Review: Uncomfortable

The “best” church would be the one where we get along with everyone. No one asks us weird questions. We have perfect timing in our responses to anything anyone says. The community helps us when we’re in need. They understand our Meyers-Briggs personality type and Enneagram and understand how often to call (or not to call) us. The worship music is always our favorite songs, and there’s always that one line that finds our tears. The sermon has just enough teaching that we learn something new, and it so pinpoints where we are in life that the Word becomes alive.

This sounds perfect, but rarely does a church run this smoothly. In fact, it can often be down-right uncomfortable. Doing what is right is often uncomfortable. (When was the last time you confessed your sins against someone you somewhat kinda-sorta knew? The last time your church (rightly) disciplined a member? The last time some in your church supported another in need through money, food, time, or fellowship?). These are sacrifices of our time, of what we have, of what is ours. They are awkward; they are uncomfortable.

Brett McCracken, a writer and journalist in South California and author of Hipster Christianity, says we need to destroy our consumeristic approach. “Rather, church should be about collectively spurring one another to ‘be fit’ to the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4–5). And this can happen in almost any sort of church as long as it’s fixed on Jesus, anchored in the gospel, and committed to the authority of Scripture” (25).

Divided into two sections, McCracken gives us an explanation of the uncomfortable faith and the uncomfortable church. He says, “A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and a nonconsumerist covenant” (26, 178).

Summary

Christianity is becoming less normal, “and that’s a good thing. Christianity, founded on belief in the supernatural resurrection of a first-century Jewish carpenter, has been and always will be abnormal” (35). This outward discomfort will help us realize how much those in the Church need each other—because we will be all we have. There is growth in discomfort. The cross is uncomfortable, because it was our sin that nailed the naked, mocked, and bashed God-man to a cross in order to save us. He suffered because he loved us.

Because we are his we are called to be holy, but people want authenticity. “It’s far more acceptable to say, ‘My life is so messed up,’ than it is to say, ‘I am striving to be holy’” (64). We speak the message of the gospel with our mouths and bear it’s virtuous truths in our bodies. For us to be different than the world, we must have boundaries. “Holiness… is strange. But not for the sake of strangeness. For the sake of Yahweh” (64). Jesus understands us better than anyone. He was authentic. He was real. He was holy (Mic 6.7–8).

The discomfort is that the requirements are self-denial instead of self-actualization (at least according to our view of self-actualization, cf. Phil. 2:5–11). Uncomfortable sacrifice is actually “liberating rather than stifling” (72). We have weird beliefs, which include the supernatural, exclusive salvation, God’s wrath against his enemies, and sexual ethics (which extends to all). McCracken doesn’t try to solve these difficulties, but wants to summarize why they are uncomfortable (and provides a Further Reading section at the end of the chapter).

“It’s vulnerable to speak up to a friend about a damaging pattern you observe in their life. It’s vulnerable to enter a potentially dangerous situation in order to help someone at risk” (90). Love is risky, especially when you don’t know how someone will respond. But we’re called to enter in to love and be patient. A long-suffering love requires the Holy Spirit’s power. Yet even with that power, “in the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd” (123).

Chapters 8 and 13 (Uncomfortable People and Uncomfortable Commitment) go together. Many want a “Jesus and me” Christianity. The church is full of hypocrites, there are too many problems, I am the church, so I’ll “church” wherever I go. But a finger without the body is gross, and a disconnected pinky toe is creepy. It is covenant over comfort. Keeping our covenant promises to the churches we attend (even if you’re not enrolled in an actual “membership”) shapes who we are. Keeping a promise to another “is more important than being true to yourself” (189). “Christ utterly identifies with his people,” says Allberry. “Neglecting the church is neglecting Jesus” (185, Sam Allberry, Why Bother With Church?). 

Our services are diverse. Either (hopefully) racially diverse, socially diverse, or diverse in our personalities, we are not the same people. We have different preferences on worship music, teaching styles, and church methods. In a world of sovereign autonomy from rules, who wants to follow Christ the sovereign Lord? We fit into Scripture, Scripture does not fit into our perceived reality. There is mystery and paradox in the Bible, and we are to embrace it, wrestle with it, but accept it. This requires unity with a sinful people. Just as we grow through training and practice, we grow through discomfort. Instead of growing into a better musician, we grow toward unity, holiness, lives pleasing to God. We are growing as his temple, one rock on top of another, looking forward to the holy city, growing in character together.

