Whats Your worldview by James AndersonIdeas have consequences. Many beliefs, especially beliefs concerning the big questions of life, impact the way we live our lives. Whether you believe there is a god or not will impact how you live. Whether you believe there is absolute truth or not will impact how you live. Unfortunately, many people hold beliefs without considering their logical consequences. Often times, when people are confronted with the consequences of their beliefs they will have a worldview crisis which can lead them to reconsider the validity of their beliefs. Hopefully this crisis can be a venue for the truth to replace their false beliefs.

While there are many books available which thoroughly analyze various worldviews, sometimes it can be more helpful to consider the merits of a specific worldview in a simpler fashion. With the goal of simplicity in mind (and not to be simplistic), James Anderson, professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in North Carolina, has written What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions. Following the “Choose Your Own Adventure” (CYOA) concept, Anderson walks readers of all the major worldviews through the implications of their beliefs.

Overview

The book is divided into three parts. Part One has twenty-one questions that worldviews have to answer. These questions include whether one believes there is a god, whether one believer matter is all there is, whether truth exists and whether Jesus resurrected from the death. The topics in these questions are short and are less than a page long. They are purposely written to end with a yes or no answer. Your answer can either lead you to another question to answer, part two where the major worldviews are summarized or part three where the implications to your answer is explained and examined from a Christian theistic worldview.

Part Two summarizes the five major worldview: atheism, theism, quasi-theist, finite theist and non-Christian theist. Because the book is written from a Christian theist viewpoint the other four worldviews are examined through that framework and critiqued for their inadequacies. Depending on how the reader answers the questions leads them to see what kind of worldview they have. The reader is challenged to go back to the question that led them there so they can pick the other answer and move on with the book.

Part Three provides the majority of the implications for how one answers their questions. For instance, if the reader answers no to the truth question (21), saying that there is no objective truth, then they are directed to page 91 which puts them in the relativism worldview. This is then examined from a Christian theist viewpoint and the reader is challenged to reconsider their decision. If the reader answers yes to the truth question, that there is objective truth, then they are invited to continue onto the next question. If the person reading the book is not a Christian theist, then, upon finishing the summary of and challenge to their belief, they are challenged to go back to the question and reconsider their choice based on its consequences. They are then invited to follow the pages to the opposite answer.

The back of the book answers some short questions that readers might have after completing the book. For instance, the reader is challenged, after having narrowed down their most likely worldview, to go and learn more about it. The challenge is to call the reader to live more consistently with the beliefs they hold. Anderson answers the questions as to why he left out some worldviews and why he was not able to address more of the pros and cons of the worldviews. Anderson does not shy away from the fact that he is writing from the vantage point of a Christian theist worldview and thus the book is intentionally designed to lead readers to see the faults of their worldviews in relation to his. “Since I believe that the worldview I hold makes better sense of the world than any of the alternatives, and that those other worldviews face more serious challenges and objections, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that belief reflected in my comments on each worldview” (102).

Conclusion

What’s Your Worldview? is a fast and fun read! Anderson wastes no time and gets right to the point with each question and the corresponding consequences for certain answers. Written from a distinctly Christian theistic framework, Anderson does a masterful job succinctly showing readers the consequences of their beliefs when they fall outside of the Christian theistic worldview. As far as apologetic methodology goes, Anderson is a presuppositionalist so the book shows how a Christian can enter into discussion with those of other worldviews in a way that is consistent with their beliefs.

This is a great book for Christians and non-Christians alike. This is a great teaching tool for teaching Christians how to think about their beliefs and that of others. It can be adapted for small groups and would work well with parents of and pastors to teens and college age students. This would also be a great resource for Christians to give their non-Christian friends to help generate discussion that can lead to the presentation of the gospel.

The Lost World of Scripture by Walton and SandyEveryone loves a good story of discovery. Whether it is in the pages of a good book or watching Indiana Jones on the big screen, people love to be drawn into the discovery of lost artifacts, and even more so, lost worlds. The field of archeology, and its attending fields, has unearthed artifacts, buried tombs, treasures and entire villages and cities that give us a glimpse into the lives and ways of the people and civilizations of the ancient past. It many ways, we are discovering things and worlds that have been lost and are very different than ours.

Among  these discoveries are the ancient writings of the various people groups. We have found much, but there is more to discover and even much more that we will probably never find. The discovery of various writings from ancient times provides us with a wealth of information for how people thought and lived in the past. They are a window into the culture. More so, for Christians, they are a window, not only into Scripture itself, but how others viewed Scripture and its role in the life of the early Christians.

There is no doubt that modern readers of the Bible have to fight reading their own world into the world of the Bible when it comes to the task of interpretation. Unfortunately, there are many readers of Scripture, Christians included, who do this without knowing it. The world in which the Bible was born is lost to them and they don’t realize it.

