Stephenson, Paul. Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor. New York: The Overlook Press, 2009.
Stephenson has produced a workmanlike biography of Constantine. It is consistently informative, if not always engaging. On the issue of Constantine’s conversion, Stephenson steers a middle course between Eusebius’s glowing portrait of the Christian emperor and those who argue it was an insincere political machination. Stephenson believes the evidence points to a sincere but gradual conversion. In other words, Constantine did sincerely convert, but he was emperor over a religiously diverse empire, and he had religious duties as emperor. Thus there is some ambiguity between 312 and 317. But the trajectory is that of a man with a deepening commitment to Christianity. Stephenson also discusses Constantine’s roles in the Donatist and Arian controversy. His view is that Constantine saw the doctrine differences as trivial, but he nonetheless demanded a unified Christian church. Thus he imposed unifying solutions on the church. This led the emperor who proclaimed toleration of all religions to persecute Christian heretics and schismatics. If there is any part of the book that church historians are likely to disagree with, it would be the section on the councils. Constantine’s role is placed in the foreground and the bishops’ roles are minimized. Nonetheless, Stephenson has produced a helpful biography of Constantine, and the bibliographical essays that conclude the work contain a wealth of information.
Letham, Robert. Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy A Reformed Perspective. Mentor, 2007.
Letham’s book contains a great deal of useful material. He is also very evidently seeking to accurately represent the Eastern Orthodox position. Unfortunately, this often means that he fails to deliver on the subtitle’s promise of a Reformed perspective. This failure is not entire, but the book would have been stronger if it had less generic early church history up front and more room for a critique towards the end. As it stands Letham spends a great deal of space presenting the Orthodox views (e.g., on icons, Scripture and tradition, synergistic soteriology, etc.). He notes the Reformed views to the contrary (where applicable), but he does not develop them in any detail. Formally, Letham does raise the Reformed objections to Eastern Orthodoxy on these points, but the feel of the book is to diminish the differences.
McArthur, John and Richard Mayhue, eds. Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer. Chicago: Moody, 2012.
As with most books of collected essays the quality varies by the contributor. The best essays in this volume are the three by Michael Vlach that deal with the topics of Dispensationalism and Israel. Mirroring his work in Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths, Vlach defines Dispensationalism and clarifies misunderstandings. He demonstrates that Dispensationalism does not demand a particular soteriology (Calvinist or Arminian, progressive sanctification or Keswick, etc.). It certainly does not teach two ways of salvation, and it is not antinomian (though it does not hold that the Mosaic code directly applies to the believer). He defines Dispensationalism in terms of "six essential beliefs." First, the NT does not reinterpret the OT in such a way that the OT authorial intent is canceled out. Second, Israel is not a type of the church. Third, "Israel and the church are distinct, thus the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel" (29). Fourth, the salvific unity of Jew and Gentile does not remove a future national purpose of Israel. Fifth, Dispensationalists believe in the future salvation, national restoration of Israel during the Millennium. Sixth, Dispensationalists affirm that "seed of Abraham" has multiple senses. It can refer to national descent or to Gentiles connected to Abraham in Christ. In defining Dispensationalism, Vlach is also careful to correct Dispensational errors in self-definition. For instance, Ryrie asserted that the glory of God as God’s purpose in the world was a Dispensational distinctive. Vlach notes that it would be better to say that Dispensationalists have a greater tendency to understand God’s purposes in a holistic manner that incorporates "social, economic, and political issues" in God’s plan for glorifying himself along with soteriological and spiritual issues (21-22). He also highlights the problem of Dispensationalists defining themselves in terms of consistently literal hermeneutics. He quotes Feinberg, "The difference is not literalism v. non-literalism, but different understandings of what constitutes literal hermeneutics" (22). Vlach is correct that the hermeneutical discussion must go deeper to wrestle with the reasons for different approaches to prophetic material. Vlach’s essays on dispensationalism along with his essay arguing for the future restoration of Israel are highly recommended.
Church historians of many different persuasions have long recognized the earliest Christians were premillennial in orientation. Nathan Busenitz’s essay helpfully provides for lay readers the quotations from the church fathers that underlie this consensus. He also provides a historical argument for why Amillennialism became the dominant view in the church from Augustine through the middle ages and beyond.
Matthew Waymeyer presents a standard defense of the premillennial reading of Revelation 20. He argues from Scripture passages about Satan’s current activity for the impossibility that Satan is currently bound and unable to deceive the nations. He argues against the idea that the first resurrection in Revelation 20 refers to regeneration. He argues in favor of a 1,000 year millennium. And he argues in favor of a chronological reading of Revelation 19 and 20.
