Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Plan

Last time we looked at the importance of knowing the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, his message, and his rhetorical and homiletical strategy in chapter one of Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar. This rhetoric includes Invention (receiving the materials), Arrangement (crafting it for the purpose of getting the audience on the prophet’s side), Style (different forms of Ezekiel’s teachings), Memory (how the speeches are remembered and to be remembered), and Delivery (the technique in giving the speech).

Finally, the preacher must not only understand Ezekiel’s rhetorical and homiletical strategy, but he must also plan carefully.

Preaching from Ezekiel is not easy. Preaching part-by-part, Block says Ezekiel “would take two years,” and “none would have the patience for this kind of series on Ezekiel” (p 16).

What’s a Preacher to Do?

  • Recognize that much of the church today is ignorant of the OT. Many don’t see the significance of the OT, especially not Ezekiel, and they will need a lot of practical theology/application in their journey. While Block says a series on Ezekiel should last at most between 25-30 weeks, the preacher should inspire his readers to be bold enough to read the difficult texts, while providing them with the guidance to read those same obscure texts.
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  • The sermon series should be based on several principles:
    • Texts in which the church is moderately familiar with:
        • The opening vision call (ch 1-3)
        • The sermon on sour grapes (ch 18)
        • The good Shepherd (ch 34)
        • The heart transplant (ch 36.22-32)
        • The resuscitation of the dry bones (ch 37.1-14)
    • Include texts from every part of the book, not just the easy ones.
    • Include texts that represent variety of rhetoric and literary forms (of course, this means the preacher has to know those various forms!)
    • Include both judgment and restoration texts
    • Important: “Be sure every sermon offers grace to the congregation. Not all texts in the book include notes of grace, but they all assume Israel’s past experience of grace and/or anticipate a future work of grace” (p 19).
  • Let the people hear what God intends them to hear by reading the whole literary unit, not simply a few verses, then develop the unit’s theology and meaning.
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  • The people should be prepared well (reading during the week in advance, or notes, explanations, and diagrams provided).
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  • Carefully analyze the specific passage selected. This, of course, would be expository preaching. This kind of preaching is important for we take out what is in the text, rather than imposing our own 21st century notions onto the text. It is important to understand the genre, structure, and vocabulary before moving on to the homiletical thought (the application).
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  • “Make appropriate application.” Ezekiel was not preaching to the world (like Jonah was to do), but was speaking to God’s own special, chosen people. These were people who claimed to be the people of God, yet the way they lived was in a 180º opposite direction.
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    “Israel was to be a light to the nations, to embody righteousness and declare her well-being the glory and the grace of her Redeemer and covenant Lord” (p 21),  just as believers are to do today. Yet Israel defaced God’s glory by their sinful lifestyles and by being in exile.

      • The task of the preacher is to establish the theology and transfer it into the realm of the known, what is understandable. This can be done by asking what each text tells us about:
        • “God .
        • The world and society in general.
        • The human condition, the nature of sin, the destiny of humankind.
        • The way God relates to his creation in general and human beings in particular.
        • An appropriate ethical and spiritual response to God’s work of grace in our lives” (p 21).

In Closing

The preacher has much to think about when preaching through Ezekiel, not to mention the whole Bible. But Block, having spent many years with this strange prophet, provides us with the proper guidelines on how to preach and teach Ezekiel well. I hope this has been useful to you, even if you are not going to be preaching Ezekiel any time soon. And if not, rather that it still succeeds in helping you in all of your studies. The OT and NT are intertwined in many ways that we will always be learning. The more we figure out, the merrier. But it must be done properly.

Next time we will be looking at preaching Ezekiel 16.1-14 as a test case to preaching “the gospel according to Ezekiel.”

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Ezekiel’s Rhetoric

In chapter 1 of Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar, Block stresses the importance of knowing the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, and his message.

But how does one actually preach Ezekiel?

Well, there are two more points Block gives us for knowing Ezekiel’s purpose that I didn’t post in my review. I’ll post the first one now, and the second reason will be in my next post, ending with a final post on preaching Ezekiel 16.

The preacher must understand Ezekiel’s rhetorical and homiletical strategy.

Block says, “Rhetoric involves communicative strategies employed to break down resistance to the message in the audience and to render the message more persuasive” (p 15). Rhetoric involves five elements, and each one is relevant to Ezekiel.