The Spoiled Milk

McCracken has a keen imaginative sense for detail, and it’s quite obvious in his “ideal” comfortable church in the beginning of the book. I’m not good at giving good descriptive detail, only vague generalities, so the precision detail McCracken gives impressed me. It’s one you can see, hear, and feel.

But his precision cuts the other way. In his chapter titled “Uncomfortable People,” McCracken lists “some of the weird church-people types” he has “had the hardest time with over the years” (125). He doesn’t list five generally odd types of people, but fifteen all-too-specific types of people whom he has met. Some types on this list are indeed frustrating (e.g., condescending explainers), while other examples are unnecessary—people with hyperhidrosis, those who still can’t remember your name, “far-too-happy” people, and those who weep during the worship service (which sometimes results in you feeling like an emotionless Christian).

I would like to add this to McCracken’s list: people who are nitpicky “ad nauseam” (126). These fifteen types are too accurate, and such detail is dispensable. What if these types of people are reading this list?(—and with fifteen types of listed, that idea is not farfetched). How would they feel? While some (#6) should think through their questions before they ask an offensive and personal question, some (#2) don’t know whether to hug or shake a hand because they do think through their actions, and they don’t want to be offensive.

The rest of the chapter, however, was great and reminds the reader that they are in a covenant community, one of many living stones making up God’s temple and one of many holy priests serving one another in that temple.

Recommended?

McCracken has given me a greater appreciation, care, and concern for the church in his short book. It is a simple book to read, but in it’s simplicity were deep truths. Bonhoffer has said, “Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation.” Yet it was the excruciating cross that allows us to be uncomfortable which allows us to grow closer.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon or from Crossway!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Review

The Uncomfortable Cross

I’ve been reading Brett McCracken’s new book Uncomfortable about how church is uncomfortable and why that’s a good thing. We grow through discomfort. It’s not only the people in church who are uncomfortable, it’s everything about Christianity, even down to what saves us—the brutal death of the God-man on the cross. “Just as it scandalizes by embracing humility in a world where pride reigns, the cross is also unpopular because it champions weakness in a survival-of-the-fittest world. This is why Friedrich Nietzsche rejected Christianity, ‘the religion of pity’ which ‘makes suffering contagious’” (47). McCracken lists five likely losses “that come with truly embracing the cross of Christ” (48):

  • The Loss of Being Your Own Boss

    • We wish to follow our own dreams, but “following Jesus requires a surrender of will” (48). Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (The Cost of Discipleship, 44-45). As long as grace doesn’t challenge who we are, our decisions, and what we want to do, we will easily accept it, but we won’t conform to it.
  • The Loss of Consumer Religion

    • We are not Christians because of what we can get, get, and get more, more, and more. We are loyal to the one who serves, and so we ought to serve and sacrifice as well. Our service shouldn’t be what we will get out of it, but how it will benefit the other person.
  • The Loss of Pride

    • Living a good life doesn’t put us on a higher plane of Christian living than the ex-murderer who turns to Christ. We don’t earn or deserve anything. Nothing we do can save us. Only Christ saves us.
  • The Loss of Power, Coolness, and Cultural Respectability

    • We are “strangers and exiles” (Heb 11.13) on this earth. As time goes on, our beliefs only become stranger and more offensive to the world around us. We are not cool. The old, rugged cross makes us uncool.
  • The Loss of Health, Wealth, and Comfort

    • Discipleship calls us to loosely opening our wallets instead of tightly clasping our hands shut (Matt 6.19–21; Lk 12.33–34). We are to put Jesus above even our own families, which can be uncomfortable (Matt 10.34–39; Lk 8.19–21; 11.27–28). We should even hold Jesus above our own lives (Mark 8.34–38; 2 Cor 11.16–33).
      .
      Yet the New Testament speaks of persecution and suffering as events which grow us and cause us to flourish.
      “Suffering is perhaps the most literally “uncomfortable” thing about following Jesus that nevertheless grows us, strengthening our bonds as people that suffer together, deepening our devotion to and identification with Christ. The suffering of Jesus on the cross is something we can understand, something we can return to in our own moments of pain and hopelessness” (55).
  • The Gain

    • All that we suffer and lose is not the end of our story. “They lead to victory, resurrection, and eternal gain” (56). Jesus came as a humble servant and died. But what happened next cannot be missed. He was resurrected and ascended to the throne of the Father. He is given the name above all names. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christ’s story becomes our story. “We descend to ascend” (56). We will be exalted with Christ (Rev 2.26–27; 3.21). Victory is promised for us, but so is suffering.
      .