John MacArthur contributed three essays to this volume, including a version of his controversial address about why Calvinists should be Premillennialists. His other essays address the timing of the last things. He opposes both preterism and date-setting, but he affirms the general dispensational sequence. In another essay he argues that no New Testament passage precludes the premillinnial position.
Richard Mayhue’s contributions were the weakest. At several points his chapters read like speaking notes in which greater explanation would have been provided in the course of the lecture. These parts were written in a bullet point fashion that succinctly stated his position, but he needed to provide greater development and argumentation for his assertions. MacArthur and Mayhue also repeatedly make the error of appealing to literal interpretation as if it settled the debate. This was especially disappointing because Vlach demonstrated this line of argumentation to be erroneous in the book’s first chapter.
This book is for a lay reader who wishes to have a basic orientation to dispensational premillennialism (the authors have coined the term futuristic premillennailism, which is an odd choice since historic premillennialists also believe that the millennium is future). Those who wish to dig deeper into this perspective of eschatology would want to track down the sources listed in the endnotes.
Figes, Orlando. The Crimean War: A History. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.
Figes does an excellent job not only recounting the war but also describing its causes (especially the religious dimensions) and its effects.
Murray, Iain H. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981. Banner of Truth, 1990.
An 800 page biography that covers forty years of a man’s life cannot be reduced to a theme or two. Nonetheless two themes especially struck me as I read Murray’s sympathetic, yet not uncritical, biography of David Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
The first was the importance that Lloyd-Jones placed on preaching. I found myself encouraged to value to a greater extent the preaching that I hear each week. Lloyd-Jones’s thoughts on the new technology of cassette tapes are also worthy of consideration. Though he permitted his sermons to be taped, he did register a concern that sermons played in the background as people do other things may lead to a devaluing of the Word preached. Furthermore, such preserved preaching cannot replace the gathered church listening to a sermon.
The second theme that pushed itself to the fore was Lloyd-Jones’s concern for true church unity. He believed that the false unity of the ecumenical movement made it necessary for evangelicals to develop a theology of true Christian unity. Sadly, the true unity was shattered by those evangelicals who insisted on participating in the ecumenical movement and thus broke ties with Christians who could not give Christian recognition to unbelievers nor work with unbelievers on Christian endeavors. While Lloyd-Jones was doubtless correct in his general stance, he did fail to clearly articulate his alternative. He seemed to desire some form of visible, organizational unity that was neither a new denomination nor merely a parachurch organization.
All in all, Murray has written a thought-provoking biography that remains timely. Highly recommended.
Stapert, Calvin R. A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.
Historical theology provides a great service to the church, especially when applied to matters that are fiercely debated among God’s people today. C. S. Lewis, in his famous celebration of old books, observes that the errors of older writers "are not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing." Calvin Stapert’s, A New Song for an Old World, provides this service to the present-day debate over church music. By ushering them into the old world, Stapert hopes to give readers a fuller perspective on their own.
Stapert begins by extending Lewis’s argument. He first provides a more theological reason for understanding the thought of earlier Christians: obedience to the command to honor one’s father and mother—applied here by extension to our spiritual forebears—of necessity involves understanding what these spiritual parents thought. In addition to this (and here Stapert gives some specificity to Lewis’s practical observation), the Enlightenment has so influenced Christian thought on music that a pre-Enlightenment perspective on music becomes important for Christians. Stapert’s point is not that all post-Enlightenment music or thought on music is problematic. His point is Lewis’s: Christians will find it more difficult to evaluate post-Enlightenment music and thought without knowing the earlier views.
The body of the book begins with a survey of New Testament musical teaching and example. Stapert highlights two major themes in biblical song: rejoicing and triumph balanced by sorrowful cries for mercy. He also distinguishes biblical song from pagan songs which were used to summon divine beings. Christian songs call upon God, but they have no magical power. New Testament songs also have two audiences: God and other believers. Finally, Stapert notes that the emphasis on the unity that characterized New Testament and early church practice of teaching and singing. Singing together with one voice made audible the unity of the church.
The core of the book surveys early church thought on church music from the second through the fifth centuries. A survey of the second and early third centuries is followed by more detailed studies of Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian. This pattern is repeated with a survey of the late third through fifth centuries once again followed by two more detailed studies: Ambrose and Chrysostom. Two chapters then summarize the findings. Positively, the fathers urged their people to sing songs and hymns to familiarize them with sound doctrine and to guard them against heresy, to calm negative passions to raise their affections toward God, and to praise the Creator and Savior. Negatively, the fathers polemicized against pagan music. They did not target all music of unbelievers; they "aimed no polemic at the nobler art music or the folk music of their day" (145). Their critiques were "aimed at a few well defined targets: the music of the popular public spectacles, the music associated with voluptuous banqueting, the music associated with pagan weddings, and the music of pagan religious rites and festivities" (145). They described the music they rejected as "licentious, voluptuous, frenzied, frantic, inebriating, titillating, scurrilous, turbulent, immodest, and meretricious" (54, here describing Clement of Alexandria’s writings). They were concerned that his music would deform a person’s character and would arouse deformed passions that were governed by neither reason nor love (55, 86-90). Interestingly, this view of music remained constant despite the variety of views about pagan culture. The critique of pagan music existed in both Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian.
