Book Reviews

Random Book Reviews by Charlie

The Gods of the Nations, by Daniel Block

Another Book

Posted Monday, April 17, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
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I just finished an interesting book recently, so I thought I would share a few points from it. The book is entitled “The Gods of the Nations” by Daniel Block, who teaches at Wheaton (I hope to write my PhD under him at some point). The subtitle gives the content of the book: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern National Theology.

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Hebrew Poetry and Robert Alter

The latest book I've read

Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
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I just finished reading another book: The Art of Biblical Poetry by Robert Alter. This is a companion volume to his previous book The Art of Biblical Narrative. Both of these books are excellent introductions to their topic. Alter's main point is that the parallel lines of Hebrew poetry are not exactly synonomous or antithetical (per Lowth's classic formulation), but usually the second line intensifies the first. This happens through either an abstract idea becoming concrete, an expanding of an idea, or several other methods. But the second line is not simply redundant: it adds something to the first line. Alter than goes through and explores how all the various types of poetry in the OT (Psalms, Job, Proverbs, prophets, Song of Songs) use this intensification. I highly recommend this book to help understand how biblical poetry works.
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Creation According to Sailhamer

Posted Wednesday, October 18, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
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I just read a fascinating book by John Sailhamer about Creation. It is entitled Genesis Unbound: A Provocative Look at the Creation Account. Sailhamer is a great scholar who often goes against tradition, and this book is no exception. While I do not find myself convinced by many of his arguments, I thought I would pass along some of the highlights of his book to help us think about the options. It will challenge your view of Genesis 1-2!
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The Rise of Evangelicalism

Posted Friday, December 08, 2006 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Book Reviews   Comments: None

Random book reviews from Charlie

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Mark Noll has written a fascinating book on the early history of evangelicalism. It is the first book in a projected five book series. The third book, the Dominance of Evangelicalism is out and the second is due out next year, while the other last two are for the distant future apparently. Noll's book covers the time of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys.

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Old Testament Theology Devotionals

Posted Thursday, January 25, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament   Comments: None
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I try to avoid reading really big books because they take too long to read, but I do make exceptions. Old Testament Theology: Israel's Gospel by John Goldingay has been a very good exception, in spite of the fact that it is only volume one of the a projected three volumes(the third is not yet published) and this volume all by itself is 900 pages. The author goes over the history of Israel in the OT in this first volume and analyzes various theological trends and points in the texts. Therefore, he skips over most of the laws, poetry and prophecy in this book and covers them in the next two volumes. Goldingay is also not exactly the most conservative author around, as he treads closely to open theism and does not sound like he would sign an inerrancy statement. But he has great things to say! I'm only on page 300 right now, and I'm thinking that I will be reading this book for a long time, but this has been one of the funnest theology books I have read for quite some time. I have been essentially reading it like a devotional book, since Goldingay has so many applicational and relevant points for belivers today. He does a masterful job drawing implications from the text and putting together various ideas, as well as having fun in his writing. For example, he kept on referring to wisdom in Proverbs 8 as "Ms. Insight." One of the points he was making in the section on Abraham was that most of Genesis after Genesis 12 is full of challenges to God's promise to Abraham. While I had seen this before, I had seen it so clearly presented, including the idea that Abraham was supposed to be a blessing to all people, but instead he started out bringing grief to Pharaoh and others. But God is faithful to fulfill his promises, even when he seems to take his time. I highly recommend this book to help you systematize your thinking on the OT as well as to be challenged and encouraged in your personal walk with God.
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The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody

Book Review

Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and Theology   Comments: None
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This book by David Bebbington is the third installment in the five-volume “A History of Evangelicalism” series from IVP (at this date only the first and third are published). The book covers the years from about 1850-1900, but does not take a chronological approach, instead topically examining various aspects of the evangelical movement during these years. The book is a great read because it explains a lot of our current practices as well as showing us how some things never change. I felt like I was reading a modern evangelical history book with the names changed: the same issues are being debated today with different characters. There is much that we can learn from our ancestors. There are lots of good stories and observations I could give from the book, but here are a few.

