Tag Archives: books

When God Spoke Greek — Book Blog Tour

When I was approached about participating in the Book Blog Tour for Timothy Michael Law’s new book, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, I was beyond excited. I have, in the past, lamented how in all my years of theological training I have never once had a class on the Septuagint. I can count on one hand the number of times the Septuagint was mentioned in New Testament classes (usually in relation to how the NT author quoted the Old Testament), and I don’t think the Septuagint was ever brought up in an Old Testament class. Given this gap, I was hoping that this new book would help fill the gap. I can say with confidence, that this book definitely begins to fill said gap. Timothy Michael Law notes in his introduction that he was wanting to make the Septuagint more accessible. And he does.

 

Now, it’s important to note that I’m coming at this book as a seminary student, an aspiring theologian, and a person involved in church ministry. As such, the questions that I bring to this book include:

 

  • Would this book work as a textbook for college students? Would this book work as a textbook for seminary students?
  • Would this book have helped my studies as a student?
  • What are the theological implications of the NT authors quoting the Septuagint, especially when it differs from the Hebrew text?
  • Would this book be helpful for teaching lay people in the church about the history of Scripture?

Now onto my look at chapters 11 and 12!

****

In chapter eleven, TML begins by talking about the Septuagint influenced the transmission of Scripture into other languages. For example, the Latin Scripture were produced, not from the Hebrew text, but from the Greek. It is also from the Septuagint that the earliest Coptic, Armenian, Gothic and Arabic translations were produced. TML goes so far as to say, “Had there been no Septuagint, and had early Jewish converts remained in a Semitic world, the church may never have moved outside of its Palestinian birthplace.” (129)

He then looks at Philo and Josephus’ use and explanations of the origins of the Septuagint. For Philo, it was important to justify the text and he set out to demonstrate how it was divinely inspired. Josephus, on the other hand, is not so interested in justifying the divine inspiration of the Septuagint, so much as just reporting how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be translated into Greek.

By the 4th century, we find Eusebius arguing that “God providentially guided a translation into Greek so that when the Savior of the world did appear the nations would recognize him. This was the time when God spoke Greek.” (131) TML writes that by the 4th century, “the idea that the Septuagint was the inspired word of God was already so deeply rooted in the church that it allowed these writers to speak of it as the preparation for the gospel and as the superior, indeed, the only, word of God for the church.” (132)

TML then asks one of the questions that I myself was bringing to the text: “In what ways did [the Septuagint] contribute to the theological and exegetical formation of the early centuries of Christianity?” (132) He notes that the Latin and Greek Fathers were not concerned with how accurately the Greek translated the Hebrew, and that “presumably most Christians would have viewed the Hebrew Bible as strictly Jewish scripture, but the Septuagint was the treasure of the church.” (133) He explores examples of typological exegesis that were common because the Septuagint’s translations of key words like “Lord,” and “Anointed” made it easy for readers to see foreshadowing references to Christ.

As well, the Septuagint became extremely important theologically as the early church struggled against heresies. Over and over, it was the Septuagint and not the Hebrew texts that the Church Fathers would return to over and over again to craft a coherent defense of the faith.

TML concludes the chapter by noting that it wasn’t just theology that was profoundly influenced by the Greek text. Indeed, the Septuagint played a role in also developing preaching, liturgy and Christian piety (aka spiritual formation). Ultimately, “Most Christians would have heard the Septuagint taught and would have been shaped by it without knowing anything about its relationship to the Hebrew.” (139)

In chapter twelve, TML looks at Origen and his influence on biblical scholarship in the early church. He argues that Origen’s “textual scholarship inadvertently hastened the end of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church.” (141) Origen’s study of Scripture was extensive. He was continually learning about exegetical methods, not only from Christian scholars in Alexandria, but also from Jewish and Greek (secular) scholars. It was this deep passion for exegesis that led Origen to compile the Hexapla: “a six-columned Bible in which he placed six different biblical texts in parallel columns.” (143) This project made the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts stand how. But how would Origen explain the differences? “When the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint were at odds with one another, there were two possible explanations: copyists introduced genuine errors in the transmission of the manuscripts, or Providence introduced the divergences for the church’s edification.” (144) TML is quick to note that Origen had great respect for the Septuagint and that “Origen’s aim was never to dislodge the Septuagint from the lecterns of the churches in favor of the Hebrew Bible.” (145)

So how did this massive exegetical work by Origen hasten the demise of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church? By accident!

