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Book Review: Honoring the Son (Snapshots), Larry Hurtado

In Lexham Press’s Snapshots series, one that contains short books on various topics such as the atonement, transformation as the heart of Paul’s gospel, and the church and Israel. Now Lexham has added another volume by the eminent NT scholar Larry Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He has written numerous books on the early church’s devotion to Jesus, such as Why on Earth did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?, Destroyer of the gods, One God, One Lord, and How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? In Honoring the Son, Hurtado distills the last 30 years of research into one small book (82 pages).

After a Foreword by David Capes, Hurtado’s Introduction previews the plan of his book and then briefly reviews 20th century scholarship on how Jesus received cultic (“religious”) devotion. A certain Wilhelm Bousset wrote a book asking whether worship of Jesus originated with Jewish Christians, or, as Bousset argued, “in diaspora settings such as Antioch and Damascus, where he posited believers were more subject to pagan influences in which divinized heroes and multiple deities were more acceptable than in Roman Judea” (6). Basically, Bousset argues that Jews didn’t worship other gods; they worshiped Yahweh alone. So it must be that some Jews further out in Antioch (modern-day Turkey, quite a ways from Rome) were influenced by other pagans to add “divinized heroes” on to their toolbelt of deities to whom to pray. Thus, being influenced by their culture, they ‘divinized’ Jesus and began to worship him. There is more to the history of research, but I’ll let you read the rest of that.

In brief, chapter 2 covers worship in the ancient world. Worship was “the heart of Roman-era religion” (21). They viewed gods as the guardians of homes, towns, nations, and the Roman Empire. While you would have your own god(s), when you went to other towns you would worship and ‘honor’ other gods. To refuse to honor gods “might provoke them to retaliate, or at least to take offense” (22). It was irresponsible (and antisocial) to refuse to worship other gods. Chapter 3 looks at ancient Jewish monotheism, where all people honored each others gods, well, except for the Jews. It’s not that they didn’t think there weren’t other gods or spiritual beings (see Deut 32.8-9, 17; Ps 82; 1 Cor 10.19-21), but they didn’t worship them. They worship only one God, Yahweh.

Chapter 4 brings us to the early Christian “mutation.” Jews died for their belief that they worshiped one God alone. How did Jewish Christians come to incorporate Jesus into their devotional practices? Paul regularly refers to Jesus as “Lord” (Rom 10.9-13 // Joel 2.32; Phil 2.9-11 // Isa 45.23; 1 Cor 8.4-6). Chapter 5: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice presents the different ways in which Jesus was worshiped, honored, and revered not as a second god, nor at God’s expense, but with God as a recipient. Prayers, calling on Jesus’ name, the place of Jesus in baptism and the Lord’s supper, prophecy, and hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs all feature the uniqueness of Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, in the New Testament time. Honoring the Son ends with a Conclusion and an Appendix against Bart Ehrman’s ideas in his How Jesus Became God.

Thoughts

This is a great resource and an excellent distillation of Hurtado’s previous books. I’ve only read one of Hurtado’s books, but I’ve heard a good bit about his thoughts, so it was very helpful to read this thoughtful compression of thoughts. Every chapter was good, and it was especially helpful to have the brief overview of Greco-Roman thought when it came to religious worship. The Jews stood in stark contrast to them, with many being mocked and martyred for their beliefs. For Paul, the other NT authors, and the early churches to view Jesus so highly would be in stark contrast to the Jewish way of life, while still fitting with the Old Testament! The historical context Hurtado presents gives even greater meaning to those of us Christians today who just assume that it was obvious Jesus was divine so there shouldn’t have been a problem worshiping him. As Paul hows from the OT Scriptures, Jesus was closely associated with Yahweh, having received the “name above all names” (see the above references).

It should be said that the writing here is still very academic. It means Hurtado can be as precise as he needs to be to get his point across, but it will be made to less people. One example of the book’s academic nature can be seen in a certain change of terms. Hurtado once described this new devotional pattern (worshiping God the Father and the Son) as “binitarian.” He now describes this Christian development as “dyadic,” but he doesn’t explain what a dyad is. According to Wikipedia, “In sociology, a dyad is a group of two people, the smallest possible social group. As an adjective, ‘dyadic’ describes their interaction.”

Now granted, I could have looked up that word immediately upon seeing it for the first time, and I should neither expect books to explain all complicated words to me (dictionaries are still around for a reason). Nowhere in the book does Hurtado express that this is meant for the person in the pew. I do hope many pastors and teachers will pick this up to show the historical significance of Jewish Christians worshiping Jesus and calling on his name to be saved.

Hurtado’s book helps to affirm the divine position of the Son of God. I hope this book will be read widely.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Snapshots
  • Author: Larry W. Hurtado
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (June 27, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: John (Verse by Verse), Grant Osborne

Commentaries don’t need to be so difficult. Some of them are meant to bring the reader into the world of Greek or Hebrew grammar to understand the nuances of the author’s language. Others bring out cultural details and ancient literary sources to compare and contrast the thoughts of the biblical author to his culture. Others are just easy to read. They let you sit down with your Bible to read without flooding your with extraneous details. Although those other commentaries are important (and I enjoy them), Grant Osborne has decided that at the end of his academic career he would write a commentary on every book of the NT specifically for the layperson. His three main intended uses are for devotional aids, for use in Bible study groups, and as sermon helps. The church needs teachers so that they don’t commit heresy, but studying the Bible doesn’t need to be a”a tedious duty we have to perform” (xi). Osborne wants studying the Bible to be a joy, not a burden.

