Review: Unceasing Kindness

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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

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“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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Review: The Nordic Theory of Everything

nordic

What does a Finnish journalist, a New Yorker husband, and a new life in America equal? A lot of hassle (though not the husband’s fault), and a great book. Anu Partanen has written for both the New York Times and the Atlantic. She has also worked as a visiting reporter at Fortune magazine through the Innovation Journalism Fellowship at Standford University.

Scandinavia is different. Very different. These five countries consistently hit the top “happiest” lists, along with other lists dealing with schooling and healthcare. Speaking of healthcare, theirs is free. Going to the doctor? The most you’ll pay all year is $300 (unless it’s the dentist. That’s a different story). Though, this isn’t to say that Scandinavia isn’t without it’s problems (whether medically, academically, etc). But the school down the street won’t be crumbling in educational values, and the school across town won’t cost your life savings. In fact, they’ll even be affordable. How do they do this? Partanen describes her anxieties in figuring out the American way. She jumped into something that many of us have grown up in. She learned 

Summary

Partanen’s book has nine chapters. Some of the topics she develops are:

  1. Marraiage, babies, and maternity (and paternity) leave
  2. Education and the importance of teachers
  3. Healthcare and insurance
  4. Smart government
  5. Welfare or well-being (and the increased incentive to work hard by tying benefits to one’s income)?
  6. The middle class
  7. Income inequality

    About this, Partanen says,

    Government in the Nordic countries tends to be like a referee who makes sure that the field is level and the rules are followed, but who then steps out of the way and lets the competitors determine who gets the highest score. If the referee were to stop the game and take points away from the winners and give them to the losers, which is what many Americans seem to think happens in the Nordic countries, of course no one would want to play. It’s exactly because that’s not the way it works that Nordic citizens find their system to be in their own best interests (276).

  8. Running a business
  9. The Law of Jante

Though many would count Scandinavia as being “pure” socialism, it isn’t. Without getting into the details, Norway is a mix of socialism and capitalism. Partanen says,

Here’s how we in Finland understand socialism: The government controls production and bans onership of property—no private factories, companies, or stores, or free markets. No one is allowed to accumulate any personal riches. There is only one political party, few personal freedoms, and little or no freedom of speech. Socialism is one step away from communism, which Karl Marx defined as a situation in which the government, or indeed, the state itself, has become expendable (54–55).

These stereotypes wear thin on the Finns. “The number of Finns who sacrificed their lives fighting socialism and communism in the twentieth century is roughly the same as the number of Americans who died in America’s two hot wars against communism—Korea and Vietnam—and that’s out of a population about one-sixtieth the size of America’s” (55).

nordic-theory-of-everything-2-726x382

Recommended?

What you won’t find in this book are practical ways on how to implement changes. TNToE gave me a better understanding on how Scandinavia as a whole works. Perhaps people who read this and have a greater knowledge of economics that I can begin to make changes certain in America. Although, compared to Norway, I really don’t know just how well the other four Scandy countries work in their economic practices. I’ve heard competing theories from they all work fine to Sweden has a difficult time incentivizing people to work. America is still in a state of infancy compared to many other nations, and it has plenty of room left to grow.

I affirm that Christians are to be doing what they can to change the culture and social structures of a country. This means being involved in government and politics, understanding culture, business, economics, and history. Perhaps greater minds than I can pick this up and consider how to benefit America. But also, changing a few laws won’t change people’s hearts. Even still, there are wise ways to govern a country, and there are wicked ways. We should be doing what we can to make whatever country we live in a place that can take care of its citizens.

No country is perfect, and I certainly am not one who can give a response to this book with any kind of real political and economic knowledge. But in terms of interest, in showing some of the problems in America, it has helped to encourage me about living in Norway in the future. This book for many may only serve as a “here’s what’s wrong with America and what’s right with Scandinavia” king of book. And largely, that’s what it is. Partanen doesn’t go into much detail about what’s wrong in the Scandinavian countries. She spends most of her time critiquing America. That said, she does have a point. Generally, people in Scandinavia won’t go broke when a spouse dies from cancer. Insurance isn’t going to make them pay an arm and a leg for cancer treatments (see this Canadian Breaking Bad meme). This doesn’t mean that everything is easy and everybody can be carefree and blissful, but there are certain affairs that Scandinavians don’t need to be too concerned over.

