March Furnace Fires

I woke up to a beep. I could smell smoke. I could hear voices outside, and something was rumbling. Another beep. It must be a work truck outside, I thought to myself. What time is it?, I wondered. It’s dark, but if I can hear people talking then it can’t be that early. Another beep. “I’ll go see what’s going on,” I tell Mari.

While descending the stairs I heard our neighbor talking, and she sounded worried. Another beep. Worse yet, on the other side of the wall from where I was standing I could hear what sounded like her furnace unit jumping around. With every leap a metal piece fell off.

Her furnace was on, and it was blowing up.

I continued down the stairs and looked through our door’s window. I could see the utter shock on our neighbor’s face as she told the person on the phone, “Yes, please get here quickly. My furnace is on fire.” She was talking to local volunteer fire department.

Hurrying up the stairs, I turned the bedroom light on and told Mari, “We have to go! The neighbor’s furnace is on fire.” Smoke was flooding into our room through the vents. We got dressed, ran down our stairs, grabbed our backpacks by the door, and our winter coats. By this time, there was so much smoke coming in from our kitchen that it looked like a youth worship service gone wrong. We ran out safely, though quite shaken up. I was in my blue wool slippers which Mari had made me. I even wore them to church later that morning (it’s all I had at the time).

After running outside, I ran to the back of the apartment only to see large flames coming out from my neighbor’s flat. This whole place is gone, I thought. I went with Mari to the front yard. So far only our neighbor’s duplex was on fire.

Within minutes of getting to the front yard the firefighters were there (at least 5 fire trucks and a few police cars). I soon called our landlord and told him what had happened. It was 3.40am when I called him. The fire began between 3.00 and 3.15am.

On one end of the quadplex, we lived in Apt #4. Our neighbor whose place caught fire was in #3. Two brothers lived in #2, and one guy in #1. One of the brothers had arrived home around 2.30am from his job. After eating, he heard the beeping of our neighbor’s fire alarm. Having heard for a little too long, he knocked on her front door to see if she was awake. It took several minutes and him banging on her door before she finally responded and opened it. A flood of smoke came out through the opening. She had been looking for her dog. Her electricity cut out as they were standing in the doorway. The guy saw a flash of fire in the back of her apartment where her furnace was. He quickly told her to call the fire department. That’s when I woke up.

Everybody made it out safely, including the girl’s dog. Her place has been reduced to ashes. Virtually nothing was left but a black hole. As for our apartment and the brothers in #2, everything was covered with a fine layer of soot and reeked of putrid smoke. Additionally there was some water damage from the firefighters.

Our apartment was (and is, and will be) unlivable, and we were officially homeless. Later that day the ceiling fell down in one of our rooms, as the fire had spread through the attic earlier that morning. But with the help of friends, we got most of our things out later that day (and night). Our small group leaders housed us for a couple of nights, and for a couple of months we will staying in some missionary housing on campus. From May-August we will be going home to family both in Louisiana and Norway. We have to find another apartment in time for the fall semester, where we will hopefully be able to live securely until our time at SBTS is over.

Conclusion

I’ve written this so that you may all know what is going on, and to explain the PayPal Donation button in the top right sidebar. A professor here asked if we had a donations page, so I set this up. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I presume your donations can be given anonymously, though I haven’t tried.

We’ve been able to wash some clothes. We’ve aired out parts of our library. We have a place where we can store what is left of our belongings while we are figuring everything out. We have plenty of dry cleaning to do, along with wiping down our other belongings, making an overview of what we need, and filling out our insurance claims. We don’t know how much some of this will cost or what will need to be replaced (besides our couch, armchair, and bed).

We are so thankful that no one was hurt, and that our teachers have been very accommodating with papers and midterms (as this happened right before midterms began). We have truly been able to taste and see the Lord’s goodness through this experience as church and friends have come together to show us the love of Christ through providing meals, financial support, and prayers.