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Rethinking Missions with Steve Saint

Posted Tuesday, April 24, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Missions   Comments: None
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The latest book I read is by Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, who was one of the missionaries killed by Aucu people many years ago. The book is entitled “The Great Omission,” a play on words about the great commission. The book is based upon his work among the Aucu people and various other groups worldwide. His main point is to challenge the way we do missions and to suggest that some of our missionary tactics are unhelpful and downright contradictory to our goal of evangelizing the world.

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Neither Poverty nor Riches

A Book Review

Posted Wednesday, June 06, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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Craig Blomberg set out several years to write a book that was a biblical theology of money and the resulting product is a fine example of how to do biblical theology. He surveys every important and most every minor passage that relates to money in some way and then draws conclusions based on those observations. I highly recommend reading this book for a balanced view of money. Here is an excerpt from his comments on James 2:14-17.

      So, too, professing Christians today who have surplus income (i.e., a considerable majority of believers in the Western world), who are aware of the desperate human needs locally and globally, not least within the Christian community (a situation almost impossible to be unaware of, given our barrage of media coverage), and who give none of their income, either through church or other Christian organizations, to help the materially desitute of the world, ought to ask themselves whether any claims of faith they might make could stand up before God's bar of judgment. This is not salvation by works any more than the examples of Abraham and Rahab in James 2:20-25, but it is the demonstration of a changed life, a heart begun to be transformed by the indwelling Spirit of God, which thereby produces an outpouring of compassion for those so much less well off than oneself (155).

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The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Posted Wednesday, June 20, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and Theology   Comments: None
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I have started doing reading for my PhD program this summer, so I thought I would pass along my reading reports. The reports are about 10 pages, so I have divided them up into two posts. The first report is on a fascinating and provacative book by Mark Noll about evangelicals and thinking. I would happy to hear any comments on the book or the report. 
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The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind II

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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This is the second part of the book review of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In this section I describe what I think are the contributions of the book as well as its problems.
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Going Places with God

Posted Saturday, June 23, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Bible Geography   Comments: None
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I will begin this book review by saying that I normally hate devotional books. Either they are so cheesy I can not stand it or they say such intellectually ignorant things that I get too distracted from the point of the text. But Wayne Stiles has written a devotional book that I have found helpful. The theme of his book is the geography of the Bible, so each entry is based upon some geographical theme. While there are a few that I think are a stretch, overall they are well done and either challenging or encouraging. For example, he discusses the move of Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum. He believes the reason for this move was to put Jesus on the International Highway so that he would have greater influence. The application then is that we need to think strategically in our lives and think about the big picture of what God is doing. Each entry also contains a prayer and a quote from someone in church history. Interspersed throughout the book are wonderful pictures from Israel and several maps to help the reader orient themselves. I highly recommend this book for an intellectually responsible but still encouraging devotional.  

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A God Entranced Vision of All Things

Posted Saturday, June 30, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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Everyone loves Jonathan Edwards! I realize that this says more about my context and what I read than about the general attitude towards Edwards among the average person in United States, for whom Edwards is only known by a single sermon of his which they read in high school, but it seems that Edwards continues to gain in popularity in theological and philosophical circles. The latest Edwards book I read is the result of a Jonathan Edwards conference hosted by Desiring God ministries in 2003. The book is a collection of articles edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor and is entitled A God Entranced Vision of All Things. It is a good look at a few aspects of his life and a detailed look at three parts of his theology. Here are a few of my favorite chapters.

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The Meaning of Jesus: Borg versus Wright

Posted Monday, July 02, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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Marcus Borg is not a writer that most of us read very often. N. T. Wright, on the other hand, is probably someone that we have at least heard of, if not read at least a selection of his writing. This book is a debate of a sort between Borg and Wright. Well, debate is too strong a word. As the subtitles says: Two visions. They disagree, but accept the validity of the other’s view (very postmodern of them). I have serious problems with Borg’s vision of Jesus (heretic would not be too weak a term, I don’t think), although he does have some good thoughts. Here are a few comments on the first few chapters of the book.

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Military History and Christianity: Do they mix?

Posted Tuesday, July 03, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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What makes a good general? What is the relationship between the general and the troops and the front line? And what does this have to do with the Christian life? The first two questions are addressed by John Keegan, one of the premier military historians of our generation, in a work entitled Mask of Command (at least, writers of popular level military history: I’m very ignorant of scholarly military history). In this book he paints a portray of four types of military leaders: Alexander the hero (always at the front lines and lots of theatrics), Wellington the unheroic (sometimes at the front line and some theatrics), Grant the anti-heroic (sometimes at the front lines and no theatrics) and Hitler the false heroic (never at the front lines and lots of theatrics). Keegan draws some conclusions for military leadership in the nuclear age, but I think there are some interesting implications for Christians as well.