Stapert concludes the body of the work with a chapter on Augustine and inordinate loves. Augustine warns that beautiful sacred music can be dangerous because it draws the mind from God to the music itself. This is a sin, not because such music is not to be loved, but because no earthly thing is to be loved for its own sake. All earthly goods are to be loved as vehicles to love God. Stapert shares the concerns of those who wish to guard against an asceticism which shirks from taking delight in God’s good creation, but he also thinks that Augustine’s discussion of ordering loves contains important insights from which modern readers will especially benefit.
Though Stapert’s work is primarily historical, he does not write for mere antiquarian interest. He believes the contemporary church needs to recover the musical insight of the early church. His concluding chapter, a postlude he calls it, asks what the early church can teach the present-day church. Positively, Stapert hopes for four things: (1) a recovery of the centrality of the psalms in worship, (2) the incorporation of the best patristic hymn texts in our worship, (3) contemporary hymns modeled on ancient hymns—"texts that address God communally in language that is simple yet dignified, poetically excellent, and redolent with scriptural vocabulary, stories, sentiments, and imagery" (194), (4) a recovery of psalm and hymn singing as a part of the Christian’s daily life. Negatively, Stapert hopes that modern Christians will follow the church fathers in rejecting pagan music. He especially hopes the father’s reasoning about music will puncture three modern myths: (1) "It’s just a song"—and therefore no ethical concerns should be raised, (2) music is a creation of God and therefore no ethical criticism may be mounted, and (3) "if we wish to see the church grow, we must adopt the music of the ambient culture" (199).
A New Song in an Old World is a work of scholarship aimed at serving the church. It deserves a wide reading in the hope that it would make a small contribution toward Christians singing together with one voice that makes audible the unity of the church in Christ by the Spirit.
Marsden, George M. "Perry Miller’s Rehabilitation of the Puritans: A Critique." In Reckoning With the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. Edited by D.G. Hart. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995.
Marsden gladly grants that Miller’s main thesis—that the Puritans were rational humanists concerned with the intellect (though not to the exclusion of piety)—stands. But Marsden argues that Miller minimizes aspects of Puritanism that moderns may find "unattractive," namely, "Puritan biblicism, doctrinal formulations, emphasis on the place of Christ, and their Calvinism" (26). Minimizing these aspects of Puritanism, Marsden argues, causes Miller to distort his treatment of the Puritan view of the covenant. He treats their covenant theology as a softening of Calvinism (Marsden maintains that Miller rehabilitated the Puritans but consistently embraced caricatures of Calvin’s thought) and to misunderstand the careful distinctions between the covenants of works and grace in Puritan thought.
Stout, Harry S. "Word and Order in Colonial New England." In Reckoning With the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. Edited by D.G. Hart. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995.
Stout argues that the Puritans, especially those in New England, shifted from the Geneva Bible to the KJV because the notes of the former presented the Old Testament in personal, spiritualized terms whereas by the time of New England’s settlement, the Puritans had a more developed covenant theology that made room for national covenants modeled on those with Israel. This led to a more literal, historical reading of the Old Testament since Israel was now needed as a model for the political functioning of the Puritan government. Stout’s essay includes a good thumbnail history of the Geneva Bible.
Svigel, Michael J. “The Apocalypse of John and the Rapture of the Church: A Reevaluation.” Trinity Journal 22, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 23-74.
Micahel Svigel surveys attempts to locate the rapture in the book of Revelation. He rejects Rev. 3:10; 4:1-2; 4:4; 5:9-10; 7:9-17; 11:11-19; 14:14-20; 19:11-20:6. He then argues that Revelation 12:5 is the sole passage in Revelation that presents the rapture of the church. Svigel understands the woman in Revelation 12 to be the elect remnant of Israel (with a possible secondary application to Mary), the dragon to be Satan and, corporately, the nations throughout history who have opposed God’s people, and the male child to be Jesus Christ and his corporate body, the church. He identifies the catching up of the child to God and his throne as the rapture. Svigel does not deal explicitly with the timing of the rapture in this article, though his discussion of 19:11-20:6 does preclude a post-tribulation rapture.