  • Invention: This is the “discovery of relevant materials” which is seen in Ezekiel receiving his speeches from God.
    • Sometimes Ezekiel revises Israelite history, but not because he’s embarrassed. It is always to make a point.
      • Rather than coming from Abraham, Ezekiel identifies Israel’s history with the Amorites and Hittites of Canaan (16.3).
      • He tells them God gave them judgment which were “not” good and by which they “couldn’t live.”
      • He introduces Nebuchadnezzar as being the royal figure of Gen 49.10.
        • “Ezekiel functions primarily as a rhetorician rather than as a dogmatic theologian or interpreter governed by modern rules of grammatical historical exegesis” (p 15). Rather than actually being incorrect on his history, Ezekiel is working to open up Israel’s eyes to their rebellion against God.
  • Arrangement: Ezekiel “hand-“crafted his speeches to certain rhetorical forms:
    • Vision reports.
    • Dramatic sign acts.
    • Disputation speeches.
    • Parables.
    • Riddles.
  • Style: Ezekiel’s style is daring, and quite shocking.
    • Ezekiel was warned from the get-go about the hardened hearts of his people, “so he pulls no punches in trying to break down that resistance” (p 16). Ezekiel is disgusted by Israel’s idolatry and it is seen in his strong language of sexual imagery (Ezek 6, 16, and 23). No prophet pushes the boundaries like Ezekiel, and translators work hard to soften his words to modern day hearers. It’s unfortunate though, for in softening his harsh language, as uncomfortable as it is, it softens the reality of Israel’s idolatry against the one true YHWH.
  • Memory: How the speeches are remembered and to be remembered.
    • Ezekiel regularly uses the number ‘7’ in terms of lists and orderings, and occasional cuts speech-texts in half for easier remembrance.
  • Delivery: This is the technique used when actually giving the speech, which at times was to act out what YHWH told him to do (37.16-23).

In Closing

For the preacher to create, form, and give a sermon on Ezekiel, probably using most if not all of these five forms of rhetoric, he must understand the way in which Ezekiel himself creates, forms, and gives his own sermons. Knowing this, along with everything else that should be known about the book, will help greatly in providing accurate theology and, hopefully, application to the church body.

Next time we’ll look at one final point the preacher is focus on in preparation for preaching Ezekiel.

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Review: By the River Chebar

By the River Chebar

Have you ever read through Ezekiel? Forty-eight chapters of wheels within wheels, whoring Israelites, dead bones coming back to life, and a God who makes Himself known all throughout the book. Yet if God states how He will make Himself known over 70 times throughout the book (most often in the form of “And they will know that I am YHWH”), how come so many people lack an understanding of the God Ezekiel presents us with? And what, if anything, can we do to understand Ezekiel’s bizarre book in today’s world?

In comes Daniel Block’s By the River Chebar where we get a semi-broad/holistic perspective of the history, literature, and theology of Ezekiel. If nothing could sound more boring, then don’t worry. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Block knows that to interpret the Hebrew Bible one must ask at least three questions: (1) What does the text say?, (2) What did the text mean to the original audience, (3) What does the text mean to me, and (4) What does the text say it like that? This is extremely important, for without understand Ezekiel’s world and culture, we will never understand Ezekiel’s prophetic book.

This book covers 9 of the 18 essays put together for his two book set (this and Beyond the River Chebar). There are also two excursus which look at a speech of the Babylonian god Marduk, and a look at the parallels of Ezek. 1.6, 8-10, 15-21, and 10.9-22 in Hebrew.

The Chocolate Milk

An Enigma

Yet, one can’t say that Block doesn’t understand the average reader’s disposition when reading Ezekiel. In the preface Block states, “After living with this prophetic priest for fifteen years I sometimes felt like I knew the man personally; at other times he left me totally bewildered by his utterances, if not angry over his portrayal of God” (ix). Block knows the difficulty in reading Ezekiel, especially his first chapter, which is attested to in chapter 8 “Text and Emotion: A Study in the ‘Corruptions’ in Ezekiel’s Inaugural Vision (Ezekiel 1:4-28).” While the essay consists of 24 pages, really only 6-7 pages would prove difficult to understand for the average reader. On the other hand, Hebraists would enjoy Block’s exposition of grammar and style.

Yet, not to worry, Bock gives an alternative approach and looks at the nature of Ezekiel’s experience compared to that in Ezekiel 10 just one year later. If you saw a crystal platform, a glorious throne, and wheels/vehicles moving about, don’t you think you’d be a bit dumbfounded too? We look at other texts to see their similarities and contrasts, showing just how unique Ezekiel’s experience really was.

