Author Interviews


Two weeks ago I posted my review of Chris Brauns’ new book Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices. The books is great and I encourage everyone to get copy. This week I have invited Chris to answer a few questions about his book to further peak your interest in this great read.

Question: When you discovered the principle of the rope, what was the hardest thing for you personally to accept? Did it change the way you think about and make your decisions?

Craig, thank you for taking the time to interact with Bound Together. I really appreciate it.

Before I forget, I would invite your readers to stop by my web site (www.chrisbrauns.com). In the month of May I am giving Bound Together by Chris Braunsaway the last of some books as well as some free Nooks (see the Bound Together Quiz). The goal of my web site is to post material that would be helpful to people in our local church. But it ends up being helpful to a lot of other people as well.

For those who are not familiar with my book, I should explain that he principle of the rope is a metaphor that I use to reference corporate solidarity: the idea that we are not islands unto ourselves but that we are bound together with other people. I explain in Bound Together:

Our future and place in this world isn’t simply the sum of our own individual choices. On varying levels, we are roped together with others.  When someone we are roped to is lifted up, we are lifted up with them. When he or she jumps off a figurative cliff, we are pulled over with them.  This is what I refer to as the “principle of the rope”: the simple truth that our lives, choices, and actions are linked to the lives, choices, and actions of other people.  To put it simply, as I have in the title of this book, we are “bound together,” tied to others in our good and bad choices.

There are endless illustrations of this principle . . . We talk a lot about the principle of the rope in our church and at home. Recently, when I was out for a walk with my ten year old son, I asked him, “Benjamin, what do I mean by the principle of the rope.” He responded quickly. “Oh, I think about that a lot. Here’s the best example I can give. Today a couple of kids in my class got in trouble. So, none of us got to go out to recess. That’s the principle of the rope.”

The hardest part for me about the fact that we are roped together or bound together is that children suffer because of the choices that adults make. I love children, always have. One of my favorite parts of being a pastor is loving on the little ones.

Given my heart for children, it is very, very difficult for me to accept that when Israel entered into Jericho that all the children were executed. But rather than running from that truth, in Bound Together, I leaned into ittrying to understand where my views of reality need to be reshaped. While I still cannot completely get my mind around the destruction of Jericho, I accept that it is God’s Word and that I can profit from it. Accounts like the destruction of Jericho shows us that Jericho was not viewed as a collection of individuals, but rather as a city “bound together.”

Of course, it has changed how I view life. It shows me, for one thing, that if I really love children I need to build into the lives of their parents as much as possible. We cannot just target individuals. We need to work with groups and cultures as well.

Question: Would you use the principle of the rope in evangelism? If so, how? If not, why?

Whether or not we explicitly talk about the principle of the rope, the subject must be a part of evangelism. In order to be saved, someone must understand that all are born in sin, but that the Good News is that it possible to be united to Christ (Romans 5:18-19).

I do think actually using the metaphor of the principle of the rope helps people understand the concept. To say that Adam was roped to all his descendants communicates in a concrete way.

Question: If the tie to Christ is stronger than our tie to Adam, is the principle of the rope an integral part of the gospel message?

Yes, Paul’s point in Romans 5:12-21is that Christ’s victory is greater than Adam’s defeat: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20).” In terms of the book, Christ’s rope is infinitely stronger than Adam’s.

As I wrote in Bound Together, the doctrine of original sin is the ultimate negative example of the principle of the rope. Union with Christ is the ultimate positive example. If we stopped with only saying that original sin is a negative example and union with Christ a positive one, we might be left thinking that Christians are in a figurative tug-of-war between Adam’s sin and Christ’s righteousness. But the message of the Gospel is that Christ’s victory is greater than Adam’s defeat. The good news is better than the bad news is bad! Through Christ, those who believe in Christ are completely delivered from the dominion of sin.

Thanks Chris for writing this book and taking the time to answer some questions.

Tomorrow I will host a giveaway for a copy of Bound Together.

Yesterday I posted my review on Journeys of Faith edited by Robert Plummer. Today Robert has given me some of his time to answer a few questions about the book.

Robert Plummer is a Greek and NT teacher at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written Paul’s Understanding of the Churches Mission and 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. Robert blogs at www.robplummer.com/blog.

Me:  As you hinted at in your conclusion to the book, this was not an easy idea to act on given your commitments as an Evangelical. What spurred the idea of the book and what did you have to overcome personally in order to go ahead with the idea?

Robert: I knew of several seminary students and former church members who had become Catholic or Greek Orthodox.  I felt that ignoring the issue was not helpful.  Furthermore, I received encouragement from the fellow pastors at my church to put together a book that allowed for constructive engagement and dialogue.  I see the book as a first step in an ongoing conversation – one that will continue in a session of the ETS annual meeting this year.

