November 2015


Held in Honor by Plummer and HasteThere are so many books on marriage. There are a lot of good ones and a lot of not so good ones. Each has their focus and many of them are helpful. When couples read them they are often times looking to them for their wisdom. What can they tell me about marriage that I don’t know yet? What can they tell me about how to deal with this or that issue?

With the proliferation of marriage books today one might come to the conclusion that the church has only been offering marital wisdom in the last generation or so. But this would be wrong. The church has had much to say abut marriage since its inception.

This is exactly what Robert Plummer and Matthew Haste want to share with Christians in their new book Held In Honor: Wisdom for Your Marriage from Voices of the Past (Christian Focus, 2015). “Many approach marriage as if it were an adventure into the unknown.” (13) While not intending to, marriage couples can act as if they were the first to be married and have a sense of loneliness amidst their marital problems and struggles.

When we study history we find that the questions and struggles we are having today are the same ones other Christians were having centuries ago. The times may be different but the struggles of marriage are always the same. Plummer and Haste draw upon centuries of Christians who have spoken to the realities of marriage. Though there is much wisdom to gain from contemporary voices, the voices of the past have much to say as well.

Held In Honor is structured as a devotional. Each day has a short passage on marriage from the past along with a brief historical introduction on the person who wrote it and the context for what they wrote. Then a short devotional is written based on their advice. The authors are chosen from five eras in Christian history beginning with Igantius of Antioch in the early 100’s and ending with John Piper from the present day.

What is striking about the selections is that the authors have not just chosen the best of the best marital wisdom. They have included some advice that is unwise or unbiblical in order to point us to the truth fund in Scripture. For instance, Ambrosiaster, writing in the 4th century, gives us a window into how the early church viewed marriage as opposed to singleness. The authors point out that singleness was held above marriage and to be preferred. In the accompanying devotional the authors show how marriage is to be valued as an institution of God and how to properly view singleness as a gift from God.

Held In Honor is an easy to read devotional drawing on the wisdom of the past concerning the many issues related to marriage and how Scripture speaks to them. This is an enjoyable read and proves that Christians of the past have as much to teach us abut marriage as those in the present. This book will help you gain a greater appreciation for voices of the past in regards to the churches teaching on marriage.

I received this book for free from Christian Focus for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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John_EGGNT by HarrisWriting the inaugural book on Colossians and Philemon for the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series, Murray J. Harris has recently written the next installment on John. This series has already made its mark as a standard Greek text commentary series for serious students of the Greek New Testament and Harris once again shows his ability and love for the text.

The commentary is solely based on the Greek of the New Testament primarily using the fifth edition of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament. Harris divides John into pericopes by its Greek text, block diagrams and then exegetes phrase-by-phrase. A good grasp of New Testament Greek is required to benefit from this book as well as an ability to understand the grammatical abbreviations used in the book.

As a guide, the reader is presented with a number of helps in their own study of the Greek text. The purpose of the book is not to do all of the work for the reader, but, rather, to “provide all the necessary information for understanding the Greek text.” Having a lot of the time consuming work done for you helps the reader to focus more on interpreting the information and developing the sermon. By breaking the book up into pericopes the reader already has a good idea as to how to lay out their sermons. There are suggested homoletical outlines (often giving more than one) as well as suggested further reading based on the subject matter of each verse or group of verses examined. When more than one suggestion is offered by commentators Harris presents them along with his reasons for which one seems to fit the text best.

What shines through in this volume is Harris’ love for and deep knowledge of John’s gospel. This was a labor of love for Harris and as such it is more than a mere academic and scholarly exercise. He is able to allow the simplicity of the Greek and John’s divinely inspired message to shine through while pointing the reader to the depths of John’s simple message, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life through His name.” (Jn. 20:31)

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Gospel Conversations by KellemenFor much of the history of the Christian counseling movement the professional counselor, who has spent hundreds of hours in class and in counseling sessions in order to be certified as a counselor, has been the go-to person for counseling. Whether it is a local church pastor, educated layman, or a counselor with an independent practice, a certain mindset about what makes one a qualified counselor and what qualifies as preparation has dominated the practice.

