Thursday, December 27, 2012

How Easily We Forget Our Own Mortality!

This passage from Calvin is not only one of the best things I've ever read in him, but it belongs up there next to Dostoevsky or Walker Percy in terms of its grasp of the human psyche:
That human life is like smoke or shadow is not only obvious to the learned, but even ordinary folk have no proverb more commonplace than this...But there is almost nothing that we regard more negligently or remember less. For we undertake all things as if we were establishing immortality for ourselves on earth. If some corpse is being buried, or we walk among graves, because the likeness of death then meets our eyes, we, I confess, philosophize brilliantly concerning the vanity of this life. Yet even this we do not do consistently, for often all these things affect us not one bit. But when it happens, our philosophy is for the moment; it vanishes as soon as we turn our backs, and leaves not a trace of remembrance behind it. In the end, like applause in the theater for some pleasing spectacle, it evaporates. Forgetful not only of death but also of mortality itself, as if no inkling of it had ever reached us, we return to our thoughtless assurance of earthly immortality. (Institutes 1:714)
Indeed, how easily we forget!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: Inerrancy and the Gospels by Vern Poythress

Way back in June we reviewed Vern Poythress’ book Inerrancy and Worldview. At the time I appreciated what a focused apologetic tool the book turned out to be. Poythress’ newest book, Inerrancy and the Gospels is meant to offer, as the subtitle of the book suggests, “A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization.” From the beginning you know that Poythress is not interested in arguing for an inerrant Gospel harmonization by beginning with the unbeliever’s worldview.

When the book begins, Poythress spends a chapter basically laying his cards on the proverbial table. He believes in the inspiration and authority of the Bible. He believes it is possible to answer Bible difficulties (and they do, of course, exist). He recognizes, from the beginning, that the biggest challenge in answering Bible difficulties is not the Scriptures themselves, but the answerer himself. “My primary challenge in accomplishing this task is myself. I am a finite, fallible human being. I am also affected by remaining sin. And sin affects biblical interpretation…So you must understand that this book represents part of a path toward a future fullness of knowledge…” (15). Poythress does not intend to undertake the project of harmonization as a disinterested, neutral, or impartial witness.

Early in the book, Poythress spends a chapter discussing the differences between Matthew’s (8:5-13) and Luke’s (7:1-10) account of the Centurion’s Servant as a way of highlighting the reality of challenges to harmonization. He then surveys the various solutions to the “problem” which have been presented, reminding the reader that it is only necessary, when answering skeptics, to present a possible, logically non-contradictory solution, not necessarily the definitive solution to each harmonization challenge.

Poythress does not only approach harmonization differences defensively. He points out the positive reasons for non-contradictory differences between the Gospel accounts.
The differences between the Gospels are an integral and significant part of the Gospels. The differences are there for a purpose: they help us. All the Gospels are talking about events that actually happened; they are not “making it up.” But they are telling about the events in ways that help us to grasp their significance and their theological implications. We do not need to feel as if we have to “roll back” the significance and the implications in order to get to “bare” events (32).
We were never meant to read the Gospels in a theologically stripped down sort of a way that allows us to inject our own theological (or bare historical) interpretation into the events. Poythress is reminding us that there is theological significance in each of the distinct accounts of the life of Christ, and each individual Gospel reflects that reality—hence the differences in the accounts.

Each of the Gospel writers has their own purpose and goals in writing, and those variations which exist among them can be accounted for in terms of those purposes. He demonstrates quite helpfully that differences or “compression” of the genealogies in the beginning of the Gospels do, in fact, reflect each author’s own theological goals in their writing (Ch. 10).

The middle portion of the book (Ch. 10-15) is especially concerned to discuss the spiritual issues (pride, autonomy, etc.) related to harmonization. I couldn’t shake the thought that these chapters might have fit in better in Inerrancy and Worldview. It was a surprising section in the book, and while it is not what I expected, I could understand that its omission would have left the book spiritually lopsided, giving credence to the illusion that spiritual matters are irrelevant to this discussion.

Poythress does eventually get into the material which I thought would compose most of the book when I first started reading Inerrancy and the Gospels— namely discussion of the practical ins and outs of harmonization. Poythress argues that the writers of Scripture do not use a “Mental picture” method of writing such as we normally use or expect in our own reading. This affects several areas where interpreters normally see problems. As an example, Poythress argues that it is not necessary to see Christ as cleansing the temple twice, simply because John includes the cleansing at the beginning (2:13-22) of his book and the synoptics include it at the end (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-46). It is certainly a possible solution, and Poythress doesn’t see that solution as problematic (136). However, when one remembers that John is not recording events using the modern “mental picture” method of recording history, it might just as well be that John includes his recounting of the temple at the beginning for theologically significant reasons, and vice versa for the synoptics. Poythress argues that “we do not know for sure whether there was only one cleansing of the temple or two” (137). He does say, however, that we know everything that the Gospel writers wanted their readers to know: there was a temple cleansing, Jesus had a special zeal for God’s house, and Matthew and Mark were especially concerned to highlight the misuse of the temple that had taken place. In the end, the temple cleansing is simply a test case for Poythress in highlighting the fact that Gospel harmonization may include an understanding that the authors utilize “chronological flexibility” according to their motives, methods, and message. He makes similar points in discussing the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, the cursing of the fig tree, and the commissioning of the twelve.

He then turns his attention, finally, to what (especially early in my life when apologetics was a big emphasis for me) was my biggest sticking point in appreciating inerrancy as much as I could: variance in speech between the Gospel accounts. Poythress begins his test case by looking at the words of Christ following the stilling of the storm, comparing Matt. 8:26, Mark 4:40, and Luke 8:25. In his examination of these passage, he notes there is some variance. One possibility of harmonization is to conclude that there were three different stillings of the storm, which Poythress does not give much credence to. Another possibility, which Poythress considers is that Christ actually said all three things which are in each Gospel successively and each Gospel writer only included a portion of what Jesus said. This may seem like an unusual possibility, but Poythress makes the case that this is not as weird as you might initially think (159).

Poythress also suggests another possibility.
Jesus is God. So Jesus’ speeches are divine speech. The four Gospel writers are human beings, but they were inspired by the Holy Spirit so that what they wrote is also divine speech. Whenever the Gospel writers report things from Jesus’ speeches, we are seeing God’s report of what God himself said (163).
Poythress carefully argues that “God is free to use wording that brings out implications of his earlier words” (173). He uses a similar principle to understand New Testament authors’ free use of quoting Old Testament passages. Poythress points out that when modern preachers express the meaning of a passage by combining or rewording passages, nobody accuses them of misusing the Bible. This is because of two factors “(1) the modern use does not claim to be an exact, verbatim quote, and (2) it derives meaning from the original rather than distorting the original meaning into something else” (174). These principles can equally be applied to the NT authors, as well.

