Monthly Archives: December 2013

Review: 1 John: A Relecture of the Gospel of John

1 John Relecture

What is so hard about 1 John? Why is there so much discussion on it? It’s only 5 chapters, it’s near the end of the Bible, so it should be a piece of cake, right? Yet “[f]or such a small book in the New Testament, 1 John is an enigma. Much has been written about the relationship (if any) between the First Epistle of John and the Gospel of John.”

What is the genre of 1 John?
Is there a flow of thought?
Who are those left?
Who are those who left?
Are we in the last hour?
If those who abide in Him don’t sin, why do I still sin?
What is a sin leading to death?
Can I commit it?
How can I commit it if I don’t even know it?
Does this have any relation to the Gospel of John?
If so, how much?

In his book, Malcolm Coombes orders the strict of 1 John according to the rhetorical features and repetitions that he has found in his study and that are found in this book. He finds ordered patterns, themes, and allusions to the Gospel of John.

Introduction

Coombes starts us off with some of the puzzles of 1 John (see above), differences in 1 John and the Gospel (terms applied to Christ now applied to God, differences of eschatology, the place of the death of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit). Using two charts of statistics (to determine clusters of terms), Coombes shows a high parallel between 1 John and the Prologue (John 1:1-18), Jesus and Nicodemus (Jn. 3), Jesus and the Samaritans (Jn. 4), Jesus in dialogue with the Jews (Jn. 5), Jesus with the Pharisees (Jn. 8), and Jesus’ teaching before the Passover (Jn. 12).
Stats shows where many of the similarities are found, but they can only show so much.

So what is a “relecture”?
A relecture is when an author (John) “takes motifs and themes from one text [Gospel of John], and interprets them in new ways to serve a new theme…the ideas are taken up, developed, incorporated and even reoriented into the reception text” (p. 13).

What is important to Coombes is “[h]ow the author uses this material in a new situation” (p. 16). He seeks a new approach to studying 1 John, but he admits this isn’t the only way.

Chapter Divisions

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Methodology
Chapter 3: Structural Outline of 1 John
Chapter 4: Structural Unites Drives the Pattern of Allusions in 1 John
Chapter 5: Passage-by-Passage Analysis
Chapter 6: Concluding Word on Structure
Chapter 7: Overall Conclusions

Chapter 2: Coombes shows the Methodology of his work, how the “this” statements shows structure in 1 John, and how 1 Jn. 2:12-14 is a template for the flow of thought.

Chapter 3: Coombes divides and structures 1 John into 14 separate section based on different “this” statements (“we write these things,” “in this we know,” “this is the promise,” “this is the message,” etc). He explains the differences in the kinds of “this” statements, and almost every unit starts with a “this statement.” Coombes takes each verse in 1 Jn. 2:12-14 and shows how they each point backward or forward to the surrounding text. Following 2:12-14, we see a set of themes from 1:5-2:27, and the themes show up again in the same order from 2:28-5:5.

Why does this matter?

If this is true, it shows there is a recurrence of themes in the 2 main sections of 1 John. The themes introduced are to strengthen the remaining “community” (or the church John had been at, as I see it) in the authoritative truth of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.

Chapter 4: There is a chart showing each of the 14 sections of 1 John and which main passages of the Gospel of John they allude to.

Chapter 6: There is a “Proposed Structure for 1 John” here, which looks at 1 John in 4 Main parts: Prologue, Section 1 (1:5/6-2:27), Section 2 (2:28-5:5), and Conclusion. Section 1, 2, and the Conclusion all have sub-units which are also shown. It’s good to see a (possible) ordering of John’s epistle in a way that’s actually understandable. Trust me, I’ve seen quite a few outlines in studying for 1 John, and most if not all of them made little sense. Paralleled with the themes of 2:12-14, and this makes for a very good outline.

The Chocolate Milk

In Chapter 5 (Passage-by-Passage Analysis) we finally see how each subunit (all 14) of 1 John looks at the Gospel of John. We see how John relates “those who went out from us” (2:19) are related to Judas leaving Jesus and the disciples in John 13:30. Judas is seen as the model of many antichrists, the one who “saw” and “knew” Jesus, but who “went out from” Him.

