Tag Archives: D. A. Carson

Book Review: Righteous by Promise (NSBT), Karl Deenick

The New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series is an excellent series for understanding particular themes in the Bible. While no series is perfect and some have lamented that it has fallen on hard times, this latest volume ought to relieve any lingering doubts. This book doesn’t deal only with the topic of circumcision in the Bible, but “two [other] facets on which this book focuses are the key biblical concepts of faith and righteousness.” The reason for this is seen in Paul’s statement about Abraham in Romans 4.11 that he “received the sign of circumcision of the seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Paul believed that circumcision meant something to Abraham about righteousness and faith. But how? Why circumcision? And scholars are in disagreement as to what the circumcision-righteousness-faith complex symbolizes. For N. T. Wright, “righteousness is about covenant membership” (5). For James Dunn, circumcision was “the boundary marker of  who was in the covenant and who was not” (6). But the OT authors look forward to a day when God’s people will be spiritually circumcised and will love and obey God with all their heart (6).

Deenick does not consider every biblical reference to circumcision but only those which help demonstrate how righteousness and faith are woven together with circumcision. In chapter two he shows how righteousness and blamelessness are “both a present status but also a future promise that is appropriated by humble trust in God’s promise to Abraham of a blameless ‘seed'” (211). This is seen in Genesis 15 and 17. Abraham is reckoned as righteous because he believed Yahweh’s word (15.6) and then God called Abraham to walk blamelessly (17.1) before in a unique relationship.

After examining these truths and the ‘singular’ seed in Genesis, Deenick looks at how the sign of circumcision developed throughout the OT: Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 10 and 30, and Joshua 5 (chapter three). How can God call the people to love and obey him when they don’t have circumcised hearts and when God says he will give that to them in the future (Deut 10; 30)? They are to walk with Yahweh (Lev 26) and believe in his atoning promise to Abraham. “The circumcised heart repents and trusts in Yahweh’s words” (95). After Abraham’s call to be blameless, the next time we see something ‘blameless’ in the text is when we get to the sacrificial system. Blameless sacrifices cover the blame of God’s people, something fulfilled completely in Christ. “What God promised, Abraham did not have in full, and yet God reckoned him to have it” (213).

Deenick then observes how the NT authors picked up the metaphors of ‘walking’ and ‘being blameless’ (chapter four). Blamelessness comes through union with the resurrected Jesus Christ, the ‘seed’ of Abraham. Deenick ends the chapter looking at contested passages in Philippians 3, Colossians 2, and Ephesians 2. Chapters five and six cover Romans 2-4 and Galatians. Faith in God’s promised seed, Jesus, humility, and repentance over sin are what matter.

For Christians, as Deenick points out, the imputation of christ’s righteousness teaches us that “it is not enough to be ‘not guilty’: we must also be reckoned to be perfectly obedient and holy” (213). Abraham’s circumcision was a seal that he was humble and righteous by faith. The continuing acts of circumcision pointed God’s people to the future seed who would fulfill God’s promises to Abraham. It meant nothing to follow God’s law while rejecting his promise of a future seed. Instead, believing the promise meant fulfilling God’s law as your trust was in the future seed who would make you blameless. Christians don’t need to follow circumcision for we are circumcised in Christ. The flesh has been put off, and we are baptized in him. We have died and are raised with him.

Recommended?

I hope Deenick’s book will be read widely by students, teachers, and the scholarly community. While it is not written for the layman, teachers and pastors who pick this up can easily bring the information to life. Neither does Deenick give bland facts in his book. He fits his information within the story of Scripture, allowing the story to illuminate the details, and the details the story. We are the circumcision of Christ who have put off the old flesh, have received a spiritual circumcision, and love and desire to obey God. I highly recommend this book.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 45)
  • Author: Karl Deenick
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 1, 2018)
  • Press Kit available here

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.

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50th Anniversary of the NIV Bible

50th Anniversary Celebration of the NIV Commissioning Continues with "Made to Share" Quarterly Theme (PRNewsFoto/Zondervan)

Yesterday I talked about the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible edited by D.A. Carson, T.D. Alexander, Richard Hess, Doug Moo, and Andy Naselli. This NIVZST comes out just 50 years after the “initial cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars who met outside Chicago in 1965 and agreed to start work on what is now known as the New International Version” (read about the anniversary here). It’s easy to think of Bible translators as sitting in their ivory tower, drinking their frappe lattes, and talking about which way a verse sounds better. It’s as if they say, “We pray over it and say amen, but at the end of the day we just flip a coin.”