Can Ezekiel Be Preached?

But, before I make this book sound too dense for any reader interested in Ezekiel, I’ll start off by saying that this book is, in some respects, pastoral. I can say that because the very first chapter is titled “Preaching Ezekiel.” Block stresses the importance of knowing the prophet, his audience, the nature/structure of the book, and his message. Block doesn’t leave us hanging however, for any pastor (or anyone) who’s ever had a hermeneutics class knows to look for this. The reader is provided with information on the prophet, audience, structure, and message. Much of Ezekiel’s statement are so shocking because his audience is equally hard hearted, being characterized as “a rebellious house,” with “obstinate face,” “stubborn heart/mind,” “stubborn of forehead,” “obstinate of heart/mind,” and “resistant to messages from God” (p 5).

Block ends with giving us (and the pastor) a case study of preaching the Gospel in, of all sections, Ezekiel 16.1-14. Ezekiel 16 and 23 are significantly difficult and shocking chapters in Ezekiel. Block succinctly shows the reader how to find the gospel in Ezekiel 16, how God deals with His chosen people, and how it mirrors the way He deals with humanity, all without straining the text.

Holistic Approach

A holistic approach looks at the parts that make up the whole. While I don’t have time to delve into every chapter (though I plan to make a post or two about them), I would at least like to give you a quick summary of each chapter.

*2). “The Theology of Ezekiel” looks at themes in Ezekiel in his visions of God, the people of God, and the Messiah.

3). “The God Ezekiel Wants Us to Meet” has us looking at a loving and compassionate God, as opposed to many (usually [or always?] more liberal) commentators who view God as nothing but “obsessive” and “raging” (p 45).

4). “Divine Abandonment” shows how Ezekiel uses familiar texts/traditions from other cultures to show Israel their own blindness and perversions. YHWH is not bound by other gods, but remains free to move and chose and rule as He wills. And when He choses to save His people, no one will stop Him.

6). “The Prophet of the Spirit” looks at Ezekiel’s use of ר֫וּחַ (ruach) and what it shows about God’s power in, over, and through Ezekiel and in bringing about a New Covenant people.

7). “Beyond the Grave” looks at the way death and the afterlife is portrayed in Ezekiel, how much of it is a rhetorical use of the culture around Israel against the rebellious house of Israel, and what it determines about a Christian belief in the afterlife.

9). “Ezekiel’s Boiling Cauldron” shows how Ezekiel uses a song (perhaps sung by the Israelites left in Jerusalem) as a scathing attack against the Israelites to open their eyes to their disillusioned beliefs of God favoring them over the exiles in Ezekiel 24.1-14. We see that this is not at all the case, and in fact, God will be a tabernacle to the exiles (Ezek 11.16-20), not those left in Jerusalem (11.21).

* (Essays 1, 5, and 8 are mentioned throughout this review)

The Spoiled Milk

On the one hand, if you interested in Ezekiel, I would say simply to look up Block’s two-volume commentary from the NICOT series (Ezekiel 1-24, 25-48). For as good and dense (scriptural references!) as this book is, it doesn’t cover it all. Though what it does it, it covers well.

However, there are still some sections that I felt didn’t provide me with much more knowledge on Ezekiel.

1). You don’t need to know Hebrew, but if you do know it, you will gain a wealth of knowledge from this book. Chapters 6-9 (“The Prophet of the Spirit,” “Beyond the Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision of Death and Afterlife;” “Text and Emotion” [mentioned above], and “Ezekiel’s Boiling Cauldron: A Form-Critical Solution to Ezekiel 24.1-14”). A decent grasp of the Hebrew language will bring much more to light in these chapters. I wish I knew Hebrew just for these chapters. But even despite my lack of knowledge on the Hebrew language, these chapters still had much to provide, and I did enjoy them. I will say that, in a book like this, I was surprised at how much I understood in each chapter.

2). The two excursus (mentioned in the third paragraph) and chapter 5 “Chasing a Phantom: The Search for the Historical Marduk” were difficult reads. Excursus A is simply a recovered speech of Marduk. Excursus B is in Hebrew. Chapter 5 is a look at who the god Marduk was believed to be and how he rose to power (aka popularity) in Babylon and in the pantheon of gods. Chapter 5 may give assistance when studying Ezekiel, but, unlike the rest of the chapters, I feel like I know little more about the book of Ezekiel than I did before.

Recomended?