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Review: God’s Faithful Character (Lectures)

The use of the OT in the NT is a huge topic today in biblical studies. With books like 3 Views[], The Commentary on the NT Use of the OT[], Hay’s Echoes in the Letters of Paul[] (and now the Gospels[]), studies on intertextuality, (Jguo) intertextuality. There are positions on whether the authors are properly using the OT contextually, out of the original context, and now the position that the authors were recreating Israel’s story. Why should we consider what Watts’ has to say? As you may know, I’m taking my M.Div. at SBTS, and I enjoy reading works like these (in my small spare time) so that I can expand my knowledge of the Bible’s depths.

Rikk Watts, who used to teach at Regent College (lectures here), contends that the connection between the OT and the NT is God’s faithful character. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Why is such a dense subject so important?

As you’ll see in the outline below, Watts spends the first two and a half lectures going through the history of interpretation, looking at the views of writings and interpretations from before the time of Jesus and afterwards. While the task may seem arduous, Watts immerses the class through these writings and interpretations so that they may know where we have been and where we are going. Watts affirms that the NT was not written in a bubble, and neither are the ways scholars interpret the Bible today completed in a bubble. There is a history to both, but he is able to draw out how the NT authors use the OT while differing from the other Jewish and Greek writings that encompassed them.

In the rest of the lectures, Watts spends his time showing just how the NT authors showed how God’s character from the OT was the same in the NT. They did more than just interpret the OT in context. They believed that Jesus fulfilled the OT. Just as God worked in the OT, so he will work in the NT. The biblical authors recognized the patterns, and seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan, they showed the unity of God’s word through the way they interpreted the text.

Table of Contents

  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part I)
  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part II)
  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part III)
  • First Century Interpretation
  • When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations
  • Conjoining Texts
  • Some Striking Divergences
  • God’s Exodus Plan Completed
  • Purpose of the Parables
  • The Law and Faith (Part I)
  • The Law and Faith (Part II)

Watts’ handout is brimming with incredible (and technical) information. The above outline is only the bare-est of bones of the whole class. Each section is filled with information. You can see a brief example in these two posts.

Watts is an incredible, engaging teacher. His application is always spot on and penetrating. He truly cares about Christ and his bride. He is not some ivory tower academic, but he draws his applications to the real world. He desires to show the world a church that loves and follows after Christ as seen through their actions. The handout that comes with the lectures is particularly detailed and wonderfully helpful.

Yet as a course for doctoral students, Watts often travels down a number of rabbit trails. There were many times I didn’t know where we were because the path went on for some time. On occasion, moments after getting back to the text, there was yet another diversion. Sometimes Watts would say, “If only we had time, we could go into this subject,” yet if it weren’t for the tangents he would have had at least some extra time.

In Mark 1:1-3, while talking about Mark’s allusion to Isaiah 40, Exodus 23, and Malachi 3, Watts brings his listeners to John 14 where the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father. Knowing Jesus means to know the Father, but, though interesting and not entirely irrelevant, in discussing it in the middle of Mark’s content, it was difficult to follow the train of thought.

As a doctoral seminar, I thought there would have been a bigger focus on technical issues and how the NT uses the OT. Application is important, and it must derive from a proper interpretation of God’s word. However, these lectures were difficult to follow.

Recommended?

Teachers especially would benefit from the content found in the first three lectures, and the notes that go with the rest of his lectures would be well served. But the tangents may dissuade many from listening through all of the lectures. I wouldn’t recommend this as someone’s primary resource on understanding the NT’s use of the OT. Watts has written a chapter on Mark’s Gospel in the Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament, and he’s written Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. These are dense works, and one should be well read in this type of study.

When it comes down to his premise that God’s faithful character is what toes the NT’s use of the OT together, I don’t agree that it is the main idea, but I do think it is one of them. Watts shows how our God is faithful and committed, and it is seen throughout all of the Bible. Our God can and should be trusted to fulfill his promises to those who are in his Son Jesus Christ. Watts guides the student into seeing how in all our ways we should acknowledge God (Prov 3.6a). We are to put our whole weight onto him, for he is faithful to his people. 