In an effort to bring the reader of Scripture into the world in which it was born, Wheaton professors John Walton (Old Testament) and D. Brent Sandy (New Testament) have teamed up to write The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority. The purpose of the book is to present as clearly as possible, given what we know about the ancient world, a picture of the function and authority that oral traditions and written texts had in ancient societies. The authors want readers of Scripture to appreciate the fact that, while modern cultures, especially Western and European cultures, are text dominant (and therefore have a high literacy rate), ancient cultures were oral and hearing dominant (and therefore had a low literacy rate). “Understanding the oral and manuscript galaxy of the biblical world – before the watershed of print culture – is essential for grasping how the Bible was written” (11). It is this lost world of oral and hearing dominance in which Scripture was born.

Overview

The book is divided into four parts. For those familiar with Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, the same proposition pattern is used for the chapter structure.  Through the proposition structure, the authors systematically bring the reader through the thought process ancients had about the role and authority of oral traditions and written texts so that modern readers of Scripture might more accurately understand what Biblical authority is and, specifically, what the inerrancy of Scripture does and does not and can and cannot mean.

Part One lays the ground work in understanding the composition of texts in the Old Testament and how information was communicated orally. “If we are to understand more fully the development of biblical literature and our view of its authority, we need to adjust or thinking about how information was disseminated and traditions transmitted in the ancient world.” (18) Here the authors address the nature of authority in an oral and hearing dominant culture. “Authority,” it is said, “was not connected to a document but to the person of authority behind the document when that person was known, or to the tradition itself.” (27) The oral transmission of information was primary and thus carried through people. Written texts were not unimportant but only carried authority in so far as the person behind the information had authority. One of the key concepts discussed here is speech-act theory which examines how communication is carried and meaning is intended through locutions (words and genres) which embody illocutions (the intention to do something with locutions such as a blessing) with a perlocution view to seeing a response from the audience (like obeying). (41) Important to the author’s argument is the distinct role each part plays in the communicative act of meaning and expressing authority. God’s authority and the inerrancy of the text, it is argued, are located in its illucutions (42, 44, 45). On the other hand, inspiration takes place at the locution level. (44) Why is this distinction important? It is said that

Even though people in Israel believed there were waters above the earth held back by a solid sky, or that cognitive processes took place in the heart or kidneys, the illocution of the texts is not affirming those beliefs as revealed truth. Culture-specific aspects of an illocution do not have a universal perlocution (eating pork, circumcision, head covering). Culture-specific aspects of the perlocution need to be translated to an appropriate contemporary perlocution. (45)

Walton and Sandy are trying to help us make a separation between those things which are culture-specific and authoritative truth that God is communicating by His Spirit through the human authors of Scripture. Admittedly, part one will be the most difficult section of the book for readers to grasp especially if they are not familiar with speech-act theory.

While I appreciate, and even agree with much of, what the authors are trying to prevent in Biblical interpretation, I do have some reservations and concerns with some of their conclusions. Two examples will suffice. First, while I do not dispute the value of speech-act theory and its distinguishing between words, affirmations and expectations upon the readers, it feels that the different parts have been so separated so as to ignore the fluid and wedded relationship they share. Yes, words have meaning in a context and contexts are where authors intentions are, but this belief is not to be held at the expense of the value of words and phrases. Words are not just inspired but certain words are given through which meaning and affirmations are to be conveyed. Second, and in conjunction with the first concern, is with how the authors view the role of textual criticism. In analyzing the nature of textual criticism, that is, finding the accurate wording of the originally inspired manuscripts of Scripture, Walton and Sandy conclude that, since we do not have the originals with which to compare our best Hebrew and Greek texts, we cannot know what the originals were and “it does not matter” according to their model. (67) Therefore, it does no good to say the originals were inspired if we do not have them. In my estimation, and that of many, this conclusion will not do and unnecessary. It may be so that oral dominant cultures viewed texts differently than moderns do, but this is not a basis upon which to overly devalue determining the wording of the originals. Just because we have “little confidence” in the exact wording of a few places in Scripture is not a warrant to say the whole task is irrelevant. Why let uncertainties over a very small part of the text drive our understanding of the rest of the text and not vice versa?

Part Two deals with the same issues of composition and communication but for the New Testament. The hearing and oral dominance of the ANE world continues into the NT world, though there is a shift to more use of texts around 700 B.C. (79). With the Greeks and Romans paving the way for text it is clear the orality still dominated texts as they were written primarily for oral use and memorization (85). Even philosophers bemoaned the use of text as they felt it would undermine oral lectures and created a lazy mind (104).

Moving to the NT era, we see a noticeable shift to more dependence on texts, most notably within Christianity. Many myths are dispelled concerning a correspondence between illiteracy in reading with intelligence and even education. The ministry of Jesus is examined through the lens of His oral communication to people who were oral and hearing centered (Proposition 8). The authors deduce that Jesus was educated and could read despite his meager background as a carpenter in Galilee (119). There is a good discussion of Jesus as the logos (word) of God and how this is to inform our understanding of most of the texts that speak of “the word of the Lord” in both testaments (Prop. 9). Some Christians will have minor disagreements with some of their conclusions here but generally they make good arguments for their case. This moves into Proposition 10 which deals with how Jesus would have thought of the transmission of His own words.