“If Origen included the Hebrew Bible in the first column of his Hexapla, didn’t that imply it was worth studying? The fifth column, in which he had created a hybrid text composed of the church’s Septuagint with additional readings from other Greek Jewish versions, may have begun as a scholarly tool for exegesis, apologetics, and textual analysis. But the new fifth column text was soon copied with the signs [that noted divergences from the Hebrew] removed and was dispersed widely. It moved out from a scholarly and professional realm, where caveats could have helped to prevent its misuse, and into the church. Unintentionally, Origen’s work contaminated the stream of biblical transmission: from the fourth century almost all Septuagint manuscripts had been influenced by the so-called Origenic, or Hexaplaric, version.” (145)

And this contamination was not gradual. Instead “it exploded on to the map and changed the course of the Septuagint’s history thereafter.” TML concludes the chapter by noting: “A new spirit was unleashed, and if scholars had not noticed before the divergent nature of the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible they would soon find it impossible to ignore. The final days of the Septuagint in the West had begun.” (150)

****

So would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Reading this book has begun to fill in some of the gaps of my theological education. If I was teaching a course, how would I use this book? If I was teaching a class on the Patristic Fathers, either at the college or seminary level, this would definitely be on the syllabus as a required reading. If I was teaching a survey NT or OT class, I wouldn’t necessarily assign this book, but would instead create a lecture or two on the Septuagint based on the material in this book. At a church level, I think it would be fantastic to do a small group study on the history of Scripture and use this book as one of the materials to be read over the course of a season (with 13 chapters plus a postscript, this book is ideally laid out for a fall (Sept-Dec) or spring (Jan-Apr) weekly study group).

My only real complaint is that once again a publisher has decided that a book aimed at a general audience needs endnotes. Publishers, please stop doing this! A general audience will not be put off by a few footnotes, and footnotes actually make the book easier to read.

 

You can follow the rest of the Book Blog Tour on When God Spoke Greek here.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Review: Did The First Christians Worship Jesus?

Did The First Christians Worship Jesus? is a continuation of an ongoing academic discussion on the nature of early Christian worship, between Larry Hurtado, Richard Bauckham and James Dunn. In this work, written at a level suitable for the general readership, Dunn notes that he does agree in principle with the writings of Hurtado and Bauckham, but that in this volume he wants to wrestle with those passages that seem to contradict the idea that the early Christians worshipped Jesus. If in fact the early Christians were hesitant to worship Jesus, Dunn believes that it is important to stop and ask why this is.

Dunn explores this by asking five primary questions: 1) What is worship, and does worship define God? 2) What did worship involve? 3) How was God’s self-revelation understood in biblical Judaism? 4) Was Jesus a monotheist? 5) What did Jesus’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father mean to the early Christians?[2] Dunn’s thesis is that, in the early Church, the worship of Jesus was not an alternative to the worship of God, it was a way of worshipping God. More precisely, the worship of Jesus was (and should be) wholly Trinitarian; that is, “Worship of Jesus that is not worship of God through Jesus, or, more completely, worship of God through Jesus and in the Spirit, is not Christian worship.”[3]

Dunn argues that the original question, “Did the first Christians worship Jesus?” is too narrow, and when taken at face value it should be answered in the negative. Better questions to ask, Dunn suggests, are “was the earliest Christian worship possible without and apart from Jesus?”[4] and, “did the first Christians include Jesus within this restricted worship, or did they somehow loosen the restrictions?”[5] Dunn is attempting to guard against the possibility of Christomonism, or in his words “Jesus-olatry”, wherein the worship of Jesus replaces the worship of God.

This book, while written at an easily-accessible level and marketed to the general Christian public, makes the reader feel like they have walked into the middle of a conversation without any prior context of the conversation. As well, because Dunn states that he is in agreement with Hurtado and Bauckham, the subtle arguments that he is making in relation to their broader conversation will probably be lost on those who have not fully followed the conversation. As such, Larry Hurtado’s review[6] helps to guide readers in understanding the broader conversation, as well as pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Dunn’s argument.