As a Christian, I’m also not sure how I think about the “Nordic Theory of Love.” In some ways, having the independence allows sons and daughters to care for their parents in their old age without having to hoist the heavy burden of this care for an unknown time in the upcoming years. In other ways, how self-sufficient and independent is it okay to be? This isn’t a criticism of Partanen, as she doesn’t slide to an extreme that says there’s no need for marriage or relationships. A “be your own island” mentality. But for Americans, and Christians especially, we’ll need to think through this nordic theory of love in something more than 160 character tweets and in the short seconds between Facebook posts.

You also won’t find in this book the Nordic theory of everything that goes on in the Scandy countries. Partanen gives the reader many opportunities to see into the looking glass and get a top-down view of the Nordic countries. But it’s in relation to how America works, rather than a comparison of each of the five countries (as in The Almost Nearly Perfect People), nor is it a complete look as to why Scandinavians are the way they are. But for what it is, it is interesting, and perhaps it will compel you to do something about (y)our country.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Anu Partanen
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins (June 28, 2016)

Buy it from Harper Collins or on Amazon!

(Special thanks to Harper Collins for sending me this book to review!)

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Watch Logos Mobile Ed Lectures for Free

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Logos has been putting put Mobile Ed(ucation) videos lectures for a few years now. The purpose of m.Ed is to give you a new theological education where the people behind Logos have edited down scholars’ lectures “into digestible segments.” Each lecture is fused into your Logos library with a smart transcript. You can add notes, jump to commentaries, dictionaries, language tools, and you can share you insights too. And learn how to do more in-depth research on Logos through your course.

From January 20-23, anyone with a Faithlife account can stream every Mobile Ed video and what is on FaithlifeTV for free (until Monday night). You can only stream them here, but this is a great way to spend your weekend. If you’re going to binge, you might as well learn something exceedingly great in the process. As I’m writing this I’m listening to Jonathan Pennington teach through the Sermon on the Mount.

Below is a list of the Mobile Ed courses and its respective lecturer. This deal ends on Monday, January 23, at midnight.

Apologetics

Introducing Apologetics (Bobby Conway)

Objections to the Gospels (Michael Licona)

Introducing Covenantal Apologetics I: Foundations (K. Scott Oliphint)

Introducing Covenantal Apologetics II: Applications (K. Scott Oliphint)

Show and Tell: Apologetics (Jim Belcher)

Apologetics in an Urban Context (Carl F. Ellis, Jr.)

Archaeology

Archaeology in Actions (Biblical Archaeology in the Field)

Biblical Interpretation

Learn to Study the Bible (Darrell Bock)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Contexts and Resources (Mike Heiser)

Introducing Biblical Interpretation: Discussion Guide (Mike Heiser)

Principles of Bible Interpretation (Craig Keener)

Typological Hermeneutics: Finding Christ in the Whole Bible (Peter Leithart)

Introducing Literary Interpretation (Jeannine Brown)

Introducing Bible Translations (Mark Strauss)

The Use of the OT in the NT: Methodology and Practice (Jeannine Brown)

The Story of the Bible (Michael Goheen)

Interpreting NT Genres (William Klein)

Interpreting NT Narrative: Studies and Methods (Jeannine Brown)

A Biblical Theology of End Times (Jon Paulien)

The Apocrypha (David deSilva)

A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God (Nicholas Perrin)

History of Biblical Interpretation: Second Temple Judaism Through the Reformation (Gerald Bray)

History of Biblical Interpretation: 17th Century to the Present (Gerald Bray)

Biblical Sexual Ethics (David Instone-Brewer)

Church History

Introducing Church History I: Obscurity to Christendom (Frank James)

