July 2013

Reading the Apostolic Fathers by Clayton JeffordIt is too often the case that some of the best writing to be read is often some of the least known and unread. If the disappointing statistics for how often Christians read their Bibles is true then the chances of other great Christian writings being read is even worse. Sadly, such is the case when it comes to the writings of the early church fathers. Written after the New Testament but within the first two centuries, these early Christian writings give us a glimpse into the still newly started church.

Focusing on the Apostolic Fathers Clayton N. Jefford has written Reading the Apostolic Fathers: A Student’s Introduction which is now in its second edition. The purpose of the book is to provide readers of the Apostolic Fathers with a guide for better understanding. While some of the text is similar to that of other NT writings there is much that is not in both style and content.

In the introduction Jefford provides some brief but helpful  information on some of the features and content of the Apostolic Fathers. He provides a chart with the possible date ranges for when the works were written as well as a chart showing what Christian writers, during and shortly after the first two centuries of the church, also read these writings. Noting that the theology of the Apostolic Fathers was not unified across the board there were still significant agreements. Some of those included looking for the return of Christ, monotheism and an appropriate Christian lifestyle.

The content of the book is outlined with four major sections: answers which provide a brief summary of the text(s), questions which explore the details of the answers, contents which summarize the writings themselves and related literature for further study on each author and their writings. The answers and questions complement each other and provide a wealth of detailed information surrounding the authors and their writings. The contents section provides a detailed outline of the writings as well as a summary of their content. The related literature at the end of each chapter provides the reader with a list of other resources for further study. Among the many things covered in the chapters are the proposed dates of the writings, later additions, discrepancies between editions, the occasion for writing, the mysterious images that appear in some of the writings and even how these writings relate to Scripture.

As one who has read the Apostolic Fathers, this book provides the reader with a helpful read-along guide. This book should be required reading for any class on the Apostolic Fathers and I would recommend it to anyone looking to read these writings for the first time. It will certainly make reading them much easier and more profitable.

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

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Interpreting the Pauline Letters by John HarveySecond only to the Gospels, the thirteen letters of Paul are comprise some of the most discussed, debated and studied books in the New Testament. Having written nearly half of the NT himself, Paul covers a broad scope of both theological and practical subjects. If the new perspective on Paul has shown us anything it is that a basic understanding of Pauline theology, philosophy, methodology, etc. is built on a proper exegetical method and tools.

It is towards this goal of providing basic exegetical tools for interpreting the letters of Paul that John D. Harvey has written Interpreting the Pauline Letters: An Exegetical Handbook in the new Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis published by Kergel. This is the first of four volumes to be written by Harvey the others of which are Interpreting the Gospels and Acts, Interpreting the General Letters and Interpreting the Apocalypse. The goal of this series of books is to provide seminary students with a textbook on all the NT books who have already had one year of Greek. However, since the English translation is also provided along with the Greek text, non-Greek students can still benefit greatly from these books.

Background for Interpreting Paul’s Letters

As is typical for books like this, Harvey begins by looking at the genre of Paul’s letters. Paul writes his letters against the backdrop of a culture that placed a high price on oral and rhetorical skills as well as literary. By utilizing the letter form of writing Paul is able to address multiple people at once with the intention of dispersing the letter once the original recipients have read it. Harvey does a great job showing the similarities and differences between Paul’s letters and that of the Greek culture. One of the noticeable differences being that Paul’s letters are much longer than average and he covers many topics in a single letter (29). Harvey provides the reader with a most helpful chart which breaks down each of Paul’s letters into their overall literary structure (32-33).

Following genre, Harvey turns to the historical context of Paul’s letters by providing a short yet comprehensive outline of the historical flow of each book by itself and all thirteen as a whole. Harvey briefly and satisfactorily tackles the historicity, or, integrity, of each book and especially addresses the issues surrounding 2 Corinthians and Philippians (51-54). Concerning the historical flow of Paul’s letters Harvey presents the method based on Paul’s letters alone versus the book of Acts. Noting that a chronological sketch of Paul’s ministry as extracted from his letters alone is difficult, he leans towards Acts to provide a more full chronology stating, “The book of Acts provides a connected account of Paul’s ministry.” (67) Essentially, Harvey walks through the books three times: first, through the letters themselves establishing the chronology, then briefly through Acts and finally through the letters once again focusing on the historical background of each letter.

