Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: ZIBBCOT vol 5

Reading ancient texts is an endeavor that always brings immense hazards for the interpreter. This is especially so when one comes to the Biblical texts of the Old Testament since a historical gap of 2500-3500 years separates us, as readers, from the world of the text. Therefore, in order to understand the text in its historical context and to prevent us from importing our own worldview and culture into the text of scripture, it is important to study the cultural milieu in which the Biblical texts were originally composed. The value of these Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) background studies comes in having access to the common worldview that was shared across the cultures of the ANE. As a fuller picture emerges of the thought-world of the times, this can be applied to the reading of the Biblical text in order to catch nuances of significance that could not otherwise be caught. In addition, there are many instances in which faulty interpretations can be overcome by appeal to background material. In such instances, it often appears to be the case that texts were read in light of modern, Western culture. When parallel ideas or narratives can be uncovered in ANE texts, it has the potential to point towards a more culturally grounded interpretation than modern, Western interpreters can give based on their experience of the world.

For this reason, I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new Zondervan Bible Background Commentary of the Old Testament (ZIBBCOT) edited by Dr. John Walton. The stated goal of the project is to open up the world of the ANE and demonstrate how an understanding of the shared culture across the region directly applies to our understanding of the Old Testament text. I've been looking forward to seeing how close the project comes to accomplishing its goals and so I was extremely excited when Zondervan offered me a review copy of volume 5 of the new series! So, with many thanks to the folks at Zondervan and their Koinonia Blog, I offer the following review of ZIBBCOT volume 5.

I should first note that John Walton has established an incredible team of OT and ANE scholars to contribute to this series. Contributors to volume five include the likes of J. Glen Taylor, Mark Chavalas, Alan Milard, Daniel Master, Andrew Hill, Tremper Longman III and Duane Garrett. Clearly, with such an all-star team of scholars, the academic quality of the volume can be expected to be extremely high.

While the caliber of scholar for this project is impeccable, the actual text of the volume is understandable at the level of a serious layperson. The commentary is not cluttered with untranslated Hebrew, Aramaic and other ancient Semitic languages. The prose at most points demands close attention but is not so obtuse as to be completely unintelligible for a layperson. Rather than commenting verse-by-verse or dealing with every major exegetical issue, the commentary focuses mainly on light that the ANE backgrounds can shed on the text of Scripture. To further this end, ZIBBCOT is full of high quality pictures and diagrams that illustrate something that is discussed in the comments. From ancient cuneiform cylinders to reliefs from Egyptian tombs to the iconographic imagery of Mesopotamia, the images span the breadth of the ancient world helping the reader enter into the world of the ANE and to literally see for themselves what the commentator discusses in the body of the commentary. Furthermore, the numerous sidebar articles zoom in on particular issues of significance related to the Biblical text and discuss them in greater depth.

The sum total of these features of ZIBBCOT means that the information that was once available only to specialist scholars is now made available to the layperson and pastor. However, this does not mean that this series is therefore not of use for those in the scholarly community. Copious end notes link the text of the commentary to the current state of the scholarly discussions. Therefore, if an issue or a text is discussed in the body of the commentary, the end notes will give scholars interested in further pursuing that issue a link to the original sources or a fuller discussion in a scholarly work. In this way, the series has immense value as an entry point for those scholars who are interested in gathering resources to go in depth on a particular issue or topic. So, in the end, ZIBBCOT proves to be a resource that is accessible enough that is will benefit those who preach and lead Bible studies in the Church but in depth enough that it will prove to be a valuable resource for scholars in the years to come.

It is often noted that there is a woeful neglect of the Old Testament in the Evangelical Church today. While I believe there are numerous reasons for this, a significant one is that to many, the world of the Old Testament and, therefore, the text of the Old Testament seem too remote and complex to understand. My hope as I read this volume of the ZIBBCOT is that God will use this resource as a tool for helping the Church recover the riches of the Old Testament.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Elijah Prays for Rain- Terry Virgo

I recently found out about this sermon on prayer from Terry Virgo, a pastor in the UK. Katie and I listened to it yesterday while driving through Nebraska and were immensely blessed, challenged and convicted by it. There are certain sermons or books that help reorient you to the way things actually are instead of the upside down ways that we normally think because of our sinful misperception. This is one of those sermons! After listening to it yesterday, my prayerlessness made absolutely no sense and regular, fervent, long prayer made the most sense in the world. I pray that Jesus will use it in the same way in your lives.