Proposition 11 and 13 address how variants within oral tradition were handled. Since they were common within secular oral tradition it is believed that they were accepted within the oral tradition of Jesus words and sayings. This is why many NT scholars, when referring to the words of Jesus in the Gospels, refer to them as containing the ipsissima vox (voice) of Jesus’ words and not the ipsissma verba (exact words) (149). This may come as a shock to many readers of red letters Bibles which have the words of Jesus in red so they can be found and easily distinguished from the rest of the text. The result is that what we have in the Gospels is not the exact words of Jesus, word for word as He said them in the moment, but we do have the essential words He spoke and can be confident that the Gospels are reliable in that regard. Oral tradition had acceptable ranges of variation in the retelling of stories and the words of Jesus would have fared no better.

Part Three tackles the Biblical world of literary genres. Here the nature of modern historiography and ancient myth telling are compared as well as the implications this has for the authority of Scripture. One of the points the authors try to make is that when the writers of the OT recounted and wrote about events in the past, they did so with varying purposes in mind. This explains some of the differences between the same accounts in Kings and Chronicles as well as the Gospels in the NT. The varying accounts of the same events do not mean that the writers thought truthfulness about the events was unimportant, but they had different standards of retelling events and they had agendas in doing so. Here again the authors make use of the locution and illocution distinction which leads them to make a number of confusing and concerning statements regarding the written text of Scripture. For instance, in the discussion of the role law had within ANE cultures and Israel they make the following conclusion:

Nothing from ancient Near East suggests that any society had a normative written set of laws that contained a comprehensive legal code for that society. From the discussion of hearing-dominant cultures in the early chapters of this book, it is easy to see why that is the case. Written documents did not hold position of authority in a hearing-dominant context. There is no reason to think that there was a comprehensive, written, authoritative document containing the legislation for Israelite society. (219)

This statement, and other like it, is confusing to say the least. It leads one to ask what does one make of the Pentateuch if it is not viewed as a written document containing Israelite legal code. If readers are familiar with Walton’s previous work on ANE literature and culture then this statement is not surprising. For all of the valuable information Walton has uncovered, he has tunnel vision when he uses the comparisons between ANE cultures and Israel at the expense, and almost complete ignorance of, the differences. It is precisely that Israel had a written legal code as extensive as they did, regardless of how long after it was verbally given, that makes them unique among ANE peoples. This is the phenomenon of Scripture!

Conclusion

So what about inerrancy and authority? How does the oral and hearing-dominant culture of the OT and NT shape our understanding of the authority and inerrancy of the written text of Scripture – God’s word. For the authors, inerrancy is useful as long as it is properly defined. While it could die the death of a thousand qualifications, its basic meaning – without error – is true of Scripture. But Walton and Sandy are wary of the future of the term inerrancy. Not because they believe the Bible has errors but because “the term inerrancy may no longer be clear enough, strong enough or nuanced enough to carry the weight with which it has been traditionally been encumbered” (275). Time will tell in this regard but I think inerrancy still has a future and books like Five Views on Inerrancy show not only its value but necessity.

For the authority of Scripture, the authors do believe Scripture is authoritative for Christians over any other possible book. It is our standard of faith, rule and practice, they would say. It has authority because it is in written form what God said verbally.  What I am not sure of is whether or not they see Scripture, since it is the words of God, as having a self-understanding of its own authority. What does God say to us about His word in His word? Further, Scripture is our only access to the oral tradition of the OT and NT. It is now the Christians only authority to God’s spoken word. This is not something the authors touch on and needs to be explored.

The Lost World of Scripture is a mixed bag for me. Readers will be captivated by the historical explanation of how oral tradition worked and the mindset of people in these cultures. The book is far from disengaging. They do a good job of contrasting the value and place of written texts within hearing and text-dominant cultures and how modern notions of accuracy do not line up with ancient notions. The authors recognize that they are making possible scenarios and conclusions based on their research but they seem to be more dogmatic in their theological conclusions about the inerrancy and authority of Scripture then is warranted. As mentioned previously, what is missing is a discussion on the phenomenon of Scripture as the written revelation of God to man. While much, if not most, of the OT was given orally first, most of the NT was not (see the letters of Paul). Why is it that we have so much writing from Christianity as opposed to other religions of their time? Why did Christians write their oral tradition down as much as they did?

The Lost World of Scripture is an intriguing book but needs to be read carefully and with discernment.

NOTE: I received this book for free from IVP and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The thoughts and words expressed are my own.

Warfare in the OT by Boys SeeversI was born in 1981 and the last war on American soil was World War II, which ended in 1945. If you do not count the wars since then in which America has been involved overseas, my lifetime has been war-free. Though both my grandfathers served in the military, neither my father nor I have served in any capacity. Wars and small battles, as real as they are, have been the stuff of TV for me. I have read about them in the paper, heard about them on the radio and I can distinctly remember watching live footage of Desert Storm.

