Decalogue” (19). The ethical appeals of the Decalogue are grounding in God’s character and how he says his “holy nation” should live to be holy as he is holy.

The Decalogue was spoken by God to all of Israel, the “whole people of God” (32). Baker believes it is Israel’s constitution. Far from being a burden to slog through life under, it (and the Book of the Covenant in the following chapters of Exodus) is their “charter of freedom to be embraced and celebrated,” as Psalms 19 and 119 point out (35).

After his introduction, Baker gives a chapter to each commandment, setting each of the ten commandments against their surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures to compare and contrast the uniqueness of God’s instructions to his people. He then reflects on how that commandment was (or wasn’t) lived out through examples in the OT and NT. Baker makes comparisons with the Decalogue that is repeated in Deuteronomy 5, noting any changes and why they might have been made.

In his final section he looks at how we, as Christians, the people of God, should live in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He says that the Decalogue is the basis for Old and New Testament ethics. It reveals the character of God to us, and from there we can explore the rest of the Bible to see what he is like.

Lagniappe

  • Author: David Baker
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (April 3, 2017)
  • Press Kit available here

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and often a picture is easier to look at than 1,000 words. Rich Wyld has created a host of diagrams to help distill some of theology’s deeper points into forms that visual people can digest. Until I get permission to share some pictures, I’ll share some links to his blog. Some of these from his blog are found in his book, others are not. Wyld begins with (1) the Old Testament, then moves to (2) the Gospels, (3) the rest of the NT, (4) the life of the church, and he ends on (5) the life of the church.

In section 4, Wyld, an Anglican, uses references mostly from the Anglican church, but tries to be fair when representing other churches too. Some sections found here are:

  • A “breakdown of time spent during a hymn”
  • “Ministry in the church” (those being pastors and teachers, evangelists, prophets, apostles, and people who hoover and make tea).
  • And the very humorous looks at “what’s going on in the mind of the person reading the Gospel in church,” which, if you’ve ever had to read in front of a crowd, you can very well relate.

In section 5, Wyld asks where wisdom can be found, and looks at Proverbs, Jesus, James…and Mr. T.

Some examples which can be found on his blog are:

Bible references are provided for most pictures. The intention isn’t only to be silly, but to provoke thought and have the reader go back to the Bible to read that verse or section again. The intention isn’t to mock or belittle God, his creative works, nor his redeemed people.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Rich Wyld
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (November 14, 2017)
  • Press Kit available here

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received these books free from IVP Academic and IVP Books. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 Comment

Filed under Review

Book Review: Creation Care (Douglas and Jonathan Moo)

Do Christians need to be concerned about the creation? Isn’t it all just going to burn up anyway when God recreates it anew? Aren’t all those climate fanatics just being a bit, I don’t know, fanatical? Douglas and Jonathan Moo have written a book to encourage God’s people to care for his creation “by showing that the created world remains important in God’s purposes throughout the story of redemption” (126).

Summary

The book has three sections: 

(1) Queuing the Questions

“What role does the non-human creation play in God’s plan?” (23). How does it relate to our proclaiming the gospel, and why should we be involved? The Moos write that through our involvement we (1) address current challenges facing creation, (2) serve as witnesses to God’s kingdom before the members of the world, and (3) confirm Scripture’s witness of our vocation as “keepers” of God’s creation (26-27). 

Biblical theology summarizes and synthesizes “the teaching of the Bible using its own categories and with attention to its redemptive-historical movement,” it’s books make up one book, and it addresses people in today’s world (35). But along with the Bible’s teaching, we are also influenced by culture and science. The goal of theology is “the formation of Christian character and the practical living out of biblical values” (42). Culture can help us see things that we have taken for granted or haven’t noticed in the biblical text (it can also make us blind to what is there), and science can help inform us on how God’s creation “keepers” can care for his creation.

(2) Arriving at Answers

God created the world as “very good,” but he is the divine Creator and the “very good” world is the non-divine created. This does not give a lowly status to the world. Relationships where one person idolizes the other and treats the other as a god/goddess are harmful. So dethroning the creation from a divine status shifts people away from pantheism and toward being able to know the creation and to live in it as God’s creation. We are not gods who can use the earth according to our whims.

