Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Highest Beauty

Jonathan Edwards on God's holiness:

Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing.

Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood, as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour, and unpleasant thing; but there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely.

‘Tis the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties; ‘tis a divine beauty.
—Jonathan Edwards, "The Way of Holiness," in Works of Jonathan Edwards, 10:478-79.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Role of Scholarship within a Seminary "Text-Community"

An ideal of scholarship (scholaris) is directly related to the textual nature of the seminary community. It is hardly without good reason that within Scripture itself, the duties of the king (Deut 17:18), the prophet (Jer 36:2), and the high priest (Ezra 7:10-11), are those of the scholar, that is, reading and applying the Scriptures to life.

A community founded on a text cannot tolerate anything less than genuine scholarship in its leaders. Moreover, the degree to which a seminary's community practices scholarship in all its tasks is a measure of its faithfulness to its fundamental commitments to the text of Scripture.
—John Sailhamer, "The Nature, Purpose, and Tasks of a Theological Seminary"

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude as Scripture: The Shaping and Shape of a Canonical Collection, Book Review

Title: Reading the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude as Scripture: The Shaping and Shape of a Canonical Collection
Authors: Robert Wall and David R. Nienhuis
Publisher: Eerdmans, 2014
Price: $30.00 (amz)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 314
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the relationship between the concept of canon and the interpretive task. This discussion typically takes place in the field of Old Testament studies, leaving much of the New Testament terrain untouched. As interpreters have begun thinking about the canon of the New Testament, many of the studies have focused on the Gospels, Paul’s letters, or the book of Revelation.

Missing in this analysis is sustained attention to the collection of Catholic Epistles (CE). These letters are often considered not only “general” but also generic. At best, they are a catchall category of writings that are “non-Pauline.” In scholarly treatments, they are often “offered up as the leftovers of the NT” (p. 8) when one is finished feasting on the Gospels and Paul. Dissatisfied with this approach to the CE, David Nienhuis and Robert Wall seek to offer an alternative account of the shaping and shape of this section of the New Testament canon. Both teach at Seattle Pacific University and have written extensively on the New Testament canon. Drawing on their previous work, they enter the fray of New Testament canon studies at perhaps its most contested point.

The shape of their collection of chapters has three main parts. Part One introduces the nature of canonical collections and outlines the hermeneutical features of their approach (pp. 3-69). Representing the bulk of the book (pp. 71-243), Part Two provides an introduction to each letter in the CE, grouped by author (James, Peter, John, and Jude). Here they sketch the canonical portrait of each author, discuss the reception of each writing, and offer a brief commentary and theological summary of the letter. In Part Three, Wall and Nienhuis adumbrate the “unifying theology” of the CE as a collection (pp. 247-72).

A clear contribution of this volume is its treatment of the CE as a coherent literary unit. The “central core” of their study is “the insistence that the Catholic Epistles collection is in fact a canonical collection and not a random grouping of ‘other’ or ‘general’ letters that emerged from communities not founded by the Apostle Paul” (p. xvi). For them, the CE collection represents “the final redactional act of the church’s canon-constructing endeavor” (p. 17). This collection, then, is effectively the “final piece of the canonical puzzle” (p. 17). Rather than being an afterthought, this collection represents the last word of the New Testament. For Nienhuis and Wall, “the CE collection is revealed to be the pièce de résistance that determined the ultimate form of the NT canon” (p. 17). In this regard, it is the “final brushstroke of canonization, without which the masterwork of the NT would have been incomplete” (pp. 17-18).

Many assume straightaway that these letters are only “generally” related, but Nienhuis and Wall insist that their juxtaposition in this collection and in relation to the other New Testament groupings yields both literary and theological fruit. They “challenge the critical consensus regarding the theological incoherence of the CE collection” by arguing that “the canonical collection of four witnesses, James, Peter, John, and Jude (“the Pillars of Jerusalem”), be read together as the interpenetrating parts of a coherent theological whole” (p. 10). To present this “unifying theology” of the CE, they utilize Tertullian’s articulation of the Rule of Faith as their rubric (i.e., God, Christ, Community of the Spirit, Discipleship, and Consummation in a New Creation, see pp. 72-73, 100-01). At first this seems like an unnecessary imposition. However, Nienhuis and Wall connect the “canonical logic” of the collection to the theological presentation of the Rule, showing how each of these themes develops across the CE.

