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Credo Mag on Kingdom Through Covenant

November 29, 2012

Fred Zaspel just posted his review/reflections on Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom Through Covenant  over at the Credo Mag website.

Zaspel reflects on KtC’s discussions on unconditional covenants, the Edenic covenant, the land promise, and limited atonement.

This adds to the list of high-profile reviews we’ve seen already from Doug Moo, Darrell Bock, and Mike Horton through the Gospel Coalition. It’s been great to see this book analyzed by Bible scholars – there have been a wide variety of reactions to the author’s claim to present a via media between Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology. In each case, the authors (Gentry and Wellum) have responded, which has helped keep the discussion going on this book.

  • See Zaspel’s post here
  • See Gentry and Wellum‘s reply to Zaspel

The earlier reviews hosted by The Gospel Coalition:

  • Michael Horton (Representing a Covenant Theology viewpoint)
  • Darrell Bock (Representing a Dispensational viewpoint)
  • Douglas Moo (Representing a view probably closest to that of the authors)
  • Author’s response (The authors: Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum then had a chance to respond)
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The Man Christ Jesus: An Interview with Bruce Ware

November 24, 2012

In the highlight of my blogging experience thus far, I got a chance to talk to Dr. Bruce Ware, Professor of Christian Theology at SBTS, about his new book, The Man Christ Jesus  (UK).

What prompted you to release a book on Jesus’ humanity, and what do you think sets this book apart from others?

Often, when we Bible-believing evangelical Christians think of the person Jesus Christ, our minds tend to focus on his deity.  Of course, this is not wrong, but it also isn’t all that is true of Jesus.  Perhaps our battles over the centuries with those who deny the deity of Christ have given us this mind-set, that when we think “Jesus,” we think, “God.”  One of the burdens of this book is to show that while Jesus was fully God, he also lived his life fully as a man.  He was, as Paul says, “The man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5), and this makes a difference in how we understand his obedience to the Father, his resisting of temptation, and many other aspects of his life among us.

Do you have a particular audience in mind that you hope will pick this up?

I am hoping to capture the attention of the broader Christian community who love their Bibles and love Christ.  I want them to join me in catching this vision of Jesus who while he was fully God, lived his life, resisted temptation, obeyed the Father, went to the cross, all by relying on resources – the word of God, prayer, and most importantly, the indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit – given to him in his humanity.  As such, he really is an example for how we, believers, should live.  Since he lived in the power of the Spirit, and that same Spirit is given to us, we rightly can/should look at him and learn how human life at its best should be lived.

What was the most enjoyable aspect in writing of this book?

I’ve taught and preached the truths of this book for many years, but I never had written out these various aspects of the life of Christ seen through the lens of his living as one of us, a full and integral human.  So, it was a joy finally to work on stating these glorious truths in written form, living, as it were, with my mind saturated on the life of Christ and longing to see this vision of Christ spread also to others.

In your interview with Dane Ortlund (below), you mentioned that Christ performed His miracles by the power of the Spirit. Did Jesus ever perform a miracle from His own divinity, and if not, would that mean that we can’t see Jesus’ miracles as evidences of His divinity?
Jesus may well have performed some miracles through the power of his own intrinsic divine nature, but it seems clear to me that the biblical norm is not this.  Rather, as passages like Matt 12:28, Acts 2:22 and Acts 10:38 indicate, the general accounting of Jesus’ miracles by NT writers is that he did these in the power of the Spirit.Now, allow me two further comments:1) We should not assume that appeal to the miracles that Christ performed is necessarily clear proof of his deity, because Moses, Elijah, Paul and others performed miracles, yet this certainly does not prove their deity.  In other words, if the miracles of Jesus directly prove his deity, then the miracles of Moses prove his deity, and the miracles of Elijah prove his deity, etc.  Yet this, of course, is not true.

Rather, what miracles show is that the person performing them does so with the power of God.  And when you look at the biblical record of Jesus’ miracles, you see that the normative answer to the question, “What divine power was at work in Jesus by which he did his miracles?”, the answer given is that he performed these miracles by the supernatural power of the Spirit of God.

2) Yet, the miracles of Jesus, done in the power of the Spirit, still can indirectly give support to his deity.  Here’s how:  Recall that, in response to the challenge to declare whether he was in fact the Christ, Jesus said in John 10:25 “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.”  So, the “works” of Jesus testify to the truthfulness of his “words.”  When he declares with words, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), these “words” that declare his deity are confirmed and authenticated by the “works” (i.e., miracles) that he does.  That is, he is the Messiah of God, he is the God-man, and one way we know this is that he does works only God can do when he performs these works in the power of the Spirit.