Many parallels like this are shown the the conclusion that 1 John does use the Gospel to make certain points. From what I can gather, Coombes says the meaning of the Gospel isn’t being changed, and the “community” isn’t meant to look at it through Epistle-colored glasses. But the author (who I take to be the apostle John on both accounts) wants the church to see what he’s teaching in light of the Gospel of John’s message. Who are those who went out from us? Antichrists who are related to Judas and the sons-of-the-devil-Pharisees who want nothing to do with the real light and truth, Jesus Christ.

There were charts that were very helpful (“Proposed Structure of 1 John [6.6]”, “‘This’ Statements Referring to the Gospel [4.5]”, “Pattern of Allusions to the Gospel [4.1]”, and the “‘This’ Statement Summary [3.2]”, to name a few). Not every chart in the book was helpful, but some gave 1 John more clarity.

The Spoiled Milk

Sometimes the tables are in awkward places that shift the placement of the remaining paragraphs. It makes me unsure if the following paragraphs belong to the previous page or to the new table. The very helpful outline chart in chapter 6 is a good example of this. Coombes in in the middle of a conversation about another scholar (Coatzee) when all of a sudden I see “Table 6.6: A Proposed Structure for 1 John” followed by the conversation on Coatzee. After the finishing paragraph there’s another chart, but how am I supposed to know if this isn’t another interrupting chart? At least this one actually talks about Coatzee.

My issue is that often times the charts appear, for no reason and without warning, in the middle of a paragraph. Some are short enough for one page, but instead of being switched with a paragraph (Table 6.6), the end of the table is pushed to the next page.

Honestly, aside form chapters 1, 5, and 7, I didn’t understand why all the other chapters were there. I found it ironic that this book is quite probably the best map of 1 John (with the Gospel of John) I’ve ever seen, yet I was often lost in that same map.

Chapter 5 (Passage-by-Passage Analysis) shows how the allusions from the Epistle to the gospel work, but it would seem chapter 7 (Overall Conclusions) should be next chapter. Though Chapter 6  is a “Concluding Structure of 1 John,” it doesn’t seem to be any different than earlier chapters (Chapter 3 – “Structural Outline of 1 John”). It seems more could have been condensed, or the flow could have been explained better.

The Cottage Cheese (In Between)

There is a LOT of Greek in this book. This book is readable without any knowledge of Greek (I did it), but it is surely intended for those who know Greek. There are large chunks of charts/tables in the books, often times filled with Greek to show what words correspond to each other. If you don’t know Greek, you can hardly use them. What I had to do was skip over those charts and read what I could. I still got a lot out of it, but it didn’t make the book shorter because there was less that I could use.

So depending on your Greek education, you will either get a good bit out of this book, or you will get a lot out of this book. All the Greek isn’t bad, I just can’t use it.

Recommended?

If you know Greek, then I would say this is a good book to get on 1 John. There are plenty of references back and forth you can make between the Epistle and the Gospel. If you want to teach 1 John as a class, then I would think this would be a good book to get as it will fill up some more space on what John meant on confusing terms (“sin leading to death” being one) with how the passages relate to the Gospel.

If you’re an average Joe Schmoe who wants to read a book/commentary on 1 John, this will not be the book for you. I was surprised when I opened the book myself. It did not look like how I thought it would look. I was expecting more of a commentary, and this is not it. Not disappointing, just a lot different.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub (August 1, 2013)
  • Amazon
  • Reading Level: Seminary/Teacher/Scholar/Greek

[P.S. Thanks to Margaret at Alban Books for allowing me a free copy to read and review! I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Challenge-Response in an Honor Society in Matthew’s Gospel

I’m reading through David deSilva’s The Hope of Glory right now which looks at how the New Testament authors sought to shape the behaviors and social interactions of honor-sensitive people. What is an honor-sensitive person? How did the New Testament writings help early Christians on gaining honor and self-respect before God and withstand the outside society’s pressure to return to their pagan roots?

