October 2009


This post is dedicated to my wonderful girlfriend of two years.  It’s been a wonderful two years Brianna, and Lord willing there will be many more.  I wouldn’t normally post about it here, except that she got me John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, which I will enjoy immensely.  I also received a review copy recently from the fine folks at Zondervan Academic of another of Walton’s projects, namely Volume 5 of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament.  Reviews and reflections on both should be coming along shortly.

~alex

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I recently finished three books which are relevant to the task of exegesis (a close reading of the biblical text, with the purpose of discovering the intent of the biblical author).  The three authors are fairly well respected in evangelical circles (and often wider ones as well).  I read D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, and David Alan Black’s Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.   All contributed added to my knowledge of the task, though some were more interesting than others.  Here I’ll collect some various thoughts that resulted from reading and reflecting on the books.

From Carson’s book, I was reminded of the absolute necessity of humility in scholarship.  Scholarship which isn’t humble (and in turn, self critical) usually ends up veering off into some fallacy or another.  Going hand in hand with humility is the need for intellectual honesty.  It’s very easy to get an idea and run with it, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.  Usually this results in ignoring important evidence.  When the scholarship in question surrounds scripture, it’s even more important to be honest and humble.  Reading about all the ways which people misuse and abuse the Greek text of the New Testament warned me as I study Greek:  tread softly and be hesitant about making broad statements.  Don’t try to bend the text to a preconceived notion.  You do yourself and the text a disservice in this case. 

Fee’s book was the most fascinating for me.  As a Pentecostal scholar and minister, Fee has a very strong appeal to me as someone raised in and involved with Pentecostalism, and as someone who loves intellectual pursuits.  The combination is still rare, though slowly changing I hope.  Fee impressed on me the wealth of all the resources that we’ve been given.  Between the lexicons, the commentaries, the synopses, and dictionaries, it’s astonishing.  Seeing a process laid out for doing detailed reading was also helpful, and I know it’s something I’ll return to in the future, Lord willing, when I preach or teach.  The final thing which struck me in Fee’s book was his deep appreciation for the Spirit’s activity in the text.  His appeal, in the middle of all of the scholarship, to encounter God in the text, and to let God examine you through the text, is something that I hopes stays with me. 

Finally, there was Black’s book on Linguistics.  In all frankness, this book was the most difficult.  Perhaps it’s because my lack of exposure to linguistics, but I found it rather boring.  Black did a good job of presenting the basics of linguistics and giving examples from New Testament Greek.  He claimed throughout that the linguistics discipline has much to contribute to New Testament studies.  While I believe him, he didn’t show this very much.  Perhaps that was beyond the scope of the book, but it would have kept me much more interested in the book.  That said, he did cause me to think more about how language works in general.  This definitely helps one not make bogus conclusions when studying Greek, especially when doing word studies. 

All three books were valuable for trying to growing in the art of Scripture reading.  I’d recommend any of them, with the caveat that the linguistics book may not be the most exciting, and also that all of them might be hard to follow without some exposure to Greek. 

This questions comes following a post I did here. My question comes from the second paragraph where I talk about verse 5. Basically, is the NIV justified in rendering the verse “because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.”  The underlying Greek is this: ἀκούων σου τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν ἣν ἔχεις πρὸς τὸν κύριονἸησοῦν καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἁγίους. A rather literal translation would be, “I hear about your love and faith(fulness) that you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints.” The basis for translating according to the (T)NIV, as I understand it, is something called chiastic structure. Basically, it’s a literary structure where the pairs go A B B A. If that’s the structure Paul has in mind, then the majority of modern translations are justified in going with pairing faith with Jesus and pairing love with saints. If πιστις is rendered as faith, then I understand how the chiastic structure is necessary. If we go with a broader meaning for πιστις, like faithfulness or loyalty, then it would be perfectly fine to have both πιστις and αγαπη applying to both Jesus and the saints. What is the full justification for rendering it like the NIV? I’ve only seen the chiastic structure assumed, not argued. Are we harmonizing with Colossians 1? Input from more knowledgeable in Greek would be wonderful. :-)

After finishing a reading binge on exegesis and linguistics, I decided to change it up a bit.  In place of biblical studies, I decided to read G.K. Chesterton’s classic Orthodoxy, which my girlfriend gave me for Christmas last year. Orthodoxy  is a follow up to his book Heretics. It’s ironic how heavy and dogmatic the titles sound when compared to their contents.  Even 100 years later, Chesterton is still a blast to read.  Both titles are full of wit and humor, despite their dogmatic titles.

The sequence of events on the books goes something like this.  Chesterton wrote Heretics first.  In this book, he critiqued the prevailing philosophies of the day by attacking their chief expositors.  He did this in good humor with wit and style.  Even though the title is “Heretics,” the book has almost a whimsical tone at times as he plays with thoughts and ideas.  Still, the disagreements are sharp and he doesn’t beat around the bush.  He is blunt with what he likes and doesn’t like.

Following the publishing of Heretics, one of Chesterton’s opponents issued a challenge to the effect of, “you critiqued my philosophy, but didn’t give me your own.  I’ll consider mine more carefully when you give us yours.”  Chesterton replied to this challenge at the beginning of Orthodoxy with a characteristic line, “It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation.”  Thus, his famous work Orthodoxy was birthed.  It is much more of an autobiography than a typical apology (or defense) of the Christian faith.  He writes in the preface, “It is the purpose of the writer to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it,”   noting that he will be “egotistical only in order to be sincere.”

Chesterton then guides us through his own thinking about Christianity.  He can jump around so much that sometimes it’s quite hard to follow him.  However, the prose is so much fun to read that I end up not minding too much.  Always the prince of paradox, in the portion I’m reading now he tells the story of how reading all of the chief opposition to Christianity very nearly persuaded him to become a Christian.  He recounts how Christianity was accused of being all sorts of opposite things.  It was both too peaceful, and the cause of wars.  It both destroyed the family, and thrust it upon us.  It imprisons women, yet the great cry from many men was that the church was too feminine!  He notes that if the critics are right, then Christianity is much more frightening than any of them had ever imagined.  He quips with the possibility that a man might be too fat in some places, and too skinny in others, but he would be a very strange man!

Instead, he envisages an average man.  Those who were “too tall” accuse the man of being “too short.”  Those who were “too skinny” accused the man of being “too fat,” and so on.  The man, however has the right proportions.  His detractors are wrong.  He then moves the analogy into his present day showing how the detractors of the Faith were really quite extreme in the opposite direction of however they were criticizing.  The writing is excellent, since all of this is revealed in narrative.  This means you get the sort of build up and climax you might expect in a novel.  Chesterton was a novelist and this talent carries over into his nonfiction.

This post has gone on long enough, and ironically praises Chesterton for good writing and fails to emulate his craft ;-)  If you’re looking for something fun to read, Chesterton should be considered.  He’s loaded with all sorts of  wit, but manages to explain truth through it all.  For a dry, analytical writer like myself, he’s a good example to learn from.

~alex

Today, I decided  to setup an Amazon Associate’s account.  For the uninitiated, it would mean that any books purchased at Amazon after clinking links on my blog would earn me small gift certificates.  The price doesn’t change at all, I’d just get a small kickback to help me buy more books.  Unfortunately I live in one of the two states (grr North Carolina!) which Amazon refuses to deal with because of our tax code.  Even more strangely, we have a reputation of prostituting ourselves jumping through hoops to get technology corporations to come here.  See this and this.

Oh well.  My paltry schemes to get cheap books have failed!

~alex

This past Sunday, a friend and I had the pleasure of visiting a local Lutheran church here in Raleigh.  We visited Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and we really enjoyed it.  The people, mostly grandparent age but many not, were very warm and welcoming.  The gentleman we spoke with at the end of the services even managed to remain graceful when I told him I came from a Pentecostal background.  His eyes did get pretty big though.  ;-)

In some ways, it’s quite strange that we would visit a Lutheran church.  I come from a Pentecostal background, and regularly attend a Pentecostal church, and am involved in a Pentecostal campus ministry.  The same can be said of my friend, except that he comes from a mostly Baptist background.  Both traditions are about as “unliturgical” as they come.  For those unfamiliar with the term, liturgy refers to the structure and order of a church service.  Every church has some sort of liturgy, though certain traditions have a more developed liturgy than others (notably, the Catholics, Lutherans, some Methodists, Easter Orthodox, and Anglicans). 

Going to a liturgical service is much different than a typical Baptist or Pentecostal service.  Liturgical services tend to include the congregation more (meaning there is more interaction).  These services to tend to be more traditional, although many churches will mix in contemporary songs with traditional hymns.  Also, the flow of the service is much more fluid.  One moment your singing a hymn, the next your listening to a scripture reading, and the next you might be singing another hymn.   For whatever reason, even though I grew up in a very low church setting (meaning very little developed liturgy), I still love these expressions of worship.  I love the hymns, even though I can’t sing.  I love the creeds, even though I don’t know them well.  I even love the sense of community which comes from participation, even though I was with complete strangers.  Perhaps the most appealing thing for me is connecting with something much older than myself, much more ancient.  These forms of worship have been developed over hundreds of years by godly men and women, who sought the Holy Spirit’s direction.  Many of us “low-church” folk have shunned them to our detriment.  It may not be for everybody, but there is much beauty to be found.  I’m looking forward to visiting another liturgical church, hopefully  a Greek Orthodox church next.  I would love to hear some Greek in the service!  Whenever that happens, I’ll post here about my experience there. 

~alex

I’ve ruminated on Justification in two previous posts: here and here.

I took the scenic route in the last post, veering away from the topic of justification, going through my own development and growth.  I looked especially at eschatology: the study of the last things.  I discussed the now/not-yet tension we live in, and how understanding this has been tremendously helpful as I try to make sense of the New Testament.  Now, I’ll try to apply this to justification, mostly rehashing what Wright says in his book.

Justification has usually been understood in Protestantism as more or less synonymous with salvation.  It’s something which takes place when you place your faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.  At this time, God declares us innocent from the charges of sin which have been made against us on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  I’m not familiar with any “not-yet”  aspect of justification in traditional Protestant thought.

What Wright argues is that justification has two parts: one part happens in the present, more or less as I’ve described in the last paragraph.  (He takes issue with some of the specifics, mainly the Reformed notion of “imputation,” but leaves most of it intact)  However, this is not the complete picture.  Paul also speaks of a final justification in Romans 2, where those “by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he [God] will give eternal life” This “not-yet” justification will take place on the last day, and looks quite a bit like justification according to works.  How does this fit in with the justification by faith Paul discusses later in Romans?

As mentioned previously, justification occurs in two parts.  The first justification is by faith; this takes place in the present.  This justification takes place when we trust in Christ for our ultimate vindication.  When this happens, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and empowers us to live lives in anticipation of the last day.  He empowers us to persist in doing good, to seek glory, honor, and immortality, and to not do the evil things which incur judgment.  Our justification by faith in the present anticipates the judgment on the final day; it is the “assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen” as the letter to the Hebrews states.

I haven’t worked out the details.  I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit’s work within us interacts with the work of Jesus on the cross (I’m thinking the latter enables the former). I’m not sure how this outline of justification affects the perseverance of the saints (can we, or can we not lose our salvation?).  I do, however, think that Wright offers a compelling view of justification.  It’s deeply rooted in scripture, and has helped me make much more sense of both my experience and the scriptures.  If you’re still curious, there’s plenty on his website to read, or you can just read the book.  It’s quite good :-)

~alex

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