Bock, Darrell L. Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News. Nashville, B&H, 2010. [Skimmed]
Bock’s goal in this book is to rescue the gospel from reductionism. He notes the tendency of some churches to reduce the gospel to a therapeutic that meets various personal needs and of others that makes it a transaction for getting to heaven with little more about the Christian life that follows. Bock defines the gospel as "the good news that God’s promised rule of deliverance has arrived. To experience the kingdom Jesus preached is to experience God’s presence. Jesus died so His work could clear the way for a fresh work of God’s grace (Titus 2:11-14)" (1). Bock affirms that the cross is central to the gospel, but he says it is central like the hub of a wheel with spokes that emanate from it.
Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master: A Biblical Theology of Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
Wilkins has provided a comprehensive theology of discipleship. He surveys Old Testament and inter-testamental background to the concept of discipleship, Jesus’s model of discipleship, the unique contribution of each of the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles to the concept, and the way the concept developed in the post-apostolic period. Wilkins closes with practical application to Christians and churches today.
Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained. Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.
Basic to Wolters’s argument is that all people function with a comprehensive worldview that covers every aspect of life. If a person’s worldview ought to be shaped by Scripture, then Scripture must speak to every area of life. In other words, since worldviews are comprehensive, Scripture’s authority and scope must be comprehensive as well. In the remainder of the book Wolters sketches what a comprehensive Christian worldview looks like.
He summarizes the Christian worldview under the categories of creation, fall, and redemption. In the chapter on creation, Wolters emphasizes that God created the world with laws. One may speak of laws of nature. These were put in place and are upheld by the creator God. The same is true for norms. There are certain moral norms, relational norms, or norms that practitioners of various disciplines must adhere to. Wolters brings laws and norms together under the umbrella of creational law. These norms, relevant to all aspects of life, are discerned through wisdom. In some of these areas, Scripture speaks directly. In others it provides the corrective lens by which the Christian can properly understand general revelation. At the root all creation (and the norms that govern it) is good.
Yet there is a major problem: the fall. The effects of the fall are comprehensive: no area of life is untouched. It is for this reason that Scripture uses the term world to refer to “the totality of unredeemed life dominated by sin outside of Christ” (64, citing Ridderbos). Wolters concludes from this that worldliness cannot be restricted to a secular realm of life. It is a danger in every aspect of life.
Wolters’s emphasis on the comprehensiveness of the fall may seem to stand in tension with his claim of the comprehensive goodness of creation. He introduces the categories of structure and direction to deal with this tension. Structure refers to the essence of a thing, and it is rooted in creational laws. Direction refers to the degree to which a creational entity (and given Wolters’s broad view of creation this can refer both to the natural order and to human institutions) is perverted by the fall or is being brought back to conformity to creational law.
The solution to the problem of fall is redemption. Wolters argues that "redemption means restoration" (69). Furthermore, the scope of the restoration is as wide as the scope of the fall. The man, Jesus, plays the key role in restoring creation. The establishment of his kingdom is the evidence that redemption or restoration has begun. And yet the kingdom is not yet consummated. In this already-not yet time, Christians are to attempt to live redemptively in every area of life, that is, they are to live consistent with the restoration that Christ is accomplishing in them and that he will one day fully accomplish in the world.
In his final chapter Wolters attempts a practical outworking of “discerning structure and direction” in both societal and personal arenas. Before he works through his examples, however, he makes an important distinction between “revolution” and “reformation.” According to Wolters, the Christian ought not use violence to effect a revolution in the hope of ushering in a utopia. No utopia is possible before the return of Christ. Instead the Christian seizes on what is good in a particular order and strengthens it; he seeks to bend fallen aspects of life back toward the correct creational norms.
The second edition of Creation Regained includes a postscript coauthored by Wolters and Michael Goheen. They are concerned to locate this talk of worldview in the Bible’s storyline. Because the Christian lives in the era in which the kingdom has been inaugurated but not yet consummated, this is a time of witness. It is not a time in which Christians will finally triumph. In fact, the already-not yet means that Christians presently undergo suffering and conflict because the antithesis between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is sharpened in this period. This means that the Christian must struggle with the tension of applying the gospel to his specific culture while not allowing his culture to compromise the gospel. The difficulties in living out a Christian worldview are beyond the abilities of Christians, but the Spirit of God is given to empower obedience and faithfulness.
In sum, Wolters argues that creation extends to all that God creates and maintains (it includes the natural order and structures humans develop in obedience to the creation mandate), fall affects every aspect of creation, and redemption extends as far as the fall to restore creation. This is not a triumphalist gospel in the present, for in the time between the ages there is sharp conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world as God’s people seek to live redemptively in this fallen world.
Wolters’s work includes a number of concepts that prove helpful not only in Christianity and culture discussions but also in advancing broader biblical and theological understanding.