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Wright and Borg, Part 3

Posted Friday, July 06, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
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"Western Christianity since the Enlightenment has routinely colluded with its own privatization. Following the post-Reformation European wars in which religious allegiance played a major role, the Enlightenment offered a way of peace, though at a cost: make religion a matter of private opinion, and we will sort out the world without reference to God. The fact that one of the great monuments to the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, had to kill so many people to make the point gives one pause in accepting the Enlightenment’s rhertoric at face value. One might also observe that post-Enlightenment Europe and America have been involved in just as many wars as before, even without an official religious reason (and indeed, often enough, with both sides officially embracing the same religion). This suggests, of course, that the religions were all along just an excuse, another bit of surface noise on top of a dispute about other matters; and it seems likely that the Enlightenment’s rhetoric about the danger of religion was actually an excuse, an official reason fro banishing religion ‘upstairs,’ out of harm’s way, leaving the powerful, the politicians, the imperialists, and the industrialists to carve up the world how they wanted. But the rhetoric persists, being invoked by right-wingers in the United Kingdom every time a church representative speaks out on political issues and by left-wingers in the United States every time a fundamentalist speaks out on family values. Keep your religion as a matter of private spirituality, they say, and we shall continue to steer the world by other lights" (218).  

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The Mosaic of Christian Belief

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Church History   Comments: None
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I have been out of the loop recently because we just moved to Wheaton (Hello across Chicago, Sam!). We drove across country and have been busy packing and now unpacking all our worldly possessions (4500 pounds of them, half of which were my books). And besides that I have a German test on Friday. I don't know how much I'll be writing now that I have started my PhD program, but I'll still be contributing sometimes. Here is a thought from a book I read over the summer. I've attached my full book report if you want to read it.  

Anything by Roger Olson is worth reading in my opinion. The Mosaic of Christian Belief is a fascinating new way to present systematic theology to students and I think it could be revolutionary to the way we teach theology and write doctrinal statements. The basic content of the book is not all that interesting, but the format is fascinating. Each chapter is a theological topic and is divided into several sections. One section surveys those views that are outside orthodoxy, then another section surveys the various options within evangelicalsim. The reason I think that this is great is that it gives a new model for statements of beliefs which are layered: the first layer is the essential layer, and then the second layer is the debated layer. For example, the belief that Jesus is coming back would be the first layer, while the second layer would be that his coming is premillennial. This format allows us to state what we believe without being dogmatic and condemning. I think that great potential lies in this direction.

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Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology

Posted Saturday, October 06, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Book Reviews   Comments: 1
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The posting has been slow recently becuase life has been getting busy. I haven't been doing any writing, so I have little to show what I have been doing, but the amount of reading that I am doing is simply enormous. Some of the books will have reports written on them, so some of them might make it on here in the future. I'm also doing a fascinating project for Daniel Master (for whom I TA) making a list of all the times Ashkelon is mentioned anywhere up until about 1900. He wants the list since he is the dig director for Ashkelon. But not only is there the reference, there is also a paragraph context needed. So I am putting my search skills up for a serious test trying to find the random Egyptian papyrus and Crusader conquest testimony. But it is quite interesting.

 The review included here is for another volume in the Cambridge Companion series: Evangelical Theology. They define evangelicalism much more broadly than I am used, a trend that is becoming familiar to me at Wheaton. In the past I have associated evangelicalism with ETS: inerrancy. But a phrase that seems almost a technical phrase is used on occasion here: "big-tent evangelicalism." This includes non-inerrantists as well as inerrantists. There are some interesting articles here, including another fine piece by Vanhoozer. The strength of the book is its world-wide focus and so it is helpful to understand what is going in the rest of the world. 

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The Problem of War in the Old Testament

Posted Saturday, October 13, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old TestamentMilitary Issues   Comments: None
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The best introduction to the literature on war in the Old Testament easily is The Problem of War in the Old Testament, by Craigie. Not only is it easy to read, it is short (just over 100 pages), and easily available on Amazon for only a few dollars.  I would recomment this book to anyone interested in the topic. He provides a great introduction to the data about God as Divine Warrior and to the war texts of the OT, as well as previous research on the issue. 

