Books and Articles Read in November

Books

Gordon, T. David. Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010.

In this slim book Gordon challenges the idea that worship music styles are merely a matter of preference or taste. It astounds him that an aspect of the worship of God can be dismissed as insignificant or unimportant—something not likely to be said about the way the Lord’s Supper is observed. Gordon is as much concerned about the lack of thoughtful, theological discussion about the wide-ranging changes in Christian worship as he is about the changes themselves.

At the core of Gordon’s argument is the contention that aesthetics are not relative, that form shapes content, and that non-verbal messages often accompany our words. Given these contentions, Gordon argues that Christians must ask what popular musical aesthetics, forms, and meta-messages communicate. Is their communication consistent with or at odds with the Christian message.

Gordon finds pop music culture to be focused on contemporaneity. He finds it commercialized, sentimental, casual, and youth focused. These values are at odds with Christianity. Christianity ought to value tradition and history (which is different from moribund traditionalism). It places a higher value on the wisdom of elders than on youth. It fosters deep sentiments, but it is not sentimental. Christians ought to be reverent, not casual, in their approach to God. He finds pop music too trivial a medium for the worship of the true God.

Gordon does not argue that such music is sinful or unlawful for the church to use (though with certain styles of music, I think such a case could be made). He simply argues that lawful is not enough.

Gordon advocates a recovery of traditional hymn-singing. This does not mean that he wants to sing only old songs. Traditional or sacred music is still being composed in the present. But he does wish the church to make full use of the heritage bequeathed to it. Gordon recognizes that such a recovery cannot happen in a day. It will take time. But for the richness of the church’s hymn tradition to be recovered, at the very least the conversation that Gordon has started must continue. The style of worship music cannot be dismissed as unworthy of discussion, as being merely a matter of taste.

Morgan, Jill. A Man of the Word: The Life of G. Campbell Morgan. 1951. Reprinted, Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003.

This book did not have the same mind-shaping influence on me that I know it has had on others before me. I wonder if this is because those people have taken their insights and worked them into our church life so that what were insights to them is simply my normal experience of church life and pastoral ministry. The book did give me a greater appreciation for ministry and the religious situation at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.

Jones, Paul S. What is Worship Music? Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010.

In this brief book Paul Jones answers his title question in three parts: worship music is praise, worship music is prayer, and worship music is proclamation. In each of these parts Jones grounds his discussion in Scripture, amply illustrates it from church history, and provides practical applications.

A few examples will exhibit Jones’s careful, biblical approach. In his section on worship music as praise, he notes that churches don’t have the option of neglecting the Psalms in their worship since the New Testament commands the singing of Psalms (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Jones rejects exclusive psalmody, however, on the grounds that such an approach "would be missing our acknowledgement of and gratitude for Christ’s redemption and his fulfillment of Old Testament promises" (11-12).

In the section on worship music as prayer, Jones contrasts this approach to worship music with the common contemporary tendency to treat worship music as performance. Worshippers do not respond to prayer with applause, yet this is a common response in contemporary worship services to musical performances. These churches often look at their music ministry as a way to attract the lost so that the sermon will have a chance to gain a hearing or as necessary to retain the young people of the church. Jones argues that all these approaches to music stand at variance with treating worship music as prayer.

In the section on music as proclamation Jones presents several passages that teach that music should teach (Col. 3:16; Ps. 60; 119:171-72, 174-75), several examples from church history, and the practical conclusion that "many of the same criteria used to define great preaching and teaching can be employed to define great church music" (36).

Jones has managed, with lucid brevity, to write a Scripture-infused, historically aware, practically wise book that will benefit churches and Christians who take it up and read.

Williamson, Paul R. Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007.

Williamson wrote an excellent work on the covenants in Scripture. He begins with a discussion of the concept of covenant in biblical and theological scholarship. He (rightly in my view) discounts the concept of an overarching covenant of grace. This approach flattens out the diverse covenants of Scripture. It is therefore better to speak of one "unfolding purpose" of God worked out through the various covenants. Williamson also argues against a covenant with creation or Adam. The biblical covenants begin with Noah. Williamson’s treatment of the Noahic covenant, an often neglected covenant, is excellent. He also provides a helpful treatment of the New covenant, which he sees as replacing the Mosaic covenant. To this point I have remained unconvinced by his thesis that Genesis 15 and 17 represent two Abrahamic covenants, one conditional and one unconditional. I also am unconvinced by his mild supercessionism. Disagreements aside, this is a major contribution to the discussion of the biblical covenants and one to which I’ll turn often in the future.

