Category Archives: Book Reviews

Toward and Old Testament Theology – Walter Kaiser

9780310371014Walter C. Kaiser Jr., distinguished professor of Old Testament and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is an excellent scholar and leader in evangelicalism. Before coming to Gordon-Conwell he served at TEDS and as president of ETS, which alone vounch for a positive repuation. There he wrote one of his most significant publications, Toward an Old Testament Theology, which I read this week while off from school. Although some may consider his work passé (it was published in 1978), Kaiser is still masterful in presenting the canonical shape of the Hebrew Bible, exhibiting keen insight and exegetical skill throughout the book. The division of the book is threefold, and I want to make a few observations for the interested reader, all of which occur in the first section of the book.

Division:

I – Definition and Method (the best section of the book)
II – Materials for an Old Testament Theology (walks through each section of the Hebrew ordering of the Bible and explains the theology)
III – The Connection with New Testament Theology (a helpful transition into the Christian era)

An initial observation deals with the nature of the Bible. Kaiser makes clear that, at the time of his writing, biblical theology had failed to restate and reapply the authority of the Bible (as was the case with Gerhard von Rad and Walter Eichrodt). It is therefore his intention to do so. The OT is not a set of detached periods with little or no unity, says Kaiser. Rather, the OT is God’s inspired and infallible Word, as it claims to be, and should be treated as such:

The nature of the theology of the OT…is not merely a theology which is in conformity with the whole Bible, but it is that theology described and contained in the Bible and consciously joined from era to era as the whole previously antecedent context becomes the base for the theology which followed in each era (9).

The most useful way to confirm this authority lies in an inductive reading. In contrast to the method used by systematic theology called the Analogy/Rule of Faith, Kaiser utilizes what he calls the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture to approach his task. In his own words,

While the Analogy or Rule of Faith is deductive and collects all materials regardless of its relative dating, the Analogy of [Antecedent] Scripture is inductive and collects only those antecedent contexts which were in the Scripture writer’s mind as he wrote this new passage as indicated by the same terminology, formulas, or events to which this context adds another in the series (19).

For Kaiser, the text begs to be understood and set in a context of events and meanings. To that end, the exegete must depend on the theology of the periods preceding his given canonical text. Otherwise, he will be using new material in the NT or subsequent OT passages in trying to grasp the meaning of a given text. Kaiser asserts that this would be “an outright rebellion against the author and his claim to have received divine authority for for what he reports and says” (19). On the other hand, by employing the Analogy of Antecedent Scripture the exegete will come to understand the theological core of the canon, which is absolutely crucial to Kaiser’s method. In my own research, albeit limited, I’ve found this method to be very helpful and true to the original intent of the author.

The second (and most important) observation is in Kaiser’s identification of a canonical theological center in the OT. He sees the problem many face as twofold: 1) Does a key exists for an orderly and progressive arrangement of the subjects, themes, and teachings of the OT?, and 2) were the writers of the canon aware of such a theme (20)? Many attempts have been made to answer these questions but Kaiser finds them unsatisfactory and ambiguous. Therefore, he sets out to do so from the text itself and without the critical presuppositions others have brought to the table. Simply stated, God’s unifying plan is bound up in the terms “promise” and “blessing,” for “the divine promise pointed to a seed, a race, a family, a man, a land, and a blessing of universal proportions – all guaranteed, according to Genesis 17, as being everlasting and eternal. In that purpose resides the single plan of God” (see Gen. 3:15; 9:25-27; 12:1-3 as the key OT passages on the promise). The promise is textually confirmed in the vocabulary of the canonical books themselves, as well as certain epitomizing formulae which summarize the central action of God in a succinct phrase or two. Kaiser calls this the tripartite formula of promise – “I will be your God; you shall be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you.” This formula is repeated in part or in full in Genesis 17:7-8; 28:21; Exodus 6:7; 29:45-46; Leviticus 11:45; 22:33; 25:38; 26:12, 44, 45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:20; 29:12-13; et. al. Later it appeared in Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 14:11; 36:28; 37:27; Zechariah 8:8; 13:9; and in the NT in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and Revelation 21:3-7 (33-34). Therefore, according to Kaiser the promise is the theological center of the OT. It is indeginous to the text itself, united and supported in all parts of the canon.

This answers the first question, but what about the second? Were the biblical writers aware and actively working according to this promise? Without going into too much detail, the organic unity of the text is rooted in history through the work of the authors. Thus, history is the unifying principle. This is clear in that the entire focus of the OT lies in the content and recipients of God’s covenants. God has promised in the biblical authors that he would freely do or be something for all men as he did in the past. His “oaths,” “pledges,” “declarations,” and the like all attest to his promissary “word” that he has acted in the past, is acting in the present, and will act in the future.

