Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Interview with Keller on "The Reason for God"

Tim Keller, author of the new book The Reason for God, was interviewed by Anthony Sacramone of First Things. There were some interesting commented, presented here without comment.

On education:

I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.

In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity—it just didn’t keep their attention, because they really couldn’t follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn’t something that they were trained in doing. I don’t think they’re irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.

I know for a fact that Lewis was just heavy sledding for even smart Ivy League American graduates by the mid-nineties. One of the reasons I started doing this was I thought I needed something that gave them shorter, simpler, more accessible arguments.

Also on education:

I think it’s a lot more complicated. Even Lewis, in his Weight of Glory series, Lewis said that, before World War One, the average educational experience was twelve or thirteen people sitting in a room listening to a paper by one person then tearing it apart till 2 a.m. in the morning. And he says, now, the quintessential educational experience is listening to a celebrity lecturer, with a hundred or two hundred other people taking notes and then taking an exam. Even he said, between the wars, he saw a diminishment in people’s ability to really think hard and long about issues.

On helping plant non-Presbyterian churches:

Yes, because I don’t believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who’ll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn’t appeal to them.Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mahaney on Confession

I thought these comments by Mahaney were interesting.

When I have sinned against someone, a sincere confession is required. A confession that is sincere and pleasing to God will be specific and brief. I have learned to be suspicious of my confession if it’s general and lengthy. A sincere confession of sin should be specific (“I was arrogant and angry when I made that statement; will you please forgive me for sinning against you in this way?”) and brief (this shouldn’t take long). When I find myself adding an explanation to my confession, I’m not asking forgiveness but instead appealing for understanding.

I find that one of the most common approaches to confession is exactly what Mahaney says here. We try to explain things, such as why we did it, and what we were trying to do. By doing such, we are often looking to be understood, not forgiven. We are looking to minimize our sin, not deal with it.

Now, I am not sure that explanation is always wrong. Sometimes, sin in relationships does come out of good motives. For instance a father may yell at his son and lose his temper because he is genuinely concerned about his son's wrong behavior. In such a case confession is still necessary, though I am not convinced an explanation is out of order.

However, in general, I think Mahaney is on to something here.

I am also suspicious of confessions that do not include "Will you forgive me?" It is easy to say, "I'm sorry." It is much more difficult to add, "Will you forgive me?" because you are relinquishing control to the one whom you have sinned against. Besides that, it's just plain humbling, even humiliating.

The proud control freak in all of us wishes to solve problems by ignoring them, or at least saying by maintaining control.

Give it up. Learn to humble yourself and say, "Will you forgive me?" Then stop talking.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Patton on Emerging/ents

C. Michael Patton has been drawing up some charts on the emerging church, trying to compare them with others in the evangelical spectrum. It's been (so far) a four-part series. You can see it here, here, here, and here. It has been taking some heat over at Scot McKnight's blog. Of course, taking heat at JesusCreed may mean that something is on target, since Scot's commenters are not generally posting substantive and well-reasoned interaction.

Patton's articles have some good stuff and some other stuff. It has the typical kind of caricatures that distinctions involving fundamentalists would not be complete without (such as the idea that almost anything the Bible teaches is in the center of the circle of importance for fundamentalists).

But here is a key point. He says,

To be emerging does not necessarily have to do with where you land on certain issues. It has to do with your willingness to fly, seriously entertaining anew important and fundamental issues. Not only do you entertain questions (e.g. Why does God allow bad things? Is inerrancy the center of evangelical faith? Do the various traditions—Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant—all have valid contributions to make?) but you have the same questions yourself.

In the end, you may land your plane in the field of traditional Protestantism on a particular issue, but it is your willingness to take off that is key. Are you willing to discuss issues from a fresh perspective? This is a key emerging question.

He then states: "Those in the Emergent camp seem unwilling to land their plane anywhere. The most emphasized and essential point may be that one cannot land!"

I think Patton is onto something here. The problem with emergents is not that they entertain questions. It is that they have no way in which to arrive at any answers. They have rejected any notion of authority that lies outside their own mind or own way of thinking.

