Friday, August 29, 2014

Fearing the God Who Rescues?

In Mark 4:35-41 we are confronted by the narrative of Christ’s stilling of the storm. It may be a familiar narrative, but if we pay close attention we will nonetheless be gripped by it. We should be especially keen to notice that the fear of the disciples is so intense that they even have the nerve to rebuke Jesus Himself. In their words we see that they believe they are going to die (see v. 38). Notice that when Jesus stills the storm and the danger has passed there is a new counter-intuitive reaction from the disciples: great fear.

Many have seen the numerous parallels between this miracle of Christ and the story of Jonah, but it is still worth mentioning, I think. Recall that in Jonah, as in Mark 4, there is a great wind (Jonah 1:4; Mark 4:37). In both storms an important passenger sleeps in the boat (Jonah 1:5; Mark 4:38). In Jonah the sailors “fear a great fear” while Christ identifies the disciples as “afraid” (Jonah 1:10; Mark 4:40). In Jonah the storm is eventually stilled by a work of God’s power, just as it is in Mark (Jonah 1:15; Mark 4:39). As a final parallel, notice that in Jonah the sailors don’t stop fearing after the danger passes. Instead, the passage says that their fear was transferred from the storm to Yahweh (Jonah 1:16). Let me suggest that this is precisely what happens in Mark 4:41.

This group of men believed they were going to die. I have had moments when I thought I was going to die and know from experience that this is a tremendous amount of fear. But to then be described after the danger has passed as being “filled with great fear,” that speaks volumes as well. This response isn’t unusual in the Gospel of Mark. It is common, when people have seen Christ’s miraculous work, for them to react with fear. (For example, Mark 5:15; 6:50; 9:6; 16:8)

The stilling of the storm was an extraordinary moment in the ministry of Christ and an amazing rescue, but the greatest rescue that God ever brought in Scripture was in the work of His own Son upon the cross. At the cross Christ did what he came to do, rescuing all of those who ever had or would believe on him (John 3:16). He brought peace with God. But there is a fearful aspect to the cross as well.

The cross does bring us peace with God, but it comes at great cost (Col. 1:20). God treated his own son as a sinner should be treated; He showed His Son no mercy. He showed the world how He regards sin. The cross is the rescue of God that says to us that God’s character is impeccable. It says that God will not be trifled with; he will not ignore evil; he will punish sin. Because of these things He is a God to be feared.

When you reflect on the rescue that Christ brings, what is your response? Is it serenity? Peace? Joy? Let me suggest that if you are in Christ those are all appropriate responses to the rescue that Christ has brought. But that response ought to always be tempered by the complementary recognition that God’s justice, holiness, and righteousness come out most clearly at the cross.

Those of us who stand at the foot of the cross should do so with mixed emotions. We’re right to rejoice and be glad. But we are also right to “fear greatly” when we gaze upon the suffering of the son even as it is the substance of our own rescue.

[This article was previously posted at the Christward Collective. You should check them out.]

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Seminarian's Perspective on the Logos Reformed Gold Package

Accordance and its Limitations
For the last three years I have been an Accordance (Bible Software) user. I use Accordance for all of my original language study and profit immensely from having such a powerful set of tools (most of which I have barely scratched the surface of) at my disposal. I also use it for reading commentaries alongside of my Scripture readings — and find these modules very easy to use together.

However, I also have some other things in Accordance that don’t work too well with the format. I have Calvin’s Institutes, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (2 Vol.), the writings of John Milton, St. Thomas’ Summa, and other miscellaneous works of theology. Accordance shows its strength both in its speed and when dealing with original language material, but it shows a massive area of weakness when it comes to handling or searching anything that isn’t Biblical material or commentaries. Simply put, in my opinion, Accordance just wasn’t made for reading most books. It's hard to search them, it's hard to navigate them, and it's hard to even open them to read them in the first place. I'm sure there is probably a way to bookmark my place in them, but I've never figured it out.

Logos Fills the Void
This is where Logos comes in. Logos is Bible software that’s been around for a long time, but with the release of the Reformed starter packages they have begun receiving some extra attention from Reformed bloggers like myself. I was recently given access to the Reformed Gold package by Logos with no conditions attached. That means that I don’t necessarily have to write anything nice if I don’t have anything nice to say. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t intend this to be an informercial. Instead, I want to offer some thoughts that may help you to decide if you should buy Logos — and especially the Logos Reformed Gold package.

Most of the students here in Seminary seem resigned to the fact that no matter how much they love paper books, or may bewilderingly associate electronic books with Gnosticism, they will probably need to get some kind of software to digitize their Bible study and reading. The question for most is if they need to commit to one particular format, and if so, which one? I won't give a firm answer to that question, but I hopefully have some helpful thoughts on the matter. After spending a couple years with Accordance and the last six months or so using Logos, I do want to mention the four advantages of Logos as I see them.

Four Strengths of Logos
First, Logos is the best for an all around library. I mentioned already that Accordance is a very weak format for reading anything that isn’t the Bible. Do not buy Accordance because you want a nice, portable version of Augustine’s Civitatem Dei that you can pick up, put down, and come back to later. The format (even in the portable iPad version) just does not work well for such books, nor does it have actual page numbers, making citation of books in Accordance, if not impossible, at least a huge pain in the neck.