Lagniappe

  • Teacher: Rikk Watts
  • School: Regent College
  • Time: 20hr, 47 min

Buy God’s Faithful Character by Rikk Watts

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(Special thanks to Regent College for sending me these lectures to review!)

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Three Approaches to Pharaoh’s “Heavy Heart” (Bo)

What's P'shat?

The weaknesses of classical heroes were often associated with particular body parts. Narcissus, for instance, so admired his own appearance that he couldn’t tear himself away from the reflection of his face. Oedipus was named for his swollen feet, and it was this feature which eventually tipped off the elders of Thebes that he had murdered their former king, Laius. Achilles, of course, died when an enemy arrow pierced him in the heel, giving rise to the idiom “Achilles heel,” which we use until today. So even the mightiest of men, it turns out, can be felled — as long as you know where to strike.  For Narcissus, it was his attractive face which brought about his downfall; for Oedipus, it was his swollen feet; for Achilles, his unarmored heel.

For Pharaoh, meanwhile, it was his heavy heart.

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Review: Unceasing Kindness

uk

For such a short book, I’ve always found the book of Ruth to be quite perplexing. Why does she remain with Naomi, the “bitter” woman? Then she meets Boaz, and for some reason is at his feet very late at night so of course she asks in a roundabout way if he will marry (“redeem”) her. But there’s a closer relative who could be the kinsman redeemer. He doesn’t foot the bill, so Boaz takes Ruth to be his wife, and eventually we get King David. And, of course, Christ is our kinsman redeemer. Why? Just because Boaz marries (and redeems) Ruth and now she has a child and land? How do we see that in what Christ does? In the book of Ruth, everything occurs ever so naturally. It’s too natural.

As a new volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Lau and Goswell’s volume on Ruth does what commentaries don’t have space to do. They look at Ruth in light of it’s canonical placement(s)yes, there are three different placements where Ruth is found in various manuscripts. Lau and Goswell focus “on the meaning of the text as intended by the author for [the] original hearers, but mindful of the fact that the book as we have it is set within a wider context of Scripture” (1). These include not only the books around Ruth, but the entire biblical canon. Both major and minor themes from Ruth are examined, with many reoccurring in multiple chapters. These major themes are redemption, kingship, and mission; the minor themes/motifs are kindness, wisdom, famine, refuge, seed, doxology, and the hiddenness of God and human agency.

Peter Lau (PhD University of Sydney) is lecturer in Old Testament Studies at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia and an honorary research associate at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Identity and Ethics in the Book of Ruth (BZAW) and co-editor of Reading Ruth in Asia (IVBS). Gregory Goswell (PhD University of Sydney) is academic dean and lecturer in biblical studies at Christ College, Sydney. He is the author of Ezra-Nehemiah (EP Commentary Series).

Summary

Chapter 1 sets the goal for the book: focusing on Ruth as the author intended and through the wider lens of Scripture (as the Author intended), setting Ruth up against Jesus, “the midpoint and endpoint of salvation history,” and discussing Ruth’s themes in light of the canon of Scripture (3).

In Chapter 2, the authors examine how those in the early restoration period (during the time of Ezra-Nehemiah) would have read Ruth. Some scholars argue that Ruth contradicts Ezra and Nehemiah, due to their insistence on breaking up exogamous marriages and their using Torah to exclude, restrict, and threaten the Israelites. By placing Ruth next to Ezra-Nehemiah and actually looking at what the text says, these issues fall apart. We also see how Ruth encourages Israel with the promise of the Davidic king, God’s seemingly-silent but all pervasive presence, and that they are not left to their own devices, but God is with them and is sovereign above the Persians.

Chapters 3-5 portray themes in relation to the OT contexts. At these angles, we can see similarities and differences between Ruth and the books ‘she’ is placed among. When it comes to the question of the correct canonical position of Ruth, Lau and Goswell say that “There may be no right or wrong answers to that question; rather the point is that the differing canonical positions make a difference to how one views and reads a book” (23).

