Reading for July 2015

Lunde, Jonathan. Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship. Biblical Theology for Life, ed. Jonathan Lunde. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Lunde does an excellent job in the book relating the what and how of the discipleship to major themes in Scripture such as the covenants, the kingdom of God, the life of Christ and more. Though it has a few flaws (e.g., his division of the Abrahamic covenant into two covenants, his view of Isaiah 53, his view of continuing sign gifts), overall this is an excellent treatment of the topics covered. In particular Lunde does an excellent job of explaining that grace does not lessen God’s expectations for his people but instead empowers God’s people to live lives that more and more meet the high standard of likeness to Christ.

Gunter, W. Stephen, ed. Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments: An Annotated Translation with Introduction and Theological Commentary. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012.

This is a readable translation of Arminius’s Declaration of Sentiments, which also provides biographical and historical context. For understanding Arminius’s basic thought, I found this a helpful resource.

Stewart-Sykes, Alistair. Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen on the Lord’s Prayer. Popular Patristics. Edited by John Behr. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004.

Tertullian’s exposition of the Lord’s Prayer is the earliest such exposition in existence. As such it provides a window into some of the earliest Christian thinking about prayer and the Lord’s prayer. Cyprian follows Tertullian’s exposition closely, and at times expresses similar thoughts more clearly. Origen’s wide ranging scholarship shines through in his discussion of lexical and other matters. These treatises contain a number of devotional insights. For instance, Tertullian notes that praying to God as Father is an acknowledgment of affection and of God’s authority. Fathers are authorities, but they are authorities one loves. Later Tertullian says the order of the petitions reflect the biblical teaching, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. Christians seek for God’s name to be hallowed, kingdom to come, and will to be done first, but then they pray for bread. Not all of the exegetical decisions made by these early interpreters are sound, however. Origen thinks it is not spiritual to pray for physical bread. He argues that Christians pray for a supersubstantial bread, which is the communication of God’s rationality (word), which is equivalent to immorality, which is equivalent to eating from the tree of life, which is connected to the bread of angels eaten by Israel in the wilderness, which is related to the bread eaten by Abraham with his three visitors the year before Sarah gave birth to Isaac. .

Köstenberger, Andreas J. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

This is a model of conservative, well-researched, and readable biblical theology. Köstenberger deals with introductory issues , such as the authorship of John’s gospel and writings. For instance, he has an excellent defense of the authorship of the apsotle John and cogent critique of Richard Bauckam’s argument that a different elder John wrote the Gospel. He also deals with the structure of John and its major themes. The book is thick, but it coveres so much ground that some discussions are surprisingly brief. Nonetheless, I never felt as though the brevity was hindering the depth of the argument.

Rove, Karl. Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. New York: Threshold, 2010.

Bush, George W. Decision Points. New York: Crown, 2010.

Gerhard, Johann. On the Nature of Theology and On Scripture. Saint Louis: Concordia, 2009. [Chapters 12-22]

These chapters of Gerhard’s Loci deal with the original languages in which the Bible was written, the preservation of Scripture, the perfections of Scripture, the perspicuity of Scripture, and its superiority to tradition. The one misstep Gerhard makes in this section is his argument for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Hebrew vowel points. He is concerned that without the vowel points, the Hebrew Bible would lose its perspicuity. More cogently, he argued against Catholic theologians who argued that the Latin Bible should be given precedence over the Greek and Hebrew originals. On this point, contemporary Roman Catholic scholars would probably sign with Gerhard and against the theologians of the counter-reformation. Gerhard also makes that case that the clarity of Scripture militates against giving tradition an authoritative place over Scripture. As a Lutheran scholastic, Gerhard writes with a logical precision that lays out his opponents position, his position, his opponents objections to his position, and his responses to those objections. One of the great advantages of the Protestant scholastics is that one gets a thorough understanding of the state of the theological question when reading them. In contrast to much modern theological writing, which is often opaque or superficial, the scholastics were both clear and thorough.

Reading for June 2015

Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012.

Reeves effectively communicates that the Trinity is not a logical formula that Christians must conform to. The Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith and its significance is something for Christians to delight in. Reeves presents a difficult topic in an approachable and understandable style. He blends together theology, church history, and practical application. (Though I confess that I remain mystified as to why conservatives feel the need to quote Barth to support their ponits.)

Beeke, Joel R. and Paul M. Smalley. Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013.

The Puritans have been accused of departing from the gospel of grace recovered by the Reformation by teaching that sinners need to be prepared for salvation. Beeke and Smalley demonstrate that these charges arise from a lack of understanding concerning what the Puritans actually taught.

After helpfully laying the background for this debate Beeke and Smalley canvass what individuals taught about preparation, from Calvin to English Puritans, to New England pastors, to post-Reformation theologians on the continent. This survey enables the reader to see firsthand both the commonalities and the differences among theologians of this time regarding preparation. (One interesting difference was the tendency of the Dutch theologians to place regeneration at the first workings of the Spirit in the life of the elect in contrast to the English, who placed regeneration with conversion and saw the prior working of the Spirit as something distinct.) In general, Beeke and Smalley put to rest the charge that teaching preparation was opposed to the gospel of grace. Instead the Puritans saw preparation as the gracious work of the Spirit in bringing a person to the point of conversion. Though Beeke and Smalley are not above criticizing individuals for imbalanced presentations of the doctrine, they reject dismissal of the doctrine itself. Though a historical treatment, this is also a book that stirs the heart to evangelism.

Myers, Ken. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

This book could be summed up in this phrase: Christians must evaluate culture not only by its content but also by the sensibilities that it fosters. Though simply stated, this is a profound insight. It changes the question that Christians should be asking about their daily activities. The question is not merely, “is this permissible?” but “is this good and wise?” Watching a television show is permissible. But is watching one or two every night wise? What sensibilities are fostered by that habit? What sensibilities should a Christian be fostering?

Myers suggests that pop culture promotes the sensibilities of novelty (as opposed to tradition), immediacy (as opposed to patience and learning), diversion (as opposed to meditation), celebrity (as opposed to community), and youth (as opposed to respect for the wisdom of the aged). It opposes inhibiting the “authentic self” (in contrast to controlling passions and developing virtues). By appealing to the masses, pop culture tends to be intellectually shallow. It also tends to avoid religious themes. What I find striking about his observations is that in every case the sensibilities of Christianity ought to be precisely the opposite.

Myers is not saying that Christians can never consume pop culture. He uses the analogy of a Whopper. Having an occasional Whopper is fine. But a diet of Whoppers is not fine. It is bound to both distort your taste and to harm your health. The upshot of this is that Christians cannot make cultural decisions based on proof-texts. They must instead develop wisdom.

This is a must read book, in my opinion.

Witisius, Herman. The Economy of the Covenants. Translated by William Crookshank. Edinburgh: John Turnbull, 1803. Book 3, ch. 12.

Book 3, ch. 12 of Witsius’s Economy of the Covenants is a lengthy treatment of the doctrine of sanctification. Witsisus covers such topics as the theological definition of sanctification and the different senses of sanctification as it relates to regeneration, effectual calling, and justification (with regard to justification, Witsius shows that the Reformed Scholastics would not have found David Peterson’s thesis in Possessed by God a novel idea). He also looks at what it means to put off the old man and to put on the new man. He looks at the role of the Trinity in sanctification. He contrasts virtues in the natural man with virtues in the spiritual man, and he argues that sanctification is not merely the change of actions but involves new habits (using this term in its ethical sense). Witsius specifies eight means of sanctification. He discusses why God permits the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit in believers. Finally, he discusses what the Scripture means when it calls some people perfect.

Merkle, Benjamin L. “Paul’s Arguments from Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:9-9 and 1 Timothy 2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 3 (September 2006): 527-48.

Merkle seeks to address an apparent complementarian inconsistency. Complementarians insist on an order of authority between men and woman in the church since Paul, in 2 Timothy 2, argues from creation. But most do not require women to wear head coverings in worship and men to remain uncovered in worship, a practice that Paul, it is said, also roots in creation. Merkle proposes that 1 Corinthians 11 roots the order of authority between man and woman in creation. But Merkle holds that the head covering is a cultural practice that Paul insisted on because it reflected the creational order. The cultural practice is not itself rooted in creation. This was long my understanding of the passage, but I have since abandoned it. Merkle’s article confirms my sense that relegating the practice of head coverings to a first-century cultural custom does not actually attend well to the actual wording of the passage.It seems to run contrary to what we know about Greco-Roman culture and the historical practice of the church across time and culture.