In this analysis, “themes introduced by James are elaborated by 1 Peter, a witness which is then completed by 2 Peter, even as 2 Peter is linked to 1 John, which is epitomized by 2 John, qualified by 3 John, and concluded by Jude” (p. 250). For them, this logic “apprehends a collection held together like a link of chains” (p. 250). For example, in their presentation of the “shape of the canonical collection,” Nienhuis and Wall consider the role of James as a frontispiece and Jude as a fitting conclusion. They argue that 2 Peter serves as a kind of literary and theological anchor for the entire collection; and they analyze the interrelationship between these letters and the narrative framework of the book of Acts.

To give a specific example, they argue that the CE collection complements the Pauline corpus but also guards against misinterpretation of Paul’s major theological assertions (e.g., “justification by faith”). In this way, the CE function “strategically to curb the church’s tendency to read and use Paul’s witness as its canon within a canon” (p. 73). Peter and James, in particular, acknowledge that “Paul’s message is easily misunderstood if it is not framed by the larger biblical witness of prophets and apostles” (p. 145). Nienhuis and Wall do not argue that these letters necessarily correct Paul, but rather that they actually safeguard the “deeper logic of the Pauline gospel” (p. 155). The emphasis in the CE on the need for a faithful life of imitating Christ critically informs Paul’s emphasis on faith in Christ alone for salvation (p. 155; cf. 2 Pet 3:15-16).

Having access to both of these collections (“Pauline” and “Pillars”) enables a reader of the New Testament to receive a proper understanding of the gospel. The canonical context, then, “invites a reader’s attentiveness to the constructive (and not adversarial) character of the interplay between these two epistolary collections” (p. 165).

This volume also advances the methodological discussion about what a “canonical approach” to the New Testament might look like. Wall and Nienhuis consistently seek to relate the “historical shaping” of the collection (pp. 17-39) to its “final shape” (pp. 40-69). This connection outlines a method that is able to relate how the canon formed to how it functions. Their understanding of canon leads them to focus not on initial composition but on “canonization,” the moment these writings formed collections. This, for them, is the means by which biblical writings function as scripture for later generations of readers (e.g., see p. 11, 33, 41, 48, 97).

A community of readers values these letters together as “scripture” because they recognize and affirm their collective “aesthetic quality.” For them, this is a central “criterion for canonicity” (pp. 11-15, 249-50). Readers in the church eventually recognized that the CE collection functioned well together as a unit and thus received and transmitted it as an authoritative set of scriptural writings. As a coherent and interconnected seven-letter collection of writings from the Jerusalem apostles and Jesus’ brothers, the CE helped complete the shape of the New Testament canon as a whole.

Any type of canonical analysis is fraught with critical definitional decisions and interpretive assumptions. Some will object to the dismissal of historical-critical consensus, while others will ask whether any of these interpretive insights are still valid if these letters are not seen as late and pseudonymous works. Some will argue that original authorship should remain a controlling factor in exegesis.

Still others will want to associate inspiration and canonization more closely with initial composition rather than reception within the community. Further, many will not accept their analysis because they will reject its premise. However, this particular aspect of the volume is part of its value. Nienhuis and Wall outline the methodological issues, provide critically informed rationale for their approach, and then implement it and outline its consequences for the exegesis and theology of these letters.

Indeed, they intend their volume to come alongside Brevard Childs’ The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul to form “the basis of a canonical introduction to the NT letters” (p. xv). Accordingly, this volume represents a substantial treatment that will need to be taken into account in further studies of the New Testament canon. Wall and Nienhuis’ work here will aid anyone seeking to construct a canon-conscious interpretation of these rich but sometimes relativized letters.