I can’t answer these right now, but there were a few insights I thought were notable.

Challenge-Reposte (Response)

One common form of gaining honor in Mediterranean culture was to offer a challenge to another person of equal social status. If the one challenged fails to respond effectively, they would lose honor, whereas the instigator would gain honor (p. 10).

We see a smaller variation of this in sarcasm and comebacks. The one who can “come back” with a remark is seen as quicker and wittier (though, perhaps, not always more honorable).

We see these challenge-responses occur often between Jesus and the Pharisees, especially in Matthew’s gospel “(cf… 9:1-8; 11:2-6; 12:1-8; 15:1-20; 16:1-4; 19:3-9; 21:15-17; 22:15-22, 23-33, 34-40, 41-46)” (p. 48). 

“A sizable amount of Matthew’s gospel portray’s Jesus and various representatives of Judaism (especially the Pharisees and the scribes) as competing for honor and the results of honor, influence and authority as interpreters of God’s law. Jesus’ repeated victory in these contests contributes to establishing his greater authority to teach the ways of God as the superior interpreter of Torah in particular and Scripture more broadly” (p. 48).

Then with His final challenge-response victory in Matthew 22, He has silences his opponents, astounding the crowd (Mt. 22:33), and segues into His scathing censure of the Pharisees in chapter 23.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t seek to gain honor in this way to boost His self-esteem. What He says in Matthew 23 is for the benefit of the people. The Pharisees are hypocrites who “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (23:4).  They love lifting up other rabbis so that they themselves will be lifted up in honor. But Jesus flips their pride in 23:11-12,“But He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles will be exalted.”

“Matthew’s gospel, therefore, affirms the teaching of Jesus as the way to fulfill Torah so as to receive God’s approval….The audiences are also supported in their commitment to discipleship and assisted in deflecting any pressure put upon them by non-Christian Jews by Jesus’ censure of the Pharisees, which is given considerable weight not only by Jesus’ victory over them in public challenges…but also by God’s explicit affirmation of Jesus as the spokesperson of God’s values” (p. 50).

In reading Matthew’s gospel believers would be strengthened to remain committed to Christ, for He is the one who is the true honorable guide to conduct (and eternal life), rather than to return to the “ways of their ancestors” by giving into pressure from the rival Jewish groups, those censured as dishonorable for their ignorance of God’s law.

I may post a few more insights like this one. If so, the next one will be on how the “head” and “face” of a person is seen as honorable, and we’ll look at slaps across the face (Mt. 5:39), Jesus’s crucifixion, His courage through it, and forgiveness. That is, if I can fit all of that into one post.

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Review: Paul and the Law (NSBT)

Paul and the Law

The Puzzle

The author, Brian Rosner, starts us off with this verse in 1 Corinthians:

“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19 ESV)

Hold on, wasn’t it God’s command to be circumcised? If neither one counts for anything, then what are God’s commandments that are to be kept?

If that wasn’t enough, Rosner present us with another puzzle:

Paul tells us Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances (Eph. 2:15), but then later quotes one of the commandments that was done away with (Eph. 6:1-2). But then, does our faith in Christ overthrow (abolish) the law? No! It upholds it! (Rom. 3:31).

Is Paul inconsistent? Is he making it up as he moves along? Did he go overboard on the matzah balls?

The Case For…

Studies on Paul’s understanding and use of the Law of Moses have been notoriously wrought with difficulties. How does the Mosaic Law affect the relationship between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles? What of Paul’s views on salvation, salvation history, Israel, the church, ethics, and anthropology (to name a few). To merely take away the Law is to interfere with all of those ideas.

Brian Rosner is focused on the BIG picture: The question is not which bits of the law Paul is referring to (i.e. moral, ceremonial, civil – often times they intermingle!), but the law as what (in what capacity does the law function?).

In three swift moves Paul shows his (consistent) thoughts on the law:

1. Repudiation, explicit (ch. 2) and implicit (ch. 3).
2. Replacement of the law with Christ.
3. Re-appropriation as prophecy (ch. 5) and as wisdom (ch. 6).

