Category Archives: Biblical Theology

All That Agony for $7.99

When I read Paul House’s Old Testament Theology, it was clear to me that he had thought deeply about the literary structure of every book of the OT. I’m not talking about rehashing the notes of some prof whose class he took; I’m talking about reading the book, agonizing over how it’s put together, assessing the various proposals for structure, and then making a decision about how you think it’s structured that you’re willing to put in print. I was stunned and daunted by the time and effort I knew went into that project. That experience gave me, I think, the ability to tell when an author is really engaging the biblical material and when he’s trotting out a shallow schtick that he’s used in a talk or a lecture that he’s given a thousand times. I want to read authors who are writing from the overflow of long slow meditative reading of the whole Bible.

Imagine doing what House did for the OT for every book in the Bible, or at least making the attempt.

That’s the kind of book I tried to write. I’m not claiming that I nailed the structure of every book of the Bible, but I agonized, read, re-read, tried to see the whole, to remember all the pieces, and to put it all together.

The point of relating all this is to observe that you can get the Kindle version of the fruits of all my agony and struggle with the most important book in the world for $7.99.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining! I’d love for everyone to have it in print or on Kindle (which you don’t have to have a Kindle to be able to use–you can get a free Kindle app for your computer or some other device). If I could afford it, I’d give copies away. It wasn’t written to make money. It was written in an effort to help people understand the structure of the particular books of the Bible and the Bible as a whole.

So thinking about all that effort for the low price of $7.99 has given me a whole new appreciation for the way that songwriters must feel about their albums, novelists about their books, moviemakers about their films. You get the picture. How do you put a price on a human being’s attempt at art–the attempt to help other people see what’s there–which arises from the soul, accompanied by many cries for God’s help, forged in disciplined labor, aided by talented careful editors, and brought out by an exemplary publishing company?

I don’t know how to answer that question, but I’m again thankful for God’s mercy, for life, and for the opportunity to have written this book.

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In the Wilderness Prepare the Way of the Lord

On January 16, 2011 I had the privilege of preaching on Mark 1:1–13 at Kenwood Baptist Church, “The Baptist and the Christ.”

In this text John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus in the wilderness, and there are some interesting statements in roughly contemporary texts from Josephus that shed light on the symbolic import of what John was doing in the wilderness.

Josephus, War, 2.258:

“Besides these there arose another body of villains, with purer hands but more impious intentions, who no less than the assassins ruined the peace of the city. Deceivers and imposters, under the pretence of divine inspiration fostering revolutionary changes, they persuaded the multitude to act like madmen, and led them out into the desert under the belief that God would there give them tokens of deliverance. Against them Felix, regarding this as but the preliminary to insurrection, sent a body of cavalry and heavy-armed infantry, and put a large number to the sword” (italics mine).

Similarly Antiquities, 20.168–170:

“. . . called upon the mob to follow them into the desert. For they said that they would show them unmistakable marvels and signs that would be wrought in harmony with God’s design. . . . there came to Jerusalem from Egypt a man who declared that he was a prophet and advised the masses of the common people to go out with him to the mountain called the Mount of Olives . . . For he asserted that he wished to demonstrate from there that at his command Jerusalem’s walls would fall down, through which he promised to provide them an entrance into the city” (italics mine).

Josephus, Antiquities, 20.188:

“. . . the dupes of a certain imposter who had promised them salvation and rest from troubles, if they chose to follow him into the wilderness” (italics mine).

These texts also shed light on something Jesus said in Matthew 24:26–28,

“So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (italics mine).

See also Josephus, Antiquities, 20.97:

“During the period when Fadus was procurator of Judaea, a certain imposter named Theudas persuaded the majority of the masses to take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan River. He stated that he was a prophet and that at his command the river would be parted and would provide them an easy passage” (italics mine).

If you’d like to hear my interpretation of the significance of these things, it’s only a click away.

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Amen to God’s God-Centeredness, and the Whole Bible Says So, Too

John Piper has a fascinating post today on how Brad Pitt stumbled over God’s concern for his own glory.

Does the Bible teach that God seeks his own glory?

Let me invite you to consider the evidence for the claim that God’s glory is his own ultimate purpose, the main theme of the whole Bible, the linchpin in the Bible’s theodicy, and the theological centerpiece of every single biblical author.