      • Romans 8.17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
        .
      • Romans 8.28-30And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
        .
      • Romans 8.36-37As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
        .
      • Colossians 1.13–14He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

See my review here.

Buy it on Amazon or from Crossway!

1 Comment

Filed under Preview

The “Firstborn” Enrolled in Mount Zion with the Consuming Fire (Heb 12.18-29)

For the last year and a half my small group has been going through the book of Hebrews. Last week we were in 12.18–29, a passage about the better Mount to which we as Christians have come. There is an interesting phrase in v.23 about the “assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” which I want to expand on here along with how we can dwell in the midst of the God who is a “consuming fire.” 

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The Firstborn

Who are these firstborn? It’s possible the Jewish readers would have thought of Psalm 87, which reads,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; 

the Lord loves the gates of Zion 

more than all the dwelling places of Jacob… 

.

Among those who know me I mention Rahab [Egypt; cf. Ezek 32.2] and Babylon; 
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush— 

“This one was born there,” they say. 

And of Zion it shall be said, 

“This one and that one were born in her”; 

for the Most High himself will establish her. 

The Lord records as he registers the peoples, 

“This one was born there.” Selah…

In Psalm 87, the Lord has founded a city, and it stands on his holy mount. He “loves the gates of Zion,” where the mount is. In the OT, God is said to dwell on Mount Zion.1 God’s giving birth certificates to foreigners and saying they are born in Zion!2 These foreigners are Israel’s enemies, but because they know Yahweh they are registered citizens. These are Gentiles, which includes myself and most of my readers. We are children of the Jerusalem from above,3 and we are citizens of the kingdom of God.4

Just prior to this, the author of Hebrews warned his congregation not to be like Esau, who was also a firstborn. The Hebrews should not imitate Esau because he was “sexually immoral,” “unholy,” and “sold his birthright for a single meal.” DeSilva says Esau “is not the master of his passions but their slave, and thus a degraded and sorry figure.”5 Esau the firstborn gave up his birthright for one, single, temporary meal, but Abel, though not a firstborn, was killed for doing what was right (by his firstborn brother, whom you also shouldn’t imitate).6 The author praises his congregation in 10.34 for joyfully accepting the plundering of their property, because they knew they had a better possession and an already-abiding one.

Jesus’ blood, which sanctifies us,7 speaks a better word than Abel’s. Both Cockerill and deSilva say that Abel’s blood (rightly) cried out for vengeance,8 but Christ’s blood provides salvation from judgment. The Firstborn became a curse for us, and his blood purifies our consciences to serve the living God, who gives salvation to all peoples, both Jew and Gentile. Yet to those who reject Christ (which too many of the Hebrews were close to doing), vengeance is the Lord’s, and he will judge his people.9

The author ends this section by saying “our God is a consuming fire.” In 12.18–29, Mount Zion has been contrasted with Mount Sinai. Israel came to a place of “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest.”10 The people were fearful, even Moses trembled at Sinai.11 How can we stand at Mount Zion with a God who is a consuming fire? How can we live in the new creation, the New Jerusalem, with a burning fireball (Isa 30.27–30)?

A Consuming Fire

The Old Testament helps us out on that question. Isaiah 33.14 says,

“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’”

Verse 15 gives us the answer:

“He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.”

Similar to Isaiah 33.14, Psalm 15.1 asks,

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

and Psalm 24.3 asks,

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?”

