Posts for Jan, 2008.

1/31/2008 5:50:00 PM

The Mission of God

Christopher Wright

Posted Thursday, January 31, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old TestamentMissionsHermeneutics   Comments: None
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            Wright wrote this book due to his concern for missions and its relation to the Bible. While growing up, he heard missions proclaimed using proof-texts such as the Great Commission. He became discontented with this approach, especially when he did his academic studies in Bible and did not talk about missions at all. This book is an attempt to relate God, his people, and missions in a more biblical fashion. Wright argues for the basic idea of the Bible being missional: namely, God’s mission, not our mission (Wright uses missions for cross-cultural missions and missional for anything relating to mission). He shows through this book how God’s mission can be used as a basic hermeneutic to read the Bible, not as an alien hermeneutic imposed on the text but as a natural hermeneutic arising from the text itself. Since this is an excellent book, I have included a short overview of the argument of the book. The book is well worth reading. 

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1/28/2008 1:32:00 PM

Israelite Religions, Richard Hess

Posted Monday, January 28, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old TestamentArchaeology   Comments: None
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This is simply a massive work by Richard Hess, combining insights from a wide range of fields. The bibliography itself is fifty pages long! Hess sets out to examine what religion actually was for the ancient Israelites, using the Bible, extra-biblical literary sources, and archaeology. The reason this topic is highly debated is because there seems to be ideas of what Israelite religion was, depending on which source you examine. The Bible seems to be mostly a monotheistic document, focusing on YHWH and Jerusalem. But then there are also inscriptions like the Kuntillet 'Arjud texts which describe YHWH having a consort, and a temple at Arad which seems to serve two gods. How does all this fit together? Hess argues against a two position view, in which there is the official religion (as seen in the Bible) and then a popular religion which was actually followed by the people (as seen by archaeology and inscriptions), pointing out that this dichotomy is not as clean as it is presented to be. For example, the Lachish and Arad letters are thoroughly Yahwehistic. And the Bible itself mentions service of other gods by Israelites. Hess argues for a continuum, without strict lines between the positions. There were people who followed YHWH, and there were those who followed Baal, and there were those in between. The book is really  more of a reference work that something you just sit down and read (note the subtitle: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey), so it is helpful to have on your shelf and turn to when you have a question about a specific text or idea. He also includes a very helpful section on why he rejects the Documentary Hypothesis, including a whole paragraph list of various ways people take the sources today differently than Wellhausen. When there are this many different ideas, then perhaps one should go back and reexamine why we even started down this path. Overall, this would be helpful both to scholars studying preexilic religion in Israel and for teachers of the Bible who are interested in what else is going on in Israel during the time of the Bible. One of my personal goals is to make the Hebrew inscriptions more known among evangelicals, and Hess discusses many of them in this book. I highly recommend this work! Read more of Israelite Religions, Richard Hess

1/24/2008 8:26:00 AM

Golden Compass Trilogy

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Popular Culture   Comments: None
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Ever since I started hearing a few months ago about Christians wanting to boycott the Golden Compass, I decided that this would be a good book to read. And since Amazon had the trilogy for just about as cheap as the Golden Compass by itself, I decided this would be a fun change of reading for Christmas break. For those of you who don't know, Philip Pullman, the author, is an athiest and really doesn't like CS Lewis. The movie has received complaints from both sides: Christians are calling for a boycott for the book's anti-religious stance, while secularists are complaining that the movie has taken the heart out of the book by taking away all the anti-religiousness. Frankly, I think that the call for a boycott isn't really called for (of course, one of my favorite soundtracks is Jesus Christ Superstar). But it seems to have become somewhat of a non-issue because the film has not done that well either in box office numbers or in the reviews of critics. I have not seen the movie (nor will I until I get it through netflix at some point in the future), so my comments here will be based on the trilogy. And if you want to read the books for yourself, I do give spoilers. Be warned.  Read more of Golden Compass Trilogy

1/22/2008 10:35:00 AM

War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence

Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old TestamentMilitary Issues   Comments: None
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Susan Niditch wrote this book as an attempt to describe the complex attitudes toward war in the Old Testament. Instead of taking a developmental approach as many do, she instead sees seven different ways war is viewed in the OT and thinks that these views often coexisted. She helpfully categorizes several ways that war is viewed in the OT, although I wouldn't necessarily agree with all of her examples and shades of meaning. She writes from a mixture of postmodern where she enjoys seeing diversity and allowing everyone their view along with the modernist historical-critical view. She also seems to work with the presupposition that all warfare is bad, and perhaps even that all violence is bad.