Overall, I should have known not to come into Inerrancy and the Gospels expecting a handbook of bible difficulties. Wrong expectations tend to be my undoing, and I seem to always have them whenever I read Poythress’ works. I personally would have preferred a truncation of the first half of the book and an expansion of the second half. That being said, this is just a preference. All in all, this is a very important book, and one which all students of the New Testament should read. I really wish I had read this book when I was a new Christian, because many years of struggle over the text against apologetic doubts would have been quelled by having a healthier understanding of what inerrancy does and does not mean for the text. I hope many Christians will avail themselves of Poythress’ book. It is my favorite so far in his “Inerrancy” series, and I look forward to more forthcoming additions to the series.

[I received a free copy of this book on condition that I review it. I am not required by the publisher to give a positive review.]

You can find the book in print by visiting Westminster books.
You can also find a free PDF of the book by visiting Poythress and Frame's web page.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Now You Want Meaning?

Modern people do not know why they exist. They are not moving towards anything, ultimately, and they value nothing ultimately. This is as much a moral issue as it is an existential crisis.

To quote John Cheever, "The main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment." Boredom and disappointment pervade America's Christ-haunted culture. While the ghost sits on the modern man's shoulder, beckoning to him to come find meaning and purpose, he buries his face in his iPhone and hopes that an answer will come shining off of the screen between games of Angry Birds. But the answers seem to never come. When something as horrible as this school shooting happens, suddenly purpose and meaning step to the fore. These same distracted, disappointed people want to know why this has happened, in spite of the fact that they have been perfectly happy to go through life with blinders on up to this point.

The immediate and direct answer is probably that he was bored, he was distracted, and he was disappointed, he was affluent, he was white, just like all the others who perpetrate these sorts of wicked mass murders in the West. As Walker Percy insightfully said, “You live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."

When horrific events like this take place, people begin to demand that clergy answer for God. However, all thinking people ought to demand that the humanist just as well answer for man.

The humanists among us offer their answers to the problem of meaninglessness and boredom, basically saying that the more people get to know themselves, the more they dive down into the human condition, the more likely they are to find meaning - after all, from their perspective there is nowhere else to go to find it. All the while, the ghost sits on their shoulder, defining them and establishing who they are as they continually fight to shake it off.

As long as people refuse to be defined by their Maker - defined from without, they will continue to be baffled by what they find within, and a restless, dangerous boredom will continue to cover our land.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday Kindle Special on Beeke's A Puritan Theology

If you're like me, you love the idea of reading Joel Beeke & Mark Jones' impressive new book A Puritan Theology, but you also find it pretty inconvenient to carry a book of 1000+ pages with you on the go.  Ordinarily, you could just tear out the pages you want to read and then glue them back in later, but lets face it - that's not a great idea.  One option is to get the book on Amazon Kindle. Ordinarily, the book is an unpleasant $30 on Kindle (and $60 in print), but for the weekend until Monday the book is on sale for $9.99 at Amazon. Even if you have the book in print, it's probably worth it to get it in this portable format. Although our readers are probably familiar with this book, I want to mention the very first paragraph in the book from the foreword written by Sinclair Ferguson:
The one thousand pages and more than half a million words you now hold in your hand constitute the largest and most comprehensive exposition to date on the theology of the English Puritans. It is a remarkable achievement, the fruit of many combined decades of reading, research, and reflection on the part of its authors.
I did leap on this deal immediately, and while I love print books, this is definitely the kind of book to take with you wherever you go, since it is as devotional as it is systematic.  You can fine it here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Westminster Standards eBook

One of our readers has just finished working on an edition of the Westminster Standards in Amazon Kindle format.  While there are many copies of the Standards available for the Kindle, this version stands out because of several included documents:
  • The Confession of Faith
  • The Shorter Catechism
  • The Larger Catechism
  • The Psalms of David in Metre
  • To the Christian Reader, Especially Heads of Families
  • Mr Manton's Epistle to the Reader
  • Sum of Saving Knowledge
  • National Covenant
  • Solemn League and Covenant
  • Directory for the Publick Worship of God
  • Directory for Family-Worship
  • Form of Presbyterial Church-Government
There are three primary features which make this version superior:
  1. As you can see, this isn't just the Confession and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  It also includes a variety of other documents either relevant to or also produced by the Assembly.
  2. The book comes with an initial table of contents that takes the reader to any of the above listed documents.  Within each document is its own relevant Table of Contents. So if you go to the Confession, you get a listing of chapters to navigate to.
  3. The most important feature is that the Standards all come with the Assembly's scripture proofs in hyperlinked format. They don't interfere with your reading, but if you want the proofs, you need only click on the footnote to be taken to them, typed out in the King James text.
All that to say, this is the best version of the Westminster Standards available so far in Kindle format. There are many copies of this document available, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. It isn't free, but it is worth it.  You can find it here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Trusting God by Jerry Bridges Free Today for Kindle

Jerry Bridges' masterful book Trusting God: Even When It Hurts is available today for free on the Kindle.  You can get it by clicking here.

This is actually my favorite of all Jerry Bridges' books.  That might be because it's the only one I've actually read, however. One of my favorite things about Trusting God is his extensive and thoroughly convincing discussion of God's sovereignty over all things - even the evils which befall us as His children.  It's a good book for everyone, because even if you aren't hurting right now, the Bible guarantees that you will at some point.

Once again, the book is available by clicking here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Already-Not-Yet Nature of the Sabbath

It's been awhile since we've had any discussion of the continuing nature of the Sabbath. In Greg Beale's fantastic book, A New Testament Biblical Theology, he discusses the eschatological implications of the Sabbath. He argues that the Sabbath as instituted at creation still persists, although the specifics of the Sabbath as mandated by Yahweh and practiced by Israel has been typologically fulfilled in Christ, which echos Calvin on the subject.  Beale then nicely summarizes:
The continuation of a weekly day of rest not only commemorates this past rest but also points forward to Christ's final coming, when believers themselves will be resurrected bodily and completely enter the same rest that Christ has already fully entered. Sabbatarians, however, continue to label this commemorative day to be the "Sabbath," since the sign to which the weekly Sabbath points has not yet been finally and completely fulfilled. This is not a simple carry-over of Israel's Sabbath ordinance; it is a continuation of the expression of the creation ordinance...which mandated that humanity rest on the seventh day (p. 800).
And so, those who complain that Christians don't really celebrate the Sabbath, because they should still be observing it on Saturdays, not Sundays, fail to appreciate the eschatological already-not-yet significance of Christ's coming. The Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ, but not all aspects of the Sabbath will have been fulfilled until the final consummation at Christ's second coming.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Christian Reaction to the Monism of Cloud Atlas

[I offer the warning that this may be spoiler-ish.]

