Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Jane Austen

Jane AustenJane Austen by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book as a present for my wife. Of course, I also (secretly) wanted to learn more about the genius who created the lovable Mr. Bennett! Leithart is an excellent writer himself.

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Review: Original Sin

Original Sin: A Cultural HistoryOriginal Sin: A Cultural History by Alan Jacobs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the introduction, Jacob notes that of all religious beliefs, none provokes more criticism and repulsion than the doctrine of original sin. Original sin is irreparable, irreversible, and unpredictable (x-xi). It is the belief that every human being is born with sin already in them. That we all inherit sin, and are culpable. The history of original sin is a history of resistance to it. So why, over the centuries, have so many stubbornly believed it? Well, as Chesterton noted, original sin has enormous empirical evidence (“it is the only doctrine of the Christian faith that is empirically provable” [x])! But the main reason it has been adopted by some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world is its vast explanatory power. All other explanations for human evil and selfishness fall short.

Original Sin is, in Jacob’s words, “an exemplary history” (as opposed to an exhaustive one), and “a specifically cultural history” (as opposed to a theological history). Thus Jacobs mines the literature of centuries and turns up story after story of people who either fought or defended the doctrine of original sin. The stories range from the ancient past (King David and Bathsheba) to the more recent dawn of eugenics and genetics. Those who are resistant to belief in “a divided self” will need to overcome a barrage of fire to maintain their skepticism by the final page.

One thing that stands out in Jacob’s brilliant treatment is the theme of original sin’s positive contributions to history and life. He introduces us to Pascal, who realized that only the fear of God that comes from being corrupt sinners in the sight of God enables us to have proper wonder at God’s love (116). The power of original sin to bind humans together in a “confraternity” is seen throughout the book, but especially in the chapter on American slavery. Original sin is a brake that can slow and restrain the course of evil (209-10).

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet prisoner who was brought to faith by being persuaded of the truthfulness of original sin. How he was persuaded of original sin is most interesting. As he watched a habitually-brutal prison guard, he realized over time that

given the same power in the same circumstances, he himself would surely have behaved with equal cruelty. “In the intoxication of youthful successes” he had believed himself “infallible”; it was the Gulag that taught him that he was “a murderer, and an oppressor.” It was the Gulag that taught him that everyone has the capacity to become a Stalin and that therefore “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but through every human heart.” (224)

Jacobs mines Rebecca West’s work, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (which he believes to be “the greatest book of the twentieth century” [283]), to provide us a vivid illustration of the human heart. West visited a biological museum and sees a two-headed calf. One head was lovely, the other hideous. The owners had fed the beautiful head milk, but the ugly head would spit the milk out, preventing the food from reaching the calf’s stomach. According to the custodian, the calf would have been “alive today had it not been for its nature” (223).

I found the stories where original sin intersected with science to be very interesting. The final chapter features this intersection the most because it deals with genetics. But it also appears in the chapter on American slavery. Interestingly, it is science, not the religious belief of original sin, which gets the bad rap. Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz was

a progenitor of “scientific racism”—the view that, setting aside any biblical narratives or doctrines that support the unity and common origin of human beings, there is no such thing as the human race; rather, there are several races that, carelessly and unscientifically, have been lumped in a single category. It was the task of science to disentangle the confused strands, to establish clear distinctions among races, to rank them according to intellectual capacity, and to insist that those rankings be reflected in law and public policy. And so the superstitions of biblical literalism would be set aside in the name of scientific progress, which is also, of course, social progress. (203)

Few questions can be more important than what is wrong with us. An incredible journey awaits anyone willing to pick up this book. I highly recommend it.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

ESV Study Bible articles

My Bible reading plan this year is to read through the entire ESV Study Bible. It's a big project so I've been getting a jump on it and reading some of the articles, which are top-notch.

This morning I read the article Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament and found this interesting paragraph about Gamaliel:
Gamaliel, the son (or grandson) of Hillel, was a renowned teacher of the law in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul had been a disciple of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel is remembered for his wisdom (Acts 5:34) and careful management of the Jewish calendar. Most Jews followed a lunisolar calendar, which consisted of 12 lunar months, totaling 354 days. Every three years or so a thirteenth month had to be added, in order to bring the average total days of the year up to the 365.25 days of the solar year. Otherwise, the seasons would not have matched the festivals and sacrifices in the temple. Gamaliel determined when to add the thirteenth month (Mishnah, Rosh Hashshanah 2:8; Sanhedrin 2:6). Ironically, if the Galatian Christians had adopted the calendar of Jewish religious holidays advocated by Paul's opponents (Gal. 4:10), they would have found themselves under the authority of his old teacher!

Changing church in love

Dave Black's advice is applicable to more than just how to go about encouraging participation in church:

My suggestion? Here it is, for what it's worth. If you'd like to see more participation during or after the sermon time in your church, get to know your pastor. Pray for him regularly. Develop a close, personal friendship with him. Let him know how greatly you respect him, as you are commanded to do in 1 Thess. 5:12-13 (CEV):
My friends, we ask you to be thoughtful of your leaders who work hard and tell you how to live for the Lord. Show them great respect and love because of their work. Try to get along with each other.
Then, within the "safe zone" established by that relationship, you will, I believe, discover opportunity after opportunity to talk with him about church life. I enjoy such a strong and healthy relationship with my pastor at Bethel Hill that I feel free to ask him for the privilege of "saying a word" during the teaching time, and he is glad to grant me that privilege. And not only me. I've seen him gladly accommodate requests from moms and teens and just about anybody who has something the Lord has put on their heart. You see, the context is one of undeniable mutual love, and love makes all the difference.
Friends, if we rush into matters in a confrontational manner, we may soon regret what that does to our testimony. This makes for shallow and inadequate renewal because we have not touched the heart of the matter. It's easy to say to our pastor, "I believe I have the right to speak up this morning during the sermon time, and I'd like to know on what biblical basis you think I'm wrong." And, in some contexts, that may be the right thing to say. But -- and this is just my opinion -- unless it is spoken within the context of a healthy personal relationship, it will fail to accomplish its purpose.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Learning how to die by John Foreman

My Grandpa's death a week ago has been bringing some of John Foreman's songs to my head.

What I should have got for Christmas

This is the alarm clock I need! Clocky, the alarm clock on wheels.