Chapter 3 compares Ruth with it’s placement in the LXX (and in our English Bibles) in between Judges and Samuel. Ruth answers the question over how Israel will conquer their lack of a king (Judg 21.25).

Chapter 4-5 compares Ruth with it’s placements in the Hebrew scriptures. In some manuscripts, Ruth comes after Proverbs. With similar wording, Ruth is like the wise woman of Proverbs 31. She doesn’t “destroy kings” (Prov 31:3), but instead builds up the Israelite kingdom (Ruth 4.17, 21). Both show kindness (Prov 31.26; Ruth 3.10) and are praised by their husbands as being superior (Prov 31.28-29; Ruth 3:10-11). In Proverbs 1-9, the foil to Lady Wisdom is the adulteress, an Israelite woman who acts like a foreigner seeking to devour any man who will come into her. Yet Ruth is a foreigner who acts like an Israelite, seeking to know Yahweh and live righteously before all.

In Chapter 5, the authors examine how in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b), Ruth comes before the Psalms. Boaz commends Ruth for taking “refuge” under the “wings” of the Lord, a motif found throughout the Psalter (Pss 17.8; 61.4; 91.4). We see that “the ancestress of the chief psalmist anticipates the piety of David, who calls on God to defend and help him in his troubles” (61). It would be wrong to think that in the psalms we should try to separate the historical from the poetical, for both interpret each other. The theology of the OT is seen in God’s “kindness” and remembered in his historical acts.

Chapters 6-9 describe themes in relation to the Bible as a whole: famine (6), God’s hiddenness and human agency (7), redemption (8), God’s mission (9).

Chapter 10 concludes with summarizing each chapter and reminding the reader (and themselves) that ethics is not to be quarantined off from Old Testament narratives. “Who God is and how he acts (theology) has moral implications (ethics)” (165).

The Chocolate Milk

Chapter 2 was a unique chapter. While the other chapters are associated with themes and canonical placement, here Ruth is placed in conversation with Ezra and Nehemiah. While I did have some difficulty remembering what this chapter had to do with Ruth (Ezra-Nehemiah get more face time than Ruth), it exampled how God’s word does not contradict itself, but instead illuminates the text and nuances how we are to think about God’s word. All three books emphasize a relationship with God through human acts of generosity and kindness. If people say the Bible contradicts itself, ask them if they’ve done their homework.

I don’t know when I learned that the books of the Bible were ordered differently in the MT and LXX, but it was Stephen Dempster who introduced me into seeing a theological rational behind that ordering (in the Babylonian Talmud). In their volume on Ruth, Lau and Goswell go further than Dempster and examine Ruth through the lens of the different orders of the canon (i.e., MT, Babylonian Talmud, and LXX) and the books that surround Ruth in those respective sequences. While I must say that some of the canonical information was difficult to read, and has left me with even more questions, this was extremely beneficial and an excellent work of interpreting Scripture with Scripture. Lau and Goswell are careful interpreters, and I would enjoy seeing more books on the biblical canon and their relationship to those books which surround them in each of the canonical sequences.

Recommended?

Ruth has long been a mystery to me, but Lau and Goswell have done me (and the church) a service with this book. This book isn’t for the average person in the pew, but it for those who are well read and who want to study deeply the book of Ruth. Pastors and teachers should get a hold of this volume also. They won’t preach all of the details, but they will see the books where Ruth appears, making the unity of the Bible more pronounced in the minds of the congregation.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
  • Authors: Peter Lau & Gregory Goswell
  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (November 19, 2016)

Buy it on IVP Academic or on Amazon!

(Special thanks to IVP Academic for sending me this book to review!)

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Review: Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew

long

For many of us (Americans) grammar is not our strong suit. I certainly speak for myself. Besides adverbs, I did well in high school. But high school was ten years ago, I’m learning Hebrew now, and I am becoming very much aware that ten years is a long time. Gary Long knows the struggle, and has written this book to teach underlings like me how to work with both English and Hebrew grammar.