Also in Themelios 39.2 (July 2014): 324-26.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament

Title: Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament
Author: Matthew Y. Emerson
Publisher: Wipf & Stock, 2013
Price: $23.00 (amz)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 184
I'm finally getting around to reading this work on New Testament theology and the New Testament canon by Matt Emerson. This book is a revision of a 2011 doctoral dissertation completed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I met Matt at a national ETS meeting as he was in the throes of finishing the PhD program and this dissertation, so I'm glad to see it in print! He now teaches at California Baptist University. These are a few thoughts on his work.

Thesis:
Emerson begins by outlining his vision for New Testament theology and the way that the shape of the New Testament canon supports this theology:
The thesis of this book is that the order of the books in the NT presents a reading strategy that points the reader to its theological focus, which is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament's eschatological messianic hope through inaugurating the new creation in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost and consummating it at his return. (ix)
After outlining the theological and hermeneutical foundations for "a canonical approach to reading Scripture" (chapters 1-2), Emerson analyzes each corpus in light of his understanding of the NT's overall shape (chapters 3-7).

Conclusion:
In the end, Emerson "re-states" his thesis as his conclusion:
The narrative presented by the New Testament, then, is that Christ inaugurates the new creation in the Gospels, commissions his church to be agents of it in Acts, calls believers and the church to live both in light of what he has already done in his death and resurrection (Romans-Colossians) and what he will do in the future in his Second Coming (1 Thessalonians-Jude), and consummates it in Revelation.

The ordering of the books highlights this narrative and allows the reader to see that the strategy presented is one that emphasizes the new creation that is inaugurated in Christ's death and resurrection and consummated at his return. (169)

Contribution: 

In addition to providing a work that attempts to describe the theology of the entire New Testament in a brief volume (a welcome contribution!), Emerson also works toward developing a number of interesting/helpful concepts. In particular, I appreciate his discussion and attempt at the "shape" of the New Testament collection and the intertextual nature of the New Testament writings.

  • The Notion of Shape: Emerson highlights the value of the notion of “shape” for understanding the New Testament canon. His understanding of shape includes both the structure of a given book and also the placement of that book in relation to the rest of the books of the New Testament canon. In pursuit of this analysis, Emerson adopts John Sailhamer's understanding of contextuality: "the notion of the effect on meaning of the relative position of a biblical book within a prescribed order of reading" (ix; See Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach, p. 213). Thus, he does not attempt an exhaustive theology of each individual book but rather attempts "to demonstrate the significance of the order of these books based on some of the most important theological themes in them" (x).

    As a result, Emerson makes a variety of interesting connections across the New Testament collection. He highlights the way the Gospels fittingly begin the New Testament and how the book of Revelation functions as its climax. The book of Acts also serves an important role in tying together the theology of the Gospels and the Epistles. He also draws significance from the ordering within the sub-collections. He asks, for instance, What impact does the eschatological emphasis of 1-2 Thessalonians have on the shape of the Pauline corpus? Some of Paul’s other letters obviously have passages about eschatological themes; however, these letters in particular seek to address the implications of an imminent return of Christ and a coming Day of the Lord. This is a type of question we might not ask if we weren’t thinking about Paul’s letters as a collection.
  • Intertextuality: Throughout the volume, Emerson also summarizes and integrates a variety of scholarly studies on intertextual relationships (OT use of the OT; NT use of the OT; and NT use of the NT). In this regard, he seeks to connect the idea of “shape” to the study of “intertextuality.” For instance, his treatment of the Gospels highlights the distinctive contribution of each Gospel by showing some of their main intertextual themes: Matthew (Jesus as the New Moses), Mark (Jesus as the leader of a New Exodus), Luke (Jesus as the Promised Prophet-King of Israel), John (Jesus as the New Adam). He also attempts to demonstrate that these intertextual emphases are not at odds at all, but rather are working together to provide a larger intertextual context for the Gospel narratives.

