Category Archives: Biblical Theology
Greg Beale will be in town this fall (Sep 16-17) for a conference on “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.” Here’s the information for the conference.
Greg Beale is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Seminary and well-known for his research on the themes of presence, temple, and mission. So, if you live in the greater Portland area, this is one that you’ll definitely want to attend.
And, I’m working on arranging a time for Dr. Beale to meet with our Th.M students while he’s here. So, if you’re in the Th.M. program, stay tuned.
Many thanks to IVP for sending me a review copy of The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible by Sean Gladding (IVP, 2010).
★★★★☆ and ★★☆☆☆
The Story of God seeks to retell the biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, mission, and consummation in a new and engaging way. Rather than just summarizing the story, Gladding weaves his own narrative to help us see the story from two very different perspectives. In the process, he draws out some aspects of the story that we often overlook, and helps us see it in new and interesting ways. If you’re already familiar with the biblical narrative and are looking for a fresh take that will challenge you in new ways, this is well-worth considering. But, if you were hoping for a solid introduction to the biblical story and its key ideas, I suggest you look elsewhere. And, that’s why I’ve given the book two different scores.
Gladding divides the book into two halves. In the first half, he tells the story of a group of Jews living during the Babylonian exile who struggling to make sense of their status as God’s people and what has happened to them. An older teacher leads them in a re-telling of the story from Genesis through exile and, in the process, reminds them of who the story is really about, what God has been trying to do since the beginning, how they ended up where they are, and how they should continue to live in response to this story. The second half of the book jumps forward a few hundred years and picks up the story in the New Testament period. Here we find a non-Christian merchant coming into contact with an early Christian community, and we watch as he comes to understand both their lifestyle and their message, gradually becoming a part of the community himself. So, these two narratives serve as the lenses through which Gladding presents the biblical story.
The book’s greatest strengths lie in its readability and creativity. Gladding writes well and offers several interesting characters that help the reader stay engaged. I particularly enjoyed the story-teller approach in the first half of the book. I was able to picture some of what it would have been like for Jews in the exile to struggle with the difficult questions of identity, purpose, and destiny that must have plagued them as they lived outside the promised land. And, Gladding doesn’t back away from engaging the difficult questions that people in a situation like that would have been asking.
I also appreciated that Gladding doesn’t try to offer simple answers to difficult questions. He often portrays his story-teller as struggling with a particularly tough question and openly acknowledging that he doesn’t have all the answers. Instead, he continually returns to the overall narrative as the proper context within which to struggle (continually) with the most difficult questions. Granted, this does feel on occasion like Gladding is just dodging the hard questions, but a book like this can’t do everything. So, Gladding primarily stays focused on the narrative even while raising and occasionally addressing some of the harder questions.
And, I really like the way that Gladding tied the story to identity and mission. For Gladding, we must know and remember the story if we’re going to understand ourselves as the people of God and remain faithful to our calling in the world. To some extent, the book serves as a warning of what happens when we forget the story and an appeal to re-tell that story to ourselves and our children on a regular basis.
One of my bigger concerns about the book is that Gladding sometimes presents his particular interpretations of the story as though they were simply obvious elements of the story itself. The most obvious example of this is Gladding’s egalitarianism. For Gladding, egalitarianism is an obvious implication of the story from the very beginning, even though it gets clouded as the story degenerates into hierarchy and power struggle after the fall. Now, I’m sure that egalitarians will find this to be one of the book’s strengths. My problem is that Gladding offers this interpretation with no indication that there may be other ways of reading the story that many find equally compelling. (He does note a few minor characters who have obviously understood the story differently, but not in a very positive light.) My problem here isn’t so much that he presents the story from an egalitarian perspective, but that he does so without acknowledging that there’s a legitimate question at this point. He’s not afraid to raise, and even wrestle, with other difficult questions. So, by not doing so here, he really obscures the reality of the interpretive situation.
Another key concern is that Gladding doesn’t really do justice to the biblical story when it comes to issues of sin/wrath and guilt/shame. I appreciate that he presents the story consistently in terms of relationship and faithfulness (or its lack). That’s necessary to telling the story well. But, he places little emphasis on the themes of God’s holiness and wrathful response to sin, or the consequent guilt and shame that are so destructive for relationships on every level. Even if you think these elements are often overemphasized in traditional theology, the answer isn’t a corresponding neglect but a more helpful balance.
