Thursday, November 30, 2006

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, review

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God , ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor
(Crossway, 2006), pb. 256 pp.

I have not read this book all the way through, but I am very impressed with it so far. I think this will be a very useful resource for dealing with suffering and for helping, pastoring those who are suffering.

The book, as many of you will know, grew out of the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. I was taken with the introduction written by Justin Taylor. He stresses the point that this is not a book of abstracts ideas, but is a book of applied theology. This book is not the final word on suffering (as if there could be such a thing!), and it does not claim to be. I liked how Taylor presented the authors as “fellow pilgrims on the journey … friends who are taking the time to write to you about what God has taught them concerning his mysterious sovereignty in the midst of pain and suffering” (11). Overall, as I have dipped into various essays, the book stresses the importance of a confidence in the sovereign control of God over all things in helping us to persevere through pain and suffering. At the same time, various people also remind us that a good theology does not remove the pain. There is the temptation to think that if we have our doctrine arranged correctly, suffering will not hurt so much. The authors make it clear that this is not their claim. In fact, they remind us, to suggest that right theology will minimize suffering is to err considerably and to fail to love others by teaching them error. The sovereignty of God is not a talisman to ward off suffering, but is an anchor to stabilize us as we go through suffering. This is imminently helpful and practical material for us pastors.

The table of contents is viewable at Amazon, so I will not bother with listing the contributors and essay titles. One essay that I especially appreciated was Stephen Saint’s “Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions.” It read to me primarily like a personal account of how God has used suffering in his life. He first indicts us by pointing out what we consider suffering here in the US as compared to what many in other parts of the world consider suffering. This alone is a worthwhile reminder. It deals a lot with how we expend so much effort to avoid suffering. Of course we need not pursue pain, but his point is well taken. He goes on then to point out that “sufferers want to be ministered to by people who have suffered.” Our efforts to insulate ourselves essentially cut us off from ministering to people. I was impacted by this essay, his experience with his father, his daughter and his Waodoni friend moved me. I have found myself reflecting much on this essay at various levels, even beyond what Saint himself was aiming at I think.

So, this is a great resource which I recommend fully. I appreciate again what Taylor said in his introduction:
Our prayer is not that this book would make the bestseller list or receive acclaim or praise. Rather, our prayer is that God would direct the right readers- in accordance with his sovereign purposes- to its pages, and that he would change all of us so that we might experience more grace and hope.
Amen! And I think this book has been well prepared to achieve just this end.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Book Reviews Coming

Over the next few weeks I plan to post several book reviews. This will be more reviews at once than typical for me, but I will do this for two main reasons. One, this is the time in the year when I come across more new books. Second, it is also a time when people are typically considering books for presents so it seemed to me that it might be useful.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Shepherd Press Newsletter

I appreciate the work of Shepherd Press, and their regular newsletter is a good resource. They produce a number of good books primarily on family life. Their best known book is probably Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child's Heart , which is a great book.

My point here though is their email newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it. Here is an excerpt, written by Tedd Tripp, from the most recent newsletter. Great exhortation and reminder.

Until your childrenhave seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, until theyhave come to see that he is the Lily of the Valley, that he is theBright and Morning Star, that he is the One who is altogether lovely;until they have seen and understood that it is worthwhile to divest of everything, that nothing in all the earth matters but knowing and loving Jesus, they will never know him and love him and serve him.They might play church. They might even be teen VBS helpers, or go on short-term mission’s trips, but until they are convinced that Christ is the treasure, they will never truly know him.

You cannot over-estimate the importance of showing your children the glory of God. If they do not know who God is, how God thinks,what God feels, and why he does what he does, they will have no grounds for finding joy in him, no reason to celebrate his abundant goodness and no basis for finding satisfaction in him. Delight in God cannot occur in an intellectual vacuum. Your careful display and demonstration of the wonders of God’s glorious being is crucial for your children. Joy in God is the fruit of what you know to be true ofhim. The spiritual heat of joy, delight, and wonder in the face of God cannot take place in a conceptual vacuum.