Me: You state in the introduction, “These traditions (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox & Anglican) are distinct from one another, but they also share a common commitment to a more liturgical expression of the Christian faith.” (p. 15) Are these traditions being more consistent than Evangelicals in their liturgy?

Robert: Someone from the outside looking at Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism would immediately see commonalities – hierarchy, formality, more-structured worship.

Me: To follow the last question, Wilbur Ellsworth noted how he was put off by the sort of ‘free-for-all’ nature of the worship in the Baptist church he first pastored. What can Evangelicals learn from these more liturgical traditions that should help us to be more aware of the rich theological basis for these liturgies?

Robert: Superficiality and the seeming randomness of some evangelical worship services is one reason that evangelical Christians are attracted to liturgical churches.  Of course, there are some evangelical churches that have reverent, thoughtful, and God-honoring worship services.  But, from my experience, those churches are in the minority.

Me: As Francis Beckwith pointed out, he didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be a Catholic. Through each of the contributor’s “conversion” stories we see a genuine struggle as they moved from one tradition to another. How can Evangelicals, who are persuaded about their position, respectfully engage these other traditions who are as convinced of their beliefs as we are about ours?

Robert: A few quick thoughts – (1) Listen, (2) Learn.  Don’t simply listen for the purpose of attacking.  (3) Ask questions, (4) Lovingly disagree, (5) Remain engaged as colleagues or friends.

Me: Speaking of “conversion” stories, why did you choose for each contributor to share their perspective through the stories of the faith changes as opposed to the typical style of counterpoint books?

Robert: Evangelicals are accustomed to gaining converts, not losing them.  When an evangelical Christian hears of another evangelical becoming Catholic or Greek Orthodoxy, they are befuddled. “Why would they do that?” is a common question.  The best way to answer that question is to let converts answer that question in their own words.

Me: As an Evangelical, what did you learn from this project and what do you hope other Evangelicals will take away from these faith tradition changes?

Robert: I feel like I have a better understanding of the diverse views, motivations, and experiences that lead some evangelicals to join ranks with a liturgical church tradition.  Also, I believe the evangelical authors in the book offer some significant critiques of the differing traditions – ones that should give potential converts pause.

Last week I posted my review of Reading Revelation: A Comparison of Four Interpretive Translations of the Apocalypse by C. Marvin Pate. This week Dr. Pate has agreed to answer some questions about his new book.

Dr. Pate teaches at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas where he is the Dept. Chair for Christian Theology and the Elma Cobb Professor of Christian Theology. Previous to teaching, Dr. Pate was a pastor at which time he earned his MA from Wheaton and his PhD from Marquette University.

Dr. Pate has spent a lifetime of writing books on eschatology some of which include: The End of the age Has Come: The Theology of Paul, Four Views on the Book of Revelation (contributor), Dictionary of Biblical Prophecy and End Times (contributor) and Doomsday Delusions: What’s Wrong with Predictions About the End of the World.

1. Share with us what started your interest in eschatology.

Two events drew me to eschatology, both of which occurred when I was 14 years old. First, on a hot July Monday evening in Hampton, Virginia (where I was raised) two U.S, fighter jets collided over the Atlantic Ocean in a practice maneuver and one crashed into the ocean but the other crashed one block from where I lived, in a crowded neighborhood. When it happened, the sky became red, the ground shook, and the noise was deafening. Not knowing what had happened, I thought Jesus was returning! That night made an indelible impression on me about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Second, I preached my first sermon at the age of 14, the same summer the jet crashed and my topic was—you guessed it—the second coming of Christ, based on Matthew 24. And so my interest began that summer and intensified in the years to come. I attended Moody Bible Institute as a student and embraced there dispensational pre-millennialism. But later at Wheaton Graduate School I embraced historical pre-millennialism and have pretty much held that position ever since; though technically I call my approach now “eclectic”.

2. Reading Revelation is a different kind of book. What prompted you to write it?

I wanted to do a book that presented the four major views of Revelation in a way harmonies of the Gospels are laid out. This would give a bird’s eye comparative view of Revelation for the reader . Beyond that, I wanted to translate Revelation according to each perspective for ready to hand use for readers.

3. What was most challenging about writing Reading Revelation

The most challenging tasks of Reading Revelation were to translate the whole book myself (I taught Greek for years) and then to put myself into the mindset of each view and translate Revelation accordingly. To my knowledge the latter had not been done and so I thought it would be helpful for others to do so.

4. Generally speaking, what kinds of sources did you use to accurately present each view?

Since my academic experience from my dissertation days on (some 25 years now) has pertained to the eschatology of the Old Testament, Second Temple Judaism, and New Testament I have been privileged to examine many apocalyptic works. From these and wonderful books like George Ladd’s, A Theology of the New Testament, along with books written representing the various views (for ex., my own edited book with Zondervan, Four Views of Revelation)  I have cultivated my understanding of that literature.