Svigel’s arguments against locating the rapture in other places in Revelation were convincing, except in the case of Revelation 3:10. He concedes more than necessary to contrary positions. Svigel himself seems to think that this passage is at least a cooborative passage. His argument against the post-tribulational Rapture in 19:11-20:6 is strong. The main argument of the paper, that Revelation 12:5 presents the rapture of the church, is forcefully made and interesting.
Arguments against a Post-Tribulational Rapture in Rev. 19:11-20:6: After noting that the rapture is not mentioned in this passage (not a decisive factor), Svigel notes that if one grants the premillennial contention that Revelation19:11-20:6 is chronological and sequential, the post-tribulational position has to wrestle with the occurrence of the resurrection(/Rapture?) at a time after the Second Coming and defeat of God’s enemies (Rev. 20:4). This does not easily harmonize with 1 Thess. 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:52 which "make the descent of Christ, the trumpet, and the resurrection/Rapture all simultaneous events" (50-51). In addition, those coming with Christ in 19:14 are resurrected saints (contra Ladd, who sees them as angelic hosts; see Svigel, 51 for arguments). Thus saints must have been raptured/resurrected before the return of Christ. Finally, the antecedent to the third person plural in "and I saw thrones, and they sat on them" (2:4, NKJV, cf. NASB) is best understood to be Christ and the saints who came with him. This means those resurrected in 20:4 are best understood as saints who died during the tribulation. There is thus a distinction between already raptured/resurrected saints who return to earth with Christ and saints who died during the tribulation and are resurrected afterwards.
Warfield, Benjamin B. “Hosea VI.7: Adam or Man?” In Selected Shorter Writings, edited by John E. Meeter, 1:116-29. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970.
In this article Warfield surveys the translational and interpretive positions taken on this text from the the LXX and Targums to the critics of his own day.
He notes that the ancient translations and interpreters were divided over translating the word in question as a common noun or a proper noun down through to the time of the Reformation. The emergence of federal or covenant theology inclined federal theologians toward the translation "like Adam." But, Warfield notes, most were fair in recognizing the translational difficulties and did not rest their entire theology on this one verse. It served them in a more confirmatory role than in a foundational role.
The modern critics, satisfied with neither the common noun nor personal name options propose various emendations. Michaelis conjecturally emended the word to read "Edom" and interpreted the sense as Edom’s abandonment of the Abrahamic covenant. Others suggested that "Adam" refers to the city mentioned in Joshua 3:16 and that this city Adam was the location of the events of Numbers 25. Others suggest emending the text from ke’ādhām to bā’adāmah, that is, to "in the land," meaning in Judah. In favor of this view is the word "there" in the second half of the verse.
Though Warfield finds the place name proposition attractive because of the presence of "there" in the second half of the verse, he does not see how it can be adopted as the text now stands. It is true that an emendation from a כ to a ב (letters easily confused) would solve the problem, but there is no evidence of such a corruption in any of the manuscripts or versions. Warfield therefore proposes that the principle of allowing the more difficult reading to stand tells against emending the text. Warfield is also suspicious that the push to emend the text stems from the bias of the modern interpreters: "Speaking broadly, these critics are agreed that an allusion to Adam’s sin in Hosea would be too unexpected to be admitted. . . . The very name Adam we are told occurs very seldom in the Old Testament, and only in certain later strata of its formation: his sin is not emphasized and the sinfulness of man is not traced back to it; least of all is the transaction between God and Adam in the Old Testament called, or thought of, as a covenant" (125). Warfield notes the modern critics are biased against understanding the term as Adam, but though they wish another interpretation, they are not satisfied by taking the disputed term as a common noun. Hence the other expedients such as emendation.
Since Warfield, is not satisfied with the arguments for emendation, and since taking the noun as a common noun has not gained wide consent, this pushes Warfield toward accepting it as the personal name Adam. He is confirmed in this position upon further examination of the common noun reading. He notes that "the translation, ‘They have transgressed as if a man’s covenant’ may be pronounced at once impossible, because forcing a construction upon the Hebrew which it cannot fairly be made to bear. But on the other hand the translation, ‘they have like men transgressed the covenant’ remains vapid and meaningless until a sense beyond the suggestion of the words themselves is forced upon it." That is they must be "mere men, as opposed to God, or as common men as opposed to the noble . . . or as heathen as opposed to the Israelites—to none of which does it seem naturally to lend itself here" (127). In the end the rendering "like Adam" does not face the exegetical difficulties of the other renderings. "Any difficulties that may be brought against it, indeed, are imported from without the clause itself. In itself the rendering is wholly natural" (128).