Moving to the theology of Paul’s letters we come to perhaps the pinnacle of Harvey’s work. After briefly presenting the various methods of outlining Paul’s theology Harvey suggests that the primary way in which to dissect Paul’s theology is through antithetic (80). With this in mind, the primary antithesis that characterizes Paul’s theology is that of being “in Adam” or “in Christ.” These constitute the two spheres of human existence. It is from this antithesis that Harvey delves into much of Paul’s theology such as justification, propitiation, adoption, faith and the church. With the big picture of Paul’s theology in mind Harvey then walks through each of Paul’s letters and highlights their distinctive theological contributions to Paul’s overall theology. Harvey has a lot of good content here and some readers will wish he had developed some Pauline themes a bit more to their satisfaction.

Process for Interpreting Paul’s Letters

With Paul’s theology behind him Harvey begins to move into the area of interpretive tools. First he discusses textual criticism. The eclectic, reasoned and conservative approaches to textual criticism are discussed along with a synopsis of the various text theories. Harvey walks the reader through a detailed process of utilizing various linguistic tools for determining both the original text of Paul’s letters but also their correct translation. He gives a six step process for translating the text and provides a solid list of accompanying resources to aid in translation work.

After translation work comes contextual considerations such as historical, literary and theological context. Historically there are issues to address such as how daily life was viewed or what might it mean to be a Roman citizen. Also, it is important to know who the rulers were at the time and what each of the cities were like that Paul visited and wrote letter to. With some repetition, but mostly new information, Harvey revisits the literary and theological aspects of Paul’s letters as it pertains to interpreting them. Throughout he provides a wealth of other books and resources to aid in this task.

The final two chapters deal with crafting a sermon for preaching Paul’s letters and Harvey provides two passages to serve as examples of how it might be done. Harvey lays out a three step to the exposition of a text: synthesis of the passage, appropriation to the hearers and homiletical packaging for how the passage bears on my life. The two examples in chapter seven really bring home the three step process Harvey lays out and will benefit anyone. The final chapter provides a list of resources under headings such as Greek text editions, textual criticism references, NT theology books as well as commentaries for all of Paul’s letters. There is also a helpful glossary of all of the terms in bold throughout the book with a once sentence definition

With the inaugural volume of the Handbook for New Testament Exegesis there is no doubt that these four volumes will quickly become some of the most used books by students, teachers and pastors for their target use. Interpreting the Pauline Letters will find its place next to Thomas Schreiner’s already popular Interpreting the Pauline Epistles as a perfect complimentary book. If one can master the content in Harvey’s book then they will be well on their way to gaining an impressive grasp of most of the NT.

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

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Is God anti-gay by Allberry“We need to love them more than their gay friends do, and we need to love them more than they love their homosexuality. Only then can we point to the greater love that God has for them.” (73)

It is by far agreed that homosexuality is the defining issue of the day for the church. If you exist on the internet with a blog you are discussing it and if you don’t then you are certainly reading about it. If you can stomach it you can even watch it discussed on the news media outlets or listen to it on the radio. With a host of pastors, bloggers, counselors and theologians weighing in on the discussion it is pretty easy to realize that most of them within evangelical circles are not homosexual themselves. They are discussing the issue from the outside looking in as it pertains to the activity of homosexuality.

That is why one of the most recent books on the issue is so unique. Sam Allberry, pastor and author, has written a short and very readable book titled Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction. Allberry is a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction. Choosing to use the phrase same-sex attraction (SSA) to describe his sexual struggles, Allberry writes clearly, pastorally and biblically. Allberry chooses to use the term SSA, instead of  gay or homosexual, so as to avoid defining himself by his sexual struggles.