Elijah Prays For Rain from Adrian Warnock on Vimeo.

ht: @JohnPiper

Friday, August 14, 2009

Christian Arrogance

An awesome video about the dangers and antidotes to Christian arrogance from Tim Gaydos, the Pastor at Mars Hill Church's downtown Seattle campus:

ht: @theResurgence

Moving Back to California!

In 3 days, my wife and I will pack up our Nissan Sentra and hit the road back to California! Our two years in Wheaton have been hard, wonderful, stretching, enlightening, spiritual beneficial and spiritually growing all at the same time. Katie and I have always told our families that we're so glad that the Lord brought us out here for school and for the amazing friendships that He has formed for us in our time out here. We're sad that this time is over but are also super excited about what Jesus is going to do both in an through us in this next stage of life and ministry.

The plan is to arrive back in LA on August 26th where I will continue to be a freelance editor for Crossway Publishers and take on a part-time Pastoral role at Copperhill Community Church. I can't wait to serve under and alongside the leadership of this great church as they seek to further God's mission to glorify His name through His son in the Santa Clarita Valley and the Greater LA Area!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

L.A. Times: Must science declare a holy war on religion?

A very interesting article from yesterday's L.A. Times. I disagree with many of the author's presuppositions regarding the creation/evolution debate. However, the title of the article is what caught my interest. The antagonism that the New Atheism has shown towards religion in general is described as a "holy war". This just goes to show that even the supposedly neutral and objective Atheism is, in reality, just another belief structure which people are passionate to propagate for the 'good of their neighbor' or protect when their cherished beliefs are attacked from outside. Atheism is just as much a religion as anything that its adherents would like to demolish with their arguments.

Must science declare a holy war on religion? - Los Angeles Times

ht: @TGCN

Doctrine of Revelation

Here's my most recent addition to my own doctrinal statement, a discussion of God's revelation:

God’s perfection and infinity in all His attributes means that He is a Being totally Other from His creation. Therefore, knowledge of God by the creature is utterly impossible unless God first takes the initiative to reveal Himself to His creation. God’s primary revelation of Himself comes in the Person of His Son, Jesus, who is the Word of God incarnated into Human flesh. As the perfect Image and Reflection of the glories of the Father, it is the Son who accurately makes God known to human beings. Corresponding to the Son, who is the living Word of God, is the Bible which is the written Word of God. The 66 books which make up the Old and New Testaments were inspired by the Holy Spirit through the individual human authors so that we might come to know and understand the person of the Father through the Son to whom the Scriptures bear witness. Because God is Truth itself, the Scriptures are completely authoritative for life and faith and are without error in everything that is communicated within them.

When man fell into sin and were cursed as a result, the effects of the fall spread to every area of his being. Thus, certainty in knowledge and interpretation is an impossible goal apart from the intervention of God by His Spirit. Thus, the goal of the Church is to interpret the Scriptures faithfully in their historical/theological context in total dependence upon the Spirit in every step of the process.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Doctrine of God

This week is my last week in the PMT (Pastoral Ministry Training) Apprenticeship program at my church. One of our final projects is to write a personal doctrinal statement so we can learn to clearly articulate the range of our theology. I'm excited about this project because I'm writing what I hope will amount to a blend of Systematic and Biblical Theology. I'll begin with the doctrine of God and Revelation and then move through Redemptive History from Creation to Fall to Redemption to New Creation. Under each of these headings will fall most of the things that are discussed in the traditional categories of Systematic Theology (Theology Proper, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology and Eschatology). However, rather than abstracted truth, these doctrines will be discussed as they play out in the drama of God's work to rescue the Creation and vindicate His glory in the New Creation. I plan to post my work this week as I progress. So, for your reading pleasure, here's what I have so far in regards to the doctrine of God.