They both provide a similar answer—one who has clean hands, a pure heart, who is blameless, and speaks what is right. This is the King who embodied the Law of the Lord. He would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”12 This King is Jesus who fulfilled the Law.13 This king ascended to God’s abode and poured out his Spirit onto his people.14 It is there, at the right hand of God, where Jesus, the firstborn, sits and rules.15

To those in Christ who fulfilled the Law, we fulfill the law when we love God and our neighbor. Then we can walk through fire and not be burned “and the flame shall not consume you.”16 But to those who reject Christ, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”17

Jesus was crucified outside the camp.18 There he bore our sins and became a festering curse—for us. The author of Hebrews tells us that we are to “go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.”19 Christ was shameful before the world’s eyes, and we are to join Christ and be shameful in their eyes too. Just as he despised their shame, so we are to despise it too. They do not have all the facts. In an ironic twist it is there with Christ where we receive the most honor. Through the shed blood of Christ we become children of God.20

The more we are dishonored in the eyes of the world because of Christ the more we are honored in the eyes of our living God, who dwells on Mount Zion, the lasting, eternal city to come, and is already here, with the innumerable angels, with the registered and enrolled firstborn citizens, and with Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant whereby we know that his blood washes away our sin and purifies our consciences. Be content with what you have, for that God is with us.21

.


1 Pss 2:6; 74:2; Isa 8:18; Joel 3:17; Gareth Lee Cockerill, Hebrews, 651.

2 Isaiah 49.6.

3 Galatians 4.26.

4 Philippians 3:20.

5 David A deSilva. Perseverance in Gratitude: Hebrews, 461.

6 Hebrews 11.4.

7 Hebrews 13.12.

8 Genesis 4:10.

9 Hebrews 10.30.

10 Hebrews 12.18.

11 Hebrews 10.21; cf. Deuteronomy 9.19.

12 Psalm 23.6.

13 Matthew 5.17; Luke 4.21; Romans 8.4; 13.8, 10; Galatians 5.14; James 2.8.

14 Acts 2.33.

15 Hebrews 1.3, 6, 8–9, 13.

16 Isaiah 43.2.

17 Hebrews 10.30.

18 Hebrews 13.12.

19 Hebrews 13.13.

20 Hebrews 2.10–14. Note the words “children” and “brothers.”

21 Hebrews 13.5.

If you hate footnotes, forgive me. I am a footnote hoarder.

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology

Review: Jeremiah (Mentor)

 

John Mackay, the former principal of the Free Church College, Edinburgh where he taught Old Testament from 1983 to 2013, has written a two-volume work on Jeremiah. This is a careful work which a book like Jeremiah deserves (see also Jack Lundbom’s three volume work).

Structure and Content

Mackay divides Jeremiah into two volumes. Volume I (Jer 1–20) is divided into 7 chapters. Volume II (21–52) is divided into 9 chapters. An appendix on the chronology of Jeremiah is found at the end of Volume II (and is 14 pages in length). Mackay dates Jeremiah’s ministry to be around 40 years (627-587 BC).

Having reviewed six other Jeremiah commentaries, Mackay is a good combination of Lalleman and Wright, but with less application (though not without it!). For the teacher and student who want details, Mackay is right up your alley. Mackay is helpful with Hebrew wordplays, metaphors, allusions, and cross references to other parts of the Old Testament (especially when Jeremiah references Deuteronomy). There is much here to put you to work.

He gives more attention to critical details (e.g., composition, dating) than the other commentators, but not to the point where this becomes an ICC volume. The critical minutia is left out of the general discussion, leaving much of it and other Hebraic details in the footnotes. Generally, when critically issues come up, Mackay simply presents the views of other scholars before he lays out his view and his counter-reasons.

Even with his academic rigor, he keeps the gospel in view. In 30.12, Mackay says, “The language of incurable injury is used throughout Scripture to describe divine chastisement for sin (Ps. 38:3-11; Isa. 1:5-6; Nah. 3:19). The essence of the gospel message is that even in situations which are reckoned to be beyond recovery, God declares that he is able to intervene and restore (Isa. 53:4-5; 57:15-19; Hos. 6:1)” (2:195).

This looks forward to the time when Israel will be God’s people, and he will be their God (Jer 30.22; 31.1–14, 23–40), which will be fulfilled through the death and resurrection of his completely faithful Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 22.20).

To say that Christians, Gentiles, can enter the new covenant which had been promised to Israel “is not to impose on the Old Testament text an alien message, but to see in the successive fulfilments of the prophecy that which Scripture assures us is there…. With the realisation of the universal aspect of the covenant promise (Gen. 12:3; Acts 3:25) the way Jeremiah and his contemporaries understood these promises is not negated or reversed, but broadened and internationalised. The new covenant does not exclude Israel after the flesh, but includes it on the same basis as it does those from all nations who receive the mercy of God and have faith in Jesus Christ.” (2:239). 