While Osborne has written a hefty commentary on John (finishing at just under 500 pages), it is still light reading. He doesn’t spend much time looking at differing perspectives; instead he focuses on what he believes the text says. When he does present other views, he represents them with care and grace. Osborne understands the apostle John to be the author of the Gospel, which could have been written in the early 80s AD during John’s ministry in Ephesus. John sets his Gospel around three Passovers, is the most chronological of all the Gospels, and places the “most emphasis on the historical reliability of his material” then the Synoptics (10).

1.1: John’s reference to Jesus as the logos is closer to the Jewish conception of the word as God’s divine creative wisdom (Prov 8:30-31). Jesus is the “Living Revealer” of God, his very voice (24).

2.13-22: Osborne sees no problem with there being two temple cleansings, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and one at the end (66).

3.5: Being born “of water and Spirit” refer to the new birth brought by the Spirit. “Water,” here, refers to the Spirit, as it does in John 7.38-39, and it looks back at Ezekiel 36.25-28, which uses water as a metaphor for the spiritually cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.

4.23-24: True worship is that which is given to God through Christ in the Spirit.

5.24-25: There is a now/not yet function to our salvation. Christians are both saved and raised to new life now, but we will also be saved at the coming of Christ and physically raised to new life then.

7.53-8.11: The story of the woman caught in adultery “was undoubtedly not a part of John’s Gospel and was likely added by Christian scribes early in the second century,” it is “missing from nearly all the early manuscripts,” and “no Greek church father commented on this story before the twelfth century, and it is not found in older translations of the New Testament” (204). After a quick discussion of the facts, Osborne says that most believe it was a true story that actually happened. While he doesn’t believe the story is canonical, he agrees that it is likely a true part of Jesus’ ministry. While he wouldn’t make a Bible study out of it, Osborne does think it makes for a good sermon illustration about forgiveness.

10.34-36: Those who are called “gods” were not Israel’s judges but all of Israel. They were considered to be “gods” because they were God’s “firstborn son” (Exod 4:22). 

14.12: The “greater works” are not only miracles but include imitating Jesus in his prayer life, acts of service in love, and his proclamation of divine truth (339). What can be greater than raising the dead? Bringing new life to a dead spirit. We bring the gospel so that God cane make people alive.

19.34: The blood and water which pour out from Jesus’ side represent his sacrificial death and the cleansing work of the Spirit, themes which fits John’s Gospel (446). John could also be battling a docetic heresy which disregarded Jesus as appearing in a physical body.

20.22: The reception of the Spirit here was a “private infilling of the disciples” after Jesus’ resurrection, whereas Pentecost in Acts 2 was the public reception and empowerment of the Holy Spirit who would send out the church to preach the good news.

John 21: This chapter is a fitting epilogue written by John as the ending of his Gospel. It concludes the interaction between Peter and the Beloved disciple and Jesus. All manuscripts of John’s Gospel have this chapter.

Recommended?

I found Osborne’s John commentary to be very refreshing. He fills his commentary with references back and forth to other passages in John, showing how John’s themes recur throughout his Gospel. Osborne is sensitive to building up the faith of the reader through a knowledge and understanding of John’s Gospel. I’ve not read most of the commentaries in this series, but given the Osborne’s faithfulness to Scripture in his more academic works and the readability of this volume, I would highly recommend anyone who wants to study the Bible to pick up any of Osborne’s commentaries: laypersons, pastors, and teachers. Unless you’ve already studied every NT book for years, Osborne will be a great conversation partner for most who want to study the letters of the NT.

Lagniappe

▪ Series: Osborne New Testament Commentaries
▪ Author: Grant Osborne
▪ Paperback: 432 pages
▪ Publisher: Lexham Press (May 2, 2018)

Buy it from Amazon, Adlibris, or Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: Surviving and Thriving in Seminary (Zacharias and Forrest)

Surviving and Thriving in Seminary

You’ve felt it—a desire, a pull, a call to ministry. Where do you start? Who do you talk to? Should you go to seminary? Where? Which one? M.A.? M.Div? PhD? How long will this take? Will go into debt? Do I have to learn the languages? What about my wife? Husband? Kids? Where do I go from here?

H. Daniel Zacharias (Acadia Divinity College) and Benjamin Forrest (Liberty University) have written Surviving and Thriving in Seminary to provide the budding future minister/academic/exegete with a guide to not only survive seminary, but even to thrive within its classrooms, cafeterias, and late night Greek dormitory study sessions.

Summary

There are three parts to S&TS: (1) Preparation, (2) Managing time and energy, and (3) Study skills and tools.

(1) Preparation

One must understand that he does not know everything, and he will hear and learn new ideas in seminary. It can be overwhelming (especially when the languages are added to the mix). Those who have either received their bachelor’s in theology or have read a lot will likely not be greeted with such a shock, but there days will be consumed with work nonetheless! Not all classes are about “the Bible,” per se.  Counseling and leadership classes are based off of the Bible and will require you to think in ways you haven’t before—especially if your forte is in the theology or music department—and vice versa.