However, for many people around the world, war is an everyday part of their lives. For those born during times of war, they cannot imagine their lives without it. Similarly, this is how it was for much of the Ancient Near East (ANE), including Israel. To help the modern reader of Scripture better understand how war is so intricately woven into its fabric, Boyd Seevers has wrote Warfare in the Old Testament: The Organization, Weapons, and Tactics of Ancient Near Eastern Armies. Dr. Seevers is an expert in the Old Testament, ancient warfare and has participated in many archeological excavations in Israel where he lived as a professor for eight years.

Overview

Warfare in the Old Testament documents, through historical fiction and historical background, the warfare history, weapons and tactical methods of the six most notable nations in the ANE: Israel, Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. Each nation is examined in two basic parts. First, through historical fiction, Seevers gives the reader insight into the events and possible thoughts of a typical warrior in the nation under consideration. This includes a description of their duties, weapons they might have used, a war or battle they would have fought in and how they might have thought about the events. Second, the historical background is given for the particular war or battle that was discussed during the historical fiction section in addition to all of the know wars of each nation. Finally, through discussion of the nation’s military organization, weapons, strategy and tactics, Seevers provides the reader with detailed description of the inner workings of their armies.  To aid in telling the stories and historical information, there are numerous pictures of military artifacts, drawings, sketches and maps.

Review

First, for an Old Testament and ANE expert, Seevers has done a great job writing the historical fictions sections. The writing is engaging and the details do not drag. One really gains a sense of what it must have felt like to be in those military situations. Second, as would be expected, the historical background sections weave together all of ANE history at the same time. The Biblical and extra-biblical accounts of the wars and battles are woven together to provide a fuller picture of their warfare histories. This is a great service to the reader as Scriptures are provided so they can locate the specifics for themselves. Third, Seevers does not sugar coat the nature of Israel’s involvement in war. War was a part of every nations life and Israel was no exception. Where applicable, the author notes when Israel might be acting like the other nations. For instance, the reference in 1 Samuel 18:25-27 to Saul’s request of David to bring him the foreskins from the slain Philistines is a practice the Egyptians did with various of body parts (137-38). This proved the warrior killed the enemy in battle and brought him approval and respect from his military leaders and nation. Fourth, Seevers also points out where Israel differed from the other ANE militaries. For example, it was not common practice for a nation to record their military struggles and losses. Israel, however, gives a lot of detail about these struggles. Seevers notes,

Surprisingly, some of the best information from Israel comes from when it was struggling for birth and survival. The Bible’s emphasis on God’s aid to his young nation is evident in the stories of how the military operated through its successive phases. (45)

This can be seen, for example, in the first six chapters of Joshua which detail their entrance into Canaan and the battle of Jericho. This was before they were a strong military power. In contrast, we are only given “a single chapter to David’s campaigns that conquered a large part of the ancient Near East (2 Sam. 8.” (70)

Numbers: Is Israel Really That Big?

One way in which Israel differs from other ANE armies is in their recording the size of their people and armies. The Bible provides a lot of information regarding their numbers and more so than other ANE nations records. The predominate word used to describe the size of the Israelite army and people is eleph which means “thousand”. What becomes problematic, says Seevers, is that “if eleph in these passages carries its normal meaning of ‘thousand,’ then many of the numbers appear extremely large.” (53) For instance, in Numbers chapter one and twenty-six Israel counts its men available for military service and there are over 600,000. Again, in 2 Samuel 24:9 David counts his fighting men and they come to 1,300,000. Seevers notes that “these numbers appear quite high, especially considering the apparent army size of other, better established contemporary nations.” (53)

In an attempt to resolve the problem presented in many passages another possible translation of eleph is “clan”, and, though it does not resolve all of the interpretational challenges, it seems to give us a more realistic picture of the size of Israel’s army at any given time. This, Seevers points out, helps to make more sense of Deuteronomy 7:1 which states that, upon entering Canaan, there were seven nations that occupied the territory that were “more numerous and stronger than (Israel).” So, at the time of the exodus Israel would have had about 5,500 troops and not 600,000 and more like 20,000 people instead of 2,000,000+ as they entered Canaan. Further, this might make more sense of the statement in Judges 15:14-15 where it is said that Samson killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. Translating eleph as “clan” would greatly reduce the number of men killed.

As Seevers points out, this solves many issues but it also raises some others. My own sense of this is the important hermeneutical principle – context. If the same word is used in these different contexts but has more than one meaning then we need to pay attention to the context in which it is used. It does seem a bit off to say Israel had 2,000,000 or more people upon entering Canaan. Even though they spent 40 years in the wilderness where they would have increased their population, there would have been a high mortality rate among births and they lost everyone twenty and older in the wilderness for their sin of murmuring (Num. 14:26-34). For Samson, the issue is whether or not he really did kill 1,000 (give or take) Philistines and not preserving a wrong interpretational history just for dramatic effect. Sure, Samson was strong, but even if he only killed 100 +/- soldiers it is still a great feat. Maybe the focus is on the weapon of choice, a donkey’s jawbone, and not so much the number of men killed. He would have definitely been at a disadvantage without a sword. This is my initial sense and more study on these passages is required on my part.