Recommended?

John Mackay’s two-volume work on Jeremiah comes highly recommended to the student and teacher who wants to bathe deeply in this long, prophetic book. I wouldn’t recommend beginning with Mackay’s volumes if you haven’t studied Jeremiah before, but he should eventually be on your shelf. Lalleman and Wright’s volumes come highly recommended too. If you buy Mackay’s volume’s, Wilcock’s volume is a good one to use to come up for air, catch your breath, and look around at Jeremiah’s main ideas.

Lagniappe

Buy them on Amazon or from Christian Focus!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Christian Focused Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 Comment

Filed under Review

Review: Jeremiah & Lamentations (CFP)

Clearly I’ve been on a Jeremiah kick lately. It’s such a long book and there are so many details to remember. One can easily become overwhelmed when looking at the longest book in the Bible. It’s always important to be able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and Michael Wilcock has written a handy commentary to keep Jeremiah’s readers afloat while they try to grasp this ocean of a book.

We must not forget Lamentations either. Throughout his book, Jeremiah portrays Israel’s response over the warning Babylonian attack as one of disbelief because of their apathetic relationship to Yahweh. Lamentations portrays Israel’s (or at least the Lamenter’s) response after the Babylonian attack as being one of fear, anguish, and sorrow. Here Wilcock summarizes the thrust of Lamentations’ message in 15 pages. It is a bleak book, but there is hope. “A new chapter was opening in the story of God’s people. They should bear that in mind… as the limited view of the fifth song can see only their present afflictions. For Yahweh is there, and they know it…. And they do at any rate believe in him sufficiently to talk to Him, even if His answers are a long time coming. Out of this present death will come a resurrection.” (29)

Wilcock divides Jeremiah into 14 chapters, each being between 10-20 pages in length. When looking at Jeremiah 30,000 feet from above, one is able to cover a lot of ground very quickly. When Wilcock arrives at Jeremiah 28, without getting much into what they said (which is quite repetitive up to this point in the book), Wilcock examines the similarities and differences between Jeremiah and Hananiah. Both have the phrase “the prophet” placed after their name, both gives specific dates and times on when Yahweh would accomplish something, and both utter the phrase “Thus says the Lord of hosts.” Yet Jeremiah sees himself in line with the other ancient prophets who correctly prophesied doom against Israel (28:8). Hananiah speaks from wishful thinking, and he has “stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word” (23:16-18). Hananiah had a dream. Jeremiah had a word.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a most loved verse by many Christians. Wilcock doesn’t seek to throw it out, but he does put it into context with 29.7.

Jeremiah 29:7 [“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you”] is hugely important in a different way… Babylon is all around us…. Every aspect of society needs our prayers and our witness. What is more, we notice that the responsibility was being placed not so much on Jeremiah, the ‘holy man’, the specialist, as on ‘all the exiles’ (29:4). But if the prospect seems daunting, we remember that behind the whole enterprise stands our great God, with His ‘plans for wholeness and not for evil’, plans which it is His sovereign intention to carry through. (144–45)

Recomended?

Wilcock’s volume is helpful as a summary of Jeremiah and Lamentations. He stresses that this work “is an exposition, not a commentary,” one that “values the work of behind-the-scenes academics,” but is “more concerned with the front-of-house public, the people in the pew. And with them in mind, I have tried to set forth not only what Scripture says but also what it is for” (13). And for that I cannot fault him. Though many of Wilcock’s sections were written too broadly for me and didn’t answer many of the questions I have over the messy details, the person in the pew, who does not want the messy spider’s web of details, is whom this is written for. Wilcock explains the overall ideas of the authors in a way that is both readable, relevant, and honest to the text. And that I can recommend. As with Kidner, I wouldn’t start with Wilcock, but his overhead view would be good to read near the end of your sermon or Bible study preparation.

The Focus on the Bible series is an excellent series for the person in the pew. It doesn’t dive into the gritty details, but gives the readers a broad sweep of the book for it’s place in the Christian life.