That is the irony of the emergents. They pretend to have all these open questions (and they are open to them). But the reason they are open is because their only authority is their mind—whether or not they can process the information in a way that makes sense to them, and in a way that they believe will not make them appear to "know-it-all."

Here's a little secret: It is okay to know things, and okay to be assured of them.

There is actually nothing wrong with objective knowledge. And there is nothing wrong with sharing that knowledge with others who have questions about a particular things. Of course, we need to humble, but being humble and being ignorant are not the same thing.

Sidenote: It is interesting that some emergents who claim not to know anything for sure know for sure that fundamentalists are wrong.

Here's another little secret: It's okay to ask questions (even if you are a fundamentalist). There are some very hard questions for theology and philosophy. Let's ask the questions. But let's have some way to determine answers.

To leave the deity of Christ hanging in mid-air is not a sign of humility. It is a sign of arrogance, of putting one's own mind above the revelation of God. To question the resurrection is likewise a statement of arrogant subjectivism. Remember, knowledge is not arrogance. Arrogance is arrogance.

The problem is ultimately not in the questions. It is in the lack of a way in which to find answer, to land the plane.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Is the Resurrection Necessary?

In the comment section of another blog, the following was said:

But the question is, if there were ever undeniable “proof” that Jesus was not physically resurrected and the early Christians didn’t truly believe he was then would you still be able to be a Christian. You seem to be saying no, others would say yes. Now as I’ve pointed out in the previous blog that Denny posted that I linked to, the difference between you and these other types of people is that you probably would never even consider the “proof” of whether Jesus was physically resurrected or not. You would in a sense cover your eyes and plug your ears, whereas the other type would be willing to consider the proof and possibly even agree with it. But instead of abandoning their faith they would instead just reorient their beliefs.

How in the world do people say stuff like this and expect to be taken seriously? Unfortunately, this is the type of stuff that passes for serious thought these days.

Fortunately, it is the type of stuff that God directly spoke about in 1 Corinthians 15. He said that if the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen, then our faith is vain.

So yes, if the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen, then we would need to seriously reorient our beliefs. But we certainly would not still be able to be a Christian.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review of Sandy and Geise's "Cracking Old Testament Codes"

Sandy, D. Brent and Ronald L. Giese, Jr. Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995. Pp. 1-298

Sandy and Giese have put together an excellent volume on the interpretation of the various literary genres of the Old Testament. By attracting some very high-profile authors of the individual chapters, Sandy and Giese have given this volume credibility as well as weight.

The book is made up of fourteen chapters, ten of which discuss various genres while the other four cover more general matters. Particularly strong are the two chapters on lament (Longman) and praise (Barker) which focus mostly on the psalms, with references to other psalm-like literature in the Old Testament. The last chapter, focusing on preaching and teaching ministry, is likewise a strong chapter filled with insight for the pastor or teacher of the Old Testament. The opening three chapters, covering general issues, are also important. Kaiser and Merrill ably handle narrative and history. Averbeck covers law. VanGemeren, Butler, and Sandy and Abegg cover the sections commonly referred to as prophecy, and Hildebrandt and Hill cover proverbial literature. Almost each chapter has a helpful “case study” of relevant text, giving explanation and example of how the principles of the chapter should be applied.

Reading these treatments did raise this author’s eyebrows in a few spots. For example, in his mostly well-done article on narrative, Kaiser talks about the rhetorical device of “omission … a gap [that] was an unstated piece of information that was essential for getting at the meaning of the text” (p. 78, emphasis mine). One is left to wonder how essential something is that God omitted, and what ramifications that has for the doctrine of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture.

Merrill’s chapter is notable for its discussion of the differences between Chronicles and the books of Samuel and Kings, but he makes the curious statement that “biblical history is not precluded from … the possibility that some imagination was at work in its composition” (p. 104). Again, one should wonder how much imagination can figure into an inspired account of history.