    For his broader thesis, he also tries to show the relationship between these intertextual connections and the broader theme of creation/new creation. As he argues, the distinctives of each Gospel “are all united in the fact that ultimately each one is a way of telling the reader that Jesus is the one who brings about the restoration of Israel from exile, and through that the restoration of all things” (54-55). Accordingly, these chapters are a helpful summary of recent studies on the intertextual tapestry of the Gospel narratives and their implications for NT theology. 
A final note of appreciation is that Emerson is attempting to discuss the notion of "canon" in light of both hermeneutical and theological foundations (chapters 1 + 2). When investigating an authoritative collection of authoritative writings, these starting points are helpful and necessary. 

Because Emerson's project is ambitious and extensive (attempting to establish a method, produce an outline of New Testament theology, and also comment on each section of the NT), there are plenty of assertions and observations that are not developed or will surely be contested even by those who share his hermeneutical approach and agree with his presuppositions about Scripture (but that's part of the fun of attempting something like this!).

So, while there are plenty of little question marks in the margins  of my copy (perhaps fodder for a further post?), there are also many insights highlighted and connections marked for further study/consideration. Glad to read this, and I look forward to more studies along these lines.  

See also, 

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Compilational History of the Megilloth: Canon, Contoured Intertextuality, and Meaning in the Writings, Book Review

TitleThe Compilational History of the Megilloth: Canon, Contoured Intertextuality, and Meaning in the Writings
Author: Timothy J. Stone
Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2014
Price:  € 64.00 (amz)
Binding: Softcover
Pages: 258
Modern scholarly opinion is that the ordering of books in the Writings section of the Hebrew Bible is late, liturgical, and not stable enough to generate meanings that are in any way verifiable. Perhaps the Law and the Prophets form a tight sequence, but the Writings are at best a miscellaneous anthology of compositions with broad similarities and a smattering of shared vocabulary.

In his revision of a doctoral thesis at St. Andrews in 2010, Timothy J. Stone attempts to counter this type of sentiment sometimes present among biblical scholars of the Hebrew Bible. Stone contends that the books in the Writings were not only collected but also arranged with a particular purpose and with an awareness of a broader canonical context.

To make his case, Stone zooms in on the sequence of the “five little scrolls” of Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther (the Megilloth). Stone views the “codification” of these books “into a collection as an integral part of a canonical process rather than a formal feature that is the result of an effort to close the canon, or merely a by-product of technological advances like the long scroll or the codex” (p. 2). More broadly, Stone also seeks to provide a “historical and exegetical investigation into the poetics of canon shaping” (p. 8). Stone thus aims to bring into dialogue the history of canon formation, the hermeneutics of canonical collections, and the function of intertextuality within the Writings.

Before addressing the question of meaningful arrangement of the Writings, Stone lays the necessary groundwork for executing such an analysis. He first deals with the definitional questions about what “canon” means and what the implications of the canon formation process might be for ordering and arrangement (chapter 1). He then describes the collection of the Writings (chapter 2) and also the nature of their arrangement in various textual traditions (chapter 3). Standing on this historical and hermeneutical foundation, Stone addresses the arrangement of Ruth (chapter 4), Esther (chapter 5), and the Song, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations (chapter 6). In this last chapter and in the conclusion, Stone sketches his understanding of the “macro-structure” of these books within the Writings corpus (pp. 204-12).

In a variety of ways throughout the volume, Stone answers three main charges that are often leveled at those that look for meaning in the arrangement of the Writings (and the Megilloth in particular).

Charge #1: The grouping is late and liturgical. While acknowledging that the evidence for the Masoretic ordering comes from a late period, Stone highlights its “ancient roots” (p. 5). He also argues that the “festival cycle” associated with the Masoretic ordering of the Megilloth is actually a development that assumes a previously established sequence (pp. 105-11).

Charge #2: There are too many different orders of the Writings for one to find meaning in any type of arrangement. Stone points out that this assessment is only accurate after the twelfth century CE. Before this time, there are essentially only two orderings in the Jewish tradition, namely, the Talmudic ordering found in Baba Batra 14b and the Masoretic ordering found in the Aleppo and Leningrad Codices (see pp. 102-11). Stone also analyzes the relationship between these orderings and those in the Greek translations (pp. 93-102).