I also felt that the part of the story focused on the cross and resurrection was sadly lacking. He devotes an entire chapter to the cross and does a nice job identifying some of the amazing benefits that God pours out on his people through the cross. But, he completely dodges the issue of substitutionary atonement. It’s not even that he brings it up and rejects it. He doesn’t even deal with it. He simply points to some (not all) of the great benefits of the atonement and then says it’s a mystery how God in his love brings those about through the cross. Given how he bypassed other key themes earlier in the story, I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t make substitutionary atonement part of his story, but I was surprised that he didn’t even raise the question.
Finally, although I like the emphasis on “story” and find it a helpful way of talking about identity, mission, and faithfulness, I thought it was overdone in places. For example, at one point the Jewish story-teller explains to his people that they’re in exile because they’ve forgotten the story (p. 85). Although that’s true in a sense, it would seem more faithful to the actual narrative to say that they’re in exile because of their rebelliousness and idolatry. Gladding would probably say that this is included in what he means by “forgetting” the story, but it’s hard to see how any modern reader who doesn’t already know the story would make that connection.
Exegetes and theologians have long argued that Pentecost should be seen as a reversal of Babel – the scattering of the human race through the proliferation of languages healed through the unifying power of the outpoured Spirit. But, if these are two events are key bookends in redemptive history, doesn’t it seem odd that relatively little is said about this in the intervening narrative? Does the OT have any concept of Babel as a problem in need of resolution, or is this a brand new theme suddenly tossed into the mix at Acts 2?
These are the questions that Paul Pastor raised in the paper he presented at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Paul is an MA student at Western Seminary, and the paper was a summary of his MA thesis, “Echoes of ‘Pure Speech’: An Intertextual Reading of Gen. 11:1-9; Zeph. 3:8-20; and Acts 1-2.” Paul has graciously allowed me to upload the complete thesis here.
The basic thrust of Paul’s argument is that Zephaniah 3:8-20 provides the intertextual link between Babel and Pentecost. As he summarizes:
Pentecost as a reversal of Babel has been widely seen by exegetes since the early days of the Church. However, these two stories are by no means simple “bookends” with empty narrative space between them. Rather, it shall be shown that an extremely significant instance of textual connection comes from the often overlooked text of Zephaniah.
It will be argued that the Babel narrative of Genesis 11:1-9 is accessed and developed by Zephaniah 3:8-20; and that that text in turn provides a guiding paradigm of Babel-reversal that is utilized by Luke in the Pentecost account of Acts 2. Seen in this way, Zephaniah’s prophecy provides an indispensable link between the two texts of Genesis and Acts; simultaneously looking back into the seminal history of the covenant community and forward to the radical in-breaking of the Spirit at the harvest feast of Pentecost.
Intertextual “echoes” of themes and motifs will be traced at length through the three texts, noting linguistic parallel, narrative similarity, and intertextual dependence for the developing trans-biblical narrative.
The thesis that follows is a fascinating example of intertextuality in biblical exegesis. After a brief summary of his intertextual method, Paul argues that the Babel narrative itself is “incomplete,” leaving the reader in suspense as the story never comes to satisfactory resolution. Paul then argues Genesis forms the clear backdrop for much of Zephaniah, setting the stage for identifying further intertextual connections between the two books.
The heart of Paul’s argument comes in the third part of the thesis, where he identifies a number of textual connections between Gen. 11 and Zeph. 3. In my opinion, intertextual linkages like this always bear the burden of proof as they need to establish real textual connections rather than mere linguistic or thematic similarities. And, Paul does a remarkable job of identifying and defending the connections at work, though you’ll have to read the thesis for yourself to follow all the different lines of argument that he offers.
Finally, Paul turns his attention to Acts 2, arguing that Acts 2 bears many of the same textual markers as the first two passages. Given the strong thematic and linguistic connections, Paul concludes that Luke intends for his readers to see Acts two as the conclusion of a narrative arc that begins in Gen. 11 and runs through Zeph. 3.
And, to wrap everything up, Paul offers a few closing words on how a study like this can impact the life and praxis of faith communities:
It is my sincere hope that this study may also impact the thinking and practice of our local churches and communities of faith. I believe that when scripture is seen with the literary intricacy and vitality that a study of this type highlights, it is compelling and powerful for those who cling to the scriptures as the word of God. The narrative excellence in view here, the thorough intentionality, and the development of a single coherent narrative across the span of centuries and as the product of three very different communities of faith should capture the attention and imagination of modern believers.
Here are a few brief ideas for what the practical and responsive outworkings of this study could look like: Our thoughts about national and international unity should be profoundly influenced by the paradigm offered in these texts. True unity is only possible across ethnic, social, lingual bounds by the power of the Spirit and for the purpose of a shared service and worship of God.