I enjoyed Block’s How I Love Your Torah, O Lord! (read my review here), and I enjoyed this book much more. As I’ve already stated, I was surprised by how much I was able to understand. HILYTOL was enjoyable, though had plenty of Hebrew to go around. BTRC had much less Hebrew (even in the harder chapters nearer to the end), and was more broad than HILYTOL. The texts weren’t as specific, and I feel like I have a better idea of Ezekiel as a whole, and would very much like to read Beyond the River Chebar. This isn’t light reading (by any means), but this is recommended. It helped me to want to dig into Ezekiel more, and eventually buy Blocks’ 2 Volume set! One day.

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to Wipf and Stock for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: How I Love Your Torah, O Lord!

How I Love Your Torah, O Lord

Can anyone really say the “love” the Torah? Sure, the psalter of Psalm 119 (v97) sure loves the Law. As does the blessed-is-he in Psalm 1 who delights in the law of the Lord day and night. But this is the Bible we’re talking about. Aren’t these characters supposed to love God’s word? They’re like mini-commercials and product placements about the main movie while watching the main movie.

And what is the Torah? What does it consist of? And why should I love it?

Here, Block puts together a collection of of articles that “represent deep literary and theological meditations that have been personally incredibly inspiring and transformative” (xv). The issues found in HILYTOL are more specific that those found in another one of Block’s books, The Gospel According to Moses, which are general essays on hermeneutical, theological, and ethical issues found in Deuteronomy.

If the psalter(s) of Ps 1 and 119 are the spokesman of the torah, then Block is their great-great-great-great-great grandson who’s holding the family job close to heart. Block is refreshing, for even when his essays grow dense, the reader knows Block loves the Torah, or as we would call it, Deuteronomy. It was the favourite book of both Jesus and Paul. “It represents the heart of biblical revelation” (xiv).

Block has quite a feat of books and commentaries left behind i his name. He has written a commentary on Deuteronomy (NIVAC), Judges/Ruth (NAC), and a 2-volume set on Ezekiel (NICOT; 1-24; 25-48). Not to mention countless articles and book on Deuteronomy and Ezekiel (to name a few). This tells me that, on the one hand, Block really knows what he’s talking about (whether you agree with him or not). On the other hand, looking at the NIVAC and NAC commentaries (both having great applicational appeal for laymen and pastors), Block knows how to put the cookies on the bottom of the shelf and bring theology down to our every day living. The way people lived 3,000 years ago, in terms of technology, is quite different. The way people lived 3,000 years ago, in terms of sinful attitudes, is much the same.

The Chocolate Milk

(Essay/Chapter titles (and any quotes) will be presented in italics).

Block presents Moses not as some old guy leading a ragtag group of rebels around for 40 years for no reason. Nor as one hollerin’ out the strict laws to his back woods team making sure they towed the party line.

But instead, Moses is a pastor. In Reading the Decaloque Right to Left (a title I still haven’t figured out the meaning of), we see that the Decalogue, yes, calls everyone, but specifically it calls the head of the household, the husband, to be covenantally committed to YHWH, his own household, and his neighbors. Yet we are then confronted with the issue of differing Decalogues (10 Commandments) in Exodus 20.2-17 and Deuteronomy 5.6-21. One main difference is that of Ex 20.17 and Deut 5.21. Yet this is nothing more than “deliberate efforts to ensure the elevation of the wife in a family unit and to foreclose men’s use of the Exodus version to justify treatment of wives as if they were mere property, along with the rest of the household possessions. The Hebrew narratives are indeed rife with accounts of abusive men who treat women as property that may be disposed of at will for the sake of male honor and male ego, confirming that in every day life the Decalogue was largely ignored” (p 41).

This is not some textual mishap on anyone’s part. But Moses, mediating God’s commands to the people, sets out to elevate those who are ignored, while putting the prideful in their place. Especially in light of the Grace of Torah (chapter 1, see my post about that chapter here []). Would they to trample on God’s grace be seen continually as God’s people? These men would not be Bearing the Name of the LORD with Honor, carrying around his name to glorify Him to the surrounding nations. And just as this chapter goes into the historical details of what it meant to carry the name of the Lord (or any other king or owner for that matter), so Block goes into practical details for today for biblical scholars (and this can be applied to all Christians who carry the name of the Lord Jesus Christ). For they must love YHWH with their whole self, not just their mind, words, or meandering actions, However Many God Is (almost the title name).