Averbeck’s chapter on law is interesting. He gives a good definition of a covenant as expressing or defining a relationship (pp. 116, 134), and rightly does not see any distinction between “universal and culture-bound laws” in authorial intent which destroys a number of approaches to the Law (p. 135). However, Averbeck does not, at least in this author’s opinion, sufficiently deal with the covenants and the Christian. Concerning the Mosaic covenant, Averbeck says that “the law continues to demonstrate God’s expectations, though Christians live under the new covenant and have a different relationship to the Mosaic Law” (p. 124). His assertion that the Christian is under the New Covenant is absent of any argumentation in its favor and it neglects the serious exegetical case that can be and has been made that the Christian is not under the New Covenant. In addition, Averbeck’s view of the Christian’s “different relationship to the Mosaic Law” is unclear. He concludes that the Mosaic Law “applies under the new covenant, though not in the same way” (p. 135). Given the exegetical significance of the believer and the Law, Averbeck’s treatment seems insufficient, even in an article this short.

The articles by VanGemeren and Butler on prophecy seem driven by a distinction between “Oracles of Salvation” and “Announcements of Judgment.” Yet neither author offers any support for this proposed division. VanGemeren’s assertion that “oracles address individuals … comfort them … and promise deliverance” (p. 141, cf. 153) seems not to address the fact that many oracles (whether נֽאֻם or מַשָּׂא) are pronouncements of judgment. It seems an invalid distinction, at least given the argumentation he has presented here. VanGemeren’s chapter is perhaps the weakest in the book.

Overall, this book is well done, and these minor and periodic quibbles should not overshadow the positive contribution this book makes to Old Testament study.

Friday, February 15, 2008

UFOs and Jesus

I was sitting at the beach two nights ago watching the sun go down and having a nice conversation with another couple who had a son about the same age as our son.

Another man came up beside me and sat down and started talking to me, apparently completely oblivious that I was already in a conversation with someone else. After complaining about the Japanese government for a few minutes, he asked what I did. I told him I was a pastor. He asked what kind. I said Baptist. He began asking the difference. And I began talking about it.

Somehow, and for the life of me I can't quite figure out how, he managed to get the conversation to UFOs. He asked if there were intelligent life forms on other planets and galaxies, if I would believe that God made them. I said, "I don't grant the premise, but if it were so, then yes, I would believe that God made them."

He then began this long speech about his personal encounters with UFOs and "highly evolved lifeforms," that he claimed were far more technologically advanced than ours. He also covered government cover-ups and people in jail that were being kept from revealing sensitive information. I was bored to tears but challenged at the same time. Here was a man, sitting down and talking to someone he did not know about something that was ... well, probably complete nonsense. But he was passionate about it. And that passion enabled him to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. So my first thought was "Why are we as Christians not able to do that with the gospel?"

Okay, that wasn't my first thought. My first thought was, "STOP TALKING TO ME ABOUT UFOs." But I restrained that one, and began to think about how I might turn this conversation into a chance to talk about the gospel of Jesus.

My opening was not far away. He talked about seeing a mom and a son carrying a ball walking towards him while he was in a park one day. He saw that ball transmutate (his word) into this non-human life form, and it was so bad he had to turn away. He said it was incomprehensible to him. I hung on to that word for the next few minutes while he continued.

At a break in the conversation, I asked him if he ever thought about what he would do with all this knowledge about UFOs. What value would it serve him when he died and left this earth and stood before God.

Then I said, "You talked a moment ago about that occasion that was incomprehensible to you. Let me tell you what is incomprehensible to me. It is incomprehensible to me that the God who created this universe would send his Son to die for me to give me eternal life."

That sparked a bit of discussion about reincarnation, what gets a person to heaven.

I mentioned the passage in Isa 53 that talks about how Jesus was so beaten for sin that he was one that people had to turn away from, just as he did on that previous occasion. And he was beaten for us, in our place.

I said to him, "I often ask people if they were to stand before God and he were to say 'Why should I let you into heaven, what would you tell him?' I have had some interesting answers to that question."