Charge #3: In order to find any meaning in a collection, there must be a single and static ordering. Stone counters that a single static sequence is not necessary for observable and meaningful connections to exist. For him, “a single order does not appear to be requisite for investigation” (p. 210). Though there are important differences between the Masoretic and Talmudic orderings, they can be explained. “If these arrangements were accidental, or unimportant,” Stone contends, “one would expect to find the books haphazardly arranged—this is not the case” (p. 4). Further, if the logic of the sequence is discernable in both orders, then the case for meaningful association is actually stronger.

From Stone’s perspective, if one accepts these historical and hermeneutical arguments, then there is ample reason to reconsider the issue of ordering among these books. In developing a canonical hermeneutic, Stone investigates not only how collections form but also how they function. Stone builds on the work of Brevard Childs (see p. 10, 208), but he also draws on the insights of recent research that attempts to discern meaning at the compositional and canonical level within the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Christopher Seitz on the Book of the Twelve) and in the Writings corpus in particular (e.g., Julius Steinberg and Hendrik Koorevar).

Upon this foundation, Stone develops “a compilational grammar” that encompasses “the various ways in which authors, redactors, and compilers situate and associate books within larger collections” (p. 8). This grammar consists of identifying 1) “catchwords or catchphrases at the seams of contiguous books,” 2) “framing devices” such as inclusios, 3) “superscriptions” that may “indicate a collection consciousness,” and 4) “specific themes that are either continued in a similar manner or reversed to create a sharp contrast across contiguous books” (p. 33). Stone uses this set of criteria to distinguish between “merely intertextual links” and ones that are “compilationally conscious” (pp. 134-35; cf. pp. 208-09). By locating these strategic texts, Stone is able to discern and account for the nature of association within the Writings even in the face of shifts in sequence.

In his analysis, Stone provides a number of helpful images and analogies to illustrate the nature of this “compilational logic.” He envisions a collection as “a small solar system in which each book exerts, to a greater or lesser degree, a gravitational pull on the rest of the system” (p. 7). Because “size and proximity are important forces in the collection,” there is a “kind of magnetism” that exerts pressure on books and draws them “into the orbit of other books” (p. 7). There is movement within such a system, but it is “limited, predictable, and almost always constrained by each book’s relationship to one or more books in the Writings” (p. 7). Rather than an “anthology,” the Writings corpus is more like “a curated exhibition in which works of art are arranged carefully in relationship to one another” (p. 211). This “mosaic” contains “tiles of different shapes and colors” that when “taken together form a larger, if complicated, pattern” (p. 211).

These word pictures contribute to the notion of canon as a mental construct and also help the reader discern the nature of established sequences within a given collection. Accordingly, Esther shifts positions but always follows Lamentations and is juxtaposed to Daniel; Ezra-Nehemiah always appear toward the end; Chronicles and the Psalter move around, but are always structurally aligned either at the head of the collection or as its bookends. For Stone, the fact that these types of movement are limited is “commensurate with the corpus’ compilational logic” (p. 6).

Because of his extensive methodological discussions, Stone is not able to work out his observations about the arrangement of each book. Ruth and Esther get their own chapters, but the Song, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations are treated together. Stone conducts his own “exegetical probes” of the former two while focusing on the secondary literature with the latter three. Many interpreters of these books will want to see more development in these areas. However, Stone anticipates this element of his work and notes a number of suggestive areas for further development (see pp. 5-7, 211-12).

While Stone acknowledges that his conclusions have not reached their final form, what he offers in this volume is an incisive treatment of the Writings rife with interpretive insight. Along the way, he demarcates the dimensions of this type of discussion and demonstrates the connection between the formation and function of canonical collections. Moreover, Stone’s hermeneutical insights will enable interpreters to plumb the depths of the concept of “canonical intention” more fully than in previous studies.

The contours of Stone’s approach and the shape he gives to the analysis of canonical collections represent a considerable contribution to the field. Hopefully, this level of engagement represents the shape of things to come.
Also in JETS 57.3 (September 2014): 599-602

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Taking God at His Word, Book Review

TitleTaking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What that means for You and Me
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway, 2014
Price: $17.99 (amz)
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 138
A growing practice even in evangelical circles is to look down on a high view of Scripture.