But is this the only way? Must one spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on classroom and hands on training in order to be a qualified Biblical counselor? Has the professionalization of the Christian counselor taken counseling right out of the church? Who was competent to counsel before contemporary competencies were developed?

Robert W. Kellemen, executive director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and author of and contributor to several biblical counseling books like Gospel-Centered Counseling and Scripture and Counseling, has written Gospel Conversations: How To Care Like Christ as part of the Equipping Biblical Counselors Series (Zondervan, 2015). This is a hands on manual for equipping members of local churches to be biblical counselors. Kellemen is trying to help churches move from being “a church with a biblical counselor to a church of biblical counseling.” (353)

Gospel Conversations is about equipping willing Christians with the tools necessary to become competent biblical counselors. These tools center on what Kellemen calls The Four Dimensions of Comprehensive Biblical Counseling Equipping as found in Romans 15:14:

  1. Christlike Character – This is the person who Paul says is “full of goodness” in heart and being.
  2. Biblical Content/Conviction – This is the person who Paul says is “complete in knowledge” in their head.
  3. Counseling Competence – This is the person who Paul says is “competent to instruct” with their hands.
  4. Christian Community – The “one another(s)” are the other Christians to whom Paul says biblical counselors are ministering to.

Essentially, Kellemen believes that competent biblical counselors can be developed in the context of the local church community without the need for hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of professional training. This is the heart of this book. Citing the research study conclusions of J. Durlak comparing the effectiveness of professional counselors to that of paraprofessionals (laypeople), Kellemen believes that professional training is not the primary means for developing competent counselors. The primary means are the personal characteristics of the counselor themselves (83). As such, these personal characteristics can be taught and can be taught in the local church. “We learn to become competent biblical counselors by giving and receiving biblical counseling in the context of real and raw Christian community.” (17)

The way these character traits are taught is through a small group of people who are willing to develop and use them. That is what the structure of this book is centered on. It requires one person to lead a small group of laypeople who want to be Romans 15:14 counselors in their local church. At the heart of the book is the idea that equipping Christians to be counselors is best done relationally. This allows the trainees to be shaped by the very principles of counseling that they are seeking to help others with. They are shaped by what they are sharing.

Gospel Conversations is a go-to training manual by which church leaders can develop and equip Christians to do the work of the ministry through counseling. Kellemen is not trying to replace professional Christian counselors but, rather, enable the church to develop more counselors to work within the church. There will always be a need for professional counselors who can deal with trauma, severe depression, deep seeded addictions, etc. However, there is much that can be done by brothers and sisters in Christ who know the Word, know people, and are shaped by the counsel they seek to give. This is a must have tool to help pastors train lay-Christians to be competent to counsel.

I received this book for free from Zondervan through Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

History of Western Philosophy and Thelogy by Frame“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take very thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

For too long Christians have had an uneasy mindset towards philosophy. Often quoting Paul’s instruction to Christians not to be taken “by philosophy and empty deceit,” (Col. 2:8) they carry a look of disdain towards Christians who find philosophy interesting and helpful. They claim sola scriptura and sound convincing doing it. But they miss a key element of Paul’s argument. He tells the Colossian believers to guard against philosophy that is “according to human tradition.” While they rightfully judge much of philosophy as not thinking God’s thoughts after Him, does this mean all of it is and, therefore, that is has not value for Christians?

Deep within the rhetoric and logic of anti-philosophy Christians is itself the basics of philosophy. Just as Greg Bahnsen said that atheists sit on God’s lap in order to slap Him in the face and use the air God created for them to breathe in order to denounce His existence with their words, so Christians who chastise philosophy have to use it in order to denounce it. They unwittingly sit on the lap of philosophy in order to poke its eyes out.