That sounds quite terrible, actually. Thankfully with the NIV that is not the case. I can tell you just from my small exposure to learning Norwegian, translating the bible is actually much more difficult than that. Try reading every word, sentence, and paragraph Genesis, Acts, or Isaiah over, and over, and over again. You’re parsing the Greek, the Hebrew, or the Aramaic to know what is being said. You then not only have to bring it over into the English language, but into the proper, most widely used colloquial terms. What good is it to translate God’s word into English is the average person on the street can’t understand it? One thing we shouldn’t forget is that the translators of the NIV are also teachers, scholars, authors, pastors, husbands, and wives, etc. They have lives beyond sitting around a table for endless hours trying to choose the perfect word. Yet they take their job seriously so that you can understand the Bible that sits in front of you. 

Making a Translation

Bill Mounce, an expert in Greek who posts about biblical Greek in a series called Mondays with Mounce, said, ”You have to make the translation reflect the actual nature of the author. Paul has a really good command of Greek, and the beauty of that needs to come through in our translation.” And Karen Jobes, commentator on Esther and 1 Peter and the first woman to join the Committee of Bible Translation (CBT), agrees that “We don’t want it to be our voice. We really do want it to be accurate and clear, and that involves facing hard issues.”

The people who work on translating Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts into a coherent and understandable English translation are evangelical Christians who want to spread God’s word in the most understandable way possible. They know that not every Christian will learn Greek and Hebrew, nor will every Christian spend the required hours to dig through the smorgasbord of manuscripts to find the best reading.

As the translators of the King James Version, 1611, said, “But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?” The NIV Made to Read link reminds us, “Modern people should be able to learn about God’s power, love and redemption from a Bible in up-to-date language.” 

Language Efforts

Language is not static. Life and culture change, as do tastes, likes and dislikes. Metaphors come into being, and words exhale their last breath.

For us English speakers who don’t read Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, we don’t understand the great effort it takes to translate these languages into English. (I’ve quickly learned this fact when it comes to learning Norwegian). Doug Moo, a Pauline and New Testament expert, spent years studying and talking to other experts on the best way to translate the Greek word sarx, which is translated as “flesh.”

In this link Karen Jobes talks about translating Ps 23. Most Christians have Psalm 23 memorized, and the NIV translators didn’t want to make any unnecessary changes. But Psalm 23.4 doesn’t actually refer to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It refers to darkness. “Jobes believes the translators have helped to make the verse more precise than ever before.

‘We may feel we’re in the valley of darkness in lots of different ways other than with impending death,’ Jobes said…. ‘Accuracy and clarity have to trump tradition,’ CBT member Karen Jobes said. ‘Sometimes we ‘ruin’ our own favorite verses for the sake of accuracy and clarity.’

The translators seek to make the NIV relevant, not to people-please, but so more people can pick up the Bible and understand what it is saying.

Gender-Inclusive Language

The Made For You link lets you read about the issues on the use of masculine nouns and pronouns no longer being universally accepted as referring to both men and women. The CBT “commissioned a study by Collins Dictionaries to study the Collins Bank of English, a database of more than 4.4 billion words taken from recordings and publications throughout the English-speaking world.”

“With that data,” said Doug Moo, “we were then able as translators to say, ‘Despite our own personal preferences, this is the English that most people are speaking, and that’s what we need to use in our translation.’”

This data made it impossible to accuse the CBT of bias.

Why can’t the CBT leave the NIV text alone?”

But the answer was obvious: because the text is only as accurate as it is understood. “If we were to use in those contexts, ‘He who takes up his cross, follow me,’” said CBT chair Doug Moo, “it would communicate to a contemporary English audience a masculine sense that the original text did not have in mind at all.”

The translation needed to reflect the English that people were actually speaking. The goal was not to be trendy. The goal was good translation.

Endorsements

Here you can read endorsements from Christian leaders like Philip Yancey,

Pastors like Max Lucado and Rick Warren, 

Biblical Scholars like Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Jason DeRouchie, George Guthrie, and more.

The NIV Bible has been around for 50 years, and I hope it will be around for at least another 50. The scholars put in both the time and the effort to make this the best translation it can be for the English-speaking world, and they will never stop seeking to continually refine it as long as it means more people can understand God’s Word.

NIV Timeline

NIV_Timeline_v51

Lagniappe

NIV Products Page

NIV Zondervan Study Bible

  • Hardcover: 2912 pages
  • Contributors: 60+
  • Articles: 25+
  • Maps: 90+
  • Publisher: Zondervan; Har/Psc edition (August 25, 2015)

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Buy it on AmazonZondervan, or from Logos!