To elevate the doctrine of Scripture, some urge, is to misperceive the nature of the Bible and is the result of a distorted depth perception that mistakenly prizes devotion to the written word over interaction with the living Word, Jesus himself. In this volume, pastor Kevin DeYoung aims to give readers a different line of sight by arguing that a high view of Scripture is actually the only means by which we can see God, ourselves, and the world with clarity.

DeYoung begins with an extended reflection on Psalm 119 and 2 Peter 1:16-21. These strategic biblical passages share a high estimation of written revelation. The psalmist expresses fervent devotion to God’s laws, commandments, and statutes with language that conveys a longing to lift up and exult in the word of God (pp. 11-25). Peter likewise demonstrates that the gospel is worthy of trust because of the trustworthiness of the “prophetic word” and the apostolic testimony (pp. 27-44).

In these opening chapters, DeYoung seeks to establish the value and validity of God’s revelatory words. In the center of the book, DeYoung devotes a chapter each to four of Scripture’s attributes: “God’s Word is Enough” (sufficiency), “God’s Word is Clear” (clarity), God’s Word is Final (authority), and “God’s Word is Necessary” (necessity). For DeYoung, reflecting on these characteristics is “eminently practical” because “counselors can counsel meaningfully because Scripture is sufficient. Bible study leaders can lead confidently because Scripture is clear. Preachers can preach with boldness because their biblical text is authoritative. And evangelists can evangelize with urgency because the Scripture is necessary” (p. 92).

Following these chapters, DeYoung asks the question, “What did Jesus believe about the Bible?” (p. 95). For him, this one question “must undeniably shape and set the agenda for our doctrine of Scripture” (p. 95). Reflecting on John 10:35-36, he argues that Jesus viewed his Bible as an “unbreakable” one (pp. 95-110). DeYoung ends his volume with a discussion of 2 Tim 3:16, the locus classicus for a doctrine of Scripture. Here he explains that his entire reflection flows from the headwaters of this passage. He writes, “Everything in the Bible comes from the mouth of God. Sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity—they must all be true if 2 Timothy 3:16 is true, and they would all be false if 2 Timothy 3:16 were a lie” (p. 111). In this way, “there is no more important verse for developing a proper understanding of Scripture” (p. 111).

DeYoung concludes by highlighting Scripture’s ability to transform readers, its origin in God the Spirit, and its powerful practicality in the life of the churches (pp. 116-24). DeYoung’s volume as a whole will help sympathetic readers carve out a conceptual space in their thinking deep enough for a high view of Scripture. There is an educated impulse that regards the language evangelicals use of Scripture as “bibliolatry.” We should worship God, not a book. DeYoung implicitly addresses this sentiment from the outset. He simply takes a walking tour through the poetic rhetoric of Psalm 119, a text he calls a “love poem” (p. 11ff). DeYoung highlights the emotive language that the psalmist uses to express his relationship to God’s word (affection, love, longing) and also to those who set themselves up against it (anger, zeal, fury). His point is that because the Psalmist himself adopts this disposition when speaking about God’s words, commandments, and statutes, it is not de facto bibliolatry for believers to take their cues from the psalmist when they characterize the Scriptures.

Accordingly, DeYoung’s aim is “to get us to fully, sincerely, and consistently embrace” this disposition (p. 16). All of his arguments are designed to convince the reader “that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read each day” (p. 16). In this way, “Psalm 119 is the explosion of praise made possible by an orthodox and evangelical doctrine of Scripture” (p. 16). Later in the book, DeYoung shows that Jesus himself echoes the psalmist’s striking disposition toward the Scriptures (see pp. 106-07).