“In what ways do we prevent others from perceiving creation’s testimony to God when we fail to care well for creation, to enact justice, and to ensure that the abundance of the earth is shared with all?” (60).

Some say God surely wouldn’t allow creation to crumble because of our doing. Is it unreasonable to think that he wouldn’t allow humanity to suffer for the consequences of trashing his creation? Israel was put into exile for not giving proper rest to God’s land (God just let Israel use the land, Lev 25:23). The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day told Israel that neither famine nor sword would come. The people continued sinning, and in the end judgment did come (111-112). The suffering of creation, as with us, is only temporary, and it will end when Christ returns. But he hasn’t returned yet, and it’s been 2,000 years since he left.

“The incarnation furthermore reveals a God who binds himself to all of his creation” (115).

As the Moos note, in the tenth edition of the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report in 2014, they (speculatively) estimate “that between 1970 and 2010 the total number of wild mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped fifty-two percent….The decline of terrestrial animals alone was thirty-nine percent” (199). This is “speculative” because it is hard to be so accurate with animals species and just how many animals there are, but the fact remains that even if the number were down to twenty-five percent, that is an astounding—a shocking—figure. Out of all the earth’s years, in just 40 years we have lost 25%, perhaps even 52%, of all our animals due largely in part to the ways of globalization and consumption.

But isn’t it all going to burn anyway? Doug Moo refutes that idea by spending some time leading the reader through 2 Peter 3. He briefly goes through some Greek and determines that verse 10 should read (as it does in the ESV, NIV, NET, and CSB), “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” The day of the Lord will not burn everything down but will expose the earth and the earth-dwellers to the majesty and terror of God. Nothing will stand in his way from seeing them in all their hatred for him (see Is 26.21).

The heavens and earth will not be destroyed and made brand new, but like us when we receive our resurrected bodies, it will all be renewed. The authors say, “The imagery we should have in our minds is not a log consumed in our fireplace but the piece of ore turned into a precious piece of metal” (164).

Even if the world is going to burn and be completely recreated, the one whom we serve created it all. Playing a small part in letting half of his animals die is to say, “We don’t care about your animals,” even if the Psalmist does. Psalm 104.21 says, “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God.” In fact, all of Psalm 104 is about God’s delightful (even if also terrifying) creation.

(3) Reflecting on Relevance

Douglas and Jonathan Moo have given us a great theological work on caring for God’s creation. They give practical examples of how interconnected everything is, such as how a demand for beef, biofuels, and animals feed causes trees to be cut down for cattle farms or other means. The lack of trees means a decline in biodiversity, increased risks from erosion and extreme weather, and the climate changes due to the “loss of moisture-enhancing trees.” Forests seize carbon dioxide, and losing forests means large concentrations of carbon-dioxide rise into the atmosphere, which brings changed weather patterns and acidification.

Coral reefs give life to a quarter of all marine life. Due to pollution, fishing techniques (like trawling), warming seas, and acidification (from the air-riding carbon dioxide, a quarter of which is absorbed into the oceans), projections say coral reefs could disappear by 2050.

Recommended?

Will we ever see a direct result of our careful, caring actions? Possibly not. But, as the authors point out, at the height of the slave trade numerous Christians refused to buy or use sugar that had been made at the cost of another human’s life (226). None of those acts ended the slave trade, but it may have been one of the proper ways to follow Christ at that time. Paraphrasing Alister McGrath, instead of merely looking at creation, knowing and believing and that all of the earth belongs to God, we can behold it. We can appreciate his artistry and care for the earth, the animals, and for us (179). Maybe you’re on the fence about climate change. Perhaps you’re adamantly opposed to it. Maybe you’re all for it. In either case, pick up this book. Something needs to be done. Or, when Isaiah told him that the Lord would bring judgment, should we be satisfied as Hezekiah and think, at least there “will be peace and security in my days”?