In the first part of the article Merkle seeks to establish that Paul’s “underlying concern in 1 Corinthians 11 is gender and role distinctions and not merely head coverings.” He does this by seeking to establish that over-realized eschatology is at the root or the varied problems addressed in 1 Corinthians. I found this a fairly unconvincing portion of the paper. To establish this mirror reading as valid, it seems that Merkle should have gone beyond arguing that the problems raised by the book could be understood in light of over-realized eschatology. He should have also demonstrated that Paul’s responses to these problems are correcting the faulty eschatology. This he did not do. Thus I find myself sympathetic with Garland: “Pickett (1997: 44-45) reasonably asks, ‘Why did he not provide them with a more explicitly theological corrective as he does, for example, in Galatians?’ It is far more likely that the influences on them were more amorphous and that their behavior was swayed by culturally ingrained habits from their pagan past and by values instilled by a popularized secular ethics. . . . I think that ‘over-realized eschatology’ has been overplayed by interpreters” (Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT, 13-14). While I grant that Paul’s “underlying concern in 1 Corinthians 11 is gender and role distinctions and not merely head coverings,” this does not mean that the coverings are incidental to Paul. They are the focus of the passage, even if that focus is rooted on deeper concerns.

In the second part of the article Merkle seeks to establish that the creation arguments in 1 Corinthians 11 ground the ordering of gender roles and not the practice of head coverings, per se. There is truth to this argument. It is the underlying realities that are grounded in creation. But Merkle then draws an unwarranted conclusion: “Therefore Paul’s main concern is not head coverings, since that was merely a cultural outworking of an unchanging truth” (533; cf. 538). He gives five reasons for this conclusion:

“First, the fact that Paul introduces his arguments the way he does makes little sense if head coverings are Paul’s main concern. In verse 3 Paul begins by saying, ‘But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.’ That something more important is at stake seems obvious that since Paul relates the functional relationship between man and Christ, woman and man, and Christ and God.” To the contrary, the passage begins not in verse 3 but in verse 2. In verse 2 Paul begins with a commendation that they hold to the traditions that Paul delivered to them. Given the inclusio with v. 16 and the content in between, these traditions include the practice of head coverings. Nor is it surprising that the next verses lay the theological foundation for the practice. The laying of theological foundations up front does not mean that Paul was uninterested in the practice that they undergird.

Second, Merkle takes the hair comparison to indicate that the real issue is that “it is wrong for a woman to blur such [gender/role] distinctions.” The issue is not what is worn or not worn but what “the meaning or message that is conveyed by one’s appearance.” But this ignores the logic of Paul’s argument, which takes the covering, whether it be hair or the physical covering compared to hair, as a symbol that the one covered is under authority. Paul’s point is not simply that gender distinctions are blurred when women wear their hair like men. Follow the chain of γαρ’s in vv. 7-9 leading to διὰ τοῦτο in v.10. I also doubt that a shaved head refers to a masculine hair style. It seems more likely that Paul is referring to the removal of the natural covering God has given women.

Third, Merkle takes Paul’s argument from nature in vv. 14-15 to “suggest that God’s creational gender/role distinctive are in view” and that “nature teaches us that it is shameful for a man to appear like a woman by having long hair” (535). While granting that gender/role distinctions underlie this whole discussion, Merkle is wrong to say that Paul’s point in these verses simply has to do with men and women not looking like each other. Paul explains the significance: “her hair is given to her for a covering.” This would indicate that the nature of this covering, whether it be hair or whether it be an additional covering worn in worship, is significant to Paul in this passage.

Fourth, Merkle takes verse 16 to indicate that “such a universally accepted custom suggests the presence of an underlying principle governing the need for such a practice” (536). There is no argument here, except to note that it does not follow the presence of the underlying principle negates the significance of the principle’s symbol.

Fifth, Merkle argues that since the head covering is “a sign or symbol that pointed to a greater reality,” one must conclude that “Paul is not concerned about head coverings per se. Rather he is concerned with the meaning that wearing a head covering conveys” (536). Again it does not follow that concern for the “greater reality” means the symbol is not of concern to Paul.

The underlying assumption that Merkle brings to the article is that head covering was a uniform cultural practice in the Greco-Roman world that carried a uniform meaning throughout that world. This assumption is expressed when Merkle writes, “women need to war head coverings when they pray or prophesy because in your culture that is one of the accepted cultural distinctions between men and women” (537). It also assumed in his statement of the conclusion: “Therefore, Paul’s main concern is not head coverings, since that was merely a cultural outworking of an unchanging truth” (533). But Merkle nowhere interacts with the literature or primary sources that reveal what the actual customs were in the Greco-Roman world. My understanding is that Greeks, Romans, and Jews all had different customs regarding head coverings. If so, there was not a uniform cultural understanding. Yet, as Merkle acknowledges, verse 16 indicates there was a uniform church practice. I find it significant that Paul begins the passage by indicating that this is a tradition that he delivered to the Corinthian church (11:2) and that this was not a tradition unique to the churches that he planted but was a tradition universally observed by the churches (11:16). Furthermore, in the argument in between these verses, Paul does not mention culture at all. He provides creational grounding and analogies to nature. In addition, he specifies that the covering is to be worn during prayer and prophesying, which removes the practice from a broad cultural realm to the realm of worship. Finally, Paul says, not that the head covering should be worn because of the culture, but that it should be worn because of the angels (11:10). These factors all point away from understanding the practice a merely a cultural application.

The last two sections of Merkle’s paper deal with 2 Timothy 2. I benefited a great deal from the observations in the final section. .

Reading from May 2015

Hammerling, Roy. The Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church: The Pearl of Great Price. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

I found this book most useful for gathering the sources in which the Father’s discuss the Lord’s Prayer. Hammerling’s own discussion is somewhat dry and often critical. Nonetheless, there are several parts that provide helpful summaries of patristic teaching.

Grant, Edward. The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Origins. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Grant argues that the Scientific Revolution could not have taken place without advances in science in medieval Europe from the twelfth century forward. While granting that foundations of science existed in other cultures and that Europe drew on earlier scientific advances in those cultures, Grant argues that the unique combination of factors that made the scientific revolution possible only existed in post-medieval Europe. He particularly points to three factors, the translation of Greek and Arabic scientific works into Latin in the middle ages, the rise of the medieval university, and a conception of theology that made science possible.

Principe, Lawrence M. The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

This is another superb entry in OUP’s “Very Short Introduction” series. The value of the book is probably best shown by select quotations from it:

“One easily overlooked feature of printing was its ability to reproduce images and diagrams. Illustrations posed a problem for the manuscript tradition since the ability to render drawings accurately depended upon the copyist’s draftsmanship, and often upon his understanding of the text. Consequently, every copy meant degradation for anatomical renderings, botanical and zoological illustrations, maps, charts, and mathematical or technological diagrams. Some copyists simply omitted difficult graphics. Printing meant that an author could oversee the production of a master woodcut or engraving, which could then produce identical copies easily and reliably. Under such conditions, authors were more willing and able to include image sin their texts, enabling the growth of scientific illustration for the first time (13-14).

“”It is hard to imagine the flood of data that poured into Europe from the New World. New plants, new animals, new minerals, new medicines, and reports of new peoples, languages, ideas, observations, and phenomena overwhelmed the Old World’s ability to digest them. This was true ‘information overload,’ and it demanded revisions to ideas about the natural world and new methods for organizing knowledge” (16).

“When early modern thinkers looked on the world, they saw a cosmos in the true Greek sense of that word, that is, a well-ordered and arranged whole. They saw the various components of the physical universe tightly interwoven with one another, and joined intimately to human beings and to God. Their world was woven together in a complex web of connections and interdependencies, its every corner filled with purpose and rich with meaning. Thus, for them, studying the world meant not only uncovering and cataloguing facts about its contents, but also revealing its hidden design and silent messages. This perspective contrasts with that of modern scientists, whose increasing specialization reduces their focus to narrow topics of study and objects in isolation, whose methods emphasize dissecting rather than synthesizing approaches, and whose chosen outlooks actively discourage questions of meaning and purpose. Modern approaches have succeeded in revealing vast amounts of knowledge about the physical world, but have also produced a disjointed, fragmented world that can leave human beings feeling alienated and orphaned from the universe” (21).

