Allen, Diogenes and Eric O. Springsted. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. 2nd ed. Louisville: WJK, 2007.
This book helpfully relates philosophical thought to the theological issues that it impinges upon. It is organized chronologically.
Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce.
Brand, Chad O., ed. Perspectives on Israel and the Church: Four Views. Nashville: B&H, 2015.
This book presents the following four perspectives, (1) the traditional covenantal view by Robert L. Reymond, (2) the traditional dispensational view by Robert L. Saucy, (3) the progressive dispensational view by Robert L. Saucy, and (4) the Progressive Covenantal View (which seems to be loosely parallel to New Covenant Theology) by Chad O. Brand and Tom Pratt, Jr.
Over the years I’ve greatly appreciated Robert Reymond’s writings on Scripture, theology proper, and Christology. I’ve also known that he was staunchly opposed to dispensational theology. However, I was interested to see his response to progressive dispensationalism. I’ve found that too often covenant theologians attack either the most stringent forms of dispensationalism or what they think are the logical consequences of dispensationalism (consequences often denied by the dispensationalists themselves). I thought that a four views format would force closer interaction with what dispensationalists actually claim. I was, however, disappointed. Reymond spent an inordinate amount of space arguing that, despite their protestations, dispensationalists really do believe in two (or multiple) ways of salvation. All dispensational scholars today clearly believe that salvation for all people in all eras by grace alone through faith alone. Reymond, however, fastens on a Dallas Seminary doctrinal statement that makes the object of the faith the promises of God in some eras rather than faith in the Messiah. There are three problems with this focus. First, what is reflected in the DTS statement is an awareness of progressive revelation not an inclination toward two ways of salvation. Second, some dispensationalists actually lean more toward Reymond’s position on this issue than DTS’s. Some acknowledgement of this by Reymond would have been appropriate.
When Reymond actually turns to look at the future of Israel and the land, Reymond uses John Hagee as his representative dispensationalist. Hagee is not even entirely orthodox. He is certainly not a representative dispensational scholar. Sadly, this is too often par for the course for covenant theologians who write critiques of dispensationalism. They find fringe figures who make outrageous statements or take indefensible positions rather than interact with dispensational scholars.
Finally, Reymond does not really interact with the progressive dispensational view. In his own chapter he simply notes that some think that progressive dispensationalists will simply become premillennial covenant theologians. He then notes that they have not made that transition yet and are therefore “a long distance away from historical covenantal theology.” He defers all other comments to his response to Robert Saucy’s chapter. But in the response, Reymond does not really interact with Saucy’s comments. Reymond’s argument follows the following lines: Progressive dispensationalists are premillennial. Premillennialism is wrong. Therefore, Progressive Dispensationalism is wrong and no further attention should be paid to it.
Reymond spends most of his time critiquing what he understands to be the gross errors of dispensationalism, but he does give some space to articulating his own view. He holds that the OT land promises to Israel are types. Christians are the real inheritors of the land promises “in their fulfilled paradisiacal character” (34). Indeed, “ethnic Israel per se was never the centerpiece of God’s covenant program.” That program has always focused on “true spiritual Israel” (36). Indeed, Abraham himself never believed the land promises would be fulfilled literally. Hebrews 11 teaches that Abraham “spiritualize[d]” the promise and applied it to “future heavenly kingdom realities” (43). Though Reymond says “the future messianic kingdom will embrace the whole of the newly recreated cosmos,” he insists that it “will not experience a special manifestation that could be regarded in any sense as ‘Jewish’ in the region of the so-called Holy Land or anywhere else” (60). In addition, Jesus in his parable of the landowner’s son teaches a “a biblical ‘replacement theology'” in which the nation of Israel is replaced by an “international church” (47). Israel, apart from the remnant is now “lo-ammi, ‘not my people,’ only now with a finality about it” (49). What of God’s promises to national Israel? Reymond’s thesis is that Romans 9 teaches that God made no promises to national Israel. He only made promises to true, spiritual Israel (51).