This leads to my second point, which is that in contrast to Accordance, Logos gives you actual physical page numbers. This means that you don’t have to dig around for a new, funky 21st century citation style involving location numbers or anything like that. You just cite the page number of the particular edition you are reading in Logos. It’s all very nice. Also on that point, copying and pasting from Logos into a document you're working on automatically comes with the page citation in whatever format you set up (except for Pages, which evidently doesn’t like pasting citations). That’s very nice, and something that makes research papers that much less painful.

Third, searching within books in Logos is extraordinary. I have tried to do book searches in Accordance and have yet to figure out exactly how it works. As I’ve mentioned, the format just isn’t friendly to that kind of study. Maybe there are ways to do it in Accordance that I have yet to discover, but at this point I don’t do it. In contrast, once Logos has had a chance to compile its search library (which can admittedly take some time after each update, depending on the size of your library), it is very easy to search for scripture citations or references within all of your books and commentaries. Coupling this with the ability to group your books into “Collections” which you organize according to your own tastes, those with larger libraries can choose to only search for a particular reference in their Systematic Theology books or in their Biblical Theology books or in their Commentaries, making your searches as focused as you want. Learning to do collections isn’t easy, and involves digging around through web forums over at Logos, but once you’ve done it you will be glad you did.

Fourth, Logos has a really well-made iOS app. One of my classes for the Fall at RTS has us reading Andreas Kostenberger’s book A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. I thought about buying a used physical copy from Amazon but instead bought it for Logos at full price. Why did I do this? Well, frankly it’s a large book. It is a book I will be reading all semester long. I don’t like lugging around big books. I look forward to being able to go to school and conceivably sit down and just open my iPad Mini to get a bit of my school reading done. No pressure, just wherever I find myself to sit down and get in some reading. The iOS Logos app is the reason this is possible, and I like it a lot. Unlike the desktop version, which has a long startup time (hint: just never close it and leave it running in the background and then you won’t notice), the iOS version on my iPad Mini is snappy, fast, and involves almost no waiting. You can read your books without downloading them, just reading them in the cloud over Wi-Fi or you can download them to read later when you’re out in the boonies. However you use it, the iOS app is very good, minimally glitchy, and makes for a great reading experience. The desktop app is great for searching and studying, but the iOS app means that you almost feel you can sit down and enjoy the book as a book, not just dig through it for quotes or information.

The weakness of Logos is related to its strengths. It's great at searching what can be an incredibly large library of material, but that takes computing power and time. As such Logos, when it first starts up, can take several minutes if it hasn't been updated recently. Also, the original language modules in Logos, from my perspective, have a steeper learning curve than they do on Accordance. My final complaint, once again, relates to the size of the library in that looking for books is not intuitive. You have to know the name of the author to search for it, or you have to have used it recently and have your library set to show most recently used first. These aren't deal-breakers by any means, but they do mean that you will have to be purposeful in how you use the software.

What Kind of User Are You?
Perhaps a seminary student may have a friendly benefactor who wants to bless them with some Bible software and gives them a choice. If someone finds themselves in such a situation, which should they pick? Well my answer is that it depends on what they’re going to do and where their interests are. If you are into history and commentaries or systematics but aren’t much of a language guy, I actually think Logos is the best pick. But if you’re into the languages exclusively and don’t see yourself building much of a digital library I still might recommend Accordance (with a few language-specific modules) over Logos.

How I Balance Accordance/Logos
I will actually mention how I use my own Logos/Accordance set up, which is a bit of a hybrid. I use Accordance for my Bible study and language study. It’s fast and easy to use without a lot of bells and whistles (unless you want them). But I absolutely use Logos alongside of Accordance. The two are not enemies on my computer. I play to each of their strengths in the way that I use them. I keep a window open with my Bible study stuff from Accordance — and I keep another window open where I look through the many commentaries and systematic theologies that come with the Reformed Gold package. I see them as complementary.

Speaking specifically of The Reformed Gold package, it comes with so many books that it can almost be overwhelming. It comes with some really fantastic things such as Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, the Lewis Ford Battles translation of Calvin’s Institutes, as well as the complete works of John Owen, Louis Berkhof, John Bunyan, B.B. Warfield, and Richard Sibbes. It also comes with some extraneous stuff that I’ve never heard of but that I plan to explore when I find the time. Some of the material is a bit dated. For example, Kittels was a very impressive resource for a long time, but with the work of James Barr (see his book The Semantics of Biblical Language), it is now evident to modern students of Greek of the New Testament that the methodology employed in Kittel’s 10 volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is fundamentally flawed. It’s a valuable resource and still has value, for sure, but it’s also hardly cutting edge any longer.

Where to Start?
I can’t tell somebody what would be best for them, but I can hopefully at least give somebody an outline as to how to approach things. If someone is interested in the Reformed Gold package (or any of the packages for that matter), I would begin by going to Logos’ website and installing the free base app on their computer. Grab some of the free modules from their web page and start there. See if you like the program and how it runs. Try out the search functions for yourself. Fiddle around with the iOS app, which I do think will impress most who try it out. If you have the money and are looking to have a nice searchable library that you can take anywhere with you, Logos is a really strong choice that deserves serious consideration.

[Update (8/27/14)]: I would highly recommend reading the comments below by R. Mansfield, who is an employee of Accordance. He has corrected me on many of my statements regarding what Accordance can and cannot do. We would do well to remind readers that this perspective offered above is of an average user who has not taken any classes on either platform. My perspective here reflects my own "non-expert" experience with both, and so should be read in light of that.