“At the present time, applications of magia naturalis and the whole idea of an interconnected world of sympathies and analogies are sometimes dismissed as irrational or superstitious. But this harsh judgment is faulty. It results from a certain smug arrogance and a failure to exercise historical understanding. What our predecessors did was to observe various mysterious and apparently similar phenomena in nature and to extrapolate thence into a more universal statement–a law of nature–about connections and the transmission of influences in the world. This extrapolation led to one tenet that they held that we do not; namely, that similar or analogous objects silently exert influence upon one another. Once that assumption is made, then the rest of the system builds upon it rationally. They were trying to understand the world; they were trying to make sense of things and trying to make use of the powers of nature. They moved inductively from observed or reported instances to a general principle and then deductively to its consequences and applications. We might choose to say, informed as we are by more recent studies, that the action between Sun and sunflower, or Moon and sea, or magnet and iron, can be better explained by something other than hidden knots of sympathy. But that does not permit us to say that their methods or conclusions were irrational, or that the beliefs and practices that came from them were ‘superstitious.’ If that leap were allowed, than every scientific theory that comes ultimately to be rejected in the course of the development of our understanding of the world–no doubt including some things that we today believe to be true explanations of phenomena–would have to be judged irrational and superstitious as well, rather than simply mistaken notions that were arrived at rationally given the ideas, perspectives, and information available at the time” (35).

“In order to understand early modern natural philosophy, it is necessary to break free of several common modern assumptions and prejudices. First, virtually everyone in Europe, certainly every scientific thinker mentioned in this book, was a believing and practising Christian. The notion that scientific study, modern or otherwise, requires an atheistic–or what is euphemistically called a ‘sceptical’–viewpoint is a 20th-century myth proposed by those who wish science itself to be a religion (usually with themselves as its priestly hierarchy). Second, for early moderns, the doctrines of Christianity were not opinions or personal choices. They had the status of natural or historical facts. Dissension obviously existed between different denominations over the more advanced points of theology, just as scientists today argue over finer points without calling into question the reality of gravity, the existence of atoms, or the validity of the scientific enterprise. Never was theology demoted to the status of ‘personal belief’; it constituted, like science today, both a body of agreed-upon facts and a continuing search for truths about existence. As a result, theological tenets were considered part of the data set with which early modern natural philosophers worked. Thus theological ideas played major part in scientific study and speculation–not as external ‘influences’, but rather as serious and integral parts of the world the natural philosopher was studying” (36).

Kjelgaard, Jim. Outlaw Red. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1953.

Caro, Robert. Master of the Senate. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Knopf, 2002.

This volume provides a history of the Senate from its inception until Lyndon Johnson’s election as senator, a biography of Richard Russell, the most influential Southern Senator of the time and LBJ’s Senate mentor, and Johnson’s shaping of the positions of minority leader and majority leader into positions of real power in the Senate.

Caro, Robert. The Passage of Power. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Knopf, 2012.

This volume tells the story of how LBJ was brought onto the Kennedy ticket, his failed efforts to hold onto power as vice president, the JFK assassination from Johnson’s perspective, and Johnson’s first year as president (filling out Kennedy’s term). This volume and the previous provide an excellent treatment of the civil rights struggle of the time as well as how the civil rights legislation of that time moved through Congress.

Oliphint, K. Scott. God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God. Crossway, 2011.

This is a thick book of serious theology; it is certainly not a light read. But it is a worthwhile read. Oliphint aims to defend the aseity of God while not trimming the Bible statements that speak of God’s real interaction with his creation (Open Theism drops aseity; appeals to anthropopathism or anthropomorphism can trim the actual statements of Scripture). Oliphint sees the incarnation as a way forward. Just as the incarnate Son remained fully God while also taking on a human nature that brought limitations (Jesus necessarily remained omniscient as God while as a man was ignorant of some things), so God retains the attributes that are essential to his nature while entering into covenant with us and thereby picking up additional covenantal attributes that account for his relation with us. This brief summary does not do justice to the careful argumentation that Oliphint presents.

Johnson, Terry L. Contemporary Worship: Thinking About Its Implications for the Church. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014.

Terry Johnson has written an excellent little book that in which he raises concerns about much of contemporary worship. He is concerned that much contemporary worship has less biblical content that older forms of worship. In this he highlights not only the content of music but also the order of service. He notes that older forms of worship included not only praise but confession of sin, thanksgiving, and extended time given to prayer, sequential reading of Scripture, and the sacraments. Johnson ties the shift to a move from worship as doxological to worship as evangelistic.

Johnson is also concerned about worship that targets demographics and in doing so divides congregations, in changes driven by pragmatism, in assuming that popular culture can by absorbed into worship without changing the meaning of worship, in further assuming that aesthetic judgments are all relative, and in despising traditions that are rich with theological value.

There are, of course, ministries that tend in the contemporary direction that do not fall under all of Johnson’s critiques while there are other ministries that might think themselves traditional which do fall under these critiques. Be that as it may, Johnson’s concerns about much American worship are biblical. It would be to the health of the church if they were given a wide hearing.

Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America. Pivotal Movements in American History. Edited by David Hackett Fischer and James M. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

This history primarily looks at Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s and early ’60s with a brief look at the music from the Beatles through the 1980s toward the end of the book. Altschuler documents the initial concern of parents, community leaders, and office holders about the sexual nature of rock lyrics and performances. He documents that personalities such as Pat Boone and Dick Clark presented a moral face to the music, and that labels cleaned up lyrics for recordings. These moves made it possible for rock to take root in American culture. Altschuler then documents the return to more sexualized lyrics, themes that stoked “generational conflict,” and eventually music that promoted the political issues of the New Left. By the 1980s, however, even the Right appeals to the music of the counter-culture, as exemplified by Ronald Reagan’s invocation of Bruce Springsteen. Though Atschuler writes as one sympathetic to the genre, it seems clear by the end of the book that the early critics’ concerns—that the music promoted sexual immorality and rebellion against authority—were clearly justified by the development of the genre and the effects on American culture that Atschuler documents.

Lane, Anthony N. S. “Calvin’s Use of the Fathers: Eleven Theses.” In John Calvin: Student of the Church Fathers Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

In this essay Lane is urging caution in determining Calvin’s patristic sources. He notes that in Calvin’s time citation of a father does not mean that the author has read that father. It may simply mean that he has read another source that mediated knowledge of that Father. Thus in determining what Calvin knew from those he quoted, knowing what sources Calvin had available to him at the time he wrote certain works is important.

Lane also looks at the different ways that Calvin uses sources. He proposes that in the Institutes Calvin appeals to the Fathers in support of his arguments on disputed points. In the commentaries Calvin is mainly looking for sparring partners. He is able to advance his viewpoint by critiquing an alternative viewpoint. Lane argues that disagreements in the commentaries sometimes signal Calvin’s respect for his interlocutor.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeil. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960. [2.15-17]

This section of the Institutes covers the threefold office of Christ and the work of redemption.

Books and Articles for April 2015


Allen, Diogenes and Eric O. Springsted. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. 2nd ed. Louisville: WJK, 2007.

This book helpfully relates philosophical thought to the theological issues that it impinges upon. It is organized chronologically.

Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce.

Brand, Chad O., ed. Perspectives on Israel and the Church: Four Views. Nashville: B&H, 2015.

This book presents the following four perspectives, (1) the traditional covenantal view by Robert L. Reymond, (2) the traditional dispensational view by Robert L. Saucy, (3) the progressive dispensational view by Robert L. Saucy, and (4) the Progressive Covenantal View (which seems to be loosely parallel to New Covenant Theology) by Chad O. Brand and Tom Pratt, Jr.

Over the years I’ve greatly appreciated Robert Reymond’s writings on Scripture, theology proper, and Christology. I’ve also known that he was staunchly opposed to dispensational theology. However, I was interested to see his response to progressive dispensationalism. I’ve found that too often covenant theologians attack either the most stringent forms of dispensationalism or what they think are the logical consequences of dispensationalism (consequences often denied by the dispensationalists themselves). I thought that a four views format would force closer interaction with what dispensationalists actually claim. I was, however, disappointed. Reymond spent an inordinate amount of space arguing that, despite their protestations, dispensationalists really do believe in two (or multiple) ways of salvation. All dispensational scholars today clearly believe that salvation for all people in all eras by grace alone through faith alone. Reymond, however, fastens on a Dallas Seminary doctrinal statement that makes the object of the faith the promises of God in some eras rather than faith in the Messiah. There are three problems with this focus. First, what is reflected in the DTS statement is an awareness of progressive revelation not an inclination toward two ways of salvation. Second, some dispensationalists actually lean more toward Reymond’s position on this issue than DTS’s. Some acknowledgement of this by Reymond would have been appropriate.

When Reymond actually turns to look at the future of Israel and the land, Reymond uses John Hagee as his representative dispensationalist. Hagee is not even entirely orthodox. He is certainly not a representative dispensational scholar. Sadly, this is too often par for the course for covenant theologians who write critiques of dispensationalism. They find fringe figures who make outrageous statements or take indefensible positions rather than interact with dispensational scholars.