There is an important section on the languages as most people will have to learn them. Start learning early! It will give you more breathing room when you begin your classes to know that you at least know the alphabet (and maybe even a few nouns too). Knowing the alphabet (along with nouns and adjectival forms) ahead of time certainly gave me some breathing room in Hebrew.

But all of your reading cannot replace Bible reading and study. Hopefully you will have good Bible teachers who require you to read the Bible for their class (maybe they’ll require you to read the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in a week each—along with the rest of you usual class reading). In seminary, you’re digging a well. You don’t want your thirty year ministry to be only one inch deep. You need to have something to say from the pulpit each week and to those whom you counsel and help throughout the week while still growing in your relationship with the Lord (and your family!). It is vital.

(2) Managing time and energy

If you have a spouse, and if you have kids, both your time and energy will be divided. Whether you are married or single, it’s a good habit to get started on the big projects as soon as you can. If and when possible, front-loading your semesters will bring great ease to the end of your semester when you are tired and ready for it all to be over. In four chapters, Danny and Ben help you to see that you need to keep your family first, set up your calendar, work hard, eat well, exercise (see below), find friends who will work instead of play around and who can critique your papers. Be on top of your classes and always take responsibility. Danny and Ben give helpful tips on managing seminary with the ministry.

(3) Study skills and tools

This section sets you up with some skills for the library, reading books (and remembering what you read), and with writing essays, book reviews, and papers. The final chapter informs you about some of the right tools to use—different apps, word processors, bible software, flash cards, citation software (extremely helpful), and more.

Three appendices

  1. Choosing a Seminary (What does my spouse think? study on campus? online? where to go? who are the professors? cost? will I have to move?);
  2. Paying for Seminary (who will work? part time? full-time? how many years will this take, and are we really willing to wait? Make a budget; if you’re tight on money, consider avoiding a car and using public transportation);
  3. A Word to Spouses (root for your spouse, remind them to work and rest, keep your date night, pray for your spouse, and more).

Two sections which stood out to me were those on exercise and grumbling.

Exercise: Students have so much going on in seminary—classes, reading, papers, exams, work, food, family, sleep—that exercise, for many, is on a post-seminary graduation to-do list. Yet exercise will actually focus your mind more and help you to be more disciplined (and your back will thank you for it). This is important because my back has been causing me problems, yet the nature of seminary requires a lot of sitting. A good swim, plenty of breaks to walks, healthy food and plenty of water make for a better seminary experience (and it will give you more energy and make you feel better).

Grumbling: Before seminary, I had two years of Bible school, one year and a half of teaching the Bible (with plenty of reading), and another year of just reading. I don’t know it all, nor could I explain everything with perfect clarity; at the same time I have been easily frustrated with the classes my degree requires. I’d rather theology, books of the Bible, and language classes than ministry classes. I’d also rather just take a PhD, but that’s not the nature of how this works. While not every class can be a gem, there have been a few that were surprisingly enjoyable (and others that, if nothing else, taught patience).

What should you do when the grumbling, self-pity temptation arises? Remember the Lord’s graciousness in saving you. Remember how he led you to your seminary, the doors that he opened, the jobs and funds he has given you to pay for this, the wonderful friends you’ve made, the church you attend, and for the opportunity to be there, work hard, and learn as much as you can. One day it will be behind you, and you might even miss the days where that one boring class actually turned out to be a nice break for you.

Recommended?

If you are planning to head to seminary, and you aren’t sure what to expect, pick up this book. It won’t solve all of your problems, but it will be your guide on ways that will make your seminary experience. Yes, you will still have to do the work, but you can either have a lot of work and a bad seminary experience, or you can have a lot of work and a great seminary experience. Space out your work, make new friends, enjoy your family, meet your professors and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Make the most of the time while you have it, for one day you will be serving somewhere else, and you won’t be able to walk into that professor’s office to ask for his or her discernment over your theological dilemma. Instead, others will be coming to you doing just that.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: H. Daniel Zacharias/Benjamin Forrest
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 19, 2017)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: The Bible Unfiltered (Michael Heiser)

Heiser is slowly becoming a household name. Heiser has 6,000 subscribers on YouTube, His podcast (Naked Bible Podcast) has 3,000 followers (on Facebook), and as of November 2016 it was ranked in iTunes’ Top Thirty most listened to Christian podcasts. I’ve reviewed I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, The Unseen Realm, and his popular-level version Supernatural.

Heiser’s newest book, The Bible Unfiltered, similar to I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible, is made up of some of his contributions to Faithlife’s Bible Study Magazine. It consists of three parts: (1) Interpreting the Bible Responsibly and interpretations on (2) the Old Testament and (3) the New Testament.

Being Responsible

I’ve been listening to Heiser’s podcast for a few years now, and the bass line to all of his songs is understanding the Bible through the lens of the people who wrote it, especially those in the Old Testament (which is Heiser’s academic focus). He says God “prepared and chose men to accomplish that task [that of revealing and clarifying God’s thoughts, character, and purposes], not to insert obstacles to that task. This means that those of us living thousands of years after the words of Scripture were written face a predicament. We come from a different world. We did not share life with them. We are not of one mind in a multitude of ways” (2).

We are blessed to have Bible translations in many of our languages. We have the opportunity to read and understand the Word every day. But communication requires more than knowing the same language. It requires knowing the concepts, wordplays, and word connotations. The Bible is perplexing; in order to understand it we must know the biblical worldview.