Wolters gathers under the rubric creational law natural laws, the law revealed in Scripture, and God’s specific purposes for creation or individuals. He supports this view by highlighting Scripture passages in which these seemingly diverse concepts are brought together (2 Peter 3:5, 7; Ps. 148:8; 147:15-20; 1 Tim. 4:3-4; Rom. 13:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13; Ps. 19:1-4; Acts 14:17; Rom. 1:18-20; Rom. 2:14-15). On the theological side, the payoff is that this approach to creational law strengthens the canonical links between the Pentateuch and wisdom books by showing that the law and the wisdom books (especially Proverbs) demonstrate the concrete application of creational norms to specific cultural situations. The other benefit of this approach is that it forces Christians to realize that various aspects of fallen culture struggle against creational law. This is obvious on matters such as homosexual “marriage” about which Scripture clearly speaks, but it may also be occurring on matters such as modern art or certain musical styles. Thus awareness of creational law can put Christians on-guard against uncritically accepting fallen aspects of culture; it alerts Christians to the need of applying Scripture with Spirit-guided wisdom to every aspect of life.
Structure and direction may be the most broadly useful of Wolters’s concepts. If all of creation is good, and if the fall has affected all of creation, how does the Christian discern what is good and what is bad. Or, if a missionary must contextualize his ministry in a new culture, how does he discern what is legitimate and what is compromise? Wolters’s discussion of structure and direction does not answer these questions, but it provides categories that make answering these questions possible. The basic structures of God’s creation are good, but these structures may be twisted in a bad direction or bent back to the good purposes that God has for them. The Christian must therefore wisely discern what is structural, what is directional, and how to live in the right direction.
Salvation as restoration is a key point of disagreement between Wolters and two-kingdoms theorists such as David VanDrunen. Wolters is in the right on this issue. Whereas, VanDrunen sees the resurrection body as the only point of contact between this world and the new earth (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 66), Romans 8:18-25 ties the renewal of the world and the resurrection of the body together. Genesis 8:21 and 2 Peter 3:10-12 are misunderstood if they are deployed to deny restoration. It is part of God’s glory that he reverses the effects of sin rather than throwing away creation and starting over afresh.
Those who agree with Wolters that all of creation needs to be redeemed may be tempted to overthrow the present order and seek to establish the ideal. Wolters’s distinction between reformation and revolution guards against this however. Wolters notes that Christians do not have authorization to effect a revolution. Furthermore, “no given societal order is absolutely corrupt” (92), and no ideal is attainable in this age. Thus, the Christian should do his best to strengthen what is good and undermine evil when he has opportunity. Thus Wolters combines modesty in effecting cultural change with the encouragement for Christians to attempt to improve culture as they are able in their situation.
Though Wolters advocates a role for Christians in the restoration of the world, he does not do so in a triumphalist manner or in one in which humans are at the center of bringing about the promised redemption. Instead, in this age, the Christian who presses for redemption can expect persecution and suffering. With this emphasis Wolters taps into a major biblical theme: Christians as sojourners in this present evil age. It is a strength that Wolters is able to maintain this emphasis alongside his emphasis of Christian attempts to live redemptively in the culture.
Despite its many strengths, a number of weaknesses in Wolters’s work need to be addressed.
Wolters’ extension of creation into areas of human endeavor such as marriage, farming, education, and business is intriguing. He has presented convincing biblical evidence in terms of marriage and farming (and the latter example lends itself to extension in other areas). There also seems to be historical evidence to support his hypothesis. For instance, communism seems to fail because it violates certain creational norms. The same could be said of certain educational theories or business practices. And yet what does it mean to call agriculture, economics, or science "creation"? Is it the norms that are creational? Are the actions, the structures, and/or the products creational? Some additional clarity on this point is needful.
Wolters rightly views redemption as restoration, but because of his broad definition of creation, he argues that the “products of human culture” will be purified and brought into the new creation. This goes beyond the biblical evidence and seems unnecessary even in a redemption-as-restoration paradigm. Clarification on the extent of creation will help in this matter.
Wolters is willing to speak of Christians advancing the kingdom in such areas as "advertising, labor-management relations, education, and international affairs" (76). A Christian who is in a labor union or on a management team must not dichotomize his work from his submission to Christ as Lord, but is working in such a way that the direction of these activities is bent towards their creational norms really advancing the kingdom? In some cases, perhaps. Part of his sanctification (that is, part of his redemption) is to conduct himself as befits a citizen of Christ’s kingdom in all of these areas. But while he may have a sanctifying effect on his lost co-workers in these matters (along the lines of 1 Cor. 7:14), it seems too expansive to say he is establishing God’s kingdom or that he is redeeming certain areas of culture. It would be better to say that he is acting in ways that anticipate the consummation of the kingdom or in ways that are consistent with redemption.