What do you hope pursuing a deeper understanding of Christ will lead to for readers?

I hope and pray that a clearer understanding of Christ, the God become (also) a man, will give them more confidence in living the new covenant, Spirit-empowered lives we are called to live.  Since Christ came as God and took on our human nature, he set aside prerogatives of his deity to live life fully as one of us.  Though he retained all of his essential divine attributes (indeed, he was fully God!), nonetheless he chose to limit their use or expression so that he could experience human life with integrity and authenticity.  Knowing this – knowing that Jesus really did suffer, and grow, and fight to obey, and resist temptation, fully as a man – can give us hope that as he lived in obedience in the power of the Spirit, so we can hope and pray for increasing obedience in our lives as we rely on that same powerful Spirit.  We really are called to “follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21), and I hope this book will show better why this command is one we should long to obey.

It was an honour to have this opportunity to chat to Dr. Ware and I hope this interview spurs people on to get this book! I’ve just finished reading through it myself and it was a tremendous blessing to me and will definitely be a book that I gift and recommend.

Be on the look out for my review and also a giveaway in the coming weeks.

Watch Dr. Ware’s interview with Dane Ortlund on this book at Crossway.

Evidences of God’s Faithful Sovereignty

November 21, 2012

PhilippiansSometimes the thanksgivings and prayers in the beginnings of Paul’s letters are thought of as mere introductions before the real meat found later. However, they often contain hints of what is to come throughout the letter, and are very rich in themselves.

One such example is the wealth that can be found just within Philippians 1:3-11.

In this section we can see Paul linking his thanksgiving and prayers to thoughts on God’s sovereignty, the promise of glorification, the Second Coming, the Gospel, fellowship/partnership in the Gospel, and sanctification.

This post will specifically look at the thanksgiving in Phil 1:3-8:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

The theme of God’s sovereignty in this section was quite a surprise to me when I first saw it, but now it’s clear.[1] I’ll do my best here to elaborate how the logic works below:

  • The Philippians’ work in the Gospel is the reason for his thanksgiving (v5).
  • Yet he doesn’t thank them for this, he thanks God (v3-4).
  • Their work is actually due to God’s work in them, which will certainly be completed because He began it (v6).
  • Paul justifies his confidence in God’s working in them by drawing attention back to their faithfulness (v7).

Paul knows that the ultimate source of their work is God’s work in them. And it’s because of seeing faithfulness in action that Paul can be confident that God is faithful to complete the work that He began. And yet, Paul responds to this knowledge of God’s sovereignty with action, but not just any action; Paul petitions God to do the work that He promised to do!

God’s sovereignty and promises shouldn’t provoke laziness but action fueled by faith that God will work in and through us.

Photo credit


[1] For those who are interested in Bible Arcing, arcing this passage helped bring this out.

God’s Glory and Goodness

November 19, 2012

God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

–Exodus 33:18-19

Note that when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God responds that he will show him his goodness and proclaim his name. This means that God’s glory is seen in his goodness, and the proclamation of his name reveals Yahweh’s goodness, which is his glory.

–  Jim Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, Kindle location: 2011-13

Many thanks to Lindsay Tully and Crossway for sending me a review-copy of this book!

The Temple and the Church’s Mission

November 16, 2012

The Temple and the Church's MissionSee my overview on the book’s purpose, thesis, and outline.

Many thanks to IVP for a review-copy of this book!

When was the last time you meditated on the divine purpose for and theology of the temple? Like me, maybe you’ve never given it much thought. Yet, while reading this book I found myself constantly giving thanks to God for G. K. Beale devoting a 402-page book entirely to the theology of the temple in The Temple and the Church’s Mission. You would be surprised how enlightening and edifying a study of the temple can be!

Beale’s central aim is to show that the tabernacle and the temples were intended to signify and predict God’s plan to expand His dwelling place to cover all of creation, as found in the consummated new heavens and earth in Revelation 21-22. To achieve this end, he thoroughly surveys the theological development of the temple throughout the Biblical storyline.

Outline

Beginning with the Old Testament, Beale argues that temples represented God’s rule over creation (chapter 2), that they signified His intention to expand His dwelling place throughout creation (chapter 3), a future promised and predicted throughout the Old Testament (chapter 4).

His argument consists of cosmic imagery being intentionally placed in the OT tabernacle and temples as well as in pagan temples. The outer court is shown to represent the earth; the holy place reveals the sky and heavens; and the Holy of Holies represents the dwelling place of God. Temples therefore, functioning like architectural models of the entire cosmos reflected a desire for, and awareness of the intent of worldwide coverage.

