Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Rare Endorsement from G.K. Beale

Unlike J.I. Packer, who is known for his ubiquitous endorsements, Greg Beale is something of an endorsement recluse. According to the fellows at Westminster, he has only ever endorsed five books that they know of. A new volume defending the amillennial approach to eschatology has recently received a glowing endorsement from Beale. Beale calls the book
a substantial work on the viability of the Amillennial perspective on eschatology, including that of the Book of Revelation. While one may not agree with all that he says on this subject, the upshot of the book as a whole is a solid argument in favor of Amillennialism. His dialogue partners are Premillennial interpreters, whom he finds fall short in presenting a per- suasive case for their view. Storms presents, in my own view, a very attractive way of understanding the millennial passage of Revelation 20:1-10, but his discussion of many other passages throughout the Bible also are adduced in an insightful way to support his view. He posits the surely correct hermeneutical approach that the rest of the Bible (e.g., Paul’s epistles) should be understood as the main interpretative lens for eschatology and not any particular interpretation of Revelation 20, which too many have let control their understanding of eschatology elsewhere throughout the Bible. Among the discussions that I found particularly helpful was his study of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9. Even those who may disagree with Storms’ Amillennial approach will definitely benefit from his book.
Learn more about the book over at Westminster, where they are currently selling a healthy hardback version for 50% off.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: The Man Christ Jesus by Bruce A. Ware

Bruce Ware's new book The Man Christ Jesus isn't theological caviar like reading Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics can be. It isn't even a night at P.F. Chang's with your wife like reading Beale's New Testament Biblical Theology is. The Man Christ Jesus is like your first hamburger from Five Guys: it's a revelation. Your hamburgers should have always tasted like this. It's what you should have been eating all this time. It isn't fancy, it isn't huge, and it isn't purporting to be something that you haven't already had. If you've been a believer all this time, this book is really pretty important, basic, essential stuff that we all need to know from the beginning.

Frankly, unless they've taken seminary systematics classes in high Christology, most readers' Christological worlds will be turned upside down by this book. It's unfortunate for the Church that this is the case. It is a problem that really points to a Christological anemia in our pulpits and Sunday Schools classes. Hopefully this book, which is certainly written at a popular level, can help to correct this.

The state of Christology in evangelicalism is one characterized by immense defensiveness. Evangelicalism is constantly in a posture of defending the deity of Christ to such a degree that when any question of the uniqueness of Christ's ministry in its totality is always explained in terms of Christ's deity. Why didn't Jesus sin? Well, because he's God of course! How could he do miracles? Well, because he's God, of course! How on earth was Christ able to rise from the dead? Well, because of His divine nature, of course! (You get the idea.)

Ware's book is essentially an attempt to recapture the humanity of Jesus in a Christian mileu that has forgotten what it was for Christ to live a life of obedience in dependence upon the Spirit, without recourse to his Divine nature. Here is Ware's core claim in the book, which colors everything he does:

Although he came as one who was both fully God and fully man, he also lived his life as one indwelt with and empowered by the Spirit of God. We shall here suggest that understanding Jesus as the Spirit-anointed Messiah requires that we also see his humanity as prominent in the life that he lived. Apart from his full and integral humanity, we cannot account for this central and pivotal feature that Jesus manifested, namely, that he lived his life, obeyed the Father, resisted temptation, and so fulfilled his calling all in the power of the Spirit who was upon him. (P. 33)
My guess is that chapters 2 and 5 will be the most revelatory and perhaps even scandalous for some readers. Chapter two discusses the fact that Jesus' life was one of Spirit empowerment (not of Divine empowerment) as he dwelt among the people of Israel as the anointed Messiah. Chapter 5 tackles the difficult theological question of how Jesus could be genuinely impeccable and also genuinely tempted. Ware's answer is essentially to say that while he did have the possibility of recourse to his divine nature, he never availed himself of it, but instead lived by the Spirit and therefore lived a life faced by temptation just as we do (Hebrews 4:15) and yet without sin. Here he interacts with Shedd, Bavinck, and Millard Erickson.

Perhaps most importantly, Ware takes his cues from Anselm's seminal work on the incarnation and atonement, Cur Deus Homo and argues that a proper understanding of the humanity and divinity of Jesus and the relationship of the natures to one another underlies a healthy understanding of the atonement. Without a fully human Jesus (who did not exercise recourse to his divine nature) we have a Lord who did not fully identity with us. We have a sort of super-man who is like us, only better, but who was certainly not really one of us. And without a divine Christ who is fully Divine, there is no atonement for the infinite demerit of mankind's sin.

Ware's application is just as important as the ideas that precede it. The notion that the same Holy Spirit dwells in us who indwelt the Lord Jesus and empowered him to do mighty miracles, to raise the dead, to turn water into wine, to walk on water, to teach with such profound insight, to chastize the Pharisees, to comfort the repentant, and to rise from the dead is an empowering notion. That the same Spirit who did all of these things in and through Jesus dwells within us should encourage and build up the Church.