From a theological perspective, Dunn’s book is useful because he affirms and wants to ensure that all discussion of Christian worship is Trinitarian in nature. At the same time, the question needs to be asked if Dunn’s fear of “Jesus-olatry” is overblown. An examination of the Patristic development of Christology, even though it is extends beyond the first century data that Dunn is analyzing, would be useful to explore, particularly some of the early writings of Justin Martyr and Tertullian, to see if the worship of Jesus actually displaces the worship of God the Father. (Though space does not permit, I would argue that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity prevents this from occurring). That being said, Dunn’s worry about “Jesus-olatry” does not warrant criticisms that Dunn is undermining the foundations of Christian orthodoxy with his scholarly examination of the biblical texts.[7]



[1] James Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus: The New Testament Evidence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).

[2] Ibid., 6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5] Ibid., 60.

[6] Larry Hurtado, review of Did the First Christians Worship, by James Dunn, Journal of Theological Studies 61 (2010): 736-40.

[7] See for example, Paul Owen, review of Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence, by James Dunn, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54 (2011): 645-47.

Review: Paul In Fresh Perspective

Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright is based on a series of lectures delivered between 2004 and 2005. His aim, through these lectures, is “to let in some new shafts of light on Paul” (p. ix). He does this by dividing his lectures into two sections: themes found in Paul’s writing, and structures of Paul’s theology. While this book, in part, builds on his previous work on Paul, (notably, What St. Paul Really Said, Climax of the Covenant, and his commentary on Romans), it also points to Wright’s next project, namely the fourth volume in his series, Christian Origins and the Question of God.

In chapter one, Wright introduces the world, or more specifically the worlds, of Paul: Judaism, Hellinism, Rome, and the ekklesia. Wright argues that the narratives of these different worldviews all influenced Paul’s theology and thought, and that the focus in Pauline studies on narrative structures “is one of the most significant developments which the ‘new perspective’ revolution has precipitated” (p.8). Wright briefly outlines the shift from the “old perspective” to the “new perspective” and argues that many of the ideas in modern Pauline scholarship were/are born out of specific cultural and interpretative contexts that are now being evaluated and brought to light. (For example, he talks about how Ephesians and Colossians being seen as pseudo-Pauline arose out of a very specific context: German existentialism).

In chapter two, Wright explores the interconnectedness of the themes of creation and covenant. Building off of Psalms 19 and 74, Wright presents three Pauline texts (Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Cor 15; Romans 1-11) that display the same pattern of fusing creation and covenant together, even when the terms “creation” and “covenant” aren’t specifically referenced in the text. Wright’s thesis is that the Old Testament, and thus Paul in retelling the narrative in light of the work of Christ, portrays God as the creator God who is the covenanting God, and vice versa (p.24).

In chapter three, Wright focuses on the themes of Messiah and the Apocalyptic. He argues that this pairing of themes demonstrates that for Paul, the “apocalypse of the Messiah as Israel’s king and therefore the world’s true Lord challenges…the grand claims of the pagan empire” (p.40). Wright rightly challenges the modern misunderstandings of “Christ” that downplay the Jewishness of Jesus’ title. Wright then looks at the themes of Gospel and Empire in chapter four. Wright argues that not only was Paul discussing the Gospel as fulfillment of Israel’s narrative, but he was also subverting (implicitly and explicitly) the ideology of the Roman Empire (pg. 59).

Wright then shifts from themes in Paul’s writings to the structure or shape of Paul’s theology. Wright critiques previous attempts to structure Paul’s theology, because they ended up emphasizing certain doctrines at the expense (or outright dismissal) of other doctrines. Wright suggests the adoption of a three-fold Jewish framework that would categorize Paul’s theology under “one God,” “one people of God,” and “one future for God’s world”, and then tweaking it to focus on the Messiah and the Holy Spirit (p.84). Chapters five, six and seven look at each of the three aspects in turn, and these chapters form the beginning sketches of Paul’s exploration of the Christological and pneumatological foci of each category.

In his concluding chapter, Wright looks at some of the corollary questions that arise from his proposed restructuring of Paul’s theology. First, Wright examines the supposed dichotomy or polarization between Jesus’ message and Paul’s message. Wright argues that both Jesus and Paul saw the world through the same set of themes (as explored in chapters two through four), but their functions were different.  Paul was not attempting to modify or better Jesus’ theology, instead Paul saw his role as being the conductor who simply conducts the music written by the composer, that is, Jesus (p.155). But, if this is the case, Wright asks, what should be done about the apparent discrepancies between Jesus and Paul, in areas like teachings on the Kingdom of God, justification by faith, and Christian ethics? Wright, briefly explores each of the issues and concludes that the solution lies in understanding that Jesus and Paul had two different vocations that served the same over-arching vision (p.161).