At this point I’ve mentioned only positive details about Kaiser’s work, the reason being that I didn’t find too much to be critical about. I will mention, however, that Kaiser fails give attention to the literary structure of certain key passages, which, as I’ve learned from Drs. Gentry and Garrett, aid immensely in interpretation (passages like Gen. 1-2; Exod. 15; poetic forumlae in the Proverbs; resumptive technique in Isaiah; the chiastic structure of Zephaniah, etc.). Kaiser also limits his treatment of the Psalms to a few pages, breezing over key ideas and themes so clearly present. Yet Kaiser generally comes to the same interpretation nonetheless. It is understood from the beginning that Kaiser does not intend to write a biblical theology in toto, such as in the works of Brevard Childs, Gerhard von Rad and Bruce Waltke (much later, of course). Instead, he has given us a concise theology, much like Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty. As an aside, it would insteresting to compare Kaiser’s work with Dempster, but that study will have to wait, and this blog is already long enough! At this point I would probably recommend Dempster over Kaiser, but mainly because Dempster draws upon Kaiser’s previous (antecedent!) work, and is more up to date.

In the end, while reading Kaiser I was constantly reminded of the truthfulness of God’s Word in the OT, indeed the whole Bible, and the confidence Christians can have in handling it rightly. If we only had preachers to lead them in this task! I highly recommend this book for pastor’s, scholar’s and seminarians, but not necessarily for lay people. The language is often technical (but readable) and a knowledge of biblical Hebrew is a must.

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Vintage Church – Mark Driscoll

41j3n3-sdkl_ss500_Although I am always interested in most things Mark Driscoll writes or preaches I had no intention of purchasing Vintage Church. But after a recent course in Missiology I’ve been thinking much about church planting and missions, and have had many questions as to the “how’s” and “where’s” and “why’s” of the subject in general. To be specific, if I were ever to plant a church in a city in the U.S. or abroad, where would I begin? How would I (and some close friends Lord willing) start such a thing? Knowing that Driscoll has successfully planted a church (and continues to plant more), and after reading an endorsement for the book by Driscoll himself, I decided to give it a try with hopes of learning from Driscoll’s experience at Mars Hill. I picked up the book from Lifeway, quickly discarded the dust jacket (very annoying), and dove in.

Vintage Church is part of a series of works by Resurgence Literature (Re:Lit) and published by Crossway. The first book to appear in this series was Vintage Jesus, which I skimmed but have not yet read. As the titles suggest, “Jesus” and “Church” are timeless and timely; that is, although ancient they speak the same truths to our culture and generation. Yet whereas Vintage Jesus sought to provide timeless answers to timely questions, Vintage Church seeks to combine timeless truths with timely methods in order to provide a biblical, attractive and influential model of “doing church.” Like Vintage Jesus and Death by Love (see my review here), Driscoll co-writes with professor Gerry Breshears of Western Seminary. Driscoll writes the bulk of each chapter and Breshears provides answers to expected and common questions at the end of the chapters, which are listed below:

1. What is the Christian Life?
2. What is a Christian Church?
3. Who is Supposed to Lead a Church?
4. Why is Preaching Important?
5. What Are Baptism and Communion?
6. How Can a Church be Unified?
7. What is Church Discipline?
8. How is Love Expressed in a Church?
9. What is a Missional Church?
10. What is a Multi-campus Church?
11. How Can a Church Utilize Technology?
12. How Could the Church Help Transform the World?

As you can see, any seminary student can answer the first 8 or 9 questions, or at least I hope they can. In this sense there is nothing new to learn in Vintage Church. Driscoll is clearly influenced by reformed theology and most matters of church polity and practice follow suit. Throughout the book he quotes from Grudem, Piper, Erickson and Calvin, which is to be expected. There are, of course, the open-handed differences that distinguish one denomination from another, such as credobaptism over paedobaptism, complementarian over egalitarian (maybe not so open-handed), male and female deacons (Driscoll holds to both), and the expressions of the Spirit in tongues and prophecy (also held by Driscoll). But for the most part his ecclesiology is thoroughly evangelical and God-honoring. The only unique material comes from Driscoll’s anecdotes and personal stories, which are always enjoyable, and from the final 3 or 4 chapters. To that end I don’t necessarily recommend the book, mostly because I don’t see the necessity of another book on ecclesiology. Certainly the church must change and adapt to the culture around them, that is agreed. But why waste 300 pages regurgitating what has already been written? Moreover, don’t we already have enough books floating around about missional, multi-campus, technologically advanced churches? Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic. I’ll leave that up for you to decide. Maybe I’m not “vintage” enough.