The Bible isn’t here to give us a spiritual buzz. There’s more to know then just the four Gospels and Paul’s letters. “Knowing what all its [the Bible’s] parts mean will give us a deeper appreciation for the salvation history of God’s people, and the character of God” (9). We all have flawed thinking. We ought to request help from the Spirit “to expose flawed thinking” and get to work to understand God’s word so that we may know him (10). The Bible is not set in the modern world. There is a lot of supernatural elements that modern readers think are too weird (see my posts on The Unseen Realm). The biblical authors believed the world was flat and covered by a solid dome (a “firmament”). Heiser plainly says that God did not set forth men to write his Word to teach us science. That was not his intention, and to read the Bible as a science textbook is to misread the Bible.

Can’t we just read the Bible literally? To use an analogy similar to Heiser’s, if I said, “My nose is running,” what am I saying? Is my nose physically running? Did it hit a home run? How does my wife’s stocking have a run? If my car is running on empty, where are its legs? In all of these statements, the meaning is plain… if you are a part of the culture. If you are not, these idioms make little sense. In Heiser’s analogy with water, he says, “‘Water’ can be used metaphorically for a life source, purification, transformation, motion, or danger. The metaphors work because of the physical properties of water—and still describe real things. Non-literal doesn’t mean ‘not real’” (31).

Heiser emphasizes actual Bible study, not just biblical memorization (though he doesn’t downplay that either—for an example, see my post on James 2.19). He gives an example on how not to misinterpret prophecy with the difficult text from James’ use of Amos 9.11–12 in Acts 15.16–18.

The Old and New Testaments

In the Old Testament section, Heiser looks at the possible meaning of Yahweh’s name (though, unfortunately, the Hebrew is transliterated and no Hebrew text is given, which makes it more difficult to follow the argument). He looks at why the slave is brought before “elohim” in Exodus 21.1–6 but not Deuteronomy 15.12–18; the Angel of the Lord, his literary ambiguity with Yahweh, and Jesus who has “the name.” The secret things that belong to the Lord of Deuteronomy 29.29 are often misunderstood. God knows all things, and never tells us not to study the Bible to know deep things.

For many readers biblical readers, events that happen at trees don’t seem significant; Heiser unveils the importance of the ancient notion of sacred trees. He looks at some texts in Job to show that angels aren’t perfect, and that wasn’t a hidden fact to humans.

In the New Testament, Heiser examines Mark’s story of the demon-possessed swine and how the cultural notion of cosmic geography tells tells us a lot about this event. In Markan studies, everyone has to deal with the last section of Mark—is it original? Heiser bypasses this question and asks if exorcism is for everyone? There are different spiritual gifts, and we shouldn’t assume that all the gifts mentioned here will be handed out to all Christians. Heiser looks at another angle on what John may have been thinking when he said that “the Word was God,” what cosmological ideas James had in mind when he wrote that God was the Father of lights, and what demons believe about God? Of course, there is much more that I could say, but the book is short so I shouldn’t say too much, but Heiser’s many years of study come out again in this book to make the word become fresh again.

Recommended?

I like Heiser’s works because he not only knows the primary OT and ANE literature, but he’s up to date on much of current scholarship, while still remaining clever and not following trends because they’re popular (he takes a lot of minority views, e.g., rebellious divine beings in Psalm 82, and a rebellious divine being—and not Adam—in the background of Ezekiel 28). Although he has admitted he’s less of an innovator and more one who collects others’ ideas and brings them to the popular level, he still brings plenty to the table. Listeners of Heiser’s podcast will be familiar with a good portion of Part One, and at least some of the ideas in Parts Two and Three. The chapters are short and usually leave me wanting more, but it gives me just enough of a taste that it creates a desire in me to study more. If the Bible actually is this interesting (and it is), then I want to study it even more than I already do. If it creates that same desire in you, then it is well worth it.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Michael S. Heiser
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (October 4, 2017)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Book Review: No Quick Fix (Andy Naselli)

No Quick Fix Review Naselli

Have you ever been so sick of your sinful self that you tried just to let go and let God? Did your walk with God become easier? For how long? Did you find yourself bewildered and delirious at the remaining sin and your continued struggle against it, disappointed that God didn’t take it away? Did you declare Jesus him as your Lord again? Are you afraid that you’re a carnal Christian instead of a spiritual Christian who pleases God?

No Quick Fix is an abridged version of Andrew Naselli’s book Let Go and Let God? A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology (revised from his PhD dissertation). The academic language has been stripped down, and the book has been repackaged for thoughtful lay people.

Higher life theology (coming from the early days of the Keswick [pronounced KEH-zick] theology, though distinguished from the Keswick Convention today) promotes a quick fix to the Christian life. Rather than growing in one’s sanctification and walk with God, Higher life theology says that you can be with out (intentional) sin now if you would only consecrate your life to Jesus. He may be your Savior, but he needs to be your Lord.

Summary

Naselli divides his book into two parts, two chapters per section. Part one explains the story and history of higher life theology (ch. 1) and what this theology teaches (ch. 2). This is no witch hunt. Naselli isn’t writing this book to disagree with a theology that’s different from his own. In part two, Naselli looks at the fundamental reason why higher life theology is harmful (ch. 3) and follows up with nine more reasons why this theology is harmful for the Christian life (ch. 4). Naselli wants to help those who have taught or have been taught higher life theology to know what the Bible teaches about the Christian life, and he wants to expose higher life theology to those who have no experience with it so they can better minister to those who have been influenced by it.