All that being said, I'm not sure that Craigie actually offers a viable solution to the problem. Here are some of the main points of the book.

1. War is always fundamentally evil.

2. God can be called  the Divine Warrior because of accomodation to human language.

3. The OT contains so many stories about war because Israel was a state and states must fight. 

4. For a final conclusion about war he proposes a position between just war and pacificsm. He finds arguments against both sides compelling and so does not go with either side.  He says it is a matter of mystery, like divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

But I am not sure these are all that helpful. I agree that war often is evil. But is it fundamentally evil? The divine accomodation point is the weakest point for me. Sometimes this kind of language is used. But we don't see God being called the divine murderer. Or the divine rapist. Or the divine thief. As far as epithets, there doesn't seem this kind of process. His final conclusion is also unhelpful. I agree that the issue is difficult, but someone must say something about the topic, and appealing to mystery I think does not work in this situation. But perhaps my feelings on these things will change as I continue to study. 

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God is a Warrior

Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: 2
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This book by Longman and Reid is a helpful overview to the specific topic of the divine warrior. The great strength of the book is its descriptive ability of how war plays a role in how God interacts wit his people and how his people are to live. After a short overview of the history of research, the book is divided into two section: OT and NT. The OT contains chapters on the wars of faithful Israel, the war against unfaithful Israel, the day of the Lord, the war of God against chaos, and the comparison of battle in the Bible to the ANE. The NT contains the new Exodus as the new conquest, Jesus as the slain but triumpant warrior, Paul's discussion of the powers, Paul' talk of holy warriors, and Revelation and divine warfare.

The detriments of the book are twofold. Longman makes too many generalizations. For example, he claims that the ark was always present, even when the text does not mention it. He says that the early loss of the ark and selective historiography cut out the ark. (41) He also says that the plunder always belonged to the Lord, recognizing that some narratives do not match this reality. (46) He does recognize that some diachronic factors are at work, but doesn't detail what they might be. (47)
Second, he seems to find what he is looking for, particularly in the NT. While he does highlight some important points, some of them are stretched.

While the book is quite good in describing the motif, it does not do anything with the motif, sadly. What does this mean for a biblical view of war? Some concluding thoughts would have been nice.

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Holy War in Ancient Israel, by Gerhard von Rad

Posted Thursday, October 25, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: None
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This is the classic book on holy war in Ancient Israel, although I am frankly somewhat mystified as to why it has achieved classic status. But I do not mind, since it has been translated into English due to its popularity. Von Rad presents his somewhat complicated view of how holy war functioned in ancient Israel. His view is highly indebted to form criticism, since he views holy war as an institution and desires to see how it functioned in various places.
1. The ancient form of holy war was conducted by the 12 tribe confederation (amphictyony is the technical term), and the key aspects to holy war were that it was undertaken under a confederation obligation (an obligation which was from God, and so the war was a holy war) and that it was a defensive war. The wars were conducted with a high level of ritual and were fought by militias. Charismatic leaders (prophets) led them. The people actually fought, but they fought with a psychological strength gained from believing this was the war of God.
2. With the monarchy everything changes. Saul raises a professional army, which replaces the militia. Solomon adds military technology such as the chariot. Holy war is replaced by government war done by professionals, who are not interested in ritual, although the change is gradual.
3. The prophets react against this eventually and raise the idea of holy war again, especially seen in Isaiah. Israel does not need to fight, they need to trust God. But the ritual aspect of holy war is left behind and not developed. Eschatological holy war is found in the prophets. Prophets take the place of holy war in a certain sense.
4. After 701, when the professional army is crushed by the Assyrians, everything changes again. With no viable economy the only way to defend the nation is through a militia. This is the age of the Deuteronomist, who brings back many of the ideas of holy war, which we can see in the book of Deuteronomy as well as the stories of the Deuteronomic History (Joshua through 2 Kings).
5. By the time of Josiah, a professional army is raised again, but after it is defeated by Egypt, war in Israel ends.