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NIV Zondervan Study Bible

nivzsb

Growing up I was a NKJV kid. Not that I read it that often, but all of the Bible I ever owned, used in school, and brought to church were NKJV. In Bible college I moved to a single column ESV with a good amount of space for notes. I didn’t even have a study Bible until I married Mari. Though I regret not having a study Bible sooner, I honestly doubt I would have used it (there was a long period of time where I didn’t read if I didn’t have to, and even if I did!)

However, in case you haven’t heard, Zondervan has produced the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. It’s similar to the ESV Bible in that there are plenty of maps, pictures, and helpful introductions. Unlike the ESV Study Bible which is geared toward Systematic Theology (what the entire Bible says about a particular topic), the Zondervan NIV Study Bible (NIVZST) is geared toward Biblical Theology. This means that the editors and contributors seek to understand each book on it’s own and how it adds to the canon of Scripture (not to say that the ESVSB didn’t, but this has a different spin).

How did the knowledge of God progress from Genesis to Revelation? What is the storyline of the Bible? Questions we might ask about Moses and his writings would be, “What did Moses know about God and his purposes?” or “What didn’t Moses know because it hadn’t been revealed yet?” Ezra knew more about God’s purposes than David who knew more than Moses who knew more than Adam. It’s a story in progress, and the NIVZST helps its readers know what that story is and how it develops.

Managing editor Andy Naselli said this Study Bible “repeatedly makes organic, salvation-historical connections, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments integrate.”

andrakee

Thanks to Andra Kee for the picture!

“Charts, maps and photographs also invite readers to visualize the world of the Bible. At the end of the study Bible, 28 articles on everything from creation to justice to worship provide a comprehensive examination of theology from a conservative viewpoint.”

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Contributors

You can find the full list of contributors here, but I’ll provide the biblically alphabetical list.

Old Testament

  • T.D. Alexander — Genesis
  • Richard S. Hess — Genesis
  • Paul R. Williamson — Exodus
  • Richard E. Averbeck — Leviticus
  • Jay A. Sklar — Numbers
  • Stephen G. Dempster — Deuteronomy
  • Richard S. Hess — Joshua
  • K. Lawson Younger, Jr. — Judges
  • Robert L. Hubbard — Ruth
  • John D. Currid — 1-2 Samuel
  • Robert L. Hubbard — 1 Kings
  • Todd Bolen — 2 Kings
  • Frederick J. Mabie — 1-2 Chronicles
  • Robert S. Fyall — Ezra, Nehemiah
  • Karen H. Jobes — Esther
  • C. Hassell Bullock — Job
  • David M., Jr. Howard — Psalms
  • Michael K. Snearly — Psalms
  • Christopher B. Ansberry — Proverbs
  • Bruce K. Waltke — Proverbs
  • Craig C. Bartholomew — Ecclesiastes
  • Richard S. Hess — Song of Songs
  • John N. Oswalt — Isaiah
  • Iain M. Duguid — Jeremiah
  • David J. Reimer — Lamentations
  • Donna Lee Petter — Ezekiel
  • Tremper Longman III — Daniel
  • Douglas K. Stuart — Hosea
  • David W. Baker — Joel
  • M. Daniel Caroll R. — Amos
  • David W. Baker — Obadiah
  • T.D. Alexander — Jonah
  • Bruce K. Waltke — Micah
  • V. Philips Long — Nahum
  • Elmer A. Martens — Habakkuk
  • Jason S. DeRouchie — Zephaniah
  • Anthony R. Petterson — Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah
  • Andrew E. Hill — Malachi

New Testament

  • Craig L. Blomberg — Matthew
  • Rikk E. Watts — Mark
  • David W. Pao — Luke
  • D.A. Carson — John
  • Andrew David Naselli — John
  • Mark L. Strauss — Acts
  • Douglas J. Moo — Romans
  • Eckhard J. Schnabel — 1 Corinthians
  • Murray J. Harris — 2 Corinthians
  • Stephen Westerholm — Galatians
  • Te-Li Lau — Ephesians
  • Simon J. Gathercole — Philippians
  • David E. Garland — Colossians
  • Jeffrey A.D.  Weima — 1-2 Thessalonians
  • Robert W. Yarbrough — 1-2 Timothy, Titus
  • David E. Garland — Philemon
  • Buist M. Fanning — Hebrews
  • Douglas J. Moo — James
  • Karen H. Jobes — 1 Peter
  • Douglas J. Moo — 2 Peter
  • Andrew David Naselli — 2 Peter
  • Colin G. Kruse — 1-2 John
  • Douglas J. Moo — Jude
  • Andrew David Naselli — Jude
  • Brian J. Tabb — Revelation