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1/18/2008 6:51:00 PM

The Darker Side of Samuel, Saul and David

Posted Friday, January 18, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament1 Samuel   Comments: None
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One of the benefits of going to ETS/SBL is to be able to hear famous authors and then to be able to know more about them when you read their books. It is even better when you can know someone personally and then read their book. I have had this opportunity as I read through a book by Dr. Jerry Vreeland, who was my own professor at Northwest Baptist Seminary. He is familiar to many readers, as he has contributed several posts to this blog over the years (see in particular his post on scratology ). This work has been many years in coming, as I heard an early form of it in a class Brian Beers and I took on 1 and 2 Samuel several years ago. The key characteristic of this book which makes it different from most other books in this area is that is has a relatively negative view of Samuel, Saul and David. This feature of itself is not unusual, as a variety of works have gone this direction recently, but what is unusual is that this is the only work I know of written by a theological conservative who takes a darker view of the three. If you want to be challenged in your thinking of David, then this is the place to turn. The book is filled with great insights as well as much practical application. For just one random example, he points out how the Philistine lords are presented as bumbling idiots in the Ark Narrative (1 Samuel 4-6). But these same idiotic lords are the ones who eventually bring Saul down. The implications about Saul are patent. Another interesting feature of this work is that Vreeland is textually conservative: he follows the MT where very few others do (Samuel is known  for being textually corrupt). He even tenatively takes the MT reading at 1 Samuel 13:1 (Saul was one year old when he began to reign and reigned for two years), viewing the one year as the first year of his reign being the good year and then after the second year the doom was written on the wall. Overall, this is an excellent work and well worth your study, either devotionally or as part of a wider study of 1 and 2 Samuel (although this volume only covers 1 Samuel). While you won't agree with everything Vreeland writes (and he probably wouldn't want you to agree with him in everything!), you will certainly be challenged and encouraged. And at the very least it is a nice change from the usual sugar-coated hagiographic evangelical devotional literature on David. Buy this book and enjoy it! Read more of The Darker Side of Samuel, Saul and David

1/14/2008 5:59:00 PM

Reading the Old Testament in Antioch

Posted Monday, January 14, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old TestamentChurch HistoryHermeneutics   Comments: None
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Robert Hill: Reading the Old Testament in Antioch

A central part of the history of the early church is the dynamic between Antioch and Alexandria, a dynamic which exists to this day, albeit under different names. But as useful as this handle is for speaking in broad terms, does it accurately reflect the situation? This book sets out to present how the Old Testament was viewed in Antioch, specifically in the commentaries of the primary Antiochenes. 

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1/10/2008 3:58:00 PM

David and Goliath (again)

A Cheater?

Posted Thursday, January 10, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament1 SamuelMilitary Issues   Comments: 4
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While watching Dave and the Giant Pickle the other day with my daughter, a question occured to me. Did David cheat? I at least know that David was not the major under-dog that we learn in Sunday School. Slingers were an important part of armies in the ANE and were deadly accurate. And they did not throw pebbles around, but good-sized rocks that weighed quite a lot. A hit from one of these 100 mile an hour stones the size of a grapefruit would incapacitate most enemies. But did David cheat? He was going out to a duel, which seems to have somewhat stylized rules. The other duels we see in Scripture contain only hand to hand warfare, such as the tales of David's mighty  men or the 24 man fight at the pool of Gibeon. But David does not do that: he instead goes with the distance weapon, ala Indiana Jones, who when faced with yet another whip wielding enemy decided enough is enough and just shoots him with his gun. One mitigating factor is that the Philistines do not call for a re-do, but one suspects that they would have been a little scared to see which other rules the Israelites were going to break. Anyone have any thoughts?
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1/8/2008 11:35:00 AM

Primary Sources of the Ancient Church: Reflections

Posted Tuesday, January 08, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: TheologyChurch History   Comments: None
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Several characteristics appear throughout most of these primary sources. Most of the writers do not treat their opponents in a kind manner. For example, Cyril has strong words throughout his work for his opponent, such as the comment that a certain idea “is nothing but foolishness and stupidity, the frenzy of a crazed mind” (53). These writers treated theology with the utmost importance and worked very hard to convince others of the correctness of their viewpoint.

Another common characteristic is that the authors display a stunning acquaintance with the Bible. In the days before computers and the printing press, their knowledge of verses and ideas from diverse place in the Bible is very impressive. However, I sometimes get the feeling that they practice the same kind of procedure as I have heard too often in evangelical pulpits: the preacher has a great idea and needs to find a text to give authority to his idea.

The hermeneutics of these authors is a fascinating subject. They make some good arguments from contexts of which I would not have thought, although sometimes I would not make the same argument. Cyril argues against the conjunction idea of the incarnation by appealing to psalmic passages where the psalmist says he is bound to God. Since the psalmist is not thereby worshipped, then neither should the son who is conjoined to God. But since the son is indeed worshipped, the conjoining idea is wrong (73).

Many of the logical arguments used by the fathers were also somewhat suspicious in my ears. For example, Athanasius argues for the orthodox view on the basis of its lacking a specific name. As soon as a group gets a name (Arians, Marcionites, Valentinians, etc.), they have passed over into heresy. But a Christian is simply a Christian, because they follow Christ and not a person (64-65).