Having just seen Cloud Atlas, I was struck by several themes in the film and wanted to write about them. I must offer a preliminary caveat that I have not read the book which the film is based on. I also want to mention that I am not some sort of self-styled expert on this film and will not pretend to be. Having said that, this film is very good. The reaction by the people in the theatre when I went was quite positive, and everyone immediately started speculating as to the film’s meaning as they were walking down the aisles to exit the theatre. Films that cause us to think about ourselves, about death, about the universe, about fate, about meaning, and about our connection to our fellow human beings seem quite rare, and so when they do happen to come around, our ears should perk up. So having left Cloud Atlas, what did we hear?

For starters, the movie strikes me as the epitome of post-modern filmmaking and worldview. I have heard similar evaluations of the novel by David Mitchell. Frequent reference is made in the movie to “your truth,” “true truth,” “your version of the truth,” etc. In fact, the movie itself is a kaleidoscope of six different stories, all knit together into a single compelling narrative with the story cutting from one to the next. It becomes clear that each of these stories are connected to the others by way of storytelling/documentary narrative devices.

Some see this movie as promoting reincarnation, picturing each character as dying and being reincarnated into the other storylines that follow it chronologically. The reincarnation idea is too overt or obvious, however. The movie is mostly about storytelling, and that is why it concludes with Tom Hanks’ future man living on another planet telling his children and grand children these fantastical tales of this world he once knew like it was a memory. His final storytelling character (he plays six different characters) gives the story narrative unity. Everything that we see in the story is filtered through his narrative (a story within a story), though we weren’t aware of it until the last scene of the movie.

In other words, Cloud Atlas is meant to give us fallible retellings of every event we are seeing. And yet I doubt the filmmakers would say that what we are seeing on the screen is not true. Rather, the movie reflects a fundamental commitment to the idea that all truth is mediated and is therefore interpreted. Van Til would rejoice at this premise. However, since no truth-teller is infallible (Christians can think of one, of course), we are bound to get various versions of the same story.

The reincarnation theme is not, I think, a reflection of an overt belief in literal reincarnation. Rather, it is a reflection of the larger commitments of the filmmakers – namely materialism, determinism, and monism. These three systems are all mutually interlocking and interdependent. The Wachowskis, who wrote the story, are committed Nietzscheans who do not believe in any traditional definition of God. Further, the materialistic universe is fatalistically determined because of the absence of variables in the universe. For the filmmakers, everything is predetermined based on impersonal laws of physical causation. Ultimately, as well, everything in such a universe is one. There is no differentiating one type of matter from another, and so one is left with a universe that is all unity and no diversity.

The reincarnation theme is actually not a reincarnation theme, ultimately. Rather, it is a reflection of a monistic universe where all is one. This can sound abstract, but it preaches well and it is a thematically fulfilling sentiment in the context of the movie. Those who see the movie will notice that it opens and closes with the same shot of the stars. As I was leaving the theatre one woman hit the nail on the head (I admit it isn’t a difficult theme to spot in this movie) when she turned to her companion and said, “So really the movie is saying that we’re all connected to each other.” This is a rhetorically powerful theme, which has great force in our own day and age. In a sense it demands a response from those dissenting from the filmmakers’ larger project.

From the monistic perspective, all is neither good or bad, it simply is – matter in motion evolving and moving from one state of being to another. However, that isn’t even right, because in the end, even the “beingness” in one state cannot, given monism, be differentiated from the “beingness” of matter in another state. Monism isn’t self-defeating. It is self-absorbing. It becomes meaningless because the questions just soak into matter like a sponge absorbing water. Is there pain right now? Just wait – it will pass and be forgotten. Is there delight or joy right now? It’s only a matter of time before it becomes less than a memory.

The Christian perspective on this reincarnation theme is to assert on the basis of received revelation that God has spoken to us, and what he has told us is that he creates each of us at a point in time and that we did not exist before that, though he did. Our lives are linear, moving from conception to birth to death to the eternal state. In this film, the implicit lesson for the here and now is that we must treat one another with love, respect, and care because we are all connected. Early on in the movie, Ewing sees a slave being whipped. The slave looks up and stares at Ewing as if he knew him even though they had never met before. The lesson (if you want to impute such intention to the filmmakers) is that this slave, Mr. Ewing, is you. Mr. Ewing ought to become an abolitionist because he and the slave are one – they are more than connected – they are one another, just like all of us.

From a Christian perspective, we agree. Of course, this agreement comes with some caveats. We are one with one another by way of our relationship to the first man – Adam. We are not to be identified with one another directly, however, though our lives are interconnected and do have an impact one another and on future generations which follow. Our motive for treating one another rightly is related to the common divine image that we all share. The writers of scripture refer to the image of God as motive for treating others as they ought to be treated (James 3:9). This leaves open the possibility of our being kind to one another without compromising our own personal identity and while avoiding the many contraditctory problems of monism.

In the end, Cloud Atlas is a beautiful, compelling, exciting movie that is bound to leave theatregoers profoundly confused. There are other issues to discuss in the movie (and in terms of content, I definitely recommend viewers check out the content advisory at the film's IMDB parental content page), but I wanted to touch on the most core metaphysical issues in this film. The movie was gripping, beautifully shot, absolutely fascinating from beginning to end (even with a near 3-hour running time!), and well-acted. My guess is there will be dissertations and books written about his film in the years to come, (but hopefully there won’t be any misguided books titled The Gospel According to Cloud Atlas). It is my hope that Christians will learn to express their own worldview in as winsome and compelling a way as the Wachowskis have done in this film.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards and Justification edited by Josh Moody

If you follow Jonathan Edwards studies, it’s no secret that Edwards’ doctrine of Justification has been under fire since the 1940s. Examples abound, even in popular Reformed writings. R. Scott Clark has written in an online forum that “At best, Edwards was at times confusing about justification. At worst he was contradictory and unconfessional re the same.” J.V. Fesko devotes a few pages of his otherwise wonderful book Justification to Edwards and concludes: “It does not seem possible to argue that Edwards’ construction is within the confines of Reformed orthodoxy…at minimum, a cloud of ambiguity hangs over Edwards’ doctrine of justification” (39). There are others who argue that Edwards was unambiguously Reformed in his view of justification and that there is no question of the quality of Edwards’ orthodoxy.

In this latter category belongs a new book from Crossway, Jonathan Edwards and Justification. Josh Moody, the editor, as well as the other contributors are all convinced that Edwards has been fundamentally misunderstood by a wide swath of scholars, beginning with Perry Miller during his much lauded rediscovery of Edwards in the 40s and 50s.

Central to this misunderstanding, they argue, is the misreading of much of Edwards' terminology.  Among the most “troublesome” aspects of Edwards’ expression of justification is his usage of the word “infusion.” Moody helpfully explains the misunderstanding:
When Edwards talks about infusion and the like, what he is referring to is not the infusion of righteousness that the Westminster divines spoke against, but rather the experience of the new creation, the experience of having Christ in us, and us being in him. This supernatural event takes place when someone becomes a Christian – that is what Edwards is describing… (14)
Moody ably defends this thesis in his own chapter, and also helpfully lays out Edwards’ understanding of justification based on Edwards’ quaestio, his Justification by Faith Alone, and some of his Miscellanies. There is also discussion of Edwards’ ordo salutis. The charges of “confusion” and “ambiguity” are hard to be sympathetic with once one understands that Edwards absolutely does not root justification in personal holiness. Rather, Moody points out that there is a strong emphasis in Edwards on union with Christ as the ground of our justification.