Higher life theology has two main influences: Wesleyan perfectionism and the holiness movement” (8). For John Wesley, a Christian could receive a second work of grace that would bring “salvation from all sin” along with “entire sanctification, perfect love, holiness, purity of intention, full salvation, second blessing, second rest, and dedicating all your life to God” (9). Later Christians believed Christian perfection began “the instant a believer experiences the outpouring of the Spirit, is baptized with the Spirit, is filled with the Spirit, or receives the Holy Spirit as the promise from the Father” (10).

Higher life Theology was popularized by many people, some noteworthy ones being Charles Finney, H. C. G. Moule, F. B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Frances Ridley Havergal (who wrote “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace” [1878] and “Take my Life and let it be” [1874]), D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, and even Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary (though not anymore). At DTS, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, and Charles C. Ryrie promoted these teachings. Chafer taught that “Believers are in one of two distinct categories: (1) those who are not Spirit-filled and (2) those who are Spirit-filled. The first are powerless, and the second are powerful (21-22). However, “unlike Moody, Torrey, and Meyer, he insisted that Spirit-baptism occurs at conversion for all Christians” (22).

In higher life theology, there are three kinds of people in the world:

  1. natural (unconverted)
  2. carnal (converted but characterized by an unconverted lifestyle)
  3. spiritual (converted and Spirit-filled)

Unfortunately, a Christian who consecrates his life to Christ, received the filling of the Spirit, and is relinquished from a life of sin can still choose to unconsecrate his life. This is strange considering what Naselli says later, that “after you ‘let go and let God,’ God is obligated to keep you from sin’s power” (40). When the Christian is loosed from sin how would he be able to intentionally choose to not be under the Lordship of his Savior and, thus, sin? And why would he want to?). Doing so stops the sanctification process and will lead to the believer needing to consecrate his life to God again.

“A Spirit-filled Christian must not ‘relapse’ and experience spiritual leakage.’ That would require ‘a refilling.’ There is no guarantee that a Christian who is Spirit-filled will remain Spirit-filled” (43).

The biggest reason why higher life theology is harmful for Christians is its division of Christians into “carnal” and “spiritual” categories. Carnal Christians have the Spirit, but spiritual Christians are filled by the Spirit. Again, Naselli is not on a witch hunt. He presents five commendable characteristics of higher life theology: It exalts Christ, it is warmly devotional, it emphasizes spiritual disciplines, it affirms fundamental orthodoxy, and it has a legacy of faithful Christian leaders.

However, Naselli spends the second part of his book explaining higher life’s theology  defects. He lists ten reasons (though I’ll only give a few of them). Higher life theology emphasizes passivity, not activity, as God is 100% the one who keeps us from sin. there is truth to this, but it severely downplays our role in fighting against sin. “It portrays the Christian’s free will as autonomously starting and stopping sanctification” (a form of Pelagianism, though not the full-fledged heretical Pelagianism) (48, 84, 99). It does not interpret and apply the Bible accurately, and it assures false “Christians” they are saved by telling them they are just carnal. It frustrates those who aren’t “filled” with the Spirit because they still struggle with sin (which is actually normal to every Christian). It also misinterprets personal experiences. Sometimes a Christian may have a spiritual experience of some kind, a great sense of God’s overwhelming presence. Just as one remembers Christmas dinner more than Tuesdays leftovers, these experiences leave a lasting impression on our lives. Yet that doesn’t mean that we have received a second filling or are now free from sin. Naselli looks at texts in Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2–3, 12, Ephesians 5, and John 15 for evidence of progressive sanctification in the normal Christian life and how all Christians are filled by the Holy Spirit.

No Quick Fix ends with a lengthy and solid afterword by John MacArthur and an appendix with a list of twenty-eight resources on the Christian life.

Recommended?

With numerous charts throughout Naselli’s book which helpfully portray the beliefs of both higher life theology and what the Bible teaches, Naselli’s book is short enough to get a hold on what higher life theology is and why one shouldn’t hold to it. Higher life theology is pervasive, but the Bible shows us a better way: walking and growing with the God who saved us, redeemed us, walks with us, and promises to return for us. This God can be understood and known (Jer 9.24), and he is fighting for us and with us. 

After commending higher life theology’s emphasis on the Christian’s devotional life, J. I. Packer, says,

It is not much of a recommendation when all you can say is that this teaching may help you if you do not take its details too seriously. It is utterly damning to have to say, as in this case I think we must, that if you do take its details seriously, it will tend not to help you but to destroy you. (98)

This is a book I wish I would have had in high school. I heard it occasionally in school, in church, and a bit in Bible college too. Knowing what higher life theology is and how to reason against it biblically will save you and others a lot of worry over having to “consecrate” themselves all over again… again. 