This study is a reminder that truly, “All scripture is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16, ESV). The Hebrew Bible is frequently under read by Christian readers, and the Latter Prophets even more so. This section of our Bibles is rich with powerful imagery, concept, and nuance, coloring our theology and worldview. It ought to be increasingly read.
In addition to this, it ought to be increasingly taught and preached. Our pastors and teachers ought to carefully interact with this literature both for its compelling content, as well as the dramatic role that it plays in the over arching scriptural meta-narrative.
(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)
These are some of the questions that Brian LePort wrestled with in a paper that he presented last month at the NW meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, “The Eschatological Voice of Romans 8:1-25.”
Here’s how he sets up the discussion:
When the canonical choir sings eschatological songs we often give much attention to the passages with a higher pitch. Many books have been written on the otherworldly images of the Apocalypse. The cataclysmic vision of 2 Peter 3.10-13 results in “ooohs” and “ahhhs” as we hear of the earth being purged by flames. And what can we say when Jesus himself tells us “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24.35; Mk. 13.31; Lk. 21.33). There doesn’t seem to be much hope for this creation. It would appear that her end is devastation.
Yet in the Book of Genesis we are told that God thought his creation to be “good” (1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25) and when he added humans it became “very good” (1.31). This should cause us to pause. In spite all the passages that seem to indicate that creation is expendable we must ask if there are any passages that harmonize more directly with the creation account.
Before we claim to have heard the whole song we must give heed to the tenor of Pauline eschatology. Whereas the aforementioned passages, and others like them, seem to indicate a discontinuation between this world and the one to come, the contribution of the Apostle Paul is that he emphasizes some sort of continuation. In this paper it is my desire to draw attention specifically to the voice of Rom. 8.1-25 as we formulate a Christian eschatology. I will be asking for those who are in attendance to give a hearing to this passage because I believe that it contributes balance to the canonical witness regarding the future of this current created order. It is here in these verses that we will see an analogy between the transition which will occur during our resurrection and the “rebirthing” of all creation.
He goes on from there to argue that to understand Romans, you have to hear the “echoes” of Genesis that reverberate throughout the book. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to read Romans 8 in that context as the crescendo and climax of God’s plans for creation, which he began way back in Genesis 1.
So, he concludes.
In Rom. 8.1-25 we find that the relationship between God, humanity, and the created order will be made right in the age to come. Humans will reign and rule with the risen Lord Jesus Christ over the renovated earth being and doing for creation what Adam and Eve (and every generation since) has failed to be and do. Humans will point creation toward her Creator rather than worshiping the creation.This will be when the adopted children of God are resurrected with new bodies, overcoming death, setting creation free from the curse that came because of Adam and Eve in Eden. Creation will be set free from her suffering.
In LePort’s argument, then, Paul presents the future of this creation as one of redemption and restoration. Although there are elements of discontinuity between what we see now and the new creation to come, he sees important elements of continuity as well – continuity grounded in God’s creative purposes begun in Genesis and echoed throughout Romans.
(This is part of a series highlighting papers presented by several faculty and students from Western Seminary at the 2011 NW regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here.)
In an age where most kids would be hard pressed even to name the books of the Bible, here’s an 11 year-old doing a walk-through of where you can see Jesus in every book of the Bible.
HT Joe Carter
Here is a short video from D. A. Carson addressing the question of whether there is a single message that runs through the entire Bible. What do you think?
(This is a guest post by Daniel Attaway, Th.M. student at Dallas Theological Seminary.)
I attended a Christian liberal arts school in central Texas and I cannot tell you how many times I heard this statement or one like it. These comments usually started flowing freely somewhere around November or March (near the end of the semester). This was a school that was centered around training young men and women for ministry, specifically youth ministry, and statements like these were not uncommon. That is absolutely frightening! And even more, it is wicked.
There are basically two reasons why this is a wicked mindset and it is based on our manipulation of Christ’s statement, ‘Love God and Love people’ (Matt 22:38-40).
First, part of loving God is saying correct things about Him. Allow me to illustrate—I love my wife. She is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Her blonde hair, hazel eyes, and 5’10” frame are stunning. Every time she walks into the room she takes my breath away. She is incredibly talented as well. She majored in art in college and I love to watch her paint. When I see her in action my heart is stirred and I worship my God. There is only one problem… my wife is an absolutely gorgeous 5’5”, beautiful brunette with brown eyes, and she majored in accounting in college. Oh and let’s not forget, when she walks into a room she takes my breath away and when I am with her my heart is stirred and I worship my God. Now if I were to describe my wife to you using the first description and then you were to meet her, you would think I was delusional. The point is that I do not love my wife in a way that honors her if when I speak of her I speak falsely. There were some things that I said that were consistent in both descriptions but one description is true and the other is false. In the same way, it is disingenuous to say you love God if you take no interest in who He is and when you speak of Him, you do not speak rightly.