The Man Christ Jesus is not a long book. In fact, if you put your head down and move through the book you can finish it in a few hours - depending on how fast you read. It is short and sweet. It is a book to make you love Jesus. For some readers, it is not overstatement to say that this may be the first time that they will really see Jesus as the Apostles saw him - as the Spirit-empowered Son of God, fully God and fully man.

[I received this book as a review copy from Crossway. I was not required to provide a positive review by the publisher.]

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pulling the Paperwhite Out From Under the Bus

Back in September of 2012 I said some mean things about the Kindle Paperwhite. Actually, I said some nice things, too. I suppose this post is my way of taking back all the mean things I said.

RIP Old Friend
About a month ago, I was returning from The Gospel Coalition when I went to use my 4 year old Kindle 2 and found that the screen had totally freaked out. A simple call to Amazon's troubleshooters confirmed that it was dead in the water. My four year old friend had been with me through the thick and thin. Altogether I'd probably read 100 or more books on it and used its text-to-speech feature for long road trips more times than I could count. If it hadn't died, I never would have upgraded. I initially tried to find a Kindle 2 that still had the text-to-speech feature, but I couldn't find one for sale in my area on Craigslist and Amazon doesn't have a used Kindle section on their website.

When I contacted Amazon initially to troubleshoot, they did tell me that if I wanted to, I could send my old one in and they would sell me a refurbished Paperwhite wi-fi for $40 below the new price. This meant that I could replace my old friend for $80. And so, despite the mean things I said about the Kindle Paperwhite, and despite the fact that Amazon ripped my favorite feature (text-to-speech) out of their e-reader, I ordered it.

Here's the thing: I love it. And what's more, even if it had
text-to-speech it would no longer be my favorite feature of the device. There are six major things that stand out about the Paperwhite, making it heads and shoulders above my old Kindle 2:

1) The higher resolution screen is a beauty to look at. No discernible pixels in the text means that the reading experience is that much better.

2) Faster page turning. The processor in this new one is better, and that means more responsive page turning. It's a small thing, but when you turn the page on your device thousands of times, it makes you realize just how sluggish your old Kindle 2 actually was.

3) Adjustable fonts and margins. It may seem like a small thing, but it's one more way to make the experience all your own. Also, reading my ESV Study Bible on the Paperwhite is nicer and easier when you make the line of text as narrow as possible.

4) The touch screen is "okay." I'm not thrilled about it, but it is very useful for highlighting (it's very responsive and extremely easy to do) and for picking a single word to see the definition of. You could already do both of these things with the little directional clicker, but it's 10x better using the touch screen to do it now. [My one complaint about the touch screen: in the table of contents for the ESV Study Bible, if you click on the name of the book you want to read, it will think you're clicking the book above it. You have to compensate for that bizarre little fact when you click on a book of the bible to read it. I'm guessing this happens with a lot of different tables of contents in other books too.]

Fits in my hand
5) The smaller size. It's smaller! No keyboard! It's overall design is fantastic, and that leather case that Amazon sells might cost $40, sure, but I can't imagine it ever getting busted in a fall while it's snug and secure inside of that beautiful case. It also has that fancy cover that puts the device to sleep when it closes and wakes it up when it opens, ala the iPad Smartcover.

6) The Backlight. Okay, Amazon is careful to say this is not a traditional backlight. Whereas an ordinary LCD projects light directly out towards the user's face, this is an indirect sort of lighting. It has the effect of making the pages look plain white in daylight and pleasantly readable in the dark. I had forgotten how many times I've stopped reading my Kindle 2 because it had just gotten too dark and I didn't want to turn the lights in my room on.

Yes, the text-to-speech is gone. No, I still cannot think of a good reason for them to take this feature away. But I have two thoughts in this regard:

a) I wasn't using the text-to-speech as much as I used to. Truthfully I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually employed it.

b) As a substitute, you can upload your non-DRM ebooks to Zamzar and they will convert them into MP3s. This way you can still make audiobooks out of them and listen on your iPod. Since I use text-to-speech mostly on road trips, I just plan ahead a bit now and make sure and have Zamzar make the audiobook that I want to listen to while I'm driving. And lets face it, you were having trouble running on the treadmill with that bulky Kindle 2 anyway, weren't you?

Just tonight I was sitting on my darkened patio, reading Psalm 98, and thanking God that I had this pleasant reading device that allowed me to sit in the dark, read God's Word, and stare out at the starry sky without turning on the light and drawing all the bugs around me. It was then that I decided to write this post and publicly apologize to the Paperwhite. I'm sorry, baby. I said those mean things because I didn't really know you.