Wow! My purpose in my children's literature blog, The Children's Hour, is to recommend books we find helpful in pursuing this goal, though this from Tripp reminds me of how far we are from meeting this goal.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Hymn for Thanksgiving

As we begin our Thanksgiving, let me share this hymn. It is good for us to give thanks to God for all things, but we must take care that we not sound as if we are really worshipping the idol Materialism. In other words, while we thank God for things, we have much to thank God for if we lose all we can see or touch. This Watts hymn moves me and reminds me to cry out in deep thanksgiving to God for saving my soul. Verses three and four especially drive this point home. As I gather with my family and friends today, I want to thank God for salvation and then, as in this hymn, let my thanksgiving overflow in prayer for the salvation of the nations.

How Sweet and Awesome is this Place
By Isaac Watts (you can hear the tune here)

How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear
Thy voice,And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Christian Counselor’s Commentary, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus

The Christian Counselor’s Commentary, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus,
by Jay E. Adams
(Timeless Texts, 1994)

I was very intrigued with this book when I saw it advertised. I am no expert on Jay Adams, but I know that he has stressed a reliance on the Bible in addressing the issues of life and the place of the church in life transformation. With those themes I resonate, so I was interested to discover what he was doing in this book.

This book is part of a series in which Adams is commenting on the entire New Testament. The goal is not to produce a standard commentary but to comment on the text as it relates directly to the work of counseling believers. It is necessary to understand what Adams means by “counseling.” He means something quite different from what many of us might think. In essence, I think he means discipleship. He envisions individual pastoral work where one helps a believer face sin and change. This is the regular work of the pastor. Coming to the Bible with the question of how we do this sort of work is a very important task. Simply as an example, this is a helpful book. It is too easy to simply find things to ‘preach’ about or to remain at an ethereal level, but we must also consider how we get our hands dirty in the helping address the messiness of lives.

I would recommend this book. There are places where I would differ with the exegesis (smaller issues) or where the discussion is unaware of more recent scholarship, etc., but the book does a good job in accomplishing its stated goal. I think this would be a helpful book for pastors both in helping us think through how we do our “house to house teaching” and simply in thinking about application to make as we preach these texts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Broadus, Preachers Without Fame

Here is a good word from John Broadus, one of our SBC giants of the past. Writing about “Preachers without Fame” he encourages us not to worry about the applause of man- something we know we ought not live for but something which has a sinister, alarming allure.

“Hail, ye unknown, forgotten brethren!...The Christian world feels your impress, though it has lost your names. And we likewise, if we cannot live in men’s memories, will rejoice at the thought that if we work for God, our work shall live…”
Let us labor for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom, which is the good of humanity – and in light of this, what is the favor of man!

I am currently rejoicing in the number of faithful men I am having the opportunity to fellowship with at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting who evidence this very spirit. May the tribe increase.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pastoral Plagiarism in the WSJ

Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story by Suzanne Sataline on the issue of pastors preaching others’ sermons. The story is titled, “That Sermon You Heard on Sunday May Be From the Web” (you have to subscribe to read articles online, though they appear to offer a free trial). Mrs. Sataline interacts with this blog and conversations we had by phone. She also talked to Steve Sjogren, Ed Young Jr. and Thomas Long, preaching professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University (who opposed the practice).

I am glad to see the topic continuing to get attention because I think it is a problem that needs to be addressed. The posts on this blog on the topic have also been commented on in two German news sources. Here is one. Society sees that this is a problem. Sadly too many church leaders do not.

Friday, November 10, 2006

New Text on NT Interpretation

Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis,
ed. Darrell Bock and Buist Fanning
(Crossway Books, 2006), hb., 480 pp.