Wolters work would be strengthened by discussion about the role of the church. His book is most helpful for enabling Christians to live Christianly in their vocations six days a week. Yet that is not where the stress of the New Testament lies; its stress lies on the church. It is not wrong to focus elsewhere; indeed theologians have often found it necessary to emphasize things the Bible does not either to defend parts of Christianity that are under attack or to apply Scripture to situations not directly addressed by Scripture. Nonetheless, greater discussion of these areas would strengthen Wolters’s work.
In sum, Creation Regained is full of concepts that will enrich many aspects of Bible study: creational norms, structure and direction, the kingdom, worldliness, and the overlap of the ages. Wolters’ primary weakness is the speculative nature of some of his ideas. The insights he has, however, far outweigh the weaknesses. This is the kind of book that repays repeated, careful, and thoughtful reading.
Murray, Iain H. Wesley and Men Who Followed. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2003.
In this four part work Iain Murray traces the life and ministry of John Wesley, the lives and ministries of three of his Methodist successors, two Methodist doctrines, and the general trajectory of Methodism in history to the present. The classic themes of Murray’s writing ministry are found in this book. Wesley’s life enables Murray to retell the working of God in the Methodist revivals. In telling the stories of three of Wesley’s followers Murray is able to critique the revivalist new measures that emerged in the nineteenth century. Significantly, he is able to demonstrate that Wesleyan Arminians (and not Calvinists only) criticized revivalism, while at the same time seeking true revival. While Murray does think some Calvinists have been too hard on Wesley (he names Dallimore), Murray does critique Wesley’s vacillation on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and his teaching on Christian perfection. In the closing chapter Murray finds in Methodism’s history a warning concerning the deadening effects liberalism has within a denomination. The book is not a didactic discussion of these themes. The thematic elements arise naturally as the narrative unfolds. As with all of Murray’s work, this history is warm, devotional, and aware of the Spirit’s working in the world
Wood, Gordon S. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. The Oxford History of the United States. Edited by David M. Kennedy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Gordon Wood introduces this period of American history with the story of Rip Van Winkle to make the point that the cultural changes that occurred in the period from the end of the Revolutionary War to the end of the War of 1812 are nothing less than astounding. Wood chronicles these changes with illuminating discussions of the intellectual currents of this period, how they influenced the events of this period, and how, in turn, the events made plausible or implausible various ideas about government and society. For instance, the successful War for Independence ushered in an era of greater democracy which alarmed many of the Revolutionary leaders by its excess. Wood argues that the Constitution was designed, in part, to place a check on democratic excesses in the states. Interestingly, this insight provides the backdrop for an explanation for the enigma of James Madison’s alliance with Alexander Hamilton in promoting the Constitution and their rivalry once the new government was formed. Wood argues that Madison wanted the national government to be an umpire that checked the democratic excesses of the state whereas Hamilton wanted to see the United States become a powerful nation equal to Europe.
Wood also does an excellent job covering the religious and moral aspects of this period of American history. Indeed he begins the book with a discussion about why morality is more important for republics than for monarchies. In a monarchy, morality may be imposed from the top down, but in a republic, morality must be embraced by the people at large, lest their vices infect and destroy the nation. In his chapter on religion during this time period Wood does a good job of acknowledging genuinely orthodox figures in this period, of distinguishing the rational religion of many of the leading founders from both deism and orthodox Christianity, and of rightly representing the church and state position of these fathers as welcoming the moralizing influence of religion upon government and society while rejecting sectarian preferences. In other words, on an issue that is currently highly politicized Wood presents a careful, accurate account.
This carefulness and attention to detail is consistent throughout Empire of Liberty and, combined with an engaging writing style, makes this history a very enjoyable read.
Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Bartholomew, Craig G. and Ryan P. O’Dowd. Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction. Downers Grover: InterVarsity, 2011.
This book may be divided into three sections. The first three chapters locate wisdom literature in its ancient context, the last three chapters connect the wisdom literature to Christ, to biblical theology, and to the present. The central section of the book examines the books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Each book receives an overview followed by a study of a specific chapter (Prov. 31, Job 28, and Ecc. 3).
The most helpful features of this book are:
- The effort to distinguish OT wisdom from ANE wisdom (while still recognizing the cultural similarities between the two). This is important because of the claims of OT wisdom itself that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
- Discussions about how the wisdom books relate to each other (e.g., how Proverbs functions alongside Job and Ecclesiastes) and in the broader canon.
- Illuminating chapters on the book of Proverbs and Job 28.
In terms of understanding the particular books, I found the chapter on Proverbs to be excellent. The chapter on Ecclesiastes is headed in the right direction, but I don’t think the tensions between the hebel and carpe diem passages are as great or as unresolved as Bartholomew believes them to be. The chapter on Job seemed off the mark in a number of areas (including the role of Elihu).