Adam’s original commission to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) should, among other things, be seen as a command to expand the garden to the whole earth, creating a worldwide Eden in relationship with God. Adam’s sin results in his being cast out from the Garden, but his commission is given to the line of the woman (Noah, Abraham, the patriarchs, and Israel). This command to fill the earth becomes reflected in the temple’s cosmic imagery.

Turning to the New Testament we see that it, “pictures Christ and the church as finally having done what Adam, Noah and Israel had failed to do in extending the temple of God’s presence throughout the world.” (169). Surveying the Gospels, Acts, Hebrews, the letters of Paul and Revelation, Beale explains in Chapters 5-10 that the temple as dwelling place of God is identified as Christ, and then the church through her identification with Him. Through His life and death, Christ brought the already but not yet completion of Adam’s commission through the church, as seen in texts such as Acts 6:7, “and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” Much more is discussed in these chapters, establishing Christ and His presence in the church as the reality to which the temples pointed and will find their complete fulfilment in His unrestrained presence in all of creation described as a city with garden and temple imagery (Revelation 21-22).

Pros/Cons

Critically reviewing this book a difficult task as it has influenced many other fantastic scholars and theologians. During my reading of this book, I came across three other significant works with content influenced by the ideas presented in this one: T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem, James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and even Tim Keller’s King’s Cross. With such endorsements and its status as a classic of Biblical Theology[1], what could I hope to add in reviewing this work? However, I will do my best.

One of the strengths in this book is the constant reminder that Beale has done his research. Doug Moo said that Beale got so obsessed with this topic that he designed his garden around the temple! He has clearly devoted himself to this work and his passion for the topic shows through and is contagious, even in such a technical book. Beale’s mastery of the Biblical text and primary sources (including Ancient Near East sources) is evident. As I studied this book lights were going on everywhere and Biblical dots were being connected.

However, sometimes Beale’s methodology worked against him. I know of others who were only convinced of Beale’s conclusions from other authors that he influenced! Beale intentionally used several lines of evidence to support his claims in this work, with the intention that the more convincing insights will support those less convincing. The mixed blessing in this approach results in abundance of wonderful insights that would be missed otherwise, but unfortunately sometimes bogged down the book with extended diversions that resulted in a lack of rhetorical punch.

Beale also often left conclusions until the end of each chapter and it wasn’t until the very final chapters that he tied his points together in a clear way. With a book of this length and depth, this leaves the reader wondering why their attention is being drawn to certain texts and insights, not to have them tied back together hundreds of pages later. It wouldn’t have hurt Beale to occasionally say “I think this insight is relevant because …” I read this book over a month and because of this weakness, I would encourage others to try to read it in over uninterrupted period of time.

I felt that most of the ANE discussion wasn’t as interesting or persuasive as his discussion of Biblical texts. These sections were only intended to give additional evidence, but they often felt superfluous to the overall argument.

Another issue is the many Scripture reference mistakes. I constantly found references to Revelation 22:1-2 being mistyped as Revelation 21:1-2 and vice versa. With such deep Biblical argumentation, mistyped Scripture references can really make understanding more difficult than necessary!

Theologically and Biblically, the New Testament chapters were particularly illuminating, especially the discussions on passages like 2 Cor 6 that contain quotations of OT texts that by this point were familiar from discussion in earlier chapters. Seeing how the NT writers understood OT passages about the temple being applied to Christ and the church was very informative and helped me get a better understanding of the texts. In contrast with the masterful sections elsewhere, the chapter on Hebrews felt surprisingly dry, possibly because most of the points had been made elsewhere by that point.

Beale concludes the book in a chapter showing the practical implications of his study. This short chapter is so full of insight on other NT passages like Phil 2:17 that I wish Beale could have developed this further! Once seeing how prominent the temple is in the rest of the Bible, it’s too much to ask Beale to put together all the implications in this book. This is now the wonderful task of the reader to return to Scripture and see many texts in a fresh light.

Conclusion

Despite the few issues above, I’ve not come across a book so paradigm shifting and thoroughly Biblical. It was surprising how enjoyable such a dense theological book could be, but with a Biblical revelation on every other page, I couldn’t put it down.

I wish that I could recommend this book to everyone, but my one reservation is due to the style of writing and format of the book placing a lot of expectations upon the reader. Beale presents so many insights that I believe all would benefit from, but realistically this is not a book that most Christians will persevere through.

