Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 7)

The Second Cycle of Seven: Revelation 8-11
Now, instead of seals being opened, we have a new cycle; this time with trumpets being blown. Again, as before, each trumpet ushers in new disasters:

  • First Trumpet: Hail, Fire, Blood; All grass is burned up
  • Second Trumpet: Sea of Blood, Sea Life Killed, Ships Destroyed
  • Third Trumpet: Wormwood in the water makes it undrinkable; Many die from the bitter water
  • Fourth Trumpet: Sun darkened, Moon, and Stars darkened

These scenes should not be seen as depicting future disasters for the following reasons:
  • "After the sixth seal is opened, the sun becomes black...the stars fall, and the sky vanishes, which seems like a decisive end of heavenly bodies, yet by Revelation 8, the sky and the heavenly bodies are back again so that they can become dark all over again in the new cycle of threats."
  • In 8:7 all of the grass on the earth is burned up, and yet we see that in 9:4 the grass has very quickly returned so that God can tell the locusts not to eat it up. "These inconsistencies disrupt attempts to take the visions as a linear sequence of events" (97).

Rather, according to Koester, these "stylized" events are warnings designed to "strip away the readers' sense of security," and thus bring repentance. He cites 9:20 as evidence. In spite of all these events, the wicked "did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshipping demons and idols." As before, again and again, Revelation is pressing the readers of the seven churches not to find security in the World, because that security is an illusion, preserved only temporarily by God Himself.

Just as the first four trumpets bring danger upon the earth, the fifth trumpet shows that there is danger from under the earth, as well. "The text has a surreal quality that makes it impossible to situate in time and space - one would be hard pressed to locate the shaft of the bottomless pit on a map - but the repulsive images that appear effectively display the horrors of falling under God's wrath" (99).

Chapter 11 opens with John measuring the temple and altar, which Koester identifies as representing "the Christian community being preserved despite threats by the unbelieving world to overwhelm it. The inner part of the sanctuary, which is kept safe from the nations, is the community in which true worship continues. The comment about the outer court being given over to the nations cautions that God will allow a part of the community to come under the sway of the pagan world" (107).

The two witnesses, who represent the "community of faithful Christians," make an appearance in 11:3-14. Koester points out the different elements of their witness:
  • The speech of the witnesses is like fire; a trait shared by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 5:14).
  • They can call fire from heaven and stop the rain, like the prophet Elijah.
  • They turn water to blood like Moses.
  • They witness for God unto death. "The deaths of these witnesses are parabolic of the fate of the faithful in many times and places."

The blowing of the seventh trumpet results in praises to God being sung in heaven. In what sense, then, is the seventh trumpet a "woe"? Koester points out that "God's kingdom does not bring the destruction of the world, but the destruction of 'those who destroy the earth' (11:18)." He also points out that the "appearance of the ark in 11:19 is a signal that people should be prepared to meet God, but such a meeting can bring either blessing or judgment...The lightning, thunder, earthquake, and hail portend disaster for his adversaries (11:19)."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Funniest Article Title I've Seen in a Long Time

Is anyone else willing to say it? This is the funniest, most idiosyncratic title for a news story I've ever seen.

John Eldredge Says Mexican Drug Cartel Has Taken Him Out of Context

Not that the story is funny; once you read it, it seems like quite a serious thing going on. But there is no denying that this is a classic out-of-left-field title of an article. At first I wondered if it was The Onion who had done this.

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 6)

The Second Cycle of Seven: Opening The Seven Scrolls: Revelation 4-7 (Continued)

If, as Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit, then this has by far been the most witless book review in history. As such, I'm going to step it up by dealing more broadly with Koester's interpretation of the more difficult symbolism and less on substantiating his claims.

Revelation 7: The 144,000 of Israel Sealed

Some observations about the 'seals' which are placed on God's people:
  • The seal suggests that "the people belong to God."
  • The seal "also suggests protection."
  • God's sealed people are not immune to suffering.
  • However, the seal "does shield people from the wrath of God and the Lamb (6:16-17)."

So who are the 144,000?
  • Just as the new Jerusalem is not literally a 12,000 Stadia (1500 mile) cube (Rev. 21:16), so we understand that 12,000 from each tribe of Judah is not literal, but symbolic of completeness.
  • The 144,000 referred to in 7:4-8 are the same group as the multitude in 7:9-17. This happens by first hearing and then seeing. First he hears about the 144,000 and then he sees the great multitude.
  • Just as Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb, whereby we learn about Jesus' multifaceted character, so we learn about the church from this discussion that the church is identified with Israel, and that the church is an ingrafted mass of Gentile humanity. We see from the 144,000 that God has not abandoned his promises to preserve Israel.

Anticlimactically, the seventh scroll is opened, and the heavens are silent for a half an hour. As we prepare for the next cycle of seven, the heavens are silent, that we might "be still and know that" he is God.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 5)

The Second Cycle of Seven: Opening The Seven Scrolls: Revelation 4-7 (Continued)

Revelation 6: The First Six Seals
As the Lamb opens each of the first four seals, we are presented with the arrival of a new horseback rider who ushers in portents of danger. Koester spends some time arguing against seeing the visions of chapter six as predictions of future events. Many think that this is a chapter issuing predictions of coming disaster. However, it is not right to describe these visions as "predictions" for various reasons:

  • The horsemen and seals represent "threats that do not fall neatly on a time line."
  • Virtually everyone realizes that the horsemen have a symbolic quality.
  • The visions "stand for larger realities" that cannot be confined to any one period: "waves of conquest, outbreaks of violence, and periods of economic hardship have occurred repeatedly in human history, and death finally comes to all."

According to Koester, the primary purpose of Revelation 6 "is to awaken a sense of uneasiness in readers by vividly identifying threats to their well-being so that the understanding reader will cry out, "Who is able to stand?" (6:17). The four horsemen show that one cannot find security or well-being even within the borders of a seemingly secure nation or empire.

  • The first horseman with the bow represents threats by foreign powers.
  • The second horseman with the sword represents threats from within society.
  • The third horseman with the scales represents economic insecurity.
  • The fourth horseman is death, whom none can escape.

The opening of the fifth seal results in a vision of "under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne" (6:9). "The martyrs rest in heaven (6:9-11) and the remainder of humanity is disturbed on earth (6:12-17). These visions press readers to give up the idea that they can remain neutral, asking if they identify with the martyrs or with the rest of humanity. There is no middle ground." He also points out that the vision of martyrs is a notice to believers that martyrdom is not meant to be a special event or a rarity, but it is meant to awaken in readers a willingness to identify with those who have suffered for the faith. Notice that again and again Koester returns us to the audience, reminding us constantly to consider the first century response to these visions, and then to apply this to our own lives. For Koester, Revelation should not be read strictly as a devotional work, devoid of context (as the modern reader is prone to do), or as a mere historical document (as the professor within us Reformed types is prone to do).

The opening of the sixth seal presents us with a world full of earthquakes, a blackened sun, stars falling to earth, the sky being "rolled up," and every mountain being "moved from its place." These events "echo prophetic warnings about the coming day of divine wrath, showing how the creation itself responds to the will of its Creator (Isa 34:4; Joel 2:30-31; Amos 8:9)." These are all events which happen by the will of God; they are supernatural events which do not fit within the natural order. Pairing a vision of God's sovereignty with prophetic warnings of coming judgment, the idea is challenged that we can live in society, blend in, and have a compromise of our faith "in order to blend in with the beliefs of the general populace, as some of the readers of Revelation were inclined to do" (88). If we seek refuge in the world and compromise ourselves for safety's sake, we are actually taking shelter with a damned throng who are themselves terrorized by God's might to the point of helplessly cowering under the mountains.

Now, before the seventh seal can be opened, we encounter an images which deserve careful attention. This image is of the 144,000 whose foreheads are sealed. We will encounter this issue in our next post.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Audio of Craig Koester 16-Part Lectures on Revelation

To me, it's simply divine timing. Monergism is now hosting a sixteen-part series by Craig Koester discussing the book of Revelation. I haven't had a chance to listen to these lectures yet, but you can bet that I will, once I finish reading his book Revelation and the End of All Things.

Craig Koester Lecture Series: Amil-Preterist Interpretation of the Book of Revelation

King and Servant Show 22

Blubrry player!

Jonathan is joined by special guest Dee Dee Warren to exposit the Olivet discourse from a Preterist perspective, seeing the events predicted therein as being largely fulfilled within the first century with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 4)

The Second Cycle of Seven: Opening The Seven Scrolls: Revelation 4-7

Revelation 4: The Sovereign God

As the divine voice beckons John into heaven where we will experience the next cycle of visions, Koester is careful to remind us that "the visions in this second cycle do not raise new issues but deal with the issues of faithfulness that emerged in the messages to the churches.
The visions in Revelation 4-5 center readers on God and Christ Those who ponder these two chapters discover the heart of the book, for here its essential revelation is to be found. Through the images of the throne and the Lamb, readers learn how God's will is done through the crucified and risen Christ (Koester Pg. 72, My italics).

In verses 1-11, we are treated to a vision of the Sovereign God in His majestic glory in heaven. The center of the vision is God Himself. Worship is taking place around the throne. "The actions that occur in the heavenly throne room show that in the proper order of things, all creation is oriented towards its Creator" (73). The four creatures around the throne have the faces of different animals; only one has a human face (cf. Ezekiel 1:10). Koester points out that these creatures represent the whole created order, with man only being a small part of the creation which is continually declaring the glory of God.

Next we see the 24 elders who worship in words and in actions by throwing down their crowns at his feet (4:10). "Their thrones and their crowns are theirs not by right, but as gifts of God." Koester beautifully exegetes the worship which occurs in heaven. Reading his commentary on this section causes me to greatly worship the Lord. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the blog, I will move along.

Koester notes three different responses which first century readers would have had to this vision of the heavenly courts and worship in verses 1-11:

  • Those facing persecution would have found reassurance in God's reign despite constant threats and danger.
  • Those tempted to syncretism would have been uneasy, because God's rule over creation means that compromise warrants the censure of God Himself.
  • The "complacent and self-satisfied" would been disturbed by the vision because God's grandeur, radiance, and glory expose their riches and pretentions to majesty for the self-worship that they represent.

Revelation 5: The Lamb Who Was Slain

In the right hand of God is a scroll bearing seven seals; as soon as it is mentioned, heaven is filled with expectancy. While the document is presumably a divine decree, the seals on it reflect that their contents are valid (he presents historical background on seals in the first century to substantiate this claim). Chapter five presents the heavenly search for the one who is meant to open the seals on the scroll, only to find that there are none on earth who are worthy to unseal its contents so that God's plan might be fulfilled. Christ - the Lamb who was slain - is the only one who is worthy to bring forth the divine decree in God's right hand. As the Lamb takes the scroll and prepares to open the first seal, we prepare for the coming of the four horsemen and disaster.

I was initially going to cover the opening of the seals, but in discussing that section Koester makes very interesting arguments in disfavor of reading Revelation 6 as predictions of future events by which we might discern the end of time. I believe that this deserves careful attention. In addition to that, I don't want to rush past the opening of the first six seals. As such, in our next part, we will directly be dealing with the opening of the first six seals. I promise.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Praise Be To God, It's a Girl!

Penelope Joy Parker
8 lb. 13 oz.
Born this afternoon at 3:24 pm

Five Little Calvinists
Sitting on a Bed...

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 3)

The First Cycle of Seven: Messages to the Seven Churches

Revelation opens with an exhortation for the readers of this prophecy to "keep it" (1:3). "If John primarily intended to dispense information about the future, we might have expected 1:3 to speak of the blessing that comes on those that 'understand' this book...To 'keep' the message of Revelation's prophecy means to 'worship God' (22:9)" (Pg. 47).

Next, we note in 1:4 that this letter has recipients, and those intended recipients - the audience - to whom John wrote this series of exhortations and visions was "the seven churches that are in Asia" (1:4). The churches:

  • Ephesus
  • Smyrna
  • Pergamum
  • Thyatira
  • Sardis
  • Philadelphia
  • Laodicea

Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain specific messages for these specific churches and issues. Koester notes, however, that "Revelation is an open prophetic letter that is sent to seven particular congregations, yet it contains a message that applies to the church as a whole." The fact that these seven churches and not the churches in Colossae, Hieropolis, or Troas were recipients and that seven churches were chosen implies that the message of this letter is for the church as a whole.

Koester is careful to point out the analogous way in which John communicates what he saw in the book. Observe how he writes about the hard to describe figure he sees in 1:14-16:

"His head and hair were white as wool...his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze...his voice was like the sound of many waters...and his face was like the sun."

"The repeated us of 'as' and 'like' indicates that John was describing something that did not fit within the confines of ordinary speech."

If there is one area where most commentators seem to be able to come together, it is in reading the actual words of the letters to the seven churches. Most are willing to read their exhortations plainly and "without horns." As such, I will not dwell on the seven letters or emphasize Koester's exegesis of the letters to the churches, except to point out that they follow the same basic pattern:

  • Address from Christ
  • Words of rebuke and encouragement
  • Summons to listen and promise to the conqueror

Many commentators want to go from chapter 3 to chapter 4 and assume John foresaw a jump in the subject matter of two thousand years. As we prepare to look at the opening of the seven seals in our next installment, let us keep in mind that the intended audience (the seven churches) has not at any point changed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 2)

The Book of Revelation and Roman Imperialism
Revelation emphasizes that God, not Caesar, is Lord of the world. The splendor of God's heavenly throne room shows that the pageantry of the Roman court is but a mockery of the true sovereignty of God (4:1-11). When the Lamb opens the seals on God's scroll, a mounted bowman appears, resembling the Parthian warriors that threatened the borders of the Roman Empire, and another horseman takes away the "peace" that Rome claimed to provide (6:1-4). The beast that persecutes the saints seems to be another Nero, while the beast's chief ally promotes idolatrous worship like that of the imperial cult (13:1-18). The harlot that rides upon the beast is the city set on seven hills - clearly Rome - and it is called "Babylon," since Babylon destroyed the first temple and the Romans destroyed the second temple (17:1-18). Yet Revelation warns that the Roman "Babylon" will fall, and Christians are called to separate themselves from it in the confidence that God's purposes will triumph (18:4). (Pg. 31)

Koester points out that this is the sort of context in which first century readers would have lived, and it is this context which was part of how this letter to the seven churches would have been read in the first century. He hammers home again and again that this was a book written to a specific people, and the meaning which we must seek from the text must be a meaning which the first century audience would have drawn.
We will take Revelation contextually, as a book written by 'John, to the seven churches that are in Asia' (1:4). Accordingly, instead of first asking how Revelation relates to the headlines in today's newspapers, we will ask how it relates to the situation of the Christians of John's own time...Revelation is not a coded collection of secrets that will finally become intelligible at the end of time, for from the beginning it has been an open book that was designed to communicate with Christians living on earth.

Koester's interpretation of Revelation distinguishes itself from the traditional historicist approach in two ways:
  1. An increased emphasis on the fact that this book "addresses a number of different issues, not just one issue, and that there are valuable analogies between first-century life and modern life."
  2. It "considers how Revelation's imagery evokes associations that fit multiple periods of time, not only one period of time.
"The idea is not that Revelation's images are 'timeless,' but that they disclose things that apply to many generations."

Revelation as a Non-Linear Whole
  1. Revelation must be taken as a whole. He contrasts this with the premillennial approaches which "assume that verses of the Bible are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle." This means no jumping around from Daniel 9 to 1 Thessalonians 4 to Reveation 6, for example.
  2. Revelation moves in a non-linear way. Koester, taking his cues from Victorinus, points out that Revelation moves in a series of loops. Each loop consists of seven distinct visions:

  • Loop 1: Seven messages to the churches (Rev. 1-3)
  • Loop 2: Seven seals (4-7)
  • Loop 3: Seven trumpets (8-11)
  • Loop 4: Unnumbered visions (12-15)
  • Loop 5: Seven plagues (15-19)
Visions celebrating the triumph of God also occur at the end of each cycle (4:1-11; 7:1-17; 11:15-19; 15:1-4; 19:1-10; 21:1-22:5).

Other characteristics of each loop of Revelation.
  1. In the middle of each loop, there are images of horsemen "that represent conquest, violence, hardship, and death."
  2. This feature of each loop always gives way to the top of the loop, where we find visions of heaven, of the presence of "God, the Lamb, and the heavenly chorus."
"Threatening visions and assuring visions function differently, but they serve the same end, which is that listeners might continue to trust in God and remain faithful to God" (Pg. 39).

Now that we've seen Craig R. Koester's basic approach and outline of Revelation, we're ready to move on to the major themes in the text itself. Therefore, in our next installment, we'll look at the specifics of the first cycle of Revelation, Chapters 1-3. Presumably, this means that there will be five more installments to this review, since I want to at least give a cursory glance at how Koester understands each cycle. I do foresee a greater emphasis once we get to Revelation 20.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Craig Koester's Amil-Preterist Commentary of Revelation (Part 1)

A Review of Revelation and the End of All Things by Craig R. Koester

Revelation Commentaries by Amillennialists aren't exactly a dime a dozen. Commentaries by orthodox Preterists are even rarer. So when I found Revelation and the End of All Things by Craig Koester, I was very excited, because in this book Koester, a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, has done us a tremendous service by writing an Amil-Preterist commentary on the book of Revelation. Over the course of this 200 page book, Koester lays out his case that Revelation was a book written by John for a specific audience, and that they would have understood the entirety of Revelation as timeless truths for the purposes of encouraging and building up the church so that they could see and understand the victory that Christ has over the world.

He begins by asking the question of whether the book of Revelation should be viewed primarily as predictions of future events or as 'timeless truth'. Obviously, how one answers this question is tremendously decisive to how you read Revelation or understand a good deal of Jesus' prophecies (particularly those in Matthew 24). He identifies those early in church history who held the futurist understanding of Revelation. These included Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, as well as the heretic Montanus (in an extreme form).

On the other side of things, he points to Origen, Jerome, and Dionysius of Alexandria as those who held that Revelation's meaning was deeper than mere 'literal predictions'. One significant figure during this time was Tyconius, who died around the time of Augustine. Tyconius "argued that the millenial kingdom of Rev. 20:1-6 was not a future hope, but a present reality" (Pg. 7). To shore up his argument, Tyconius pointed out that at the start of the millenium, Satan was "bound" (Rev. 20:2). The next thing which he points out is that this was achieved by Christ in his first coming. He makes this point by appealing to Matthew 12:29, where Jesus discusses how
"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house" (Matthew 12:28-29).

Here, Jesus is saying that Satan is the strong man who is bound, and now that the Kingdom of God has come, Jesus is tying up Satan and plundering his house. "By putting these texts together Tyconius concluded that the thousand-year kingdom began with the first coming of Christ. Tyconius, however, recognized that Satan's being "bound" (Rev. 20:1-3) was not the same thing as his being completely destroyed (vv. 7-10). Therefore, until Christ's return, the church should still expect persecution as believers and unbelievers "exist side by side."

This view was also adopted by Augustine, where it finds a very ardent defender. Even though he opposed Tyconius as a Donatist, he "found that Tyconius' interpretation provided a way to read Revelation that could be applied to the interior life of Christians in all times and places."

Several helpful contributions from Augustine in this respect:
  • People entered the millenial kingdom through the "first resurrection" (Rev. 20:4-6) by "dying and rising again" through faith in baptism.
  • The second resurrection (Rev. 20:11-13) would be bodily at the end of time when Christ returned.
  • When Revelation speaks of Satan's being cast into "the abyss" he "explained that this referred to the abyss of human hearts, where wickedness would reside until God destroyed it" (Pg. 8).
  • Augustine also argued that the millenium "was not an exact period of time but a way of speaking about time as totality." He does this in The City of God 18.53.
By Koester's estimation, this reading of Revelation was the most widespread for centuries to come.

[I'll continue with this review of Koester's arguments in a later installment]

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Death of Claude Le Painctre

Bruce Gordon, in his book Calvin, recounts the death of a young French Protestant at the hands of his Catholic executioners. The tale is narrated by a young Catholic German student named Knobelsdorf:
I saw two burnt there. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates... The first was a very young man, not yet with a beard . . . he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner’s knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pincers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man’s face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast. . . .When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him.He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned.

These are not simply academic matters.

Who Says the Morning Shows Have Bad Advice?


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Christopher Hitchens the Van Tillian?