There are a number of problems with Reymond’s argumentation. In the first place, it is not clear that a covenant promise can be a type that has only a spiritualized fulfillment. A promise is very different from the institution of a sacrificial system or a temple. Second, though both Genesis itself, opaquely, and the New Testament, clearly, indicates that the land promise will extend to all the nations, it is not clear why Israel, to whom the promise was explicitly given, should be excluded from this promise in the restored earth. Third, Reymond’s interpretations of the parable of the landowner’s son and of Romans 9 are not the necessary interpretations of those texts. Neither text requires an interpretation that God has never really concerned himself with national Israel and has now cast off national Israel altogether. Indeed, Romans 11’s promise of a restoration of national Israel tells against such a position.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Robert L. Reymond is Robert L. Thomas. As with Reymond, I’ve found Thomas’s writings, in particular his commentaries on Revelation and Thessalonians, helpful over the years. However, in this essay Thomas displayed what I believe are some of the key weaknesses of traditional dispensationalist argumentation. For instance, Thomas did a lot of quoting from Milton Terry and Bernard Ramm and asserting that the other views don’t measure up to the hermeneutical standards that Terry and Ramm set. I don’t find this line of approach persuasive. Why are Terry and Ramm the standard? It would seem that Thomas would need to demonstrate why his hermeneutical approach is better than competing approaches rather than simply asserting it. This is especially the case since Thomas ends up with strained interpretations of NT passages such as Acts 15. At one point he claims that the NT authors don’t always interpret literally. They don’t have to because they were inspired. We, however, ought not follow the interpretive practices of the NT authors because we are not inspired. I find this a troubling conclusion and an indication that something is amiss with Thomas’s hermeneutic. Scripture itself should provide the hermeneutical standard by which we measure our interpretation—not Bernard Ramm or Milton Terry.
Thomas does make some helpful comments in the course of his essay. For instance, he notes, “Of the promises made to Abraham, the land promise is the most specific, not lending itself to possible variations of interpretation. It fixed specific geographic boundaries and did not lend itself to generalizations, as did the promise of becoming a great nation and the promise of being a worldwide blessing.” He also gives some helpful listing of land promises in the Psalms and prophets, but these are given almost without comment. One section of the essay looks at passages in which Jesus and the apostles might be expected to cancel Israel’s promises and did not. There is some helpful material here, especially when Thomas is countering arguments that certain passages do cancel promises to Israel. What is missing, however, is a positive argument. A lengthy section comparing three commentators’ views on passages in Revelation could have been better spent making a positive argument.
I expected to agree with the Progressive Covenantal/NCT chapter more than I actually did. Given that PC/NCT seems to be a diverse group perhaps greater agreement would have been the case with different authors. Brand and Pratt lay as the foundation for their view that since God is one, he people must be one. Therefore, there cannot be any distinctions within the people of God. This is actually an odd argument for Trinitarians to make. God is not merely one; God is one and many. Shouldn’t the conclusion be, therefore, that God’s people are one and many. In any case, it is not entirely clear to me that the conclusion necessarily follows from the premise. They also look to passages that speak of “one body,” “one flock,” “one faith” and so forth. These passages do affirm that Jew and Gentile are now united in one new man. Progressive Dispensationalists would agree that there is one people of God, the redeemed through all the ages. But the authors seem to want to use this point to deny that God ever could refer to the nation of Israel as his people. Against this, however, is the fact that God covenanted not only with the true remnant of Israel. He covenanted with the nation of Israel. Thus it is appropriate for him to refer to the nation as his people in one sense while also recognizing that some in that nation are not truly his people in another sense. This is not a move back to a two peoples of God view. It is simply a recognition of the way language works in varied contexts.
Brand and Pratt also argue on the basis of John 4 that Jesus relativizes any kind of holy land. He is now the place to which people must come to worship truly. The end of the temple and its worship meant the end of any place/land focus. But this seems to relativize a whole strand of redemptive history. The curse did not merely affect man in his spiritual life. It affected all of creation, including the physical world. This is why land is a fundamental component of the Abrahamic covenant. Israel is at the nucleus of the promise, since it is through Abraham and his seed that blessing comes to the whole world. But, as even the Old Testament indicates, the land promise will be extended to the whole world. This extension, however, does not exclude Israel from enjoying what God has promised.
Brand and Pratt reject the idea that the church replaces Israel. They instead argue that the true people of God within Israel are the root into which Gentiles are added. Thus Israel is not replaced. It is expanded to include Gentiles. However, this seems to misunderstand the teaching of Ephesians about Jew and Gentile being brought together in one new man. In addition it seems to allude to the root and branches metaphor in Romans 11. But in Romans 11, Israel is not the root. Israel is the natural branches.