Finally, Reymond does not really interact with the progressive dispensational view. In his own chapter he simply notes that some think that progressive dispensationalists will simply become premillennial covenant theologians. He then notes that they have not made that transition yet and are therefore “a long distance away from historical covenantal theology.” He defers all other comments to his response to Robert Saucy’s chapter. But in the response, Reymond does not really interact with Saucy’s comments. Reymond’s argument follows the following lines: Progressive dispensationalists are premillennial. Premillennialism is wrong. Therefore, Progressive Dispensationalism is wrong and no further attention should be paid to it.

Reymond spends most of his time critiquing what he understands to be the gross errors of dispensationalism, but he does give some space to articulating his own view. He holds that the OT land promises to Israel are types. Christians are the real inheritors of the land promises “in their fulfilled paradisiacal character” (34). Indeed, “ethnic Israel per se was never the centerpiece of God’s covenant program.” That program has always focused on “true spiritual Israel” (36). Indeed, Abraham himself never believed the land promises would be fulfilled literally. Hebrews 11 teaches that Abraham “spiritualize[d]” the promise and applied it to “future heavenly kingdom realities” (43). Though Reymond says “the future messianic kingdom will embrace the whole of the newly recreated cosmos,” he insists that it “will not experience a special manifestation that could be regarded in any sense as ‘Jewish’ in the region of the so-called Holy Land or anywhere else” (60). In addition, Jesus in his parable of the landowner’s son teaches a “a biblical ‘replacement theology'” in which the nation of Israel is replaced by an “international church” (47). Israel, apart from the remnant is now “lo-ammi, ‘not my people,’ only now with a finality about it” (49). What of God’s promises to national Israel? Reymond’s thesis is that Romans 9 teaches that God made no promises to national Israel. He only made promises to true, spiritual Israel (51).

There are a number of problems with Reymond’s argumentation. In the first place, it is not clear that a covenant promise can be a type that has only a spiritualized fulfillment. A promise is very different from the institution of a sacrificial system or a temple. Second, though both Genesis itself, opaquely, and the New Testament, clearly, indicates that the land promise will extend to all the nations, it is not clear why Israel, to whom the promise was explicitly given, should be excluded from this promise in the restored earth. Third, Reymond’s interpretations of the parable of the landowner’s son and of Romans 9 are not the necessary interpretations of those texts. Neither text requires an interpretation that God has never really concerned himself with national Israel and has now cast off national Israel altogether. Indeed, Romans 11’s promise of a restoration of national Israel tells against such a position.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Robert L. Reymond is Robert L. Thomas. As with Reymond, I’ve found Thomas’s writings, in particular his commentaries on Revelation and Thessalonians, helpful over the years. However, in this essay Thomas displayed what I believe are some of the key weaknesses of traditional dispensationalist argumentation. For instance, Thomas did a lot of quoting from Milton Terry and Bernard Ramm and asserting that the other views don’t measure up to the hermeneutical standards that Terry and Ramm set. I don’t find this line of approach persuasive. Why are Terry and Ramm the standard? It would seem that Thomas would need to demonstrate why his hermeneutical approach is better than competing approaches rather than simply asserting it. This is especially the case since Thomas ends up with strained interpretations of NT passages such as Acts 15. At one point he claims that the NT authors don’t always interpret literally. They don’t have to because they were inspired. We, however, ought not follow the interpretive practices of the NT authors because we are not inspired. I find this a troubling conclusion and an indication that something is amiss with Thomas’s hermeneutic. Scripture itself should provide the hermeneutical standard by which we measure our interpretation—not Bernard Ramm or Milton Terry.

Thomas does make some helpful comments in the course of his essay. For instance, he notes, “Of the promises made to Abraham, the land promise is the most specific, not lending itself to possible variations of interpretation. It fixed specific geographic boundaries and did not lend itself to generalizations, as did the promise of becoming a great nation and the promise of being a worldwide blessing.” He also gives some helpful listing of land promises in the Psalms and prophets, but these are given almost without comment. One section of the essay looks at passages in which Jesus and the apostles might be expected to cancel Israel’s promises and did not. There is some helpful material here, especially when Thomas is countering arguments that certain passages do cancel promises to Israel. What is missing, however, is a positive argument. A lengthy section comparing three commentators’ views on passages in Revelation could have been better spent making a positive argument.

I expected to agree with the Progressive Covenantal/NCT chapter more than I actually did. Given that PC/NCT seems to be a diverse group perhaps greater agreement would have been the case with different authors. Brand and Pratt lay as the foundation for their view that since God is one, he people must be one. Therefore, there cannot be any distinctions within the people of God. This is actually an odd argument for Trinitarians to make. God is not merely one; God is one and many. Shouldn’t the conclusion be, therefore, that God’s people are one and many. In any case, it is not entirely clear to me that the conclusion necessarily follows from the premise. They also look to passages that speak of “one body,” “one flock,” “one faith” and so forth. These passages do affirm that Jew and Gentile are now united in one new man. Progressive Dispensationalists would agree that there is one people of God, the redeemed through all the ages. But the authors seem to want to use this point to deny that God ever could refer to the nation of Israel as his people. Against this, however, is the fact that God covenanted not only with the true remnant of Israel. He covenanted with the nation of Israel. Thus it is appropriate for him to refer to the nation as his people in one sense while also recognizing that some in that nation are not truly his people in another sense. This is not a move back to a two peoples of God view. It is simply a recognition of the way language works in varied contexts.

Brand and Pratt also argue on the basis of John 4 that Jesus relativizes any kind of holy land. He is now the place to which people must come to worship truly. The end of the temple and its worship meant the end of any place/land focus. But this seems to relativize a whole strand of redemptive history. The curse did not merely affect man in his spiritual life. It affected all of creation, including the physical world. This is why land is a fundamental component of the Abrahamic covenant. Israel is at the nucleus of the promise, since it is through Abraham and his seed that blessing comes to the whole world. But, as even the Old Testament indicates, the land promise will be extended to the whole world. This extension, however, does not exclude Israel from enjoying what God has promised.

Brand and Pratt reject the idea that the church replaces Israel. They instead argue that the true people of God within Israel are the root into which Gentiles are added. Thus Israel is not replaced. It is expanded to include Gentiles. However, this seems to misunderstand the teaching of Ephesians about Jew and Gentile being brought together in one new man. In addition it seems to allude to the root and branches metaphor in Romans 11. But in Romans 11, Israel is not the root. Israel is the natural branches.

Brand and Pratt also, following N.T. Wright, interpret “all Israel” in Romans 11 as church. Even Wright concedes that he is in the minority of scholarship on that interpretation. I find Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner’s interpretation that “all Israel” refers to the salvation of a great number of ethnic Israelites in the future to be the more exegetically tenable position. Interestingly, both Moo and Schreiner have been associated with PC/NCT. This is an indication of the difficulty in sorting out what is core to PC/NCT and what is distinctive to individuals.

Overall, I thought that Robert Thomas developed untenable interpretations of New Testament texts in order to maintain his position on Old Testament Texts. Brand and Pratt, on the other hand, trimmed the Old Testament promises to maintain their interpretation of New Testament texts. Ideally, both Testaments should be given their voice in a way that neither are trimmed but such that both Testaments are shown to fit together. It is this goal that I think Robert Saucy accomplished.

Robert Saucy provided the best essay in the book. He was the one author that seemed to stay on topic throughout. The others seemed to get drawn off on related side-issues that were not entirely germane to the topic at hand. Saucy looks at texts both in their original context and in their canonical context. He lets Old Testament passages say what they say in their original context, and he allows later revelation to extend the meaning of passages. But he does not allow later revelation to contradict or reinterpret previous revelation. A partial fulfillment or an extended fulfillment does not change what a passage means. Saucy also had the most careful discussion of typology. For instance, he notes that types can be understood as shadows that point forward to future realities. Types can also be understood as correspondences between earlier and later historical occurrences. Too often traditional and progressive theologians want to understand all types in relation to the former kind of type. In all Saucy had the most careful discussion of hermeneutics among the authors.

Saucy also provided the one clear positive description of how Israel and the Church relate (in contrast with the other authors who at times seemed more focused on critiquing opposing positions than in presenting a positive vision). Saucy argues that Israel has the role of mediating salvation throughout salvation history. This role is rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant, continues with Israel’s role as a kingdom of priests in the Mosaic Covenant, and is predicted to continue in the future by the prophets. The redemption that Israel mediates includes both internal salvation for individuals and a restoration of creation and social structures. In all of this Israel is predicted to mediate salvation to the Gentiles without the Gentiles being absorbed into Israel. The nations remain the nations. Christ is the focal point of the promises. But this does not mean that the promises fail to have application to his people. To the contrary, through Christ his people find the promises are fulfilled for them.