Introducing Church History II: Reformation to Postmodernism (Frank James)

Milestones of the Protestant Reformation (Jennifer McNutt)

Preaching

Basic History of Preaching (Gary Carr)

Basic Elements of Preaching: An Introduction to Homilectics (Gary Carr)

Invitation to Biblical Preaching I: Theological, Historical, and Programatic Reasons for Preaching (J. Kent Edwards)

Invitation to Biblical Preaching II: Preaching Biblical Sermons (J. Kent Edwards)

Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons I: Foundations and Structures (Bryan Chapell)

Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons II: Communicating a Theology of Grace (Bryan Chapell)

Preparing and Delivering Christ-Centered Sermons III: Advanced Technique and Theory (Bryan Chapell)

Preaching the Psalms (Mark Futato)

Counseling

Introducing Pastoral Counseling I: Theory and Practice (Eric Johnson)

Introducing Pastoral Counseling II: Examples in Application (Eric Johnson)

Introducing Biblical Counseling: The History of Counseling (Ian Jones)

Introducing Biblical Counseling: Theory and Practice (Ian Jones)

Gospel-Centered Counseling (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

Civilization

Cultural Engagement and Scripture (Darrell Bock)

Western Civilization: Greeks to Aquinas (Bryan Litfin)

Education

Introducing Discipleship (Greg Ogden)

Introducing Evangelism (Bobby Conway)

Empowering God’s People for Ministry (Greg Ogden)

Discipleship in History and Practice (Frederick Cardoza)

Ethics

Law and Gospel: The Basis of Christian Ethics (Michael Allen)

Languages

Learn to Use Biblical Hebrew (Mike Heiser)

Learn to Use Biblical Greek (Johnny Cisneros)

Introducing NT Discourse Grammar (Steven Runge)

Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (Mark Futato)

Leadership

Introducing Ministry Leadership (Justin Irving)

The Ministry Leader and the Inner Life (Justin Irving)

Leading Teams and Groups in Ministry (Justin Irving)

Communication and Organizational Leadership (Justin Irving)

Miscellaneous

Study the Bible with Logos: Matthew 4:1–11

Logos Academic Training (Morris Proctor)

Reflectin on the Word: Video Devotionals (Year A)

Meditations: The Life of Christ

Missions

Introducing Global Missions (Don Fanning)

Current Issues in Missions (Tim Sisk)

Church Planting (Tim Sisk)

Theology of Urban Ministry (John Fuder)

Philosophy and Practice of Urban Ministry (John Fuder)

Community Analysis: Exegeting Culture for Missions

New Testament

Introducing NT: Its Structure and Story (Lynn Cohick)

The Arrival of Christ and His Kingdom

Understanding Easter: The Significance of the Resurrection

The Cultural World of the NT (David deSilva)

A Survey of Jewish History and Literature from the Second Temple Period (Joel Willitts)

Introducing the Gospels and Acts: Their Background, Nature, and Purpose (Darrell Bock)

Introductory Issues in Acts (Craig Keener)

Key Events and Speeches in Acts (Darrell Bock)

The Wisdom of John: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Johannine Literature (Ben Witherington III)

Survey of the Pastoral Epistles (Kenneth Waters, Sr.)

Paul of Tarsus (Lynn Cohick)

The Sermon on the Mount (Jonathan Pennington)

Parables of Jesus (Daniel Doriani)

Miracles of Jesus (Daniel Doriani)

How We Got the NT (Mike Heiser)

The Gospels as Ancient Biography: A Theological and Historical Perspective (Jonathan Pennington)

NT Theology (Douglas Moo)

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the NT (Craig Evans)

Archaeology and the NT (Craig Evans)

The Reliability of NT Manuscripts (Craig Evans)

Critical Issues in the Synoptic Gospels (Craig Keener)

The World of Jesus and the Gospels (Craig Evans)

The Gospels and Ancient Pedagogy (Craig Evans)

Jesus and the Witness of the Outsiders (Craig Evans)

