Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Invitation to Biblical Interpretation

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson

If Andreas Kostenberger writes something, I’m going to read it, his books are just that good.  Throw in a seasoned OT Scholar with a spate of published commentaries and you have a great team.  The great advantage to this book, as Vanhoozer has noted, is its use of the three-fold paradigm of history, literature, and theology.  Divorcing one of these triadic members is part of the struggle in biblical studies, and for Kostenberger and Patterson to use these concepts together is a lofty goal.  Yet, you find in this book a real sense of how both history, literature and theology drive each other in the biblical text, and to amplify one is to bring into the discussion the other two. 

In the Welcome to the Hermeneutical Triad chapter, the authors seek to analyze the flow of biblical interpretation in history.  One particularly helpful part was their emphasis on what happened after the eclipse of historical-critical analysis of the bible.  They write, “In the wake of Frei’s work, however, the pendulum swung to the other extreme.  Increasingly, historical skepticism regarding the historicity of events depicted in the Bible led to a mere literary study of Scripture as any other book….Biblical scholarship was reduced to narrative criticism, and while interesting literary insights were gained, Scripture’s historical dimension was unduly neglected, resulting in an imbalanced interpretation once again (76-77).”  Bracketing out of the language of Scripture to produce a mere literary document circumvents the interpretation process by failing to witness the historical factors that led to the writing.  A mere literary study of Scripture is of great value but is much knowing everything we can about Picasso’s artwork but failing to read about what motivated him to paint in such a Cubist manner or what was influencing his subjects in his painting. 

The proof is always in the pudding.  Patterson and Kostenberger put their work to the test in their sample exegesis portions of the book.  Kostenberger writes,
The well-known account of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s Gospel provides an excellent example of the importance of studying the historical and cultural setting of Scripture.  The passage begins with reference to a decree issued by Caesar Augustus.  Luke deliberately places the birth of Christ during the reign of the Roman Emperor.  Historical research reveals that Augustus (31 B.C. –A.D. 14) was the first and (many believe) the greatest Roman emperor.  He presided over what is commonly called the “Golden Age” of Rome and prided himself on having inaugurated an era of peace….Augustus was deified subsequent to his death, and coins refer to him as Divi Filius  (“Son of divinity” or “divine Son”) (133-134).”

Kostenberger wants us to recognize that Luke is carefully weaving together a story of two rival kings, Caesar and Jesus.  The historical dimension of Luke’s gospel helps the reader see that the coming of Jesus into the world is not a nice story for the masses, but a revolutionary culture changing event that has political, theological, and moral implications.  A mere literary interpretation would not catch the rich political rivalry that is Luke is creating in his narrative about the coming King Jesus. 

Another very helpful chapter is the one on prophecy.  Patterson helps us understand the subgenres of prophecy.  In the apocalyptic prophetic form, Patterson notes that, “This present world is evil and without hope and can be remedied only by sovereign divine intervention (329).”  The present world is corrupt and needs saving from a Divine intervention, none other than that God can do.  I was glad to see that Zechariah was included in the section on apocalyptic

Overall, this is an excellent book on Biblical interpretation.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  

A Commentary on the Psalms Vol. 2 (42-89)

A Commentary on the Psalms (Volume 2, Psalms 42-89) by Allen P. Ross

Anyone familiar with Allen P. Ross knows that when he writes a book, it is going to be detailed and very good.   The same can be said for his new commentary on Psalms 42-89.  This commentary is rich in analysis, grammar and syntax, but also gives the reader some practical applications of the text also.  What I found particularly illuminating was the exegetical outline provided at the beginning of each chapter that outlines the psalm, giving meaning but also pointing to the main ideas in the text. 

As others have pointed out, the way Ross approaches the Psalms provides a model for reading the text of Scripture.  In the section of Psalm 58 concerning Unrighteous Judges, Ross carefully makes the point that we don’t entirely know of the occasion in David’s life that led to this Psalm but we should see it as a communal lament psalm (296-297).  The cautious nature of Ross steers us clear of any radical speculation concerning the occasion of the text.  In Psalm 58:1, the first line is troubling for some.  Yet, Ross points out that the phrase “Do you truly speak righteousness in silence?”  possibly to “uttering long-silent justice” which ‘would mean that these people claimed to be remedying the lack of justice but were introducing injustice (299).”  The very nature of the judges and their work pronounced to the culture around them that they promoted and rallied around injustice. 