People, and Christians, cannot help but do philosophy – even if they do not want to. Philosophy is merely the love of wisdom and as Christians we ought to love it more than anyone else in the world. Christianity owns philosophy because Christianity has the true understanding of wisdom as found in Christ and the cross (1 Cor. 1:24). If Aristotle is right that “all men by nature desire to know,” Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and the Apostle Paul that “In [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” then Christians, not just should, but, ought to be the best philosophers the world has ever known.

One such Christian who has spent his life loving the wisdom of God is John Frame. Though he identifies primarily as a theologian, he has kept philosophy close in all he does. Having taught theology and philosophy for decades, Frame has now turned his classroom material into a new book A History of Western Philosophy and Theology (P&R, 2015). This is a masterful and engaging walk through the Western worlds most substantive and contributory philosophers from the Greeks to the present.

What is a History of Philosophy?

A history of philosophy, let alone Western philosophy, is a history of men attempting to think wisely about the big questions of life. Unfortunately, it is marked with unwise thinking. While seeking knowledge and wisdom “according to human tradition” they have tried to push the God of all wisdom and knowledge out of the picture. If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” then philosophy done “against the knowledge of God” is a venture in foolishness.

In walking through the history of Western philosophy, Frame is doing two things: he is mapping out how philosophers have answered the questions of life and he is showing us how many of them have failed to answer them adequately. Just because people suppress the truth of God in their thought does not mean they stop thinking. Often times it is the very desire to suppress their knowledge of God that drives some philosophers to do what they do.

Throughout the book, as Frame clearly lays out each thinkers philosophy, he offers helpful critique of the many “wrong turns” man’s wisdom has taken him (36). Those familiar with Frame will anticipate that he does so from his presuppositional and triperspectival outlook on theology. This makes his work stand out from others who have charted the same historical waters. From Frame’s perspective, a history of philosophy and theology is a history of men suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness in their attempt to answer the big questions of life apart from God and a history of the same for those who have tried to faithfully think God’s thoughts after Him.

Philosophy & God

But this is not just a book on the history of philosophy. It is also a book on the history of theology. For Frame, the two are inseparably linked. To talk of one is to talk of the other. Philosophy is about wisdom and theology is about God and philosophy always makes its way to talking about God. Even atheists have a theology of God and it often comes to light in their philosophy.

What is often missed by naysayers of philosophy is that whenever they do theology they are using the language and provisions of theology to do so. We cannot talk of the trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the nature of the will, and so on without the language of philosophy. While Scripture gives us the theological grounding for talk of the trinity, it is philosophy that has given us the language of essence, being, and person-hood, all of which are essential to properly communicating orthodox teaching on the trinity.

This is ok. God has given us philosophy in order to communicate the Bible’s theology. Unfortunately, much of philosophy has not been done in the service of theology. Frame draws us into the minds of men who have not always thought God’s thoughts after Him and nor do they want to. They are either searching for God in all the wrong places or seeking to push Him out of the minds of others.

C.S. Lewis said that “good philosophy must exist, if for nor other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” This can be wrongly taken to mean that it is the only reason good philosophy should exist. Rather, it is one reason it should exist. Bad philosophy exists because men suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness in their thinking. Good philosophy is possible when men pattern their thoughts after God. Good philosophy should be the norm. To borrow from Augustine, we should not let the abuse of philosophy detract from its proper use.

Benefit for Christians

Christians should do philosophy in service to God but why should they study the philosophy of those who suppress the truth of God in their thinking? For the same reason, and others, that we teach each generation the history of civilizations; Christians need to be students of the history of philosophy in order to learn from it. The history of philosophy is as important for the church as is church history and historical theology.