What does this mean? Paul shows that Christians are not under the law. They do not walk according to the law, but they fulfill the law. The law of Moses is replaced by the law of Christ in our lives, but this doesn’t mean the law is worthless. It still has ongoing value because it is ‘for us’, it points us to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but it teaches us wisdom.

Chapter Divisions

Chapter 2: Rosner shows what it means for Christians and Gentiles to not be under the law. He shows that the Law is a failed path to life, for breaking it means death, and nobody can keep the entire Law. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 says that the Law is used as law for the lawless. The righteous do not need it for they know how to live.

Chapter 3: we see three ways Paul indirectly puts the law away:

1. Omission: Absence of speaking of the law
2. Reversal: Saying the very opposite
3. Substitution: putting something else in it’s place

Paul does not say that believers in Christ walk according to the law, boast in the law, know God’s will according to the law, or transgress the law (to name a few). Rosner shows us where we see these phrases in the OT speaking of Jews, and where we don’t see them for believers in the NT.

Chapter 4: Paul replaces the law with the law of faith, the law of Christ (because Christ has fulfilled the law), shows what the ‘law of Christ’ means in Galatians 6:1-2, and shows how we walk in the newness of the Spirit.

Chapter 5: Rosner writes how the law was/is prophetic, showing how Paul (correctly) revealed (not stretched) how many OT references point to the Gospel. He shows how Abraham believed by faith and was accepted before the law, how the law was written ‘for us’ who believe.

Chapter 6: How did Paul view the Law (and OT Scripture) as wisdom as seen through the Psalms, how the psalter internalized and lived out the law, and as seen in the order of creation and to God’s goodness. Rosner then shows examples of how Paul used the wisdom of the Law for Christian ethics in his letters.

Chapter 7: Rosner gives about 8 (very helpful) charts for us to visualize what he has been talking about, shows how this view of Paul’s view of the Law solves the puzzle between God’s free grace and His demand for holy living.

The Chocolate Milk

Rosner assembles many of Paul’s contradictory sayings and shows that they do connect together revealing (to those who think otherwise) Paul did know how to express himself consistently in his letters. Rosner’s reasonings makes sense as a whole, and this book will change how you read reading Paul’s letters. Simply seeing the word “wise” in his letters will remind you of a host of Old Testament and inter-testamental meanings. Which leads to the next cup o’ chocolate…

Rosner floods us with Old Testament meanings that Paul would know. Why? To remind us that as a Pharisaic Jew Paul really knew the law, and he uses much of the same language/phrases/idioms in the NT.  And not just from the Old Testament, but including the time between the Old and the New Testaments. There are plenty of writings from that period, and they had an influence on Paul’s life and the lives of other Jews. Jews would read Paul’s letters and see a familiar idiom replaced. Instead of “walking according to the Law,” we now “walk according to the Spirit.” We are now “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).

Rosner’s view of showing the Law to be prophecy and wisdom was a wonderful treatment. If Christians are no longer under the law, then what do we do with it? Read it and thank God we don’t have to live like that anymore? How is that ‘profitable’? Rosner does away with the idea of only following the moral laws as opposed to the civil/ceremonial laws. In this light, the whole Law (read: Gen. 1:1-Deut. 34:12) has application to our lives. (Yes, even Leviticus). The Law exemplifies wisdom because it came from God, it is rooted in His good character, and it mirrors the boundaries He has placed over the world and how to live in them.

The Spoiled Milk

Rosner was wordy at times, with his syntax being difficult to understand (though to be expected with the NSBT series. It ain’t kindergarten – nor should it be). I may be in the minority here, for I’ve seen other reviewers say Rosner was clear and easy to read. Yes, he usually was clear, and often times easy, but on the same hand, not.

If there was a weakness in a main point of this study, it would be Rosner’s explanation of “the law of the Spirit of life.” He shows how it contrasts with “the law of sin and death” in Rom. 8:2, but doesn’t go much farther than that. He well explained the “law of Christ,” but not so much the same with the “law of faith” and the “law of the Spirit.”