Overall, when Bartholomew and O’Dowd were on the mark, they were very helpful.
Goldingay, John. "What Is a Covenant?" In Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.
In this article Goldingay discusses what a covenant is and surveys the various biblical covenants. Aside from his discussion of a creation covenant in connection with the Noah covenant, I did not find the article overly insightful. Regarding a creation covenant, Goldingay says, "The fact that Genesis does not use the word ‘covenant’ until after the flood is unlikely to mean nothing. It suggests there is no need for the formalizing of the relationship between God and the world as a covenant when the relationship is in an unspoiled state. Creation established a natural relationship between God and humanity. . . . Covenants establish relationships where there was no relationship before. In the case of God and humanity, the natural relationship that came about by creation came to be devastated by humanity’s being wrong-minded from youth and by God’s destroying the world. A fresh relationship therefore needs to be established" (115). This is quite a different position from that of Herman Bavinck: "Among rational and moral creatures all higher life takes the form of a covenant. Generally a covenant is an agreement between persons who voluntarily obligate and bind themselves to each other for the purpose of fending off and evil or obtaining a good." But Bavinck goes on to argue that God is so exalted above man as Creator to creature that if there is to be more than a master-slave relation, there must be a covenantal relation established. He says that the rational nature of man presupposes a covenant because it enables God to relate to mankind "not coercively, but with counsel, admonition, warning, invitation, petition." Bavinck, ?:569-70. At this point I lean toward Goldingay’s position, but I don’t wish to dismiss Bavinck hastily.
Pinson, J. Matthew. "Thomas Grantham’s Theology of Atonement and Justification," Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 7-21.
Putman, Rhyne. "Response to J. Matthew Pinson’s ‘Thomas Grantham’s Theology of Atonement and Justification,’" Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 22-24.
Bass, Clint. "Response to J. Matthew Pinson’s ‘Thomas Grantham’s Theology of Atonement and Justification,’" Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 25-28.
Leondard, James. "Response to J. Matthew Pinson’s ‘Thomas Grantham’s Theology of Atonement and Justification,’" Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 29-33.
Pinson, J. Matthew. "Response to Panel," Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry 8, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 34-39.
Matthew Pinson’s article makes the argument that seventeenth century General Baptist Thomas Grantham’s soteriology was Reformed as it pertained to the nature of the atonement (penal substitution) and the doctrine of imputation. Pinson contrast’s Grantham’s views on these matters with John Goodwin, an Arminian scholar who would influence John Wesley. Pinson has two goals in this article. The first is bring greater recognition to Grantham as a Baptist theologian deserving of more scholarly attention. The second is to demonstrate the theological breadth within Arminianism. Not all Arminians are Wesleyan. The responses are largely affirmative of Pinson’s article.
Goldingay, John. "Why Circumcision?" In Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.
Goldingay seems overly concerned to interact with feminist concerns about why the sign of the covenant is only given to males. This modern question intrudes the historical and theological study and skews the discussion.
Murray, John. "The Fear of God." In Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957.
Murray argues that the fear of the Lord is the "soul of godliness" in the New Testament as well as the Old. It is not a concept that may simply be relegated to an earlier, less gracious era. It is thus a concept that is deserving of careful attention. Murray identifies two senses for this phrase: terror/dread and veneration/honor. He argues that terror and dread are appropriate when sin gives people good reason to dread the judgment of God. Christians may fear God for the chastening that must come for disobedience, but their fear is not absolute dread. Christians have a real adoration and awe as those who are continually aware of God’s presence. Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his book is an example of the depth of this awe. This continual sense of God’s presence leads to obedience, Enoch and Abraham being two prime examples.
Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Volume 4. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. [Read Part 1 on calling, regeneration, faith, conversion, justification, sanctification, and perseverance]
Bavinck’s Dogmatics may be the best systematic theology written to date. Even in areas in which the reader may disagree with his conclusions, Bavinck does such a good job of gathering all the relevant biblical data and surveying the various theological options that he provides an excellent starting point for examining a subject.
Bavinck often begins his discussion of a theological topic with a survey of all of the relevant biblical material. He weaves brief summaries of the key verses and passages into coherent paragraphs that provide and outline of the biblical teaching on that topic. This is often done with awareness to redemptive historical development. Bavinck is not engaged in actual exegesis here, but exegesis evidently stands behind his presentation. This biblical survey is followed by a history of the doctrine stretching from the early church up through late nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophy. Bavinck then evaluates the various doctrinal proposals surveyed.
This format is not followed rigidly, but it does describe in general his tendency to move through the exegetical, biblical theological, historical theological, and systematic theological disciplines.