Frame has made the history of philosophy readable for just about everyone. One does not have to be well acquainted with philosophy and its various systems in order to read this book. It is not dubbed down but it is written in a way as to serve the reader. Here are a number of aspects of the book to aid in learning:

  1. On the left side of two open pages is a running outline of where you are in each section.
  2. There are numerous quotes extracted from the body of the book highlighting important time periods, people, or thoughts that should not be missed.
  3. At the end of each chapter is a comprehensive list of key terms. At the end of the book is a 46 page glossary of terms used in the book.
  4. To aid the reader in content retention there is a list of study questions at the end of each chapter. The number of questions might overwhelm some but they follow the order of the content of each chapter for easy referencing. Reading them before reading each chapter will be beneficial.
  5. Each chapter also has a bibliography, a brief explanation of some related books to read, and online links to Frame’s lectures of the related material.
  6. One of the best features of the book are links to wikiquote.org with lots of famous quotes by the philosophers.
  7. The end of the book has twenty appendixes covering philosophical ideas and reviews of important books and articles.

A History of Philosophy and Theology is a great achievement in historical philosophy and theology and critique from a master philosopher and theologian himself. Frame continues to provide the church with solid books that will have a shelf life for generations to come.

I received this book for free from P&R for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

 

For those who have followed the NIV since its inception, you will be familiar with the controversy surrounding its translation changes with each new edition. Certain groups of Christians have taken this to mean they are changing God’s Word (as if a translation was inspired), while in reality showing they do not understand what a translation is.

Seeking to shed more light on the work of the NIV translation philosophy, the Committee for Bible Translation (CBT) has written a short history, with some examples, of how these changes came to be and what they actually meant for the final form of each new translation. Since the CBT’s philosophy was to be readable and reflect current English, changes had to be made periodically because the English language changes.

Here is a short video and  excerpt about the changes:

A Unified NIV

Having two editions in print of what was essentially one Bible translation was intended to satisfy the concerns of those who did not understand or accept that masculine nouns and pronouns were no longer universally understood as referring to both men and women as well as those who wanted a translation that accurately reflected contemporary usage. Though there were good intentions behind having two different editions (the 1984 NIV and the TNIV), this made it impossible for the CBT to fulfill its mandate that the NIV would be updated to reflect contemporary English usage.

By 2009, it was time for a reunion.

Biblica, Zondervan and the CBT announced that a new NIV revision would be released in 2011, and at that time, publication of the TNIV and 1984 NIV would cease. There would only be one NIV, and it would include all of the CBT’s approved changes. The CBT had only two years to conduct a major review and issue a revision. The pressure was on.

Because the CBT had continued its work throughout the years of controversy, many revisions reflecting advances in biblical scholarship were already ready to go. But, knowing that the matter was controversial, the CBT dedicated itself to reviewing every single gender revision introduced since the 1978 edition. To get an unbiased view of how contemporary English referred to both men and women inclusively, the CBT commissioned a study by Collins Dictionaries to study the Collins Bank of English, a database of more than 4.4 billion words taken from recordings and publications throughout the English-speaking world.

CollinsData

CollinsData2The Collins data helped the CBT understand word usage by modern English-speakers worldwide.

The data showed that the use of “man” to refer to the human race as whole was less frequent but still quite common. Words such as “people” and “humans” were also being widely used. The study also demonstrated, as CBT had suspected, that “he,” “his,” him,” etc., had a strongly masculine meaning. In place of these traditionally neutral pronouns, modern English speakers were using the pronouns “they,” “them” and “their,” e.g., “Every person who attended received their own prize.”

It also demonstrated that gender-inclusive plural pronouns (“they,” “them,” “their,” etc.) were used far more than masculine pronouns (“he,” “his,” “him,” “himself”) when either an individual male or female was the intended meaning.

“With that data,” said Doug Moo, “we were then able as translators to say, ‘Despite our own personal preferences, this is the English that most people are speaking, and that’s what we need to use in our translation.’”

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If you love the NIV already and want to get an updated one, or have been skeptical about it, but want to give it a chance, use this guide to pick the best NIV Bible for you.