From the Amazon product description:
Never over-sleep again! Clocky is the alarm clock on wheels that runs away beeping! You can snooze one time, but if you don't get up, Clocky will jump off of your nightstand up to 3 feet high, and run around your room as if looking for a place to hide. You'll have to get out of bed to silence Clocky's alarm. Clocky beeps in an R2D2-like robotic pattern so that you are sure to hear him. He's kind of like a pet, only he will get you up at the right time! You can set Clocky to run away right when the alarm sounds, or set to snooze one time before he runs away. Clocky features a customizable snooze time up to 9 minutes long. You can also turn off Clockies wheels if you don't want Clocky to run away one morning. A backlight helps you see Clocky at night. Clocky is perfect for those of us who have trouble waking up in the morning! He is compact, clever, and playful. He will never cease to amuse you as you wake up in the morning.
HT: Matt Perman

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Review: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our LipsThe Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips by John Dickson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dickson begins with four confessions. I’ll repeat the two that I find most significant. First, when he was a budding evangelist, he was guilty of reducing the gospel to a couple of theological truths, ignoring the fact that the gospel is a story. Second, he “came to assume that the only important means of promoting Christ was talking about him” (22).

Before tackling either of these early mistakes, Dickson grounds mission in the Bible’s most basic doctrine, which is that there is one God (26). And what does this monotheism have to do with mission? “If there is just one God in the universe, everyone everywhere has a duty to worship that Lord” (27). What follows is an exploration of Psalm 96 and Matthew 28.16-20. The following quote pretty much sums up the significance of tying missions to monotheism:

We promote God’s glory to the ends of the earth not principally because of any human need but fundamentally because of God’s/Christ’s unique worthiness as the Lord of heaven and earth. Promoting the gospel is more than a rescue mission…it is a reality mission (35, emphasis added).

Now Dickson is ready to tackle his second mistake, which was to think that the only activity that promoted the gospel was talking. He makes an important distinction between proclaiming the gospel and promoting the gospel (23).

Then he focuses on the example of Jesus. Jesus’ mission is captured perfectly in his words: “to seek and to save what was lost”. Note the emphasized verbs: “Through his preaching Jesus declared that salvation, through his death and resurrection…he would accomplish that salvation, and through the generosity of his social life he embodied that salvation” (51, emphasis added). Dickson calls us to a “‘salvific mind-set’, that is, an outlook on life that cares deeply for the salvation of others” (60).

What other activities promote the gospel besides talking? We can promote the gospel with our praying (chp 4), our giving (chp 5), through the good works of the church (chp 6), Christian behaviour (chp 7), public praise (chp 10), and in daily conversation (chp 11).

In the chapter on Christian behaviour, Dickson has this to say after mentioning the atheists Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkings:

In the end, the only way to dispel the story that Christianity has been imperialistic, arrogant and harmful is to offer a powerful counternarrative in our lives, day by day committing ourselves to Jesus’ vision of a kingdom marked by meekness, peace-making and love. (105)

Dickson handles his first mistake in chapter 8, What is the Gospel?

“The modern media term ‘newsflash’ probably comes closest in meaning to the ancient word gospel” (112). The theme of the gospel is the kingdom of God, that God reigns through Jesus Christ.

To put it in simple and practical terms, the goal of gospel preaching-–and of gospel promoting—-is to help our neighbours realise and submit to God’s kingship or lordship over their lives. (115)

The content of the gospel is the deeds of the Messiah, as shown by a quick analysis of 1 Corinthians 15.3-5. In this passage, there are five parts to Paul’s summary of the gospel (117):
•    Jesus’ identity as the Christ
•    Jesus’ saving death
•    Jesus’ burial
•    Jesus’ resurrection
•    Jesus’ appearance to witnesses

The third part, Jesus’ burial, is especially helpful in showing that the gospel “is not only a theology—a message about atonement and lordship—it is news of events (121).

The Christian gospel was a news report:

The earliest Christians never said simply, “Here’s the message: see if this rings true for you,” or “Try our doctrines and see if they improve your life.” Believers always said, “Look, these things happened in Palestine recently and a whole bunch of witnesses saw them with their own eyes.(122)

Recently, much has been made of the difference in Jesus’ gospel and Paul’s gospel. I like Dickson’s solution:

The connection between Paul’s gospel and the books we call the Gospels is obvious. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all demonstrate Jesus’ messianic credentials before emphasizing his atoning death and glorious resurrection. (123)

The rest of the chapter keeps getting better and better. It is worth the price of the book. But to avoid copyright infringements, I will skip to the author’s summary of the “core content” of the gospel (139):
•    Jesus’ royal birth secured his claim to the eternal throne promised to King David
•    Jesus’ miracles pointed to the presence of God’s kingdom in the person of the Messiah
•    Jesus’ teaching sounded the invitation of the kingdom and laid down its demands
•    Jesus’ sacrificial death atoned for the sins of those who would otherwise be condemned at the consummation of the kingdom
•    Jesus’ resurrection establishes him as the Son whom God has appointed Judge of the world and Lord of the coming kingdom.

To return to the question asked by the chapter’s title, here is the author’s definition from the introduction:

The gospel is the announcement that God has revealed his kingdom and opened it up to sinners through the birth, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity. (22)

Chapter 12 (A Year in the Life of the Gospel) is an innovative chapter in which Dickson weaves the principles he’s been writing about with some stories he’s combined and tweaked to show us what can happen when Christians live according to a salvific mind-set. Appendix 1 provides gospel sound bites—short responses to different topics that come up in conversation. In Appendix 2 Dickson attempts a modern retelling of the gospel.

This book is undoubtedly the best book on evangelism and promotion of the gospel that I have ever read. I highly recommend it.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

David Gooding article on Daniel

David Gooding is one of my heroes, so I'm always delighted to come across another article he's written. In the The Word Became Fresh, Davis references the following article in a footnote:

 David W. Gooding, “The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel and its Implications,” Tyndale Bulletin 32 (1981) (n.d.): 43-80,

Reivew: The Word Became Fresh

The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative TextsThe Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts by Dale Ralph Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another of my favourite reads in 2010. Davis is a breath of fresh air. “I simply want to stir up the biblical juices of preachers and students, to help people walk away from the text muttering about what a delightful book God has given us” (3). With his down-to-earth approach, breezy style, and innovative illustrations and applications, Davis is a joy to read. And for the preacher, there’s a potential sermon hiding on every page.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Paul

Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His MessageIntroducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message by Michael F. Bird

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a short and delightful introduction to Paul. I wish American publishers had followed the British publishers in naming it A Bird’s Eye View of Paul!