In the end, I had more fun reading the many “driscollisms” splattered throughout Vintage Church than the rest of the book. The man has an uncanny ability at turning a phrase. Here are some highlights:

“The people who showed up [in my early church plant] were generally non-Christians, new Christians, legalistic Christians, anti-Christians, and bitter, burned-out, de-churched maybe-Christians who all wanted to be in authority over themselves and do whatever they wanted in the name of community, which was code for mini-riot anarchy.”

“I once visited a church that gave me a free copy of the pastor’s sermon – on tape – even though I have not seen a tape player since the days when Michael Jackson was male. Looking around the room at the obvious lack of anyone younger than Methuselah, it seemed obvious that their traditionalism had run off emerging generations, thereby dividing their church into the two groups of BT (before tapes) and AT (after tapes).”

“The fact is that when our church was small, I, like many jealous, petty, and ill-informed young buck who know everything but have done nothing, liked to take my shots at well-known pastors of large churches. Now that I am one, I must confess that I was much like the out-of-shape guy with a bowl of chips sitting at home on the couch watching television and criticizing trained professional athletes, which is far easier than actually playing the sport.”

“Admittedly, churches do some incredibly goofy things when they pursue relevance for the sake of being uber hip and ultra cool. one pastor I know go so many piercings that he looked like a rack of lures at the Bass Pro Shop and started skateboarding, despite the fact he was a grandfather.”

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Book Review: The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

510nve4ke9l_ss500_Perhaps no other author can lock me into a book so quickly than David McCullough. His moving biography of John Adams is a favorite of mine, as is the fast paced 1776, both of which I commend to anyone interested in the history of our nation. Of course, all of us know that a book should not be judged by its first few paragraphs, and to this I think McCullough would agree. I can think, however, of many books I’ve picked up recently where reading the first chapter is like walking through heavy mud. McCullough is not of this sort. As a historical novelist, he walks the reader into the story so that he may feel, taste, hear and see the world about which he reads. After trudging through three J-term courses this winter, I decided to read leisurely while waiting for my upcoming, and last, semester. I picked up McCullough’s first book, The Johnstown Flood, and instantly felt like a character in this incredible story.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania, located southeast of Pittsburgh, was a small but thriving factory town of about 30,000 citizens in 1889. The people were diverse, hardworking and content, typical of late 19th century American industrialism. Their town, however, sat at the fork of two rivers (the Stony Creek and Little Conemaugh) that overflow their banks every other spring when heavy rains drench the area. But since no one ever died there was never any attempt to control the waters up to that point, and the floods became commonplace. About 10-15 miles up the Little Conemaugh river was a resort for the Pittsburgh wealthy, which included a large lake upheld by a small, old dam built of stone. The dam contained a spillway which fed into the Little Conemaugh. Johnstown’s residents knew that if the dam were ever to break the flood waters would likely wipe out their town, yet they did nothing to secure the dam or assure that high water on the lake would not spill over. Numerous engineers and others suggested the dam be rebuilt or somehow stabilized, yet the Johnstown public repeatedly balked at the idea. After all, money was tight and resources costly. When the flood waters came year after year the dam continued to hold, which bolstered the confidence of Johnstown. But no one expected the the events of May 31st, for that flood wasn’t like any other. schultz

On May 30th a torrential downpour caused the lake at the dam to rise as much as one inch every ten minutes. Through the night the water at the crest of the dam rose from six feet to only two feet. The caretakers of the resort and dam knew that if the rain kept pouring Johnstown could be in for a natural disaster, so they wired to Johnstown hour after hour in an attempt to alert the citizens of a possible break at the dam. By morning of the 31st Johnstown was already partially flooded, about knee-high, which was a typical spring soaking. For them there was no reason to fear, so they went about their day as usual. After hearing the alerts about the dam, most chuckled at the prospect of a break. This concerned the caretakers of the resort, and a few even came down on horseback to alert the citizens themselves. However, only some in Johnstown fled to the hills, and most didn’t take notice. Most striking was the lack of attention given to the dam by Johnstown’s politicians, who likewise neglected to leave their own comfortable homes, let alone inform the public about an impending disaster. Yet about 2:50 P.M. the dam finally gave way and the waters rushed on, picking up trees, houses, debris, mud, rock and barbwire as it headed to Johnstown traveling 15 miles/hour. It was not a wave like those that crash into the Florida coast. Rather, it was a was a giant hill, 30-40 feet high of blackness, “a blur, an advance guard, as it were as mist, like dust that precedes a cavalry charge.” One onlooker described the wave as “a cloud of blackest smoke I ever saw.” Most impressionable was the terrible sound of the thing, and the ambivalence of those in Johnstown who neglected to leave the city. McCullough writes, “most of the people in Johnstown never saw the water coming; they only heard it; and those who lived to tell about it would for years after try to describe the sound of the thing as it rushed on them.”