Niane, D. T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Translated by G. D. Pickett. Harlow, Essex, England: Longman, 1965.

Forster, Greg. The Contested Public Square: The Crisis of Christianity and Politics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008.

Greg Forster’s The Contested Public Square is a readable, informative, and engaging history of Christian political thought. Far from an academic treatise, Forster recognizes that the moral consensus which Western nations have shared for fifteen hundred years has come apart, leading to a political crisis. He believes that "the first step to finding an answer [to this crisis] is understanding the question. We are going to have to do a better job of understanding the real nature of the crisis. If we do achieve that insight, we still might not succeed; but if we do not even try to achieve it, we will have lost before we even begin. That is what has driven me to write this book" (249).

Forster begins his work with the first centuries of the church, detours to take into account the influence of Greek philosophies, and then moves through Western history to the present. In the patristic era Christian apologists argued against state persecution of Christianity, but Christians had not real theology or philosophy of political involvement. Christian thinkers tended to argue against government and military participation because of the religious compromise it involved. But with the Christianization of the Roman Empire, Christians needed to develop a political theology. As in so many areas of theology, Augustine proved most influential (Forster points especially to book 19 of the City of God). Augustine first made use of the idea of natural law that developed into a political theory in the middle ages and persisted on to the time of Locke where it became a foundational element in his case for religious toleration and liberal democracy. Even in medieval Europe the seeds for Locke’s approach existed in the belief that natural law, with its concern for temporal goods, provided the foundation for civil law whereas the Bible and the Church concerned itself with spiritual goods. Yet because a shared morality, based on a shared religion, is necessary for the temporal good of society, the state enforced religious uniformity in the middle ages. The Reformation shattered this uniformity. Because of the continued belief in the necessity of a shared religion, the Reformation set off a series of religious persecutions and wars. One attempt to settle the problem was to permit the prince to choose the religion of his nation. But in nations, such as England, where the religious positions of the monarchs shifted between Catholicism and Protestantism, religious conflict was only exacerbated. Enter John Locke. In his early years Locke favored strictly enforced religious conformity to ensure public tranquility. But on a diplomatic mission to Cleves, a city in Germany which, due to some strange political circumstances, allowed religious toleration, Locke’s views were radically transformed. He saw that toleration had removed religion from the political equation and led to public tranquility among adherents to different religion. Public virtue was not threatened because natural law undergirded a shared morality despite religious differences. Locke’s views led to the advent of religious toleration, even religious freedom, and liberal democracy. But in the twentieth century liberal democracy entered a crisis as political theorists denied the natural law foundations Locke’s position and sought to replace them with something else: tradition (Edmund Burke and conservatism) and the maximization of human happiness (John Stuart Mill and utilitarianism) being the chief alternatives discussed by Forster. As philosophical and religious diversity increases, shared morality is fragmenting. Without a shared religion, a shared morality has shattered. And yet it is impossible at this juncture to return to a shared religion for each political community. Forster concludes, "All paths now lead to danger. If we wish to preserve religious freedom, we must somehow find a way to build social consensus around moral laws that politics requires without going back to dependence upon a shared religion." How is this to be done; is it even possible? Forster concludes, "I do not know the answer to this crisis" (249).

The lack of an answer to this intractable problem does not eviscerate that value of Forster’s work. He set about not to answer the question but to providing the necessary background to understand it. In this he succeeded admirably. My one complaint with the book is that there were various points where I desired greater documentation. That aside, I found this one of the most illuminating books that I have read.

Articles

Johnson, Jr., S. Lewis. “Paul and ‘The Israel of God’: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case-Study.” In Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Edited by Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody Press, 1986.

This is the best treatment of Galatians 6:16 that I’ve read. Johnson surveys the various proposals regarding this verse from the grammatical, syntactical, contextual, and theological perspectives. He concludes (along with the consensus of recent scholarship) that the Israel of God refers to Christian Jews. He also demonstrates the possibility of an eschatological aspect to Paul’s discourse at this point.

Johnson, Elliott E. “Apocalyptic Genre in Literal Interpretation.” In Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Edited by Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody, 1986.

A helpful essay on how to interpret the portions of Scripture assigned to the apocalyptic genre. In addition to positive suggestions, Johnson cautions against divorcing the genre from application to real people and events and against the over-use of appeals to mythological comparisons.