In fact, I think my favourite chapter was chapter 5, the Joy of Worship. Deuteronomy 12.1-14 is not well-known as being the “Fun” chapter of the Bible. In fact, if I had my druthers, well, I wouldn’t read it at all. But Block blows the dust of this chapter and shows what true worship means. It’s obeying the God “who had personally established himself as ‘the God of your ancestors’ (12:1). This is the God who had graciously evened his will to his people (4:1-8)… graciously invited Israel to covenant relationship with himself (4.9-31)…. graciously redeemed Israel from bondage of Egypt (vv. 32-40)…He is the one and only God – there is no other (4:35, 39)” (p 103).

And the subjects of true worship, those who can gather regularly for worship in God’s presence are “a chosen people in a chosen land gathered at the chosen place for worship of the one who had graciously chosen them” (p 104). Block then dives into show us the place, the motivation, and the characteristics of true worship. We must remember that the place is never as important as the Object of our worship.

The Spoiled Milk

There’s no spoiled milk here except to let you know this is a very academic work. While Hebrew is not required, it is an immense help in reading this book. To look at Block’s case and be able to find and read it in the Bible makes learning the truths of this book so much quicker and easier.

It is true that not everyone will be interested in understanding the differences in translations on the Shema “Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is the only one,” the meaning and contextual purpose is illuminating. Rather than a trinitarian defense, it’s a personal call to trust God with your whole self.

This is a warning: This book is not a light read. But what you put into it, you will get out of it. Block isn’t simply Jo Schmo down-da-skreet who one day decided to write a book. He’s a wonderful, humble scholar of loves God’s Torah and loves God’s word.

Recommended

To those who have competence in the Hebrew language and in their Deuteronomics, you would enjoy this book. I personally do not know Hebrew not do I know much about Deuteronomy, but I still enjoyed this book. However, I would have enjoyed it more if I were more familiar with one or both. But to the competent, is this recommended? Yes. I couldn’t actually deny this book. I learned a lot from my first reading of it, and I will continue to grasp it’s meaning as I look into Block’s points again and again, hopefully read his NIVAC commentary, and too hopefully fall in love with the Torah.

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to James at Wipf and Stock for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: When Heaven Invades Earth; Pt V

When Heaven Invades Earth

It’s been a few weeks, but I’m finally going to wrap up this review session on Bill Johnson’s famous book. If I haven’t convinced anyone yet of his misbeliefs, hopefully this will do. (If you’d like to be kept up to speed, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4).

The Spoiled Milk

Kenosis Heresy

Be Careful What You Propagate

While He is 100 percent God, He chose to live with the same limitations that man would face once He was redeemed. He made that point over and over again. Jesus became the model for all who would embrace the invitation to invade the impossible in His name. He performed miracles, wonders, and signs, as a man in right relationship to God . . . . not as God. If He performed miracles because He was God, then they would be unattainable for us. But if He did them as a man, I am responsible to pursue His lifestyle (p. 29).

But where does the Bible say Jesus wasn’t God? Things that God does or promises to do in the Old Testament are seen in Jesus’ actions: He heals the blind and deaf (Isa 42.18; Mk 10.52), He has authority over water (Gen 1.10; Job 38.34; Mk 4.39), He speaks eternal words (Isa 40.8; Mk 13.31), He forgives sins (Isa 44.22; Mk 2.5), He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Ex 16.29; 20.10-11; Mk 2.28), and He rides on the clouds (Ps 104.3; Isa 19.1; Dan 7.13; Acts 1.9).

Johnson says Jesus “is 100 percent God,” but then goes on to say “He performed miracles…not as God.” Which is it? Was Jesus God, or not God? We’re going to see more of this double-arguing in another section.

Phil 2.7 says, “but [Christ] made himself nothing, [by] taking the form of a servant…” Jesus was God, and He was a servant. He didn’t set aside His divinity.

This mind that we are supposed to have (Phil 2.5) is making ourselves nothing, but not as if we are gods who become human. We are citizens of heaven (1.27) with our manner of life being how we live out our heavenly citizenship here on earth. Like Christ we are to give up our rights. Christ humbled Himself, served others, died, and was raised and exalted, given the name above all names. We are to do the same thing, and not be walking around expected to do miracles all of the time.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12.27-31, Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Paul himself, apostle by the will of God, says that not everybody works miracles. Not everybody has the gift of healing.

I am responsible to pursue Christ’s lifestyle: one of humility and love to God and my neighbor.