He asked what some of those interesting answers were. I told him that some people talked about works, and some people hoped that God would let them in, but the most interesting was the people who said they had never thought about it. I said, "It is totally strange to me that people have never thought about their eternal life and what will happen when they die."

He said he didn't believe that God would ask him that question, because if he was at the gates it would be because God would let him in.

I said I didn't think God would ask him either because He already knew, but I asked to find out what people were thinking about how one has a relationship with God.

He then asked me how I would answer. I told him I would answer that Jesus had come to earth to be everything I should have been, and he died the death I should have died, and I was trusting him alone to make me right with God and get me to heaven.

About that time, my wife came back from talking to another couple, and I said I needed to go.

I say all that to say this. One, we need to be more passionate about the gospel than this man is about UFOs. After all, we know one is true, and the other is probably not.

Two, we need to constantly be looking for ways to turn a conversation to the gospel. I am sure there was a better way buried in there than what I used, but it opened the door to give a clear presentation of life in Jesus alone.

Hopefully, it took some root on Mark's heart. I know it challenged mine.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tim Keller and the Emerging Church

Some interpreted my last post as saying that Tim Keller is a part of the emerging church. I did not say that, and I do not think he is. Others might disagree, but they can make their own case.

My point was that many in the conservative end of the emerging church (such as Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, Matt Chandler, Ed Stetzer, most of Acts 29) have a great amount of respect for Keller. He is, as I said, kind of a yoda of sorts to them.

Or as Doug Moo once said about someone else, they "have a lot of time for him."

Keller has been invited to speak for Acts 29, which is a key part (perhaps the only part) of the conservative end of the emerging church.

Keller's concern for social justice and his ability to communicate with postmoderns, as well as his doctrinal orthodoxy causes these guys to have a great amount "time" for Keller.

At the upcoming Dwell Conference at Keller's church, Driscoll, Patrick, Mahaney, and Stetzer will be speaking along with Keller about urban church planting.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Newsweek on Keller

Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. Newsweek has an article on him this week.

Keller is kind of the Yoda of the social justice emphasis of the conservative end of the emerging church. He is a popular speaker, and the author of several books including the forthcoming The Reason for God.

(HT: Ed Stetzer)

A VP Deal?

Has Mitt Romney made a deal with McCain?

I would not be surprised to hear that Romney will be McCain's running mate. His withdrawal was sudden and fairly unexpected, given his statement the night before to fight on. However, the "good of the party" Romney referred to may in fact be a reference to "Vice-Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney."

Think about it: The delegate count was making it almost impossible for Romney to win the nomination, and the conservatives make it almost impossible for McCain to win the general. But this back room deal makes it possible for McCain to coast to the nomination since Huckabee and Paul are non-factors. McCain saves his cash to run against the Democrats, and probably adds to his cash with Romney. He chooses Romney to be his VP, which sways some of the conservatives, and sets Romney up to run in 2012 (if McCain is a one-termer), or 2016 (if McCain is a two-termer).

So I will not be surprised if Romney is chosen. If you are McCain, Romney makes good sense for a lot of reasons.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

There is Right and Wrong

And that's all there is.

Sometimes, people are fond of finding gray areas, about which they presume there is neither right nor wrong, but each can be convinced in his own mind.

I believe this is misguided. I do not believe there is neutrality. Something is either right or its wrong.

The fact that "good men differ" does not mean that both are right, or that God is indifferent on the matter. It does not even mean that both sides have some part of the truth. The fact is that when "good men differ" one of them is wrong.

The rub comes in when people treat something "right" as if it is "wrong" because of their own personal conscience. This often causes division in the body, particularly in a local body, which is another issue for another day.

The fact that a person judges something to be wrong, does not mean that it is. He may be judging wrongly, for any number of reasons. Conversely, the fact that someone judges something right does not mean that it is right. He may be judging wrongly, again, for any number of reasons.

But let us dispense with the notion that there is some kind of middle ground out there about which God is indifferent. Something either pleases God or it does not.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Book Review of Silva's Biblical Word and Their Meaning

Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Semantics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. Pp. 8-211.

Silva is well-known for his work in hermeneutics and lexicography and this book is part of the reason why.