5. What unique contribution does an interpretive translation provide for understanding the text that other books might not?

The interpretive translations that I provide in Reading Revelation hopefully help the reader of the Apocalypse to identify their own reading better while more clearly understanding the other schools of interpretation. And those two goals combine to produce, I hope, humility in how we regard others who take a different view of eschatology from our own.

6. Did writing this book challenge your own interpretation of Revelation? If so, how?

Not really, because I had already come to my own understanding of Revelation (historical pre-millennial with some influence of the other three views) long before I began this book. But of course I continue to grow in the particulars of Revelation (for ex. I now think that Satan and Gog and Magog are sent to hades at Christ’s return and from there will attack the people of God on earth during the millennium; this solves the problem for pre-mils of how non-Christians and Christians can co-exist in the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth—they won’t: one will be in hades with Satan and the other will be on earth).

Thank you, Dr. Pate, for taking the time to answer these questions about Reading Revelation.

Last week I had the opportunity to do a book review of From the Finger of God: A Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law by Philip S. Ross. This week I have the opportunity to ask Philip some questions.

1.There are clearly some ‘heavy hitters’ like D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo who do not hold to the 3 fold division of the Law. You point out in the first chapter that “the threefold division comes under censure from recent writers (p. 11).” Is there anything that has happened recently to cause a rejection of the 3 fold division of the Law by well-respected theologians?

I suspect that Carson and Moo are ‘heavy hitters’ within a relatively narrow context. If we could see the church stretched out geographically, from East to West, and chronologically, from beginning to end, then they may not register so high on the ‘heavy-hitter’ scale. There will be parts of the Christian church where their names are unknown, and just like the rest of us, this place that knows them now will know them no more. Indeed, I doubt that either of these men expect to tower over Christian history like Athanasius, Anselm, or Luther.

I think, therefore, that the first question is, what is the context of those who have rejected the threefold division and its recognition of the Decalogue as ever-binding? Largely, though not exclusively, their context has been North American evangelicalism, with which I am not sufficiently familiar to say that something specific happened, but I expect that ecclesiastical environment has an influence. While the division’s critics may not all be Dispensationalists, it could be that in a context where a hermeneutic of discontinuity prevails, it does not sound immediately wrong to say that the Decalogue is not binding. If it is also true that there are trends away from Dispensationalism and Arminianism towards Reformed theology in American Evangelicalism, then perhaps issues relating to the law or the fourth commandment emerge as final sticking points for some people.

I do not want to imply that simply because Dispensationalist thinking may be part of a writer’s context that their arguments are therefore Dispensationalist or automatically invalid. This is simply to restate what I have outlined in chapter one of the book, that none of us operates in a dogmatically sterile environment. What I was taught from childhood, the Scottish Reformed church culture in which I was brought up, and the context in which I work or study, has a bearing, for good or ill, on my approach to any theological subject. The same is true for North American evangelicals.

2. You state that the defense for the 3 fold division of the Law runs along biblical, theological, historical and methodological lines. You also state that no where in Scripture does it explicitly say that there are 3 divisions of the Law. How is that not a case against the 3 fold division of the Law as some would make it?

Ultimately, the defence of the threefold division runs exclusively along biblical and theological lines. History and tradition are important insofar as biblical interpretation must not take place in a self-inflated interpretative bubble. Unless one wishes to start a cult, it is not just ‘me and my Bible’, it is not even ‘my favourite commentators and my Bible’, or ‘my particular context and my Bible’. Rather, we seek to interpret Scripture in communion with all true saints, past and present, recognising that if our reading of Scripture overturns established orthodox and genuinely catholic doctrines, then we risk placing ourselves outside their company. Method also matters because anyone embracing an approach to Scripture that rejects the church’s common and enduring assumptions about Scripture may find themselves at best semi-detached from the holy catholic church.

Conservatives may be happy enough to accept this if flawed methodology is categorized as historical criticism, queer hermeneutics, or other approaches which they judge ruinous to the Christian faith. Flawed methodology, however, also includes the demand for specific and explicit proof-texts for every doctrine or theological expression. This is why the Westminster Assembly of Divines was so reluctant to meet Parliament’s demand for proof texts to be added to the Confession of Faith. It is only when, with the whole church, we read Scripture as a coherent, consenting, and consistent whole that we may establish the biblical and theological basis for a doctrine such as the threefold division of the law. Many Christians will instinctively recognise this when they think of the doctrine of the Trinity, but perhaps a closer example would be the threefold office of Christ. No text of Scripture explicitly proclaims that our Redeemer is prophet, priest, and king both in his state of humiliation and exaltation, yet this is the confession of the Christian church. Those whose approach to Scripture leads them to reject that teaching about Christ are called Socinians, or other unpleasantries.