Laying Aside His Divinity

On page 79, Johnson tells us about the anointing of the Spirit, and how ‘Christ’ means ‘Anointed One’ or ‘Messiah.’ “He [Jesus] had to receive the anointing in an experience to accomplish what the Father desired.” A few paragraphs down he writes, “Jesus lived His earthly life with human limitations. He laid His divinity aside as He sought to fulfill the assignment given to Him by the Father: to live life as a man without sin, and then die in the place of mankind for sin.”

When it comes to divinity there is only A or Not-A. One can only either be divine or not divine. If Christ is divine, if that makes up His being, then He can not lay aside His divinity or else He would become something else that what He is.

Critical Issues Commentary says this,

“R C Sproul explains:

‘If God laid aside one of his attributes, the immutable undergoes a mutation, the infinite suddenly stops being infinite; it would be the end of the universe. God cannot stop being God and still be God. So we can’t talk properly of God laying aside his deity to take humanity upon himself.

If Jesus laid aside divinity, that would be proof that He never had true divinity. Thus Johnson’s doctrine is a de facto denial of the deity of Christ. Christological heresy is heresy. Period.

So what does Philippians 2:7 imply that Jesus did empty Himself of? The answer is not divinity, which is eternal and cannot be compromised, but divine prerogatives. Paul’s point was about Christ’s humility that we should emulate, not His ontological status as God.

Sproul explains:

‘I think the context of Philippians 2 makes it very clear that what he emptied himself of was not his deity, not his divine attributes, but his prerogatives — his glory and his privileges. He willingly cloaked his glory under the veil of this human nature that he took upon himself. It’s not that the divine nature stops being divine in order to become human. In the Transfiguration, for example (Matthew 17:1-13), we see the invisible divine nature break through and become visible, and Jesus is transfigured before the eyes of his disciples.'”

To go along with Sproul this is why Paul tells us in Phil. 2.3-5 to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Then Paul gives us the perfect example of humility, Jesus, who came in the form of a servant and humbly died on the cross by experiencing a shameful death. If the Divine can humble Himself, then so should we. See Jesus in this light, as the Son of God who humbled Himself to die for our sins, then we are to ” work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2.12b-13).

If Jesus laid aside His divinity, what can I lay aside? My humanity? No, Jesus was fully man and fully God (John 5.18; 8.58; 10.30; 20.28-29; Col. 2.9). If the son of God can lower Himself in humble and loving obedience to the Father, so should I be able to do the same.

Or Maybe He Was Divine?

For hundreds of years the prophets spoke of the Messiah’s coming. They gave over 300 specific details describing Him. Jesus fulfilled them all! The angels also gave witness to His divinity when they came with a message for the shepherds: “For there is born to you this day . . . a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Nature itself testified to the arrival of the Messiah with the star that led the wise men. Yet with this one statement, “Unless I do the works of the Father, do not believe Me,” Jesus put the credibility of all these messengers on the line. Their ministries would have been in vain without one more ingredient to confirm who He really was. That ingredient was miracles (p 93, PDF, emphasis mine).

If Jesus laid aside His divinity, what can I lay aside? On both pages 29 and 79 Johnson Jesus was not God. He laid aside His divinity. But now the angles testify that Jesus is divine? Were the angles wrong? Were they lying?

No, instead I think it’s more likely that Johnson either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or simply suits the text to say what he wishes it to say. If he says Jesus wasn’t divine while in a human body, then the angels can’t give witness to His divinity. If Jesus was divine on earth, then he can’t say Jesus was “not God” or was “just a man.”

Miracle Workings

Of course Johnson’s whole discussion of Jesus laying aside His divinity is to support his claim that we are to go around performing miracles and bringing in the Kingdom of God. I agree by saying we should and can help grow the Kingdom of God (Gen 1.28-30; Mk 4.32; Col 1.6) by proclaiming the gospel to all the nations. But I disagree that we grow the Kingdom by performing miracles in the name of God, or, more likely, by calling down God’s power under our own prerogatives.

They want visions. Paul had visions. He told nobody about one of those visions for fourteen years (2 Cor 12.2) until he was compelled (12.11) to do so. Even when he did give the vision, it was at best ambiguously vague and set in the third person. The only specific details we have in that section are the words of Christ, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (12.9).

Disclaimer

Some who read this will disagree, some may be offended, while others may think I’m a self-righteous nit-picker. Neither God nor I hate this man, but I do think Johnson is making an egregious error. As a teacher and pastor he is to have a greater knowledge of the Word. And if he knows he’s in the wrong, he is bypassing ignorance and is deliberately leading his church astray.