This book is divided into two sections, Historical Semantics and then Descriptive Semantics. The first section is largely devote to word use in history (as one might surmise), in terms of diachronic vs. synchronic linguistics. While recognizing a role for a diachronic method, Silva follows Saussare’s methodology in preferring synchronic linguistics while noting that the two are not mutually exclusive (p.38). For Silva, diachronic linguistics is of less value because people rarely use words based on their history (except in rare and often technical cases) but rather use words on the basis of the contemporary usage. His discussion of etymology provides a good caution in this regard, quoting Vendryes that, “Words are not used according to their historical value. The mind forgets—assuming it ever knew—the semantic evolutions through which the words have passed” (p. 46). With this, Silva does not dismiss historical usage or etymological derivation, but rightly cautions against loading them with too much freight, particularly in the case of common words. His historical section closes with two sections (pp. 55-93) on Semantic Change and the Septuagint and Semantic Change and the New Testament where he illustrates and further explicates his previous position, showing both the difficulty and value of trying to determine how and why particular words were used.

His section on descriptive semantics (part 2) is devoted to examining words in their context, and in comparison with other words that may have been used. He illustrates the various ways of relating words to one another (e.g., overlapping relations, contiguous relations), ultimately arguing that the meaning of words are determined by their context including their syntactical combinations

This book has a number of examples from several different language (including Greek, Hebrew, French, and English). These examples are well-placed illustrations of the various points under discussions. In addition, his work is sprinkled with comments about the relative strengths and weaknesses of various works, including a short annotated bibliography. It concludes with an appendix that serves as a case study for the words for worship in the NT. While this appendix was not written by Silva, it admirably illustrates the lexical and exegetical process defended by the book.

This book is probably not written for a beginner, in spite of being called An Introduction. It seems that some parts are made harder to understand than they have to be. It almost seems that an introduction to the introduction is in order, particularly when it comes to the meaning of particular words that are used throughout the book (e.g. homonymy, hyponymy, acceptation, phoneme, lexeme, etc.). These are all important concepts, but keeping them straight will be yeoman’s work for those unfamiliar with them.

Overall, this is a work that should be read—two or three times in order to begin to grasp the ideas in it. It should, however, be preceded by Silva’s God, Language, and Scripture as well as several other works on hermeneutics and language.

On Lament in Worship

A while back I read someone's blog lamenting that a certain lady had gone to church in the midst of a personal struggle and had found the church singing only joyful songs. She found nothing for her soul there since she did not feel like singing those kinds of songs.

I have also seen those who lamented going to church and finding that the church was singing songs of lament or testimony that did not personally apply to them. They claimed a certain discomfort at being asked to sing something that did not personally resonate with them at that moment.

Which raises the question of what is the role of singing in church?

Let's start with what it is not. It is not the role of singing (or worship planning) to anticipate the personal spiritual, emotional, or physical state of the individual worshipper (though each song will probably be suited to someone in the congregation). It is neither the role of singing in corporate worship to meet the needs of individual worshippers (though each song will probably meet the needs of individuals worshippers).

These points, to me, renders both of the above complaints misguided and even somewhat, dare I say, self-centered. Should I really judge the usefulness of a song in a worship service because it does not exactly reflect my personal state at the moment? I think not. Perhaps, in the sovereignty and providence of God, he planned that song so that I would be brought to a place of brokenness, or raised to a place of joy, in both cases by considering something greater than myself. Furthermore, perhaps it is God's plan for the church as a body to minister to someone else through a particular song. The great collective voice of the redeemed rings out a clarion call to all who are in attendance to respond to God. It may be that the song, while perhaps not reflecting your personal state at the moment, reminds you of the state of others to whom you should be ministering. Because behind you, or in front of you, or beside you, is a brother or sister in Christ for whom that song does have particular relevance, and you could be ministering to them.

Can you imagine a church where the SOP was to only sing the songs that fit your personal state or personal prayer? What a strange idea, and yet that is what it seems some would propose.