Articles

  • D.A. Carson — A Biblical-Theological Overview of the Bible
    •  — The Bible and Theology
    •  — Sonship
  • T.D. Alexander — The City of God
    •  — The Kingdom of God
    •  — Law
    •  — Temple
  • Douglas J. Moo — The Consummation
  • Paul R. Williamson — Covenant
  • Henri Blocher — Creation
  • Philip S. Johnston — Death and Resurrection
  • Thomas R. Wood — Exile and Exodus
  • James M. Hamilton Jr. — The Glory of God
  • Greg D. Gilbert — The Gospel
  • Andrew David Naselli — Holiness
  • Brian S. Rosner — Justice
  • Graham A. Cole — Love and Grace
  • Andreas J. Köstenberger — Mission
  • Dana M. Harris — Priest
  • Moisés Silva — People of God
  • Sam Storms — Prophets and Prophecy
  • Jay A. Sklar — Sacrifice
  • Timothy Keller — Shalom
    •  —The Story of the Bible: How the Good News About Jesus Is Central
  • Kevin DeYoung — Sin
  • Daniel J. Estes —Wisdom
  • Christopher W. Morgan — Wrath
  • David G. Peterson — Worship

Share-ables

There are a few sections to this share-able page.

    • 8 almost-tweetable summaries of a few of the articles in the NIVZSB.
    • 12 pictures of different tables with content such as “Major Old Testament Offerings and Sacrifices,” “Major Covenants in the Old Testament,” “Contrasts of Levitical Priesthood and Jesus’ Priesthood in Hebrews,” and more.
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    • 8 videos about the NIVZSB, including the scholar team behind the NIVZSB, interviews, and more.

Conclusion

This is not “just another study Bible.” The list of scholars here are top notch. They not only put in the effort to know the Scriptures, but they love the church and want all to grow in the knowledge of God and in his revelation through Christ. This would make for a good Christmas present, but also a good study companion. This is a book I wish I would have had in high school. And college. And Bible college. And now.

 Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 2912 pages
  • Contributors: 60+
  • Articles: 25+
  • Publisher: Zondervan; Har/Psc edition (August 25, 2015)

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Buy it on AmazonZondervan, or from Logos!

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Review: The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus (NSBT)

ARLJ NSBT

Why do you read Acts? To figure out if the gifts of the Spirit are for today or if they’ve ceased? How should we baptism? Believers? Children? What about church politics? How should the church today be run? How should we do missions? How does the Holy Spirit guide us today? Is there one or two fillings? These are important points to consider, but are we missing the main point?

Alan J. Thompson writes the 27th volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology [NSBT] series. The series usually takes a topic and goes through various passages of Scripture (Beale and the Temple, Ortlund and Adultery, Shead and the Word of God in Jeremiah). Here, Thompson writes this volume not to give us a full-blown theology of Acts, but to “see Luke’s ‘framework’ of God’s kingdom and the reign of Christ more clearly” in Acts (13). “Now that Jesus has suffered, died, risen and ascended as he said he would, what happens next? As Jesus’ teaching indicated, the kingdom has come ‘already’; nevertheless, the kingdom has ‘not yet’ been consummated in fullness and there will be a period in-between” (43). Luke shows how God’s New Covenant people live ‘between the times’ by framing the book of Acts with two references to God’s kingdom on each side of the book (1.3, 6; 28.23, 31).

One thing I’m continuing to learn is that I have to relearn a lot of what I’ve learned about the Bible during my youth. The main parts are correct (Jesus is my Savior), but there are many things I’ve taken for granted that I’ve come to realize don’t make much sense. Acts has never held much interest with me.There’s some action, a lot of traveling, and not much theology. At least, that’s what I used to think. It’s the book of Acts that shows us how the Church transitioned from living under the Old Covenant into the New. And it’s Thompson’s book that assists in grasping the broader message of Acts.

Summary

In his introduction, Thompson tells us that “Luke is writing to provide reassurance to believers about the nature of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the spread of the message about Jesus, and the nature of God’s people following Jesus’ ascension [Lk 1.1, 4]” (19). Luke doesn’t simply provide us with an early church history for our sake, but instead a ‘biblical history.’ Luke imitates LXX language, fulfillment language (Christology, the mission to the Gentiles, and the Holy Spirit), themes that were central to the OT (Jerusalem, Temple, and Law), certain episodes in Acts have similarities to the OT, and the theological understanding that God is in control and keeps his covenant promises. Luke’s Gospel shows how Christ fulfills the OT, and Acts shows that Jesus continues to reign in heaven and work in his people.