Debates between atheists and Christian apologists have come a long way. I remember a few years ago hearing the debate between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein and thinking, "Geez, Stein doesn't even understand the argument that is being put forth!" A few years later, I listened to Doug Wilson's debate with Dan Barker and thought exactly the same thing.

Fast forward to 2008. Doug Wilson, a Van Tililan Presuppositionalist tours the country debating atheist Christopher Hitchens. Spending lots of time debating, Hitchens is exposed repeatedly to the transcendental argument.

Fast forward to February of 2009. Hitchens debates William Lane Craig at Biola University. What strikes me about Hitchens' opening remarks is that Hitchens must have gained the profoundest respect for Doug Wilson, because he implements - albeit somewhat sloppily - a form of presuppositionalism into his attack against Craig. At the 6:40 mark in the video, Hitchens begins to set forth his argument against the theistic worldview, but he almost seems to be using the presuppositional method to show Bill Craig that his evidentialist approach is inadequate and inconsistent.

According to Hitchens, "Retrospective Evidentialism is a concession made to the need for fact. 'Maybe we need to have some evidence to go along with our faith.'" He is using presuppositionalism to show that Craig still presupposes the truthfulness of the theistic worldview in his critique. All Craig had to do was turn the tables and address Hitchens' own presuppositions, which Hitchens concedes a number of times during the debate. Hitchens is apparently determined not to commit what Greg Bahnsen called in his debate with Gordon Stein the "Pretended Neutrality Fallacy." Unfortunately, Craig lets these opportunities for engagement pass him right on by, instead opting for his specialty.

Hitchens is absolutely right in his critique of Craig's evidentialism, of course. It is this extraordinary interaction which has left me somewhat surprised. I know that for some this brief discussion by Hitchens might not seem like much. But to me, it's remarkable to see presuppositionalism pass from being misunderstood and written off by atheists as "a non-argument" (as Stein put it) to now being given the nod during the course of debates with evidentialist apologists.

Sadly, the rest of the debate did not touch on the inconsistency of Craig's apologetic methodology. By granting the atheist his autonomy, Craig by his method has given all of the ground to Hitchens and then spends the rest of his time attempting to show that God can, in fact, measure up to the atheist's expectations of the universe and that they can both stand in the same place. What a profound contrast to his interaction with Doug Wilson as chronicled in Collision.

Monday, June 21, 2010

For the Cheapskate e-Reading to the Glory of God

Barnes & Noble is selling its Nook e-Reader in a Wi-Fi non-3G format for $150 with free shipping. Considering that I bought my Kindle for $200 used (and that I never actually use the 3G feature on the Kindle), this is a very appealing price-tag. In fact, before I got my Kindle 2, I had every intention of purchasing the Nook. As such, if there are any of you who were wanting to get an e-reading device but were trying to watch your budget, your time is now.

[Apparently, now, Amazon has lowered the price of the Kindle 2 to $189. Let the price war begin!]

Now This is Why We Read History Books...

Matters came to a head in 1546 when Pierre Ameaux, a citizen of Geneva, was publicly humiliated for opposing Calvin's teaching on predestination. The council had proposed a fine, but Calvin and his colleagues insisted on something more degrading: Ameaux was forced to walk through the city dressed only in a shirt and carrying a torch.

Bruce Gordon, Calvin, 2009

Just imagine if we could get our own magistrates to re-institute this old Genevan punishment for being an Arminian. On second thought, that would require 99% of the U.S. population to go pantless from the womb, so... lets just keep this one in the history books.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Review: The ESV Study Bible for the Amazon Kindle

The ESV Study Bible has been available for download on the Kindle for awhile, now. I've been using it for a long time and thought that I would share some thoughts from my experience with it. I made a couple of videos demonstrating actual use of the ESV Kindle. Hopefully you will see the pros and cons in action:

Here are the pros:

  • The small size of the Kindle vs. ESV Study Bible. When it comes to lugging around the large Bible + Study Notes or slipping the Kindle into your backpack, there's simply no comparison. Also, just reading any version of the Bible on the Kindle is sort of a pleasure just because of its size.

  • The Text-to-Speech function comes in very handy when reading the Bible text, the study notes, or the introductory essays to each book of the Bible.

  • Adjusting the text size is very handy. In low light, blowing the text up a bit can be a real plus.

The Cons:

  • It's not a physical Bible, and therefore if you're really good at finding your verses quickly, it feels like being trapped in DOS when you're used to OSX. If you want to find 1 Tim. 3:8, for example, you have to push "Menu," "Contents," "1 Timothy," and "3." Then you have to press "Next" until you get to verse 8.

  • The Text-to-Speech reads the number for each verse, so it's not always a streamlined reading of the verses.

I used the Kindle ESV every day for the last two months for my daily Bible reading, and I found the interface tremendously clunky. Reading Proverbs 16, then going to Matthew 1, then going to Deuteronomy 19 can be a real chore, especially when you know you could do it quickly with the physical version.

As far as real-world usage, I take my Kindle ESV with me when getting together with friends just in case I need it, and I take it to work with me in my lunch box. It's just great to have in a pinch. As far as using it for your daily reading, you might initially like the idea. If you're just reading the Bible straight through and not doing a lot of jumping around, then the Kindle ESV is just peachy. I do recommend it; I think every Christian who wants his Kindle to be a tool to the glory of God has no excuse for not having the Bible on his Kindle, and at under $10, there isn't much of an excuse for not having the best English version of the Bible on it.

The ESV Study Bible is currently available for the Amazon Kindle for $9.99.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bavinck Fever

I have a fever. And the only cure is more Bavinck! I want these books so badly, I can almost taste them. The fourth volume was only just translated into English and released in 2008. Having never read Bavinck for myself, I am eager to sink my teeth in. I've probably never seen a theologian as highly commended in the Reformed community like I have with Bavinck, except perhaps Calvin, of course. One of the big obstacles for many people is that his Reformed Dogmatics only became available a few years ago in their complete form in English. Also, they can be as many as 900+ pages per volume...

I did some checking, and Westminster Seminary has the best price that I have been able to find on the complete set - even lower than Amazon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why Do You Search For the Living Among the Dead?

In my hometown, a huge controversy is afoot. In short, our city council, over the course of a few months, voted on new rules at the cemetery where the placement of vases and flowers and toys and other misc. items has been restricted. When the new rules were passed, nobody protested until a few weeks later when the cemetery staff actually started removing the items which were now forbidden by the city's new regulations.

Now, here is where the point I wish to make comes into play. Now that the items in question are being removed and the cemetery is being "cleaned up" as it were, people are coming raging out of the wood-work. Many of the citizens in this town are furious that these graves which they apparently visit on a week-by-week, day-by-day basis aren't arranged in just the way that they want. These people are screaming that the sextant - a good friend of mine - be fired or forced to replace everybody's items out of his own pocket. The mayor himself has come forward and said, "Look; I voted for this. If you are out for blood, then have me removed from office."

So the people are angry because their shrines of worship to their dead loved ones have been desecrated. It should be apparent at this point that I don't have the compassion of a pastor or the cleverness of a politician. I am not sympathetic to somebody exploding because their shrine has been disturbed, and my reasons are primarily theological.

This person whose grave you are standing at - is gone. They're gone. Their body is buried here in the ground, but they are now present with the Lord or suffering in perdition, far away from this plot of land.

My father died ten years ago. I have been to his grave twice. Somebody may ask why? Why wouldn't you visit your own father's grave and obsess over it? Why not bring him a new wreath of flowers every two weeks or get mad if the cemetery staff nicks the edge of his headstone with the lawn mower? Why don't you patrol the cemetery like these obsessed citizens in McPherson, KS? It is because my father is now present with the Lord. When I visit his grave, I am looking at a marker. That's it. He has no spiritual presence there. It's been ten years - there is almost no physical presence remaining, either.

Five years ago, my wife and I had premature twin babies who died. We buried them at a cemetery in Phoenix. Even when I visit Phoenix, I have no compelling reason to visit the grave marker. Because they are gone, now. They are in the presence of God and couldn't care less how their body is laying or whether daddy brought a wreath or a toy truck to place on the headstone.

Angels met the visitors outside Jesus' tomb on the morning of the resurrection, and the angels asked the question of them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

I want to ask this same question of the citizens of my town for whom the graves of their loved ones are so important that they cannot face the reality of what the grave is. It reveals an underlying unbelief, in my opinion. Admittedly, they are not all Christians, but what I am saying is that a professing Christian should not have this sort of rage or anger over changes in cemetery policy like this. One factor is that there probably just aren't enough problems in a quiet little corner of the world like this place where I live, and people are always in need of drama and excitement. If I don't have an oil spill to be angry over, then I at least need to call for the sextant's job because he moved my three-foot tall flower pot.

Now, given the outrage being expressed, the city council may, in fact, need to change those policies back. I'm not defending the citizens or the city. What I'm trying to say is, there is no theological basis for this obsession with the gravesites that this fiasco has revealed.

We're all immortal (our passed on loved ones included), and when we die we leave our body behind until the resurrection. You may grieve the loss of your loved ones, but you may not obsess over your loved ones, because that is idolatry.

Edited 6/19/10:
Let me just say something that my blog did not originally make clear. I am not opposed to taking flowers to the grave, or visiting your loved ones' grave. In a sense, I am critical of that way of grieving, but I understand it. What I am talking about is the headhunting that is going on over a simple change in the rules. My issue is, what would drive a person to the point of insane rage, calling for peoples' jobs, talking about suing the sextant personally, calling the man a grave robbing criminal, etc...? There is a motive that is deeper than anger. There is a worshipful attitude towards the grave which, if somebody is a Christian, I am claiming they should not have. I just wanted to be clear that I'm cynical, but not completely opposed to leaving flowers or memorials.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stan Porter and Greek

Here is one of the standard books that Dr. Stanley Porter, the gentleman I will be studying with at MacDiv, wrote. It is basically an advanced Greek grammar.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

MacDiv and Tons of Books to Read

As some of our readers already know, I was accepted into the Ph.D. program in New Testament at McMaster Divinity College to study under Dr. Stanley Porter. So, my wife and I will be moving at the end of the summer to Hamilton, Ontario Canada, where MacDiv is located. A few of the classes I will be taking next year have posted the reading lists online. For one class, the reading list is over forty books (that is a four followed by a zero!). Some of the text books cost over a hundred dollars. I created an Amazon wish list with just books I need for classes. Right now it has about half the books needed for one class. If anyone would like to help my wife and I out with buying these books, I am posting this link. We are very excited about moving and would covet your prayers and encouragements as we move forward. The goal, at this point, is to continue blogging throughout our time at MacDiv. I would imagine that most of my posts will be in the area of New Testament, but not exclusively.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Geerhardus Vos Breaks Down Eve's Temptation

"Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16).

In his Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos ventures into an area where I as a rookie theologian have never seen dealt with in a detailed fashion. The first thing of interest which Vos touches on is the distinction between Adam's being "tempted" and Adam's being on "probation." As Vos says, the reason why it is not proper to say that "God tempted" Adam (aside from the impossibility, viz. James 1:13) is because the situation in Eden before the fall was "probation." What is the difference between "temptation" and "probation" is that "behind the probation lies a good, behind the temptation an evil." Whereas confirmation in grace for Adam was the good design by God in Adam's probation, the Devil is said to have tempted Adam and Eve because he had evil designs in his proposition to our Federal Head, Adam.

For me, this was a helpful discussion, as I have often wondered in the back of my mind if the situation with the tree and God's prohibition of the tree to our parents was not itself a temptation. Or more correctly, I have often wondered why this was not a temptation.

By Vos' estimate, Satan chose to tempt Eve based on the only consideration which distinguished her from Adam: "that the woman had not personally received the prohibition from God, as Adam had." This is a clever insight, because as Vos points out in a moment, Eve herself may have faced an epistimological dilemma revolving around the question of what God really said.

Vos divides the temptation into two stages:

-The first stage was inducement of serious doubt in Eve.
-The second stage was when doubt gave way to an all-out charge by the serpent against the honesty of God.

In the first stage, as Vos observes, the serpent purposely mis-states God's command. "Has God said you may not eat of any tree?" Eve perceived this error and corrected it.

He further points out that Eve inaccurately quotes the divine prohibition: "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die." Of this Vos says, "[I]n the more or less indignant form of this denial there already shines through that the woman had begun to entertain the possibility of God's restricting her too severely." So we see the craftiness of the serpent already at work. At this point, the salesman has his foot in the door.

Here, then, comes the second stage of the temptation where Eve is now open to hearing an all-out denial of the truthfulness of God. The serpent says, "You will not surely die." Vos points out that if the serpent had led off with this blasphemous thought, Eve would have repudiated the serpent and sent him away. All of the work in stage one was done by the serpent to prepare Eve for his monstrous charge.

The serpent further deepened the lie by putting forth the half truth: "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." As Vos restates the serpent's charge: "God is one whose motives make His word unreliable. He lies from selfishness."

After these two stages of the serpent's temptation, his work is now done. The rest of the events took place within Eve's heart.
In part at least, the pivotal motive of the act was identical with the pivotal motive that gave strength to the temptation. It has been strikingly observed that the woman in yielding to this thought virtually put the tempter in the place of God. It was God who had beneficent purposes for man, the serpent had malicious designs. The woman acts on the supposition that God's intent is unfriendly, whilst Satan is animated with the desire to promote her well-being. [My emphasis]

What strikes me most deeply about all of this is the profoundly personal nature of Eve's sin. By taking the fruit, Eve was calling God a selfish liar who had deceived her. It is not only that Eve disobeyed God, but that she dishonored him by calling the serpent good and the Most Holy evil. The taking of the fruit was a profoundly blasphemous act; not merely a "mistake" or an "error." This blasphemy is present in every one of us still. What a pity that so much of the church tends to think of the fall and of original sin (if they believe in it at all) in terms of disease, as though sin was simply a parasite which God is trying desperately to kill. Sin lies in the inclination of the heart; it is blasphemy, sin is hatred of God, sin is calling God a liar every time it manifests itself. It is a deeply personal attack on the honor, the truthfulness, and the holiness of God. God's just response to this must be wrath and anger, or else He does not value His name, and if He does not value His own name then He is an idolator, and if God is an idolator, then Satan was right.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What It Takes

The Christian knows the truth about the non-Christian. He knows this because he is himself what he is by grace alone. He has been saved from the blindness of mind and the hardness of heart that marks the "natural man." The Christian has the "doctor's book." The Scriptures tell him of the origin and of the nature of sin. Man is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). He hates God. His inability to see the facts as they are and to reason about them as he ought to reason about them is, at bottom, a matter of sin. He has the God-created ability of reasoning within him. He is made in the image of God. God's revelation is before him and within him He is in his own constitution a manifestation of the revelation and therefore of the requirement of God. God made a covenant with him through Adam (Rom. 5:12). He is therefore now, in Adam, a covenant-breaker. He is also against God and therefore against the revelation of God (Rom. 8:6-8). This revelation of God constantly and inescapably reminds him of his creaturely responsibility. As a sinner he has, in Adam, declared himself autonomous.

Thus, intellectual argument will not, as such, convince and convert the non-Christian. It takes the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit to do that. But as in the case of preaching, so in the case of apologetical reasoning, the Holy Spirit may has a mediate approach to the minds and hearts of men The natural man is quite able intellectually to follow the argument that the Christian offers for the truth of his position. He can therefore see that the wisdom of this world has been made foolishness by God. Christianity can be shown to be, not "just as good as" or even "better than" the non-Christian position, but the only position that does not make nonsense of human experience.

Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, P&R 1969, Pg. 18-19.

Gems from Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was among the finest Evangelical preachers of the twentieth century. His sermons at London's Westminster Chapel drew large crowds and stirred the hearts and minds of his congregation. His published works have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and many of his books remain in print to this day.

Tony Sargent has spent many years putting together this anthology of carefully chosen quotations drawn from across the vast range of Lloyd-Jones's sermons. This collection will be an invaluable tool for preachers and an inspiration to any who have appreciated the ministry of 'The Doctor'.

This book is today's "deal of the day" on the Eisenbrauns website and can be bought for half off by clicking here. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Am a Bonzai and God Holds The Shears

The last month or so has been a complete spiritual Renaissance for me. More than once, I have referred to it as a revival. In either case - Renaissance or Revival - I have come out of a spiritual cold spell which has lasted around three years. Now, this is a dreadful length of time to simply go through the motions, plod on, stay engaged in the issues of the day, and live life the way I know I'm supposed to out of a mixed sense of duty and delight (but more often duty).

If I were to characterize my life for the past three years, I would describe it as "withholding." I have withheld the things in my life from God which needed to change in order for me to move forward with Him. Most specifically, I have sinned against God for the entire three years by downloading music and movies. I then attempted to justify said actions and even argue publicly that these things were not, in fact, wrong in God's sight.

Whether or not the proper arguments can be made for or against file sharing, of specific importance is that about a month ago, God struck me with the realization that my joy in Him would never grow if I did not yield this area of my life to Him and repent.

Now, this I did. In baby steps. Initially, I deleted all of the movies off of my computer, and it was like fresh air blew through my spiritual house. Almost immediately, I sensed the Divine presence as I once did. I was immediately rewarded by God with greater joy in Him than I have as yet enjoyed in my entire 12 years of walking with Him.

Now again, this originally started as a conviction from God regarding downloading movies. It soon became apparent to me that God was pruning, and He would not stop simply at movies.

About a week later, in Psalm 138, I read this:
"For you have exalted above all things
your name and your word."

I considereded that though I pray this and sense its truthfulness, my life still did not reflect that God was exalted above all things in my life. Every time that we refuse to follow our conscience and refuse to live as God convicts us to, we are exalting something above God. We are testifying that God is good, but not as good as this-or-that. We are sinning when we live this way.

Now, let me emphasize that this is not a post about downloading music. At least it's not supposed to be. But that night, as I read Psalm 138, He moved further into my delights and desires and planted his flag in more areas of my life, because as I read these words from Psalm 138:2, I sensed a conviction about something else that I delighted in very highly: music.

Now, I could sit here and use my philosophy degree and probably figure out a way to explain Intellectual Property laws and talk about how it's absolutely fine to download music. I've done it before (some would argue, not too effectively!). I agree with most of the arguments, intellectually, that downloading music is actually good for the industry and is not all that bad. I've openly defended my practice for years. And yet on that night, God was not primarily concerned about proving whether it was objectively right or wrong. Instead, his concern was that HE was not "exalted above all things" in my life. He was dealing with the sin of idolatry in my own heart.

So I started to feel sort of afraid, because this was a sin that I have highly treasured and held tightly to for a long time (all the move reason He should separate me from it). Like cutting away a wart or lancing a wound, this is not the kind of thing which a man can do for himself. Knowing I lacked the strength to change myself or give up this thing, in despair I kept reading from the Psalm and found my rescue in verse 3:
"On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased."

By the power of the Spirit, working through His Word, God convicted me, and then He empowered me to do it, and I pushed "Shift+Delete" on over 150 gigs of music that had sat on my computer like my heavyweight enemy for so many years.

As before when I deleted the movies, I was again rewarded with an increased delight in God's majesty, in His holiness, and in the assurance of my salvation. This is a pleasure far greater than any other in my life that I could ever hope for. And it is this pleasure in God above all things that God is seeking in worship to Himself.

I know that this is just a blog and most of our readers are men of doctrine and truth, but if we stop only at truth and do not let that truth move our affections and penetrate every area of our lives, including the painful ones that have hung around our necks for years, then we are not Christians at all. We are idolaters, and that is all we deserve to be called.

I wanted to share this season of spiritual renewal and challenge you all to seek God and look within yourselves to see if there are sins which you need God's Spirit to fight against. If all of God's people follow His spirit and fight their sin and testify to their friends and to the world that God is greater than the world's trappings, that is how REAL revival will come God's church. But as long as we languish in the halfhearted, lukewarm going-through-the-motions, God will not move among us, and eventually he will fulfill his promise to spit the lukewarm ones out of His mouth.

Since this is a sin I have so delighted it, I will need God's help every day not to fall back into this sin of exalting music above my LORD. But today, I can testify that God is, in fact, "exalted above all things." God is great! He is greater than downloading music! He is greater than downloading movies! He is greater than sin! But is He greater than everything in our lives? That one's almost always difficult to answer honestly.

Friday, June 4, 2010

King and Servant Show 21

Blubrry player!

Jonathan and Bryan begin a new series called "outreach," starting with a look at secularism and its two cardinal beliefs: atheism and agnosticism.