[At one point Moody warns that anything from Edwards’ Miscellanies ought to be regarded as less significant than his printed writings. Moody helpfully quips, “If I am held to the stake for every semiformulated idea I have ever penned in private journals, I had better get rid of some of them before I pass through the veil.”]

Intrinsic to Moody’s case in defense of Edwards is that there is not always a 1:1 relationship between Edwards’ terminology and historic Reformed terminology. The above mentioned reference to “infusion” is a prime example of this. Moody admits that Edwards was a creative thinker and was writing in a context of apologetic against enlightenment thinkers. As such, he offered up-to-date arguments and not simply dogmatic restatements. He was writing for a creative an sophisticated era, and so he often used created and sophisticated language in addressing the challenges of his time.

In Kyle Strobel’s chapter, he argues that “Edwards’ development of soteriological loci under his analysis of the person and work of Christ and the nature and gift of the Spirit.” This is a significant chapter for coming to understand Edwards’ view of the roles of the Trinitarian persons in planning, accomplishing, and applying salvation. In the end, Strobel concludes that Edwards does not deny or undermine the forensic nature of justification because, “For Edwards, the only true ground for forgiveness is Christ himself. Because salvation, in its entirety, is found in Christ, union, we could say, grounds the application of redemption.”

Rhys Bezzant’s chapter, “The Gospel of Justification and Edwards’ Social Vision” explores the ministry context in which Edwards was writing and explores his doctrine of justification within those related pastoral themes. One comes away quite convinced that the portrayal of Edwards as a preacher of subjective change is an unfair caricature, to be sure. His chapter is interesting and contributes to the wider discussion of Edwards’ views.

Samuel T. Logan Jr. spends his chapter discussing what it meant for Edwards in terms of obedience, for someone to be justified. What does a justified person act like? He bases his answer largely in an overview of Edwards’ Religious Affections. It is clear from Logan’s chapter that for Edwards (echoing the rest of the Reformed tradition) there is no justification where there is no growth in the Spirit. This is because “The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him; the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it…” This “relish for more relish” is something which, according to Edwards, only the regenerate person understands. Likewise, where this is missing, justification is also missing. This is hardly a crypto-Catholic understanding of justification.

The book ends with Doug Sweeney’s chapter, which is simply put, my favorite part. It is a joy to read, and I highly recommend that others actually skip to this one after reading Moody's excellent first chapter. In the fifth chapter, Sweeney spends a great deal of time establishing Edwards’ Reformed bonafides.  He discusses the fact that yes, Edwards does point to faith as “the qualification which God has a primary Respect to in Justifying men.” However, Sweeney helpfully points out that “godly love is implied in saving faith and so is spoken of in Scripture as a condition of salvation – not a condition that secures justification before God, but a condition without which one does not have genuine faith” (143). Sweeney also points out the emphasis within Edwards on union with Christ as the ground of the believer’s righteousness before God. This is very much in keeping with the Reformed tradition of Calvin.

I would like to think that Jonathan Edwards and Justification is a solid step towards answering the concerns of men like Fesko, Clark, and others. This is not a substantial volume in terms of size, but it very clearly makes a strong case for the orthodoxy of Edwards’ teaching on justification. Edwards was a creative thinker who used less than conventional language at times to clarify his doctrine. This does not place him outside of Reformed Orthodoxy, but it does mean that he needs to be read more slowly, with an eye to the apologetic context in which he wrote and preached.

You can find Jonathan Edwards and Justification here.

[I received a copy of Jonathan Edwards and Justification for review purposes from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review as a condition for my receiving it.]

Walker to Speak at ETS 2012

On November 14-16 the Evangelical Theological Society will be gathering in Milwaukee, WI for their annual meeting. Our own Josh Walker will be delivering a paper, "Δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ, The New Perspective, and Romans 1:16-17: A Linguistic Approach."

Below is an abstract for the paper that he will be delivering:
Within the current Evangelical discussion of the New Perspective on Paul, the two leading voices, N. T. Wright and John Piper, have many areas of disagreement. One fundamental disagreement in this debate relates to the way the Greek phrase δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ is understood in the Pauline corpus. Wright argues that this phrase refers to God’s faithfulness to his covenantal promises, while Piper interprets this construction as describing God’s commitment to his own glory. By defining δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in these ways, both scholars commit the exegetical fallacy known as illegitimate totality transfer by forcing their particular definitions into every instance of δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in the Pauline texts. One important example where both of their definitions do not fit is Rom 1:16 –17. It is argued that in this passage, δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ refers to “a righteousness from God” and not a characteristic of God, as both Wright and Piper contend. The primary reason for understanding δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Rom 1:16–17 this way stems from the fact that Paul cites Hab 2:4 to explain this Greek phrase. When the Habakkuk text is understood as referring to a person who is righteous, and not to a characteristic of God, it then becomes evident that Paul employs δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ in Rom 1:17 to mean a righteousness from God.
He will be delivering it at the Frontier Airlines Center room 202 C on November 15th from 3:00 to 3:40pm. For more information check out the program schedule. Once he is done, it might not be a bad idea to stick around and listen to Frank Thielman present.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bible Translation for the Glory of God

Bill Mounce has a very moving story about the most amazing Bible translator he has met (here). I would highly recommend giving this brief post a read.

The thing that struck me the most about this post is that God is in control of this world in such a way as to ensure that his word reaches the people he intends it to reach. There is nothing, humanly speaking, that can stop the word of God from going to a group of people that God wants to hear his word. This is why Paul can write in Romans 10:15, quoting Isaiah 52:7, "“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" The feet that come bringing the good news, the very words of God, are the feet that have been sent by God to deliver his word. God ensures this is done so that his name might be proclaimed and glorified among the nations. Thus, Bible translation is not a mere academic work; yes, it takes hard work and study to accomplish, but it is ultimately done that God's gospel of forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ may go forth to every tribe of humanity!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Free Jerry Bridges eBook for Kindle

True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia by Jerry Bridges has gone free, temporarily at Amazon.  This is a fairly new book that only just came out in August.  I haven't read it yet, but this is from the publisher's description:
Fellowship among believers is more than just talking over coffee after church service. Biblical fellowship in New Testament times—or koinonia—had rich and varied meanings, including covenant relationship, partnership in the gospel, communion with God and others, and the sharing of earthly possessions.
In True Community, best-selling author Jerry Bridges guides you through koinonia and its implications for today’s church. With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this book will help you dig deeper into what Christian community in the twenty-first century should look like. You will come away with a new appreciation for fellowship, the church, and what God intended the body of Christ to be.
Grab it over at Amazon while you can.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ke$ha's False Premises