The fact is that when a service is being planned, it is very likely that the one planning it has no idea what is going on in the lives of people that week, aside from his own. And in a church with more than three people in attendance, it is unlikely that any song will grasp the full range of their spiritual or emotional state. Some people will be called to praise God when they don't feel like it; and others will be called to lament when they do not feel like they have anything to lament (something lamentable in and of itself).

To answer the question of the role of singing positively, we need to look at Scripture. The Psalms are filled with a variety of content, summed up basically under the two ideas of lamentation and rejoicing. We could further classify into personal and corporate for each category. And then there are a number of sub-genres under those categories.

As these psalms were used in corporate worship, it is doubtful that the personal state of the worshipper was considered in worship planning. It was assumed that the worshipped would conform his spiritual response to the text of the psalm. It was the role of singing to express a corporate prayer or praise to God, such as would be appropriate for people (not necessarily a particular individual) to express. Such singing also would serve to resonate with some who were in particular spiritual states, and to encourage them. If a psalm did not minister to a particular individual, it was still expected that he would participate because it was corporate worship.

I wonder if we should expect any less today.

It is true that there are cheesy, trite, stupid songs of personal lament or need or celebration better suited for the young man trying to attract a young woman or the person who has just scored a winning goal (or given it up), than for a sinful redeemed person to worship the Creator God. These should not be sung regardless of the personal state of the worshipper.

But the pattern of corporate worship in the OT reveals a mixture of lament and praise, and so our worship today should reveal the same mixture.

And since it is corporate worship, one's personal spiritual or emotional state is not really the issue. That's for private worship.

The idea that one is lying by singing a true and serious song corporately that may not perfectly reflect his current state is ... well ... nonsense, in my judgment. It reveals a state of individuality that has no place in corporate worship. It leads me to wonder what these people do when, in their private reading of the Psalms, they come across one that does not resonate with their immediate condition. Do they skip it? Do they read it silently from dispassionate distance? Or do they seek to see what God has for them in that passage that day?

Would not it be better to interact with the psalm (or song) spiritually, in diligent search of our own soul? Is there not a latent (or not so latent) pride demonstrated when one refuses to worship corporately because he or she personally does not like the song or does not feel it best reflects their spiritual state at the moment? Perhaps, at that moment, they are in need of the spiritual state that would be able to sing such a song as I imagine here, to come to a place of brokenness where they realize that corporate worship is corporate; it's not about them.

When people who lament the individualism of some kinds of approach to church, and rightly so, then turn around and judge the appropriateness of worship by whether or not it conformed to their own spiritual state at the moment, I am befuddled. I might be weird, but that seems strange to me.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Mark Dever Recommends Books

I thought the list of "must read books" according to Dever was interesting. It comes from a recent interview of Dever by C. J. Mahaney.

  1. J.I. Packer – Fundamentalism and the Word of God
  2. J.I. Packer – Knowing God
  3. J.I. Packer – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
  4. D. A. Carson – For the Love of God (2 vols.)
  5. C. J. Mahaney – Humility
  6. Martin Lloyd-Jones – Preaching and Preachers
  7. John Stott – Between Two Worlds

Interestingly, they are not the same list of books that Dever gave when asked which books had greatly influenced him. There is a pretty comical exchange about the question. It starts about 24:45 in the interview.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

On the Super Bowl

It is hard to imagine that I could care less. (Boy, how times have changed. I rarely watch a complete sports event any more unless it is soccer. How weird am I ...). I guess I will watch some tomorrow night. Maybe ...

But in the meantime, if you have not already seen them, here are two things worth looking at, in my opinion.

CJ Mahaney has started a blog which I had not read until tonight. I thought this post on the Super Bowl was good. I have heard CJ once or twice, but have not read any of his books. But I like what seems to be his genuineness and straightforwardness. This is no exception.

The Tom-In-the-Box News Network is on My Bloglines simply because it is funny. And this is no exception either. Creative people bother me ... mostly because I am not one and otherwise simply because I read something creative and think how easy it would have been to come up with. But alas, I never come up with anything creative. But these guys are really creative and really funny.