Most will likely benefit more from someone else bringing these ideas in a more readable and less exhaustive format. Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem may be such a book, and I will be reviewing it soon. I’ve heard that Beale is also working on a condensed version of this book. If that is the case I hope it will be one that I can recommend more widely.

However, Bible College and Seminary students, pastors and more academic Christians should all seriously consider reading this book!

Summary:

  • Buy Now: UK: Amazon, USA: WTS BooksRead the first 50 pages: PDF(right-click to save)
  • Title: The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God
  • Author: G. K. Beale
    Publisher: IVP
  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • Recommended audience: Anyone wanting to better understand the purpose of the temple in the church’s mission
  • Reading level: Academic/Seminary level

So Paul Didn’t Write Colossians? (Part 2)

November 14, 2012

This is the second post addressing the Pauline authorship of Colossians. This post builds upon the arguments of the first.

Last post introduced the question of Paul’s authorship of Colossians. Many scholars today reject the idea that Paul wrote the letter based on unique language and theology.

In this post I hope to provide some reasons why we can believe Paul did in fact write this letter (as we can trust he wrote all the canonical letters attributed to him).

Issues of Language and Theology

Unfortunately these issues are often overstated by critical scholarship. Some who argue against Pauline authorship on the basis of unique language argue that the theology is actually very much like Paul, while others who argue against Pauline authorship on the basis of unique theology insist that the language is very Pauline![2] The issues are not as large as they’re made out to be.

I believe the ‘occasional’ nature of the letter more than accounts for the particular language and theology found in Colossians. The Colossian church was facing a false teaching that resulted from weak Christology, which adequately accounts for Paul’s particular theological emphases within the letter. Paul was addressing a particular teaching, and many argue was even using the teacher’s own language against them.

The Internal Claim of Pauline Authorship

The author claims to be Paul (In Col 1:1, 23, 25-26; 4:2-4, 18). Following the arguments of scholars who deny Pauline authorship, this letter would have been written after his death. Would the recipients accept and copy a letter they knew wasn’t from Paul?

The “Pauline” Corpus

This problem is magnified because many scholars only compare Colossians to a relatively small selection of ‘accepted’ Pauline letters. Basically, not all of what most would consider as ‘Paul’s letters’ are even brought into the discussion. Differences in language and theology are more pronounced when you have a smaller set of books you accept as Pauline! For example, if Ephesians were accepted as written by Paul and brought into the discussion, then authorship of Colossians wouldn’t be much of an issue at all.

The Relationship to Philemon

Ironically, Philemon is virtually unanimously accepted as Pauline for various reasons[1]. Gordon Fee argues persuasively that both should be read together,

These letters make especially good sense together if one takes seriously that both Philemon and Onesimus would have been present for the reading of both letters in Philemon’s house church…over 50 percent of the ‘house code’ of Col 3:18-4:1 is directed toward the behavior of slaves… [2]

The connection between Philemon and Colossians is strong indeed, and the space given to slaves makes entirely more sense if one connects it to the unique situation of Onesimus and Philemon.

Why Deny or Question Pauline Authorship?

Why is the authorship even questioned in the first place? I see a number of causes for this:

  1. Many scholars emphasis differences, while minimizing the similarities and coherence with other letters.
  2. If one wants to be taken seriously as a scholar, it appears safer to question traditional views while leaning towards the more ‘liberal’ conclusions of peers.

It seems to me that many in modern Biblical scholarship are more impressed with their own intelligence than that of the biblical writers. If we have enough intelligence to come up with wild speculative systems where we find Paul contradicting other Biblical writers, contradicting himself, and even disproving his own authorship, wouldn’t it be much simpler to just allow the authors the same level of intelligence to hold deeper doctrines and draw from a more diverse vocabulary than that which we attribute to them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Be on the look out for more posts about Colossians!


[1] Michael F. Bird, Colossians & Philemon, p. 4; Doug Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, p. 361

[2] Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology, p. 289

Hamilton on Scholarly Rejection of Systematic Theology

November 12, 2012

God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment

One obstacle facing those committed to the unity of the Bible is a certain disdain some biblical scholars have for systematic theology. A strong desire to avoid the charge that one’s prior theological conclusions control one’s exegesis, coupled with a vague sense that “belief has a distorting effect on historical inquiry,”[1] leads many to prefer to “let the tensions stand,” indefinitely postponing legitimate and necessary theological synthesis.

—  Jim Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, Kindle Location: 654-58

Many thanks to Lindsay Tully and Crossway for sending me a review-copy of this book!

[1] Quotation from Vanhoozer, Is There Meaning in This Text? 23. Vanhoozer is describing Van Harvey’s book, The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief.