Review of Doctrine that Dances

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There are several ways to teach a subject but the different approaches can be summarized as “tell them how” versus “show them how.”   In Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, Robert Smith relies heavily on the latter to instruct pastors in the importance of doctrinal preaching. His style of writing uses a lot of metaphors and pithy quotes to compare preaching to dancing and escorting. This brings an original approach to a book on preaching that when it succeeds, it hits a home run but when it doesn’t succeed it strikes out, leaving the reader unsure of what the metaphor really was meant to convey.

Summary

 

Robert Smith Jr. serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity Beeson Divinity School where he teaches Christian Preaching. He formerly taught Christian preaching at The Theological Southern Baptist Seminary as well. He is obviously well versed in preaching and one gathers right away that the style of the book will be similar to a sermon. The reader can almost hear the writer preaching the material of the book in the way that he uses metaphors and pithy quotes and proverbs. Smith says that the book is about doctrinal preaching and handling the word of God in such a way as to bring joyous praise and glory to God. He works to drive home the importance of doctrinal preaching while at the same time providing various definitions of preaching from people through history before finally settling on his own definition. He summarizes his definition as “transformation through Christ.” Doctrinal preaching “is the escorting of the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.”

Smith employs two larger metaphors to define doctrinal preaching and to build the rest of the book upon, an exegetical escort and a doxological dancer.   He hangs the major themes of the books on these two metaphors. First, the role of the exegetical escort is to embrace the text of Scripture in order to be able to escort the hearer into God’s presence for transformation. One of the major themes of Smith’s book is that the text must be first interpreted correctly by the preacher and then internalized by the preacher. The preacher must sit under his own preaching. After having done this, then the preacher can exegete his audience and bring the text to bear upon them so that they will be confronted with the truths of scripture.

Smith says that the exegetical escort must rightly divide the word of God. He says that the sermon must come from the text and not imposed upon it. He says that doctrinal preaching will keep three focuses in mind, apologetics, polemics, and catechism. The exegetical escort will work to establish what the correct teaching and doctrine by arguing from the scripture while fending off false teachings and nourishing the sheep.

The second big theme of Smith’s book is that preaching must be balanced between the intellect and the emotional, the mind and the heart.   He drives this point home with the doxological dancer metaphor. He shifts from content to style of delivery and back with this theme. The doxological dancer “is to communicate the doctrinal message of the Bible with accuracy and ardor so that the exuberant hearer exults in the exalting of God.” The doxological dancer internalizes the message for himself. He exegetes his audience. He then he can now deliver the message in such a way that his audience is moved by the content and delivery of the sermon.

He uses analogies of songs and also speaks of the history of African Americans to help drive home the importance of making the sermon dance. He says that you “Begin low; Proceed slow; Rise higher; Take fire; When most impressed Be self-possessed; To Spirit wed form, and Sit down in a storm.” He reminds the preacher that the gospel of Jesus Christ should not be boring. The preacher is escorting the people into the presence of the Lord and this should cause us to rejoice. It should change us. The audience is concerned with the “what”, the “so what” and the “now what” so the preacher must be able to answer these questions in a way that causes the listener to exalt God.

Another big theme for Smith is preaching with the power of the Holy Spirit. Here he uses a metaphor of jazz improvisation. He argues that a preacher must have internalized the sermon so well that he is not glued to the manuscript but is free to go as the Spirit leads. He does not diminish the importance of preparation because he has already spent ample time speaking about sermon prep. However, he is very adamant that the preacher must trust God through his preparation and especially in the delivery of the sermon. Finally, Smith ends with reminding the reader that preaching God’s word faithfully will have an effect upon the preacher and his listeners. The preacher should preach so that his listeners will be motivated to take that message to their neighbors, communities, families, and friends.

Critical Evaluation

Smith is obviously an accomplished preacher and is masterful at telling stories. He uses that to good effect in this book. As said in the introduction, he seems to lean on showing how rather than telling how. That is, he relies heavily on applications of his points from metaphors, pithy quotes and parables. For some readers, this style may take a little getting used to.   He doesn’t give clear and delineated points as in other instructional books but instead seems to flow from thought to thought seamlessly. This approach provides a good example of how a sermon can flow however it left me wishing for him have been a little clearer. His two big metaphors are the linchpin of the entire book. So we will begin with looking critically at them.

The exegetical escort fits his style of showing and not just telling. An escort comes along side someone and ushers them to where they need to be. Smith drives home the point that the preacher must sit under his own preaching first. This is especially helpful for a young preacher. The preacher cannot lead his people where he has not first been. This means that the preacher must spend time in the study preparing for the sermon. But he must also spend time in prayer embracing the sermon as well. He says that “If the preacher exults in the Lord in the prayer room and study, the channels will be open for the preacher to motivate the hearers to mutually participate in the exaltation of God in the pulpit.” He says that the three lines of public ministry, preaching, teaching, and administration must be undergirded and propped up by the three lines of private ministry, prayer, reading Scripture, and spiritual direction.

In the second metaphor, Smith describes preaching as doxologically dancing. This metaphor is not as strong as the prior. This is partially because Smith wants to keep some things undefined. He says that the mystery of doctrinal preaching makes it hard to define. Because of that he speaks in a lot of metaphors and parables. While this at times can be his biggest strength it also can be the biggest weakness. There was an entire chapter on jazz improvisation that made things muddier. I was never quite able to grasp exactly what point the metaphor was supposed to be making. He spoke of call and response during the sermon but outside of African American churches, there may not be must experience of this kind of back and forth during the sermon.

The doxological dancer is one who presents the sermon in a way that matches the content. This is helpful in acknowledging that we must engage our audience with emotions and examples that match the content of the text. Our delivery cannot be boring. Smith is very critical of those would preach in an unattached way. He also seems to suggest that for the Spirit to move there must be spontaneity. He in particular was not fond of liturgical worship styles because he says they keep God at arm-length. Those of us who hold to a more liturgical worship style believe that God has commanded certain things and certain ways that worship must be done. I think we must be careful to not over associate the movement of the Holy Spirit with spontaneity lest we become impulsive and disorderly.