Warfield, Benjamin B. “Jesus Christ the Propitiation for the Whole World.” In Selected Shorter Writings, edited by John E. Meeter, 1:167-77. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970.
Warfield surveys various interpretive options for 1 John 2:2. He rejects standard theories such as world stands for Christians scattered throughout the world (on the grounds that John is already speaking so generally that the "our" already encompasses all Christians) or that Christ is the propitiation for all men but not the advocate of all men (on the grounds that it empties "the conception of propitiation of its properly expiatory content"). Warfield suggests that John is emphasizing the universal nature of Jesus’s saving work. He has come to save the entire world, which does not mean that every individual will be saved, but it does give in broad terms the scope of his saving activity. Perhaps. But at least one of Warfield’s critiques is deserving of critique. Like John Owen Warfield makes the argument that the sin of rejecting Christ is propitiated by Jesus as well as every other sin, so a general atonement tends toward universalism (172). This is based on the assertion that "the propitiation . . . not merely lays a foundation for a saving operation, to follow or not follow as circumstances may determine. It itself saves" (174). But this conflates the accomplishment and the application of the propitiation, and that causes theological problems, for it would mean that the elect ceased to be under the wrath of God at the time of the crucifixion (contrary to Ephesians 2). It is best, therefore, to keep the accomplishment of propitiation and its application to individuals separate.
Warfield, Benjamin B. “True Church Unity: What It Is.” In Selected Shorter Writings, edited by John E. Meeter, 1:299-307. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970.
Warfield believes that the unity of the church is visible. But it does not exist in a single universal church government since such a government did not exist in the time of the New Testament. Nor is it "grounded in uniformity of organization, forms of worship, or even details of faith." Warfield detects legitimate variation on these elements in the New Testament church. Nor is it grounded in apostolic origin, for the New Testament does not evince any care of who founded the churches or Rome or Alexandria or Antioch. "In a word, the unity of the apostolic churches was grounded on the only thing they had in common—their common Christianity. Its bond was the common reception of the Holy Spirit, which exhibited itself in one calling, one faith, one baptism" (302). Thus Christians should not seek unity by attempting to include all Christians in one organization, or with a single form of government or worship, or through attempting to establish some apostolic succession. "Least of all, are we to seek unity by surrendering all public or organized testimony to all truth except that minimum which—just because it is the minimum, less than which no man can believe and be a Christian—all Christians of all names can unite in confessing" (305). Rather, "If we are to find the unity for which our Master prayed, we are to seek it in our common relation as Christians to our common head . . . as mediated by our common possession of one Spirit" (305). In practical terms Warfield says this means recognizing as Christian all gospel-proclaiming denominations, a firm commitment to God’s truth as that which all his people should confess, cooperation in good works with brothers in Christ, and formal means of working together as denominations for the pursuance of common ends "so far as such federation involves no sacrifice of principle or testimony" (307).
Saucy, Robert L. "Israel and the Church: A Case for Discontinuity." In Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments. Edited by John S. Feinberg. Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988.
Saucy’s article is more nuanced that Woudstra’s counterpoint essay in the same volume. Despite the chapter title, Saucy argues for both continuity and discontinuity in the relationship of Israel and the church. Continuity exists in the fact that both the Israel and the church are called the people of God. Furthermore, many of the images for Israel are carried over to the church. Nonetheless, the church and Israel are distinct entities. Israel is a national entity, and it retains this significance in the New Testament notwithstanding a few debated passages (Gal 6:16; Rom. 9:6). Saucy presents abbreviated but compelling arguments against understanding these passages or the application of Israel symbols on the church to communicate the replacement of Israel with the church. Saucy further argues that Israel will maintain its role of mediating revelation and furthering God’s plan of salvation in the future.
VanDrunen, David. "A System of Theology? The Centrality of Covenant for Westminster Systematics." In The Pattern Of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology At The Westminster Seminaries. Edited by David VanDrunen. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004.
VanDrunen surveys the approach to systematic theology at the Westminster seminaries in light of Otto Weber’s criterion that a true system of theology should have a central "principle" that "contains potentially the one and total content which is ten explain in greater detail in the systematic exposition" (199). VanDrunen finds Westminster systematics to be heavy on exegesis and to lack a central principle around which the synthesis of systematic theology should take place. While affirming the need for exegetical grounding, VanDrunen argues that covenant can serve as the unifying central principle of a Westminster systematic theology. He then sketches out how the covenant can center prolegomena, theology proper, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and ethics. If systematic theology must have a central dogma, the covenant concept is certainly a contender. But VanDrunen fails to establish why Weber’s criterion is correct. This is especially important in light of Richard Muller’s expose of neo-orthodox attempts to impose central dogma’s on Lutheran and Reformed Orthodox theologies where none existed. If the Protestant Orthodox did not conceive of theology in terms of central dogmas, what is the compelling reason for Westminster theologians to begin now?
Warfield, Benjamin B. “The Resurrection of Christ a Historical Fact.” In Selected Shorter Writings, edited by John E. Meeter, 1:116-29. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970.
Warfield mounts an apologetic for the resurrection by arguing that even if the Christian limits himself to the Pauline epistles granted by the critics to be authentic, testimony to the resurrection can be shown to be early and widespread.
Monson, John M. “Enter Joshua: The ‘Mother of Current Debates’ in Biblical Archaeology.” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
Well over a century ago scholars like C. H. Toy, scholars who began their careers in conservative schools, began to doubt the scientific and historical accuracy of Scripture. They took Genesis to be an accommodation to prescientific man. They adopted critical methods for understanding the composition the Old Testament books, casting doubt on the historical veracity of the Old Testament materials. And they argued that the New Testament authors adopted rabbinic methods of interpretation that caused them to misinterpret Old Testament texts as they applied them to Jesus as Messiah. Men like Toy professed personal piety, and they insisted on their belief in the basic message of Scripture. Nonetheless, they argued that Christian scholarship must adapt itself to the intellectual realities of their time. Their deviations form orthodoxy set off the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. Now, these many decades later, Peter Enns and Kenton Sparks are replaying the controversy. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? is a response to the claims of Enns and Sparks that evangelicals must finally capitulate to the modernists.
John Monson’s article addresses the historicity of Joshua. In the face of those who claim that no archaeological evidence for any kind of invasion from Israel exists, Monson argues that a closer reading of the Scripture text reveals that the conquest of Canaan was a more modest affair than the Albright school made it out to be (e.g., the text only claims that the Israelites burned three cities in the course of the conquest). When this is taken into account, the archaeology does fit with kind of conquest presented in Scripture. Monson uses Ai as a case study for showing how archaeology and a close reading of the text work together. Whether Monson’s reconstruction is the correct one (he footnotes an alternative solution by Bryant Wood; see his Rice lectures at DBTS), he does demonstrate at least one plausible interpretation of both the textual and archaeological evidence.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. “Christus Victor Et Propitiator: The Death of Christ, Substitute and Conqueror.” In For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, 171-189. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
Oftentimes the Christus Victor atonement theme and the propitiatory nature of Christ’s atonement are set against each other. Ferguson notes that within the Reformed tradition, the debate between Anselm and Abelard set the parameters of the theological discussion, that Puritan theology tended to focus on the Christian’s battle and triumph over Satan rather than Christ’s, and that those in the Reformed tradition recognized the problems with the patristic explanation of how Christ conquered the devil. More recently evangelicals have recognized the problematic denial of a satisfaction view of the atonement in Aulen’s Christus Victor. Nonetheless, Ferguson argues that Christ’s victory over Satan remains an important aspect of the atonement. He traces this theme through the gospels and epistles to demonstrate not only that Christ’s victory over Satan is present in Scripture but also that his propitiatory sacrifice is the means by which Christ triumphs over Satan. When Christ stands in the place of the sinner, satisfies the wrath of God, and frees him from death and the power of sin, he frees him from the dominion of Satan and triumphs over him. Chistus Victor is not an alternative to penal substitutionary atonement, for penal substitutionary atonement is the mechanism of the victory.
VanGemeren, Willem A., and Jason Stanghelle. “A Critical-Realistic Reading of the Psalm Titles: Authenticity, Inspiration, and Evangelicals.” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
The authors begin with a survey of evangelical scholarship on the issue of Psalm titles. Most evangelicals have not attempted to argue that the Psalm titles are inspired, though several have argued for their general reliability and even an early affixation to the Psalms. The authors then note that the real problem with the Psalm titles is the variation (and occasional contradiction) found between the Masoretic text, Qumran texts, and the Septuagint. This is followed by a very brief discussion of the canon which serves to emphasize that canonical books developed in a historical process, and that they sometimes existed in different editions (here the differences between the Hebrew and the Greek versions of Jeremiah are appealed to). Thus the titles to the Psalms may be canonical even if they were added to the book at a later date. In the end, they conclude "the titles are authentic, not because the titles are original or because the psalms were written by David, but because of their relationship to the Davidic vox. . . . Like the voice of Jesus in the Gospels and that of Moses in the Pentateuch, we hear the voice of David in the Psalter. The titles are authentic in the sense that they were part of a historical process of editing that led to its final canonical shape. As such they have great authority in helping us to interpret the Psalter, and they form the canonical function pointing us back to the Davidic persona within the Psalter" (300).