While this book has a very conversational tone, and is aimed at more of a general rather than an academic audience, Wright would have been better to have offered more endnotes with references and clarifications to help the reader along. As well, the endnotes that merely reference Scripture should have been changed to parenthetical references to make it easier for the reader who has to continuously flip from the chapter to the endnotes at the back of the book. In terms of Wright’s overall presentation of his perspective on Paul, a reader who is familiar with Wright’s more academic works would understand the summaries and overviews that he gives, but for the reader who is unfamiliar with Wright, the summary nature of Wright’s arguments may actually be overwhelming and disorienting.  As someone who has read Wright, I found his chapter on messiahship to be a good review of his fuller discussions of messiahship as found in Jesus and the Victory of God. On the other hand, his chapter on Paul and Empire was actually confusing instead of clarifying, and as such readers would be better off reading his essay “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire.” That being said, this book serves as a way for evangelicals to re-read Paul with new insights, and to understand the narratives that Paul is using and retelling in his presentation of the Gospel.

Given the introductory nature of these “shafts of light,” and given that the book is written to a general, rather than academic audience, I would suggest that judgment and evaluation of Wright’s re-thinking of Paul be held in reserve until the more complete volume is released. The danger in critiquing Wright at this stage is that, because Wright does not set out to “prove” his re-thinking but rather to gather people together to begin to re-think with him, the reader is in danger of attributing issues or implications to Wright that may or not actually be indicative of Wright’s thought.

As a theologian, I find Wright’s suggested structure for exploring Paul’s theology to be both intriguing and useful, especially in a post-modern context that has moved, and is moving, away from the modernistic structures of systematic (particularly Reformed) theologies. I would suggest that Wright’s proposal could be the beginning of a bridge between biblical studies and theology, and specifically between the fields of biblical theology and systematic theology, especially if there was a way to subsume the systematic categories under the broader structure that Wright proposes.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Buffy, Bella and Mark Driscoll

I’m on my way to a silent retreat (aka: an introvert’s dream). So the next couple of days I’m posting some re-worked posts on Christianity and the Buffyverse. Enjoy!

***

There’s a clip of a sermon by Mark Driscoll making the rounds on the internet. (Both Tim Challies and Marc Cortez have picked it up). Basically, he laments the “top picks for pre-teen girls” at Amazon. They almost all have to do with vampires, werewolves, magic and death.

In many ways he’s right. The majority of the books out there for young girls are spin-offs of Twilight. And he’s right, there is some pretty questionable stuff in Twilight.

But I think here he misses the point. Yes, Twilight is awful on so many levels. First, the writing is dreadful. Second, Bella is a non-character with no personality.

And my biggest pet peeve is that people are pitching the series as an example of chastity and abstinence. This is a load of hock-patooey. In a nutshell, Bella pines and longs for Edward. Edward has the “moral” courage to resist her advances, saying that they need to be married first. What is the message here? Girls, if you long and pine and desire to be with a guy, it’s okay because the (teen-aged, hormone fueled) guy will be strong enough to rebuff your advances! Um. I don’t think so.

Where Driscoll goes wrong is in suggesting that the current vampire trend is indicative of the vampire/werwolf/zombie genre in general. I think when done correctly, vampires et al become a tool to examine humanity, to explore desires and motivations and to present the struggle between good and evil.

Now, I have to be upfront and admit that I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, so I may be a bit biased. But Whedon got it so right in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the first three seasons at least).

The premise of the first three seasons is High School is Hell.

The swim team jocks are actually mutant monsters after being injected with steroids.

The girl who is ignored by the cool kids eventually becomes invisible and goes all “Carrie” on her classmates.

Frat boys are servants of their giant snake monster, and want nothing more than to feed you to it in their basement.

A gang of bullies are possessed by a hyena-spirit and will pick on the weak and outcast in the school, not to mention they will also eat the principal.