3. You point out, I think rightly so, that the Decalogue has a distinctive nature in relation to the rest of the Mosaic Law. You argue that it has pre-Sinaitic origins going as far back as Gen. 1-2 before sin entered the world and that “they could be the charter of a sin-free world (p. 79-80).” Fast forward to Rev. 20-22 where sin and Satan are finally removed and defeated, heaven and earth are brought back together and we have the New Heavens and Earth and the New Jerusalem. Mankind is once again enjoying pre-Fall fellowship with God as it was intended. If the Decalogue can be the charter of a sin-free world pre-Fall then will it also be in eternity and if so how?

In those pages I argued that ‘stated positively’ the Decalogue could have been the charter of a sin-free creation. The idea that it encapsulates eternal law has been commonplace. For example, the recent debut in English of Luther’s ‘Antinomian Theses and Disputations’ even receives the title Only the Decalogue Is Eternal (Minneapolis: Lutheran Press, 2008). On page 54 of From the Finger of God, I quote Thomas Boston’s comment in The Marrow of Modern Divinity that Boston’s thought is representative when he states that the law which is ‘the matter’ of the Decalogue ‘is obligatory in all possible states of the creature, in earth, heaven or hell’.

Considering the ‘if’ part of your question first, the answer may be clearer if we begin with hell, which in the final chapters of Revelation is the place where transgressors of the law will find themselves (Rev. 21:8; 22:15). This will be a conscious and ongoing experience of the penalty of the law where idolaters, murderers, and the sexually immoral continue to be what they were, as if in hopeless fulfilment of the angelic proclamation: ‘Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy…’ (Rev 22:11). Contradicting Blocher, Carson asks in The Gagging of God (p. 534), ‘Are we to imagine that the lost in Hell love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and their neigbors as themselves? If not, they are breaking the first and second commandments. … at the end hell’s inmates are full of sin.’ I agree, and my conviction that the double love commandment summarizes the Decalogue, coupled with references in Revelation 21­ and 22 to sins that are transgressions of the Decalogue, means that I do not find it difficult to concur with Thomas Boston’s statement about ‘the matter’ of the Decalogue.

The ‘how’ part of your question is more difficult, but perhaps we can begin to answer the question by thinking about how people might experience each of the Ten Commandments in hell or in heaven. Having awoken to everlasting shame and contempt, those who ‘live’ the second death will forever pursue useless alternatives to the God who is not there, experiencing the absolute dissatisfaction of idolatrous self-worship, still accumulating guilt as they curse God, yearning for meaningful employment, yet never finding rest. In this place of torment, nothing resembles family relationships or neighbourly kindness. Mutual contempt, murderous hate, extreme physical perversion, dispossession, the complete absence of truth, and all-pervading anxiety, will characterize this ‘lawless’ abyss. How different it will be for those who awake to everlasting life. They longed for hearts fixed on God, for the destruction of every cherished idol, for lip service that is always heart service, for the complete fulfilment of serving the Lamb for ever, while resting completely in him. And now they have it. In his renewed creation everyone is an honoured aristocrat. This ‘world of love’ knows no hatred. Relationships are what God intended them to be. No one feels insecure or fears deceit. The meek have inherited the earth and they are satisfied.

What more can I say?  We will only have a truly satisfactory answer to the ‘how’ question when we hear the voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.’

4. At the end of the day, what can believers take away practically from viewing the Law through the 3 fold lens?

The threefold division is meant to be a practical-theological framework, so the list of what believers could take from it is extensive, but I will loosely paraphrase four things expounded in the division. First, in thinking of the Ten Commandments as ever-binding moral law, believers should remember that however useful it may be to them, it is not a means by which they may be justified or condemned. Second, in its summary statements and its exposition throughout the Scriptures, the moral law provides a perfect rule of righteousness that shows us how we should live according to God’s will. As we examine ourselves in the light of it, we should be brought to humble ourselves before God and to see our need of Christ with his perfect fulfilment of the law. Third, when God disciplines us as a Father the son whom he loves, we will sometimes see why he has done so as we meditate on his law. Then turning from our sin and embracing afresh his covenant promises, we may walk again in his ways. Fourth, familiarity with the framework will help Christians to think clearly about laws outside the Decalogue. For example, during a debate at the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 2011 an elder declared: ‘The bible clearly says that adulterers, and adulteresses are to be put to death. This is not the word of God. Death for eating black pudding – there are screeds of dietary commands. We don’t give a fig for any of them … we have to reject the stuff in the Bible about homosexuality because now we know better.’ Familiarity with what the confession of his church teaches on the threefold division might at least have tempered this man’s desire to share his insight.

Philip, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions about your4 new book, From the Finger of God!

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