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Douglas and Jonathan Moo
  • Series: Biblical Theology for Life
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (February 27, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon or Zondervan

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 Comment

Filed under Review

Book Review: Beauty, Order, and Mystery (Hiestand and Wilson)

In the beginning God made an ordered creation. All things were good, good, and very good. “God created mankind in his own image… male and female he created them.” He created man and placed him in a garden, and then created women for the man. What happens after that gets complicated, convoluted, and disturbing. What do we do with marriage, sex, and sexuality in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the “profound mystery” found in the relationship between husband and wife.

In Beauty, Order, and Mystery, editors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson—senior associate pastor and senior pastor, respectively, at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL—bring together essays from the 2016 Center for Pastor Theologians 2016 conference on the themes of human sexuality. Not all of the contributors agree on every point, but they all do agree on the “historic Christian consensus on sexuality,” which is centered around the importance of “biological sexuality” (3).

The books has three sections. 

Part one—a theological vision for sexuality

Part two—the beauty and brokenness of sexuality

Part three—biblical and historical reflections on gender and sexuality

To summarize each of the fourteen chapters below would be too much, so I’ll comment on a few that stood out to me.

Summary

Both Beth Jones and Matthew Mason emphasize that the bodies we have now will be the ones that are resurrected. Our bodies touch the core of our existence. This is why Paul says that the “fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor 6.18). “Sex matters because it goes to the very heart of what it means to be human” (29). We can’t simply change our bodies to the way we think they should be. It is becoming increasingly difficult to say that maleness and femaleness are “created goods” (23). But that’s because we have fallen natures, and it is mistaken to think that the consequences of sin in the now created (dis)order are normal and good. As Mason points out, redemption involves both Christians and the whole created order (137). Our genders are shaped by our culture (e.g., different cultures and different eras have different standards on length of hair, style of dress, mannerisms), but “inscribed in our bodies” is our biological sex (139). Looking at 1 Corinthians 25.38, God has given each of us a body as he has chosen, and our resurrection body will correspond with our earthly body. To undergo reassignment surgery is to say humans—or each individual—are autonomous Creators.

In the same vein, Denny Burk’s “The Transgender Test” acknowledges that we should feel compassion for those who feel like they are living in two worlds, but his main point is the authority of Scripture. It is “nothing less than a shorthand for the authority of God” (91). What if someone has a “female” mind but a “male” body? iIs the Bible insufficient to deal with a situation like this? Popular opinion says God’s word is harmful to those dealing with these issues, but if that isn’t how Jesus tells us to love people, then it’s wrong. If we diminish Scripture’s authority, we’re hurting those we minister to.

Marriage is a “unity-in-difference,” says Wesley Hill (41). It represents the “other-oriented love of the Trinity” (208). The “trinitarian God gives himself in love to the other”—that is, the Son (who is not the Father) and the Holy Spirit (who is neither the son nor the Father). Jesus shares the perspective that marriage is between a man and a woman. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the picture of marriage—the Bridegroom with his Bride. The Christian who has homosexual tendencies cannot marry, but he/she can find love in Christ’s body. Similarly, single people can live well without a spouse, just as the married can live poorly with their own spouse. Within the body of Christ, deep, closely-knit friendships need to be encouraged. For that is how we will all survive.

Both my wife and I thought Daniel Brendsel’s chapter was an odd duck. About half of the chapter was spent talking about the selfie and where it came from. The other half talks about what the selfie portrays—I have a body that I can show off but is somehow separate from me, you can know “me” just through a picture and a paragraph, we are performers who can be someone else to different groups of people. We reap what we so, somehow. He says “we should consider what we as churches have been sowing and watering by way of our cultural practices and postures,” but doesn’t really say what church have been doing or what they should change beyond sharing meals with one another and confessing our sins—growing in our relationships with each other in order to know the real “me.” It wasn’t a bad chapter, it merely seemed out of place from all the rest.