There’s a lot of evidence for the idea that God seeks his own glory. This book has not exhausted it, but if you have trouble with the idea, how about joining me on a guided tour of the whole Bible? At many points I’m not sure I’ve done it justice, but the journey will repay all the effort you can give it.

 

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Filed under Biblical Theology, Center of Biblical Theology, For God's Glory in Christ by the Spirit

Daniel J. Brendsel on the Center of Biblical Theology

I’ve just re-read Daniel J. Brendsel’s essay, Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined,” Themelios 35.3 (2010): 400–12, which has me more convinced than ever that the center of biblical theology is the glory of God in salvation through judgment.

I’m going to paste my notes on Brendsel’s essay below, and if you’d like to know why I prefer my proposed center to his, please see God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (for a shorter version, see either my article on the subject or this summarizing presentation).

Here are my notes on Brendsel (my outline doesn’t correspond entirely to his, and I have reformatted some quotations, summarizing other parts):

Daniel J. Brendsel, “Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined,” Themelios 35.3 (2010): 400–12.

1) Introduction: Assumes that the search for a center is not an obsession but a responsibility and

2)   provides a rationale for the search for a center

3)   refocuses what the object of the search is, and

4)   discusses the process of the search

2) The Rationale for the Search

2.1 if a center exists, it has massive heuristic value for understanding the parts in light of the whole

2.2 the search for a center is driven by a prior conviction about the unity of Scripture

2.3 Paul’s reference to “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27 seems to imply a core deposit that will inform the Ephesians as they continue to study the Scriptures in his absence

“The search for a center is the search to provide heuristic lenses for the people of God in their interaction with scripture (and the world)” (401).

3) The Object of the Search

3.1 Problems with the term “center”

3.1.1 few have defined what they mean by the term (citing me as an exception: “the concept to which the biblical authors point as the ultimate reason” for God’s activities and as “the theme which all of the Bible’s other themes serve to exposit.” [402])
3.1.2 Many centers have been proposed, and they all threaten to steamroll diversity

3.2 Plot, Themes, and Responsibilities

It is helpful to focus on the narrative of form of Scripture, but this should not keep us from searching for a center because

3.2.1 “Narrative is not an option over against ideas—the latter is intrinsic to the former” (403–404), and
3.2.2 “plot-line alone might not sufficiently summarize the message of scripture, nor describe its fundamental heartbeat, because not all scripture is narrative.” (404)

“storyline can be an effective means of communicating the whole counsel of God when the key concepts and commands arising from the storyline itself are also explicitly noted and highlighted. An adequate proposal for a center to biblical theology, or more preferably, to use the language of Acts 20:27, a sufficient summary of the whole counsel of God, will link these elements together—plot, theme(s), responsibilities—in its formulation.” (404).

3.3 Two Important Precedents

“there are two important precedents for this fusion of plot, theme, and responsibility as a way of summarizing scripture to be used as a heuristic tool by God’s people. The first comes from Jesus himself, the second from the early church.” (405)

3.3.1 ““Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47). Note two things: (1) Jesus presents a concise summary of “the scriptures,” offering what could be considered the core of what “is written.” (2) This core consists of a plot (the story of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, and a proclamation beginning in Jerusalem and moving outward), a theme (repentance for the forgiveness of sins), and responsibilities (repentance, proclamation).” (405)
3.3.2 “second, ante-Nicene theologians (esp. tertullian and irenaeus) spoke of a “rule of Faith,” which they viewed as being both derived from and serving deeper reflection on scripture.” (405)

“The rule of Faith offers four important parallels with the present proposal.
First, it seeks to offer a narrative digest of scripture.
Second, it combines plot (moving through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration), themes (creation, sin, salvation, etc.), and responsibility (as a creedal statement).
Third, it was used as a kind of framework or guide for further fruitful reflection on scripture, a kind of heuristic lens through which the people of God may discover truth.
Fourth, as Paul Blowers has argued persuasively, ante-Nicene theologians were not interested in using the rule merely as a useful guide for biblical instruction and interpretation or as a way to fend off error, but also in the formation of Christian identity, that is, in shaping believers’ “storied” existence as themselves part of the biblical story. In other words, the rule of Faith was formulated and passed on within the context of pastoral care for the people of God.” (406)

4. The Process of the Search

4.1 Validation Tests for Selecting Key Points

Citing Beale:

“Proposals for a center must be
(1) “more overarching” than other proposals;
(2) related to the other major themes of the NT;
(3) “integrally related to major old testament themes,” resting ultimately upon “a broad storyline” and rooted in Christ; and
(4) individually examined.