In the past I have highlighted foolish worldly pop-culture 'thinking' before, and I propose to do it again.  I encountered a song on the radio the other day by a 'singer' (quotes emphasized) named Ke$ha.  I'm guessing this spelling was an unfortunate error on the part of the nurse filling out the birth certificate.  Anyway, I wanted to share some lyrics (though you'll thank me for not quoting all of them) from one of her songs:
I hear your heart beat to the beat of the drums
Oh what a shame that you came here with someone
So while you're here in my arms
Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young
We're gonna die young
We're gonna die young
Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young
What's of interest to me, and ought to be of interest to everyone is the conclusion drawn.  For Ke$ha, the prospect of dying young entails hedonistic premises and leads to hedonistic conclusions.  And yet the assumption here is that questions of the meaning of life, of why we're here, of what true and lasting pleasure are, of death and the afterlife are all secondary.  For Ke$ha, death is just an obstacle to more pleasure.  And I fear for many of us, and for her enthusiastic listeners, this is often the case.

I know it's just a really dumb song, and the people who listen to it claim not to care about the lyrics, but they deserve a contrast from the opposite end of the seriousness spectrum.  I have previously compared music lyrics to Edwards, and I'm about to do it again.  Jonathan Edwards was the picture of a man who wanted desperately not to waste his life.  I quote now from his resolutions:
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
For many, music functions for us as a way to escape the responsibilities of existence.  It is a means to forget about work and family and life and just lose oneself in the beat.  If music is used in this way, it becomes a tool of self-destruction because, like a drug, it deadens the soul to our deepest and most desperate needs, while at the same time leaving those needs completely unaddressed.

Lets take Ke$ha's advice and live like we're gonna die young.  But let's do something different because of it.  Don't waste your life, people.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Puritan Worship and Shakespeare

Puritan worship resembles the plays of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was content with the scantiest of stage props and built scenery and imagery into the text of the plays themselves. In a similar way, the Puritan got rid of the 'stage scenery' of the Catholic/Anglican worship and relied on the verbal imagery and symbolism, most of it based on the Bible... Once we grant the validity of the verbal image it becomes clear that the Puritan worship service did not starve the imagination or even the senses of the worshipper.

-Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, 125.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The First Puritan Systematic Theology - 50% Off!

There have been rumblings and rumors for years that Joel Beeke was at work on a Systematic Theology of English Puritanism.  It's so exciting now to see that it is out, and almost more exciting that for the next week Westminster Books will be selling it at 50% off.  Weighing in at nearly 1200 pages, the size of A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life is only outweighed by the reputations of the men whose doctrines are explored in it.  As Sinclair Ferguson says in the introductory chapter, "As one returns to the world of twenty-first century church, one cannot help feeling that there were giants in the land in those days."

Indeed.  If you go to check out the book at Westminster, you'll also find that you can read the introduction, preface, and a sample chapter on union with Christ.  Normally, the book sells for $60, but for the next week you can get it for $30.  So go and do the right thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

John Owen's Argument for Limited Atonement (Syllogism)

Either Christ died for:
1. All of the sins of all people
2. Some of the sins of all people
3. All of the sins of some people


1. If Christ underwent punishment for all of the sins of all people, then no one will be in Hell.
2. Some people will be in Hell.
Therefore 3. Christ did not undergo punishment for all of the sins of all people.

1. If Christ underwent punishment for only some of the sins of all people, then all people will be in Hell.
2. Not all people will be in Hell.
Therefore 3. Christ did not undergo punishment for some of the sins of all people.

1. If some people will not be in Hell, then Christ underwent punishment for all of the sins of some people.
2. Some people will not be in Hell.
Therefore 3. Christ underwent punishment for all of the sins of some people.

Owen anticipates a response:
1. Christ underwent punishment for all sins
2. Unbelief is a sin
Therefore 3. Christ underwent punishment for the sin of unbelief

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Announcing New Puritan Press - and a Free eBook

James T. O'Brien is a PCA minister who has started an exciting publishing company called New Puritan Press.  They specialize in translating and modernizing lesser known works by the Puritans and selling them in eBook format.  These are books you can't find for free online - unless you read latin, that is.  O'Brien made this announcement earlier today:

We are celebrating the launch of our e-publishing ministry, New Puritan Press. Our mission is to translate classic works by Puritans and other Reformed authors into 21st century English, so that God's people can profit from them again. To celebrate we are offering a wonderful and rare book, John Preston's The Fullness of Christ, (an exposition of John 1:14) for free today through Thursday only. Click the link or search for the book on Amazon. While there browse the other titles we are offering... 
Would you like to know about the new books we will be publishing each month? You can by signing up for our once-a-month Newsletter at: Pam and I want to thank you for your support on this exciting day!
For the next three days, they are giving away John Preston's book The Fullness of Christ for free on the Kindle Store.  This is an original translation, and I would encourage you not only to get it, but to look at their other books.

They are currently also selling Seeking God by Thomas Vincent and Overcoming Worry by David Clarkson.

[Update: New Puritan Press has a website here.]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Comments Policy

Here is our comment policy.

All comments must adhere to the following guidelines or they will be deleted, without any warning or notice. As long as comments do not contain profanity, it is not our policy to delete them. We are not, however, interested in operating an anonymous forum where individuals can make any and every comment that comes into their heads without accountability.

As such, if you are commenting under a pseudonym, nickname, or anonymously, your comments will be deleted. You are free to disagree with us, but you are not free to make anonymous comments without identifying yourselves. We are accountable to our own churches and Presbyteries for the comments that we make here, and it must be possible for our commenters to be held to similar standards. Thus, all comments must contain the author's first and last name.

Thanks for reading,
Bring the Books

Forthcoming from Brill

We have exciting news about a forthcoming volume that is edited by Stanley Porter from McMaster Divinity School.  The book in question is Paul and His Social Relations, published by Brill.  The expected publication date is December of this year.  So instead of going to see the Hobbit or celebrating Christmas, you should plan on spending the winter season holed up and reading this cozy volume.