Bird’s objective “is to get people excited about reading Paul’s letters, preaching Paul’s gospel and living the Christian life the way Paul thought it should be lived” (6).

In studying Paul, the goal is not Paul; we study Paul because of what he can do for us in our pursuit of Christ. “To venerate Paul is to denigrate the Saviour whom he so passionately serves” (11)

“A fresh encounter with Paul will leave your assumptions shaken to their foundations, your theological world turned upside down, your spirituality revitalized, your faith quickened, your love for God and Christ renewed, and your labour in the kingdom refocused. This is Paul for the people of God.” (15)

Paul is not just an apostle to the Gentiles, “but among them as well” (19).

His theological centre is somewhere close to “the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (22).

I love the chapter on Paul’s conversion on the Damascus road. “That grace event killed Saul the Pharisee and birthed Paul the apostle” (37).

“The invitation to believe in Jesus and join the church was ultimately an invitation to identify with a certain story and to order one’s life according to the story, symbols and praxis of Jesus the Messiah.” (39)

In chapter 4 (Reading someone else’s mail) Bird provides a brief tour through Paul’s letters (which Bird calls “pastoral postcards”! [12]).

Chapter 5 looks at what the gospel is. The gospel is not a formula or a syllogism, but a story (77).

The gospel is about both the person and work of Christ. God promised in the Scriptures that he would renew creation and restore Israel. The gospel is the good news that God has made these promises good in Jesus, the Messiah and Lord. Jesus died and rose for the purpose of atoning for sins and through faith in him and his work believers are reconciled to God. The new age has been launched and God has revealed his saving righteousness in the gospel so that he justifies and delivers persons from the penalty and power of sin and death. (83)

Bird explores some of the concepts used by Paul in his thinking and teaching about salvation in chapter 6. Here is where justification is discussed by someone who appreciates both Piper and Wright, but follows neither: “In sum, justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age” (96).

Additional chapters discuss Paul’s teaching on eschatology, Christology, ethics, and spirituality.

Throughout the book Bird is unable to keep his humour and wit in suppression. He discovers a new position on the millennium (“‘pan-millenial’, the belief that it will all out pan out at the end” [116]!), and he composes the following ‘hymn’ in order to illustrate how strange the gospel would have sounded to those who first heard Paul preach it (please read the context before calling Bird or me disrespectful):

Carlos was there on that horrible chair
They tied him down with bolts and then zapped him with 40 000 volts
It was for you that our saviour fried and died
Despite the fact that his hair caught on fire, this one is God’s true Messiah.
The wisdom of the world has been refuted because Carlos was electrocuted
He is my saviour and my lamp, because he absorbed every deadly amp
Now I know that God does care, ‘cause he sent Carlos Hernandez to the electric chair.

This book is one of my favourite reads for 2010, and I know I’ll be picking it up frequently in the future.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Apocalyptic Christmas Story

Michael Bird's intro to his Christmas sermon from Revelation 12 leaves me wanting some more.

Why Paul got 39 lashes

Paul is not given the thirty-nine lashes by his fellow Jews because he asks them to ‘try’ Jesus in the same way one might try a kebab (2 Cor. 11.24). He is not executed for suggesting that Roman citizens may wish to invite Jesus into their hearts. No, Paul has the courage and conviction to proclaim that the one who is to come again, the Messiah, is Jesus, who has fulfilled Israel’s hopes by being cursed on a cross and raised from the dead.

Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul : The Man, His Mission, and His Message (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), pp. 28-9.

Review: The Letters of John

The Letters of John (Pillar New Testament Commentary)The Letters of John by Colin G. Kruse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A responsible and helpful commentary on John’s letters. Our church has been studying through these letters this past year, and this was the main commentary I turned to. Kruse succeeds in tying everything back to the main occasioning incident: the defection of certain teachers whose “advanced progress” was actually proof that they had never grasped the ABC’s. And the Christians still hanging on to the ABC’s are constantly encouraged and assured.

Two strengths of this commentary are its careful inclusion of background texts, and its treatment of the aspect of Greek verbs. For an example of the latter, see Kruse’s remarks on the traditional way of resolving the tension between 1 John 1.5 – 2.2 and 1 John 3.4-10 on page 129. Many have argued that the present tense verbs in chapter 3 denote habitual sinning, which, unlike occasional sinning, is impossible for the true Christian. Kruse writes: “However, the use of the present tense says nothing about the habitual or nonhabitual character of the sinning, but only shows that the author has chosen to depict the sinning as something in progress, rather than as a complete action” (emphasis added).

Another good feature is the many Notes that interrupt the commentary. One of the best is the note on the role of the Holy Spirit in John’s letters. Here’s the final paragraph:

In conclusion, we may say that this survey of the Spirit texts of 1 John indicates that the author has portrayed the role of the Spirit primarily as testimony to the tradition, not as a source of new revelation. In all probability he did this because the secessionists were claiming the Spirit as the source of their new and heretical doctrines concerning Christ. The author, therefore, felt that it was necessary to hold together the word and the Spirit, or, put in other words, he felt that it was necessary to stress the Spirit’s role as witness to the truth of the gospel concerning Jesus as it was proclaimed from the beginning. (155)

The only thing I was left wishing for from this commentary was more insight on applying John’s letters to the church today.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Review: Marks of the Messenger

Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the GospelMarks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel by J. Mack Stiles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This little book puts being evangelists before doing evangelism.
The process of losing the gospel (40):
    * The gospel is accepted

    * The gospel is assumed

    * The gospel is confused

    * The gospel is lost
I give this book five stars out of five. The fifth is for having a chapter on the church in a book on evangelism. The final chapter (A Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism) is also excellent. It is chalk-full of practical suggestions.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Amazing testimony from North Korea

Check it out here. Boy, does this ever fire me up for missions!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: The Holiness of God

The Holiness of GodThe Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Note: the following page numbers reference an older edition of this book.)

The holiness of God has a history of deeply affecting people. I remember being a young teen and watching a video of Sproul teaching on this subject with my youth group. I will never forget the sense of God’s greatness I experienced that night.