As the promises are fulfilled in the present era, it is important to see that it was Israelites who first brought the gospel to the Gentiles. Next it is important to see that the church is God’s people, both Jew and Gentile. But the church is not the new Israel that takes over the promises given to national Israel. Finally, though Old Testament promises are presently being fulfilled, not all Old Testament promises are presently being fulfilled. There are still future promises for national Israel that remain unfulfilled. God will bring these promises to pass. In arguing these points Saucy provides solid exegetical and theological arguments. His reviews of other positions were both gracious and insightful critiques.

Black, David Alan, ed. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views. Nashville: B&H, 2008.

Typically four views books allows each participant to state his case followed by brief responses from each of the other contributors. The four views book is unique in allowing only one perspective a rejoinder. Daniel Wallace presents the view that Mark ended his Gospel with verse 8. Maurice Robinson argues that Mark’s Gospel originally included the longer ending. Keith Elliot posits that both the beginning and ending of Mark’s Gospel were lost. The current beginning and the longer ending were replacements. David Alan Black makes the case that Mark himself added the longer ending to his Gospel at a later point than its first writing. Darrell Bock, who holds Wallace’s view (indeed, who was instrumental in leading Wallace to this view, according to Wallace’s essay) concludes the volume by providing a rejoinder to the other three positions.

I thought that Wallace’s essay was the best written of the four perspectives. However, I found his view (and Bock’s) that Mark intended the Gospel to end at verse 8 less than convincing. The number of dissenters to this view is growing, and I did not find that Wallace dealt sufficiently with the cogent critiques of this position given elsewhere. Wallace also deferred much of the coverage of internal evidence to J. K. Elliot. Elliot, however, undermines his case by arguing (apart from any manuscript evidence) that the opening of Mark is secondary. He makes the case that the internal evidence indicates that Mark’s opening is even less Markan than the Longer Ending. Since the evidence is strongly against the opening of Mark being secondary, Elliot ends up casting doubt on the validity of the claims that the Longer Ending could not have been written by Mark.

Black’s essay was an outlier as it dealt primarily with the Synoptic problem. His solution is also fairly speculative.

I thought that Robinson’s essay was also strong. Even apart from his majority text view, he provided a series of cogent arguments, dealing with external evidence (including early patristic evidence) and internal evidence. He did not deal with all of Wallace’s arguments, however, which is why it would have been better if each author was allowed to respond to the others rather than leaving no response to Wallace and allowing Bock to respond to the other three.

Caro, Robert. Means of Ascent. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Knopf, 1991.

This volume covers the period from Johnson’s just after Johnson’s first failed run for the Senate through his first successful Senate campaign. The first part of the book is a bit slow, but the book reads like a novel as the campaign comes to its climax. Caro documents that Johnson flat out stole the election. Liberal reviewers complained that Caro presented a too sympathetic portrait of Johnson’s opponent, Coke Stevenson. Caro responded in a New York Times article that in this race Johnson presented himself as a conservative. Liberal vs. political views weren’t an issue in the campaign and thus were not an issue in this book, despite, Caro’s stated personal preference for liberal positions. In my view the mini-biography Coke Stevenson contained in this book is one of the best parts of the book.

Stanglin, Keith D. and Thomas H. McCall. Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

For a careful, brief summary of Arminius’s life and thought, this is the book to get. Stanglin and McCall are both Arminian scholars, so they write with sympathy toward Arminius. They are also careful scholars. Finally, this is not a polemical book, unlike Roger Olson’s book on Arminian theology. Though they believe Arminius to be right, they allow his exegesis and theology to speak for itself. Highly recommended.

Kevan, Ernest. Moral Law. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1991.

The relation of the Mosaic Law to the Christian is a difficult knot to untie. There are clear continuities. The commands to have no other gods than the true God or to honor one’s parents clearly remain in force for Christians today. Commands regarding the sacrificial system or cities of refuge are clearly not applicable today. Likewise certain New Testament texts seem to indicate that the Law remains applicable today while other New Testament texts seem to abolish it for the Christian. A long-held approach to this knot, one held by Kevan, is that the law can be classified under the categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial law. The civil and the ceremonial parts are said to be done away while the moral part endures. I find these categories appropriate theological categories that can be usefully applied to the law just as theologians often impose categories on Scriptural data (think of the different ways of classifying the attributes of God). But I don’t think these categories can be read back into Scripture statements on the law. For instance, when Jesus speaks in Matthew 5 on the endurance of the law, it would be inappropriate to conclude that Jesus is speaking of the moral law alone there. Likewise, when Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 9 that he is not under the Law, it would be inappropriate to conclude that Paul is speaking only of the ceremonial and civil law. I think it is better to recognize that the Mosaic Law is part of the Mosaic Covenant. The Law is therefore a unified thing. When the New Testament speaks of the Law, it is speaking of this unity. Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, as a whole, because they are under the New Covenant. This is not a covenant without law, however. In the New Covenant the law is written on believer’s hearts. This means that there is a law the exists subsequent to the Mosaic code. Further. If the Mosaic code is the application of natural law to a particular place and time in history and redemptive-history, as I think it is, then there is a law prior to the Mosaic code as well. This is why it is always wrong to make idols or to murder but why it is not always wrong to build houses without parapets on the roof. This law that transcends covenantal arrangements could be called moral law. Thus despite some significant disagreements with Kevan about process, there is a great deal of substance that I am in agreement with. His writings about the dangers of antinomianism are especially good.


Hallo, William W. “Biblical History in Its Near Eastern Setting: The Contextual Approach.” In Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. Edited by V. Philips Long. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study. Edited by David W. Baker. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999.

Worth reading for a useful approach to making use of ANE background information.

Hunn, Debbie. “The Baptism of Galatians 3:27: A Contextual Approach,” Expository Times 115 (2005): 372-75.

The common view of commentators is that Galatians 3:27, “as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” refers to water baptism. Hunn notes, however, that in its context baptism is the proof that “Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female” are one in Christ through faith. Water baptism cannot serve as this proof because “it proves only that the baptizer found [these distinctions] irrelevant.” It does not provide a window into the mind of God. However, noting that all were baptized by the Spirit would serve as proof. To the objection of F.F. Bruce that “the Galatian people in reading 3:27 would hardly think of anything but their baptism in water,” Hunn notes that both the Gospels and Acts refer to Spirit baptism with the terms βαπτίζω and βαπτισμός. She concludes, “Therefore, since baptism has multiple referents in the NT, students of the Bible should consider multiple possibilities when the NT leaves the type of baptism undefined.” In favor of Spirit baptism, Hunn notes the close parallels with between Galatians 3:27 and 1 Corinthains 12:13 which is clearly about Spirit baptism. She also notes that Galatians 3:23-29 and 4:3-7 follow parallel lines of argumentation. In 3:27-28 the proof of sonship is baptism into Christ. In 4:6 the proof of sonship is the reception of the Spirit. This parallel also argues that Spirit baptism is in view in 3:27.

I have long thought, against the majority of commentators, that Galatians 3:27 referred to Spirit baptism and was happy to see Hunn confirm some of my exegesis as well as advance additional arguments that I had not considered before.

Note: I was alerted to this article by a footnote in Thomas Schreiner’s commentary on Galatians in which he lists her, alongside Dunn and Garlington, as holding to a metaphorical view of baptism in this passage. Hunn, however, explicitly rejects Dunn’s metaphorical view in her article.

Luther, Martin. “A Simple Way to Pray.” Translated by Carl J. Schindler. Luther’s Works. Vol. 43. Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Gustav K. Wiencke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968.

Luther wrote this treatise to instruct his barber in how to pray. Luther provides helpful practical advice such as thinking through Scripture in four ways: instruction, thanksgiving, confession, and petition. In this way meditation on Scripture can be turned into prayer. Luther also provides examples of how the petitions of the Lord’s prayer, the commandments of the Decalogue, and the phrases of the Apostle’s Creed can be expanded into fuller prayers. This is a warm, pastoral work of great value.

Luther, Martin, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” Translated by J. J. Shindel and Walther I. Brandt. Luther’s Work. Vol. 45. Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962.