Lagniappe

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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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The Word Was God

Where did John get the idea to call Jesus the Word (logos)? While there are some links to both Jewish and Greek ideas which John is playing off of, Michael Heiser, in his new book The Bible Unfiltered, says that John is working off of Aramaic translations of the Old Testament. Why Aramaic? By Jesus’ time, “Aramaic was the Jewish people’s native language” (166). While the Septuagint is what we call the Greek Old Testament translation, the Aramaic translations are called Targums. So because they spoke Aramaic, the Jews would have been very familiar with the Targums. Targum Onqelos, the Aramaic version of the Pentateuch, “was sanctioned by Jewish religious authorities for use in the synagogue” (166). Heiser gives two examples to show how the Targums portray God as the “Word” (memra).

The second examples he gives, which I will show first, comes from Targum Neofiti Genesis 3.8:

English Standard Version ……..Targum Neofiti

And they heard the sound……….And they heard the sound
of the Lord God….….….….……….of the Word (memra) of the Lord God
walking in the garden……………..walking in the garden

Heiser says that “memra is used hundreds of times in the Targums to describe God, often in passages where the language presumes God is present in physical, human form” (167). Using “Word” in this way so early in the Targum will evoke this idea of a physically present God later on in other instances.

This is not too difficult to believe, for this kind of physicality is present in the Hebrew scriptures.

Genesis 15:1, After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Genesis 15:4,  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

1 Samuel 3:21, And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (cf. 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 1 Kgs 6:11; 13:20).

Jeremiah 1:4, Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying… (cf. 1.11, 13; 2.1).

Although in many of these instances the word of the Lord could “come” through a prophet of the Lord, although that seems less likely to be the case in Genesis 15, 1 Samuel 3, and throughout Jeremiah.

The next example comes from Targum Neofiti Numbers 14.11:

English Standard Version ………………..

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will this people despise me?
And how long will they not believe
in me,
in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

Targum Neofiti

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will they not believe
in the name of my Word
in spite of all the signs of my miracles that I have done among them?”

In Targum Neofiti, the Lord refers to himself with the Aramaic term memra, “my Word.” John may be referencing Numbers 14.11 in John 1.14, “the Word became flesh.” Why would John do this? John “does this because the translations he had heard so many times in the synagogue had taught him that God was the Word—the memra—and he believed Jesus was God” (167). This becomes more plausible when we look at John 12.36–37, which seems to echo Numbers 14.11 again.

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.

How did God perform signs among his people? Both Yahweh, the Word, and Jesus, the Word, performed signs, and yet his people did not believe them.

God walking about in a physical (albeit, veiled) manner wouldn’t have been shocking to the Jews reading John’s gospel (cf. Gen 18.1). However the Word was Jesus, the Son of God, the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, the second eternal person of the divine Godhead. “The Word of the Old Testament had been made flesh (John 1:14) and walked among us” (168).

For more on the Angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Jesus read here:


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Book Review: Transformation—The Heart of Paul’s Gospel (David deSilva)

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transformation the heart of paul's gospel david desilva

What is so “good” about Paul’s good news? What was the good news he brought to  his churches? “Are you sure that if you died tonight you would go to heaven?” “All you need to do is to confess Jesus as your savior and believe in his name, and you can be sure that you’re saved”? These are questions we often hear, but is that what Paul was asking? Should these be what we are asking others? Is “heaven” the good news?

In the first volume in the Snapshots series, David A. deSilva gives us Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel. What does Paul’s gospel entail? DeSilva argues that Paul didn’t separate justification from sanctification like many do today. David deSilva teaches at Ashland Theological Seminary (since 1995) and has been named Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek since 2005. He is an extensive writer and is well-versed in the cultural and social context of the New Testament world, having written books on Hebrews, Revelation, 4 Maccabees, the apocrypha, an Introduction to the New Testament (review), and a closer look at the rhetoric of the New Testament (review).

When it comes to the salvation questions above, DeSilva’s concern is “that Christians often fail to connect these statements with passages in Paul’s letters that flesh out his larger understanding of how God has provided—out of his sheer goodness and generosity toward us—for our reconciliation, restoration, and rescue from the consequences of having participated in our race’s rebellion against God’s rule” (1). Paul’s message is about change because “faith, to be faith at all, entails a wholehearted commitment to the person of Christ that must also transform the life of a person” (5). This is seen in Jesus’ call for his followers to deny themselves, pickup their cross, and follow him. Losing your life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel means that you will gain your life in the life to come (Mark 8.34–35; 9.1). This is also seen in

James 2.18b,

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

and 2 Corinthians 5:15,

and Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

What is God seeking to bring about through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit? Paul emphasizes the transformation of individuals, communities, and even the whole cosmos itself.

Summary

  1. “Foundations for a Broader Understanding of Paul’s Gospel of Transformation”
    Chapter one focuses on the necessity of our transformation. Why should we assume that just because we claim to be “friends” with the Son that God will judge us differently than the rest of the world? It is Christ who died for all “in order that those who continued to live might live no longer for themselves but for the one who died and was raised on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:15). “Paul’s gospel, however, remains good news: it is the message about how God has undertaken to work out our transformation. It is about God’s provision for our transformation so that by means of his gifts we might become righteous and thus be approved at the Last Judgment without God himself ceasing to be just” (24).

    If deSilva’s description of the Last Judgment sounds like God’s judgment is based purely on our works, deSilva goes on to explain what he means by justification. God is transforming us to be like his Son through his Spirit. If you don’t care to live like Christ, if you live like someone who remains opposed to what Christ says and to how he lived, then you have no true faith. You don’t really believe Christ is the sovereign King. (For similar perspectives, read Justification [Wright] and Covenant and Commandment [Green, for a critique of Wright]).
  2. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Individual”
    Through Christ and the reception of God’s Holy Spirit, we were freed from our sin to serve God willingly. We are able to be transformed for we have “put on” the new man in Christ. We no longer need to fear death for we are being made like Christ, and we will live forever with him in all of his beauty.