Walvoord, John F. “The Theological Significance of Revelation 20:1-6.” In Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Edited by Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody, 1986.

Includes a helpful discussion of the "first resurrection."

Merrill, Eugene H. “Daniel as a Contribution to Kingdom Theology.” In Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Edited by Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody, 1986.

The essay opens with a convincing argument that kingdom serves as a center of the Bible’s theology, and that its seedbed is Genesis 1:26-28. Merrill then focuses in on this theme in Daniel. The latter part of the essay does a good job of providing a historical survey and an interpretational survey of Daniel and his times. But the theological synthesis was thin.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. "Law and Grace: Two Dangers to Avoid," The Banner of Truth (Oct. 2011).

The two dangers that Lloyd-Jones warns are antinomianism, that the Law has no abiding value in the present age, and a vacillation between law and grace, that is, a mentality that seeks to regain God’s grace after disobedience. Both of these are deadly to the Christian. Attempts to work oneself back into the favor of God are disastrous for Christian living, but the law nonetheless retains its role of convicting the lost and providing a guide for believers.

Awabdy, Mark A. "Green Eggs and Shawarma: Reinterpreting the Bible, Reforming Mission, with Leviticus’ גר as a Test Case," Asbury Journal 66, no. 1 (2011): 31-45.

The test case takes up most of the article with very brief (and rather unhelpful) thoughts about mission and interpretation at the beginning and end. The overall thrust of the test case was that the גר in Leviticus were foreigners who had moved to Israel and become Yahweh-worshippers. They were therefore bound by much of the law, but they also received exceptions to certain laws due to their ancestry (e.g., not required to observe the feast of booths) or poorer status (e.g., having to do with the slaughter and eating of certain animals).

Steinmann, Andrew E. “Night and Day, Evening and Morning.” Bible Translator 62, no. 3 (2011): 145-150.

Steinmann reasserts against C. John Collins that "evening and morning" in Genesis 1 forms a merism for "a day." Collins argues that evening and morning highlight the time of rest between each day. This is part of his argument for an ongoing seventh day and a non-literal view of the days. In this article Steinmann demonstrates that complex merisms, like "And there was evening and there was morning" do exist. He also answers some quibbles, such as the claim that translating "and there was evening and there was morning, one day" removes the idea of sequence by inserting a cardinal number in a series marked off with ordinals. In Steinman’s approach the day is defined as being a solar day in Genesis 1:5. Evening precedes morning because the Hebrew day began in the evening.

Beale, G. K. "The Old Testament Background of the ‘Last Hour’ in 1 John 2, 18," Biblica, 92.2 (2011): 231-254

Argues that John is alluding to the Old Greek translation of Daniel 8:17,19;10:14;11:35,40;12:1. In Beale’s interpretation this involves an already-not-yet interpretation in which the church is eschatological Israel.

Noel K. Weeks, "Cosmology in Historical Context," Westminster Theological Journal 68.2 (2006): 283-93.

Weeks provides convincing arguments against attempts to say that the Israelites believed that the earth was a disk of land built over waters and topped with a solid dome. He shows problems in the basic assumptions, problems in relation to the available data from Palestine about what people believed, problems with appealing to sources like Enuma Elish if one holds an early date for Genesis, problems of using poetic descriptions of creation to construct the physical model of the universe which the Israelites allegedly held. In terms of assumptions, Weeks makes the insightful comment that it is often thought that interpreting Genesis in light of ANE cosmology is more historical that interpreting the text without reference to it; but, Weeks notes, the same interpreters wish to divide the cosmology (which they discard in favor of modern cosmology) from the theology (which the wish to hold as valid)—a very unhistorical position to take in regards to a world that held cosmological and theological together. Weeks article exposes the flimsy basis on which recent the recent claims of what Israelite cosmology must be like stand.

Steinmann, Andrew E. אחד As and Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45.4 (Dec 2006): 577-84.

Steinman argues for the translation: "God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” There was an evening and there was a morning: one day." Grammatical arguments for translating אחד as an ordinal have not investigated the particular situations in which this is acceptable. He sees this translation as indicating solar days in the creation week.

Kamell, M. J. "The Implications of Grace for the Ethics of James," Biblica 94.2 (2011): 274-87.

She argues that James is not an ethical book cut off from theology but that his ethics are instead grounded in theology, which is especially apparent in chapter 1. The difference between Paul and James is not that the former is theological and the later ethical but that James writes in a wisdom style that presents theology differently from Paul.