And the big one: If you sleep with your boyfriend, he will lose his soul and become a monster! This of course then gets repeated in Season 4, when Buffy goes off to college and ends up with a human (normal) guy who ends up being a jerk as well.

High school is hell. And Whedon uses vampires, werewolves, snake monsters, Frankenstein and more to explore this theme. It works. It is brilliant. And then, he continues using the genre to explore the theme of redemption with the spinoff “Angel.”

My point: We need discernment. Which Driscoll does talk about. But that discernment also means not just throwing something away because it has vampires and werewolves or young wizards and witches. What do these fictional and fantastical creatures say about humanity? If they don’t say anything, then we need the discernment to see that they are nothing more than fluff marketing by publishers and movie studios to make a quick buck.

Review: The Way – New Living Translation

I like Bibles. I have an entire shelf of them. And I use every single one of them. Maybe not every day, but each Bible serves a purpose. For academic study, I turn to my trusty, wide-margin NASB. When I’m feeling poetic I turn to my NKJV. I still have my Student NIV from when I first became a Christian at the age of 16, and it’s full of highlights, underlines and scribbles by the angsty teenaged me. For family devotions we use an NLT because it reads well. And of course I also have NRSV, KJV and the Message.

I have been given an advance copy of the NLT’s new “The Way” Bible. And I thought I would share a few of my first impressions.

Inspired by “The Way” from the 70’s, the NLT’s newest Bible is a relevant, hip, and “non-dreary” Bible aimed at 16-30 year olds.

Besides the Bible text, this Bible has brief introductions to each book, and then three types of reflections scattered throughout the pages. These reflections fall into three categories: “Laments”, “What I Wish I’d Known” and “This is My Story”. Contributions to these articles include Soong-Chan Rah, Andrew Marin, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Phillis Tickle, John Franke, Mike Hogan (from the Dave Crowder Band) and Scot McKnight. The reflections come from a variety of Christian traditions including, evangelical, mainline, and Orthodox.

Now some of the reflections are fantastic; others not so much.

Introductions:
I really liked the introductions to the books, in particular the introduction to Genesis, in which the author compares skipping over Genesis 1-2 to missing the first ten minutes of a movie. Each of the introductions help set the context of said individual book into the larger narrative of Scripture. And particularly in the Old Testament introductions, the introductions explain why it is important to read these books and not skip past them because we think that they no longer apply or are relevant in light of the Gospel of the New Testament. Because let’s be honest, we’ve all at one point or another thought that reading Leviticus or Numbers is pretty boring and useless.

What I Wish I’d Known:
An example of a fantastic “What I Wish I’d Known” is Charlie Peacock’s reflection and wish that he had been taught that the Gospel was more than just his salvation from individual sins. It is powerful and reflects the shift in evangelicalism to a larger Gospel message, a King Jesus Gospel, instead of a Soterian Gospel (to use the terms of Scot McKnight).

Laments:
When done well, the laments demonstrate how it is not only okay, but also important to wrestle with difficult passages of Scripture. That being said, the lament at Acts 8:1-3 is an example of a poorly placed lament. The Scripture passage describes the persecution that the early Church experienced under Saul (Paul before his conversion), and yet here is a lament by Emily Geyer that talks about how it is wrong to judge people. How does this fit with Acts 8:1-3? Acts 8 is not about a Christian judging wrongly or meanly: it’s about a non-Christian persecuting the Church.

This is My Story:
Testimony is important. Hearing other people’s stories of how they came to faith, of what God has done in their lives not only encourages us, but reminds us that God is working amazing miracles all around the world. The testimonies included in this Bible come from a breadth of experiences and cultures. There are testimonies from people who grew up in the Church, from people who came from unchurched backgrounds, people who came from other faiths and from people who have struggled with sin and addiction.

And perhaps that’s the best thing about the contemporary stories and testimonies in The Way: They are not candy-coated. They do not try to gloss over the difficult passages of Scripture, or try to gloss over the dark parts of life. Instead, these stories say that God works against the darkness, He brings healing and peace and victory. Which is ultimately the grand story of the Gospel, isn’t it? Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God is the reconciler and has reconciled the world to himself. Jesus brings healing and peace and victory over sin and death.