Lagniappe

Buy them on Amazon or from Christian Focus!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Christian Focused Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 Comment

Filed under Review

Review: Jeremiah Among the Prophets

Jack Lundbom has written extensively on Jeremiah (A Prophet Like Moses, A Study in Ancient Hebrew Rhetoric, Jeremiah Closer Up). On top of those, he has written three massive commentaries in the Anchor Yale Bible Commentary series (1–20; 21–36; 37–52). All of this piqued my interest in Lundbom’s writings. I thought it would be good to start with one of the smaller books, hoping they would be more user-friendly for the wider audience. In his preface, Lundbom says that his book “seeks to place before the beginning student and general reader a representative discussion of material contained in the biblical book of Jeremiah. It is written for those who may never look into a Jeremiah commentary” (ix). He hopes that this “modest introduction” will pique the interests of others so that they will eventually and intentionally “break open” a commentary on Jeremiah. A worthy goal.

Lundbom’s volume contains 20 chapters. He does not intend to cover every section and chapter of Jeremiah, but only to make the bird’s eye view ever so pleasing. Each chapter is pretty short too—usually extending only to 6-7 pages (chapter 13, at 13 pages long, is the abnormality).

The Chocolate Milk

Lundbom easily shows that he has dwelt in the land of Jeremiah for a long time. Rather than getting into complicated discussions of who wrote what part of Jeremiah, Lundbom examines the logic of Jeremiah’s message, who he’s talking to, and why they needed to hear it. He guides the reader through historical contexts, international threats, and Jeremiah’s anguish as God’s prophet. Chapters contain extensive use of Lundbom’s own translation. This is both a pro and a con; the translations can take up a lot of space within already short chapters. However, Lundbom’s translations emphasize speaker changes and rhetorical features (e.g., repetition, metaphors, etc). There are a few New Testament references, such as one to the exchange of God’s glory for lesser idols in Romans 1.23 (12), the promise of the new covenant in the church (113), John the Baptist (126), the good Samaritan (129), and a few others.

The Spoiled Milk

The downside to Lundbom’s work is that too many details from his 3-volume AYB commentary have leaked into this shorter work. In dealing with Jer 4.5–10, Lundbom says, “The core oracle may have been delivered just prior to the Babylonian attack of 598, and the add-on dialogue at perhaps the same time” (22). He makes no other comment about this in the remaining paragraph, not does he explain anything else about it. These kinds of statements make the book feel more shaky. No only does Lundbom choose to comment on some verses over others in many of the chapters, but why doesn’t it seem like this section was written just before Babylon’s entry into Judah? How can we tell? Unfortunately this isn’t the only time this happens.

Sometimes Lundbom states that a verse has been added on later. He says of Jeremiah 15, “Verse 21, which more or less repeats v. 20, is a later add-on” (51). Yet, for the purpose of the book (“the beginning student and general reader”), this seems neither helpful nor appropriate. If footnotes were kept to a minimum, why think that the audience would care to know about this one sentence? No information is given to clarify the matter. How can we (especially the layperson) know that this verse was added later? Why should he care? How does it affect the message of Jeremiah’s book?

Lundbom emphasizes structures, outlines, chiasmus, enthymemes (a rhetorical syllogism lacking one premise), and apostrophes (speaking to an imaginary audience). I like details, but even for me these often seemed too out of place. Many general readers aren’t going to get excited about chiasmus or the fact that “the last two addresses [in Jer 22.29–30] employ the rhetorical device apostrophe,” especially when they aren’t told why these features occur (69). They just do.

Recommended?

If you are studying Jeremiah, you should have one of Lundbom’s books (at least). If you only have an interest in Jeremiah, I don’t think this would be the first place to start. Jeremiah Among the Prophets seems to be Lundbom’s style of work found in his AYB set in a nutshell. Although there is no technical jargon, the reading is not smooth. I found it difficult to grasp Jeremiah’s overall message without having first a broad sweep of his book. Lundbom divided his AYB set into three sections: Jer 1–20; 21–36; 37–52. I would have found it helpful if he would have taken those three broad sections and explained their overall message before going into the snapshots of Jeremiah’s life and message.