McLean, John A. "The Chronology of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11," Bibliotheca Sacra 168 (Oct-Dec 2011): 460-71.

He argues that the two witnesses are chronologically located in the latter half of the tribulation. He believes that arguments that place them in the first half are based on assumptions that are not stated in the text or on misplaced concerns about perceived conflicts with the events described in chapter 11 and the events in the latter half of the tribulation. He argues that Revelation 11 is an interlude that provides a preview of the latter part of the tribulation from an alternate perspective.

Malone, Andrew S. “Distinguishing the Angel of the Lord.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 21, no. 3 (2011): 297-314.

Malone critiques and earlier BBR article in which the author argued for that the Angel of the Lord is the representative of Yahweh rather than identified with Yahweh. Malone says that this article failed to prove its point. It sought to prove, (1) that the Angel of the Lord speaks as Yahweh and (2) that the Angel of the Lord is distinct from Yahweh. Malone said that the earlier article proved the former point but its arguments for the latter were weak. Thus the article tended to support the identity view.

Hess, Richard S. “The Seventy-Sevens of Daniel 9: A Timetable for the Future?” Bulletin for Biblical Research 21, no. 3 (2011): 315-330.

Hess begins by surveying historical, dispensational, and other modern interpretations. He agrees with the early church and the dispensationalists that the sixty-nine weeks end in the time of Christ and with the dispensationalists that the final week is in the future. But he disagrees with dispensationalists that these years can be calculated precisely. He notes that the Bible tends to divide human history into segments of 400 to 500 years. It places 427 years between Noah and Abram, 400 years between Abram and the Exodus, 480 years from the exodus to Solomon’s temple, and (though not explicitly this time), around 480 years between the construction of the first temple and events of the exile. Hess says of 1 Kings 6:1 and the dating of Solomon’s temple, "The number, no more intended as a precise number of years than the 400 of Gen 15:13, implicitly represents 12 generations of 40 years each. It describes an ideal and complete number of years that suggests that the construction of the temple began at precisely the correct time in Israel’s history." With Daniel, therefore, there is an epoch of 483 to 490 years (depending on whether the 70th week is placed in the future or not). He says, here "historic premillennialism finds its natural interpretation of Daniel and his future: a time connected with Jesus’ return but not tied to one precise scheme of years." But this seems to come at a high cost. At stake is not merely the debated 70 sevens of Daniel but a whole host of chronological indicators in Scripture. On what basis are they swept away as non-historical? This seems to move toward an approach to Scripture in which its theological truths are valued but its historicity is relativized.

Keener, Craig S. “Otho: A Targeted Comparison of Suetonius’ Biography and Tacitus’ History, with implications for the Gospels’ Historical Reliability,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 21 (3, 2011): 331ff.

Some scholars claim that in the ancient world the line between fiction and history was thin in biographies (thus casting doubt on the historical reliability of the gospels). Keener argues that this is not so, especially in biographies written shortly after the death of the subject. He compares Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus on Otho as a test case and is able to show a great deal of agreement, which reflects reliance on historical sources in composition rather than the free play of imagination to be expected if biographies were more novelistic in nature.

Kaiser, Walter C. "Israel as the People of God." The People of God: Essays on the Beleivers’ Church. Edited by Paul Badsen and David S. Dockery. Nashville: Broadman, 1991.

Kaiser argues that the church and Israel are distinct entities but that both together form the united people of God. He discusses Galatians 6, Romans 9, 11, and Acts 15 in making his case that the church is not Israel, that ethnic Israel still has a future, and that the two are nonetheless still the unified people of God.

Toussaint, Stanley D. “The Kingdom in Matthew’s Gospel.” In Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Edited by Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody, 1986.

Toussaint’s essay has some helpful material about the importance of Gen. 1:26-28 to the kingdom idea in biblical theology, and he has a good defense of the earthly nature of the kingdom (I would add, in its consummation). I found his defense of the idea every occurrence of kingdom in Matthew refers to the future Millennial kingdom lacking. He asserts this possibility more than he argues for its probability.

Martin, John A. “Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount.” In Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost. Edited by Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody, 1986.

Martin’s goal is to demonstrate that dispensationalists are not locked into one single approach to understanding the Sermon on the Mount (namely, the view that it provides a future kingdom ethic). He believes, with most evangelicals, that the sermon provides an ethic for believers in the present day.