While disagreeing with Smith on liturgical worship, he makes an important point about trusting in Christ while delivering the sermon. We must not be so full of pride that we think we must have complete control of every single second. Sometimes God uses our pauses or forgotten thoughts to drive home a previous point to the audience. God may bring to mind something that had not been thought of during the preparation but would be appropriate during the delivery. We cannot be so beholden to a manuscript that we become glorified readers. The challenge is to trust God in the delivery.

Equally important is the fact that we cannot assume that our hearers know the biblical stories. Smith says that in a previous generation, you might have been able to assume that the listener could fill in some of the details or backgrounds in more familiar passages. But he says that it is important that preachers not assume and instead to go ahead and provide that context. Secondly, we cannot assume that our listeners understand theological terms such as justification and sanctification. We must work to drive home these terms by illustrating them in terms that our listeners understand. He points to the example of Christ using parables. We also see this in what he calls the “biographical snapshots.” That is the bible uses narrative to place us in the story alongside the characters where we learn the doctrine that God is teaching us through them.

One danger that Smith points out is that preaching cannot be devoid of grace. He said that Paul always taught theology of grace before the theology of works. The gospel gives us the power for the works. I think we must be equally careful not to miss the role of God’s law to act as a mirror driving us to Christ. The commands of God are meant to be obeyed and our disobedience has created the need for Christ’s sacrifice. The law drives us to Christ and Christ empowers us to obey the law. There are ditches on either side. To focus on duty without position is to miss the Gospel and leave people dead in their sins. To focus on position without duty neglects one of the purposes of the Gospel, our sancrification.

Smith strongly points out that preaching is to be both to the mind and the heart. God’s word is not something to be merely assented to but it must be loved and obeyed. The preacher cannot be happy to only appeal to the intellect but must engage the emotions as well. I do wish that Smith would have shown better how to engage the heart as well as the mind. I also wonder if this might be a false dichotomy. Does not the mind engage the heart? Are they really separable? Obviously Smith means that the preacher must engage the emotions through the use of illustrations and other tools that make the passage hit home. He says that the use of hymns and stories help drive the doctrine to the heart in a way that other language cannot.

 

Dr. Smith’s unique style showcases what he is trying to drive home. He uses stories, music, illustrations, and quotes very well. This is at times where the book shines. Not coming from a similar background as him, it was interesting to see how he drew from his heritage to drive home the points. It is good to engage with cultures and traditions that one is not normally familiar with. Smith’s stories from slaves and their adoption of music to showcase their struggles were very interesting. Smith’s background here adds to preaching books a viewpoint that is not often found in them. I found some of the sources of his quotes a little questionable, however. Not of all of them were from orthodox preachers or theologians. But never the less I appreciated this viewpoint.

Conclusion

Robert Smith gives a good reminder to preachers that their task must be to honor the text of God’s word and to connect it with his hearers. The preacher must let the scripture define the doctrine and then present it in such a way that it moves the listener. Doctrine ultimately must drive our living. Smith gives many examples of this throughout and even ends the book with two sample sermons putting into practice what he outlined in the rest of the book. The preacher must be an exegetical escort ushering his people into the presence of God. The preacher must worship God in preaching. The preacher in this case is a doxological dancer embracing the doctrine in praise. If the preacher can accomplish this he will ensure that the audience will turn around and preach the sermon in their homes, at their jobs, and in the barbershops.

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

(The following is a book review of  Christopher Wright’s  Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.)

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In the second century A.D., Marcion of Sinope was rightly declared a heretic for rejecting the Old Testament scripture and declaring that the New Testament had a different God than the Old. Unfortunately in our current culture, there are many who have adopted a subtle version of this heresy. Many in the contemporary church have a very low view of the Old Testament, and tend to somehow think that Jesus came to do away with it. Christopher Wright makes it clear in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament that far from coming to do away with the Old Testament, Jesus comes from within the Old Testament framework.   The Old Testament provides the background for so much of Christ’s teaching and mission. Yet it does more in that Jesus came to fulfill and uphold all that the Old Testament taught.

In reading the Old Testament, we are reading the very words of God. As Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is God breathed and profitable…(2 Timothy 3:16-17).” The Old Testament contains the commands of God, the mission of God, and the promises of God. These are the words Jesus read. These are the stories, songs, and commands that Jesus memorized. Wright says that, “In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.” This is the thesis of Wright’s book. The more we understand the Old Testament the better we will understand Jesus and the more we understand Jesus the better we will understand the Old Testament. Wright works to show this through how the Old Testament story, promises, and mission find their completion in Christ. Wright also shows how Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man is based upon revelation found in the Hebrew scripture. Lastly, Wright shows that far from coming to abolish the Old Testament commands and ethic, Jesus comes to uphold and re-establish those commands through Christ’s own ethical teaching.

The Hermeneutic

Before digging into each of Wright’s chapters and main points, it might be helpful to say something here about the hermeneutic that he uses.   While this book is not on hermeneutics per sey, Wright, as do all theologians who write books, uses a hermeneutic principle as he interprets the scriptures. Wright dismisses allegorical schools of interpretation that would seek to spiritualize the words of the Old Testament. He does, however, acknowledge typology, though he does have some reservations about how typology has been used in the past. He says that typology has been abused in the past by those who would seek to find a type in every passage or story of the Old Testament. For Wright, to use typology properly is to understand “Christ and the various events and experiences surrounding him in the New Testament by analogy or correspondence with the historical realities of the Old Testament seen as patterns or models.”

For Wright, the Old Testament is not primarily “a promise box full of blessed predictions about Jesus.” It is a story from real history with promises that only make sense in relation to that history. Wright’s hermeneutic will be firmly grounded then in historical grammatical interpretation. However, it is not historical-grammatical interpretation alone but historical-grammatical in light of redemption history. Therefore for Wright, “first of all, we must affirm whatever significance a particular event had in terms of Israel’s own experience of God and faith in him.” That is the grammatical-historical part of the hermeneutic. And for the redemptive historical aspect Wright says, “Second, however, we may legitimately see in the Old Testament event additional levels of significance in the light of the end of the story—that is, in the light of Christ.”   Thirdly for Wright and possibly the most important aspect is that “the Old Testament event may provide levels of significance to our full understanding of all that Christ was and said and did.”

Much more could be said about the hermeneutic used but that would fall outside of the scope of this review. It does seem to be a healthy correction to both those who would over emphasis typology or allegory and those who would see no typology. One should be careful however that this correction does not go too far in the opposite direction. The entire Bible ultimately has God as its divine author. He has seen the beginning from the end. We also know from Peter’s letters that the Old Testament human authors were writing down things for our benefit.   Wright seems a little hesitate for example to say that Genesis 3:15 refers specifically to Jesus, though he says that it ultimately finds its completion in Christ. This hesitation to see this as a direct reference to Christ seems to be unfounded in light of God as the primary author of all of scripture. That minor critique aside, let us now turn to each of Wright’s main points.

Jesus and the Old Testament Story

It makes sense that Wright would begin his look at Jesus with what is often called the Hebrew gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. Many people skip the genealogies but Matthew had a purpose in starting his account with one. Matthew wants to show that Jesus did not just show up on the scene out of the blue. Jesus is the one who all of the Old Testament was anticipating, the Messiah. This genealogy therefore shows that Jesus has a legitimate claim to this title. In recounting this lineage Matthew is also recounting the story of Israel. “So when we turn the page from the Old to the New Testament, we find a link between the two that is more important than the attention we usually give it. . . The Old Testament tells the story that Jesus completes.”

Wright then recounts the story of the Old Testament.  Central to this story are the covenants. Wright seems to deviate from traditional covenant theology, in that he does not see an Adamic covenant. He doesn’t spend a lot of time at this point, so it is hard to tell if he is rejecting the implied “covenant of works” in the Garden of Eden or the idea of a post-fall covenant with Adam that is the beginning of the “covenant of grace.” It not being his main point to come up with a complete covenantal theology, it will be too difficult to supply a full critique for this review. Wright’s main point is to show that Adam sinned in the garden and man fell. God does show grace to Adam and Eve in supplying a covering for their bodies and promising that the seed of the woman would defeat the serpent.

Skipping forward to the Abrahamic covenant, we see part of what may be called Wrights secondary thesis for the book.   “The main point of God’s promise to Abram was not merely that he would have a son and then descendants who would be especially blessed by God. God also promised that through the people of Abram God would bring blessing to all nations of the earth.” A theme of Wright’s writings in other books and clearly in this book is the mission of God throughout the Bible. God chose Israel so that they would be a blessing to all nations. Jesus’ mission then is tied to that blessing.

The story of the Old Testament is tied to this election of Abraham and his descendents. Wright rightfully sees that the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works but one of grace. God had saved his people from slavery and chosen to enter covenant with them as a nation. He would be their God in relationship with them. “It is important to see that this covenant was based on what God had already done for them. God’s grace and redemptive action came first.” Their obedience to law did not allow them to enter the covenant but was to come from response to God’s grace. This obedience would enable them to complete their mission and calling to the nations. Israel was often reminded that while they were chosen it was not because of anything in them but because of God’s love and purpose.

But we see that the people did not and could not live up to this mission. They fell into sin and idolatry. Even after periods of great blessing through the kingdom of David and Solomon, the people did not remember their commitment. God who had a concern for justice within the society, sent prophets to call His people back to Him and remind them of this commitment. Wright makes several points about this concern of God for justice and righteousness.

God’s moral concern is not only individual (though the masses of individual stories show that it certainly does claim every individual) but also social.” God evaluates the moral health of society as a whole, from international treaties to market economies, from military strategy to local court procedures, from national politics to the local.

These same concerns show up in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. We also see in the New Testament that in fact the death and resurrection of Jesus was a victory over all authorities.

At the cross Jesus defeated all the evil forces that bind and enslave human beings, corrupt and distort human life, and warp, pollute and frustrate the very creation itself. That victory is an essential part of the biblical “good news.” And applying that victory to every dimension of human life on earth is the task of Christian mission.

Jesus comes at the end of this Old Testament story. The people of Israel had failed to live up to their mission. They had been taken into captivity and now brought back into the land. However the people were still not fulfilling this purpose.   They were still under the rule of the Romans.   The New Testament opens up with Jesus into this story.

Jesus and the Old Testament Promise

Having gone through the Old Testament story leading to the birth of Christ, Wright now turns his attention to going back through that story and pulling out major themes and points of contact with Christ. The first aspect of this is to pay attention to how Jesus fulfills the promise of the Old Testament. Again going back through the beginning of Matthew, Wright highlights five scenes from Jesus’ childhood and how Matthew claims that all these events fulfill scripture. In using this fulfillment theme, “Matthew clearly wants his readers to see that Jesus was not only the completion of the Old Testament story at a historical level, as his genealogy portrays, but also that he was in a deeper sense its fulfillment.”

How does Jesus provide this fulfillment? Are these texts mentioned by Matthew direct prophecies of Christ or does Matthew have something different in mind when highlighting these texts? Wright shows that these texts in their original context do not seem to be prophecies on the surface. Instead it seems that Matthew is working back from events that happened in the life of Jesus to certain texts in which in light of Christ they contain a deeper significance. Wright follows his hermeneutic mentioned above to show that the Old Testament events are in some way types but also that they point forward to a greater promise and fulfillment.   This section was very helpful in seeing, for example, how Jesus could fulfill something such as the text of Hosea.

He is not suggesting that the Hosea text was a prediction. His point is simply that what God had done for his people Israel—in fact the greatest thing God had done for them—had its counterpart, even in a purely physical sense, in the life of Jesus.

Continuing, Wright explains that what makes the the exodus and the return from exile so important to the Old Testament story is that even though they in and among themselves were awesome examples of God’s grace in history, they were more than that. “Both events were utterly saturated in promise.” This promise is what Jesus is fulfilling. All of the Old Testament points forward to the promise of God beginning in the garden and continuing through Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets. This promise, according to Wright, is more than prediction because unlike a prediction, a promise involves a relationship. This promise to make of Abraham a great nation so as to bless the entire world is fulfilled in Christ. Again coming back to Wright’s theme of mission in the Bible, the promise is to fulfill this mission.

Wright is very helpful in clearing up some misconceptions people have about the Old Testament. He points out that salvation has always been by grace in both the New and the Old Testament:

Some people have the idea that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is that in the Old salvation is by obeying the law whereas in the New it is by grace. But that sets up a totally false contrast. In the Old as in the New, it is God who takes the initiative of grace and calls people to faith and obedient response.

He also points out that there is a conditional element to this promise that requires our response. God’s promise requires our faith and obedience. Wright drives home that our response is vital. He does not mince words.   Our faithful obedience is necessary. However, Wright should note that part of what makes the new covenant so glorious is that it enables what the old couldn’t, our faith and obedience. In Christ, we are transformed. We are justified not by any of our merit but by Christ’s faithful obedience.   We are imputed his righteous obedience. Jesus fulfilled the obligation that we could not. He also however enables us with the Holy Spirit now to respond in faith and obedience. God then fulfills the promise and demands of the covenant. This does not in any way diminish our responsible to respond in obedient faith.   It does however provide the way that this is even possible.

One further note on the promise from Wright’s view is important to highlight.   Wright does an excellent job of explaining the nature of the land promises in Jesus. Using the story of a father who in the days before the invention of the automobile promises his son a horse when he turns twenty-one, but gives the son a newly invented automobile instead, Wright tries to show that the promises in Christ are expanded and better than what could be imagined in the Old Testament.   While the analogy is not perfect there is truth to the fact that in Christ the promises are expanded and better.   One point of contention is that in the book of Hebrews, it seems to say that Abraham and those in the Old Testament were aware that the promises were larger than just a promise to a plot of land in the Middle East. The question that always arises is: how much did the Old Testament saints understand about the promise? A good case based upon statements from Jesus and other New Testament books can be made that they knew more than what we often want to allow that they knew.   That said it is important to see that instead of a plot of land in the Middle East, the meek now inherit the earth.   The promise is not limited by national boundaries but all of the earth belongs to those in Christ.

Jesus and His Old Testament Identity

Next, Wright continues into the book of Matthew to Jesus’ baptism. Here the voice of God proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. Wright now moves to answer what it means for Christ to be the Son of God, the Son of Man, and the Messiah. Going again through the Old Testament we see that each of these titles have precedent. Sonship of God is something said of both Israel as a nation and of its king.   The king in particular enjoyed a son-like relationship with God. He was a representative of God’s rule and was required to be obedient to the divine King. This idea of sonship is also linked to the idea of the servant of the Lord in Isaiah. This link is especially prevalent in Jesus. Jesus is the representative of God. He is the King and he is the obedient servant. “Similarly, obedience was the link with the allusion to Isaac, as the one willing to be sacrificed, even as the only son of a loving father.” Kingship, servanthood, and service are built into the calling of Jesus.

Wright looks at this sonship theme in four ways. First he sees how the parent-child relationship actually works in Israel’s society. Next he shows how the metaphor undergirded the covenant concept. Third, he shows how sonship generates hope and expectation. Fourthly, Wright sees that idea is broadened and given eschatological flavor. This leads us to see that Jesus as the Son of God is one who represents Israel. Where Israel failed at being this Son, Jesus is God’s true son who would succeed in completing this mission. Wright also correctly points out that “(i)n an eternal sense, of course, Jesus always was, is and always will be God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.”

More can be said about this chapter but I would like to quickly highlight an excellent section of it. Some have argued that Christians should not be involved with politics. They argue from both a faulty view of eschatology and from a faulty of view of Christ’s mission.

But for the present it will be enough to say that if Jesus had intended only to talk about a purely spiritual revival in an otherworldly framework with no relevance to the seething politics of his day, then he went about it in a very strange way. So many of the words and actions of Jesus were so challenging to the political authorities that they executed him as a political threat. But to argue that because he did not preach violent politics he was therefore uninterested in politics at all is absurd. Nonviolent is not simply nonpolitical—now or then. No, the difference between Jesus and his contemporaries was not that he was purely spiritual while they were political (a modern kind of dichotomy that would probably not have made much sense in Jesus’ world anyway). The problem was that his announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of God in the present did have profound political and national consequences for the old order of Jewish society that were too radical and final for its leaders to tolerate.

Jesus indeed was political and the gospel has implications for all aspects of life. Jesus being the Messiah King has enormous practical applications that Christians should be working through. We will see in the next two chapters how this works out in Christ’s mission and ethical teaching.

Jesus and His Old Testament Mission

We have seen how Jesus comes within the historical story of the Old Testament, how the Old Testament promises of His coming, and how the Old Testament provides the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, King, and Son of God. Now we are at what is the heart of Wright’s message. We are now looking at why Jesus came. What was his mission? This mission is tied up in all of the previous chapters. It is what the story, promises, and identity point to. We see that each of these things are tied up in the expectations of the Messiah. To be sure there were some expectations that had developed during the inter-testamental period that were unfounded, but there were clear expectations set forth by scripture.

Again Wright points out that the mission is tied to the covenant and mission of Israel. Israel was to be a nation of priests and kings for the rest of the world. In Israel’s faith and obedience the rest of the world was supposed to marvel and give glory to God.   But further than that, the scriptures declare that the nations would stream to Israel and its God. Thus the goal of the Old Testament is world missions. It is a turning back of sin and a recreating of the world in righteousness.   It is a restoration from the fall. All people and even nature itself was awaiting this mission. Wright explains that Israel was awaiting its restoration and the ingathering of the nations. This was seen in eschatological terms as the final great act of God, the Day of the Lord. This was what the kingdom of God was all about.

Jesus’ mission is launched by John’s mission “to identify, through his call for repentance and baptism, the remnant of Israel who, by responding, was destined for cleansing and restoration as the true, eschatological people of God.”   Wright says that

The fact that Jesus accepted and endorsed the ministry of John the Baptist and launched his own ministry on the foundation of John’s shows that Jesus also saw his own mission in terms of the fulfillment of the great expectations of the restoration of Israel. If John was the one who had been sent to prepare Israel for its eschatological restoration by God himself, then Jesus was the one who had been sent to accomplish it.

There was something deep about Christ’s coming. We then see that Jesus preaches that the kingdom is at hand and is here. This means that the promises from the psalms of restoration had entered in history. We then see in Christ’s death the atonement for sin and in the resurrection the victory over it. Christ then tells his disciples that authority in both heaven and on earth had been given to Him. Jesus is not just King over some nebulous spiritual realm. He is Lord and King over all reality. He then tells his disciples to take that good news worldwide.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were to bear witness among the nations of God’s saving and redeeming rule. They failed but Jesus the true Israel and Son of God did not. Now in Christ we are fulfilling this mission.

Jesus was launched by a revival movement for the restoration of Israel. He himself launched a movement for the blessing of the nations. Jesus, therefore, was the hinge, the vital link between the two great movements. He was the climax and fulfillment of the hope of Israel and the beginning of the hope of the nations

This is incredibly good news. Sin can be forgiven and lives changed. Through this gospel, individuals, families, cultures and entire nations can be changed. We are called to a part of it.

Sometimes our eschatology hinders this. A pessimistic view of history and the future can lead people to see themselves as just holding on until being rescued out. Dispensationalism with its view of a secret rapture has led many Christians to avoid being salt and light in a real way in the culture at large. Why bother polishing brass on a sinking ship? Premillennial views miss this glorious picture of the kingdom of God. They miss the message that Jesus brought that in Him the kingdom of God had actually come. The promises of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets were coming true in Christ’s day. He was bringing the kingdom then and not at some later date. Amillennialism also fails on this same part. It misses the progressive growth of the kingdom into victory promised throughout the Old Testament and in Jesus’ teaching. Ultimately it is the Postmillennial view that accurately sees this thread of mission and victory woven throughout scripture. The Postmillennial view has always been such a great fuel for missions.   No wonder the period that we often call the Greatest Century of Missionary advance was also the time in which the Postmillennial view was the dominant one.

Jesus and His Old Testament Values

We have seen how the Old Testament provided the story, purpose, identity and mission of Jesus. Jesus had come to fulfill the mission of Israel to be a light to the nations. He did this through perfect obedience and by being a sacrificial atonement for the sins of His people. Through Jesus those who were far off are now made near to God.   Those born genetically Jewish and those born genetically Gentile are now in Christ united together as the true Israel of God. They are now called and enabled to continue the mission of Christ. Jesus commands his followers to share the good news of the gospel of the kingdom by making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching these new disciples to obey all that he commanded.

Wright now turns to these commandments and shows that Jesus’ commands are not a new or different law than what was revealed in the Old Testament. In Matthew, Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Wright here does not go into a complete exposition on Matthew 5 but does make it clear that Jesus is not ending the requirements of the law. Greg Bahnsen wrote a complete exegesis of this passage. He says in “Theonomy in Christian Ethics, “fulfill” should be taken to mean “confirm and restore in full measure”. Wright’s view is similar.[1] Wright says that Jesus taught the validity of the law and made a point to correct misapplications and notions in his opponents. Christ in his teaching thus is restoring the full measure of the law.

In fact the nations are described as waiting for him to bring the law (Torah) and justice (mishpat) of God to them. In other words, the Servant has the task of making real to the rest of humanity the whole package of ethical values and social priorities that God had entrusted to Israel. Being a “light to the nations” includes this moral teaching dimension as well as the extending of the saving light of the covenant.

Wright explains that Jesus is not concerned merely with outward conformity to laws. This is not new to the New Testament, because in the revealing of the law in the Old Testament we see that God is concerned with “the whole shape of a person and society, the inner drives of the heart, the direction of the walk of life. “

It is important to realize that our justification and right standing with God does not come by our obedience but by the grace of God. Our obedience is only made possible by this grace. “The repeated command is to obey God’s laws wholeheartedly, since that is the way to life and blessing for a people who have already experienced God’s redemption.” The law is and never was a way to salvation. It is intended to show how those who are redeemed live.

Wright works through several motivations for keeping the law that Christians have. First as said above, obedience flows from gratitude for grace—in both Old and New Testaments. Another powerful motive is that the law is for our own benefit. The assumption behind this kind of motivation is that God, as the creator of human beings, knows best what kind of social patterns will contribute to human well-being.” God’s law used lawfully is good and protecting of life.   Living by God’s commands will generally bring benefit and happiness. A society built around these commands will generally prosper while a country in disobedience will find judgment.

The reality of God’s rule cannot be spiritualized into heaven (now or later) or privatized into individuals. Of course, it does have spiritual and personal dimensions, which are fundamental also. We are called to submit to God’s reign in our individual lives. But the term itself speaks of the aligning of human life on earth, in all its dimensions, with the will of the divine government of God. To pray “may your kingdom come” is to pray “may your will be done on earth as in heaven.” The one must produce the other. . .To enter the kingdom of God means to submit oneself to the rule of God, and that means a fundamental reorientation of one’s ethical commitments and values into line with the priorities and character of the God revealed in the Scriptures. The point of being Israel and living as the people of Yahweh was to make the universal reign of God local and visible in its whole structure of religious, social, economic and political life. It was to manifest in practical reality what it meant to live, as well as to sing, “the LORD reigns.”

Wright cannot be accused of having a truncated view of the gospel.   The Gospel saves sinners and souls. The Gospel does not stop there though. As people are saved their lives are changed. This change will naturally work itself out into every area of life. More can be said of this positive view of the law for the Christian life but the interested reader would be encouraged to seek out more along this work in the writings of Greg Bahnsen, RJ Rushdooney, or Gary North.  You can find must more at Chalcedon, The American Vision, and Apologia Radio.

Conclusions

Wright’s work here is an excellent introduction to Jesus through the Old Testament. There is not much to be critical of. Wright’s theme of mission through the Bible is refreshing as is his view that the law of God is still applicable today.   Of course there will be exegetical work to do to see where in the New Testament we are told that some parts of the law, i.e. the ceremonial aspect have a changed application in Christ. Work will need to be done to see what part of the law was a shadow of Christ such as the sacrifices. Another refreshing theme of Wright is that he has a whole life perspective of the gospel.   The gospel will have impact on economics and politics along with our spiritual lives.

One area that Wright could improve on is to be very clear about is the doctrines of grace. It is not that he does not acknowledge grace through faith alone but one can never overestimate the value of this doctrine. The biggest area of improvement is the lack of footnotes or endnotes. He does have a bibliography at the end but it would have been helpful to be able to track his research along with him.

Overall the book provides good insight into why Christians are to be the people of the book, both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus without the Old Testament is not Jesus. His mission, identity, and ethics get lost when we neglect to see how he comes into the Biblical story with its promises. This teaching is vital today in which Jesus is often ripped from his context to support all manners of evil. Wright is correct, the better we understand the Old Testament the better we understand Jesus.

[1] Bahnsen Greg, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd Ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 67.

Books of 2014

It is now January 8, 2015 and I realize this should have happened a week ago but I wanted to take a look back at 2014.   2014 was at times stressful but for the most part it was a pretty good year.   It saw the birth of my second daughter, Arriana Liberty Spurgeon.   I also said goodbye to one church family and ministry position and hello to another. God being always faithful also provided for my family this year even when times seemed tight.  I am thankful to have been able to spend another year with my wonderful wife.   I also was able to complete another year of school work at Seminary.   Studying Hebrew this past semester was stressful but God is good.    In 2014, I was also able to read some great books, a few of which challenged some positions that I had held.    Therefore, I wanted to devote the rest of this blog post to highlighting some of the best books I read in 2014 along with pointing out a few places where some of my theological positions either changed or were clarified.  So without further ado here is my Top Books of 2014 List:

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This year I found two books to be very helpful in thinking through student and family ministry.   The first book “Perspectives on Family Ministry”  is compiled and edited by Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.   If you are not familiar with the “Perspectives”  books, they are are a series of books put out by B&H Academic that cover a wide range of theological topics from different viewpoints.   Each book typically has three or more authors who write about the topic and then critique each others position on the topic at hand.   They are excellent little books to help get a basic understanding of the different arguments.   I had not really been aware that there was much of a debate about youth ministry and the need for family ministry.  This book presents three different ways or strategies for engaging families in ministry and how that relates to youth or student ministry.   While you can read for yourself and discover which view you think is most biblical,  in my opinion the main thing is  we as the church need to do a better job engaging, training, and leading families to minister to themselves and others.   Parents are the ones given the primary responsibility to raise and nurture their children in the Lord.   One of the authors contributing to the perspectives book, Voddie Baucham Jr, also wrote a book entitled “Family Driven Faith:Doing What It Takes To Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God.”  This is a wonderful book that challenges parents, fathers in particular, to take responsibility in raising their children for God.  Baucham says that “Our primary goal for our children is that they walk with the Lord.”    This means taking an active role.   Parents need to be spending time in the word of God with their children.   “If I teach my son to keep his eye on the ball but fail to teach him to keep his eyes on Christ, I have failed as a father. We must refuse to allow trivial, temporal pursuits to interfere with the main thing. Making the team is a tremendous achievement; however, it must be put in its proper perspective. No sports endeavor will ever be as important as becoming a man or woman of God.”

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History is one of my favorite subjects especially American history.   I  enjoy reading about the founding of America up through the War between the States, the Civil War.  There is a nice series put out by Mark David Ledbetter called “America’s Forgotten History,” that I recently discovered.   Ledbetter is a libertarian and he writes a series of histories following the founding of America up through the 20 Century from this perspective.  He works to show the way that America has went from a simple Republic devoted to individual liberty to the bloated government leviathan that we have today.  Mark David’s best work is the second volume which covers much of the history leading up the the Civil War.  He is forthright about writing from the libertarian perspective.  It is refreshing to see a historian being upfront about any bias or worldview they may have.  The series was self-published at first as a Kindle ebook but has since been picked up by a publisher. You can still get it for very cheap on the Kindle.  A few criticisms that I have are that the author seems to downplay the religious understanding leading up to the founding and also seems to conflate all New Englanders with the Puritans.  Thus when Unitarian beliefs take over much of the once Puritan universities, Mark David does not do a good job of distinguishing between the two.  I would highly recommend reading this and supplementing it with work done by others especially Rousa Rushdoony.

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Two books  that I found helpful in motivating and thinking through evangelism were J.I. Packer’s “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” and John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad.”   Both of the books are excellent in providing a clear biblical foundation for evangelism.  Some have criticized Calvinism because they think that belief in the sovereignty of God over all things including salvation can lead to a lack of motivation of sharing the gospel. Packer works to “show further that, so far from inhibiting evangelism, faith in the sovereignty of God’s government and grace is the only thing that can sustain it, for it is the only thing that can give us the resilience that we need if we are to evangelize boldly and persistently, and not be daunted by temporary setbacks.”   Belief in the doctrine of election under-girds us as we evangelize.  We can be confident in the fact that God can overcome any resistance to the gospel.    God has chosen to call a people to himself and thus we do not need to trust in our own abilities to preach the Gospel.   We can be confident that the power of the Gospel will prevail.   Piper reminds us that “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions.”     Again we are motivated out by a love for God that moves us to love others.

This confidence in the sovereignty of God along with a study of God’s word this past year has led me to come to hold a Post-Mill view of the end times.   I won’t have time in this short post to go into what all this means but in short Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.  There is much more that could be said here but I will leave that for another post.   An excellent resource for this view is www.PostmillennialismToday.com.   

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The last two books I want to mention are ones that has helped clarify my position on politics and ethics are “Lectures on Calvinism” by Abraham Kuyper and  “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” by Greg Bahnsen.   Kuyper’s book is excellent in applying the Lordship of Christ to all areas of life.   Kuyper is famous for saying that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”  I’ve always held to the belief that our nations leaders should seek to follow and obey God. However, I was somewhat inconsistent on how this was worked out. Which brings me to the conclusion as Bahnsen excellently defends, that God’s law as revealed in the scriptures first in the Old Testament and then clarified in the New are to be the standard by which all people and nations should conform.   God moral and civil laws are binding still today and should be upheld by our leaders.   God will judge all people and nations by how they obey his commands.  Bahnsen does an excellent job laying out the case of what is called Theonomy.   He answers every objection that I have heard mentioned.  Again I will have to leave a discussion of theonomy to another post.

There are several other books I could mention but I wanted to keep this post pretty short.   I mainly wanted to highlight some good and/or interesting books that I had read this past year and recommend them to you.  I am looking forward to what 2015 has in store.   May you be blessed this year by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

 

Homosexuality and the Bible: 2 Views – Book Review

The following is a very short book review/analysis of a book that I’ve been reading.

The two arguments presented in Homosexuality and the Bible:Two Views could not be further apart in both position and in substance. In this book,  Dan O. Via and Robert A.J. Gagnon present arguments for homosexuality and against homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle for a Christian. While both men claim to represent evangelical viewpoints, Gagnon is the only one to give a thorough and convincing argument for his position against homosexuality. Both men argue from opposite viewpoints but in a puzzling manner both men agree that scripture treats homosexuality as a sinful practice. That said, Via then tries to present an argument to override scripture’s teaching in light of science. As a Christian who professes the authority of scripture, I agree with Gagnon and scripture that homosexuality is not a lifestyle compatible with the Christian walk.

Dan Via begins his argument by claiming to hold to a high view of scripture. He says that he takes “the Bible to be the highest authority for Christians in theological and ethical matters.” He then inserts the troubling statement that “authority does not mean perfection or inerrancy or complete consistency.” His attempt to hold to Biblical authority is undermined right away by this statement. He also sets up another condition on the authority of scripture when he says that “the Bible is authoritative only in those parts that are existentially engaging and compelling – that give grounding and meaning to existence.” These conditions on biblical authority really just serve to undermine it and to allow Via to exercise authority over the Bible. Dan Via does not spend any time trying to argue that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. What is interesting is that Dan Via spends a lot of time actually undermining the many arguments put forth by the homosexual activist who might say that the Bible does not speak against homosexuality. Dan Via basically argues that “yes, the bible says homosexuality is wrong but it is outdated and not authoritative in respect to homosexuality.” Via’s argument might hold water in non-evangelical circles but to anyone who takes the Bible seriously his argument is not convincing.

When it comes time for Robert A.J. Gagnon to lay out his side much of the ground work has already been placed by Dan Via. Even though Gagnon presents a brilliant argument that Scripture does indeed condemn homosexuality as sinful, these facts are not really debated by Via. The issue then rests solely on the authority of Scripture as Gagnon states, “ the debate about same-sex intercourse acutely raises the question of Scripture’s place in the life of the church.” Gagnon also explains the impact that accepting homosexuality will have on the church and society which include the “radical devaluation of the place of Scripture in the life of the church. . . (and) radical devaluation of Scripture’s moral imperative – of the place of holiness, obedience, and repentance.” A reading of Via’s arguments will attest to this devaluation of scripture.

Even though no real debate was made by Via that Scripture does not oppose homosexuality, I still appreciated the depth that Gagnon went into to show that scripture does indeed oppose it. I also was appreciative of his answer to some criticisms that others have made about the bible and homosexuality, in particular the analogy of slavery. Many times those arguing for homosexuality will flaunt the issue of slavery as if it was there trump card in the debate. Gagnon does a very good job showing that this analogy does not work for several reasons including that Scripture does not mandate slavery nor does it condemn those who release slaves.

I also appreciated Gagnon’s defense that one can be loving and still speak in truth. He explains that most people have a definition of love that is not what Jesus held, “If by love Jesus meant a nonjudgmental acceptance of various lifestyles, especially sexual lifestyles, then Jesus’ own stance against divorce/remarriage and adultery of the heart was unloving.”

Both Via and Gagnon agree on Scripture’s view of homosexuality. Neither man disagrees that according to the Bible, homosexuality is sinful. The problem arises when Via takes a view that science and new cultural demands must trump Scripture at times. If one follows this view to its logical conclusion, every biblical truth can be over turned and Christians will be left holding nothing to believe. In conclusion, I stand with Gagnon and Scripture to say that homosexual acts are sinful.

Review of John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood

It was the fourth century and Christianity was becoming the official religion of Rome while the priesthood was becoming infatuated with the new-found power structure that was encapsulating it. More pious believers were turning to monasticism. One man who embraced the monastic life was John Chrysostom however he would eventually become a priest and finally Archbishop of Constantinople. John was known his eloquence in preaching and public speaking and was even given the Greek surname Chrysostomos which means golden tongue. John would also become know for his stance against ecclesiastical abuse. Before he would be made Archbishop or even priest, John wrote a short treatise entitled On the Priesthood, in which he would argue for the dignity of the priestly office. Richard Baxter in The Reformed Preacher and Charles Spurgeon in Lectures to My Students will both make the protestant call for respect and commitment to the calling but it is this early church father who first makes this case crystal clear.

Interestingly, On the Priesthood is written as a conversation between Chrysostom and his friend Basil. From the beginning, it is really an apology or defense of a betrayal of sorts by Chrysostom. It seems that Chrysostom and his life long friend had made a pact to refuse their election into the office of priesthood if it were to occur. Both John and his friend Basil had grown up together and had decided to enter the monastic life. Basil grew in stature while Chrysostom admits that he was “still entangled in the lusts of the world.” Basil stood by his friend Chrysostom and when the rumor came that they were to be ordained, Basil said that he would go along with Chrysostom on whatever he decided. Chrysostom did not feel qualified for the honor but did not want “to deprive the flock of Christ of a young man who was so good and so well qualified for the supervision of large numbers….” Instead, Chrysostom decided to deceive Basil. He convinced Basil that there was nothing to worry about but when the men came to ordain them, Chrysostom hid.

It is with this deception that Basil comes to speak to his friend. Basil, of course is hurt and wants to know why his life-long friend had seemingly abandoned him. John Chrysostom thus begins his treatise on the office of priesthood with first a defense of deception. I found it to be a strange way to begin but I did find myself agreeing in some way that not all deception could be bad. John Chrysostom argue that the deception was for the benefit of the deceived. He argues that his intentions was to make sure that his friend did not follow him in rejecting the office of priest. He even compares the deception to a strategy that would be used by generals. And if generals can use it for the victory on battle field then how much greater is it when used to provide a victory for the priesthood. In fact is such cases it should not be called deceit, “but since a kind of good management worthy of all admiration.” I don’t think it would be wise to keep this principle as some kind of hard and fast rule but as Al Mohler recently preached, “We should be shrewd in our dealings with the gospel.”

After have given his defense for his deception, Chrysostom turns his attention to defending his refusal of the priesthood. The rumor was that the reason he rejected it was that he looked down upon the office of priest. People thought he was full of “vainglory” and that he thought the priesthood was below such a noble monk like himself. It is to this charge that Chrysostom spends the rest of his time addressing.

He begins his defense by explaining the advantages that the priesthood would offer Basil. “What advantage, pray, could be greater than to be seen doing those things which Christ with his own lips declared to be proofs of love to Himself.” Using John 21:15-17 and the restoration of Peter, Chrysostom exegetes that the reason Jesus asks Peter if he love him is not to get the answer to that question but instead to teach importance Jesus sees in the shepherding of his sheep. “This being plain, it will likewise be manifest that a great and unspeakable reward will be reserved for him whose labors are concerned with these sheep upon which Christ places such a high value.” He continues “s now also when He (Jesus) says, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise servant?’ he speaks not as being ignorant who is faithful and wise, but as desiring to set forth the rarity of such a character, and the greatness of this office.”

Thus Chrysostom does not look down upon the office of priesthood but the opposite. He sees the office of priesthood not as a lowly office beneath him but as an overwhelming honor requiring the greatest amount of faithfulness. In fact, the office of priest is greater than the monastic life. “Yet He (Jesus) might have said to him (Peter), ‘If you love me practice fasting, sleeping on the ground, and prolonged vigils, defend the wronged, be as a father to orphans, and supply the place of a husband to their mother.’ But as a matter of fact, setting aside all these things, what does he say? ‘Tend my sheep.’”

Anyone says Chrysostom can do those things but the majority can not be priests.

With this high honor in mind, Chrysostom delves into the difficulties that the priest must face. First the priest must be able to heal the spiritual sicknesses of his flock. He must be able to discern the treatment necessary for each different case. Not only must he be able to discern the treatment he must convince the patient to take the medicine. “For Christians above men are not permitted forcibly to correct the failings of those who sin.” Sometimes it seems like it would be much easier if that was the case, but instead skill is required to not only get the patient to take the treatment but to make them “grateful for the cure.”

I can clearly see in John’s writings an idea of the gospel in a therapeutic sense. The gospel not only saves but it heals he soul from the sickness that sin has put upon it. The gospel slowly brings about a sanctification in the same way medicine might heal a disease. Thus it is up to the priest to help apply the gospel to every part of ones life. “Therefor the pastor has need of much discretion, and of a myriad eyes to observe on every side the habit of the soul.”

In defending himself from the accusation of pride, Chrysostom says that he is not worthy of such a high calling. “For the fact that one of my age, who had so recently abandoned secular pursuits, should suddenly be deemed by all worthy of so admiration as to be advanced to honor before those who have spent all their life in labors of this kind…” was a mistake. “For the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks among heavenly ordinances” because it was instituted by God himself. Chrysostom points to the fear in which the priests in the old testament were to have in the working of their office. If they who only had a shadow of the gospel were to be in fear, how much more than shall we who have its fullness be in awe.

While speaking of the highly callings of the priest, Chrysostom is not afraid to speak out against those who abuse the office whether for financial gain or to please women. “The divine law indeed has excluded women from the ministry, but they endeavor to thrust themselves into it; and since they can effect nothing themselves, they do all through the agency of others; and they have become invested with so much power that they can appoint or eject priests at their will.” It seems that not much has changed in 1700 years.

In attacking those who would misuse the priesthood, he defends the office itself from attack. “For men of understanding do not say that the sword is to blame for murder, nor wine for drunkenness, nor strength for outrage, nor courage for foolhardiness, but they lay the blame on those who make an improper use of the gifts which have been bestowed upon them by God.” It becomes clear that Chrysostom holds an incredibly high view of the priesthood. Chrysostom warns those who would seek after the office for power or authority that terrible judgement would await them.

In concluding his argument, Chrysostom reasons that the needs of the office are so above him that he must pursue the lesser honor, monasticism. It is clear to both Basil and myself though that in his defense of the office, Chrysostom has proven himself to be among the few qualified. But if Chrysostom is himself not qualified than who can be. Chrysostom answers with a smile, that if Christ calls then Basil will receive assurance and qualification.

It is refreshing in a day when many look down upon the calling of God, that Chrysostom stands to remind that the calling of God is the highest. It is a calling that demands the highest amount of respect and the highest amount of commitment.  I struggled for a long time in my personal call to the ministry because in many ways I thought it would be boring and beneath me. How arrogant I was to ever think that? After reading this treatise, I have felt a renewed call to the ministry but also a sense of awe that God would still call me. I like Chrysostom do not feel worthy of such a high calling. I only pray that I can be like Chrysostom and eventually be made worthy of that calling.