Recommended?

If you are interested in Paul’s thoughts on the Mosaic Law, then this book is for you. Rosner’s thoughts are clear and well-thought out. There is plenty here to read, to study, to figure out your (and Paul’s) position on the law. It makes sense. I would love to see some examples of the difficult laws as wisdom, but with this hermeneutic in place I expect to see more books on how the law is to be used as wisdom in our lives, in addition to my own study. This isn’t the easiest of reads, but it’s definitely not the most difficult.  As D. A. Carson said, “This is a book to read slowly…a book to ponder” (p. 12, Series Preface). Enjoy.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: IVP (USA) / (UK)
  • Amazon
  • Reading level: Intermediate/Academic

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 


[Many thanks to IVP UK for providing a review copy of this book. I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].

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Review: The Art of Storytelling

Art of Storytelling

Honestly, this book was not what I thought it would be. Not exactly. I thought it was a book on how to tell stories. I’m not a good off-the-cuff story teller. I need time to think about a story before I can tell it well. I need to write it down, see the flow of thought, the syntax, how it will roll off the tongue. So I thought this book would be helpful in forming a story-telling mind. 

John Walsh grew up a stutterer. Yes as a stutter he speaks in front of large groups entertaining them with deep, imaginative stories, tear-jerkers, and Biblical stories in churches. He wrote this book to help others be able to roll out stories specifically in group settings. And by “group setting” I mean the Story Teller is on stage telling the story to an audience. 

So it’s not so much every-day story telling as it is preparing a story to tell in front of people. So the book wasn’t what I expected, but having said that, let me review it based on what it is intended to do and how well it does it. 

Introduction

To move from stutterer to storyteller to preacher, John Walsh had to figure out a way to tell a single story in under 30 minutes while still holding his congregation’s interests. He outlines different strategies to present a compelling story, such as your presentation, what to do with your hands while speaking, and how to create a killer conclusion. 

This is a book for anyone, especially those who have to teach (whether it be nursery, Sunday school, youth, or even adults). Much of our life is spent telling stories about our day at work, our experiences in college, the kids we used to get in trouble with in our old neighborhood. The bible isn’t much different. Much of the Bible is written in narrative (i.e. a story). 

Parts of the Whole

The book itself is divided into three sections. 

Part 1: “How can you create a captivating story?This section gives sprouting story-tellers fourteen steps in preparing the story. Ten steps are essential to telling a good story. The remaining four are optional, and, if followed, can take a good story and make it a great one. 

Part 2: Covers seven “how to tell” tools when in front of an audience. These tools are about how to tell the story with gestures, voice, facial expressions, and even nervousness (Nerves actually do help!). Speak with confidence. You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know you’re nervous (even when you are) because you speak with confidence. If you’re shaking, if your thoughts are racing, and if your heart is beating through your chest, chances are they won’t be able to tell. At least not until the sweating starts. And don’t tell them you’re nervous. That’s just a dead giveaway. 

Part 3: “Why is storytelling needed?” This section focuses on retelling Bible stories, along with how and why you should tell a story effectively. John discusses why churches should be telling more stories instead of lecture-sermons. We are taught Bible stories as kids and we remember them throughout, but does it have to stop? Two of his own resources are available on the web (www.bibletelling.org, www.btstories.com). I’ve downloaded them, but have not had the chance to look much at them myself.

The Chocolate Milk

Walsh has activities at the end of sections to practice what you have just read. I’m glad to see this part in here, for it’s one thing to read how to tell a story, it another to actually have to do it. However, I am not of the “creative” mind, nor the kind that wants to practice this creativity by trying to think up and work through stories. I can’t tell you how effective this part is because I didn’t take part in it. But, reading through Walsh’s writings and looking at the exercises, it’s easy to see just how this would help those who have the want to tell a good story. No doubt the practice would have been good for me, but I foresee success to those who do practice these exercises.

This book is very easy to read. This is one reason I know the activities would be good practice, because this guy knows how to write well! Reading was no hassle, and, if I remember correctly, I believe I read this in two sittings. Sure, I read a lot, but this book was interesting and easy. The chapters weren’t too long, and they all kept my interest, all showing Walsh’s strength in communication.