As for the physical book itself: It is a soft-cover book, with a predominantly white cover. So if you have a tendency to throw your Bible into the bottom of your backpack, chances are it will end up with scuff marks on it. But, according to the Tyndale website, they also have it available in hardcover or leather-like cover, which might be more practical options. At nearly 1600 pages, you would think that this would be a big book, but it’s not. The pages are thin, so be careful what pens or highlighters you use on the text as it could bleed through to the reverse side of the page.

I may not be in the age-bracket that this Bible is being marketed for, but I like it. I could see myself using it for small group bible studies, and I would have no problem giving this Bible to a young person as a gift, particularly a young Christian who is new to the faith or who is struggling with what it means to be a Christian.

Just a quick note on one aspect that I could not review: In each of the introductions to the individual books of the Bible (and on several of the laments and other reflections) there is a QR code that is supposed to link to related online content. At the moment, each of the QR codes that I tried goes only to the “about” page of The Way’s webpage. As such, I am not able to provide a review of the corresponding online content. (Update: If I type in the email address above the QR code I am able to get to the corresponding online content, but the scanning the QR code itself just links to the generic “About The Way” page.)

Advanced Reader’s Copy of the Bible has been provided courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Donald Gowan’s “The Bible on Forgiveness”

Donald Gowan takes a comprehensive look at forgiveness in the Bible. In looking at both the Old and New Testaments, he divides each into two sections: ‘God Forgives Us’ and ‘We Forgive One Another’. In both cases, ‘the God Forgives Us section’ is longer. It is this aspect, ‘God Forgives Us’, that is the focus of this review. In particular two theological themes emerge from Gowan’s book. The first is God’s forgiveness being grounded in his character. And the second is the complicated relationship between repentance and forgiveness.

The idea that forgiveness is grounded in the very character of God finds its roots in Exodus 34. Here, God forgives Israel for the purpose of keeping the covenant relationship intact. As God passes before Moses, God describes his character and actions that are foundational to his very being. He is gracious, compassionate, loving, and forgiving, even in light of the horrendous sin committed by turning so quickly to the idols (Exodus 34:6-7). Gowan then traces how the Old Testament continues to echo Exodus 34:6-7, and how it is repeated throughout the prophets and the psalms. That God forgives is ultimately tied to his faithfulness, and Gowan argues that this is the inherent difference between God and Israel: God can and does maintain the covenant relationship, while Israel is unfaithful and unable to do the same. Closely related to this is Gowans assertion that “Forgiveness is God’s work alone.” This theme, that God forgives, carries into the New Testament. The healing of the paralytic and the story of the woman who anointed Jesus point to Jesus’ action. Indeed, Gowan rightly argues that the point of the parables, such as the Prodigal Son, is to point to the forgiver, to show that God forgives, and that the parable makes no mention of what is “involved in receiving forgiveness.”

The second theological theme that runs through Gowan’s book is the complicated relationship between repentance and forgiveness. As Gowan traces the passages that speak of forgiveness, it becomes clear that the Bible does not always demonstrate that repentance must precede forgiveness. Indeed, as Gowan demonstrates, more often than not, God forgives, which in turn allows the person (or nation) to repent and turn to him. This starts, according to Gowan, in the narrative of Exodus 34. God forgave the unrepentant Israel so as to insure the continuation of the relationship. And while it is true that the Deuteronomistic History of Joshua-Kings, as well as the sacrificial system, demonstrate a theology of repentance preceding forgiveness, the prophets demonstrate that God forgives, and promises to forgive, without Israel first repenting. Repentance appears to be dependent on God’s work. God revokes the punishment, prior to repentance, and because of God’s action of forgiveness Israel is able to repent.

Even in the New Testament, while the model in Acts is “repent and be baptized”, this repentance and the possibility of forgiveness comes in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To state it another way, because Jesus forgave, we can now respond by repenting in light of the proffered forgiveness. Indeed, when a person’s sins are forgiven, they receive the indwelling of the Holy Spiri,t which brings about the change that the Old Testament authors had hoped for. Gowan argues that this becomes the impetus for the activity of the apostles and early Christians in the book of Acts. They were able to go out and proclaim the Good News precisely because Christ had forgiven them. The parables, like the Prodigal Son, demonstrate the model of forgiveness preceding repentance. Even in the epistles, like 1John, the message is that we can confess our sin because God is forgiving and has forgiven us through the work of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Interestingly, Gowan notes that Paul rarely speaks of forgiveness, choosing instead to speak of justification, and that on the one or two occasions that he refers to repentance (in the Corinthian church) he does not also speak of forgiveness.