Any articulation of a doctrine of Scripture that seeks to unpack “what the Bible says about the Bible” (p. 23) will raise a number of interpretive issues. DeYoung notes that this focus raises questions of canon and explains that his book is not an apologetic or historical defense of Scripture. This is a helpful clarification, but because he presents “a doctrine of Scripture derived from Scripture itself” (p. 23), the hermeneutical question of canon is actually foregrounded. That is, when Scripture “refers to itself,” what exactly is in view for the biblical writer? Further, is there any sensitivity to the fact that a biblical text will function differently when read in its literary context than when it forms a part of a doctrine of Scripture? There is a definitional imperative here that is often neglected in popular bibliology. Typically, throughout DeYoung’s volume, the phrase “God’s Word” refers to the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon. However, when he discusses biblical texts, there is sometimes a blurring of the distinction between God’s speech in a narrative, a literary corpus (e.g., the Law), and the Bible as a whole. There are a number of places where the transition from “God’s revelation in words” to “the Bible itself” happens very quickly (p. 12).

For instance, Psalm 119 speaks of the “Law” and also of “God’s words” in the form of statutes, commands, and precepts. DeYoung notes that there are “different shades of meaning” for each concept, but that they “all center on the same big idea: God’s revelation in words” (p. 12). In the next sentence, though, DeYoung identifies the subject of the psalm as “the Bible itself” (p. 12). In Ps 119, the sense of “God’s Word” as the two-testament Bible of the church is not present on any reading. Some verses seem to speak of the “law of the Lord” as a literary entity, but even here, the referent is most likely the Law (i.e., the Pentateuch). The same tension shows up when DeYoung talks about texts like Heb 4:12 (p. 51) and Rev 22:18-19 (pp. 53-54). DeYoung helpfully exposits these passages, but in none of them does the “word of God” have the sense of the Bible as a whole.

This is a subtle but significant issue because many objections to a high view of Scripture begin at just this point. DeYoung clearly demonstrates the value of these passages for a doctrine of Scripture. However, utilizing a text that speaks of the Pentateuch or refers to divine discourse in a narrative requires a bit of theological work. Making this move in a careful and appropriate way is one of the most crucial tasks of bibliology. In the book, DeYoung mostly assumes this link rather than explains it. For instance, he notes that “God’s verbal revelation, whether in spoken form or in redemptive history (i.e., the Bible), is unfailingly perfect” (p. 18). When discussing 2 Tim 3:16, DeYoung hints at the issue when he describes the Bible as “the sacred writings of the Old Testament, which Paul first of all had in mind, and the inspired writings for the new covenant church, which Paul understood himself to be issuing (1 Thess. 2:13) and Peter understood to be in the process of being written down (2 Pet 3:16)” (p. 118). A more robust discussion of this particular nuance would help readers grapple with the hermeneutical glue that binds together the biblical building blocks of an evangelical bibliology.

The target audience for this book is those who know and love the Scriptures, and who would like to grow in these pursuits (p. 25). Recognizing this feature of his work, DeYoung aims his final exhortation at just these readers. With pastoral verve, he pleads, “Don’t forget what you know and have already learned. Don’t lose sight of who you are. Stay on track. Keep on going” (p. 112). “This,” DeYoung concludes, “is God’s never-changing instruction to us: stick with the Scriptures” (p. 113). DeYoung’s pastoral urgency acknowledges the value of Scripture for the life and ministry of the believer, and his conversational tone will enable his reflection to reach a broad audience.

While this volume is certainly not the last word on the doctrine of Scripture, it provides a glimpse into the riches that an evangelical articulation of God’s Word can offer to those looking for a clear line of sight into God’s work in the world.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Everything Rides on the Reality of the Resurrection


Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

A general belief in the resurrection at the end of days is present in the Old Testament. For example, at the end of Daniel’s visions, there is a scene that seems very familiar to readers of the book of Revelation. In this scene, “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12:1). After this, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). This vision affirms a belief in a general resurrection of all those who have died. The vision also affirms that there is to be some sort of judgment following the resurrection. Some will awake to glory, others to terror.

In the Gospels, Jesus also affirms the reality of a future resurrection. He also indicates his role in that resurrection. Jesus tells the crowds, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). Jesus explains, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). The belief in a general resurrection is given a specific profile by Jesus. Those who believe in the Son will not only awake, but they will awake in his presence.

Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

One might ask, though, does Jesus really have this kind of power? Can this one really raise the dead at the end of days? The disciples might have asked this very question when Jesus tells them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). They don’t understand and think Jesus has misjudged the situation. He could not really mean that he was going to reverse the sting of death, could he? Standing outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus pictures this resurrection reality with a call that cuts through the complicated layers of doubt: “Lazarus, Come Out!” (John 11:43).

Just before this, Martha too had misunderstood. When Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha thinks he is referring to the resurrection hope at the end of days. She says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). Martha was right. She was simply not aware that Jesus was about to demonstrate the reality of what will take place on that day by putting on a display of resurrection life on this day. Her brother would rise again at the end of days, but he would also stand by her side again by the end of this day. To all those who would doubt that he has the power to bring about the resurrection on the last day, Jesus’ words breathe hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).

Paul’s gospel message includes this staggering hope in the resurrection. For him, the entire structure of our salvation in Christ rests on the reality of this reality. As he urges, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:13). Paul insists on the necessity of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-28) even while recognizing the mystery of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:50-57).

If Christ has not been raised, then Christian faith is futile, believers are still stuck in their sin, and those who have died lay in those graves devoid of hope. “But in fact,” Paul counters, “Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20). This fact means that he is the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15:21). At this point, Paul makes the connection to eschatology. Because Christ rose from the grave, he can now return from the heavens. “Then comes the end,” Paul continues, “when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:25-26).

Do you grieve for those who have died trusting in Christ to save them? They are gone. We see them no longer. We can no longer hear them speak about their hope. We can no longer hear them speak, pray, or worship. Was their hope in vain? How can we know for sure if we can no longer see them?

Paul tells Thessalonian believers who wondered these very things, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . . .The dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess 4:13-16).

Everything rides on the reality of resurrection.

As Jesus asked standing in front of a Jewish tomb moments before he stuck a dagger through the heart of death, “Do you believe?”

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Chastened Possibility of Theology

Systematic theology is indeed selective and limited in its scope. It does not say everything that can possibly be said about what has been revealed in the biblical revelation and received in Christian tradition. The loci are chosen in order to give the biggest payoff by covering the most material with a limited number of categories.

Theology is an attempt to say what we can, the most we can, and in the best way we can.
Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, 61.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Focus of Evangelical Theology

What the word 'evangelical' will objectively designate is that theology which treats the God of the Gospel.

This is the God who reveals himself in the Gospel, who himself speaks to men and acts among and upon them. Wherever he becomes the object of human science, both its source and its norm, there is evangelical theology.
—Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, 5-6.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Connecting All Doctrines to Soteriology

I believe one of the most fundamental theological axioms is that all doctrine should be intimately and clearly connected to soteriology.

It is a great mistake to isolate various Christian doctrines one from another, and this mistake is particularly dangerous when one is dealing with the trinitarian and Christological controversies. Too often these patristic debates are presented as if they were primarily attempts to arrive at the best philosophical vocabulary for speaking of God and Christ. But fundamentally, these debates were not about philosophy; they were about salvation.

I contend that at the deepest level, the church's thought process in the fourth and fifth centuries was an attempt to answer the question, "What does God have to be like in order to give us the kind of salvation that we Christians know (from Scripture and the Holy Spirit's witness) we have?"
—Donald Fairbairn, "The One Person Who is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective," in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, 92.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Gospel in a Nutshell

The gospel is a story about Christ, God's and David's Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell.

And I assure you, if a person fails to grasp this understanding of the gospel, he will never be able to be illuminated in the Scripture nor will he receive the right foundation.
—Martin Luther, "A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels," in Luther's Works, 35:118-19.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Identity of the Jesus Preached

The authenticity of any reproduction of the gospel depends on the identity of the Jesus preached in that gospel.
—Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, 49.

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I sporadically blog at Canon Studies about (you guessed it), "Canon Studies."

I also occasionally post annotations that I make as I read Cormac McCarthy at "Reading Cormac McCarthy."

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2006-14

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