Chapter 1 takes us through the speeches of Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 13) where they cover God’s sovereignty in Israel’s history. God’s work is seen in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and his purposes are accomplished in the life of the church. Acts emphasizes the continuing reign of the Lord Jesus (hence the title of Thompson’s book), and how the kingdom of God, which began with Christ, continues to expand with his people. In the midst of the growth of the church through Jews and now Gentiles, there will be suffering in this interim period (Acts 14.22). Christ reigns, but his kingdom is still ‘not yet.’ Suffering happens in the midst of evangelism and growing the church. God’s people suffer because they follow a suffering Saviour, and churches need encouragement and strengthening.

In Chapter 2 Thompson focuses on the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. “As Schreiner observes… in Ezekiel 37, it is clear that ‘resurrection signifies the fulfillment of God’s promises, the inauguration of the age to come – the restoration of exile and the return of Israel'” (72). All the OT Scriptures pointed to the death and resurrection of Christ. Resurrection was the hope of Israel. Because Jesus was resurrection, the future age begins now. Now forgiveness can be received, along with the Holy Spirit, and salvation.

Chapter 3 looks at how God fulfills his promises of restoring his people. In Acts, both Jews and Gentiles belong together as God’s people because they have received the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word. Thompson starts on Acts 1.6-8 to show how those verses are programmatic to the book of Acts. The disciples ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (1.6). Jesus “[affirms] and [clarifies] their role in this restoration” in 1.7-8 (108). ‘Israel’ and ‘Judea’ are seen at Pentecost, ‘Samaria’ points to the northern kingdom (as there has always been a division between the northern and southern kingdoms since Solomon’s son, and now Israel will be united), and ‘the ends of the earth’ (eunuchs and Gentiles) are brought into being God’s people.

In Chapter 4 Thompson tells us why the Holy Spirit plays such an important role in Acts. “The Holy Spirit has been poured out in fulfillment of God’s promises for the last days because God’s kingdom has been inaugurated through [Jesus]” (125). The Spirit is not an ‘additional gift’, but everyone who believes on Christ has the Spirit.

Chapters 5 and 6 are about ‘the end of an era.’ Now that Jesus is reigning, what happens to the old system (the Temple and the Law)? Chapter 5, Jesus replaces the temple. The lame man in Acts 3 is helpless outside of the Temple door, but “Jesus fulfills all of God’s saving promises in Scripture,” and he is sufficient to heal this man (156). Jesus is the cornerstone, he has universal authority, and he has given authority to the apostles.

Chapter 6, with this authority, the teaching of the apostles is held over the law? Why? Jesus came and fulfilled the law, and now the apostles are his authorized delegates who are to proclaim Christ’s gospel. All of God’s blessings are found in Jesus, the one who is now ruling and reigning. Although the law doesn’t have direct authority over believers, we see in Acts that there are some sensitivities to Jews (Timothy is still circumcised in Acts 16 and Paul makes vows in Acts 21, all done to reach more Jews with the gospel).

Recommended?

If you’re a teacher, or a pastor, or if you simply interested in the book of Acts, then you should really consider buying this book. Thompson is detailed, but he works to start true to Scripture and to keep the Luke’s main themes in mind. To be faithful to Luke’s intentions, the expositor must keep Luke’s central themes in mind. Any readers who takes this book into consideration will come away knowing much more about how Christ fulfills the OT and how he sits at the right hand of God, ruling, reigning, and leading his people to victory.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to IVP Academic for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Review: Praying with Paul

Praying with Paul

(The bigger, the better, right?)

D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and is the author and editor of more books than you can shake a stick at (or “more than fifty books” as the back cover says). Simply, if you haven’t heard of Carson, you haven’t read a book (or my blog, at least). If you haven’t read Carson, this would be a good place to start. After seeing all that Carson has written about, one might think he lives in a high, impregnable ivory tower. But when one looks at all he’s done, all he’s preached on, and all he’s written, one should get a different idea about him.

In Praying with Paul, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (2nd Ed.), Carson invites the reader to look with him at some of the Apostle Paul’s prayers to the Father. What is Paul’s perspective when he prays? Does he pray for good health? A good life? Or does he pray for wisdom? Life? And not only for himself, but for others too? Carson looks at prayer through Paul’s eyes (along with Moses and Daniel), the proper perspective of God, and why we should pray when God is sovereign and already has the plan laid out.