In this article Luther begins by demonstrating from Scripture (Rom. 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Gen. 9:6; Ex. 21:14; Matt. 26:52; Lk 3:14) that God has ordained temporal government. He then notes that if all people were Christian, there would be no need for government since Christians are governed in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. But as it is, there are two kingdoms. Unbelievers are in the temporal kingdom and are under law. They are subject to the sword. Christians are in the spiritual kingdom and are under the Spirit. Luther argues that true Christians, which he says “are few and far between” are “subject neither to the law nor sword, and have need of neither.” But for the benefit of others Christians willing submit to temporal government, and all that it entails such as taxes. This is part of his love to his neighbor. Likewise Christians can serve as magistrates for the love of neighbor.

In the second part of this work Luther looks at the extent of temporal government’s authority. He argues that since God’s kingdom and the temporal kingdom are different kingdoms, they have different laws. The temporal government concerns itself only with “life and property and external affairs on earth.” God’s kingdom concerns itself with the soul. He notes that Romans 13:7 gives government the authority to demand honor, respect and taxes. Peter allows the government to issue human ordinances, but it cannot “extend its authority into heaven and over souls.” Similarly, Christ recognized this distinction when he distinguished those things that are rendered to Caesar and those which are rendered to God. Luther also appealed to Psalm 115:16, “He has given heaven to the Lord of heaven, but the earth he has given to the sons of men. In the creation mandate God only gives humans dominion over the “external domain.” Men do not rule over each other in spiritual matters. Finally, Luther says that Peter’s claim in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men” distinguishes temporal authority and the limits placed on it from God’s authority. The upshot of this is that the state cannot make heresy a crime for such it beyond its competence. It is the responsibility of the church to restrain heresy. And on this matter Paul says, “Our weapons are not carnal” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Further within the church there is no authority. Christ is the only authority in the church. Bishops and priests are servants who cannot impose law but can only teach and guide through God’s word. “Christians do every good thing of their own accord and without constraint.”

In the third part of this treatise, Luther counsels those who are princes on how to go about seeking wisdom to be a wise and godly ruler.

Luther made some real advances in this treatise. He broke with the Roman Catholic claim that all authority is mediated through the church. He also resisted the radical Reformation position that Christians should not participate in government. Luther also cogently argued that the temporal government does not have the authority or competence to rule on matters of doctrine.

Luther also makes some significant mis-steps. The most significant is the claim that Christians are under no authority other than Christ’s, with the implication being that Christians are not part of the temporal kingdom except for the sake of love to neighbor. While not being a Luther scholar, I am aware of the claim that after the Peasant revolt of 1525 Luther changed some of his more antinomian positions. It would be worth knowing whether this was one of them.

R. R. Reno on David Brooks on the norms necessary for helping the poor

He recounts the difficulties facing young people growing up in the dysfunctional family cultures of poor and working-class America. We need to respond to their hard circumstances with sympathy. ‘But it’s increasingly clear that sympathy is not enough. It’s not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles; it’s norms. The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed upon standards for what it means to be a father. There are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.’ This loss of social capital didn’t just happen. Norms for decent behavior ‘were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another.’ Care about the poor and vulnerable in America? Step one is to combat the plague of nonjudgmentalism.

First Things, (May 2015): 69.

Galatians 3:26-27: Water Baptism or Spirit Baptism

The majority of commentators throughout history understand 3:27 to refer to water baptism. But this results in some serious difficulties. Calvin states the difficulty well: “”But the argument, that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement?”[1] In other words, it is obvious under anyone’s theology, that not all who are water baptized are united to Christ. But this verse says, ”For as many of you as were,” or “All who were . . . .”

There are a number of ways of handling this difficulty. Peter Lombard notes a view ascribed to Augustine indicated that those who were baptized under a false confession had their sins forgiven “at the very moment of baptism.” But those sins “return immediately after baptism.” Lombard rejects this view, and he says that Augustine only reported the view. He did not hold it.[2] Lombard himself suggested two resolutions. First, it may be that only “those who are baptized in Christ” have their sins forgiven. Or, Lombard suggested, it may be that the passage refers not to those who receive the sacrament alone but also the thing which it symbolizes.[3]

This latter explanation has remained popular. It was the explanation Calvin offered: “It is customary with Paul to treat of the sacrament in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites . . . he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol. . . . When, on the other hand, he addresses beleviers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connexion with the truth—which they represent.”[4]

Another approach is to argue that baptism is one part of “the complex of initiation events describing conversion.”[5] Some make baptism an essential part of receiving the benefit. Beasley-Murray claims, “If Paul were pressed to define the relationship of the two statements in v. 26-27, I cannot see how he could preserve the force of both sentences apart from affirming that baptism is the moment of faith in which the adoption is realized . . . which is the same as saying that in baptism faith receives Christ in whom the adoption is effected.”[6] Everett Ferguson similarly states, “If a distinction is to be made between the relation of faith and baptism to the blessings described, one might say that baptism is the time at which and faith is the reason why.”[7] F. F. Bruce notes the problem with this approach: “The question arises here: if Paul makes baptism the gateway to ‘being-in-Christ’, is he not attaching soteriological efficacy to a rite which in itself is as external or ‘material’ as circumcision?”[8] For this reason commentators often make qualifying comments such as these by Moo:

It was not, in and of itself, a means of salvation or incorporation into Christ (contra, e.g., Schlier 1989: 172; cf. Betz 1979: 187-88). Faith, which Paul repeatedly highlights in this passage and in his other letters, is the only means of coming into relationship with Jesus Christ. However, baptism is more than simply a symbol of that new relationship; it is the capstone of the process by which one is converted and initiated into the church. As such, Paul can appeal to baptism as ‘shorthand’ for the entire conversion experience.[9]

The difficulty with all of these qualifications is that they seem to evade what the words of the verse actually say. The verse says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Moo says, “[Baptism] was not, in and of itself, a means of . . . incorporation into Christ (contra, e.g., Schlier . . .).” The verse says “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” But Lombard and Calvin say that is only true for those who receive the sacrament and the thing and not the sacrament alone. The qualifications are seeking to guard orthodox doctrine, but they seem to do so at the text’s expense.

But what if Paul is not referring to water baptism here? Bruce says, “It is difficult to suppose that readers would not have understood it as a statement about their initiatory baptism in water.” But is it so difficult? Both the Gospels and Acts anticipate and describe Spirit baptism.[10] The distinction between these two kinds of baptism is present in apostolic teaching. Distinction between the sacrament and the thing or the symbol and the reality, however, are later theological developments. It seems more likely for Paul’s original readers to have distinguished between water baptism and Spirit baptism than between the sacrament and the thing.

What is more, Spirit baptism makes good sense in this context. In this context baptism is the proof that “Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female” are one in Christ through faith. Water baptism cannot serve as such a proof because, as Hunn notes, “it proves only that the baptizer found [these distinctions] irrelevant.”[11] It does not provide a window into the mind of God. Spirit baptism, on the other hand, does provide such a proof. Indeed, this is Peter’s argument for accepting the Gentiles into the church. The Spirit baptized them just as he had baptized the Jews (Acts 11:15-17). Hunn also observes that Galatians 3:23-29 and 4:3-7 follow parallel lines of argumentation. In 3:27-28 the proof of sonship is baptism into Christ. In 4:6 the proof of sonship is the reception of the Spirit. This parallel indicates that Spirit baptism is in view in 3:27.[12] Finally, 1 Corinthians 12:13 forms a close parallel to Galatians 3:27. In both passages there is baptism into Christ. In both there is the indication that this the case whether the person is Jew or Gentile, slave or free. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 the baptism is clearly Spirit baptism: “For [in] one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” This confirms that the baptism in view in Galatians 3:27 is Spirit baptism.

To this position Schreiner objects, “Robert H. Stein shows that the attempt to separate water baptism from Spirit baptism fails to understand that water baptism is part of the complex of initiation events describing conversion.”[13] But in taking this view there is no denial that water baptism was part of “the complex of initiation events.” Nor does this view dispute that water baptism is the symbol of Spirit baptism.[14] This view simply recognizes that as many as are baptized in the Spirit are united to Christ but that not all who are baptized in water are so united.

[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. Willaim Pringle (1854; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 111.

[2] Peter Lombard, The Sentences, trans. Giulio Silano (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010), 19-20 (bk. 4, dist. 4, ch. 2, n. 4-5).

[3] Ibid., 21 (bk. 4, dist. 4, ch. 3).

[4] Calvin, 111.

[5] Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, ZECNT, 257, n. 8; cf. Douglas Moo, Galatians, BECNT, 251.

[6] G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 151.

[7] Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 147.

[8] F. F. Bruce, Galatians, NIGTC, 185.

[9] Moo,  251.

[10] Debbie Hunn, “The Baptism of Galatians 3:27: A Contextual Approach,” ExpTim 115 (2005): 373-74.

[11] Ibid, 373.