Much like Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians who preach another Jesus, a different Spirit, and a different gospel (2 Cor 11.4), both Paul’s opponents and Johnson teach a theology of anti-suffering. Triumphalism. Since Christ suffered, we shouldn’t have to.

That is not at all Paul’s stance. Paul suffered, and it showed he endured for God, Christ, and for his church (2 Cor 1.8-11; 2.14-16; 4.8-9; 6.4-10; 11.23b-33; 12.7-9). It is in Paul’s weakness that Christ’s resurrection power rests on him. 

I write this review because I want people to see the errors of Johnson and all of Bethel’s teaching. I don’t claim to have a perfect theology, but we are commanded to stay awake and to walk circumspectly, not as unwise but as wise (Eph. 5.15). We are to keep watch for wolves and false prophets who teach twisted things and who seek to draw away, if possible, even the elect (Matt. 24.24; Mk. 13.22).

Acts 20:28-31a

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…

Jeremiah 5:30-31

An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?

Jeremiah 6:10

To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.

Jeremiah 23:31-32

Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.

2 Timothy 4:3-5

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Additional Resources and Reviews

Bethel Harmful
Bill Johnson and John Crowder’s Leaven
Critical Issues Commentary
CrossWise
Grave Sucking/Mantle Grabbing
John Crowder New Age: The secret of success? Is that what we’re supposed to be about?
Kenosis
New Age – Lighthouse Trails Research
New Age (it’s in Swedish, but Google Chrome should ask to translate the page)
Reachout Trust
Bill Johnson and IHOP Heresy Review
What did Jesus Empty Himself of?

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Review: The End of the Law

End of the Law Jason Meyer

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5.17).

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10.4).

The End of the Law was authored by Jason Meyer who has filled John Piper’s place and is now the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church. This book is the sixth volume in the New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology series [NACSBT]. The NACSBT series is dedicated to taking hard passages/themes of Scripture and looking at them in light of inerrancy, scaling the depths of the Bible, remembering B. F. Westcott’s point that, “Unless all past experience is worthless, the difficulties of the Bible are the most fruitful guides to its divine depths” (Preface).

Premise

Meyer’s premise starts with the issue that how we understand the old and new covenants an their relation to each other has a huge impact on how we understand the Old and New Testaments. What is so ‘new’ about the new covenant? What is so ‘old’ about the old covenant? The central question of Meyer’s study is about the character of the Mosaic covenant, especially in Paul’s theology.

Meyer’s thesis, that he will go on to prove, advances that Paul conceives of the Mosaic covenant as non-eschatological, while the new covenant is eschatological. Essentially, “the old covenant is now old because it belongs to the old age, whereas the new covenant is new because it belongs to the new eschatological age” (p. 1-2). The old age, and now the Mosaic covenant, are impermanent. “the new covenant is both eternal and effectual because it belongs to the new age and partakes of the power of the new age, the Holy Spirit” (p. 2).

There is much I could say about this book. Too much, in fact, for the size of this post. I intend to show you a palate of flavors from this book, in hopes that it will leave you with intrigue, wanting to know more about a topic which can seem so boring to many, the old and new covenants.

The Chocolate Milk

As I enjoyed this book, It’s difficult to cram it into a single book review of this size. I’m amazed at how Meyer was able to put so much information on Paul’s conception of the Law into a book, with clarity and care to boot! Instead, my purpose here will be to focus on two chapters that I found to be of great use.

Chapter 3; The Old and New Antithesis in Paul

Meyer exegetically reveals what makes up the difference in the two terms ‘old’ and ‘new’. Throughout the Old and New testament, ‘new’ and ‘old’ are sometimes used temporally. Thinking of Christmas time coming, when I received ‘new’ toys for Christmas, suddenly my other toys became ‘old.’ My new toys were not one year ‘old’, but were ‘new’ today.

But that’s not the end of the story, for the Testaments use ‘new’ and ‘old’ in a qualitative function. As a kid on Christmas day I might receive some ‘new’ toy cars, but if I receive a real car, who cares about the quality of the toy cars? I have a real, practical machine to help me get from point A to point B in minutes. ‘New’ can mean “something new in manner and thus better than its ‘old’ object of comparison or contrast (i.e., new and improved)” (p. 36). The glory of the new covenant exceeds glory of the old covenant in that it fulfills through Christ (2 Cor 1.20) the promises God made in the OT prophets (Jer 32.38-40; Ezek 36.26-27; Joel 2.28-29). We now have the Spirit, and are new creations (Isa 43.18-19; 65.17; 2 Cor 5.17).