Summary

Long’s book is divided into three parts:

Part I: Foundations explains the basis of language. He covers linguistic hierarchies, from phone(me) -> morph(eme) -> lex(eme) -> word -> phrase – clause. Sound production comes next, which is surprisingly helpful in remembering why Hebrew vowels change from one vowel to another. Next comes the syllable (a requirement to understand Hebrew), and translational values.

Part II: Building Blocks expands upon the grammar concepts one would find in a grammar book: gender, number, article, conjunctions, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, infinitives, gerunds, participles, verbs, tense and aspect, mood, the imperative, the jussive, and voice.

Part III: The Clause and Beyond. Doing just as he says, Long moves from words to clauses, semantics, and discourse analysis (a relatively new field). This will not be for beginners, but it will be understandable for those who are working through this in class now or who have worked through this already. Long is able to spend 52 pages on these topics, and that’s plenty more you’d get from most (or any) grammar book.

Long beings by showing how a topic (adverbs) work in English before he teaches the reader how it works in Hebrew. While one could resort to Google to understand the definition of an adverb, Long provides phrases and sentences in Hebrew for the reader to see how the grammar functions. The Hebrew is provided, the interlinear is given underneath each word, and parsing is given for the particular grammatical word in view.

hb

Long strives for simplicity whenever possible, and warns the reader that, at times, they may find the language overly simplistic. This depends on the individual. In some cases everything made good sense, but in other places I didn’t know what I was reading and thought, “There must be an easier way to say this.“ Though, those thoughts only occurred in section 3, a section I haven’t yet been taught in class. But again, this book isn’t to be read on its own.

Throughout Long’s book, he gives you many cross references to other grammatical concepts. So in the section on demonstrative adjectives, there’s a clear distinction from demonstrative pronouns (which you can find on p. 51). This is helpful because there many concepts to grasp, and a quick guide to the exact page saves time instead of scanning through each page of the chapter on pronouns. Yet the system is a tad cumbersome. Perhaps in the next edition the cross references could be put in the margins or turned into footnotes. That would leave the main text free while keeping the pointers on the page.

Recommended?

What must be said about this book is that it is “designed to complement standard teaching grammars” (xvii). A grammar is best not read alone (it’s best to have a teacher), and this book should not be read alone. This is not meant to be read cover to cover, but a slice at a time when one comes across a difficult concept. It is a reference work. You will have trouble understanding Hebrew grammar if you try reading this book on its own. Teachers would do well to use this to make explaining grammar easier. Grammar books just can’t use as much space as Long does. That’s a huge benefit with Long’s volume. He can use more space to explain concepts from the ground up. Beginning Hebraist will derive a good bit of help from this book, primarily Parts 1 and 2. Part 3 will likely be over their heads as that section moves from basic grammatical functions to the clause, syntax, and discourse grammar.

These are not topics Elementary Hebrew students pick up. But that does mean this book will grow in its usefulness to the student when he or she has walked through the door and made themselves at home with syntax and exegesis. Really, predication and semantics won’t make sense to the beginner if they only read this book. Even some topics in Part 2 won’t make sense because the beginner hasn’t been taught this yet. I found his chapters on tense and aspect, mood, and voice to be understandable, but a book can only do so much. If you’re a teacher, this book will come in handy as a supplement to the student. If you’re a student, you need all the help you can get to understand grammar (at least, if you plan to take some exegesis classes). It’s vital to understand the grammar of any language your learning. How much more should we use the resources at hand to know the words of the One who redeems us from death?

Lagniappe

  • Author: Gary Long
  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (April 15, 2013)

Buy it on Baker Academic or on Amazon!

Special thanks to Baker Academic for sending me this book to review!

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Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

eden

“Why does the earth exist? What is the purpose of human life?” (9). Almost everyone today asks these two questions at some point in their life, and in his short book, T. D. Alexander attempts to answer both of them. T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in Biblical Studies and director of Postgraduate Studies at Union Theological College, Belfast. He is the author of From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Main Themes of the Pentateuch, and he is the coeditor of the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT) and the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (DOTP). He has written two commentaries, one on the books of Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (TOTC) and the other on the book of Exodus (TTC).