This is an exciting and interesting new book. The title states it is an introduction to New Testament exegesis, but it also has been compiled in honor of Dr. Harold Hoehner, who has taught at Dallas Seminary for almost 40 years. I know from personal experience that putting together a festschrift that publishers will be happy with is a tricky task. Bock and Fanning have done a fine job with this one, gathering students and friends of Hoehner and producing a new guide to NT interpretation. The book essentially pulls together two common types of books. Part One of the book is a textbook written by the faculty of one school (DTS). Part Two contains the more traditional festschrift element, essays on various portions of the New Testament.

The first section is a step-by-step walk through of the basic elements of NT interpretation. These chapters are written by current Dallas Seminary faculty. The chapters are (I have summarized the actual chapter titles):
Definition and philosophy of exegesis, D. Bock
NT Textual Criticism, Daniel Wallace
Grammatical Analysis, J. William Johnston
Diagramming sentences, clauses; tracing the argument, Jay Smith
Word Studies, D. Bock
Exegetical problem solving, David Lowery
Background studies, Joseph Fantin
Narrative Genre, Michael Burer
Epistolary Genre, John Grassmick
Apocalyptic Genre, Hall Harris, III
Use of OT in NT, D. Bock
Theological Analysis, B. Fanning
Application, Ethics, Preaching, Timothy Ralston
The second section provides typically brief exegetical examples from various places in the New Testament. Here are the passages addressed and the author of each essay.
Mark 1:1-13- Howard Marshall
Mark 1:1-15- Narry Santos
Mark 7:27- Joel Williams
Acts 8:26-40- Edwin Yamauchi
Romans 15:9b-12- Don Howell, Jr.
Galatians 3:10-13- David Catchpole
Ephesians 2:19-22- Scott Cunningham
Ephesians 5:26- Helge Stadelmann
Philippians 2:6-7- Timothy Savage
Colossians 1:12-20- Earle Ellis
James 1:19-27- Donald Verseput
1 Peter 2:2a- Edward Glenny
3 John- Herbert Bateman, IV
In the first section, the chapters vary considerably in length. Furthermore, though I have not yet read all the essays, one can see that the strength of the essays vary as is always the case in such a collection. Some essays seem primarily to rehearse basic information, but others are particularly helpful. One of these particularly helpful ones is Jay Smith’s discussion of tracing the flow of argument in Paul’s letters. His introduction (and defense of logical thinking) is valuable in itself. This essay (one of the longer ones in the book) will provide very practical help to many in this crucial work of tracing the apostle’s flow of thought so that we actually mine his thoughts rather than imposing our own. I have already recommended this essay to one of my classes.

In the second section one can see that the essays group particularly around the gospel of Mark and the prison epistles. This will be of particular interest then when one is working in these areas.

In conclusion, Bock and Fanning are to be congratulated for producing such a helpful resource and fitting tribute to Dr. Hoehner. This is a helpful book for any student or pastor to have.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Carl Trueman, on need for accountability

I met Carl Trueman while we were both at the University of Aberdeen- him as a professor, me as a PhD student. Carl is a good friend, able scholar and writer. He has just posted a piece on the recent moral scandal that has rocked the church. This piece is helpful reading with a warning against placing our faith in human leaders and a warning to those of us who serve in leadership. Here is an excerpt:

And it serves as a warning to all who aspire to be leaders: to whom do you make yourselves accountable? Who can tell you when you are crossing the line? Do you have even one person who can go toe-to-toe with you and tell you, if necessary, that your behaviour is out of bounds? If you are not careful, your gifts may long outlast the grace in your life. The tragedy of so many fallen Christian pastors is that they became too big to be accountable to anyone, and they mistake the acclaim of their congregations for true Christian grace and divine favour. And those errors are no respecter of theological or confessional position.

Oh, how we need to heed this advice. This is one great blessing in having a plurality of pastors and avoiding “senior” terminology.
(HT: JT)

The Victory According to Mark, review

The Victory According to Mark, Mark Horne
(Canon Press, 2003), pb., 200 pp.