Outline

In Chapter One, after expressing his own inadequacies in the school of prayer, Carson lists 8 practical prayer helps that he has received from more mature prayer warriors. In Chapters Two and Three, Carson works through 2 Thessalonians 1.1-12 (and 1.3-12), giving us the structure of prayer and what kind of petitions we should bring before the living God. Chapter Four is focused on praying for others and looks at a long list of Paul’s commands to pray for others. Chapter Five (1 Thessalonians 3.9-13) covers Paul’s passion for people, sinners just like you and me, praying they make it to the end. We look at Colossians 1.9-14 in Chapter Six, and we see “what to pray for, how to approach God,” and that we would live a life that is pleasing to Him. Chapter Seven looks at excuses we make not to pray. In Chapter Eight (Philippians 1.9-11) Paul prays that his readers would abound in the knowledge of God, which will lead them (and us) to be eager to pray.

Chapter Nine works to answer the long-asked question, “How does prayer change things if God is sovereign?” [See my posts here]. Chapter Ten (Ephesians 1.15-23); For what “reason” (Eph 1.15) does Paul set himself to pray? For all that God has done for the believer. Chapter Eleven (Ephesians 3.14-21) Paul prays for ‘power,’ power through the Holy Spirit, and “power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.” And this power is likely not what we think it is. Chapter Twelve (Romans 15.14-33); We look at a final, fresh prayer of Paul, one that was only partially answered. We should be praying for ministry, further ministry, both for ours and for another’s, and that God would give life to the people we and others are serving.

The Chocolate Milk

I enjoyed the book as a whole, I especially enjoyed Chapters Nine through Eleven (probably due to the placement of Chapter Nine). After considering how God works with, in, and through prayer, Chapter Ten Paul prays because God is sovereign. “Just as Daniel prayed for the end of the exile because God had promised that the exile would end, so Paul prays that christians may grow in their knowledge of God because God had declared his intention to expose his people to the glories of his grace, both now and for eternity (Chapter Nine, 149).” Because God has promised to work, God does work. In Chapter Eleven the power God strengthens us with, rather being some king of grand might where we easily overcome our fears, sins, dry spells, and worries, is one that keeps us weak so that we will rely on him. As we focus on the cross of Christ, we see how we are to live: sacrificing ourself and humbling ourselves for the benefit of all others.

But before I begin preaching (these were first sermons by Carson), the entire book is a gem. Carson knows the hardships in prayer. “The idea… is that Paul understands real praying to include an element of struggle, discipline, work, spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil. Insofar as the Roman Christians pray this way for Paul, they are joining him in his apostolic struggle” (188). In praying we are warring against the enemy. No wonder it’s so difficult. And it’s not enough to know theology. It’s not enough to know about God. We need to know Him. He is a personal God, and we are to pray for his promises in our lives and in the lives of others.

Recommended?

I have yet to read Keller’s book on Prayer, but I would imagine this would be an excellent companion volume. Any book by Carson is good, and this book is no different. Prayer is difficult to follow through with in my own life. As a natural-born introvert, one-way conversations don’t get my blood pumping (not do two-, three- four-. etc). But following along Paul’s fresh prayers, along with other biblical characters and the psalms, we can begin to view prayer in the proper way. Rather than making it all about ourselves, our day, our jobs, and so on, we can pray for true spiritual maturity in our lives, our spouses, our children, and others, and we can see why we can and should do it. Carson speaks with gentleness and clarity. This isn’t a book on boring exegesis. It’s on exposition. What does Paul say? What does it mean? And how can we make this ours? Mature prayer warriors (if I may use the term in a non-cliche way) are few and far between. It doesn’t take being a spiritual giant to pray. It simply takes seeing who God reveals himself to be in his word and wanting to know more of him that you can sit down and pray. This book is easy for any high schooler to read, but it has the depth and clarity from a scholar of over 40 years.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (January 20, 2015)
  • PDF Sample Here

Posts

  1. God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 1
  2. GS & HR, Part 2
  3. GS & HR, Part 3
  4. GS & HR, Part 4
  5. GS & HR, Part 5
  6. Two Poems on Prayer

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 5

This is the final post of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We’ll look at two prayers from two spiritual giants: (1) Daniel and (2) Moses.

Other Case Studies

“Those who pray in the Scriptures regularly pray in line with what God has already disclosed he is going to do” (139).