Our own Joshua Walker has contributed one of the chapters with Andrew Pitts, "The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship."  Some time back, Pitts and Walker did an interview (very interesting and worth reading if an argument for Paul's impact on Hebrews is of interest to you, as it should be to everyone) where they gave the basic thesis of their chapter:
The evidence we examine suggests that Hebrews likely represents a Pauline speech, probably originally delivered in a Diaspora synagogue, that Luke documented in some way during their travels together and which Luke later published as an independent speech to be circulated among house churches in the Jewish-Christian Diaspora. From Acts, there already exists a historical context for Luke’s recording or in some way attaining and publishing Paul’s speeches in a narrative context. Luke remains the only person in the early Church whom we know to have published Paul’s teaching (beyond supposed Paulinists) and particularly his speeches. And certainly by the first century we have a well established tradition within Greco-Roman rhetorical and historiographic stenography (speech recording through the use of a system of shorthand) of narrative (speeches incorporated into a running narrative), compilation (multiple speeches collected and edited in a single publication) and independent (the publication of a single speech) speech circulation by stenographers. Since it can be shown (1) that early Christians pursued parallel practices, particularly Luke and Mark, (2) that Hebrews and Luke-Acts share substantial linguistic affinities and (3) that significant theological-literary affinities exist between Hebrews and Paul, we argue that a solid case for Luke’s independent publication of Hebrews as a Pauline speech can be sustained. We don’t claim to have “solved” the problem of authorship in terms of absolutes or certainties, but we do think that this is the direction that the evidence points most clearly.

Monday, October 1, 2012

King and Servant Show 32 - Contentment

Blubrry player! 

Jonathan returns to the studio after a long break to bring a devotion on the blessing of finding contentment with God in life's circumstances.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Creedal Celebration!

Carl Trueman's new book The Creedal Imperative is out. Broadly speaking, the book is a defense of the importance of creeds. It is very popular today to reject creeds or to see them as passe. The number of non-creedal, non-denominational churches in the United States, for example, is exploding. In his new book The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman explains "why creeds and confessions are necessary, how they have developed over time, and how they can function in the church of today and tomorrow. He writes primarily for evangelicals who are not particularly confessional in their thinking yet who belong to confessional churches - Baptists, independents, etc. - so that they will see more clearly the usefulness of the church's tradition."

Now, since this is a celebration of sorts, here is what Westminster Books is doing:

I forgot to mention: they have free eBook versions of the Westminster Standards as well!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Book Review: Canon Revisited by Michael Kruger

Canon Revisited is an important book, and I hope everyone reads it. The first chapter leads off with a quote from Ernest Best: “No one has come up with a satisfactory solution as to how we determine which books should be in the canon” (15). It might be simplistically summarized that from beginning to end, this book exists to prove Best wrong. There are objections from many different quarters, all basically arguing that the Christian cannot know that the twenty-seven books in the Christian canon of the New Testament are the right books. According to Michael Kruger, the church is not under threat of a historical crisis, but rather, what is at its core, an “epistemological crisis” (19). And so Kruger has written this book with a modest goal: to show that “Christians do have sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament” (295).

I say this is a modest goal. To some, it sounds like a herculean task. It is crucial for understanding this volume, however, that readers keep in mind what Kruger is not out to prove. This book is not an all-out apologetic argument for the truth of Christianity. It is not a one-stop book to give to an unbeliever who wants a good reason for why he should believe that Jesus is Lord, and the Bible is telling the truth about Him. As Kruger helpfully states in summary fashion:
We are not asking how a person comes to believe in the canon (for the first time). Nor are we trying to prove the truth of the canon. We are asking whether the Christian religion can give an adequate account for the knowledge it claims to have. But such a question can be answered only on the basis of the Christian faith itself – that is, on the basis of the Christian conception of God, his purpose and plan, the nature of human knowledge, and so forth. And where else would we turn to acquire this information but to the very scriptural books in question? (289-290)
It is here that one sees most clearly the method and assumptions Kruger will be employing in this book. Those with a bent towards presuppositional apologetic methodology will find themselves very much at home in this book. Since I lean that way in the first place, it was nice to see argumentation that did not seek to placate unbelieving approaches to the canon. Rather as Kruger points out, if the argument is that Canon can only be explained in Christian categories, and if he is right that canon is ultimately a theological issue (294), then an accounting for the canon must take place on the Christian’s turf. There is simply no way to provide a theologically cogent account of canon in a satisfactory way while granting the skeptic’s presuppositions, since he brings assumptions to the table which already discount the answers which make the Christian view cohere.

The book rests in some respects upon Alvin Plantinga’s work in the area of epistemological justification. Particularly, Kruger distinguishes between two specific challenges to the canon: de jure objections and de facto objections. De facto objections argue that a belief that we have the right books in our canon “is intellectually unacceptable on the grounds that it is false” (288). De jure objections, on the other hand, argue, “not that it is false, but that it is intellectually unjustifiable” (288). Kruger is clear that it is the de jure objection which this book is responding to. Once he has responded to the de jure objection, he reacts: “Whatever other objections the critic may have, it can no longer be this one” (295). It is not a book to destroy skepticism altogether, but to eliminate one powerful objection.

The first half of the book is devoted to exploring the various canonical models that are out there and then concludes with a presentation of the self-attesting model of canon, which Kruger if himself advocating. The self-attesting model, Kruger is seeking to show, not only avoids the problems that the other views of canon present, but also provides a valid model for canonization which faithfully reflects the teachings of Scripture regarding itself.

What is the self-attesting model of canon? In the simplest terms, Kruger explains that to say the Scriptures are self-attesting means that one turns to them in order to understand them. Put another way, “self authenticating” refers to the fact that “one cannot authenticate the canon without appealing to the canon” (91).
A self-authenticating canon is not just a canon that claims to have authority, nor is it simply a canon that bears internal evidence of authority, but one that guides and determines how that authority is to be established (91).
This is something which is denied by all the other models of canon. As Kruger says, “all these models share one core characteristic. They all ground the authority of the canon in something outside the canon itself. It is this appeal to an external authority that unites all these positions” (88). What are these positions? Put briefly, the other models can be reduced to Community Determined models and Historically Determined models. There are variations within each of these models and nuances which deserve attention, but at the end of the day, as Kruger has already said, the determination of the canon is either put into the hands of the church, church leaders, or church historians with these views.

While Kruger does spend some time arguing that this view of the canon does have a historical basis in authors such as Turretin, Calvin, and Bavinck, I certainly would have appreciated a bit more than one paragraph on the historicity of this view. It is, of course, far more important to see if Scripture teaches this view, and so this semi-lack of historical material can easily be forgiven. It is certainly a subject worth following up on, however, as many in the Reformed community seem to be opposed to the self-attesting model in favor of a strictly historically-determined model. Regarding the Historically determined model, Ridderbos offers a helpful criticism:
Historical judgment cannot be the final and sole ground for the church’s accepting the New Testament as canonical. To accept the New Testament on that ground would mean the church would ultimately be basing its faith on the results of historical investigation (113).
The choice is between models which rely upon various external authorities an finding a model which is consistent from beginning to end in its theology of canon. Kruger argues (and I agree) that the self-attesting model is such a model.

Kruger argues, as he develops the self-attesting model, that the Bible testifies to an “epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed,” including three features: (1) Providential exposure of the church to the canon, (2) Attributes of canonicity, and (3) Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. As Kruger explains, “These three components must all be in place if we are to have knowledge of the canon” (94).