Summary

By examining the meta-narrative of Scripture by use of biblical theology, in chapter one Alexander takes the time to answer two of life’s toughest questions. He intends to achieve his goal by starting at the end—the book of Revelation. Alexander affirms that “a story’s conclusion provides a good guide to the themes and ideas dominant throughout” (10). By seeing the bigger picture, rather than stripping texts out of their literary context, the reader will begin to see the end goal that all of the biblical texts are running towards. In chapter two, what is the longest chapter of the book, Alexander traces the the temple motif throughout the Bible’s storyline to give a “brief overview . . . for understanding how the motif of divine presence on the earth is an important part of the biblical meta-story” (19).

Chapter three examines how God, after Adam and Eve, his first vice-regents, sinned, will re-establish his throne. God’s Son Jesus Christ overcame Satan’s temptations, and, though dying, he rose again and ascended to power as a divine man to rule and subjugate all things under his feet. By obeying Christ, Christians also participate in establishing God’s kingdom here on earth. Chapter four examines how the Garden of Eden’s crafty tempter and his serpent “offspring” will be destroyed by Jesus, the divine warrior, and Christians today are able to stand against him by putting on the armor of our Savior and divine warrior.

Chapter five answers the question, “Why did Jesus need to die” and tells about what his death accomplished, and chapter six gives the reader a display of what life will be like in the new creation. Chapter seven conveys the permanent bond that will exist between God and his people in the new creation, and chapter eight, the conclusion, summarizes the main points of the book. What God’s people will see in the New Jerusalem will be familiar, but it will also be “radically different” (192).

The Chocolate Milk

Alexander stands firmly on evangelical foundations. He sees value in reading the Bible with its meta-narrative in mind, for there is a “scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ biblical texts [which] is often detrimental to understanding them” (11). To be sure, there will be some outside (and perhaps inside too) of evangelicalism who will think of Alexander as close-minded for even considering the notion that the Bible would be a holistic unit. However, Alexander represents solid, biblical evangelicalism at its finest. His trust in God’s word to answer man’s deepest problems is seen woven throughout his book.

As coeditor of NDBT, Alexander is well-versed in biblical theology and has spent his time well by immersing himself in God’s word to see how each book fills out the entire storyline of the Bible. Alexander is able to guide his reader into a greater understanding of God’s plan. Even the average reader can come away with an understanding of God’s presence as seen through the Old and the New Testaments. By laying out the entire Bible’s storyline about God’s rule, the archenemy of God and his people, why Christ died and what his death accomplished, what we’re looking forward to in the new creation, Alexander gives any reader cause for rejoicing by seeing the magnificent God of the Bible. The “interesting parallel [in Ephesians 5:25-33] between Christ’s love for the church and the love a man should have for his wife . . . is noteworthy, for it conveys something of the intensity of the love we shall experience in the New Jerusalem” (186).

While many might find the second chapter to be too long (59 pages, easily the longest chapter in the book), Alexander accomplishes what he aims to do. Yet this book does not do everything, and at a mere 208 pages (186, really), it cannot do everything. It is roughly half as long as Greg Beale’s magisterial The Temple and the Church’s Mission which is a whopping 458 pages. Yet, while Beale hones in primarily on only one theme (i.e., the temple) and examines its reach throughout the entire Bible, Alexander covers six different topics well enough to be understood and to teach the reader a few of the many dimensions of this diamond we call the Bible. Beale pulls up references from ancient Near Eastern sources, apocryphal sources, pseudepigraphal sources, Qumram and other Jewish and rabbinic material, patristic sources, and, of course, the Bible itself (MT, LXX, and even Theodotion). Alexander, on the other hand, sticks with the Bible.