Daniel

Daniel knew about God’s promised word to Jeremiah (Dan 9.2) that at the end of the seventy year exile the Jews would travel back to their homeland. God is not a machine, but is personal. Daniel “appeals to God to preserve the integrity of his own name, the sanctity of his own covenant, his reputation for mercy and forgiveness.

And the exile ends” (140).

Moses

Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel are committing heinous idolatry. The people have declared their loyalty to Yahweh, the One who rescued them from abject slavery, but in a moment’s notice they turn their backs and worship a golden calf. God is furious and threatens to destroy them (Exod. 32:9–10).

But Moses intercedes for Israel, “appealing to God both as the Sovereign and as the supreme personal Deity” (140). While they have sinned and God could destroy them, the Egyptians would mock God, saying he couldn’t even save his own people. Or, perhaps worse, he led them out in order to destroy them.

Moses reminds God of his promises to the forefathers, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (32.12).

Moses isn’t thinking fatalism here (“simply trust the promises of God and everything will work out”). Moses turns to intercession: “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (32:12).

“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (32:14).

Many say, “See? God does change his mind. His purposes are not sovereign and steadfast. Prayer does change things because it changes the mind of God” (141).

But perhaps we should look at a few more prayers.

Amos and the False Prophets in Ezekiel

In the book of Amos, God threatens judgment against Israel. Amos, hearing about it, passionately intercedes on their behalf: “I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’ ” (Amos 7:2). “Amos’s prayer proves effective. Twice we are told, ‘So the Lord relented’ (7:3, 6)” (141).

On the other end, “God berates the false prophets of Israel precisely because they do not intercede for the people” (Ezek. 13:5, p. 141).

What Doth This Meaneth?

“God expects to be pleaded with; he expects godly believers to intercede with him. Their intercession is his own appointed means for bringing about his relenting, and if they fail in this respect, then he does not relent and his wrath is poured out” (142).

What happened with Moses? “Moses is effective in prayer not in the sense that God would have broken his covenant promises to the patriarchs, nor in the sense that God temporarily lost his self-control until Moses managed to bring God back to his senses. Rather, in God’s mercy Moses proved to be God’s own appointed means, through intercessory prayer, for bringing about the relenting that was nothing other than a gracious confirmation of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (142).

Is this kind of praying left only to Moses, Daniel, Amos, and Paul? No. James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit“ (James 5.17-18).

It’s not that these men (and women) were so special and so gifted and so “holy” that God gave extra ear to them. It’s that they sought out the purposes of God, who God is, what his character is, and they trusted in Him. They prayed believing that God was listening. This does not mean God is a genie and all of our prayers will be answered (not all of Paul’s were). But we do serve a personal God who listens to us, who condescends to us in the form of a human being. Jesus taught us how to pray that we might sit around and parse the details of Greek? No. Though that is a good thing to do in your studies (if you know Greek, Jesus taught us to pray so that we could pray!

God’s character is profoundly mysterious to us. He has revealed himself to us, yet he is infinite and we are not. The more we study his word, the more we will learn how to pray, what to pray for, why we should pray, and how we should ask. We will learn more about our Father and hopefully will be drawn to speak with him as he has spoken to us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4.19).

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.9-10, 13, 18).

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God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 4

This is part 4 of our quest on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We have questions; the Bible has answers. We expect all of our questions to be answered. The Bible is a puzzle just waiting to be solved. We simply need to figure out all the pieces.

Not quite. We need to remember Deuteronomy 29.29 which says, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

There is mystery in God’s nature. Pieces of the puzzle we can’t always put together. One action that should we never try to do is to jam the pieces of the puzzle together to make them fit. Have you ever tried to piece together a real puzzle? These aren’t blueberries. Jamming never works.

We need to remember that mystery is not nonsense. God is infinite and we do not and will not understand everything there is to know about him.

What is ‘Freedom’?

Does “freedom” mean that we have the ability “to choose, to believe, to disobey,” and to not believe? Is it having the power to work outside of God’s sovereignty? For if God is sovereign, perhaps it does not matter what we do. All is inevitable. We know the end of the story and it will happen. And if our decisions are not ultimately ours, “how can we be held morally accountable” (135)?

Yet, as Carson points out, many theologians don’t define freedom as having power to act outside of God’s sovereignty. Pontius Pilate, Herod, and the rest conspired to kill Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what they did. Yet Revelation 13 tells us Christ was crucified before the foundations of the world… before Pilate, Herod, and the rest were even born.