While von Rad does have a fascinating way to tie all the loose threads together, his work is highly based on critical methodologies. There have been several reactions to his work which remove some part of the construction he made, such as doubting the existence of the 12 tribe confederation or not seeing holy war as an institution. While he does have some helpful ideas along the way, I'm not sure von Rad is all that helpful for evangelicals who are more highly committed to the text than von Rad. But it is still the classic work, so you have to read it. 
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Yahweh is a Warrior

Posted Monday, October 29, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: None
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This is another helpful introduction, this time as to how a pacifist can read the OT. Millard Lind, a Mennonite, sees the Exodus as the primary event in relation to war in the OT. The patriarchs are presented as peace loving people, so that means J was probably done during a time of weakness, such as the time of the Judges. The Exodus was a great and powerful act of God that influenced all the rest of history. The Israelites did not do anything, but simply trusted God, who worked a miracle and killed the Egyptians. This sets a pattern which Lind sees as foundational: God does the miracle, and the Israelites need only to trust him. When there is fighting, the fighting only occurs after the victory has already been won.
The kingship is the great downfall of Israel, since it involved (with David) the rise of standing army and "wise men," but declined to trust Yahweh like they used to. Daniel continues on the tradition as he should: Yahweh acts and his people trust, in contrast to the fighting Maccabees. Jesus also continues this tradition, in contrast to the zealots. The point for us today, although it is not stated as such, is that Christians should not fight, but only trust God, who will do a great act.
A central problem with the book is that Lind ignores texts that do not fit his thesis. A key text is the battle with the Amorite kings, which do not involve miracle, but are clearly pre-monarchic. He says that they are relevant to his point, but they seem to me to directly go against his point.
He assumes critical scholarship throughout the work (there is a foreword written by David Noel Freedman), although he does argue strongly for the historicity of the Exodus, since he sees that as historically foundational for Israel's view of war.
I appreciate much of what Lind argues for: God is indeed the divine warrior. But I don't see it solving as many problems. First, there are just too many battles where the Israelites do indeed fight. Second, even if God is the one doing the miracle, he is still killing people. As I read somewhere that I don't remember: regardless of who killed them, there are still dead Egyptians on the shore. Do pacifists serve a violent God?
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Is There A Meaning in This Text

Kevin Vanhoozer

Posted Friday, November 02, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hermeneutics   Comments: None
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Hermeneutics is a very important issue for us today in light of the rise of postmodernism. I got the feeling from the Christian attacks on modernism over the years that if modernism would just be shown to be false, then Christianity would be the victor. Instead, what we get is modernism dying and postmodernism rising to take its place, with Christianity still on the sidelines. How does the Christian respond to postmodernism? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it relevant? From what I hear, postmodernism is already passe in the French university system where it had its "point of birth". But I think that it is still alive and well here in the States and it has points to teach us. For the uninitiated, Vanhoozer's work is an excllent place to start. I've written a short review here, but clink the link to slog through a more detailed critique of the work.

 Vanhoozer divides the book into two: the first part is a study of modernism and postmodernism, while the second is a constructive study of how he thinks the author, the text and the reader should be viewed. If you want a helpful starting point for the thought of Derrida or the flaws of postmodern thinking, this is a good place to read. Here are just a few of the helpful thoughts from the book.

1. While Vanhoozer rejects postmodernism as a system, he accepts part of the postmodern critique, especially in the area of certainty. He says that Cartesian certainty is neither possible nor Christian. Hence, we should be more humble and tenative in our claims. But he says that while certainty is impossible, we can still be reasonably sure about claims to live by them.

2. He argues for a basic level of theological interpretation, in which one's theological beliefs affect one's reading of the text. The key point here is theism: whether one is a theist or not will dictate where you find meaning or if you think there is meaning at all. If you kill off God, you end up killing the human author of any work of literature and locate the meaning in the reader. He actually argues for a trinitarian reader, but I do not find myself as convinced of that, although that might just be due to my own inability of a reader of Vanhoozer's argument.

3. In contrast to the emphasis of Hirsch (and most of evangelicalism) on authorial intention, he places the focus on authorial action, a model that I think works better. This is built on the ideas of speech act theory. So we look not at what the author intended, trying to get behind the text and into the psychology of the author, but we look at the action of the author in what the author actually did.

Should you read this book? Well, it depends. It is the book about hermeneutics today. If you want to be a part of the discussion at all, you need to read it. Everyone quotes it and refers to it in some way when the topic is discussed. But, it is quite the book to get through. I only got through it on my second try and I had to read it for a class. It is dense writing and it is a big book. But it is so big because he takes his conversation partners so seriously.  