This essay contains a number of weaknesses. Foremost is a failure to set out a theology of canonicity to serve as a check on the thesis they are proposing. There is no doubt that the books of Psalms and Proverbs developed over time in ways that Galatians certainly did not. But what are the theological limits to this development? How do doctrines such as inspiration relate to the development of canonical books? Earlier in the book Graham Cole warns against "historyless" systematic theology, but there is also the danger of an atheological approach to historical matters. Second, how closely connected is the vox of David connected to the verba of David. It is one thing to say that the verba of Jesus, spoken in Aramaic, is rendered in Greek and summarized so that the Sermon on the Mount is not a verbatim record such as would have been recorded by a stenographer but a sometimes periphrastic summary of what Jesus said. It is another thing to say that Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount but that it preserves his "voice," it resonates with the kinds of things that he said. An evangelical view of the vox of Jesus would, it seems, need to operate with the first view. But with written material, such as the Psalms references to the vox of David would seem to fall into the latter paradigm (it would seem odd to argue that a late writer paraphrased David’s poetry into a new poem). This raises a third question, do the authors understand ledawid to indicate authorship or not? If yes, their view would seem to raise theological problems, if no, there seems little theological problems. Finally, the authors should have done a more thorough job of stating why they feel driven to deny Davidic verba for many of the Psalms and argue for a Davidic vox that points toward a Davidic "persona." The variations in the manuscript traditions are obviously a key factor. But why do they drive the authors to this solution? In the end this essay lacked the necessary argumentation to demonstrate that the proposed solution was both historically necessary and theologically acceptable.
Millard, Alan R. “Daniel in Babylon: An Accurate Record?” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, 263-80. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
In this essay, Alan Millard helpfully summarizes alleged problems with Daniel’s historicity and proposed solutions.
Date of the Exile: On an initial reading the date Daniel gives for the exile in 1:1 is too early. But by understanding different ways of calculating years provides a way of harmonizing Daniel’s chronology with secular chronology.
Nebuchadnezzar’s Madness: Millard notes that a records of Nebuchadnezzar’s life in the non-biblical records provides space in which Nebuchadnezzar’s madness may have occurred. He also provides precedent for mentally deranged monarchs retaining their thrones.
Use of Chaldean to refer to a class of people: Millard argues that there is a possible parallel situation with the term Magi, which designated a Median tribe as well as a class of people. He further notes that Chaldean was not used as an ethnic term in contemporary non-Biblical records. So there is no textual basis for claiming the term could have only been used in one way during the time of Daniel.
Belshazzar: Some claim that it is inappropriate to identify him as a king, but Millard demonstrates that term was used of lesser rulers at that time. Second, some argue that it is inappropriate to identify Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar’s son since he was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Millard notes that the evidence is not full enough to rule out the relation.
Darius the Mede: Daniel identifies him as the conquer of Babylon while historically it is clear that Cyrus conquered Babylon. Millard interprets Daniel 6:28 as equating Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Persian (cf. 1 Chron. 5:26).
Satraps: Herodotus says Darius I created twenty of these whereas Daniel says Darius the Mede/Cyrus created 120 of them. Millard says the term may be flexible enough to indicate different administrative divisions.
Language: Driver had argued that the use of Greek words and Aramaic pointed toward a date of authorship after the conquest of Alexander the Great. Millard notes subsequent discoveries have demonstrated that such a conclusion from the language is not necessary.
Overall, Millard demonstrates that the evangelical claims for Daniel’s accuracy need not give way to critical reconstructions as Sparks claims.
Schultz, Richard. “Isaiah, Isaiahs, and Current Scholarship.” In Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.
A certain segment of ostensibly evangelical authors are adopting an increasingly harsh tone toward evangelicals who resist the conclusions of modernist scholars. Kenton Sparks claims that conservative evangelicals maintain their position for the following reasons: "theological immaturity, an overly pastoral focus, a ‘desire to sell books to conservative readers,’ a self-protective impulse (i.e., seeking to retain their teaching posts at conservative institutions), and poor training and a general lack of knowledge regarding contemporary critical scholarship," (260, n. 80, summarizing Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words, 167-68). Evidently Sparks finds it impossible to believe that any well-educated scholar would continue to believe Scripture’s self-testimony and historically orthodox doctrine when it conflicts with whatever happens to be the current critical (and typically unbelieving) scholarly consensus.