Conclusion

Dr. Seevers is very knowledgeable in the field of OT and ANE studies and Warfare in the Old Testament is the fruit of a lifetime of studies in these areas. The story telling is captivating as well as the historical facts. Seevers will have you thinking at every turn and drive you back to the text of Scripture with new insight and questions. I recommend this book for pastors preaching through the OT, teachers of OT and ANE studies and for Christians who are fascinated by OT biblical history. There is a wealth of additional information in the end notes and resources listed at the end of the book for further study in specific areas.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Kregel in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and words expressed are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Romans 1-7 For YouIt is generally agreed upon that the book of Romans is Paul’s magnum opus. In it Paul most clearly gives us the gospel of Jesus Christ in both its simplicity and its multifaceted depths, such that Paul proclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33) The gospel is life changing and so is reading the book of Romans. Romans has provided the entirety of content for the traditional “Romans Road” evangelistic message and it has dominated the preaching ministry of men such as Martin Lloyd Jones and John Piper.

Romans 1-7 For You by Tim Keller is the third book in the God’s Word For You series from The Good Book Co. The series functions as a devotional guide that provides exegesis of the text, commentary and practical application. The two previous books are Galatians For You and Judges For You both by Tim Keller.

Keller begins with the focus of the book of Romans on the righteousness of God as presented in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what changes the lives of people who read it. Keller notes,

It was the message that the perfection and holiness of God has been seen in the life and death of Jesus Christ; and that this perfection is offered to us, as a free gift, through the life and death of Jesus Christ…..Paul shows us not only how God in the gospel makes sinners righteous, but also how this most precious gift of God is enjoyed in our lives. (9)

So how can the gospel makes us right with God? Because, as Paul emphatically states, “it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16) The gospel message has power to change the life of the sinner because “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” (Rom. 1:17) In these two verses the entire message of Romans is summarized: the gospel is the power of God for salvation because it reveals the righteousness of God. This is contrasted with God’s revelation of Himself through nature and conscience, the truth of which man “suppresses in unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18-20) The rest of Romans Paul fleshes out in great detail how this is true objectively and what it means for our lives subjectively.

Rather than summarize the book itself, I thought it might help to give some short snippets of Keller’s comments that will help the reader see how Keller faithfully handles the text:

On Rom. 1:24 – “God’s judgment on godlessness and wickedness is to give us what we want.” (29)

On Rom. 1:26-27 – “But ‘unnatural relations’ is literally ‘against nature’ – para phusin. This means that homosexuality is a violation of the created nature God gave us. And there is nothing here to suggest that Paul only has some kinds of homosexual acts in mind. As a cultured and traveled Roman citizen, Paul would have been very familiar with long-term, stable, loving relationships between same-sex couples.” (32)

On Rom. 3:25 – “If God had really and totally forgiven the sins committed by his Old Testament people, they would be gone; nothing more would need to be done. But Paul is showing us that in fact God had not forgiven them, so much as left them unpunished, until he punished his Son for them on the cross. In other words, God in his patience had deferred payment on those sins. The sacrifices and rituals of the Old Testament were only place-holders pointing to Christ; they did not really pay the debts.” (84)

On Rom. 5:12 – “What does Paul mean by ‘because all sinned’? The verb ‘sinned’ here is in the aorist tense. The aorist always points to a single past action. So by using the aorist here, Paul is saying that the whole race sinned in one single past action. To use a large collective noun ‘all’ with such specific verb tense is so awkward that it must be deliberate.” (124)

On Rom. 7:14-25 – Keller believes Paul is talking about himself as a Christian for 4 reasons: (1) the verb tense is in the present, (2) the situation he discusses is that of ongoing struggle with sin, (3) Paul delights in the law of the Lord and (4) Paul admits that he is a sinner in need of Christ. (167-68)

These examples are just a sample of Keller’s ability to clearly communicate the meaning of the text especially when it comes to the harder verses. Romans 1-7 For You is a great place to start for personal or group study. I look forward to reading the next book on Romans by Keller.

NOTE: I received this book for free from The Good Book Co. through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest opinion. The thoughts and words are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Kingdom Come by StormsOne of the topics I have always enjoyed is systematic theology but for many years I avoided eschatology (end times). I avoided it because I was confused. I didn’t, like many other Christians, think eschatology did not matter, I was just scared of it. In seminary I realized I had turn my attention to the subject and began to study it seriously. It is wrongheaded for a Christian to think that eschatology does not matter and just claim the mantra, “In the end Christ comes back and wins and that’s all that maters!” This was not the view of the writers of Scripture or Jesus and it should not be the view of any Christian who takes the Bible seriously. If we want to understand God, Christ, Scripture and our “so great salvation” more, we need to devote ourselves to the understanding of eschatology. The Bible is pointing not only to someone (Christ) but also somewhere – the future coming kingdom of Christ.