Gowan argues that forgiveness in the Old Testament is not only a forgiving of past wrong, forgiveness also encompasses the idea of healing, cleansing and change. From a theological perspective, what this demonstrates is that, in the Old Testament, forgiveness is not just justification, it is also sanctification. When God forgives, it involves the changing and healing of the offending person with the goal of restoring the broken relationship. To just have sins forgiven does not mean that there is a restoration of relationship, there needs to be change. This is also the message of the New Testament, with the only change being that this forgiveness, which brings healing and restores and sanctifies the relationship, is now offered specifically in the name of Jesus, and is no longer just for Israel, but is available for all peoples of all nations.

That forgiveness is a part of the very character of God, and that this is repeated throughout the Old Testament, may suggest a way through the two God (God of the Old Testament vs. God of the New Testament) dichotomy to which many Christians hold. It would be an intriguing project to develop a theology of God that finds its focus on the forgiving nature of God, rather than on the holiness or love of God. A possible weakness may be found in one of the conclusions Gowan draws about forgiveness. He writes that, “forgiveness may begin entirely by the initiative of the injured party, but it can never achieve what is intended unless it can be accepted by the guilty one.” The question arises, is Gowan’s understanding of forgiveness then not dependant on repentance so much as it is on acceptance of said forgiveness? Gowan demonstrates how forgiveness precedes repentance more often than repentance precedes forgiveness, and so the question becomes, what is the role of repentance? Could the downplaying of repentance be an example of God’s reformed theology that emphasizes the monergistic work of God? While a theology of repentance is outside the scope of this particular work, it is important to remember that repentance and forgiveness, in whatever order they appear, are still theologically related.

Gowan’s book is an important contribution to the Church’s development of a theology of forgiveness and reconciliation. By tracing all of the passages concerning forgiveness, and how they are all connected back to the very character of God, this book offers a much-needed corrective to today’s pop-psychology-saturated church. It is important to understand the broader biblical picture of forgiveness, as it will help the Church to translate, interpret and apply those popular passages on forgiveness that we too often read through the lens of our contemporary culture’s definition of forgiveness.

Anglican Week — Writers Who Influenced My Walk

It’s interesting to look back through my sixteen years as a Christian and to see how many of the writers and scholars who helped deepened my faith were Anglicans. Why is that? I don’t know. But I think it might have something to do with the fact that Anglicanism encourages the life of the mind, and does not promote an anti-intellectualism that is common with other forms of Christianity.

In the first year after I became a Christian I devoured books by C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. The Great Divorce. The Problem of Pain. And then someone pointed out that he was the author of the Narnia series that I had grown up reading, so I went back and read them again. (How did my atheist dad let me read Narnia? Aslan is so very much a Christ character.) My favourite book: The Screwtape Letters.

As I began studying theology in college, I was introduced to the writings of Alister McGrath, and I continue to put his newest books on my ever-growing “to read” list. (Have you seen how many books he has published the last couple of years? It’s hard to keep up!). My favourite book: The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind.

Speaking of my ever-growing “to read” list, I’ve added some books by John Polkinghorne. Polkinghorne explores the relationship between science and faith, and at some point I would like to get into that literature.

And of course, I think the Anglican author that has had the biggest impact on my faith is N.T. Wright. From his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, to his interaction with John Piper on the issue of justification, and of course his books written to a broader audience, my theology has been profoundly challenged and shaped by Dr. Wright. My two favourite books: After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters and Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church.

So who is your favourite Anglican writer?

********
So ends Anglican Week here at Cheese-Wearing Theology. I hope you enjoyed it. A big shout out of thanks to Dell, Erin and Dustin who contributed posts. Now back to our regularly scheduled program!

Review: With by Skye Jethani

What’s it About: In With: Reimagining The Way You Relate to God, Skye Jethani outlines the four main postures or ways that most Christians relate to God.