Walsh gives tips on how to “get to the mountain” in the story without burdening the audience with too many details. Often people want to tell every detail when they tell a story (“So I went over on a Tuesday, no…Wednesday….no, it was a Tuesday. Afternoon…um….well, anyway, I…”). And really, we don’t need every detail. Get to the mountain quick before you lose everyone’s attention is a good rule to live by. Myself included.

The Spoiled Milk

It’s been said that if a person doesn’t accept Christ by the time he or she is twelve years old (plus or minus a few years), the chance that they will come to faith later is very small. Walsh shows this to be untrue by looking through Acts and showing how all of the (main) conversions were adults. He tells about how he realized that age twelve is the approximate age that stories stop being told in church.

There may be some truth to this, but I wish Walsh would have elaborated more on what he meant by sermons as stories instead of lectures. Much of the Bible is narrative, but what about the epistles? The psalms? The proverbs? Parts of the prophets? I’m not saying this is impossible to do, but a few examples would have greatly helped. Also, how does a pastor teach sanctification and justification in the form of a story? Would I really want to or be able to tell an hour long story as a sermon? Walsh does a good job explaining how to tell a story, but what about the Bible stories?

I can’t be too negative. His links (mentioned above) do help give a summary idea of narratives and letters in OT and NT. While, as a pastor, you may not have much help from this if you preach through the Bible a chapter a week (a la Calvary Chapel), but if you need a story-form summary of the epistles and topics, these links are good to go. 

Recommended?

Many of us would love to hold the attention of a crowd, a classroom, or just a group of our friends by telling them a great story. We’ve all been there, having to stand in front of a crowd and give our thoughts on a topic, or an experience we had (i.e. from our missions trip), or have just tried to tell a funny story to people, and we hate every minute of it. 

Written by a person who started out as a stutterer, John Walsh is a Christian who has the Christian audience in mind, but his book can be valuable to anyone who stands in front of audiences of 5 people or 1,000 people.  

Learn it well, then teach it well.  If you’ve been looking for a book like this, and you’d love to work with the exercises at the end of the sections, then you should look into getting this book. 

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition (December 13, 2013)
  • Amazon
  • Reading Level: Teens on up

[A big thanks to Rachel at Moody Bible Institute and NetGalley for this free copy. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy].

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D. A. Carson Audio sermons and lectures – Free MP3’s from around the Web

Here is an excellent source of many of D. A. Carson’s sermons and teachings. Most of these files can be downloaded and listened to. If you’ve heard of Carson, you’re going to want these lectures. If you haven’t heard of him, then try one out (Try Section 2 #’s 7, 8, 9, 10, 18, 19, 26, 41, or any other ones that may stand out to you). I don’t know what you like, so you may not find interest in all of these, but I’m sure that whatever you do listen to will be good, enlightening, and encouraging. Carson is a man who loves God and really strives to get to the heart of the text. Enjoy.

I now blog at gospelize.me

Advertisement: Support this site by visiting Westminster Books. Even just clicking and visiting helps! It’s an excellent site for good Christian books.

Note: SECTION 2, #115 was added on 5/18/10.
D. A. Carson is one of my favorite preachers. I listen to him for his depth, his piercing application, his good exegesis, his biblical theological connections, and his centrality on Christ and the gospel. He has written many articles and books that I’ve found edifying and informative. This picture was taken at the time Don Carson visited Torrance, CA in January 2007.

You can get all D.A. Carson audio that is available on the web at The Gospel Coalition website.The reason I’ll keep updating this page is because the way it is categorized there is topical and textual, not by the occasion where he spoke it.  It is hard to find certain series to listen to…

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Knowing God’s Will Apart From the Law

Right now I’m reading Brian Rosner’s Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God, where Rosner argues that “Paul undertakes a polemical re-evaluation of the Law of Moses…” whereby he repudiates it as law-covenant (law as covenant), replaces it with other things (faith in Christ), and re-appropriates it as prophecy (pointing to the gospel) and as wisdom (for Christian living).