Secondly, part of loving others is telling them the truth. I went to a youth conference about a year ago where Matt Chandler was speaking to youth ministers, pleading with us to clearly and consistently preach the Gospel. He then said, “If you don’t know it, then I don’t know what you’re doing… You are a far more courageous man than I because the Lord is very clear on how He feels about those who lead His people astray.” Amen! Now there is a warning that you must heed: if you tell people the honest truth about who God is and who they are in light of Him, then you may not have the most “successful” ministry in town (as we define success). There may be those who hate you, your family may suffer persecution, and there may indeed be those who would like to see you leave town or die. The goal is not for people to speak well of us (Luke 6:26), but for us to guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us (II Tim 1:13-14). As Christians, it is not our calling to pat people on the back while they rot in their filth of sin and ignorance, but to love them enough to tell them the truth. Not telling them the truth out of fear or political correctness resembles hate, or worse, indifference more than genuine love.
So what is the goal? Is it balance between knowing your theology and being practical (i.e. loving people)? No, it’s simply both. Being a Christian has many implications but here are two: 1) Know theology and be tied to orthodoxy. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are things that are distinctively Christian and when you abandon those things, you abandon the community of faith. 2) Love others and meet their needs. You cannot do this well if you do not have a robust and thoroughly thought out theology because your theology will always inform your practice. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy can be distinguished but they cannot be separated. The goal is not to find a balance between these two, but to diligently seek both.
So, who needs theology? We all do. Theology is not only important for the theologian or minister but also for laypeople, young and old. Your bent may be to neglect theology or practice. Both are wicked. The Christian is to do both joyfully and lovingly. If I were to just focus on theology and neglect to love others, I am not acting Christianly because James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” On the other hand if I neglect theology I am incapable of truly loving God or people, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:6, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Hold these concepts close together, marry them in your heart and do not neglect either theology or practice because theology is practical (See 1 Timothy—all of it).
Guest blog by Daniel Attaway (Student at Dallas Theological Seminary)
“Bible, Bible, Bible. Everybody is reading the Bible.” This is how one of my seminary profs chose to begin one of his classes and it was slightly shocking because it was satirical. This statement is more or less true about Evangelicals because the Bible is our authority and the written revelation of God (no argument there). Have you ever encouraged someone to read their Bible? Have you ever told them that if they want to know God’s will for their life then they need to read the Bible? Have you ever even given the slightest thought as to what you were asking that person to do?
On a large scale we as Evangelicals claim that if Christians will interpret Scripture using a historical-grammatical method and good exegesis they will arrive at an orthodox interpretation. Is this true? No, and here is one reason why: interpretation never arises from a blank slate, which is what the historical-grammatical approach claims. This approach does not take into account that everyone comes to the text with presuppositions and a predisposition to interpret the text in a certain way. Currently, we find ourselves living in a post-enlightenment world, which states, “I am just concerned with the data.” So we look at the original language, the grammatical structure, and the cultural setting for our interpretation. This method is not all-together wrong or incorrect, but is it complete?
Here is how this scenario plays out… Suppose the head pastor of an evangelical church wants to do a sermon on David and Goliath. He spends the week leading up to Sunday studying the cultural background, geography, history of the Philistine/Israelite controversy, and the fight between David and Goliath. What will likely happen is after this information has been given, the pastor will say, “Here is how you slay the giants in your life,” and he goes off on that subject. Is that a poor application to make? Maybe not, but is the interpretation whole? Is that reading distinctively Christian? I submit that it is not because it is not informed by the Christ event, namely the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Stopping at the “facing your giants” interpretation seems to be what Dr. Christian Smith calls “Therapeutic-Moralistic Deism.” So what is the distinctively Christian reading? Tim Keller gave a good answer when he said, “Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.”
So what is the alternative? A Christocentric, orthodox informed lens through which we read and interpret the Scriptures. The early church interpreted Scripture through the lens of what had been passed down to them, known as the “rule of faith.” A simple definition of the rule of faith is apostolic, orthodox teaching. Irenaeus was a mainstream defender of the Christian faith against heretical teaching and he wrote that the one standard of correct interpretation is the rule of faith, which has been preserved in the church in the apostolic succession. So what is the lens? What should inform our interpretation? Orthodoxy. What is distinctively Christian is our starting point and that informs our interpretation.