Brand and Pratt also, following N.T. Wright, interpret “all Israel” in Romans 11 as church. Even Wright concedes that he is in the minority of scholarship on that interpretation. I find Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner’s interpretation that “all Israel” refers to the salvation of a great number of ethnic Israelites in the future to be the more exegetically tenable position. Interestingly, both Moo and Schreiner have been associated with PC/NCT. This is an indication of the difficulty in sorting out what is core to PC/NCT and what is distinctive to individuals.
Overall, I thought that Robert Thomas developed untenable interpretations of New Testament texts in order to maintain his position on Old Testament Texts. Brand and Pratt, on the other hand, trimmed the Old Testament promises to maintain their interpretation of New Testament texts. Ideally, both Testaments should be given their voice in a way that neither are trimmed but such that both Testaments are shown to fit together. It is this goal that I think Robert Saucy accomplished.
Robert Saucy provided the best essay in the book. He was the one author that seemed to stay on topic throughout. The others seemed to get drawn off on related side-issues that were not entirely germane to the topic at hand. Saucy looks at texts both in their original context and in their canonical context. He lets Old Testament passages say what they say in their original context, and he allows later revelation to extend the meaning of passages. But he does not allow later revelation to contradict or reinterpret previous revelation. A partial fulfillment or an extended fulfillment does not change what a passage means. Saucy also had the most careful discussion of typology. For instance, he notes that types can be understood as shadows that point forward to future realities. Types can also be understood as correspondences between earlier and later historical occurrences. Too often traditional and progressive theologians want to understand all types in relation to the former kind of type. In all Saucy had the most careful discussion of hermeneutics among the authors.
Saucy also provided the one clear positive description of how Israel and the Church relate (in contrast with the other authors who at times seemed more focused on critiquing opposing positions than in presenting a positive vision). Saucy argues that Israel has the role of mediating salvation throughout salvation history. This role is rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant, continues with Israel’s role as a kingdom of priests in the Mosaic Covenant, and is predicted to continue in the future by the prophets. The redemption that Israel mediates includes both internal salvation for individuals and a restoration of creation and social structures. In all of this Israel is predicted to mediate salvation to the Gentiles without the Gentiles being absorbed into Israel. The nations remain the nations. Christ is the focal point of the promises. But this does not mean that the promises fail to have application to his people. To the contrary, through Christ his people find the promises are fulfilled for them.
As the promises are fulfilled in the present era, it is important to see that it was Israelites who first brought the gospel to the Gentiles. Next it is important to see that the church is God’s people, both Jew and Gentile. But the church is not the new Israel that takes over the promises given to national Israel. Finally, though Old Testament promises are presently being fulfilled, not all Old Testament promises are presently being fulfilled. There are still future promises for national Israel that remain unfulfilled. God will bring these promises to pass. In arguing these points Saucy provides solid exegetical and theological arguments. His reviews of other positions were both gracious and insightful critiques.
Black, David Alan, ed. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views. Nashville: B&H, 2008.
Typically four views books allows each participant to state his case followed by brief responses from each of the other contributors. The four views book is unique in allowing only one perspective a rejoinder. Daniel Wallace presents the view that Mark ended his Gospel with verse 8. Maurice Robinson argues that Mark’s Gospel originally included the longer ending. Keith Elliot posits that both the beginning and ending of Mark’s Gospel were lost. The current beginning and the longer ending were replacements. David Alan Black makes the case that Mark himself added the longer ending to his Gospel at a later point than its first writing. Darrell Bock, who holds Wallace’s view (indeed, who was instrumental in leading Wallace to this view, according to Wallace’s essay) concludes the volume by providing a rejoinder to the other three positions.
I thought that Wallace’s essay was the best written of the four perspectives. However, I found his view (and Bock’s) that Mark intended the Gospel to end at verse 8 less than convincing. The number of dissenters to this view is growing, and I did not find that Wallace dealt sufficiently with the cogent critiques of this position given elsewhere. Wallace also deferred much of the coverage of internal evidence to J. K. Elliot. Elliot, however, undermines his case by arguing (apart from any manuscript evidence) that the opening of Mark is secondary. He makes the case that the internal evidence indicates that Mark’s opening is even less Markan than the Longer Ending. Since the evidence is strongly against the opening of Mark being secondary, Elliot ends up casting doubt on the validity of the claims that the Longer Ending could not have been written by Mark.
Black’s essay was an outlier as it dealt primarily with the Synoptic problem. His solution is also fairly speculative.