In chapter 1, Sproul recounts how Augustine’s teaching on creation led him (Sproul) to an experience of the holiness of God of his own. In chapter 2, he goes back and discusses one of the greatest encounters with a holy God a human has ever had: Isaiah’s vision of the God of the Universe sitting on his majestic throne (chapter 2). Many other encounters are discussed throughout the book, including Jesus’ stilling of the storm, and Jacob’s wrestling with the angel

Sprinkled throughout the book are some helpful illustrations. When a class bombs an exam the students hope to be graded on the curve and have their marks boosted. Woe to the one student who managed to ace the exam and thus break the curve! Jesus Christ “was the supreme curve buster” (85).

Sproul digs out another illustration from the book Of Mice and Men, in which Sproul sees Lennie as a Christ figure. Slim tells George after George shot Lennie, “A guy got to sometimes.” Sproul writes:

“Sometimes people have to be executed…He knew Lennie could not survive in this world. Lennie had to die. Lennie traumatized everyone and everything he touched. So it was with Christ. The world could not tolerate Jesus; they could love Him, but only at a distance…a present Christ could not survive in a world of hostile men. It was the judgment of Caiaphas that for the good of the nation Jesus must die. Sometimes ya just got to” (p.97).

I highly recommend this book to anyone with a hunger for God. It will help you understand what God’s holiness is. Sproul takes the whole of chapter 3 to define it. And he does so rightly. Holiness is not just God’s separateness from sin, but his separateness from everything and everyone. It is his being God, and God alone.

You will not only understand the concept of God’s holiness, but you will also better appreciate it. For instance, who hasn’t read the passage about Uzzah being killed because he tried to steady the ark and thought God’s punishment a little harsh! But Sproul writes:

“Uzzah assumed that his hand was less polluted than the earth. But it wasn’t the ground or the mud that would desecrate the ark; it was the touch of man. The earth is an obedient creature…the ground doesn’t commit cosmic treason…Uzzah was not an innocent man” (141).

On our own transformation to holiness, Romans 12.1-2 is clear that our transformation comes from the renewing of our minds. “This means nothing more and nothing less than education” (p.210). And Sproul’s The Holiness of God is a good start in that education.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: The Cross and Christian Ministry

The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 CorinthiansThe Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians by D.A. Carson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book's five chapters are based on a series of talks. Each one is an exposition of a passage from 1 Corinthians that discusses a topic in relation to the cross. Thus there are chapters on the cross and preaching, the cross and factionalism, the cross and leadership, and so on.

The undercurrent through all five chapters is that Jesus’ cross is the standard, and nothing else. This has radical, radical, radical implications for leadership—and that’s an understatement.

As always, Carson’s expositions mix solid exegesis with devotional warmth and deep pastoral and cultural insight.

I close with a few of my favourite quotes from this book:

On the Corinthians who should have been on a solids diet, not a milk one: “They want nothing more than another round of choruses and a ‘simple message’—something that won’t challenge them to think, to examine their lives, to make choices, and to grow in their knowledge and adoration of the living God” (p.72).

“But part of the reason why Paul’s stance seems alien to many of us is that we have unwittingly become more like Corinthian Christians than like Pauline (that is, biblical!) Christians. Many of are well-to-do and comfortable, with little incentive to live in vibrant anticipation of Christ’s return. Our desire for the approval of the world often outstrips our desire for Jesus’ ‘Well done!’ on the last day. The proper place to begin to change this deep betrayal of the gospel is at the cross—in repentance, contrition, and renewed passion not only to make the gospel of the crucified Messiah central in all our preaching and teaching, but in our lives and the lives of our leaders as well” (p.108).

“How can Christians stand beside the cross and insist on their rights?” (p.125)

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Operation Mincemeat

Operation MincemeatOperation Mincemeat by Ben MacIntyre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thrilling book about how British espionage and deception in World War II fooled Hitler and enabled the Allies to make a decisive takeover of the island of Sicily.

The author, being an author, cannot help himself from noting the influence of writers in this complicated scheme. The story begins with a top secret memo entitled “The Trout Fisher,” issued under the name of Admiral John Godfrey, who was helped along by the future James Bond novelist Ian Flemming. The memo contained 51 suggestions on how to deceive the Germans. Suggestion #28, the one followed in this story, came from another author, Basil Thomson (pp.11-2). Towards the end, Macintyre writes:

“Wars are won by …planners…tacticians…generals…politicians…But they are also won by feats of imagination. Amateur, unpublished novelists, the framers of Operation Mincemeat, dreamed up the most unlikely concatenation of events, rendered them believable, and sent them off to war, changing reality through lateral thinking and proving that it is possible to win a battle fought in the mind, from behind a desk, and from beyond the grave. Operation Mincemeat was pure make-believe; and it made Hitler believe something that changed the course of history.

“This strange story was conceived in the mind of a writer and put into action by a fisherman, who cast his fly on the water with no certainty of success but an angler’s innate optimism and guile. The most fitting, and aptly fishy, tribute to the operation was contained in a telegram sent to Winston Churchill on the day the Germans took the bait: ‘Mincemeat swallowed rod, line and sinker'”

An interesting theme that runs through the book is that deception only deceives those who want to be deceived. Hitler was made to believe what he already wanted to believe.

This story is nothing short of amazing, and I am grateful that there are writers around like Ben Macintyre know how to tell it well.

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Review: 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (40 Questions & Answers Series)40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m always a sucker for a new book introducing the Bible. So much hinges on how we approach and interpret it. This book is an excellent starting point for someone with lots of questions about the Bible. Plummer answers foundational questions such as “What is the Bible” and “How is the Bible organized?” to more advanced ones, like “Can a text have more than one meaning?” If you have a question about the Bible, chances are you’ll find an answer here.

The book has been written such that the reader can start with any chapter, an approach entailing some repetition for the reader ripping straight through (p.11).

Early questions deal with who determined what books to include in the Bible, and what is the best English translation. On canonization, Plummer writes:

“For Protestant Christians, the canon is not an authorized collection of writings…rather, the canon is a collection of authoritative writings…Canonization is the process of recognizing that inherent authority, not bestowing it from an outside source” (p.57).

In the chapter on translations, the author explains how all translations fall somewhere along a spectrum delineated by functional equivalence on one end, and formal equivalence on the other. Functional equivalent translations are most suitable for reading large portions, while formal equivalent are superior for detailed study. But reading from multiple translations is best (pp.71-2)!