Gerald Hiestand’s chapter took a very good look at the power inequality that exists between male and female. He examines third-wave feminist Camille Paglia’s argument on the relationship between biology and tyranny. Following the argument was difficult, and probably would have been better relayed if he had summarized it (though I understand it was part of his lecture). Also, compared to the other essays, Hiestand’s reads as though he is a PhD candidate. That being the case, men have more physical power, but we are to lay our lives down for our wives, the weaker vessel (1 Pet 3.7), as Christ laid his life down for his bride and continues to serve her.

Finally, Joel Willitt’s essay, “Bent Sexuality and the Pastor,” looks at “the pervasiveness of sexual trauma” and “the denial of our [pastors, specifically, but all people generally] own trauma around sexuality” (119). Being sexually bent comes as a result of a traumatic experience, often in the form of sexual abuse as a child. As a result, people try to survive snd work through it in different ways, often incorrectly (e.g., being paranoid, fatalistic, heroic, and optimistic). It often can lead them to have sexual difficulties (e.g., self-abuse, abusing others, porn addiction, not wanting sex, etc.). Willitts emphasized the difficulty that many go through as to how difficult it is to break through the trauma warfare. It “often… comes in fits and starts; it is the result of a long, painful process; and likely, it will not be completed until Christ’s return” (129).

I’m not sure, though, how to take his ending. Wanting to be careful about his essay, but he mentions having a hard time desiring sex with his wife (due to his childhood abuse), mentions having a porn addiction, but then doesn’t talk about how those two things work together. In the end, Willitts isn’t saying not to fight the trauma. Those who have been abused do need to fight through it with the power of the Spirit and know that they will be free in the resurrection, but the rest of us need to be gracious, empathetic, patient, and long-suffering. His essay gave me the most thought.

Recommended?

Yes, get this book. It is a great resource and will help you to think through these issues that are knocking on our doors. The contributors do not always agree (Mouw seems to have some reservations about how to apply the OT law to homosexuality, while Burk is for using the OT law). But Beauty, Order, and Mystery provided my wife and I with some good talking material, and with some excellent advice when we do face people who feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Center for Pastor Theologians
  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (October 24, 2017)
  • Press Kit available here

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

3 Comments

Filed under Review

Book Review: The Fear of the Lord is Wisdom (Tremper Longman)

What is wisdom? Is it knowledge well applied? Is it ethical? Theological? Proverbs mentions the Lord, but is it more like a “Confuscious says” kind of idea which anyone can use, even pagans? In his book, Tremper Longman (the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) believes that the heart of wisdom is “the fear of the Lord.” Throughout his book, Longman, who has written numerous books and commentaries on wisdom literature, engages in “canonical interpretation” (181). No biblical book is an island, but each is to be interpreted among the rest in the canon. Thus Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job must agree. Even if there are major differences, there is no discord among them. Even more, “the Lord” in Proverbs is the covenantal God of Israel—Yahweh. To fear him is to know him and follow him within a covenantal relationship.

Section one looks at Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job (abbreviated as PEJ from now on), which, though wisdom literature, have their differences. Yet we must read them together to know God’s teaching about wisdom.

Proverbs—“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” with fear meaning to acknowledge God in all of his greatness and majesty. Our very “existence depends on him” (12). This fear does not make us run, but “makes us pay attention and listen” (13) and it leads to obedience. Wisdom is both ethical and theological. Because of who God is, we stand and listen and obey. Woman Wisdom represents God, and Woman Folly represents the false gods (for the gods live on the highest hills, cf. Prov 9.3, 14). So, in the second part of Proverbs (10-31), even when God is not mentioned the proverbs remain theological. For example, to be wise is to obey and honor one’s parents (10.1) for it means you are properly worshiping and honoring God (Exod 20.12).

There are two speakers (and two messages) in Ecclesiastes. The first is Qohelet (taken to be “a literary construct… to get the reader to think about the meaning of life”), the second is a father speaking to his son, with his perspective being the correct one (36). For Qohelet, God has set eternity in our hearts, yet we do not understand “when the right time occurs” (33). We do not know what God is doing from beginning to end. Yet Proverbs teaches that the wise man does know the proper time to apply certain proverbs. Rather, the father (at the end of the book) gives his son an “above the sun” look at life. Human wisdom comes up empty in the end, but fearing God leads to life.