One of the greatest contributions of reading these authors is that we get a sense of the times and how people thought. Seeing Scripture and theology from other perspectives helps to show us blind spots in our own theology and understanding. While the effect is much more dramatic if we travel to other countries, a similar effect can be found by reading the primary sources in history. Part of this effect is seeing what kinds of beliefs are automatically assumed by them, such as the impassibility of God by Cyril (117). An underlying anti-Semitism can be seen on occasion, such as the reference by Basil to the Jews of Stephen’s time as “Christ-killers” (45). Basil assumes it is clear that salvation is through baptism. “How are we saved? Obviously through the regenerating grace of baptism” (46).  Basil assumes that slavery can be a good institution on occasion (80). The repeated references by Arius to Alexander as “Pope” was disconcerting at first (29). It is easy to forget that “Pope” was not always limited to the bishop of Rome.

In contrast to the previous thought, on the other hand, it is also interesting how some things never change. Even though many assumptions are different, many of the same battles are being fought today. For example, Athanasius records the various views of the creation of the world, which sound fairly similar to some of the battle lines today in that very area (26-27).

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1/7/2008 5:43:00 AM

The Christological Controversy

Posted Monday, January 07, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: TheologyChurch History   Comments: None
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The last book was centered around the Christological controversy. Similar to the other volume, it opened with an historical overview and then without further comment presented the works of the major players in the debate, such as Melito, Irenaeus, Origen, Apollinaris, Theodore, Nestorius, and Cyril.

Several of the writings contained interesting points. Melito’s thoughts on the Passover intrigued me for reasons other than Christology.  His homiletics shown through brilliantly with such examples as the Egyptian man who claimed that he was third born, so that the angel of death would not kill (but the angel knew he was lying, so his plan did not work) (36). Melito says that “the events which happen are unimportant apart from their character as parables and as preliminary sketches” (37), a comment which sounds almost modernistic liberal, as he argues that the historicity of the events do not matter. Athanasius remarked that the phrasing “he bore” (Matthew 8:17) is important: if it was simply “he cured”, then it would simply be someone from the outside doing something to us, and would leave us to sin again, instead of fundamentally taking care of the problem (89-90).

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1/4/2008 7:10:00 AM

The Trinitarian Controversy

Posted Friday, January 04, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: TheologyChurch History   Comments: None
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The final two books are compilations of primary sources based around a theme. The first theme is the Trinitarian controversy and includes a selection of writings from most of the main individuals in the debate, including Arius, Alexander, Eusebius, Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine, as well as the decrees of the council of Antioch and Nicea. Before the writings a historical survey is given to help the reader place the selections into their historical context. The historical overview of the Trinitarian controversy tended towards extreme language at points. A prime example of this is the claim that “[n]o doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene sense is present in the New Testament” (2). While it is true that the wording of Nicene is not found there, Nicene does not seem to be a conceptual advance over the New Testament, only a linguistic development. 

The purpose for putting this collection together was multifaceted. It was desired to give English readers a way to read about the debate from the participants themselves instead of being filtered through a secondary interpretation. One of the main hoped for results is increase a sense of the ecumenical spirit as the readers grapple with the diversity that was present in the early church (vii). The methodology is an essentially chronological selection of important texts from the debate, beginning with an historical overview but otherwise presenting no comments on the texts.

Several of the selections were highlights for my reading. The canons of Nicea (51-56) were helpful in illuminating what other issues were important to the bishops of the day, such as castration of bishops, the lapsed, the prohibition of bishops from moving from city to city, and whether one should kneel or stand for prayer. The letter by Eusbius to his church was a fascinating exercise in politics, as Eusebius tries to convince them that his own version has won the day. He goes so far as to explain how to get around the anathematizing of “before he was begotten, he was not”: even before he existed in actuality, he existed in potentiality (60). Athansius coins a great phrase: “Arian-maniacs” (65) This is a helpful book for understanding the debate. Apparently Princeton uses this book in their MDiv theology classes.

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1/1/2008 5:48:00 PM

On the Holy Spirit: Basil

Posted Tuesday, January 01, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: TheologyChurch History   Comments: None
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The work by Basil is considerably different than that of Cyril. Basil is fighting the group which stated that the Holy Spirit was fundamentally different than God. While Basil never calls the Holy Spirit “God” he makes it clear throughout his work that this is what he believes, and the lack of a direct statement is theologically astute because it protects Basil from modalism. The specific issue Basil is discussing is the use of prepositions in doxological statements. Basil bases his argument upon extensive discussion of these prepositions as they are used in Scripture as well as a broad array of Scriptural arguments for the Trinity as he understands it. His argument is quite logical and progresses step by step through all the evidence he presents. While he does spend an excessive amount of time on prepositions, this is no grammatical text, but a pastoral desire to see follow people God in a better fashion.

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