[12] Ibid., 374-75.

[13] Schreiner, 257, n. 8.

[14] I would dispute, however, that Spirit baptism happens at the time of water baptism. I would argue the reality precedes the symbol.

Land in Genesis 18-21

Genesis 18

Yahweh is the “Judge of all the earth” (18:25). Given human wickedness this is a fearsome prospect. There is no one who will escape God’s judgment. But the promise of Genesis 12 is repeated here: “All the nations of the earth will be blessed” in Abraham (18:18). Provision is made through Abraham for all people to be blessed rather than judged. It is for this reason that Abraham is qualified for God to share with him the judgment he has planned for Sodom and Gomorrah.

In this passage, “all” and “earth” are brought together to indicate universal extent.

Genesis 19

Earth words are used in this passage several times without theological significance (19:1, 23, 31). But in verse 25 and 28 it is clear that once again human sin has an effect on the land. A land that once could be compared with the garden of the Lord (13:10) now has not only its wicked cities with their inhabitants burned up but the vegetation as well so that the land that Lot once saw as well-watered Abraham now sees smoking like a furnace.

Sodom throughout Scripture is the illustration of human wickedness (Deut. 32:32; Isa. 1:10; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Ezek. 16:46-56; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7; Rev. 11:8). It may well be that the consequences of Sodom’s sin are also paradigmatic. Peter says as much: “. . . if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6). Peter does teach that there is a judgment of fire awaiting the earth (2 Peter 2:7), though the connection he makes directly is to the suffering of the ungodly in hellfire (see also Jude 7).

Genesis 20

This chapter touches on the promises of land, seed, and blessing. In this chapter Abraham is both a curse and a blessing to Abimelech, as Abimelech moves from an (unwitting) wrong relationship to Abraham to a right relationship with him. The subtext to the entire chapter is the danger that Abraham’s deception puts the seed promise in (which also demonstrates the promise is given not earned). Land also plays a role. The chapter begins with Abraham traveling to the land of the Negeb and then sojourning in Gerar. His traveling and sojourning in the land are indications that the land promise is yet to be fulfilled. But in verse 15, Abraham is given and open invitation to dwell in Abimelech’s land. The land is not yet Abraham’s, but this is a step toward the promise (Wenham, WBC, 2:75). This invitation will lead to Abraham’s first land-possession in Canaan (Gen. 21:15-16) (Mathews, NAC, 2:258).

Genesis 21

Whereas the first part of this chapter dealt with the initial fulfillment of the seed promise in the birth of Isaac, the last part of the chapter deals with the land and blessing aspects of the promise. Abimelech has recognized God’s blessing on Abraham, and he presumes that that blessing will cause Abraham’s descendants to become powerful. He thus requests a covenant guaranteeing kindness. He will bless Abraham in the hope of receiving blessing.

And yet during this time Abraham is still a sojourner in the land (21:34). Not only that, he is a sojourner who has his wells taken away (21:25). The seed promise has begun to be fulfilled, but the land promise is still a distant hope.

Reading for March 2015


Bock, Darrell and Mitch Glaser, eds. The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014.

This book is a collection of conference papers. Many of the contributors are scholars, but the scholars are speaking to a broad audience. The book divides into four parts: The Hebrew Scriptures; New Testament; Hermeneutics, and Church History; Practical Theology. While some of the essays were disappointing in their coverage, I appreciated the basic surveys of biblical material provided by Merrill, Kaiser, Wilkins, Bock, and Vanlaningham. Michael Vlach provided a helpful précis of historical material covered at greater length in his book Has the Church Replaced Israel? John Feinberg and Mark Saucy also wrote outstanding essays on Israel and Israel in the Land being theological necessities. Saucy looks at the storyline of Scripture and notes the significance of Israel throughout the storyline, with special attention given to the New Covenant. One salient point that Saucy made was that changes in temple and cult were predicted by the prophets. The prophets do not prophesy the obsolescence of Israel or the land, however. Much to the contrary. Feinberg looks at Daniel 9:24-27; Zechariah 12; and Isaiah 19:16-25, demonstrating that Israel must be in the land for these prophecies to be fulfilled.

But the essay that is worth the price of the book is Craig Blaising’s essay on hermeneutics. He recognizes that the hermeneutical discussion has moved well beyond spiritualizing vs. literal interpretations. Those who do not see a future for national Israel typically appeal to genre considerations or typology, and they seek to operate within grammatical-historical hermeneutics. In Blaising’s words, these interpreters “do not claim to have read into the text meaning that is alien to it.” Instead, they claim to be “recognizing a typology embedded in the text” (156). Blaising argues that the supercessionist system needs to be evaluated by four criteria: are its interpretations “comprehensive,” “congruent” with the passages being considered, internally “consistent,” and “coherent” as a system. He goes on to demonstrate that supercessionists do not meet these criteria. His most telling point falls under the congruent heading. He notes that a promise differs from types “A promise entails an obligation. When somebody makes a promise, they’re not just stating something; they’re doing something. They are forming a relationship and creating an expectation that carries moral obligation” (160). The book of Hebrews recognizes many types in the Old Testament, but it says that two things are unchangeable: the promise and the oath (Heb. 6:18). The land promise would fall into the category of that which is unchangeable, since it is promised with an oath, rather than into the category of type.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. Bampton Lectures in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

This is a good overview of the state of scholarship on the crusades at present. Riley-Smith undercuts a number of popular misconceptions that crusades scholars have abandoned. For instance, he notes that Muslim resentment for the crusades is a rather recent phenomenon, dating back to the 19th century. Christian embarrassment at the crusades is also relatively recent. He demonstrates that support for the crusades were not marginal in Roman Catholic thought. (An aberration from Riley-Smith’s careful argumentation is his attempt to tie Protestants to the crusades. Luther’s argument that Christians may defend themselves against the Turks falls short of advocating crusade. Riley-Smith says there is a parallel between Luther and Catholic crusaders because both emphasize repentance and prayer. But surely repentance and prayer in war do not a crusade make. What is more, the Reformation was a protest against the penitential system that lay at the heart of the crusades.) Riley-Smith does a good job giving attention to the religious aspects of the crusades. While not defending the crusades, he does note that they were supposed to adhere to just war theory. This meant that they had to be reactive wars, wars taking back territory that had been lost. They could not be wars that led to forced conversions (though he notes crusades in the Baltic regions came close to violating these principles). He also describes the way that the crusades were tied to the Catholic penitential system. Contrary to the popular idea that crusaders were primarily motivated by financial gain, Riley-Smith notes that the crusades were dangerous endeavors that were more likely to cost a man everything, including his life, than to lead for wealth. Because of this, going on a crusade could be considered an act of penance that would lead to forgiveness of sins. Also interesting was Riley-Smith’s description of crusading sermons. He notes that one guide for crusading preachers instructed that “an invitatio should be accompanied by a hymn. . . . So as a preacher bellowed out his passionate appeal a choir would strike up and would presumably continue singing as men came forward to commit themselves publically” (38). The attention to these kinds of religious details make Riley-Smith’s book an excellent brief introduction to the crusades.

Stander, Hendrick F. and Johannes P. Louw, Baptism in the Early Church. Leeds, UK: Evangelical Press, 2004.

In this book two South Africa paedobaptists survey the writings of the early church and conclude that credo baptism was the common practice of the early church until the fourth century. Though not as detailed as Everett Ferguson’s survey, Stander and Louw do give a good survey of the evidence. They also often provide lengthier quotations of the primary sources than Ferguson does.

Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

This is a comprehensive survey of written and artifactual evidence concerning baptism. Ferguson reaches three primary conclusions. First, baptism was primarily done by immersion throughout this time period. Other modes were used only in emergency situations. Second, paedobaptism emerged slowly over time. Not until the fourth century did it become widely accepted. Third, baptism was considered to be the point of regeneration, reception of the Spirit, and the reception of other salvific blessings. Ferguson is a member of the Churches of Christ. The conclusions he reaches are consistent with Churches of Christ doctrine. In general, however, I thought that Ferguson was giving a fair presentation of the data. I remain unconvinced, however, of his claim to find baptismal regeneration in the New Testament texts (though I grant that it is clearly found in the church fathers). He also seemed averse to finding the doctrine of original sin in fathers prior to Augustine. These caveats aside, this is the resource that has collected all the data on baptism in the early church.

Abrams, Douglas Carl. Selling the Old-Time Religion: American Fundamentalists and Mass Culture, 1920-1940. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001.