The Gospel of Matthew in Its Jewish Context (Craig Evans)

The Gospel of Mark (Mark Strauss)

The Gospel of Luke (Andrew Pitts)

Book Study: The Gospel of Matthew

Book Study: The Gospel of Mark in Its Roman Context

Book Study: The Gospel of Luke in Its Gentile Context

The Gospel of John (Joel Willitts)

Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Douglas Moo)

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Douglas Moo)

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Lynn Cohick)

Paul’s Theology and the Letter to the Philippians (Robert Sloan)

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Robert Sloan)

Exegetical Study: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Steven Runge)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (Joshua Jipp)

Paul’s Letter to the Colossians and Philemon (Constantine Campbell)

The Letter to the Hebrews (George Guthrie)

Letter of James (William Varner)

Book Study: Revelation (Craig Keener)

Seventh-day Adventist Perspective on Revelation (Jon Paulien)

Jesus as Rabbi: The Jewish Context of the Life of Jesus (David Instone-Brewer)

Perspectives on Paul: Reformation and the New Perspective

Old Testament

Introducing the OT: Its Structure and Story (Mark Futato)

Introducing the OT: Its Poetry and Prophecy (Mark Futato)

OT Genres (John Walton)

Interpreting Judges (Kenneth Way)

Introductory Issues in Psalms (Mark Futato)

Survey of Major Prophets (Paul Ferris)

A Survey of Amos, Joel, Obadiah, and Malachi (David Baker)

How We Got the OT (Mike Heiser)

The Jewish Trinity: How the OT Reveals the Christian Godhead (Mike Heiser)

Origins of Genesis 1–3 (John Walton)

Genesis (John Walton)

Theology of Genesis (David Baker)

Exodus (Tremper Longman III)

Judges (Daniel Block)

1 & 2 Samuel (David Lamb)

1 & 2 Kings (David Lamb)

The Shema (Mark Futato)

Pastoral

Pastoral Ministry in a Missional Church (Michael Goheen)

Shepherding Women (Bev Hislop)

Theology of Everyday Life (Daniel Doriani)

Introducing Chaplaincy I: Biblical Foundations for Chaplaincy (Jeff Struecker)

Introducing Chaplaincy II: A Theology of Chaplaincy (Jeff Struecker)

Pastoral Ethics (Daniel Doriani)

Practical Discipleship

Our Identity in Christ (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

Idolatry and the Power of the Cross (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

Do This Not That to Transform Your Marriage (Stephen Arterburn)

Understanding and Living with Sexual Integrity (Stephen Arterburn)

Biblical Soul Care (Tim Clinton)

Introducing Spiritual Formation (Gary Thomas)

Wealth and Stewardship in the Bible: A Practical Guide (Keith Reeves)

Theology

Introducing Bible Doctrine I: Theology, Divine Revelation, and the Bible (Johnson/Sanders/Heiser)

Introducing Bible Doctrine II: The Triune God and His Heavenly Host (Johnson/Sanders)

Introducing Bible Doctrine III: Humanity, Sin, and Salvation (Johnson/Sanders)

Introducing Bible Doctrine IV: The Church and Last Things (Johnson/Sanders)

Missional Approach to World Religions (Michael Goheen)

Christian Thought: Orthodoxy and Heresy (Beth Jones)

Trinitarian Theology (Peter Leithart)

Doctrine of Man (Lane Tipton)

Doctrine of Christ (Gerry Breshears)

Sacramental Theology (Peter Leithart)

History and Trends in Dispensationalism (Carl Sanders)

Critical Issues in Dispensationalism (Carl Sanders)

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Review: Excellent Preaching

excellent-preaching

Why is good preaching so difficult to accomplish, and why is excellent preaching so herculean a feat?

In this short book, Craig G. Bartholomew, the H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, and the principal of the Paideia Centre for Public Theology, explains how to land a plane. Every Sunday you might feel like you’re on a repeat viewing of “Airplane!” It’s like you’re speaking jive and no one understands you. You have a message, it’s based on the text of the Bible, but now you need to land the plane and get God’s truth to sit in the lives of your congregation. How do you impact their hearts and thoughts? You do you penetrate their lives and get them to think about how to live in a transformed way?