Job—most of this chapter is a summary of key points throughout Job. Job’s three friends repeat a retributive theological argument ad nauseum. The argument never changes nor develops, the volume just gets turned up. Longman says that Job is not about theodicy, or how to persevere through suffering, it is a debate over wisdom, “and Job’s suffering is the occasion for the debate” (47). In fact, Job agrees to the friends’ retribution theology. Job’s take: he is blameless, but since he is suffering, God must be unjust. He admits that wisdom is hidden from all, even the sea and death don’t know where it is. Wisdom is found in God alone (28.28), and after Job meets God, the reader sees that submission is one’s proper response to God within a relationship with him.

Part two looks at wisdom sayings (ch 4) in Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Song of Songs, in the prophetic literature. Deuteronomy and the Psalms bring together (God’s) law and (God’s) wisdom, and the prophets show that having the law doesn’t equal having wisdom. Rather, fearing and knowing God and following his law bring wisdom. The Song of Songs, though not “wisdom” literature per se, connects with Proverbs in an ethical and practical way—love and be faithful to your own spouse.

Longman tries to cover a lot of ground in thirteen pages in chapter four, which, while leaving me wanting more, it also left me feeling quite empty. When talking about the prophets he spends a lot of time quoting examples but only gives brief statements about true wisdom and how they emphasized knowing God rightly. Those brief statements were often swallowed up by the many biblical quotations; it seemed to be a rehearsal of much of the text (though not completely).

In chapter six Longman views both Joseph’s wise actions in light of PEJ and Daniel’s wisdom in light of Proverbs. They were figures of wisdom. Part two ends with chapter 7, a look at Adam and Solomon who both had wisdom but who instead both chose folly. The king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 thought himself to be wise but was compared to prideful Adam. For both Adam and the king of Tyre, submission to God in all matters is wisdom lived out.

Part three observes the source of wisdom (ch 7). Is it revelation? Ultimately, wisdom comes from God. Proverbs testifies to the ten commandments, and even though Proverbs utilizes some Egyptian proverbs, ultimately the Egyptians were fools because they did not fear Yahweh. “All truth is God’s truth,” and to follow God and his instructions is wise.

In chapter eight, God in his wisdom created an ordered cosmos, and the more we discover the more wisdom we gain in living this life as his dependent creatures. Yet this ordered world is also a fallen one, and even the wisest of persons can, and might end up, in desperation due to the pervasiveness of evil. “The world is warped; we are warped,” and the ordered world, and especially its disordered citizens, does not always follow its order like we expect it to (142). Yet there is hope amid the frustration. Jesus, who experienced the world’s frustration, has brought redemption through his death and resurrection, and a new creation is coming our way where all vanity/frustration will be cleared away.

The rest of part three sets wisdom literature within its cultural ANE context (ch 9), and examines the relationship between wisdom, law, and covenant (ch 10). God’s law expresses how his covenant people should live.

In part four, Longman mines Proverbs for a retributive theology (ch 11). Job clearly teaches against it, but so many verses in Proverbs state that if one does/not do x, he will/not gain y (185). Doesn’t this sound like prosperity teaching? Yet Job was blameless but received suffering, and Qohelet sees injustice in the midst of righteousness. Proverbs are not promises, and Job and Ecclesiastes are “offering a corrective to a misreading of Proverbs” (186).

In chapter twelve, Longman then searches to see if there was a group/class of sages or a school of wisdom in Israel, and asks how a woman is to read the book of Proverbs which seems directed mostly to males (ch 13, see my post).

Part five looks at wisdom in the apocryphal books and Dead Sea Scrolls (ch 14) and in the NT writings (ch 15). Jesus is compared to Woman Wisdom, specifically that found in Proverbs 8. In Proverbs 8 (and all of 1–9 where she is mentioned) Woman Wisdom is a poetic personification, but one that is not a prophecy to be fulfilled (by Jesus or anyone else). Jesus embodies God’s wisdom, but he does not fulfill all of the details of Proverbs 8.