What gives? They did what they wanted to do. Many theologians tie “freedom” to “desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose…. Joseph’s brothers did what they wanted to do; Herod and Pilate… did what they wanted to do; the Assyrians did what they wanted to do.” (135). God was working behind the scenes in each of these cases, but that does not erase the responsibility of the participants. They did what they wanted to do.

Standing Behind Good and Evil

Carson gives us two positions to avoid:

  1. Supposing that God does not stand (in any sense) behind evil.
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  2. Supposing that God stands behind good and evil in the exact same way.

The former would mean that when evil happens it is outside of God’s control. If he’s not behind the evil, then something else must be. There must be another power that is outside of God’s rule which challenges him. In philosophy this is called “Dualism,” and dualism is wrong. Which side will win? Good…or evil?

Let’s get ready to rumble.

But fortunately that is not the case.

View 2 holds that what God ordains takes place. He ordains good, then good takes place. He ordains evil, then evil takes place. If he doesn’t ordain it, then it doesn’t take place. But what happens if he stands behind both good and evil equally, or symmetrically? Then he is entirely amore. Powerful, but not good.

“The Bible’s witness will not let us accept either of these positions. The Bible insists God is sovereign, so sovereign that nothing that takes place in the universe can escape the outermost boundary of his control; yet the Bible insists God is good, unreservedly good, the very standard of goodness” (136).

We are driven to conclude that God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way. In other words, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that the good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effects. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God’s sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself (136).

Another Way

God could be sovereign, but nothing more. In control, but a machine.

God could be personal, but nothing more. A kind friend, speaking and responding, but not very “transcendent.”

Rather, he is both transcendent and personal.

God is Transcendent

He exists above/beyond time and space, for he existed before the universe was created.

From his exalted position he sovereignly rules all creation, al nations, and all peoples.

God is Personal

He is a Father. He speaks. He spoke through his Son who came to earth to be with the likes of us. He suffered and was tempted in all points as we are, though without sin, and can sympathize with us (Heb 4.15). If I obey God’s command, I am obeying God, my Father in heaven. By believing in his Son, I too become his son.

Bearings On Prayer?

If God is sovereign, and we are morally responsible for our actions, if God is both transcendent and personal, if all of this involves some degree of mystery, how can we be so sure we’ll understand this correctly? How do we know we won’t fling off to one extreme side thinking it all makes so much sense?

To see how these truths function in our lives, we must read the Scriptures and see how these truths functioned in the lives of the believers there (138).

How Does x Function in Scripture?

1. Election

  • It’s not placed there to stop evangelism.
  • It emphasizes the wonder of grace (Jn 6.68-70; Rom 9).
  • It ensures “spiritual fruitfulness among God’s people” (Jn 15.16; p. 138).
  • It encourages perseverance in evangelism (Acts 18.9-10).

2. Exhortations to Believe and Obey

  • They don’t reduce God to being dependent on our actions.
  • They increase our responsibility (Gal 5.7; Col 1.23).
  • They emphasize the urgency of the steps we must take (2 Cor 13.5; ).
  • They show us what the proper response is to this kind of God (2 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 2.11-13; Heb 2.1-4).

3. The Repeated Truth of God’s Sovereign Providence

It’s never positioned in such a way to produce fatalism (An Eyore sort of “This is jus’ the way it’s goin’ t’be. Can’t do nuthin’ ’bout it.”)

  • It never allows us “to be morally indifferent on the ground that [we] can’t really help it anyway” (139).
  • It gives me reason for believing that everything is in God’s gracious control (Phil 1.6), with all things work out for the good of those who trust in him (Rom 8.28).

4. God’s Sovereignty in Passages of Prayer

  • The passages on prayer are never a disincentive to pray!
  • It forbids the wrong way of praying:
    • “Jesus forbids his followers from babbling like pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6.8; p. 139).
    • Though this verse does not run against persevering in praying (Luke 11, 18).
  • In John 17.1 Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Throughout John “the hour“ was the appointed time when the Father would glorify the Son (by way of the cross). When the “hour has come,” Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Alright, Dad. Youwill be done. I’m ready for this.” And God’s sovereignty certainly doesn’t breed a silent fatalism, one of sitting and waiting for the guards to bust the doors down and take Jesus away.
    • No, Jesus’ logic runs in this direction” “May Father’s appointed hour for the ‘glorification’ of his Son has arrived; so then, Father, glorify your Son” (139).

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Next Time

In my final post I will have a final case study on two characters who prayed at two special times: Daniel’s prayer for God to fulfill his promise in Daniel 9 and Moses who interceded for Israel after they committed idolatry with the golden calf.

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