Life Under God — moralism
Life Over God — Christian Deism
Life From God — consumerism
Life For God — ‘mission-ism’

Each of these four postures, according to Skye Jethani, end up being ultimately about our attempt to control God, and to control our lives. In these postures,

God is seen as a means to an end. For example, LIFE FROM GOD uses him to supply our material desires. LIFE OVER GOD uses him as the source of principles or laws. LIFE UNDER GOD tries to manipulate God through obedience to secure blessings and avoid calamity. And LIFE FOR GOD uses him and his mission to gain a sense of direction. (102)

The alternative posture that Jethani proposes is a Life With God. This, he suggests, is the more biblical, and more healthy way of relating to God. Life with God includes three things: treasuring, uniting and experiencing, and all three of these emphasize that a life with God is a life that doesn’t view God as an object to be possessed, but rather, it is a life that seeks to dwell with God. Jethani then further explores this ‘with’ posture by looking at a Life with Faith; a Life with Hope; and a Life with Love.

Notable Quotable:

The reason a great many churches and Christian ministries fail to see people obey Jesus’ instructions is because the people are not living in the LIFE WITH GOD posture. The teachings and commands of the Bible may be communicated powerfully, clearly, and repeatedly, but until people have their vision of the world changed by living in communion with the Good Shepherd, until they experientially know they are safe, they will be incapable of following Christ’s counterintuitive commands. (pg. 127)

Readability: With is written in a very conversational style, with plenty of stories and metaphors. The analogies used are contemporary, and there are quotes not only from spiritual classics (like Henri Nouwen and Brother Lawrence), but also from current blogs (e.g., Kevin DeYoung). Re-tellings of parables like the Prodigal Son are fresh and easy to read.

Who Would Benefit: This book would be great for new Christians, young Christians, or those Christians who have had little introduction to spiritual formation and discipleship. Included in this book are discussion questions for each chapter which would help guide discussion if this book were to be used for a small group.

Who Wouldn’t Benefit: For those who are familiar with spiritual formation books and immersed in strong Christian discipleship, this book may not be particularly helpful, as it covers ideas and concepts found in other works of the same genre.

Rating: 3.5/5

The review copy of this book was provided by Booksneeze. All opinions are my own.

I Need To Read More Fiction

I say it every time I finish reading a good book: I need to read more fiction. Normally, I read non-fiction: theology books, commentaries, philosophy etc. I poo-poo the need to read fiction, until I actually sit down with a good book, and then I say to myself, “self, you need to read more fiction. This is fantastic!”

I finished and submitted my papers last weekend, and spent the next four days devouring Storm of Swords, the third book in G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series. I’ve now started book 4, and book 5 should be arriving in the post any day now. If Chuck’s not careful, I might end up getting to the post office before him and reading A Dance with Dragons before he does!

This week also saw the blogosphere abuzz with the latest tizzy about comments that a celebrity pastor made on Facebook. As I read through my google reader every morning, I couldn’t help but think “bored now“. (And you know that whenever a red-head says ‘bored now’ you need to watch out). I had more exciting things to read, like finding out what happens to Tyrion, Arya, Brienne, and Jon.

I get the appeal of controversy. It’s great for blog hits. I learned this after Rob Bell’s book came out. The posts I did on that hoopla still generate hits for my blog.

But, maybe the difference is that this new celebrity controversy occurred while it is summer. I want to be outside in the backyard, enjoying the heat and sunshine and a good book. It’s not winter. I’m not trapped inside while it’s 40 below. There is life outside the house! There is life outside the blogosphere! There is life outside theology! (Hey, wait a minute…life outside theology?! Let’s not go too crazy).

The keepers of all things biblioblog have reorganized and set some parameters on what constitutes a true biblioblog. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating moving to a more biblioblog format. That way I could be part of the rankings. But, no. I like writing about random things. I like ‘cheese-wearing‘ aspect of my blog. If I want to write about theology, I’ll write about theology. If I want to write about biblical studies, I’ll write about biblical studies. If I want to write about crazy random thoughts that pop into my head, I can do that too. It’s about creativity and having fun. If I’m not having fun writing on my blog then it no longer serves its purpose.

And that’s what I like about fiction. It allows me to read something ‘other’, to get lost in a world far far away. It activates my imagination, and gives me ideas to explore.

So how about it? Care to join me outside in the sunshine? Find a good long book and sit out in the backyard with a nice glass of lemonade, and lots of sunscreen and bug spray. How different would the next blogosphere controversy look if we all walked away from our computers and headed outside with a book or two tucked under our arms?