In this essay Richard Schultz defends the integrity of Isaiah from attacks by Sparks in his God’s Word in Human Words and by John Halsey Wood in an article critiquing O. T. Allis’s defense of Isaiah’s unity. Wood argues that since Allis allowed that Moses used sources in constructing the Pentateuch and allowed for post-Mosaic updating, it was inconsistent for him to adhere to a unified Isaiah. Wood thinks that Allis is wrongly motivated by a desire to maintain the predictive quality Isaiah. He further thinks that while prophets were able to predict the future there is no compelling reason to affirm that they actually did so. Wood also critiques Allis’s messianic reading of Isaiah 53. He says that since Allis acknowledged that Deuteronomy 18 envisioned a succession of prophets culminating in a Messiah, he should be willing to concede the same for Isaiah 53. Sparks objects to the unity of Isaiah on the grounds that the earlier part of the book is addressing those in Judah threatened by Assyria whereas the latter part of the book is addressed to the Babylonian exiles in the next century. He also finds it hard to believe that detailed prophecies would have been given to people who lived so long after the prophecies were given. He thinks the prophecies in Isaiah were genuine prophecies, but he argues they were delivered at a much closer time period to the events that they address. Next, Sparks notes Isaiah is named 16x in chapters 1-39 whereas he is not named at all in the latter half of the book. In addition, he argues that Jeremiah’s silence regarding Isaiah’s prophecies demonstrates the latter half of the book had not been written by Jeremiah’s time. Sparks also argues that differences in emphases and styles point to multiple authors. Finally, Sparks says "a sober and serious reading of Isaiah" can only lead to a rejection of the traditional view and an embrace of the critical consensus.
Schultz responds to each of these claims. He notes that acknowledging the possible use of sources for the construction of the patriarchal narratives or the later updating of place names is a far cry from saying a large section of a book was added well over a hundred years later by one or more authors.
Schultz also argues that Allis was not solely motivated by a desire to defend the predictive quality of Isaiah. He does note that the text makes the claim that God fulfills the predictions of his prophets—a claim Allis wished to affirm. This is major claim in the book of Isaiah and one that Schultz could have stressed more in his defense. In response to Sparks’ similar claim, Schultz notes that some of Isaiah 40-66 may be addressing Assyrian exiles in Isaiah’s day. He note that some verses do not fit well with the end of Babylonian exile (e.g., Isa. 43:28).
Schultz responds to Wood’s argument regarding Isaiah 53 by noting the great differences between Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 53 make it perfectly plausible to see a prophecy of a succession of prophets in the one and a detailed messianic prophecy in the other. It is not an inconsistency to affirm this.
Schultz finds the argument form the distribution of Isaiah’s name a weak argument considering that many of the occurrences of Isaiah’s name in chapters 1-39 occur in the narrative section in which he is a character. In addition, there are large stretches of text in the first part of the book in which his name does not occur.
The argument that Jeremiah does not reference the latter chapters of Isaiah is doubly weak. In the first place it is an argument from silence—a silence that might be expected given that scholars still discuss the silence of the eighth century prophets regarding their contemporaries, not to mention Jeremiah’s own (often commented upon) silence regarding Josiah. But in addition to the fact that a silence might be expected, Schultz notes that a number of scholars claim they see a dependence of Deutero-Isaiah upon Jeremiah. If the presumption of order is challenged, then there may indeed be evidence for Jeremiah’s recognition of the latter part of Isaiah.
Regarding differences in emphasizes and styles, Schultz demonstrates from the work of Christopher Seitz and others that many of these arguments are now doubted. It seems that Sparks himself recognizes this to be among his weaker arguments.
Sparks’ claim that a "sober and serious reading of Isaiah" can only result in adopting his own conclusions is more bluster than argument. Schultz nevertheless engages it. He selects a few examples from critical scholars who divide up a single passage among into several redaction layers (thus seeing not three but a multitude of authors contributing to Isaiah. He examines the presuppositions of such an approach (e.g., "that a prophet would not reuse, allude to, or elaborate upon his own (earlier) oracles," 256) to demonstrate that such readings are neither sober nor serious.
At the very least Schultz demonstrates that respectable argument can be made for the integrity of Isaiah. This being the case, the question is raised why Sparks and other left-leaning evangelicals are so vitriolic in their opposition to the conservative position? Why the questioning of motives, the impugning of scholarship? Why the name-calling? Why the denigration of pastoral care?
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation. Edited by Timothy McDermott. Allen, TX: Christian Classics, 1989. pp. 541-500 (III.60-90).
McDermott has reformatted and abridged the Summa from Thomas’s scholastic form into a more modern paragraph form that focuses on Thomas’s affirmative teaching. This concise translation cannot, of course, replace the unabridged Summa in its original form, but it does provide a helpful summary of Thomas’s thought in his own words.