Kruger also spends much time on (2) discussing what exactly the attributes of canonicity are. He argues that there are three attributes of canonicity – each of which make appearances – to a greater or lesser degree – in the other models of canon. What makes Kruger’s approach different, however, is his insistence that a canonical book will possess all three of these attributes: (a) divine qualities, (b) corporate reception by the church, and (c) apostolic origins. Now, these three attributes are not enough. Even if a book does possess all of these things, features (1) and (3) must also be present. Kruger looks to Scripture to derive this model and all of its features – I think he does it quite effectively. In fact, much more could be said. Kruger shows much restraint, in a lot of ways. Meredith Kline’s discussion in the first hundred or so pages of The Structure of Biblical Authority make a strong case that the canon itself can be entirely constructed based on the Bible’s internal covenantal structure. Kruger gives Kline a brief mention, and if you follow up on Kruger’s footnotes you’ll find a wealth of information which is highly beneficial in this respect.

The second half of the book is meant to deal with potential defeaters which might be brought up against the self-attesting canonical model. One argument is that it is not the apostolicity of many New Testament books are not unanimously agreed upon. However, Kruger points out that the lack of a consensus can hardly constitute a defeater since there is also not a “consensus” against the apostolicity of the canonical books. Furthermore, those who are critical of apostolicity oppose it on the basis of modernistic assumptions. Kruger rhetorically asks, “Why should we think Enlightenment-based methodologies are more likely to produce true conclusions than Christian ones?” (291)

In the last two chapters, Kruger addresses other defeaters. Modern liberal scholarship largely tends to claim that there was disagreement over the contents of the canon, and assumes that a divinely inspired canon would not entail as much disagreement as was involved in the development of the canon. Of course, this assumption of such scholars is highly questionable and assumes that disagreement in the early church is inconsistent with the self-authenticating model (which Kruger makes clear it is not – in fact it is expected). Furthermore, Kruger says, the critics are exaggerating the nature of the disagreements.

So much more could be said in commendation of Kruger’s book. It is my personal belief that Canon Revisited will be key in providing structure for future discussions of the canon. The book is logically structured, rigorously argued, and is Biblically centered, as would be expected for a book seeking to consistently apply the teachings of Scripture to the structure of the Biblical canon. After reading Canon Revisited, my own understanding of the canon has been deeply enriched. I want to recommend this book to others as highly as I possibly can. It will be considered the major work on canon from an advocate of the self-attesting model for years to come.

Friday, September 14, 2012

eBook Special: Bruce on the Lord's Supper

Carl Trueman has already shared this, but since our readers find it relevant I thought I'd pass this along.  Robert Bruce (the successor of John Knox) preached a series of sermons on the Lord's Supper in 1589, and Christian Focus' republication of those sermons has been out of print for awhile.  I had the privilege of putting together the eBook of these sermons for them, and now Christian Focus has made this out-of-print book available in Kindle format.  For the next two weeks it's being sold at a special reduced price.

I can't recommend a book more highly.  These sermons on the Lord's Supper are well worth your time.  According to Trueman, they are "some of the most helpful ever preached on the topic."  You can get the book here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reading Richard Sibbes Aloud

For more than two years, Mark Dever has been quietly at work creating a collection of audio files.  These are recordings of himself reading the sermons of Richard Sibbes, as though he were preaching them.  If you have not been listening to these sermons, I highly recommend them.  He has around 40 files so far, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Check out the growing archive here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Amazon Kindle Fail

Amazon has announced its new line of Kindles, which will release on October 1st.  Among them are the new Kindle Fire, the Kindle Fire HD, and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" (which is a horrible name).  I have absolutely no interest in any of the Kindle Fire family.  Go buy an iPad.

What does interest me, however, is the new Kindle Paperwhite.  Evidently, the screen is higher resolution and has a special backlight technology that is way less obnoxious than LED or LCD, which bounce light back into the space surrounding the screen.  It also has 2GB of memory and the ability to change spacing and font size in your eBooks.  BUT...

There's a huge but.  BUT Amazon has also announced that none of their future Kindles will support text to speech.  They supposedly tout this new line as upgrades.  Yes, they have a slightly larger memory.  Yes, they have the ability to change fonts.  And yet they have still not given me a reason to ever update my three year old Kindle 2 3G.  In fact, now I am clutching it tighter!  It still runs like a top, it still holds its battery charge for weeks. It holds all my books, and reads to me when I can't give it the attention it deserves.  Because Amazon has still not given me a reason to abandon my Kindle 2, I declare the new line of Kindles a complete and epic fail.

Why would you come out with a new line of Kindles and actually remove features that were there before?  It just makes no sense - it borders on stupidity, from a business perspective.  Without the text-to-speech, there is honestly no differentiating the Kindle from the Barnes & Noble Nook or any of the other e-Readers out there.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Christian Apologetics Kindle Deal

The price on Douglas Groothius' Christian Apologetics for the Kindle is pretty extraordinary.  Right now, you can buy the book for $17 off the price of the hardback.  That means you can get it for $4.08 over at Amazon right now.  Why is it $4.08?  I have no idea why the cost is so precise.

The book is a real monster, weighing in at over 700 pages (the book itself is a classical argument for the existence of eBooks!).  It has endorsements from William Dembski, Sean McDowell, J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, and William Lane Craig.  You can tell from this list that this is your sort of book if you're into Classical Apologetics.  I'm more of a Van Til man myself, but far be it from me to scare someone off from a good deal because of my own prejudices.

Get the Kindle version here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Has the Era of the eBook Officially Arrived?

Look at these citations from footnotes 10 and 11 in Jonathan Edwards and Justification, edited by Josh Moody.  The Kindle has been out since 2007, but this is the first time since it was released five years ago that I have seen a Kindle edition actually cited in a book.  You can buy the book from Westminster Bookstore, but let's admit - it's becoming more scholarly now to buy the Kindle version.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Churches, Revolutions, & Empires Now Available

Several months ago, I had the privilege of working on the eBook version of Ian J. Shaw's new book Churches, Revolutions, & Empires: 1789-1914.  In the process of assembling the book, I was able to read it and benefited a great deal from Shaw's work.  I won't be reviewing the book due to my loose involvement with it, but also because I really don't have the historical expertise to evaluate Shaw's work as a historian.  I will only say that it is very well-written, and I found it both enlightening and personally edifying.  I especially appreciated the emphasis on the explosion of missions and the role of Christians in the abolition of slavery.  Often we think of this era is a time where rationalism gained foothold and orthodox religion experienced a sort of 'downgrade,' and it is nice to be reminded that the truth is never quite so simplistic.

The book has received high acclaim from Mark Noll as well as Carl Trueman, who said "Ian Shaw is a first-rate historian and this is a first-rate book which should take its place as a standard account of the period."