Abrams discusses Fundamentalist’s relationship to both consumer culture and popular culture. He documents that fundamentalists both embraced and rejected aspects of both kinds of culture. Abrams also the reactions of Fundamentalism to culture. For instance, he critiques the general embrace of consumer culture by Fundamentalists. Overall, an excellent resource.

Hoffmeier, James K. Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hoffmeier continues his case that indirect evidence lends credence to the Bible’s account of the Israel in Egypt and, in this book, in the Wilderness. For instance, in one chapter he looks at the names in the genealogies in Numbers and notes that a good number of them are of Egyptian derivation. This argues for the authenticity of the sojourn in Egypt. He also discusses issues such as the location of the Red Sea crossing and Mount Sinai, and the path taken in the Exodus. His point in these discussions is that the accounts in the Pentateuch are located in real places rather in than in a mystical realm in which such routes and locations cannot be evaluated. I think Hoffmeier’s point stands even if one wishes to argue for different locations. The very fact that he can make an argument for one location and that someone else can examine the evidence and make a case for another location proves Hoffmeier’s point that these accounts are of such a nature that such discussions are possible and profitable. This would not be the case with myth. Hoffmeier also takes on the inconsistency of critical approaches to Scripture. For instance, he notes that a historical treatise by a 3rd century BC historian that is preserved only in quotation in other sources (e.g., Josephus and Eusebius) is still used today as the basis for our sequencing of the early Egyptian dynasties. With the Bible we have a much better manuscript tradition that reaches back in time closer to the original documents and events. For instance, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls date back to the first and second centuries B.C. But the critics insist on dating the Pentateuch late and reject countervailing evidence. The Bible is rejected as a “historical partner.” Hoffmeier raises the question of why, despite claims that the Bible should be treated like any other book, it is treated like no other book. His supposition: “Either they want the material to be late so as to fit a particular theory or model they advocate, or they want sources to be late (operating under the assumption that later sources are poor sources) so as to discredit the historical reliability of the Bible. This in turn allows them to reconstruct the history, social framework, and moral or religious traditions in a manner that is more aligned with their own view of things” (18).

Caro, Robert. The Path to Power. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Knopf, 1982.

This is part one of a five part biography of Lyndon Johnson. Though lengthy, Caro is an engaging writer. It is hard to put these biographies down. Some of the length is devoted to setting the background. For instance, the book begins with a fascinating history of the Texas Hill Country.

Caro does not pull his punches, but he’s not writing a hatchet job, either. HIs interest is in how power is gained and used. LBJ is his case study.

Austen, Jane. Persuasion.

Garretson, James M. A Scribe Well-Trained: Archibald Alexander and the Life of Piety. Profiles in Reformed Spirituality. Edited by Joel R. Beeke and Michael A. G. Haykin. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2011.

Like the other books in this series, A Scribe Well-Trained provides readers with a brief biography of its subject, bite-sized devotional readings by the subject, and a guide for additional reading. I find these books warm my heart toward God.

Block, Daniel I. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014.

This is, as the title indicates, a biblical theology of worship. Each chapter covers a topic, moving from the First Testament, as Block prefers to call it, through to the New Testament and on to present-day application. The topics covered range from worship in daily life and in the family to the elements of corporate worship such as ordinances, preaching, prayer, and music. Block mounts a defense of the relevance of the Old Testament in guiding present worship practices (while appropriately noting discontinuities). While differing with Block on a few points, overall I found his exegesis and applications sound. Highly recommended.


Guy, Laurie. “‘Naked’ Baptism in the Early Church: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” The Journal of Religious History 27, no. 2 (June 2003): 133-42.

In researching baptism in the early church, I noticed that numerous sources indicated that those baptized were naked. This obviously raises a moral question for the baptism of women, since the priests who baptized were men. Guy addresses this issue. He notes that “there are three commonly held conclusions, one of which would seem to be wrong: 1. Baptismal candidates were baptized naked 2. Baptism was administered by male clergy 3. Judeo-Christian sense of modesty would not allow a religious practice where female nakedness was exposed to male gaze.” Guy begins with the third conclusion and is able to affirm from contemporary sources, especially those dealing with the baths, that it is true. Likewise, the second conclusion is true. Several of the church fathers explicitly address the issue of women administering baptism, and they forbid it. Guy argues that it is the first conclusion which must be modified. He makes the case that naked in biblical Greek does not necessarily meaning entirely unclothed. For instance, Peter in John 21.7 could have been still clothed in a tunic or smock. He finds evidence in Chrysostom that baptismal candidates could be considered naked while still wearing a chiton, which would enable them to be modest. In other words they were not fully clothed by normal standards but still clothed. Guy argues that the rhetoric of nakedness, however, is used for the purpose of emphasizing the new birth.

Sanford, John C. and Robert Carter. “In Light of Genetics… Adam, Eve, and the Creation/Fall.” Christian Apologetics Journal (2014).

An article by two creationary scientists with expertise in genetics challenging recent claims that genetics disproves a historical Adam. The outline of their article is as follows:

1. Humans are fundamentally different from all other life forms in terms of functionality.

2. Humans are profoundly different from all other life forms in terms of our genome.

3. The direction of genetic change is down, not up. Humanity is devolving due to mutation.

4. The information that specifies ‘man’ cannot arise via random mutations and natural selection.

5. The “junk DNA” paradigm has collapsed and is no longer a valid rescue mechanism for Darwinism.

6. All human beings are amazingly similar genetically—pointing toward a recent Adam and Eve.

  • Demise of the evolutionary bottleneck theory.
  • Demise of the evolutionary Out-of-Africa theory.

7. The limited amount of diversity within the human genome is best explained in terms of:

  • Primarily, designed diversity (heterozygosity) within the biblical Adam and Eve.
  • Secondarily, degenerative mutations that have accumulated since the Fall.

8. The number of “linkage blocks” and the limited degree of recombination seen within human chromosomes appears to be consistent with an original population of two individuals that gave rise to all humanity in the last 10,000 years.

9. The origin of people groups is best understood in the context of Adam/Flood/Babel, only requiring population fragmentation, rapid dispersal, founder effects, assortative mating, and limited selection.

10. There is clearly a singular female ancestor of all humans (“Mitochondrial Eve”), her basic DNA sequence is easily discernable in humans alive today, and it is not more similar to chimpanzee.

11. There is clearly a singular male ancestor of all humans (“Y Chromosome Adam”), his DNA sequence is largely known, and it is not at all similar to that of chimpanzee.

12. Molecular clocks and other dating methods most consistently point to a young genome.

Luther on Praying Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy kingdom come.” Say: “O dear Lord, God and Father, thou seest how worldly wisdom and reason not only profane thy name and ascribe the honor due to thee to lies and to the devil, but how they also take the power, might, wealth and glory which thou hast given them on earth for ruling the world and thus serving thee, and use it in their own ambition to oppose thy kingdom. They are many and mighty; they plague and hinder the tiny flock of thy kingdom who are weak, despised, and few. They will not tolerate thy flock on earth and think that by plaguing them they render a great and godly service to thee. Dear Lord, God and Father, convert them and defend us. Convert those who are still to become children and members of thy kingdom so that they with us and we with them may serve thee in thy kingdom in true faith and unfeigned love and that from thy kingdom which has begun, we may enter into thy eternal kingdom. Defend us against those who will not turn away their might and power from the destruction of thy kingdom so that when they are east down from their thrones and humbled, they will have to cease from their efforts. Amen.”

Luther, Works, 43:195-96.

Genesis 16-17

Genesis 16 deals primarily with the seed promise, but verse 3 does note that Abram had dwelt in the land for 10 years. Wenham notes, “This comment may be double-edged. It obviously explains Sarah’s concern to do something about their childlessness, but it may also hint that the promise of the land is proving valid. The passing years should strengthen faith as the fulfillment of the promises is seen, but they also test it because that fulfillment is only partial” (Wenham, Genesis, 2:8).

In Genesis 17 God confirms the covenant that he cut with Abram in chapter 15. Whereas land was a major focus in chapter 15, here seed is the major focus. Nonetheless, land is not entirely absent. Part of the seed promise includes the promise that Abraham will be the father of kings and nations (17:6). The land promise is implicit in these promises. Indeed, directly after these promises God reaffirms the land promise (17:8). The land is designated in two ways. First, it is “the land of your sojournings. Second, it is “all the land of Canaan.” This recalls of the promises given in 13:15-17 in which Abram is told that God will give him all the land that he can see (here labeled as Canaan) and told to walk through the length and breadth of it (Abraham now seems to have sojourned in the length and breadth of it). As in chapter 13 the possession of the land is promised not only to Abraham’s seed but to Abraham himself. Further, as in chapter 13, the duration of the possession is עוֹלָם —forever.