There are a lot of books defending the various end times positions. Most people hold to the eschatological view point they were taught by their parents, teachers or church when they were younger. Systems of belief are hard to change and when it comes to Christian theology, eschatology is among the hardest. But it does happen and it happened to well regarded pastor and author Sam Storms. In 1977 Storms graduated with his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary which has been the flagship seminary for Premillennial Dispensational theology for decades. He was taught by some of the greatest Dispensational theologians such as Walvoord, Ryrie and Pentecost.

After graduation, having become enamored with all things eschatology, Storms read the highly influential book The Presence of the Future by George Eldon Ladd. For Storms, like many others before and after him who have read Ladd’s work, this book became the catalyst to setting him on a journey from Premillennial Dispensationalism to Amillennialism. After years of reading, writing and teaching on the subject, Storms has written his own contribution to the eschatological discussion in Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative which was published last year with Mentor.

This is not a complete critical review of the book as it is not warranted given Storms is not necessarily presenting a different case for amillennialism though he does present the case differently. Though Storms work will stand along side others who champion his view such as Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future or more recently Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, what sets Storms book apart from these and others is that he makes his case for Amillennialism along with presenting the Dispensational view and what he believes to be its weaknesses and failings. While others try to do this in their books to some extent, most of them do so from the outside looking into Dispensationalism and none to the extent of Storms. This does not mean they cannot do it sufficiently. However, Storms has the advantage of having been taught by some of Dispensationalism’s best. He can do so as someone who once was but now is not. Simply dismissing Storms’ change under the rubric of “he must have never really understood Dispensationalism or else he would not have changed,” will not do. It is simplistically dismissive and naive. Rather, contrary to the opinion of some, Storms unique contribution needs to be heard and taken seriously, even for die in the wool Dispensationalist’s who will not change.

Of particular interest to Dispensationalist’s will be chapter two Defining Dispensationalism and chapter five Problems with Dispensationalism in which Storms offers some devastating critiques of Dispensationalism which reveal weaknesses, that, some of which, cannot be overcome. For instance, regarding Dispensationalism’s interpretation of Ezekiel’s vision of the rebuilt temple, Storms says, “It wold be an egregious expression of the worst imaginable redemptive regression to suggest that God would ever sanction the rebuilding of the temple.” (21, emphasis author)  Though admittedly a strongly worded statement, I was jarred when I read it and paused for awhile to mull it over. Or, in response to the Dispensational view that there are two people’s of God Storms states that

Not one single ethnic Jew who believes in Jesus Christ as the Messiah has been ‘replaced’ or lost his/her inheritance in the blessings of the covenant. Rather, every single ethnic Gentile who believes in Jesus Christ as the Messiah has been ‘included’ in the commonwealth  of Israel and grafted into the one olive tree. Thus, the true Israel, the true ‘seed’ of Abraham, which is to say, any and all who are ‘in Christ’ by faith, regardless of ethnicity, will together inherit the blessings of the covenant.” (207)

I myself was brought up under the same teaching as Storms regarding eschatology. On the highway of eschatological views I have exited onto Historic Premillennialism and I am not sure when, if ever, I will get off and move on. As such I am in agreement with a number of Storms interpretations, hermeneutical principles and Dispensational critiques, such as his understanding of Daniel 9, the relationship between Jesus and the OT prophecies, much of his understanding of the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments and the relationship between Israel and the Church. On the other hand, amidst several points of disagreement I have with Amillennialism the greatest that remains is its interpretation of Revelation 20 and the 1,000 years and its attending events. Storms wants to read the 1,000 years in light of the rest of preceding Scriptural understanding of eschatology instead of the other way around. He also points out the symbolic nature of numbers in the rest of Revelation as support for why the 1,000 years does not have to be taken “literalistically”. I am sympathetic to his concerns but I still cannot shake myself of a future millennial kingdom preceding eternity, rather than one that is coexistent with present history.

All in all, Kingdom Come is a worthy read for anyone interested in eschatology and I suspect it will be a go-to-book in defense of Amillennialism and in response to Premillennial Dispensationalism. The writing is clear and well organized. Storms critiques can come across strong and passionate at times but his tone should not distract one from the force of the arguments he advances. Eschatology can be daunting and confusing but Storms has brought some more clarity that will surely help many to come. This is a good book for those interested in eschatology in general and for those who want a contemporary defense of Amillennialism. This is as much a book for Dispensationalist’s who are looking to refine their position in the face of critique and for those who have doubts about their position and are looking for someone who can better articulate what they are thinking.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Christian Focus Publications in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the thoughts and words expressed are my own.

Theology of the Reformers by Timothy GeorgeAt the end of his life, Augustine wrote what has become a very misunderstood book, especially by those who have not read it or any of his previous works. The book was titled Retractationes which literally means “re-treatments.” Augustine retraced his works and addressed many of the things he had already written by way of clarifications and some changes. Augustine was not recanting of the things he wrote but rather coming to them once again as a more seasoned believer and theologian.