You can get the book from Westminster Bookstore for 50% off right now.  If you want to see the eBook, you can purchase it from Amazon.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nothing Can Satisfy Catholic Demands for an Inspired Table-of-Contents

Early on in Michael Kruger's book Canon Revisited, he makes a very pointed and helpful observation regarding the Catholic complaint that protestants do not have a "inspired table of contents" to determine their canon.
The fundamental claim of the Roman Catholic model is that sola scriptura is untenable because, without some external infallible authority, there is no way to know which books are to be included in the canon. This epistemological challenge in the words of Catholic author Patrick Madrid, is that Christians do not have an "inspired table of contents" that reveals "which books belong and which books do not."  If only Christians had this inspired table of contents, then we would not need the authoritative rulings of the Roman Catholic Church to authenticate the Canon. Although such an argument is made repeatedly within Catholic writings, it proves to be problematic upon closer examination. 
Imagine for a moment that God has inspired another document in the first century that contained this "table of contents" and had given it to the church. We will call this the twenty-eighth book of the New Testament canon. Would the existence of such a book have satisfied the Catholic concerns? Would this allow Catholics to affirm sola scriptura and deny the need for an infallible church? Not at all. Instead, they would simply ask the next logical question: "On what basis do you know that this twenty-eighth book comes from God?" And even if it were argued that God has given a twenty-ninth book saying the twenty-eighth book came from God, and the same objection would still apply: "Yes, but how do you know the twenty-ninth book came from God?" And on it would go. The Catholic objection about the need for a "table of contents," therefore, misses the point entirely. Even if there were another document with such a table, this document would still need to be authenticated as part of the Canon. After all, what if there were multiple table-of-contents-type books floating around in the early church? How would we know which one was from God? In the end, therefore, the Roman Catholic objection is to some extent artificial. Such a "table of contents" would never satisfy their concerns, even if it were to exist, because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting. In other words, built into the Roman Catholic model is that any written revelation (whether it contains a "table of contents" or not) will require external approval and authentication from an infallible church (Pg. 42-43).
I recall some time back, someone on Jason Stellman's Facebook page asked him if he had read Kruger's book, (someone, perhaps Jason, had mentioned the supposed Protestant lack of an inspired canon) and he responded something to the effect that any Protestant answer to the question of canon was irrelevant since it begins by begging the question. Chew on that one for a bit, and if you're a thinking person it should trouble you endlessly.  There is no answering someone who has truly decided the magisterium holds all answers, truth, and authority.  But if it were possible, Canon Revisited would be a great place to start.

By the way, Westminster Books is currently selling Canon Revisited for 40% off the regular price.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: Biblical Hebrew: A Compact Guide

If you are taking Hebrew using Miles Van Pelt and Gary Pratico's book Basics of Biblical Hebrew, then this is the book for you.  If you took Hebrew and need a compressed summary of all the basics you need in order to do translation, this is the book for you.

I am currently taking Hebrew under Miles Van Pelt, and my only disappointment is that this book came out at the end of my time in Hebrew rather than before.  Each day after class, Miles gives a specific summary of everything he wants his students to remember when the test is taken the next day.  I would write all of these things down and then end up printing out the chart containing all of the necessary information from the CD-Rom that is included with the BBH Grammar and Charts books.  Then this book came out and I was embittered because each chapter in the Compact Guide contains all the essentials for each subject from the Grammar.  What I would do during Van Pelt's lectures is highlight the most important things that I needed to remember in order to pass the quiz the next day.  Then to review, I'd comb back through and read the things I underlined.  This book contains all of it.  And because it's pocket-sized, you can carry it around with you and review.

This book will not help you learn Hebrew for the first time, but it is perfect for those in the process of already learning, reviewing, and refeshing themselves on their Biblical Hebrew.  It's biggest strength is the convenience of having all the unnecessary stuff burned off and the essential information distilled into its purest form.  Although there are disadvantages to keeping things compact, as far as I've been able to tell, nothing that Van Pelt considers to be of highest importance has been left out, and so you can be sure that this is a good purchase for most people dealing with the original languages (unless you're some sort of weird Hebrew savant).

Besides a topical journey through the language, the book includes a set of verb paradigms and charts as well as a brief and simplified lexicon in the back of the book.  This sure beats lugging around the oversized grammar with you while you're on the go.

The book doesn't release until August 21st, but you can currently get it at the RTS Jackson Bookstore for $15.  Not a bad deal.

Kindle Deal - Today Only

Rumor has it, Amazon will be unveiling the new Amazon Kindles next week.  As a consequence, our readers may be interested to know that today's Gold Box deal is the Amazon Kindle DX - a piece of equipment I would absolutely adore owning.  Rumor has it there may be a 10" Kindle Fire coming.  I have no love for or interest in the Kindle Fire - I'm an iPad man myself.  But if you ever had you eye on a Kindle DX, this may end up being your last chance to get one.  The word is they're being phased out in favor of whatever update is coming.  Amazon is selling them at a $110 discount, making it more affordable than ever.  Check out today's Gold Box Deals.  They're all Kindle-related.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Letters from the Front, Edited by Barry Waugh

It's a struggle for me to review Letters from the Front in a lot of ways. J. Gresham Machen is a hero of mine, and as a theologian I have the highest regard for him. When I came to this book, I had decided that in some ways, all he was was a theologian, and so my expectations for this book were skewed from the very beginning. Instead of a mere theologian, what I found in these pages was a more robust picture of a man, and I felt chided for seeing my heroes as being so two-dimensional.

First of all, it must be acknowledge that what Barry Waugh has done in giving us this book is nothing short of a feat. This book is the result of literally years of Dr. Waugh sitting down one letter at a time and copying them from the correspondence which Machen had saved for posterity's sake. As is explained in the introduction, it was not always the easiest thing for Waugh to do this, in terms of transcription of difficult words and the complexities of the whole process. In terms of the work put into this, we should all be grateful. These documents indeed provide a fuller picture of the life of Machen during World War I when he served in France as part of the YMCA. Readers will find much of interest in these letters. There are also interesting photographs of Machen, his family, and YMCA facilities similar to those Machen would have been living in and around during the penning of these letters.

Readers may perceive that there is a "but" coming. And indeed it is true. BUT if you are reading this book expecting to see a tremendous amount of theological reflection, of struggling over the problem of evil, reflecting upon the practicalities of his theology, you will be disappointed for the most part. At best you will find that Machen was a very caring person and that he cared for the spiritual well-beign of the men around him. This is important - Machen was not just a detached observer in the war, but a prayerful, thoughtful, and pastoral individual. When tempering our expectations, it is helpful to recall that these letters were written for Machen's family (most of them are written to his mother) so that they could understand what he was going through, who he was meeting, and simply what was going on. You get a fascinating look of what it was like for him to live near the frontlines. We hear the occasional discussion of hearing gunfire in the distance and talk about his frustrations with some of the people he meets on a day-to-day basis, but this is not a theology book. It is more a document which later historians will find of great assistance when they come to fully sketch out the life of Machen. I have nothing bad to say about the book, I just wish I had gone into it with different expectations.

[Full Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. However, I was not required by them to give the book a good review.]