Alexander doesn’t spend much time in his book combating outside views, and when he does he keeps it in the footnote. His main foe is the “scholarly tendency to ‘atomize’ the biblical text . . . [and b]y stripping passages out of their literary contexts meanings are imposed upon them that were never intended by their authors” (11). He is well aware of this tendency by scholars (as he speaks about it in From Paradise to the Promised Land), but Alexander doesn’t allow these opposing conversations to bog him down. Just as one is able catch a counterfeit dollar bill by having felt many genuine dollar bills, Alexander answers his objectors by showing them the genuine, unified story of the Bible.

The Spoiled Milk

If there’s any disappointment to Alexander’s book, it’s relatively small (though that doesn’t make it any less odd). In chapter two, Alexander writes about every temple that was filled with God’s Spirit except for one major temple: Jesus Christ! He moves from the Jerusalem temple straight to the church as the temple with not even a nod to Jesus Christ as the temple of God. In chapter seven, while contrasting the new creation to the city of Babylon in Revelation 18, Alexander suddenly brings up the topic of capitalism. He writes, “There is nothing that stands more effectively as a barrier to people knowing God than the desire for wealth that comes through capitalism” (183). He then spends two pages giving a few historical facts about America and the small percentage of people who own billions of dollars. Is there a relation to Babylon? Certainly. Does it seem out of place from everything else in the book? Very much so.

Conclusion

Alexander makes reading the Bible easier for everyone, especially for the not-so-average reader. The Bible is a long book with an intricate storyline, and depending on one’s background, he or she may not even know the Bible even has a unified story. So why this book? This short book packs a wallop. This is not the kind of book that exhausts its pages with theological propositions its audience can’t seize—as if they are merely spectators to be dazzled—nor is this meant to be understood by the guild of ivory tower recluses only. Alexander shows that anyone can both understand the Bible and its story and trust the Bible and its story.

In the first line of the first chapter, Alexander asks two of life’s most common questions. If we don’t know God’s purpose, his plan, or the storyline as we fit into it, we will not be able to answer these questions correctly. We won’t understand Ferris Bueller’s thrill over singing Twist and Shout in Chicago’s Von Steuben Day Parade if we don’t know that the entire movie revolves around him ditching one day of school. As such, we won’t understand what our lives are meant for if we don’t know who created us nor the goal he is compelling us to reach: eternal life in the new creation with Jesus Christ himself. The better one knows the Bible’s story, the deeper one will understand God’s goal of redemption. From Eden to the New Jerusalem will bring you one step closer in the right direction.

Buy it from Kregel or from Amazon!

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Review: Transformation—The Heart of Paul’s Gospel

transformation

What is so “good” about Paul’s good news? What was the good news he brought to  his churches? “Are you sure that if you died tonight you would go to heaven?” “All you need to do is to confess Jesus as your savior and believe in his name, and you can be sure that you’re saved”? These are questions we often hear, but is that what Paul was asking? Should these be what we are asking others? Is “heaven” the good news?

In the first volume in the Snapshots series, David A. deSilva gives us Transformation: The Heart of Paul’s Gospel. What does Paul’s gospel entail? DeSilva argues that Paul didn’t separate justification from sanctification like many do today. David deSilva teaches at Ashland Theological Seminary (since 1995) and has been named Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek since 2005. He is an extensive writer and is well-versed in the cultural and social context of the New Testament world, having written books on Hebrews, Revelation, 4 Maccabees, the apocrypha, an Introduction to the New Testament (review), and a closer look at the rhetoric of the New Testament (review).

When it comes to the salvation questions above, DeSilva’s concern is “that Christians often fail to connect these statements with passages in Paul’s letters that flesh out his larger understanding of how God has provided—out of his sheer goodness and generosity toward us—for our reconciliation, restoration, and rescue from the consequences of having participated in our race’s rebellion against God’s rule” (1). Paul’s message is about change because “faith, to be faith at all, entails a wholehearted commitment to the person of Christ that must also transform the life of a person” (5). This is seen in Jesus’ call for his followers to deny themselves, pickup their cross, and follow him. Losing your life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel means that you will gain your life in the life to come (Mark 8.34–35; 9.1). This is also seen in

James 2.18b,

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

and 2 Corinthians 5:15,

and Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

What is God seeking to bring about through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit? Paul emphasizes the transformation of individuals, communities, and even the whole cosmos itself.