In 1988, while teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Timothy George wrote Theology of the Reformers, which, unbeknownst to him, would become a standard work on the subject and would be translated into several languages. Twenty five years later George has come back to his first book, not to retract from his original work, but in some ways like Augustine, to revise and expand his work from the vantage point of a seasoned historian of theology.

Recognizing that some today would bock at a book of its nature, George defends his original work, and now revised edition when he states

Theology, when it is given any truck at all, is usually given a quaint form of belles lettres, which the Reformation is generally perceived as having lost much of its explanatory valence as a coherent term of historical understanding. This book assumes the contrary on two accounts: theology matters, and the Reformation of the sixteenth century is a critical, even essential, epoch for our understanding of the Christian story then and now. (1)

The original work focused on the theology of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and Menno Simons. The new edition includes a chapter on William Tyndale. The rationale for discussing these five reformers over others is that “each of these figures stands at the headwaters of a major confessional tradition in the Reformation.” (17) Luther with the Protestants of the Augusburg Confession, Zwingli and Calvin with the Reformed tradition, Tyndale with the English Reformation and translator of Scripture, and Simmons with the Anabaptists. The historical, cultural and political climate these Reformers provides the backdrop through which their theological beliefs emerge and which form the primary focus of the book. George shows the reader that the questions and issues facing the Reformers still face the church today.

Theology of the Reformers 25th Anniversary Edition is a welcome continuance of George’s original work. Lovers of the original book, the Reformation and its history and new students of Reformation theology will love this book. I highly recommend it!

NOTE: I received this book for free from B&H in exchange for my honest opinion and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review. The thoughts and words expressed are my own.

Evangelical Theology by BirdUnless you have been hiding under a rock for the last several years, biblical scholar, teacher and blogger (and comedian!) Michael Bird should be a name you are relatively familiar with. He has written on Jesus in Are You the One Who Is to Come? and Jesus is The Christ. He has written on Paul in Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission, and His Message and has edited Four Views on the Apostle Paul in the Zondervan Counterpoints Series. He has also written on Second Temple Judaism in Crossing Over Sea and Land and has even written a highly academic commentary on 1 Esdras which is part of the Septuagint. He is the editor of two journals and commentaries series. He has contributed to numerous journals, edited works and reference books, all of which you can view here.

There is no doubt the Bird is highly qualified to write and speak on a number of topics. His areas of focus range from the Historical Jesus, Paul, Christian origins and even biblical and systematic theology. It is to these last two areas that we now turn to, and which Bird has most recently written on in his highly anticipated Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction published by Zondervan. The question that might arise in the mind of some, and which already has, is, can a biblical scholar with his areas of study competently write a systematic and biblical theology? Has Bird gone through a midlife crisis and the biblical scholar become a theologian!? After all, there are a number of famous systematicians such as Turretin, Pannenberg, Barth, Grudem, Hodge, Berkhof, Bavinck and Erickson whom many of them have not published as many books as Bird, and of those they have, most of them are in subsets of systematic theology.

Has Bird stretched himself so far that he has become too thin?

Bird’s Uniqueness: An Evangelical Systematic and Biblical Theology?

I put a question mark at the end of the above heading not because I question Bird’s goal but because I want to bring due attention to what makes this book stand out from others like it. There is no doubt that there are many good systematic theologies out there that are written by evangelicals such as Grudem, Erickson and Geisler, just to name a few. But what Bird feels they lack as an evangelical theology is a focus on just that, the evangel – the gospel itself. Bird is not saying others are unevangelical but that they seem to miss as their focus what makes them what they are.

This is not to say other theologies by evangelicals do not mention the gospel or relate an aspect to the gospel. It is to say, however, that they are not writing their theologies with the gospel front and center in every loci of theological doctrine. For Bird, an evangelical theology must do just that. Bird says of his own work, “It is a gospel-centered theology for Christians who seek to define themselves principally by the gospel.” (21) And later, “Evangelical theology is a theologia evengelii – a theology of the gospel.” (45) True to form, Bird begins every section introduction with a short discussion of how the doctrine under consideration relates to the gospel. For example,

On the doctrine of God in part two,

If we are going to study the God of the gospel, we must study God as he is to us in the gospel: a triune being comprised of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, I contend that the gospel itself establishes our primary contact with the doctrine of the Trinity. The operation of God as he is described as acting in the gospel intimates the triune nature of God. Only a triune God can do what is done in the gospel. (89)

On the doctrine of Christ in part four,

The centerpiece of the gospel is Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is so identifiable with the gospel that there can be no gospel without him. His identity as Messiah and Lord, the redemptive significance of his death and resurrection, set in the coordinating of God’s kingdom, constitute the core of the gospel message. In other words, the gospel sets before us both the work of Jesus Christ and the person of Jesus Christ. (343)

And finally, on the doctrine of the church in part eight,

The evangelical churches are those that have the gospel at the center of their proclamation and practice. The evangelical church is a community created by the gospel, a church that promotes and preaches the gospel, that cultivates the gospel in its spirituality. Its members strive to live lives worthy of the gospel, and at its center is Jesus Christ, the Lord announced in the gospel. (699)

Not only at the main headings does Bird relate the gospel to each section of doctrine, but he shows how each subsection does as well. Bird has given more than mere lip service to the gospel as that which binds all of Scripture and, therefore, theology together. “The gospel is the glue between doctrine, experience, mission, and practice. I submit that an authentic evangelical theology should be a working out of the gospel in the various loci of Christian theology and then be applied to the sphere of daily Christian life and the offices of Christian leaders.” (21) This gives him the content for his five step method for how theology should be done (81-82).