The book ends with two appendices—(A1) wisdom in the twenty-first century; (A2) is wisdom literature a genre? Appendix 1 brings some good application and perspective to living in today’s world. Longman believes that the Christian counselor is the best example of an OT sage. He or she must know Scripture well and be able to apply it, must have a good relationship with God, and ought to be able to, with practice, insightfully figure people out as they counsel them and then apply God’s real-world wisdom to their lives—practical, ethical, and theological wisdom.

Recommended?

As he notes in his book, the idea of wisdom has been given short shrift for a long time. It’s something that been likened to something stodgy old people have who have learned from their mistakes but they don’t want to admit they had fun doing it. Or some see it as having mass quantities of knowledge, like living in the ivory tower and waxing eloquently with every word. Instead, as Longman believes, it is EQ: emotional (and social) intelligence. It is knowing how to live in this world among its people, knowing how to serve them well, and how to survive this life without being ruined (at least by our own foolishness). Pastors, teachers, and students would be well served by Longman’s treatments.

Lagniappe

Buy it from Amazon or Baker Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review

Book Review: The Divine Christ (David Capes)

How did a Jewish, middle class, Israelite man who was beaten, flogged, stripped, and nailed to a cross become to be believed and associated with the almighty God of Israel? In his book The Divine Christ, David Capes (associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton College) examines Paul’s texts and argues both historically and theologically that Jesus was believed to be divine early on in the history of Christianity.

In the first chapter Capes surveys the Hebrew and Greek words our English Bibles translate as “lord,” “Lord,” and “LORD.” In the Septuagint, kyrios, the Greek word for “lord,” is used as a title for certain humans who held authority, the Lord Jesus Christ, and for God. Capes briefly examines how the divine name is used in the biblical texts and in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).

In the second chapter observes the work of Wilhelm Bousset who sought to understand Christianity as a historical phenomenon without analyzing their truth claims. He and his colleagues purely observed the historical outworkings of Christianity through situating the NT documents in their contexts with our Christian documents. Bousset wanted to explain how religion devotion to Jesus arose with a Greco-Roman environment. The DSS had not yet been discovered, so he was unable to place the NT within the Second Temple period. He believed that the first people to call Jesus “Lord” were Greek-speaking Gentiles in Hellenistic churches in pluralistic Syria. 

While these first two chapters weren’t too exciting for myself, regardless they are important. They situate Paul in a proper cultural context, and Capes shows that it would have been monotheistic, Aramaic-speaking Jews who first called Jesus “Lord” (see 1 Cor 16:22, maranatha, meaning “our Lord, come”) and not Gentiles in a pluralistic who called every god “Lord.”

With the discovery of the DSS, scholars are able to better understand how Greek-speaking Jews understood kyrios in all of its contextual forms. In chapter three, Capes examines Paul’s writings where he refers to Jesus as kyrios. He uses it in four ways: for those who hold authority over others, for other gods and deities, and for the one God of Israel. The fourth way, the majority of Paul uses, refer to Jesus Christ. At the resurrection, Jesus was given the name above all names: Lord. Jesus is not just any “lord;” he receives God’s unique covenant name (YHWH). Jesus holds dominion over the living and the dead. 

Generally, Paul uses certain titles for Christ in specific ways. “Christ” = Jesus’ sacrificial death, the cross/crucifixion (1 Cor 2.2). “Lord” = ethical statements with an emphasis on Jesus’ authority (Phil 4.1), eschatology (“the day of the Lord,” Amos 5:20; 1 Thess 5.2; 1 Cor 1.8), instructions on church life and worship (1 Cor 11.20). Just as YHWH (kyrios in the LXX) gave Israel ethical commands, so the Lord Jesus does too. Jesus, Paul’s contemporary who died a gruesome and shameful death on a cross, does now and will do in the future actions that were reserved for Yahweh alone. For example, “calling up on the name of the Lord” in Joel 2.32 [3.5 LXX] is applied to the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans 10.9–13 (cf. 1 Cor 12.3). The Son and the Father are regarded as one, although they are still distinct. Jesus is both associated with the Father and is subordinate to him. The chapter ends with an excursus on the use of “Kyrios as Counterimperial Propaganda.”