What are some general principles for interpreting the Bible? Well, one of them is to read the Bible as a book that points to Jesus:

“If we study or teach any part of the Bible without reference to Jesus the Savior, we are not faithful interpreters” (p.97).

It is also vital to pay attention to context:

“One of the most painful exhibits of such hermeneutical failure [not respecting the context] is a preacher who bullies and blusters about the authority and inerrancy of Scripture while practically denying its authority through his sloppy preaching” (p.104).

Another important general principle he lays out for interpreting the Bible is to read it in community (pp.105-6).

Want to become a better interpreter? Then “read and listen to faithful preaching and teaching” (p.110). Quoting Spurgeon

“Some, under the pretense of being taught of the Spirit of God refuse to be instructed by books or by living men. This is no honouring of the Spirit of God; it is a disrespect to him, for if he gives to some of his servants more light than to others--and it is clear he does--then they are bound to give that light to others, and to use it for the good of the church. But if the other part of the church refuse to receive that light, to what end did the Spirit of God give it? This would imply that there is a mistake somewhere in the economy of gifts and graces, which is managed by the Holy Spirit” (p.111).

Warns against the two common dangers of word studies: the illegitimate totality transfer and the etymological fallacy (pp.119-20). No one ought to make public comment about what a Greek word “really” means until understanding these two dangers.

A highlight of the book is when Plummer goes back in time and interviews Isaiah on Isaiah 7.14, discovering that Isaiah is totally OK with Matthew’s citation of him in Matthew 1.23 (pp.137-40)!

In interpreting historical narratives, it is very important to remember that not every detail is normative. Plummer once heard some audio messages on parenting in which the speaker exhorted parents to place their babies in cribs because, after all, didn’t Mary put Jesus in a manger (Luke 2.7)?! Says Plummer: “The key interpretive question of course is: why does Luke tell us that Jesus was placed in a manger? Was it to teach us how to put our children to bed, or was it to emphasize the Savior’s humble origins?” (p.193).

The book includes a helpful discussion of various figures of speech employed in the Bible (metaphor, simile, merism, hendiadys, synecdoche, metonymy, personification, anthropomorphism, litotes, and idioms) (pp.227-32).

The above is just a sampling. Apart from a few minor quibbles (on page 80 Plummer equates “word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2.15 with the Scriptures, when really it is the gospel message), I heartily recommend this book to those with questions on the Bible. And hopefully that’s everyone!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hip Hop and the Gospel

Colin Hansen blogs about it here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: P.G. Wodehouse : Five Complete Novels

P.G. Wodehouse : Five Complete Novels (The Return of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, Spring Fever, The Butler Did It, The Old Reliable)P.G. Wodehouse : Five Complete Novels by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Why am I reading Wodehouse? Doug Wilson mentioned him one too many times, and I’m glad he did! Of this volume I’ve read The Return of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster Sees It Through. Both afforded plenty of laughs and delightful turns of phrase. I look forward to picking it up again to read the other three novels included.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Review: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method

Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical MethodPreaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method by Sidney Greidanus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Note: this is not much of a book review, but more a collection of notes.

Who should read this book: Anyone who wants to see / share Christ in / from the OT without resorting to allegory (Rahab’s scarlet cord speaks of Christ’s blood) and irresponsible typology (on which see below). This book gives seven ways of moving from OT text to Christ responsibly and dare I say, exegetically.

Greidanus insists on two things: We must preach Christ, and we must preach from the OT. He gives some great reasons to defend the latter (e.g., the OT proclaims truths not found in the NT, p.27). A couple quotes will have to suffice:

Quoting Michael Duduit: “For us to neglect these books in our preaching is to abandon our congregations to theological shallowness and mediocrity” (p.28).

Quoting Bright: “The Old Testament holds the gospel to history. It is the surest bulwark against the assimilation with alien philosophies and ideologies, against a flight into a sentimental and purely otherworldly piety, and against that disintegrating individualism that so easily besets us” (p.32).

Willimon: “Unable to preach Christ and him crucified, we preach humanity and it improved” (p.34).

But there are difficulties in preaching Christ from the OT—a history of them. And so Greidanus surveys approaches from as early as the church fathers: allegorical (Justin Martyr and many others), typological (Chrysostom and others), Christological (Luther), theocentric (Calvin), and some modern Christological approaches (Spurgeon and Visher).

The literary context of the OT is the NT; therefore “every message from the Old Testament must be seen in the light of Jesus Christ” (p.51). And the reverse is true (p.53).

The most valuable contribution of the book is the seven ways of moving from an OT text to Christ:

* The way of redemptive-historical progression
* The way of promise-fulfillment
* The way of typology
* The way of analogy
* The way of longitudinal themes
* The way of contrast

Definition of typology: “New Testament typology is thus essentially the tracing of the constant principles of God’s working in history, revealing ‘a recurrent rhythm in past history which is taken up more fully and perfectly in Gospel events’” (quoting France, who quotes Lampe, pp.212-3).

Eichrodt: “Types are persons, institutions, and events of the Old Testament which are regarded as divinely established models or prerepresentations of corresponding realities in the New Testament salvation history” (pp. 254-5).

Three criterion must be met in order for a type to be recognized: correspondence, escalation, and theocentricity.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Resources for young children

A little while ago I listed some resources for a young Christian wanting to get into the Bible.

Today I'll link to some resources for parents to use with their young children.

Books we've used so far with our 2 year old:

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm. This Bible's focus is on the big picture, an emphasis that is just as helpful for parents as it is for kids (I have learned a lot from this children's Bible!). The illustrations (by Gail Schoonmaker) are simple but highly imaginative.

The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally-Lloyd Jones. This Bible's focus is on Jesus. While I am occasionally uncomfortable with a point or two, most of the stories are done very well. Often I am moved as I read it to Aimee by the way the grace of God and the presence of the Lord Jesus is brought out, even (especially!) in the OT stories. This should not surprise me as the author confesses the pervasive influence Tim Keller's preaching has had on her and on this book.

Fool Moon Rising. Just buy it!

Books we plan to use in the next 4 or 5 years:

Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God. Justin Taylor just plugged this book and, having checked out the pdf sample at Westminster, I can't wait to use it!

Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book. Go here for a pdf sample.

Maybe later I'll post some more resources we plan to use. In the meantime, do you have any recommendations?

Friday, November 5, 2010


Lifehacker links to a nifty little mind mapping application. The mind mapping software I've previously used is FreeMind.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New Paul Synopsis

I'm pretty excited to see that Baker is publishing a Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English. Go to the link to see a generous excerpt.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A chip off the old stump

Night time for my little theologian.

My wife: "Aimee, what should we thank God for?"

Aimee: "Books!"

More on the SBL Greek NT

More resources for the SBL Greek NT are on the way for Logos users.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Colossians 2.16 and Halloween

I had to chuckle at Alan Knox's Scripture...As We Live It today:
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you each other in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath… and especially pass judgment in regards to Halloween, unless it’s a Fall Festival instead of a Halloween Carnival. (Colossians 2:16 re-mix)
(Click here for an explanation of this weekly feature of his blog.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

New Greek NT

Rick Brannan announces the release of The Greek NT: SBL Edition. This is a new Greek NT with critical apparatus edited by Michael Holmes, and sponsored by Logos and SBL. It is available for download for everyone (and not just Logos users) here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beginner Bible study resources

I just emailed the following to a young friend of mine, who is developing quite a hunger for God's Word. What would you add to the list?


Here is a list of solid resources to get you started. The list is not meant to intimidate you; these are resources you can work at accumulating. Books that I think you should purchase and use without a moment's delay are marked by a double-asterisk. I've marked 2nd priority resources with one asterisk. The rest are books you can work at over the years to come (Lord willing).

Please know that just because I recommend these resources, that doesn't mean that I think everything in them is right. Use discernment with everything you read.

Bibles (use a few translations)
  • English Standard Version
  • KJV
  • New International Version
  • New American Standard Bible
  • New English Translation - available online, with very useful notes
  • New Living Translation
Study Bible
Books on reading / studying Bible
Bible Atlas
Bible Software
Bible Dictionary
Greek (and Hebrew)
One-volume commentary
Commentaries on individual books of the Bible
  • go to Denver Seminary's NT bibliography and choose from the last three commentaries they list for each book of the Bible (the other commentaries they list will be too technical)
  • The NIV Application, Tyndale, Bible Speaks Today, and IVP commentary series are for the most part excellent. Unfortunately, the What the Bible Teaches series rarely provides what a commentary should provide, but there are some exceptions.
  • for the BEST commentary series of all, go here.
Great Books you should read
  • For the Love of God, volume 1 and volume 2, by Carson. An excellent devotional.
  • The Pursuit of God by Tozer
  • Knowing God by Packer
  • Desiring God by Piper
  • What Jesus Demands from the World by Piper
  • Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis
  • any and all books by David Gooding
Great Preachers to listen to

You will learn a ton by always having some good expositional sermons on your ipod.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I've been using Zotero for a couple of years now. To learn more about the payback of using this Firefox add-on, read Andy Naselli's excellent article entitled Why You Should Organize Your Personal Theological Library and a Way How.

HT: Justin Taylor

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to Read Exodus

How to Read Exodus, by Tremper Longman III.

The author clarifies that this book is not a commentary on Exodus, but a guide to an interpretive strategy (p.8). It features literary, historical, and theological approaches to this book.

A literary approach reveals that the main theme of Exodus is the presence of God, out of which two sub-themes emerge: the covenant, and bondage (p.39). A historical approach reads Exodus against the background of ancient Near Eastern literature (the Sargon Birth Legend and the Code of Hammurabi). It also examines the historicity of the events recorded in Exodus. Yes, it does matter that the Red Sea did in fact part (Chp. 6). However, some efforts to prove the Exodus events are not helpful: “Purported discoveries of the wheels of Pharaoh’s chariots beside the Red Sea are misleading if not fraudulent” (p.69, cf. p.80).

Longman provides helpful comments on the Law. The Ten Commandments begin the Book of the Law. They are more general principles of which the ensuing case laws are specific applications (p.60). “Israel’s obligation to keep the law is not to form a relationship with God, but rather to show gratitude to and maintain the relationship that it already enjoys with him” (p.121).

On the revelation of Yahweh’s name when he says “I Am Who I Am,” Longman writes: “God claims that he is self-defining. He is unable to be narrowed down. He is the ground of existence.” (p.104)

Longman has a very interesting section on the gods of Egypt (pp.107-9). Do they truly exist? “The answer to that question is much more complex than one might think” (p.107). Of course, there is only one God, the Creator of all that is. But Longman reaches for an emended text of Deuteronomy 32.8, the supernatural feats of the Egyptian magicians, and the testimony throughout Scripture to claim that these Egyptian gods were real spiritual powers, although created and “assigned their place by God” (pp.107-8).

The best section of the book is Part 5: ”Reading Exodus as a Christian." This section features the theological/canonical approach. The theme of the Exodus event, the law, and the tabernacle are masterfully traced from the OT to their NT fulfillment in Christ.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reading fiction

For those of my friends who look down on reading fiction (you know who you are!), Justin Taylor links to two brief articles by Peter Leithart.

Greek & Hebrew flashcards

Introducing Babel flashcards. This looks like a very good program at a reasonable price.

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Faith of God's Elect

I'll be watching this blog closely for the next while as Joel Barnes has promised a multi-post critique of John Parkinson's The Faith of God's Elect. I'm glad to see that Joel can give and take; he's welcoming interaction in the comment sections:
I hope Christians who have been influenced by this book will take the time to read my review in its several parts and even interact with it using my blog’s comment feature should they be inclined.
For those interested in these issues, here are some other recent blog posts that have turned up in my reader:

Shawn McGrath with the first of many posts on Romans 9.

Dan Wallace writes about corporate election.

Michael Patton gives 12 reasons why Romans 9 is about individual election, not corporate election.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Thousand Miles of Miracle in China by A. E. Glover

An incredible story of suffering for the cause of Christ, and of God’s intervention. Glover, his pregnant wife, and his two children go through a two month journey of “daily dying” as they try to escape during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. Reading this book was like reading the definitive commentary on Philippians 3.10.

A recollection: A tramp had followed them on one leg of the journey; Glover was later stripped naked, and the tramp later offered him some awful clothes. Glover then realized that they had switched clothes and switched positions. Now Glover was the tramp, or, worse than a tramp. Then their guide boy came and donated a pair of pants of his own. They only came to half way up Glover's leg, but met his need, “and more than that, they were the embodiment of the love of Christ, offered me in His Name and for His sake; and as I thanked the dear lad in the Name of the Lord Jesus, I thought with joy of the King’s recognition awaiting him: ‘I was naked, and ye clothed Me. Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me. Come, ye blessed of My Father.’”

A big thank you to the sister who loaned me this book!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Hell on a Fast Horse

To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old WestTo Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West by Mark L. Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The recounting of Pat Garrett’s two captures of Billy the Kid (Henry McCarty) was interesting, but not as interesting as the recounting of “the Kid’s” capture of America’s fascination.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Lusitania

The LusitaniaThe Lusitania by Colin Simpson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book opened my eyes to the fact that the Germans weren’t the only bad guys in WWI.

View all my reviews

Keller and Clowney Syllabus

A long time ago I recommended the lectures given in a course on preaching by Tim Keller and Ed Clowney. Keller frequently references his handouts throughout the course, and I can remember wishing I had access to them. Well, now I do, and you can access them too right here.

HT: Andy Naselli

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Greek, Hebrew, and Latin resources

Justin Taylor points out some language resources:

Learning the Greek alphabet

Heb Hop: the Hebrew alphabet

And some good intro Latin lessons, which look great for homeschooling. Justin has additional links here.

Which one is worship?

My answer to Alan Knox's question: all of them, IF they are done as a response to the mercy of God shown us by his Son and by his Spirit (Romans 12.1-2).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Give to Pakistan

The truth of justification by faith leads not only to overcoming racial boundaries, but also to giving (see Galatians 2.10). Frontiers is a reliable mission to give to if your heart goes out to the people of flooded Pakistan.

To donate, click here.

The horizontal dimension of justification by faith

Here's a very important essay by Michael Bird on Justification by Faith and Racism.

A key quote:
To practice any form of ethnic or racial exclusion means that one either does not understand or does not believe in justification by faith.
The horizontal aspect of justification finds surprising emphasis in the NT.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How to welcome neighbours

Lifehacker has a helpful post on the subject.

One of the more valuable things you can do for a new neighbor is to put together a cheat sheet for the neighborhood. Write down all the important stuff that a new person wouldn't immediately know about like what day the bulk trash pickup is, special events in the neighborhood (block-wide garage sales, social events, etc.), and other information specific to the neighborhood that a new person might find out about after the fact.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

World War One

World War One: A Short History World War One: A Short History by Norman Stone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Chapter 1 (Outbreak) weaves together the various factors that made Europe a place where war was waiting to happen. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was ‘the inevitable accident’. Years later the murderer said that if he had not done it, “the Germans would have found another excuse” (23). "The generation that emerged into maturity around 1890 has much to answer for…the greatest mistake of the twentieth century was made when Germany built a navy designed to attack [Great Britain:]” (10-11).

“No war has ever begun with such a fundamental misunderstanding of its nature” (36).

“The noise of German movements was concealed by, of all things, the croaking of frogs in the Aisne, and the surprise was almost complete” (168-9). 

“The real disaster, in all of this, was that Germans did not think that they had been defeated” (189).

Prophetic words of Lloyd George: “if peace were made now, in twenty years’ time the Germans would say what Carthage had said about the First Punic War, namely that they had made this mistake and that mistake, and by better preparation and organization they would be able to bring about victory next time” (189).

“The way was open for a Second World War even more terrible than the First” (190).

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Apple's posture on pornography

Steve Jobs recent comments on wanting Apple to steer clear of pornography have made me even more tempted to go with an Apple for our next laptop.

Al Mohler picks up on how parenthood matters in all this.

I love how Jobs describes freedom:

Steve Jobs threw Ryan Tate’s definition of freedom right back at him. Is Apple about freedom? “Yep,” said Jobs, “freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bible study software & online resources

The Tyndale Tech has a helpful post on New Ways to Study the Bible, with lots of links to different Bible study software programs and web pages.

One of the programs that caught my eye is BibleCrawler.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My little theologian

Aimee: you are always welcome to use Daddy's books. Hope you're still interested in them when you turn 16!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Treasure Principle

The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (LifeChange Books) The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving by Randy Alcorn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A short but excellent book on money and giving. The Bible is clear: we should invest our money where it will give us maximum returns. Only we mustn’t ask how our investments will pay off in thirty years, but thirty million years (p.18). Yes, here is a book on giving that doesn’t guilt us into giving, but entices us to do so. This is a book about the joy of giving (p.5). We are God’s money managers, and he leaves it to us to set our own salaries (p.26).

Treasure Principle Keys
• God owns everything. I’m his money manager (p.23)
• My heart always goes where I put God’s money (p.41)
• Heaven, not earth, is my home (p.45)
• I should live not for the dot but for the line (p.49)
• Giving is the only antidote for materialism (p.56)
• God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving (p.73)

Here is proof that a life-changing book does not need to be a big one. I plan to distribute The Treasure Principle widely.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The exciting story, told in real time, of (to quote the sub-title) “the 12-day chase for Lincoln’s killer.” Well-sourced. Moves quickly. My advice is to order it now in time for Father’s day! Speaking of which, the fact that I am now a father of two, and a husband of one, means that these reviews are going to have to get shorter. So that’s all for this one!

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Calvin on worship

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is the last of nine parts of a short series of snippets from the book.


Gordon summarizes:

“God has spoken to humanity in scripture, opened a relationship in which women and men should know and worship God—a worship not confined to religious services, but which embraces every aspect of human existence (p.61, my emphasis).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Calvin on the value of studying classical authors

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part eight of a short series of snippets from the book.


Gordon summarizes an address given by Beza, which “was an elegant exposition of the Christian humanism he shared with John Calvin…Classical authors are an essential part of the pursuit of wisdom, and much is to be learned from them in fields of language, history, literature and philosophy. But they were pagans, not Christians, living without the light of Christ’s revelation. Education serves the purpose of preparing young men for the study of Scripture and service in the Church” (pp.299-300).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Calvin on the world as God's theatre

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part seven of a short series of snippets from the book.


Gordon summarizes:

“The world is the theatre of God’s glory most brilliantly seen in the Church, which lives in the certainty that it is grounded in God’s covenantal promise and has God’s protection. It will never perish” (p.286).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Calvin on unity

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part six of a short series of snippets from the book.