Right now I’m in chapter 3 called “Not ‘walking according to the law'” where Rosner shows what Paul doesn’t say about believing Christians and the Law compared to what is normally said about Jews under the Law of Moses. I found the section on God’s will very intriguing. In Romans 2:18 Paul says, “and [you, Jews] know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.”

There is a connection between the will of God and the Law of Moses as found in the Psalms:

I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.
+++++++++++++(Ps. 40:8)

 Yet when Paul speaks of God’s will to Christian believers through his letters, he never says they know God’s will through the Law.

References to God’s immutable (eternal, sovereign) will appear in seven of Paul’s letters (Rom. 1:10 and 15:32; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1) which deal with Paul’s own plans, his apostleship, and the plan of salvation all under God’s sovereign will.

There’s another aspect of God’s will which Paul refers to: God’s moral will. Back in Romans 2:18 we see the Jews were to “approve what is excellent” referring to God’s moral will. Through the Law the Jews were to learn how to live a life pleasing to God. If Christians are not under the Law, how are we to know how to live a life pleasing to God?

Paul gives seven passages on God’s moral will to his Christian readers.

1-2). Believers know God’s will through other means (though no clues as to where to ‘find’ this will)

  • Ephesians 6:6,“not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,”
  • Colossians 4:12,“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”


3-4). Two passages give clearer understanding to a specific aspect of God’s will. 

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3,“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18,“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It seems the Thessalonians would know God’ will through His appointed messenger, the apostle Paul.
+

5-6). Two passages create a bridge between wisdom and knowing the will of God.

  • Ephesians 5:17,“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
  • Colossians 1:9,“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”


7). Finally, we come to the seventh passage on how to be able to discern/know God’s will.

  • Romans 12:2,“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”


Romans 12:1-2 follows a long theological exposition in chapters 1-11, but for Paul to switch over to ethics is hardly surprising. “Here’s the Gospel, now what do we do with it?” For after showing 11 chapters worth of God’s mercy, total dedication to God is what is required of the believer. Paul calls for both reasonable worship and for renewed minds (contrast that to what he says in Romans 1 on false and foolish worship [vv21-23] and corrupt minds [vv28ff]). Romans 12:1 also recalls what believers are to do with their bodies in Rom. 6:13 and 19.

If the Jews know God’s will (sovereign and moral) through the Law, how do Christians who aren’t under the Law know God’s will for their lives? They know/find God’s will in apostolic instruction, wisdom, and in response to the Gospel, believing in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation and living a totally dedicated life that is pleasing to Him.

Paul and the Law

Paul and the Law is the 31st book in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series (found here). It can be found on IVP UK and Amazon.

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Review: Is God anti-gay?

Is God Anti-Gay?

Homosexuality is a hot topic in the church and in some of our countries today. What does the Bible say on homosexuality? And do the Christians in the church accurately reflect what it teaches? How should Christians treat homosexuals? Is it the Christian’s job to change them before they can be invited to church? What does the Bible say about marriage? How should I respond amongst all the controversy? We need to remember that we are dealing with real people. These are real people who have real struggles and issues just like the rest of us.

Sam Allberry is the associate pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK. He writes this book because it is well needed in a time like this. He clearly explains what the Bible says about marriage, sexuality, same-sex attraction (SSA), and how Christians should respond. Allberry writes this book from his own experience as one who had and still has same-sex attractions.

Summary

Allberry starts with the center. He keeps the main thing the main thing. What is the Gospel, and what does it say I should do? The Gospel declares that Jesus has come to save us from bondage, and that we are to ‘turn’ in repentance toward Him, which means we were not heading in the right direction in the first place. We believe the Gospel that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can be reconciled with God. The Gospel was “[H]is message for all people. When Jesus burst onto the scene, he didn’t subdivide humanity into categories and give each one a separate message. One for introverts….extroverts….left-brain types….right brain folk…God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe” (p. 9-10). Everyone has been given the same offer. To turn away from yourself and to live for God.