The flood came upon Johnstown with great force, and McCullough describes the catastrophic event with precision and detail. In the end, 2,209 people lost their lives, many whose bodies were never found. Although thousands came to help the recovery and rescue effort, the clean-up would take months, even years. Many tried to sue the resort and caretakers of the dam for the loss of life, but the blame, writes McCullough, should be shifted. Indeed, the overarching theme of the book concerns the complacency of Johnstown’s own residents and leaders. In this light it is important to notice that the Johnstown flood is not simply a story about a natural disaster. It is a different subject than, say, the stories of the Chicago fire or the great San Francisco earthquake. It is more like hurricane Katrina. The theme of the Johnstown flood is that it is extremely risky, perhaps even perilous, to assume that because people are in positions of responsibility they are acting responsibly. The Johnstown flood, then, is a story of human irresponsibility, of shortsightedness of the clear “writing on the wall,” as it were. It is about man at his most thoughtless and naive.

Aside from the obvious downside of the flood itself, I loved this book. McCullough is a historical writer par excellence, and I highly recommended his works to anyone, young or old, for a satisfying and informing read.

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Book Review: “Death by Love” by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears

I usually stay up to date with the ministry of Mars Hill Church and their pastor, Mark Driscoll. Although controversial, I have admired the way in which his ministry has reached Seattle, WA (the most unchurched city in America). Indeed, Mars Hill (not to be confused with Mars Hill of Rob Bell fame) has penetrated the culture with the gospel and thousands have been saved. As Driscoll has said elsewhere, Mars Hill seeks to combine a message that is timeless with a ministry that is timely, and I’m inclined to agree.

Aside from pastoring and teaching at conferences Driscoll has written many books, the latest of which is “Death by Love: Letters from the Cross,” published by Crossway as part of Mars Hill’s Re:Lit ministry. After seeing this provocative video I picked up the book this week and read it.

I won’t spend much space on this review, but to say that I endorse the book and pray that it has an impact on other Christians. The book is structured as 12 letters to 12 different people, most of which have been held captive by certain sins. All 12 are real people with real situations that Driscoll has counseled throughout his pastoral ministry. After meeting with each person, Driscoll writes them a letter explaining how Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection penetrates their individual situation. While Driscoll writes the bulk of the book, there is supplemental theological material by Dr. Gerry Breshears (prof. of theology at Western Seminary) at the end of each letter. What this amounts to is solid pastoral insight (Driscoll planted and has pastored Mars Hill for 12 years) with solid theological underpinnings.

There is much to be commended about the book, but I don’t encourage everyone to read it. Driscoll is not afraid to rebuke those who are held captive to sin. His language is often vivid and provocative. However, his language is sincere and his writing is filled with Christ. To that end, he takes his job seriously, and his impact for the church at Seattle has been very fruitful. I pray that we all would likewise be devoted to the gospel as Driscoll.

– Josh

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Book Review – Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

Having just completed Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice, I thought it necessary to post some of my thoughts. To sum up, this fictional account traces the life of the historical Jesus as a young boy (between 7-8 years of age), dealing mainly with his journey from Egypt to his hometown of Nazareth, and then back to Jerusalem for the Passover. In a nutshell, Christ the Lord is a novel about Jesus understanding his true nature; namely, awareness that he is the Son of David spoken of in the Old Testament. Although he doesn’t fully comprehend this nature by the end of the book, he nonetheless accepts his role with faith and assurance that God will show him the path he must make. While the journey out of Egypt was long and difficult with many trials along the way, Jesus has his own journey to make, one that he must keep secret until the appropriate time.

There are many strengths and weaknesses in Christ the Lord and I will try to mention them in light of the biblical data. First, there is much to commend in Rice’s historical research. She provides many intricate details for the setting in life in which Jesus lived. This is helpful because it gives us a grasp on the “humanness” of Christ. We see that he was taught from the Old Testament (and had to study hard!), that he worked as a craftsman with Joseph, and that sometimes he fell ill. While Rice is clearly writing a fictional account and taking liberties in doing so, she provides these details with precision. We must understand that Jesus was fully man yet without sin. I believe that Rice’s book is useful in this regard.