  3. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Community”
    Paul does not spend the majority of his letters writing theology for individuals, but on how individuals are to live together as Christ’s body before the world that watches. The community’s transformation is to be from one of individuals who are opposed to one another to living together as a family. We are being reconciled to one another (2 Cor 2.5-11), and are to be others-centered (Phil 2.1-11). Living in this way breaks through the barriers of culture, race, gender, and class. DeSilva lays out ways in which Paul was thinking along these lines.

  4. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Cosmos”
    Here deSilva looks at the interpretive difficulties when we run upon the word “world.” The wisdom of God was revealed through the death and resurrection of the son of God. We have this wisdom in our possession, and we are to live in this wise way, always dying to ourselves and living for Christ. We are transformed and relate to the kosmos (“the world”) in a different way now, and we are looking forward to the time when the creation itself is renewed (Rom 8.19–24a).

Recommended?

There are so many interpretations of Paul: apocalyptic, Old Perspective, New Perspective, and more. But what is Paul’s main goal for his churches? What lies behind his thirteen letters? DeSilva believes, as do I, that Paul wants his readers to be transformed. If not, they would be just like Old Testament Israel—making empty claims while living like the other nations, causing God’s name to be spoken ill of among the Gentiles (Isa 52.5). DeSilva is refuting easy believism. From his NT Introduction, grace is more than just a gift from God. “Reciprocity is such a part of this relationship [between ‘the client and patron,’ or ‘us and God’], that failure to return grace (gratitude) for grace (favor) results in a breach of the patron-client relationship.” We receive grace from God, and we give grace (gratitude) by living “for the one who died and was raised on [our] behalf” (2 Cor 5.15).

Many will think deSilva is blurring the lines between justification and sanctification, but he quotes Mark Seifrid who, in speaking about Luther, a Reformer, said, “because [Luther] regards justification as effecting the new creation, he is able to encompass the whole of the Christian life within its scope.… In contrast to later Protestant thought, in which salvation was divided up into an ordo salutis, it remains for Luther a single divine act” (9). Despite any quibbles or issues people might and do have with this book, I find that there is much to gain from Transformation, because if we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, then there is a transformation that takes place and one that must continue to take place.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Snapshots
  • Author: David deSilva
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (September 18, 2014)
  • To read some of what deSilva says, here’s a quotable review by Allan Bevere

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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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Images of God in Revelation

Revelation-4-PD-718x576

A few days ago I reviewed Matthew Emerson’s Between the Cross and the Throne. In chapter four, The Portrait of God and His People, Emerson gives us the Skeleton Key to understand some of the cryptic images John uses about God. He reveals three of the images which John uses “to describe Yahweh’s rule over his enemies, his people, and his creation” (35).

God is Sovereign

“And before the throne [of God] there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal,” Revelation 4.6.

What do we make of this “sea of glass”? Why is there a sea before God’s throne, and why is it of glass? Emerson says, “In the Old Testament, the sea represents chaos and evil” (35).

Psalm 74.12-15 says,

12  Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13  You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
14  You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15  You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

God is the sovereign one who rules over the seas. He is able to dry “up ever-flowing streams” (v15b). The disciples were shocked when Jesus stilled the wind and the waves in Mark 4, saying, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” If only Yahweh can control the waters, who then is this who does the same?

leviathan

In the rest of Revelation, the sea “is the place from which evil arises” (35).

“And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads,” Revelation 13.1.

The sea being “the place from which evil arises” explains why Revelation 21.2 says there will be no sea. In the new creation there will be no chaos nor evil. Thus, “the image of God sitting on or over the sea shows his authority over chaos and evil” (35-36).

God is the Sovereign King of His People

elders

Revelation 4.4 and 11.16 together speak of 24 white-robed elders who sit on 24 thrones before God. While the issue of who the 24 elders represent is ever the debate, Emerson sees 12 elders as representative of Israel and the other 12 of the Church. In his lectures on Revelation, Peter Liethart sees the 24 elders as representing the 24 divisions of the priesthood in Chronicles with Jesus Christ as the 25 priest, the High Priest. The 24 elders would represent the Church, as we are a “kingdom of priests” (Ex 19.6; 1 Pet 2.5) in Christ (though, to be honest, I don’t remember exactly what Leithart said, but I think it was roughly that idea).

These 24 elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. God is the sovereign King of his people.

God is Lord Over All Creation

rainbow-and-the-throne

The twenty-four elders receive a lot of attention, but we mustn’t forget the equally head-scratching four creatures around Yahweh’s throne. Emerson says, “[T]he creatures likely represent the fullness of creation (represented both by the number four, which is the number of creation . . . and by the diversity of the creatures)” (36).

“After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree,” Revelation 7.1.

“And [Satan] will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth,” Revelation 20.8.

So, in Revelation 4.11 when the living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before Yahweh and sing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” it is “[b]oth creation and the people of God [who] fall down before [Yahweh]” and sing praises to him (36).