I thought that Robinson’s essay was also strong. Even apart from his majority text view, he provided a series of cogent arguments, dealing with external evidence (including early patristic evidence) and internal evidence. He did not deal with all of Wallace’s arguments, however, which is why it would have been better if each author was allowed to respond to the others rather than leaving no response to Wallace and allowing Bock to respond to the other three.
Caro, Robert. Means of Ascent. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. New York: Knopf, 1991.
This volume covers the period from Johnson’s just after Johnson’s first failed run for the Senate through his first successful Senate campaign. The first part of the book is a bit slow, but the book reads like a novel as the campaign comes to its climax. Caro documents that Johnson flat out stole the election. Liberal reviewers complained that Caro presented a too sympathetic portrait of Johnson’s opponent, Coke Stevenson. Caro responded in a New York Times article that in this race Johnson presented himself as a conservative. Liberal vs. political views weren’t an issue in the campaign and thus were not an issue in this book, despite, Caro’s stated personal preference for liberal positions. In my view the mini-biography Coke Stevenson contained in this book is one of the best parts of the book.
Stanglin, Keith D. and Thomas H. McCall. Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
For a careful, brief summary of Arminius’s life and thought, this is the book to get. Stanglin and McCall are both Arminian scholars, so they write with sympathy toward Arminius. They are also careful scholars. Finally, this is not a polemical book, unlike Roger Olson’s book on Arminian theology. Though they believe Arminius to be right, they allow his exegesis and theology to speak for itself. Highly recommended.
Kevan, Ernest. Moral Law. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1991.
The relation of the Mosaic Law to the Christian is a difficult knot to untie. There are clear continuities. The commands to have no other gods than the true God or to honor one’s parents clearly remain in force for Christians today. Commands regarding the sacrificial system or cities of refuge are clearly not applicable today. Likewise certain New Testament texts seem to indicate that the Law remains applicable today while other New Testament texts seem to abolish it for the Christian. A long-held approach to this knot, one held by Kevan, is that the law can be classified under the categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial law. The civil and the ceremonial parts are said to be done away while the moral part endures. I find these categories appropriate theological categories that can be usefully applied to the law just as theologians often impose categories on Scriptural data (think of the different ways of classifying the attributes of God). But I don’t think these categories can be read back into Scripture statements on the law. For instance, when Jesus speaks in Matthew 5 on the endurance of the law, it would be inappropriate to conclude that Jesus is speaking of the moral law alone there. Likewise, when Paul claims in 1 Corinthians 9 that he is not under the Law, it would be inappropriate to conclude that Paul is speaking only of the ceremonial and civil law. I think it is better to recognize that the Mosaic Law is part of the Mosaic Covenant. The Law is therefore a unified thing. When the New Testament speaks of the Law, it is speaking of this unity. Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, as a whole, because they are under the New Covenant. This is not a covenant without law, however. In the New Covenant the law is written on believer’s hearts. This means that there is a law the exists subsequent to the Mosaic code. Further. If the Mosaic code is the application of natural law to a particular place and time in history and redemptive-history, as I think it is, then there is a law prior to the Mosaic code as well. This is why it is always wrong to make idols or to murder but why it is not always wrong to build houses without parapets on the roof. This law that transcends covenantal arrangements could be called moral law. Thus despite some significant disagreements with Kevan about process, there is a great deal of substance that I am in agreement with. His writings about the dangers of antinomianism are especially good.
Hallo, William W. “Biblical History in Its Near Eastern Setting: The Contextual Approach.” In Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. Edited by V. Philips Long. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study. Edited by David W. Baker. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1999.
Worth reading for a useful approach to making use of ANE background information.
Hunn, Debbie. “The Baptism of Galatians 3:27: A Contextual Approach,” Expository Times 115 (2005): 372-75.
The common view of commentators is that Galatians 3:27, “as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” refers to water baptism. Hunn notes, however, that in its context baptism is the proof that “Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female” are one in Christ through faith. Water baptism cannot serve as this proof because “it proves only that the baptizer found [these distinctions] irrelevant.” It does not provide a window into the mind of God. However, noting that all were baptized by the Spirit would serve as proof. To the objection of F.F. Bruce that “the Galatian people in reading 3:27 would hardly think of anything but their baptism in water,” Hunn notes that both the Gospels and Acts refer to Spirit baptism with the terms βαπτίζω and βαπτισμός. She concludes, “Therefore, since baptism has multiple referents in the NT, students of the Bible should consider multiple possibilities when the NT leaves the type of baptism undefined.” In favor of Spirit baptism, Hunn notes the close parallels with between Galatians 3:27 and 1 Corinthains 12:13 which is clearly about Spirit baptism. She also notes that Galatians 3:23-29 and 4:3-7 follow parallel lines of argumentation. In 3:27-28 the proof of sonship is baptism into Christ. In 4:6 the proof of sonship is the reception of the Spirit. This parallel also argues that Spirit baptism is in view in 3:27.