Laying a Biblical Foundation of Sex

In the first two chapters Allberry discusses what the Bible has to say about sex and homosexuality. Beginning with Genesis 1 and 2 we see how sex is rooted in the goodness of God’s original creation and is designed to reflect the oneness and unity of the trinity. Adam and Eve were alike as humans but different in genders by design. As with the trinity there is a oneness but not a sameness, unity but not uniformity. Marriage brings two of the opposite together as one. “Sex” between the same genders is not only not sex but the sexual activity that does occur falls terribly short of creating the oneness and unity between the two that God intended it to.

Following the Biblical foundation for marriage and sex, Allberry briefly and clearly tackles five key passages that specifically address homosexuality.

  1. Genesis 19 – This is the story of Lot and the two angels that visit him in the city of Sodom. Along with Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6 we can see that one of the sins of Sodom for which they were going to be judged was sexual immorality.
  2. Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13 – Here are two passages that clearly denounce homosexual practices amidst the condemnation of other sexual sins such as incest and adultery.
  3. Romans 1:18-32 – In this biting passage we see that homosexuality is both unnatural in that it is against how God has created things and it is a sign of God’s judgment.
  4. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – Like any other unrepentant sinner, those who engage in homosexual behavior and do not repent of it will not enter the kingdom of God. However, the good news is that one can repent of it and enter the kingdom of God.
  5. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 – Homosexuality is unjust and one of the many acts of sin that the law was given to judge in order to evoke repentance.

If you questioned the meaning of these passages before Allberry’s lucid thoughts can certainly bring you back in line with Scripture. He dispels the popularly perpetuated myth that God is for committed and faithful relationships whether they are heterosexual or homosexual (37-38). He concludes this chapter by saying, “The situation is worse than people think. God is opposed to all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.” (36)

The Christian and Homosexuality

The questions is commonly asked, “Can you be a gay Christian?” Since God clearly does not condone homosexuality then how are Christians supposed to handle SSA? Allberry embarks on this chapter riding on a very fine distinction between the unrepentant person who takes hold of their SSA and lives it out and the Christian who recognizes their struggle with SSA but seeks to walk in repentance and their identity in Christ. “What marks us out as Christians is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do.” (41) For Allberry, a Christian with SSA who accepts God’s teaching on it in the Bible will not seek to give themselves over to those passions and therefore not welcome the idea of being a gay Christian. The term gay Christian carries with it acceptance and toleration of their SSA that God does not.

Chapter four gives a number of helpful practices for Christians struggling with SSA such as prayer, Biblical thinking about ones identity in Christ and especially the willingness to be open about their struggles with others in order to seek spiritual help and accountability. Allberry is right to point out that change in regard to a person’s sexual desires is possible “but a complete change of sexual orientation is never promised in the Bible.”(46)

The Church and Homosexuality

Many people in the unbelieving world, and even some Christians, contend that the mere belief that homosexuality is a bigoted, intolerant and unchristian. In chapter four Allberry lays out some honest and helpful advice for how churches (Christians) should handle homosexuals attending their churches. Central to this advice is that we need to see their spiritual needs in the proper order. They need Jesus first and then we can show them what Jesus and the rest of the Bible has to say about their sexuality as creatures created in God’s image. At the end of the chapter Allberry delicately and yet unequivocally warns Christians and the church that to teach that any kind of homosexual activity is ok is actually sending people into destruction (69-70).

So, is God anti-gay? Allberry says no. God is against our sin whether it is adultery or homosexual behavior. He is against the person sin wants us to be. However, God is seeking to save the lost unrepentant sinner and bring them to repentance and right relationship with Him through Christ.

In Is God anti-gay? Allberry has certainly gone out on the limb to write this book as a Christian who struggles with SSA. He has put himself out there for the benefit of Christians to help their brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with SSA and to help those who don’t to better understand them and how to help and love them. When a Christian gets to know a homosexual or Christian who struggles with SSA and they want to know what Scripture has to say about it, this is the first book I would turn to.

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

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