Now then, there is a difference having the New Man over the Old Man. Meyer argues that we do not have both, but we are relationally in the New Man. Believers are in Christ, not Adam; the new man, not the old (Rom 6.6; Col 3.9-10; Eph 4.21-24). Meyer looks at the Oldness of the Letter verses the Newness of the Spirit (Rom 7.6), the Old Leaven and the New Lump (1 Cor 5.7-8), and Old Creation versus New Creation (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15). Finally we end on looking at the two ages (old, new) and the two Adams (Adam and Christ). You are either in one or the other. Paul is a theologian of contrasts.

I’ll provide a long footnote from Meyer’s final chapter, which is a helpful concluding summary chapter on the rest of his book: In chapter three

“we saw that Paul emphasized the removal of or the release from the ‘old thing,’ and the advent and continuation of the ‘new thing.’ A release from the old is a release from sin and death, while entering or becoming the new results in righteousness, fruit-bearing, and life. Freedom from the ‘old thing’ is a release from the experience of the ‘old age,’ which is characterized by sin and death, and ruled by the old Adam, while entering or becoming the ‘new things’ is entering the experience of the new age, which is characterized by righteousness and life, and ruled by the new Adam”

(p 274, fn 33).

Chapter 4; Contexts of Contrast: 2 Corinthians 3-4

This chapter on 2 Corinthians came at the perfect time. In teaching 2 Corinthians this semester, my dilemma came in 2 Cor 3 where Paul discusses the New Covenant and its super-cession of the Old. I had commentaries from both Hafemann and Garland, the former Meyer admires but differs greatly on, the latter agreeing with many of Hafemann’s conclusions. “Hafemann argues that the old covenant is identical in content with the new covenant; they are co-equal in grace and glory” (p. 112). Yet Meyer has well-shown that ‘new’ and ‘old’ are entirely different.

What makes the new covenant ‘new’ isn’t that it’s another special toy, but that it’s on a superior level to the old covenant because the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic element to it and this age (2 Cor 3.3, 6-11; Jer 31.31-34; Ezek 11.19).

Throughout, Meyer examines the long-held difficulty of the veil of Moses. While I don’t think Meyer has answered it in full, he gives an incredible understanding of the veiled experience of Israel in the old age under the old covenant and the unveiled experience of believers in Christ in the new age under the new covenant. Why would Moses veil his face from Israel? What is significant about Israel being hardened even up “to this day”? Meyer draws themes from the OT and shows how this new age and covenant with Holy Spirit is far superior (2 Cor 3.7-11) than the old age and covenant without the Spirit.

(The only downside to this chapter was that Meyer didn’t write a commentary on all of 2 Corinthians! – it turns out he is writing the 2 Corinthians volume in the Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series).

The Spoiled Milk

My only issue with this book wasn’t so much Meyer’s writing as perhaps was the books format. Meyer often gives lists: either reasons for his conclusions, or lists of competing arguments. Yet was often difficult for me to find every “number” on the list. Or, since none of the numbers are in bold, things start to move in together and look the same. Meyer was clear, but having distinctions or breaks from the previous paragraph cuts through some of the fog and makes it all the more clear to read, which is important when reading a difficult topic such as this one.

Recommended

This book has a thorough flair of academic to it. Which for some won’t sound enticing in the least, for they would only want to know how this helps them. For others, this is exactly what they want for this helps them to know the text.

The usefulness of the NAC series lies in its purpose to help church leaders with resources for their ministry, along with individual believers to grow in knowledge and in faith. With that purpose in mind, and knowing that Meyer is now the Vocational Pastor at BBC, the reader can trust that the author has his readership in mind. His purpose is to help the church understand God’s Word better, and thus each other and the life we live. That is helped in having a greater knowledge of the Holy Spirit through the new covenant. What the old covenant didn’t have, believers under the new covenant now have, that being the Holy Spirit who has softened our hearts (2 Cor 3.14, 16-18) and who gives us the ability to endure life’s trials (2 Cor 4.13).

Since this is geared towards for church leaders, it is recommended that they have a purpose in reading this book. This book will not be a leisurely walk in the park. Quite contrary, I read chapters 1-3 in the summer and again this semester so I could understand the book better. After having taught on the new covenant in 2 Corinthians 3, I understood those first three chapters the second go ’round much more than the first.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology (Book 6)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Academic (September 1, 2009)

[Special thanks to India and Jim at B&H Publishing for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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