In conclusion, we should not seek to read Scripture as anyone other than a Christian. You should not want to read the Old Testament like a Jew. You are not Jewish! You are Christian. The call is that we no longer place ourselves at the center of the Scriptures and determine “what they have to say to me,” but to read the Scriptures through the lens of orthodoxy and what is distinctively Christian. Is the Bible about what we are to do, or about what God has done? I believe that we have taught our people to read the Bible. We have even taught them to read it correctly with a historical-grammatical approach. But have we taught them how to read it Christianly? Don’t get me wrong, the historical-grammatical approach to interpretation is beneficial, but I do not believe it is complete. My fear along with others is that we are encouraging people to go home and read their Bibles in isolation and we give them no lens through which to do so. Sadly, the average layperson does not view God as Trinitarian, nor do they read the Scriptures through a Christocentric lens. This is raising up a multitude of people who view the Bible as their “roadmap to life,” and have little to no knowledge concerning historic Christian orthodoxy. This, among other things has lead many to predict an evangelical collapse. Do you agree or do you think orthodoxy as a starting point is ill conceived?
I’ve recently had some conversations with some students who are wrestling with all of the Christian terminology surrounding the atonement. I believe this is a great teaching tool for Theology Professors, and would be worthy of having students memorize in order to get a better grasp on common terms and their definitions. Although N.T. Wright would not agree with some of the definitions……I don’t think he visits our blog much and many still see them as correct. If you don’t like rap, just mute and watch!
Justin Taylor posted a summary of Leland Ryken’s “Eight Easy Ways to Misread the Classics.” According to Ryken, each of the following is a fallacy that we often commit when reading the classics.
- Be sure the read the classics for their ideas.
- Assume without question that the classics tell the truth.
- Look upon the classics as “improving literature.”
- Regard the classics as beyond criticism.
- Assume that moral considerations are irrelevant to the classics.
- Be sure that you do not see anything in the classics that the author and original audience did not see it in it.
- Assume that all that matters is what a work says to you.
- View the classics as relics in the museum of the past.
These are all great points to consider when reading the classics. I know when I first started reading classical literature on my own, the first point was really all I had in mind. I didn’t read the classics because I enjoyed them as works of art. Instead, I mined them for ideas. Of course, their ideas are worth engaging, but reducing a classic work of art to its cognitive dimension is tragic. So, by the way, is forcing teenagers to read the classics because “it’s good for you” (fallacy #3).
As I was reading the list, though, I began to reflect on whether these same fallacies applied to the Bible. At first glance, the last four seem to hold true when discussing the Bible. Moral considerations (#5) are never irrelevant to a holy God who judges sin and a loving God who wants the best for his people. And, we should say that the Bible is the kind of “classic” that has the ability to transcend the particular concerns of its author and to speak in new contexts and in new ways (#6). We don’t want to lose sight of the authorial context, but we can and should be open to the possibility that texts (particularly when brought into canonical relationship with other texts) might be able to speak in new and unexpected ways. And, the last two seem pretty straightforward. What the Bible says to me is important, but always secondary to what God is saying in the text. And, obviously, we can’t view the Bible as just a relic of the past.
But, what about the first four? While I agreed with each of these when I was thinking about classical literature, I realized that each needs to be nuanced in important ways when discussing Scripture.
- Although I would never reduce the Bible to its “ideas,” we should read the Bible to understand what it is saying about God, us, and our world.
- We absolutely should assume that the Bible tells the truth. There’s plenty of room for us to discuss what it means to say that the Bible is “true” and what level of confidence any of us can have that we have actually understood its truth. But none of that changes the fact that we should read the Bible as true.
- I’ll fudge a little here because I think it would be horrible to see the Bible as “improving literature.” The Bible does not primarily provide a message about how we can living better loves. Nonetheless, the Bible is God’s transformative message to humanity that radically shapes and continually reshapes his people.
- This one needs to be nuanced depending on what you mean by “criticism.” On the one hand, of course we want to engage the text critically, bringing to bear all of our intellectual resources as we wrestle with the text to understand its meaning. On the other hand, if “criticism” means (even implicitly) an attempt to avoid the Bible’s authority, placing oneself in judgment over the text, and refusing to be humbled before God’s word, then we’ve got a problem.
So, I think we read the Bible differently from other classical works, and I’m okay with that. Indeed, I think it’s essential for reading the Bible the way that it asks to be read – the way God asks us to read it.
What do you think? Would you nuance these eight fallacies differently than I have when it comes to reading Scripture? I’d be particularly interested to hear what you have to say about #2 and #4. But, feel free to comment on any/all of them.