However, the book is no literary masterpiece. Certain features are clearly forced, mainly for literary tension and to support the theological presuppositions of the author (Rice is an ardent Catholic). For instance, in order to guard the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of Mary (based on the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which implies that Mary was not born in original sin and therefore lived a sinless life), Rice explains that Mary has never had sexual relations with any man, including Joseph: “I have never been with a man, not then, not now, nor will I ever. I am consecrated to the Lord” (53). Of course, this creates problems, the first being that of James, Jesus’ brother. We find out later that James is not Jesus’ brother by birth but his half-brother. Joseph, before marrying Mary, had a former wife who died after their son, James, was born.

A second issue deals with Jesus’ miracles. While the gospels present his miracles as signs that prove Jesus is the Son of God, in this account Jesus unknowingly performs them. Power simply slips out of him when he wants something done, usually out of the goodness of his heart. In the first chapter alone Jesus causes stone sparrows to be real sparrows, and raises a little Jewish boy to life! Later he heals his uncle, Cleopas, who was dying from illness. When in the Temple for Passover, Jesus has compassion on a blind man, and after praying the man receives his sight. Miracles are great, but miracles without a message are magic tricks. Jesus was not a 1st century David Copperfield. There were plenty of those floating around (Acts 8). In the gospels Jesus clearly knows what he is doing. Power doesn’t spurt out of his hands like Harry Potter’s wand. Rather, the power of Jesus is the power of the Father, fully manifested in him, to show he is truly God’s Son.

Many other issues are troubling. Caiaphas is somehow related to Jesus. This is probably to heighten the tension between the two when the time comes for Jesus’ trial and execution (Rice plans to write more novels in this mold). John the Baptist meets Jesus as a young boy, always staring at him and not knowing why. We learn later that John becomes an Essene, an extremely pious Jewish sect who lived in caves north of the Dead Sea. Of course, this is all speculative. One of the more disconcerting elements occurs in the Temple, where Jesus and the male family members go to sacrifice before Passover. When the sacrifice is done we learn of Jesus’ thoughts: “It is finished. Paid in full” (293).  But it is not finished! It is not paid in full (as far as this story goes). Only when Jesus dies as the once-for-all sacrifice is the payment made in full. Only when he is bruised for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities can he cry, “It is finished.” The work was never complete in the sacrificial system of the Law. The sacrifices according to the Law are a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice. As the book of Hebrews contends, “he has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (7:27). Further, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (9:12). Only by means of his own blood is the work complete.

One last point is not to be missed. After Jesus offers his sacrifice (he is about 8 years old) he wanders into the court of the Rabbis seeking answers to his questions. He stays with the Rabbis, we learn, for about 3 days, after which Joseph and Mary find him. Upon meeting him Mary says, “Why have you done this? We’ve been in misery searching for you.” Jesus replies, “Mother, I must know things now…things I’m forbidden to ask to you or Joseph. I must be about what it is that I have to do” (307)! At first glance nothing seems out of place with the story in Luke 2. But the implication is far reaching in Rice’s account. First of all, Luke explicitly states that Jesus was 12 years old when these events occurred (2:42), and that the Rabbis were listening to him teach, not the other way around. Furthermore, Luke records Jesus telling his mother, “did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business” (2:49). Rice’s account implies that Jesus was asking the Rabbi’s for information about who he really was (as if they would know), while Luke’s account seems to indicate that Jesus already knew his nature and purpose. Not only is the factual evidence distorted, so is the meaning of the text.

Other particulars can be pointed out and applied, which I will remain from doing here. The overall consensus? Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is an enjoyable book that seeks to show the reader how Jesus lived during 1st century Judaism, but more importantly how he came to understand his kingship. However, the story is skewed by the many false assumptions underlying the plot. As fully human Jesus must have come to a knowledge of his true nature in some way or another (most likely by his reading of the OT). But to come to these conclusions outside of the inspired text (Rice quotes the Apocrypha on occasion) is conjecture, which can lead many away from the truth.

I was once told that there is no such thing as an unbiased historian. I’m inclined to agree. Rice is no historian, but she has taken historical accounts and placed them in a literary framework outside of Scripture. Instead, she reinterprets the Gospel story with theological presuppositions. The question for us is as follows: without endorsing the book, should we recommend such reading to others in our churches? Should all such literature be ruled out? Before jumping to conclusions, think about The Passion of the Christ movie, or popular womens fiction like The Atonement Child or And the Shofar Blew, which are based on biblical stories. What about theological fiction such as The Shack? Are such works edifying to the church, or distracting?

– Josh

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