His great goal was to establish unity amongst the reforming church. To the Frankfurt community he wrote:

"Thus, my brethren, I beseech you in the name of God, increasingly to put in practice this lesson of Paul’s, ‘Let nothing be done from contention, nor from lust of victory’ as the word which he employs indicates. The moment each person backs his own quarrel people must of necessity come to a battle. Rather let each man admit his faults, and those who have been put to blame submit of their own accord…” (242-243).

Calvin’s minimalistic approach to requirements for unity and fellowship: “There was no one form of Christian community” (p.276).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Calvin on preaching

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part five of a short series of snippets from the book.


Gordon summarizes:

“In preaching the minister was to teach the people the Word of God, but they were not merely learning; the Word had to embrace their heart and move them. Through the spoken word Christ is present in the community. As Thomas J. Davis has put it: ‘Preaching spans the gap between the “then” nature of the events of the Gospels and the “now” nature of redemption.’” (p.139).

The preacher must keep an eye open on the events of his day (293).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Calvin on interpreting the Bible

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part four of a short series of snippets from the book.


Calvin used all the means available to him to interpret the Bible, including the methods he learned as a humanist. And yet he encountered the living, Triune God in the scriptures. He placed great emphasis on seeing how the church fathers had interpreted the Bible, and his knowledge of their writings was incredible. “He saw himself engaged in a sustained conversation with ancient and contemporary interpreters, none of whom was infallible. It was a conversation in the service of the Church, guided by the Spirit and grounded in the Word of God” (p.108).

“Calvin, like the other reformers, understood that scripture could not stand without a framework of interpretation” (p.108).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Calvin on the distinction between the Bible and the Word of God

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part three of a short series of snippets from the book.


“All the reformers distinguished between the Bible and the Word of God, or Gospel. Scripture contains ‘perfect doctrine,’ which is God’s revelation, but it is not itself the Gospel” (p.104).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Calvin and N.T. Wright

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part two of a short series of snippets from the book.


Some of Gordon's summaries of Calvin's teachings would surely coax an Amen from N.T. Wright!

“Christianity…is not about individual salvation but about the glory of God” (p.98).

“Salvation is not about individuals, but about the community of the Church” (118).


Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Calvin on Bible Translation

Recently I reviewed Bruce Gordon's biography of John Calvin. This post is part of a short series of snippets from the book.


“Citing the example of the church fathers Augustine, Jerome and Chrysotom, Calvin held that there was a long and honourable tradition of making scripture available to the ‘simple people’ (p.55).

  1. Bruce Gordon, Calvin (New Haven [Conn.] and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Calvin Calvin by Bruce Gordon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gordon reveals a Calvin who loved and hated; who believed in God’s sovereignty and sometimes manipulated; whose powerful intellect contrasted his weak body. His ability to interpret the Bible is what stands him out from all other 16th century writers (p.vii). If Luther’s discovery was justification by faith, Calvin’s was the Church (p.vii). He sensed that his was a special calling and often identified himself with the great characters of the Bible—especially the Apostle Paul. He invested heavily in relationships: “Much of the attention of this book will be focused upon the ebb and flow of his contacts” (p.ix).

Gordon’s biography is intended for those who are interested in Calvin but know little about him and his 16th century background (p.xi). I fit that audience perfectly, and am thus qualified to say that Gordon delivers.

In reading this book I learned about the prevailing political and religious tensions which form the background to Calvin’s life. I also learned about his privileged education in law and humanism, his conversion, and his life of exile in Switzerland. His primary allies were Farel, Viret, Bullinger, and Bucer. His most hated enemies were Servetus, Castellio, and Westphal. Brutal opposition makes Calvin’s achievements all the more noteworthy. His establishing the Reformation in Geneva, writing of The Institutes and many commentaries, were all accomplished despite the great pressure against him.

The matter of Michael Servetus is handled in chapter 13 (pp. 217-232). While not convincing me (nor trying to) that Calvin was entirely innocent, the context and detail Gordon provides go a long way to helping me understand the (limited) role Calvin played in the affair.

Biographies I’ve read of great men of God like Robert M’Cheyne and Robert Chapman challenged me to groCw in the life of holiness and conformity to Christ. This biography of Calvin leaves me wanting to grow in discipline in the life of the mind.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What Jesus demands from the world

What Jesus Demands from the World What Jesus Demands from the World by John Piper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of my favourite Piper books. In it he catalogues 50 of the radical demands Jesus makes of the world. His aim is to investigate “the meaning and motivation of Jesus’ commands in connection with his person and work” (p.19). The demands Jesus makes of us are impossible for us to meet. For this reason Piper starts with the “gentler” commands (p.25). Obedience to these foundational commands enables and empowers obedience to the harder ones. As always with Piper, obedience to Christ is not to be driven by duty but by delight. If we understand Jesus aright, “his demands will not feel severe but sweet” (p.24).

Some things I found helpful:
• Piper offers a definition of the gospel that works for both Jesus and Paul: “The gospel—the good news—is that the rule of God has arrived in Jesus to save sinners before the kingdom arrives at his second coming in judgment” (p.43).
• In the context of John’s gospel, to abide in Jesus is to trust in Jesus’ love and to trust in his word. And if we don’t abide in his word, we are not his disciples.

At times Piper seems to exegete so independently that he doesn’t consult the secondary literature. This can have refreshing and tiring results. An example of the latter is a lengthy discussion on what Jesus means by the good eye and the bad eye in Matthew 6.22-23. The explanation we are eventually brought to seems long and dubious. It would have been better to explain that a “good” (literally, “single”) eye meant a generous eye while a “bad” eye could mean either a diseased or stingy eye (see The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Keener).

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Constantine Cambell reviews Daniel Wallace's recent book, Granville Sharp's Canon and Its Kin: Semantics and Significance:

Rarely is a book on Greek syntax enthralling, let alone immensely significant. Daniel Wallace’s new book on the Greek article is both.
It is rare to be invited to review a book that is both a landmark and robust to the point of seeming virtually irrefutable. It is a landmark book because it has in my opinion put to rest the debate about Sharp’s rule, and it is enormously important both to Greek syntax and theological exegesis of the NT. Truly, the humble Greek article reaches the heights of the deity of Christ! The book is robust in that it is difficult to imagine its key conclusions being overturned any time soon, if ever. If such claims appear grandiose, the following is more so: this book will stand the test of time as one of the best contributions to Greek syntax of the twenty-first century. Dr Wallace is to be congratulated, and all serious students of the Greek NT should read his book and will do so to great profit.