It can be easy to criticize an introductory work, wishing for this but receiving that. Introductory works are meant to introduce, yet this one would not be for the general reader. Unfortunately, I still don’t know any book length treatments to direct you to—only articles and chapters in larger books (Biblical theologies, dictionaries, OT surveys). For helpful, longer commentaries, see Lalleman, Wright, and Kidner. I still haven’t found a good, short, overview of Jeremiah. Perhaps Lundbom’s other short volumes (referenced above) would be closer to that mark.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Jack Lundbom
  • Paperback: 166 pages
  • Publisher: James Clarke & Co (March 28, 2013)

Buy it from Amazon or James Clarke/Lutterworth

Disclosure: I received this book free from James Clarke/Lutterworth. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 Comment

Filed under Review

Review: Jeremiah—The Fate of a Prophet

Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible, and it is certainly one of the most complex. The book’s timetable jumps around (think Memento after being put into a blender). Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Lau, an Israeli community leader, educator, and social activist, has undertaken a study of Jeremiah, “disassembled… and reconstructed it according to the chronology of Jeremiah’s life and the development of his prophecy” (xxii). 

Lau divides Jeremiah into three main units.

  1. The Reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE)
  2. The Reign of Jehoiakim (609-598 BCE)
  3. The Reign of Zedekiah (597-586 BCE)

He includes two indexes at the end of his book;

  1. The Chapters of Jeremiah — Original Order
  2. The Chapters of Jeremiah — Chronological Order

Lau claims not to have “inserted any ideas not found in the text” (xxii). Yet I disagree, even if he didn’t insert his own ideas on purpose. Lau takes Huldah’s prophecy from 2 Kings 22.16–17 and says Josiah “is trapped. The prophetess has condemned Jerusalem to destruction, leaving no possibility for the repairs and reforms he advocates” (45).  Where’s the nuance? Lau leaves out vv. 18–20 where God tells Josiah that he will die in peace because of his humble heart. This doesn’t mean this kind of death can’t happen to (some) other Israelites who would repent, nor would continuing his reform mean he was “rebelling” against Huldah’s prophecy (45).

Lau says that Jeremiah 2 “reinforces the impression that the young prophet has not yet been impacted by Josiah’s revolution” (37), but there’s no explanation on how the chapter “reinforces” that idea.

I was surprised not to see certain topics explained at all, especially with the new covenant. Lau covers Jeremiah 31 pretty early in the book (I do not know why, nor do I know why he separated it from chapter 30). Lau quotes big blocks of verses from Jeremiah 31 (as he does in the rest of the book), but he stops at v. 27. He makes no mention of the new covenant, a pivotal prophesy in Jeremiah (considering it comes within the “Book of Consolation” in the canonical order). It is one of the few uplifting prophecies in the book. 

There is more detail than necessary, even if it does make the “story” more interesting. After Hanamel sells his land to Jeremiah, upon Hanamel’s leaving Lau remarks,

Once his transaction with Jeremiah has been completed, Hanameel takes his leave. He is surely pleased to have earned some extra money during what was undoubtedly an unprecedentedly steep downturn in the local real estate market. He considers the stupidity of his crazy cousin, who has fallen prey to his swindle, and takes his leave (178).

Perhaps this is all true, but how would we know? The text does not tell us. The Babylonians were in Anathoth, but was Hanamel intentionally swindling Jeremiah? Was he considering the stupidity of this sale? In Jeremiah’s prayer to God in 32:16–25, was Jeremiah accusing “God of tormenting him” (179)? It doesn’t seem like it. These sound like “ideas not found in the text” (xxii). 

When it comes to Lau’s reconstruction chronology, he doesn’t always explain how he arrived at that conclusion. It just is that way, and he’s able to make a story from it. However, I’m not convinced. Chapters 47, 48, 50, and 51 are also not included in Lau’s book.

Recommended?

It’s only once in a blue moon that I don’t recommend a book, and I’m happy about that. I’m going against the flow of everyone else on Amazon about this book, so I could very well be wrong. I found Lau to be of little help in my study with Jeremiah. I usually didn’t know why he ordered Jeremiah the way he did, and his speculations were hard to believe. This doesn’t mean that other commentators don’t speculate, they are just more ready to admit to their speculations when it comes to “ideas not found in the text” (xxii). For more helpful commentaries, see Lalleman, Wright, and Kidner

Lagniappe

  • Author: Binyamin Lau
  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Koren Publishers (July 15, 2013)

Buy it on Amazon or from Koren Publishers

Disclosure: I received this book free from Koren Publishers. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 Comment

Filed under Review