In chapters four and five, Capes notes that Paul unambiguously quotes thirteen OT texts which use the divine name Yahweh. About half of Paul’s uses refer to the Father, with the others referring to Christ. Even his allusions to Yahweh texts refer to Christ. In chapter four, after briefly explaining the difference between a quote, an allusion, and an echo, Capes examines the OT texts which Paul quotes in reference to the Father (Rom 4.7–8; 9.27–29; 11.34; 15.9–11; 1 Cor 3.20; 2 Cor 6.17–18). Paul knew the divine name referred to the God of Israel and at times refers to him when he quotes OT “Yahweh” texts. Capes brings up three texts where Paul inserts the word kyrios to speak of God (Rom 11.3; 12.19; 1 Cor 14.21) providing more evidence that the use of kyrios for God was in Paul’s vocabulary.

My only (minor) critique of this chapter was that Capes believes 2 Corinthians 6:14–7.1 to be a self-contained unit of Scripture and so blows off the surrounding context. There are a few commentaries and writings which argue against 6.14–7.1 being a self-contained argument (Seifrid, Hafeman, Beale, etc.), and to treat it as such deflates the impact of Paul’s argument. However, Capes’ discussion was still good, and I gleaned much from it.

In chapter five Capes looks at those OT Yahweh texts in which Paul refers to Jesus and explains the surrounding context of each text (Rom 10.13; 1 Cor 1.31; 2.16; 10.26; 2 Cor 10.17). He also gives tie to explain a few allusions (1 Cor 10.21, 22; 1 Thess 3.13; 4.3; 2 Cor 3.16; Phil 2.6–11). Capes helps the reader delineate between texts which refer to God or Christ—Yahweh texts are reserved for God “primarily in theocentric passages such as Rom. 9–11” (149). When Paul wants the reader to understand that the Father is in view, he clearly states it in the context or in an introductory formula. If a title such as “Lord of hosts”/“Lord almighty” is added, then it refers to God. Paul uses kyrios to refer to Jesus in a pretty straightforward way, possibly because references to Jesus as kyrios make up most of Paul’s uses.

Capes examines the implications of Paul closely associating Jesus with the God of Israel in chapter six. He notes a few allusions in the DSS and other Jewish writings of figures who are closely associated with the God of Israel, but says that there is still a difference between those texts and what Paul is doing. Paul has a pattern of associated Jesus with God, Jesus is the only one associated with God, he has received the divine name from God, Paul quotes and alludes to OT Yahweh texts and uses some of them to refer to Jesus, and Jesus was a real, historical figure who was a contemporary to Paul. He was not a legendary person of old (like Melchizedek). And so, a high Christology can be traced back to the beginning of the Christian movement. On the Damascus road Paul saw the glory of the Lord; it transformed him and compelled him to be a light to the Gentiles. The disciples who lived with Jesus for three years saw his miracles and heard the way he used Scripture to present his authority before all. They saw the coming of God into the world, at through his death, resurrection, and ascension he received the divine name—that above all names.

Recommended?

Capes offers a good synopsis of Paul’s use of the Yahweh texts. He gives enough information for some to be satisfied and to pique the interest of others to go searching for more. The divinity of Christ will be debated with each new generation, and Capes provides a way for us to understand the apostles’ thinking, particularly Paul’s. Some will be disinterested in the first two chapters, but they lay an important historical foundation for the need for this study. Capes’ book could be read in tandem with Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology (see his more accessible work, Jesus the Lord according to Paul the Apostle), and anything by Larry Hurtado, especially his upcoming Honoring the Son.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology
  • Author: David B. Capes
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (March 20, 2018)
  • David blogs at https://davidbcapes.com/

Buy it on Amazon or Baker Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Leave a comment

Filed under Review