And often times, even when you do land the plane, you either land it upside down or two engines blow and you have to land in the water. Can this really be so difficult?

Outline

I’ll say this book has five “chapters,” although the word chapter isn’t used in the book to designate chapters.

Introduction

The Bible is extremely relevant in our day. Thee is suffering, hopelessness, turmoil, meandering, greed, selfishness, a lack of wisdom, and a need for salvation and knowledge of God in Christ. Liberal preachers “aim right at contemporary life in their preaching,” though many aren’t “always sure where [the] sermons have come from!. . . . By comparison, evangelical sermons originate from the Bible, but they tend to be aimed at nowhere in particular” (4–5). How does the pastor ground his sermon in Scripture while being sure to penetrate the hearts of his congregation?

The Destination, the Plane, and the Cargo

Just as on Mt. Sinai, our ultimate destination is Godward. He is our home. He is the destination. The pastor always needs to have that in mind when preaching to his congregation. “As Barth observes, within the Church God’s ordained means to speak is the Bible, the canon of holy Scripture, and all extrabiblical ‘speakings’ must always be tested alongside Scripture,” and where we meet God is through our hearts in his word (11). The word is central to the proclamation that brings us to him.

The Captain

The pastor is the one who preaches. The pastor cannot neglect his own spiritual life either. A rich prayer life must be in order so that the pastor can lead God’s people “ever more deeply into the very life of God” (13). The pastor keeps the congregations attentive and focused on God. To do so, he himself must be focused on him too.

The View From Arrivals

There is always only one destination, and the view is magnificent” (17). That view is of God’s whole creation. The Bible transforms our thinking of all of life, including God’s glorious creation. To understand better the God who created all of this, we must grasp the story of Scripture—it’s metanarrative.  This alerts us to:

  • the unified story of the Bible
  • the story as the story of the whole world
  • this story as the true story of the whole world

Each of these sections are developed more fully within the book.

The Airport: Contextualization

Scripture provides us with a hermeneutic for understanding our world. But it narrows down from there. God’s people are scattered throughout the nations, and the age we live in is one of missions. We live in the 21st century AD which is a farcry from the 1st century AD (and even the 19th century!). Then there is your own culture, whether it be western or eastern. Do you know what your culture is like? Bartholomew goes through an explanation of modernity and postmodernity, even showing how much his discussion has to do with preaching and understanding our own congregations.

The most important contribution our congregations play is “to receive the Word, and we need to create the space for this to come to the fore” (53-54). We need to figure out to to engage them “as fully as possible in listening to the Word” (54).

Landing the Plane: Some Examples

Barthomolew gives four examples on how to “land the plane.” These examples come from Galatians 1:10–2:21, Genesis 1:16, Exodus 20:3, and Ephesians 6:10–20.

Conclusion

Preaching is not the only thing the pastor does, but time must be carved out and effort must be put in. Pastors must get to know and become familiar with research done in other areas of life, such as cultural studies, sociology, and media. Prayer, the Word, and discipleship and mission must be a focus, along with the recognition that spiritual warfare is going on all the time, all around you. Preaching is costly.

Appendix A: Suggested Reading

Appendix B: An Expanded Apostles’ Creed

Recommended?

This short book will not give you a chapter called “Three Tips on How to Structure Your Sermon and Grow Your Church.” Instead, Bartholomew, who has many years of experience in preaching and teaching, gives a more holistic view of what preaching entails, and what the preacher must keep in mind. It is imperative. We can’t let our sermons fall flat and settle for that. We need to learn to land the plane, and to land it right-side up with  our passengers intact, engaged, and reaching their destination (of course, what they do with the information is up to them). This would be good to read alongside of Keller’s Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Craig G. Bartholomew
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (February 3, 2016)

Buy from Logos or on Amazon!

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

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