The One God has eternally existed in the three equally-Divine Persons that constitute the One God in Trinity; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The foundation of the life of the God-head is the mutual enjoyment and glorification that each Person of the Trinity has in the other two Persons such that God’s primary passion is for the furtherance of the enjoyment of His own glory. God is completely and totally self-sufficient since He has life in Himself a

nd is absolutely perfect in both love and holiness. All God’s perfections are infinite and so He can be described as infinite in power, knowledge and presence.

The Father is the beginning of the Trinity from whom is eternally generated the Son. It is to the Father that the Son and Holy Spirit are functionally subordinate and as such He is the Head of the Life of the Trinity.

The Son is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and, as such, is fully Divine. The Son is the perfect image and representation of the Father and, as a result, the Father and Son delight in the mutual beauty of their perfections with the full energy afforded by omnipotence. His economic role is to take the glorious perfections of God and make them visible or knowable to the creation. Thus, it is only through the Son that we have access to knowledge of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Son and is fully Divine as are the other two Persons. He proceeds from both the Father and the Son and is Himself the fully energy of the delight with which the Father and Son enjoy the perfection of the Other. It is the economic role of the Holy Spirit to lead creatures to see and savor the beauty of the Son and, as a result, come to know the Father.

While each Person of the Trinity is distinct in His Personhood, there is no distinction as to Divinity and each fully shares the attributes of the Others.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Biblical Counseling

There are a number of different ways to approach a definition of Biblical Counseling (also called Nouthetic Counseling). It can be described in relationship to Psychology or Integrationist Counseling in that it rejects at a fundamental level the principles of Psychology as totally incompatible with the message of the gospel. A truly Biblical approach to counseling denies that Psychotherapy has any intrinsic value in the process of sanctification because it does not address the ultimate root of most if not all so-called Psychopathologies. Rather, for the Christian, it is the Bible alone that will be a sure guide to the process of sanctification in the life of a believer. As the author of Hebrews says in Heb 4:12-13,

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

So it is God’s Word[1] that has the power to look deep inside a person and discern the true heart dynamics involved in sin and outward sinful behavior. In addition, this approach to counseling is radically Biblical because it recognizes Scriptures own claims for itself that it is sufficient to deal with all matters of life and sanctification. Just one example of this is Paul’s claim in 2 Time 3:16-17, “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 competent, equipped for ever good work.”

In addition, further description is needed in terms of just how exactly Biblical Counseling can be described as “counseling”. Counseling as it is used in everyday discourse tends to denote a clinical atmosphere. Indeed most counseling, even most Christian counseling, tends to be a clinical affair in which a counselee comes to see a counselor in an office or clinic for regularly scheduled visits. While Biblical Counseling does not neglect the value of regularly scheduled meetings in which a trained counselor assists someone with issues that they face, it regards counseling as so much more than a merely clinical process. It recognizes that sanctification happens in community and that clinical counseling should be the exception rather than the rule in the Christian life. Again, the author of Hebrews exhorts the Church on this point in Heb 3:12-13, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” He also exhorts us in Heb 9:24-26,

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”

So, the Christian community is essential for the process of sanctification. This exhortation or counseling that is to be done in the community of faith is something that happens in the midst of daily life. When friends gather for dinner, at a small group, at a lunch after Sunday morning worship services, at coffee shops, in people’s living rooms, all of life becomes a venue for Christians to exhort one another on towards holiness and sanctification.

Lastly, by way of description, it should be mentioned that Biblical Counseling should be centered on what the Bible itself centers on. Rather than a morbid and reactionary preoccupation with sin in the life of a believer, Biblical Counseling should be primarily focused on helping people see that which is truly most satisfying and most valuable, the glory of God in the face of Christ. This focus on God’s glory will help people to be irresistibly drawn towards Him so that they can be transformed from one degree of glory to another. To be sure, there will be times when friends or pastors will need to assist people in combating particular sins in a concentrated way for a period of time. However, the main focus needs to be on helping people be allured by Jesus in all His glory so that they no longer are allured by the idols that their heart and the world has set up for them.