This gospel focus is also what makes this book a work of biblical theology because it is the gospel, as hinted at in Genesis 3:15 and consummated in Revelation 19-21, that runs throughout the entire Bible. It is the story of the Bible. After working through the various aspects, Bird defines the gospel as

The announcement that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of Israel’s Scriptures. The gospel evokes faith, repentance, and discipleship; its accompanying effects include salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (52)

Though some may wince at the positive use of the phrase “canon within the canon,” Bird is not shy in saying that “the gospel is the ‘canon within the canon’ simply because the biblical canon is the scriptural expression of the ‘rule of faith.’ which itself is an exposition of the gospel.” (21)

Evangelical Theology as a Systematic and Biblical Theology

I think Bird hits a home run with his focus on the gospel at every angle, and therefore, has accomplished part of his goal in writing a biblical theology. So how does he do with the systematic aspect? In short, Bird touches on the major loci of theology with adequate depth and coverage for most sections but has some shortcomings in others.

Bird does a good job with the doctrine of God (chapter 2), eschatology (chapter 3), Christology (chapter 4), soteriology (chapter 5) and ecclesiology for the most part (chapter 8). I think Bird’s does his best work right out of the gates with his chapters on God and Christ. He masterfully shows how God as triune forms the heart and shape of the gospel and supports John Piper’s book, and now famous phrase, God is the gospel. He ties the gospel God as triune, creator, His character and attributes and His revelation to man. His chapter on Christ is equally impressive, and should be, as Bird has written a few books and many essays and articles on Christ previously. Chapter three on eschatology is decent and provides a fair and accurate treatment of the various views. Bird’s soteriology by in large follows the standard Reformed/Calvinistic view, with the debatable exception that he holds to the Amyraldian view of the atonement, which is actually dealt with in Christology (section 4.4.3). Finally, Bird’s ecclesiology is handled well. He seems to see more unity between Israel and the church than disunity (719-27 – which I like!). The only glaring omission from this chapter is a dedicated discussion of the offices of the church as deacon, elders and pastor/teacher. These are mentioned in several places but only as they are viewed by different forms of church governances such as Presbyterian or Episcopalian.

Chapters needing more work begin at the beginning with prolegomena (chapter 1). Though this is where Bird laid out his unique approach in focusing on the gospel, this also became its downfall as there is not enough else by way of a standard discussion on this area of first theology. The chapters on the Holy Spirit (chapter 6) and man (chapter 7) read and feel too short. Perhaps, in my opinion, what is lacking the most in the book is an adequate doctrine of Scripture. (Consider that Wayne Grudem spends almost 100 pages in his systematic theology in the doctrine of Scripture!) This is surprising since Bird has contributed to the recent book Five Views on Inerrancy. Bird places his very short discussion on Scripture under the discussion of the Holy Spirit “because the Holy Spirit is the one who inspired authors to write Scripture, who preserves the inscripturated revelation, and who brings illumination to those who read Scripture.” (638) Bird does not outright reject inerrancy and verbal inspiration (though he does sympathize with both) but he does express much hesitancy towards the terminology. He gives a list of reasons he is hesitant about fully affirming verbal inspiration (640-42) and on inerrancy he states, “If the Word of God is God’s own Word, then its veracity is safeguarded not by our efforts to harmonize any apparent inconsistencies or even by our sophisticated arguments for inerrancy, but by divine fidelity. That is to say, the truthfulness of Scripture is secured by the faithfulness of God to his own Word.” (645) At times Bird seems to use all the same phraseology of an inerrantist but just does not use the term itself.

Conclusion

In the end, though I don’t think Bird has written the next systematic theology that will replace Grudem or Erickson, he has written an overall fine book that will serve the church. What Bird has excelled at is defining the role and relationship of the gospel to systematic theology. This contribution alone is worth owning the book, and others in the future need to follow in his steps. The only other systematic theology I can think of that comes close to this approach is Michael Horton’s recent work A Pilgrim Theology.

Bird treats other theological traditions fairly and shows a real awareness and familiarity with church history. He is thankfully very in tune with and supportive of the various creeds of the church which he turns to throughout the book. Evangelical Theology is not your typical systematic theology as it seeks to weave systematics with biblical and historical theology (primarily through the creeds) to create a more rounded source of theological discussion. The book is peppered with sidebars (often very extensive) in which he seeks to draw attention to certain issues at hand. True to form, Bird mixes his humor throughout the book which makes the reading all the more enjoyable.

NOTE: I received this for free from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and words expressed are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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