On the Message and Application section of Psalm 62, Allen points us to a truth about God that is beneficial for all ages.  He writes, “God alone is able to deliver the faithful from destructive enemies and make them safe and secure because he alone is both savior and judge (375).”  In other words, he has both the power to judge enemies rightly and fully while also mediating salvation for God’s people.  The effective nature of God’s judgments and his saving work are no more apparent than in the coming of Jesus in the incarnation and in his Second Coming.  If God were just judge, then mercy would not be on offer and salvation would not be effective.  If he were just savior, than his people would not be free from the ravaging nature of sin that besets all people.  Allen points us to God’s character that is both rewards the just and condemns the unjust, delivers the righteous and punishes the wicked. 

I also appreciated the way Ross interacted with both older commentaries and more recent works.  This kind of thorough treatment of the Psalms is just what the student and pastor need for their study.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Healed at Last

Healed at Last: Separating Biblical Truth from Myth by Scott Blackwell

How do we understand miracles in the Bible and today?  Are miracles evidence of a strong faith or is the lack of miracles evidence of the lack of it?  All these questions are swirling around the Christian church and yet, we need solid biblical answers to these questions.  In Healed at Last, Scott Blackwell examines these issues with an eye toward the Bible and sound practice.  No stranger to illness (meningitis) and a sever limp even today, Scott is not one for easy answers or practical appeal, he seeks truth. 

For Scott, the discussion on healing with begins with two corollary truths: God is good, his truth is in Scripture and life is hard (or in other words, we live in a fallen and sinful world).  The second truth is the hardest to swallow for many Christians who err on the side of seeing miracles everywhere.  Blackwell explains this as “life as it is really is (26).”  Yet, this does not make life an easier.  Most Christians believe they have been short changed by the blessings of God and have had their share of personal suffering and anguish.  There is no easy answer as Scott points out, but Christ’s promises to be with us and guide us are no less true when we go through great turmoil. 

In chapter 3, pursuing a sign, Scott gets into the nitty gritty details of those who look at miracles in a me-centered way.  The attraction of the position is found in the first two points that Scott mentions, namely that ‘Miracles are evidence of the presence of the Spirit of Christ and that miracles are evidence that Christ conquered the world (57).’  Yet, the fourth point is the contentious one that states, “The absence of miracles is evidence of personal (spiritual) failture (58).”  In other words, the lack of miracles is a sure sign that you don’t have enough faith and that you are exhibiting sin in some way.  If someone is not free from cancer, this is due to their individual sin.  This kind of thinking does not focus on the promises of God nor on what the Scriptures say about healing.   Rather, the premise is solely weighted on the individual, his faith and his sin.  It is not the absence of individual faith that is the point of this discussion on miracles, but is the lack of the lordship of Christ as the first priority that is the point (72).

Part of the reason why God heals people today is because by doing so he is teaching them to praise him rightly.  Christ decides when to answer the Christian’s prayer, at the right time, and the person’s response is to praise Him for his mighty work.  The overall value of this book is that Scott constantly points us back to Christ and to the Father’s work in the ministry of miracles. 

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Matthias Media for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

China's Reforming Churches

China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry in the Next Christendom Edited by Bruce P. Baugus

The explosion of church growth in China has been happening at an alarming rate.  The house church movement has seen dramatic growth over the past 25 years.  Yet, what is happening in the church of China as it connects to Reformed worship and practice?  These and other questions are ones tackled by the contributors to the new book entitled China’s Reforming Churches edited by Bruce Baugus.  The book is split into four sections that outline the history, present state, challenges and tradition of Presbyterianism in China.  With 13 chapters, a conclusion and two appendices, the book provides a thorough analysis of the issues regarding Presbyterianism in China.  