How should we then define Biblical Counseling? We should understand Biblical Counseling as the application of the redeeming message of the gospel from the Word of God to people’s lives in genuine Christian community so that they increasingly come to recognize the dynamics of sinful idolatry in their hearts and increasingly have that idolatry replaced by the worship and adoration of God because of the all-satisfying nature of His glory in the person of Jesus Christ.

This kind of counseling is absolutely imperative for the Church because it is the means by which God uses to sanctify His people. The entire Epistle to the Hebrews is a letter counseling that Church to persevere in their faith because of the weighty consequences if they fail to persevere and the glorious rewards if they do persevere. As we’ve already seen, in the dead earnest instructions that Hebrews gives, Christians encouraging and exhorting each other in faith and perseverance is absolutely essential if they are going to persevere. So, not only the author of Hebrews Himself exhorts the Church, he tells everyone else in the Church to also exhort and encourage everyone else. This does not take away any of the necessity for God’s Spirit to continue the keep faith alive and growing but it recognizes that He uses the Church body as His means of accomplishing this in the lives of individual Christians.

It is this kind of exhortation in the community of Christ’s body that is the means by which Paul’s glorious vision of the Church in Eph 4 will be accomplished. In Ephesians 4, it is the Pastors and Elders of the Church that are called to equip the body for the work of ministry. That is, they must be faithful to teach the glories of Christ from the Word so that members of the body understand and are increasingly saturated by the gospel and are gripped with that reality. Once the body is equipped by having been taught, they then are ready for the work of ministry in which they proclaim the glories of gospel outside the Church and encourage each other with the realities and implications of the gospel inside the Church. As this radically gospel-centered community continually points each other towards the gospel, helps each other repent from sin and turn to God in His glory, the Church will be growing and fulfilling the cosmic purpose that God has for Her. In Ephesians, the growth of the Church is the growth of the new humanity that is centered around Jesus Christ. The goal for human history is for Jesus to subsume all things under His rule so that the entire cosmos will be remade to fulfill God’s original intent for it. At this stage of redemptive history, the Church is the foretaste and the sign that God will be faithful in this cosmic purpose because the reality of Christ’s rule is here in the sphere of the Church. So we see that Biblical Counseling practiced in community is the means by which God fulfills that purpose for the Church in this age.

[1] God’s Word should not be conceived of merely as a book but the Bible as God’s Written Word corresponding to His Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Theology of Change and Christian Motivation

The central message of the Bible is that God is at work in the world to change and transform it so that it fulfills its original purpose of reflecting God’s glory back to Him. The vision of Israel’s prophets was that God would act and gloriously renew the creation so that war would be done away with, שָׁלוֹם would reign and God’s glory and presence fills the whole Earth as the waters cover the seas (Is 11:1-9, 25:1-12, 65:17-25; Ez 37; Hab 2:14; Hos 2:14-23). The life and ministry of Jesus fulfilled the OT expectation of Israel so that God’s righteous kingdom and new creational reign broke into human history and began the work transforming the created order (Mk 1:1-15; 2 Cor 5:17). While Jesus and the community of His people are the fulfillment of the OT hope, it is an inaugurated fulfillment that awaits the final consummation in which the old age is completely done away with and YHWH’s righteous rule holds total sway over the entire cosmos (1 Cor 15:20-28; Rev 19-22).

It is within the framework that we must think about change on the individual level. It is because of God’s universal purpose to redeem the creation that there is hope for the transformation of an individual or a group of individuals. However, we must always recognize that there is a special importance to the transformation of individual human beings. Genesis 1-2 make abundantly clear that the crown of God’s creation was the man and woman who were made in God’s own image and given the mandate to rule over and subdue the cosmos. As the crown of God’s work, they had dominion over the creation and were called to extend God’s presence over the face of the Earth. Sadly, it was also because of this privileged position that the creation followed Adam into sin and a state of fallenness and brokenness. The good news is that just as the creation followed our first parents into sin and death after the original creative acts, Romans 8:20-21 tells us that it will also follow redeemed humanity into the new creation as God exercises His creative power finally and decisively. The state that the created order has been longing for and groaning for is the “freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