Summary

  1. “Foundations for a Broader Understanding of Paul’s Gospel of Transformation”
    Chapter one focuses on the necessity of our transformation. Why should we assume that just because we claim to be “friends” with the Son that God will judge us differently than the rest of the world? It is Christ who died for all “in order that those who continued to live might live no longer for themselves but for the one who died and was raised on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:15). “Paul’s gospel, however, remains good news: it is the message about how God has undertaken to work out our transformation. It is about God’s provision for our transformation so that by means of his gifts we might become righteous and thus be approved at the Last Judgment without God himself ceasing to be just” (24).

    If deSilva’s description of the Last Judgment sounds like God’s judgment is based purely on our works, deSilva goes on to explain what he means by justification. God is transforming us to be like his Son through his Spirit. If you don’t care to live like Christ, if you live like someone who remains opposed to what Christ says and to how he lived, then you have no true faith. You don’t really believe Christ is the sovereign King. (For similar perspectives, read Justification [Wright] and Covenant and Commandment [Green, for a critique of Wright]).
  2. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Individual”
    Through Christ and the reception of God’s Holy Spirit, we were freed from our sin to serve God willingly. We are able to be transformed for we have “put on” the new man in Christ. We no longer need to fear death for we are being made like Christ, and we will live forever with him in all of his beauty.

  3. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Community”
    Paul does not spend the majority of his letters writing theology for individuals, but on how individuals are to live together as Christ’s body before the world that watches. The community’s transformation is to be from one of individuals who are opposed to one another to living together as a family. We are being reconciled to one another (2 Cor 2.5-11), and are to be others-centered (Phil 2.1-11). Living in this way breaks through the barriers of culture, race, gender, and class. DeSilva lays out ways in which Paul was thinking along these lines.

  4. “The Gospel Means the Transformation of the Cosmos”
    Here deSilva looks at the interpretive difficulties when we run upon the word “world.” The wisdom of God was revealed through the death and resurrection of the son of God. We have this wisdom in our possession, and we are to live in this wise way, always dying to ourselves and living for Christ. We are transformed and relate to the kosmos (“the world”) in a different way now, and we are looking forward to the time when the creation itself is renewed (Rom 8.19–24a).

Recommended?

There are so many interpretations of Paul: apocalyptic, Old Perspective, New Perspective, and more. But what is Paul’s main goal for his churches? What lies behind his thirteen letters? DeSilva believes, as do I, that Paul wants his readers to be transformed. If not, they would be just like Old Testament Israel—making empty claims while living like the other nations, causing God’s name to be spoken ill of among the Gentiles (Isa 52.5). DeSilva is refuting easy believism. From his NT Introduction, grace is more than just a gift from God. “Reciprocity is such a part of this relationship [between ‘the client and patron,’ or ‘us and God’], that failure to return grace (gratitude) for grace (favor) results in a breach of the patron-client relationship.” We receive grace from God, and we give grace (gratitude) by living “for the one who died and was raised on [our] behalf” (2 Cor 5.15).

Many will think deSilva is blurring the lines between justification and sanctification, but he quotes Mark Seifrid who, in speaking about Luther, a Reformer, said, “because [Luther] regards justification as effecting the new creation, he is able to encompass the whole of the Christian life within its scope.… In contrast to later Protestant thought, in which salvation was divided up into an ordo salutis, it remains for Luther a single divine act” (9). Despite any quibbles or issues people might and do have with this book, I find that there is much to gain from Transformation, because if we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, then there is a transformation that takes place and one that must continue to take place.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Snapshots
  • Author: David deSilva
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (September 18, 2014)
  • To read some of what deSilva says, here’s a quotable review by Allan Bevere

Buy it on Logos or from Amazon!

(Special thanks to Lexham Press for sending me this to review!)

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