Here in the throne room scene of Revelation 4, John emphasizes Yahweh’s dominion over everything “because John is exhorting the Church to remain faithful to the end, even in spite of persecution” (36).

bt

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Review: Between the Cross and the Throne

bt

How often do Christians read Revelation? Do you think when you read it? Are you intrigued? Do you feel fear? Anxiety? Confusion? Does it lead you to praise and worship our Lord and Savior, the Lion-Lamb King? Revelation is a very difficult book, especially so for the modern day. The further along into time we go, the farther we get from the culture John write Revelation in. Should Revelation be taken literally? Are there symbols, how many, and what do they mean?

Summary

Emerson summarizes the book of Revelation and it’s application to the church in eight chapters.

Chapter one is the Introduction. Revelation isn’t a decoder ring you get out of your Sunday morning cereal box. “Rather, it is a book that was and is vital for the Church; it assures us, even as we face tribulation, of the triune God’s victorious reign and the imminence of Christ’s return” (1). Emerson says, “Most, if not all, of the book [Revelation] uses figurative images and language” (1). John draws these images from the Old Testament so that we can understand the conflict going on between Satan and God and his people.

Emerson provides his outline and the theological center of Revelation. Despite all of the persecution, it is God who rules on the throne, not Satan. Jesus suffered, died, and is the victorious King who will one day come to crush his (and our) enemies. “We can stand firm because he has already stood firm, and we can fight the Dragon’s servants because Christ has already bound their master” (5-6).

In chapter two Emerson guides the reader in seeing Revelation as a work of literature, a work that is a letter made up of prophecy and containing apocalyptic elements (figurative imagery, a focus on the end of history). Emerson takes a closer look at some of the literary devices, such as John’s use of numbers.

In chapter three, “The Drama of Redemption,” Emerson adds a fourth genre category, narrative. John sees his book “as the completion of the entire biblical narrative, connecting Christ’s work in his first and second coming with the story of creation and the fall (Gen 1–3). The new heavens and new earth (Rev 21–22) “is the consummation [completion] of Christ’s work of redemption to restore and renew creation from the effects of the fall.” John uses repeating patterns throughout Revelation to highlight different aspects of God’s judgment and mercy on the world and his faithfulness to his own people.

In chapters four and five, the reader is given two portraits. First, one of God and his people. Second, one of God’s enemies. Emerson believes that the church is seen all throughout Revelation. The reader is given a look at some of the images of God (“the seven spirits of God” and “the Lamb and Lion”). In writing to the seven churches, “‘[t]o the one who conquers,’ also reminds the church that they are being called to persevere” (40).  Emerson takes a quick guide to some of the phrases that describe the church in Revelation. When looking at the enemies of God, Emerson looks at “the unholy trinity” (made up of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet) and the harlot of Babylon.

Chapter six looks at the specific time periods (i.e., 1,260 days, 42 months, and “time, times, and half a time”), with Emerson saying that “the book’s time frame is especially structured around the events of Jesus’ first and second coming” (59). The war of the Lamb occurs during this period, where we see the dragon’s destructive dominion, the Lamb’s judgment, and the testimony of the church conquering over the dragon.

Chapter seven show us how to think about Revelation today in our modern world. The word has it’s agenda on how to shape people into its mold, “and it also has the practices to accomplish that purpose” (73). But believers today need to resist the world’s pressure and allow our worship of the crucified and risen Lamb to shape our minds and bodies to react in faithful trust to Christ.

Chapter eight draws the book to a close, reminding us “remain faithful to God in Christ by the power of his Holy Spirit until he returns in glorious victory over all his enemies” (77).

Each chapter ends with some suggested Bible reading and questions for the reader to reflect on which would also be good to use in a group setting.

Recommended?

This is highly recommended. It’s an easy introduction to Revelation. If you’re one who is put off by long, dense books, especially ones written on Revelation, then you really ought to pick up this book. It’s smooth reading, and was honestly hard for me to put down.

For the more academic, this book will be very light. But even still, if you’ve never studied up on Revelation and you’re neck-deep in biblical studies for other subjects, Emerson’s book would be a good side read to help become acquainted with the Apostle’s fantastic book. It’s hard to read this book without wanting more. Hopefully Emerson will provide us with more in the future.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Matthew Emerson
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (April 27, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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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Who Were the Nephilim?

Gustave_Dor_Dante_Inferno_Titans

One of the questions that many Christians have is, “What is Genesis 6 talking about?”

Genesis 6.1-4 says,

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

It gets worse too. Numbers 13.32b-33 says,

“The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

renders-germans

Dr. Michael Heiser, an Academic Editor at Logos Bible Software, has written a new book called The Unseen Realm (see my previous post here, and his less academic work on the same topic, Supernatural). In this book Heiser takes a look at the cultural worldview of the Israelites and the nations who lived around them. Heiser’s catchphrase is “If it’s weird, it’s important.” The these short verses about the Nephilim surely are more important than Christians make them out to be.

I found Heiser’s discussion to be very interesting, and I hope you do too. Even if you don’t agree, discussion is welcomed. I want these posts to be light reading. Short and easy (a far cry from the norm around here). So I’ll write posts that will be bite-sized chunks of a few chapters in Heiser’s book.

Outline

The Nephilim

Dividing the Nations

The OT Trinity

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UnseenRealmCover_Final-WEB

And also Heiser’s more condensed version,

supernatural

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