This salvation-historical framework for understanding personal growth and transformation is essential for keeping things in their proper biblical place. Just as redemptive-history is the process by which God renews the entire created order by His power, individual transformation is not something that one does to oneself but something that is ultimately done by God to someone. As Paul says in 2 Cor 3:17-19, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

The focal point for this Divinely enabled process is the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Cross is the means by which God removed our unrighteousness and gave us the righteousness of Jesus so that we could be justified before Him. All this is brought about through our union with Christ who is our Federal head. So, union with Christ is enabled by his death and resurrection but it is also the means by which sanctification happens in the Christian life. As Paul tells us in 2 Cor 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation”. Elsewhere in the New Testament, this phenomenon is called “the new birth” and is known by theologians as “regeneration”. That is, when one comes to faith in Christ, the Spirit instantly brings about New Creation in that person’s life by effecting a union with Jesus who has already passed through death and brought in God’s new creation. That is why Paul writes in 2 Cor 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Regeneration is an act of new creation akin to the original creation that began when God spoke light into the darkness of the chaotic world. Therefore, it is union with Jesus on the basis of and into His death and resurrection that is the foundation and means by which any growth or personal transformation can happen.

The act of regeneration is the basis for this entire process of sanctification because, when the Spirit regenerates a person, he is given an entirely new set of priorities, motivations and desires. That person is literally remade so that their primary motivating factors no longer come from Satan, sin and the Devil but from the Triune God has H has made Himself manifest in Jesus Christ. As such, a regenerated person is brought in into a process by which God will enable him to fulfill the original purpose of creation, namely, reflecting God’s glory back to Himself. However, it important to further articulate how God implants these new desires and motivations within a person.

In 2 Cor 3:18, which I quoted previously, it is interesting to note that Paul links “beholding the glory of the Lord” and “being transformed into the same image from on degree of glory to another.” I believe that the best way to describe the link that Paul has in mind here is that beholding God’s glory in the face of Christ is the means by which transformation from one degree of glory to another occurs. So in seeking to articulate the nature of Christian sanctification, it is imperative that any efforts at sanctification be connected with seeing God in His glory. However, this begs the questions as to exactly how beholding God’s glory is sanctifying? It is this question that gets at the heart of Christian motivation and the process of sanctification.

Thomas Chalmers was a Scottish mathematician and preacher in the 18th and 19th centuries who worked hard to articulate how God’s glory is sanctifying. He argues that there are two basic ways in which an attempt can be made to motivate a person towards sanctification and holiness. The first is to try to convince a person of the ugliness of the world so that they are disgusted and turn from it. The second is, in his words, “by setting forth another object, even God, as more worthy of its attachment, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon not to resign an old affection, which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one.” Chalmers regards the first method as a deficient motivating factor for a person pursuing sanctification. The reason why it will not work is because all things in nature, even metaphysical things, abhor a vacuum. It is impossible to sufficiently motivate someone by showing the deficiency in what they should leave because there will then be nothing to fill the void that is left. Chalmers writes, “When told to cut out the world from his heart, this may be impossible with him who has nothing to replace it- but not impossible with him, who has found in God a sure and satisfying portion.” Practically speaking, in dealing with a sin issue in someone’s life, it will not work to simply motivate them by exhorting them to leave the sin, such as pornography, because of how bad it is. A person may be well aware of the bad effects of pornography both personally and socially but will be unable to be rid of that sin unless there is something else to replace it.

The second method works precisely because it replaces sin with something more satisfying. Furthermore, the gospel holds out something that is not merely more satisfying but infinitely so such that there is nothing that could usurp the place of God’s glory in Jesus. The glory and presence of God in the life of a Christian is so extremely joy inducing and satisfying that it causes one to be drawn irresistibly away from sin and towards God. Thus, it is in this way that beholding the glory of the Lord transforms us from one degree of glory to another. Before regeneration, a human being is unable to see God in His all-satisfying glory and be drawn to Him. However, once the Spirit comes and lifts the veil so that we begin to catch a glimpse of God in His glory, magnificence and grandeur, then it is impossible for a person not to be drawn to that sight. So a person forsakes sin and, enabled by the Spirit, pursues Christ for all of the joy and satisfaction that is held out and offered in His person.