Allberry then moves to chapter one with a Bible view of marriage and sex. God said it was “not good” for man to be alone, so He created for him a woman. Humanity is gendered, and “sex is designed to irreversibly knit two people together” (p. 18). God designed marriage to reflect Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32). A man and a man, or a woman and a woman, can never represent Christ and His bride, the church.

Chapter two continues with the Bible’s view of homosexuality [Gen. 19; Lev. 18 and 20; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-10] all the while explaining what each text means in context and some different issues within them.

Chapter three is on homosexuality and the Christian. What happens if a Christian is struggling with same-sex issues, or if a homosexual becomes a Christian but is still struggling? Does that mean they are no longer saved? Of course not. Temptation isn’t sin until you give in. Allberry lists some of the main struggles Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction face, and how it can be used as a part of God’s purpose. He talks about the difference between the unrepentant heart and one who struggles but seeks to walk in line with God’s Word and His will for their lives. “What marks us out as Christians is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do” (p. 41).

Chapter four is on homosexuality and the church. What should you do if a homosexual couple starts coming to your church? Allberry gives some much-needed advice on how to treat homosexuals in the church. Their spiritual needs come first: they need Jesus. It’s as simple as that. You start at the center, and you move from there. It is then that you show them what the rest of the Bible says about sexuality and marriage ordained by God.

Chapter 5 is on homosexuality and the world. How do you respond when your friend comes out and tells you they’re gay? How do you then share Christ with them? How could you be the most loving and effective witness to the world on this issue? “The church is the ‘pillar of truth’ because it is the outlet of God’s truth into the world” (p. 78; 1 Tim. 3:15).

Allberry ends with a conclusion stating that “Jesus is the bread of life. He – and he alone – is the one who satisfies” (p. 82). Despite the complexities of our issues, despite the amount of time we succeed and fail, it is Jesus who satisfies our needs. Our sexuality (whether it be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.) is not our identity. Jesus is.

The Chocolate Milk

+Almost every chapter ends with a gray box with a significant question that many have asked before: “Surely a same-sex partnership is OK if it’s committed and faithful?”, “Aren’t we just picking and choosing which Old Testament laws apply?”, “Can’t Christians just agree to differ on this?”, along with others. Each section is answered in a few paragraphs, but the depth of the answer given is perfectly adequate for the posed question. They are not easy question, but the answers are spot on and complete.

+This is a simple book to read. It’s only 83 pages, and it’s very Christ-focused. There are some hard truths, but they are not written out of hatred. Allberry understands what life is like living with SSA, denying himself, and saying “Yes” to Jesus. These are hard truths to accept, but these are also hard truths that he himself is accepting and living life accordingly.

Recommended?

Yes.

Allberry covers a lot of ground in such a small book, and in doing so he shows God’s heart toward homosexuals, gays, lesbians, those who have same-sex attraction, and it’s the same heart he has toward all who sin. God loves us, and He is not “anti-gay.” Allberry writes for the benefit of those who experience SSA that God does love them, and for the benefit of those who don’t share in experiencing SSA to know how to love and minister to those who do.

This short book could be read in a single night. However, I would recommend that you don’t do that, but that instead you take the time to go through it. Think about the Scriptures Allberry proposes, read through them, and think about the points he is making. How does this differ from what you’ve thought about homosexuality? How can you show Christ better to a world around you, whether the people around you are of a different sexual orientation or not? The media has put a target on churches who have rejected homosexual members. Can you show your employees that the real Jesus is different? Can you show them that Christianity is different? Can you show them that you are different?

This book comes from a pastor who understands and cares about those who struggle with SSA, whether they are believers in Christ or not, and one who cares about the churches who are to show the love of Christ and how they can do that. Homosexual lifestyles are becoming more common place, and Christians need to know how to say more than, “That’s sin.” But then what? How is that person supposed to live in light of that? We need to be more helpful in lovingly showing others how to live in light of the Gospel of Jesus. It is good news. Right?

 Lagniappe


[A big “thank you” to Dean Faulkner at The Good Book UK for sending me a free copy to review. I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

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