I have long thought, against the majority of commentators, that Galatians 3:27 referred to Spirit baptism and was happy to see Hunn confirm some of my exegesis as well as advance additional arguments that I had not considered before.
Note: I was alerted to this article by a footnote in Thomas Schreiner’s commentary on Galatians in which he lists her, alongside Dunn and Garlington, as holding to a metaphorical view of baptism in this passage. Hunn, however, explicitly rejects Dunn’s metaphorical view in her article.
Luther, Martin. “A Simple Way to Pray.” Translated by Carl J. Schindler. Luther’s Works. Vol. 43. Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Gustav K. Wiencke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968.
Luther wrote this treatise to instruct his barber in how to pray. Luther provides helpful practical advice such as thinking through Scripture in four ways: instruction, thanksgiving, confession, and petition. In this way meditation on Scripture can be turned into prayer. Luther also provides examples of how the petitions of the Lord’s prayer, the commandments of the Decalogue, and the phrases of the Apostle’s Creed can be expanded into fuller prayers. This is a warm, pastoral work of great value.
Luther, Martin, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” Translated by J. J. Shindel and Walther I. Brandt. Luther’s Work. Vol. 45. Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962.
In this article Luther begins by demonstrating from Scripture (Rom. 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-14; Gen. 9:6; Ex. 21:14; Matt. 26:52; Lk 3:14) that God has ordained temporal government. He then notes that if all people were Christian, there would be no need for government since Christians are governed in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. But as it is, there are two kingdoms. Unbelievers are in the temporal kingdom and are under law. They are subject to the sword. Christians are in the spiritual kingdom and are under the Spirit. Luther argues that true Christians, which he says “are few and far between” are “subject neither to the law nor sword, and have need of neither.” But for the benefit of others Christians willing submit to temporal government, and all that it entails such as taxes. This is part of his love to his neighbor. Likewise Christians can serve as magistrates for the love of neighbor.
In the second part of this work Luther looks at the extent of temporal government’s authority. He argues that since God’s kingdom and the temporal kingdom are different kingdoms, they have different laws. The temporal government concerns itself only with “life and property and external affairs on earth.” God’s kingdom concerns itself with the soul. He notes that Romans 13:7 gives government the authority to demand honor, respect and taxes. Peter allows the government to issue human ordinances, but it cannot “extend its authority into heaven and over souls.” Similarly, Christ recognized this distinction when he distinguished those things that are rendered to Caesar and those which are rendered to God. Luther also appealed to Psalm 115:16, “He has given heaven to the Lord of heaven, but the earth he has given to the sons of men. In the creation mandate God only gives humans dominion over the “external domain.” Men do not rule over each other in spiritual matters. Finally, Luther says that Peter’s claim in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men” distinguishes temporal authority and the limits placed on it from God’s authority. The upshot of this is that the state cannot make heresy a crime for such it beyond its competence. It is the responsibility of the church to restrain heresy. And on this matter Paul says, “Our weapons are not carnal” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Further within the church there is no authority. Christ is the only authority in the church. Bishops and priests are servants who cannot impose law but can only teach and guide through God’s word. “Christians do every good thing of their own accord and without constraint.”
In the third part of this treatise, Luther counsels those who are princes on how to go about seeking wisdom to be a wise and godly ruler.
Luther made some real advances in this treatise. He broke with the Roman Catholic claim that all authority is mediated through the church. He also resisted the radical Reformation position that Christians should not participate in government. Luther also cogently argued that the temporal government does not have the authority or competence to rule on matters of doctrine.
Luther also makes some significant mis-steps. The most significant is the claim that Christians are under no authority other than Christ’s, with the implication being that Christians are not part of the temporal kingdom except for the sake of love to neighbor. While not being a Luther scholar, I am aware of the claim that after the Peasant revolt of 1525 Luther changed some of his more antinomian positions. It would be worth knowing whether this was one of them.