I am not familiar with this author, but I was drawn to this book after preaching through the first half of Mark. The promotional material noted that this commentary paid particular attention to OT backgrounds of much of Mark, and I think that is an important (and often neglected in the commentaries) point.

This is obviously not a technical or comprehensive commentary. It is English based (though with clear awareness of Greek), theologically oriented and often moves naturally to application. These points make it helpful for sermon preparation. It is written from a Reformed, Evangelical perspective.

First, then, some particulars. The Table of Contents would have been much more useful if the chapter titles also included the scripture reference of the portion covered in each chapter. Horne’s chapter titles are creative and interpretive so that the Table of Contents will not tell you where you can find a discussion of a given passage. The first page of each chapter does list the passage dealt with in that chapter (except for chapters 7 & 8). The Scriptural index is useful since he so often deals with OT texts. Also, Horne accepts the longer ending of Mark and provides exposition of it.

Horne notes in his epilogue various influences on his thought and he mentions the influence of N. T. Wright. This influence is abundantly clear throughout (even the title seems to reflect this influence). This is a fine thing, as the commentary then shows a pastor seeking to work out in this gospel the implications of some of Wright’s ideas on Jesus. However, I am still not completely convinced of all of Wright’s ideas so I found myself questioning some of the directions in the commentary. For example, should the coming of the Messiah be seen primarily as God’s return from Exile? I am drawn to aspects of this thought, but I am not ready to allow it central place in the exposition. It is just not certain enough in my mind.

Another key aspect of the commentary is the interest in OT background of the thought in the gospel. The importance and relevance of the OT in Mark is certain. However, I think Horne overplays this quite often. For example, his treatment of the cutting off of the ear of the High Priest’s servant is entitled, “The Circumcised Ear” (178). Horne says this wound “is significant” and suggests this is a sign to Israel, “a sign that the nation needs its ears opened that the people may no longer be servants, but have the status of full sons in the household” (178). This is rooted the piercing of the ear of slaves in the Old Testament. Frankly, without any further evidence, I find this fanciful. To be fair, this may be one of the most far fetched examples but it does illustrate a tendency.

Lastly, this commentary can be a helpful addition to the standard commentaries as it explores theological and canonical connections. The standard commentaries then can help reign in some of the excesses. I still think the best overall commentary on Mark’s gospel is David Garland’s volume in NIV Application Commentary series.

Friday, November 03, 2006

More from Vos Bio

Following on from my review of Letters of Geerhardus Vos , here are some more quotes from the biographical sketch. As I noted in the review, one of the best parts of the sketch is when Dennison addresses Vos’ dissatisfaction with cultural conservativism masquerading as Christianity. The last portion of the second quote is particularly sharp. By “Conservative Christianity” Dennison does not mean Christianity which is faithful to historic doctrine but a Christianity which parades its conservatism while operating according to the ways of the world. It certainly is a good warning.

“…it was the tepid, indeed vacuous, preaching that distressed him more. The gospel was crowded out from the pulpit and Sunday school in the interest of cultural relevance and contemporary moralizing.” (59, in footnote 164)

“The world he inhabited from 1881 to 1932 had been attenuated and acculturated by a ‘gospel’ that Christ and Paul and the New Testament world would not comprehend – the gospel of the self-consciousness of modern man: man, only man, nothing but man! Posturing, preening, manipulating, dominating, moneymaking, power brokering: these are the mantras that drive the influence of peddlers of contemporary Protestant orthodoxy. Such worldliness was incomprehensible to Vos; hence, he has remained incomprehensible to them. And perhaps Geerhardus Vos came to realize that what was stamped on the hearts, souls and behavior of these gurus was but another variety of that age-old depravity – tyranny. Conservative Christianity is provincial – pedantic, morose, dull – even soporific; it is Christian conservatism with very little brain, let alone heart. And perhaps that is why the brighter adolescents of that tradition grow up to become liberals. Liberalism is, at least, engaging.” (83)