These four tests can be condensed into two broad criteria: comprehensiveness and integral relationship to the major themes of scripture, especially the Bible’s plot-line and the death and resurrection of Christ.” (407)

4.2 Objections:

4.2.3 historical and cultural factors result in the identification of “major” themes
Answer:
some themes are consistently identified across cultures and history

4.2.4 “the idea of comprehensiveness might be rejected on two fronts:
(1) there is no basis for relegating some elements of scripture to mere sub-categories under other more comprehensive themes, and
(2) even if there were a basis, it is extremely difficult to know what to subordinate under what.” (408)

Answer to the first: this criticism can be applied to any proposal that recognizes a cluster of broad or major themes, since even if they reject a center they are nevertheless presenting a hierarchy of themes.
Further,
1)   selectivity is inevitable
2)   complaining that some things are at the margin while others are central is more a description than a criticism
3)   those who criticize proposals for the center should do so on other grounds: for instance, that all themes should be treated equally, that another proposal is better, or that some passages contradict the proposal.
4)   Scripture itself prioritizes some parts of the Bible over others—e.g., weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23), Micah 6:8, greatest commandment, Jesus’ claim that the Scriptures testify to him.

Answer to the Second: Factors to help us in the search:
1. “repetition and representation in diverse portions of scripture, while certainly not sufficient in and of itself, is a significant consideration.
2. Climactic portions of the biblical narrative would be key places to identify clusters of important events and ideas.
3. Integral relationship with other major themes has been shown to be a valid area for examination.
4. And related to this is whether or not parallel suggestions have been made in the history of interpretation, which could be either different expressions of or perspectives on a substantive core, or the seed form of something one is trying to develop.” (409)

Purposes and agendas cannot be denied and should be acknowledged up front (410).

5. Conclusion

“What basic, general hermeneutical lens ought we to provide for the people of God? Perhaps we might suggest the following: The triune God is actively engaged in increasing (and incarnating) his presence among his people, a presence that entails for his people the responsibility of worship, in the fourfold story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.” (412)

The whole essay is here.

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On Engaging Your World with Tom Crouse on February 16

At 2pm On February 16 at 2pm you can tune in at www.engagingyourworld.com for a live interview with Tom Crouse about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.

UPDATE: Rescheduled for Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 2pm, Lord willing.

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Part 2 of the CBD Interview

Part 1 of Matthew Miller’s interview with me is here, and Part 2 is now online.

The interview is mainly about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, but the questions in Part 2 ranged from Inerrancy to the New Perspective with the SBC reformation in between.

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Jeremy Farmer, Psalm 127, and Taking the Gospel Where Christ Has Not Been Named

This past Sunday we were privileged to hear a fabulous exposition of Psalm 127 in its canonical context at Kenwood Baptist Church from Jeremy Farmer. This was the first sermon I’ve heard on Psalm 127, and Jeremy did a great job tracing out how this Psalm of Solomon fits with the promise to David and is fulfilled in Jesus.

You definitely want to hear this.

If you’re like me, you’re eager to know about and support those who are taking the gospel where Christ has not been named, and Jeremy and his family are doing just that. So I commend him to you. Jeremy is a great preacher who understands biblical theology and does a great job articulating God’s big purpose from the perspective of the whole story.

Check out their website. They have raised about 60% of the support they need, and they hope to be ready to go to Cambodia by May of 2011.

If you want to know how to help them get there, you can visit this page, and you can contact them here.

Here’s how Jeremy concluded his sermon:

The eternal purpose of God is to call out from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation, a multitude redeemed by the blood of His Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world, over whom He will crown His Son, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, King of kings and Lord of lords forever.

This is the passion of the heart of God that cannot be quenched, the obsession of His mind that cannot be denied, the vision of His eye that cannot grow dim, and the destination to which He has committed His omnipotent, immutable, eternal being: a destination He will not abandon. (Daryl Champlin)

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