Michael M. traces the early Protestant missionary involvement in China to Robert Morrison in 1807.  With restrictions on proselytizing, Morrison in his twenty-seven years in China was able to translate the Bible into Chinese, found a college, put together a Chinese-English dictionary and do many other activities that promoted Christ (10).  Coming from a conservative Presbyterian conviction, Morrison also relied heavily on the WCF as he taught his way through the Scriptures.  Even throughout the early missionary efforts, there was no less than 12 particular Presbyterian and Reformed church bodies in China, from the northeast to other eastern provinces (see pp. 32-33 and table on 32). 

One of the fascinating challenges of the Christian faith in China is the relationship between the way the culture views the faith and the participants of the faith.  One government scholar from China writes, “In the eyes of the average Chinese, Christianity is still regarded as a religion of the West and an “imported product” of Western culture….In China’s mainstream media and publications, Christianity has only changed from having a negative role to a “neutral” one; its presence it tolerated without the need for public criticism (109).”  There is still not widespread openness to the publication of Christian materials in China.  Yet, there moving from a negative to a neutral (if neutral positions even exists) can lead Christianity to a better viewpoint for most Chinese.

One of the challenges of promoting Biblical Presbyterianism is China is the often mish mash of certain Presbyterian practices within house church movements.  “When these churches began to discuss the possibility of establishing a presbytery, it became clear that they wanted to maintain the status quo of episcopal structure and diversity of practices (127).”  The structure of Presbyterian government, including Presbyteries, is designed so that each member works together as part of organic unit.  If one pastor engages in practicing infant baptism but another adamantly rejects this teaching, how does unity continue in the church?  I would add that the complicated relationship between Presbyterian denominations in America connecting with churches in China often add to the turmoil that exists in these local congregations.  The way forward is not to pick up a certain few elements of Presbyterianism and adopt them, but to carefully seek to form Presbyterian practices that each elder commits to as a whole. 

I really enjoyed this book, even as it was written by many contributors.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Titus for You by Tim Chester

Titus for You by Tim Chester

We are often unfamiliar with the Pastoral Epistles in the church.  Church government and leadership puzzle us because we’d rather get on with the show.  Yet, the book of Titus, is such an important book for the church today.  Pastor Tim Chester gives us much to chew on as he opens up the book of Titus to us in his new commentary, Titus for Everyone, published by thegoodbook company.  In the introduction, Tim brings out the point that appointed church leadership is part and parcel of the book of Titus, but this is important in the context of evangelical zeal for the gospel.  The process of appointing church leaders should not denigrate zeal for the gospel but promote life giving energy for the good news of Jesus Christ (12). 

Tim quickly gets into some troubling waters for many Christians when writes about the sovereignty of God in salvation.  Why preach the good news if God is the one who elects sinners?  Tim writes, “But for Paul it had the opposite effect.  He knew there were people out there who God had chosen to make alive.  All they needed was someone to preach the gospel.  And he could be that person.  If he preached, then those who God had chosen would put their faith in Christ.  It might be a long process, but God would save his elect (16).”  The very fact of God’s choosing or electing sinners for salvation should push us to see the grand occasion we have for proclaiming God’s salvation in Christ.  Paul knew that the gospel being proclaimed depended upon his words, his life, and his witness to what Jesus had done for him.  Tim reminds us that Titus finds this harmony of sovereignty and proclamation at the heart of God’s mission in the world. 

Tim’s emphasis on grace in writing about Titus 2.11-15 is also very illuminating.  He writes, “Grace does not simply prepare us for the future age (by saving us from God’s judgment).  Grace also shapes our lives in the present (78).”  There is a sanctifying grace that we inherit and a saving grace that we experience but also future grace.  Paul is pleased to talk about the appearing of Jesus in light of his grace and glory.  What does this mean for present believers?  Well, for one, it means that we do not live the Christian life like a man alone on a raft at sea, but amidst a believing community that shares in the same grace.  Tim’s outline of (Grace has appeared, What grace teaches us, Glory will appear, an How grace teaches us) is helpful in understanding the comings of Jesus.

Overall, this short commentary is very beneficial in outline the major contents of Titus.  While being bother pastorally sensitive and theologically solid, this commentary will be a great resource for pastors and students alike.

Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and thegoodbook company for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.