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Faithful Intepretation: Reading the Bible in a Postmodern World

A. K. M. Adam

Posted Sunday, November 11, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Culture and TheologyHermeneutics   Comments: None
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How does a postmodern read the Bible? A. K. M. Adam has given us a very helpful view for how a postmodern can read the Bible and use it in their life. The largest step which Adam makes (in my opinion) is that he moves away from determinate meaning and away from an overarching universal criterion for interpretation. But he does not thereby move to  complete relativism, since he says that some interpretations are only possible while others probable. The way that he draws this line is to bring in local criteria. For example, if he gave a bizarre interpretation of a particular text, then those around him would censure him in various ways, either directly or through ignoring him. Hence, this will define what can be a possible or a probable interpretation. But even with a bizarre interpretation he says that there would be some who would probably accept it, and then presumably it would be a valid view among that local group. He says that we should welcome a variety of interpretations because it reflects the diversity of creation: we should not try to stifle interpretations that are different than ours, because that just is a blatant power play, but we should glory in these various interpretations. Quoting Stephen Fowl, he says that texts do not have ideologies, but we bring our ideologies to the text. Hence, Matthew is not anti-Semitic for Adam because it cannot be anything. He does not like the imitation idea from Jesus and Paul, especially Paul, because he sees the command to imitate him as another power play. In its place he proposes the idea of repitition, where we repeat what others have done, but adjusted to our own context. Somewhat predictably, he ends the book with a strong defense of homosexuality in the church.

While the book is a fascinating and easy read, there are several unanswered questions for me. The first I will call the "stop sign" problem. Adam discusses the stop sign several times in the book. He notes that drivers stop at an octagonal red sign only because of a local concept: because in this culture that kind of sign signifies that one needs to stop. But if the sign was different and written in Chinese, then the American would not be held culpable for not understanding the sign. But then Adam adds that they would be held culpable for denying the  underlying command exists. This seems to go against Adam's whole thesis: the red stop sign might need to be translated, but the idea behind it is absolute for all. So why can't there be an ultimate meaning for a biblical text? The closest that Adam gets to explaining this is that the Bible is a literary text and different from a stop sign, which is more simple. But I think that there is more of a parallel between these two types than Adam grants. He could state that the stop sign is a single incident, which is different than the complex literature which we find in the Bible. But there is no text without a context: there is no abstract stop sign without contextual clues.

The other problem is what I call the "Nazi problem". The Nazi's are the whipping boy of ethical discussions, but they do provide a nice example because virtually everyone says they acted in a wrong manner. The problem is what happens when the local criteria are wrong, as in the Third Reich. An interpreter could present a strongly anti-Semitic viewpoint and be encouraged by his community and pass the local criteria. How does the local criteria function work when it is broken? Adam never addresses this issue in the book, and I think that this problem is the Achilles heel of any pure community or local model. One possible way around it is to say that the interpreter should have moved away from purely German criteria and brought in more criteria from other countries. But this moves us ever closer to universal criteria, which is exactly what Adam tries to avoid.  When he talks about his bizarre interpretation, he says that it would be accepted by some, so presumably the interpretation is valid as long as some accept it, so it cannot be rejected simply because it does not conform to a larger circle than the local circle. Presumably Adam would also respond to this charge with a call to ethics: the Nazi reading is not an ethical reading. But this simply creates another problem: What is an ethical reading? The Nazis certainly thought that they were being ethical, and if we say that they were wrong then we are simply executing a power play, in postmodern terms. I simply do not see any way that an indeterminate view of meaning can handle the Nazi problem.

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Engaging Scripture

Posted Tuesday, December 04, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hermeneutics   Comments: None
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For anyone interested in the theological interpretatin of Scripture or just in thinking about how we read Scripture, Stephen Fowl's Engaging Scripture is a helpful place to begin (although sadly, it is not a cheap book). While I do not agree with much of what he writes, he does raise some good questions along the way that we need to interact with. Here are some of the points that I think are interesting and that are important to the book.

1. Is our interpretation determined, undetermined, or underdetermined? The first choice is what is familiar in conservative circles and evangelicalism, while the middle choice is where postmodern lands. The last choice is Fowl's attempt to moderate the two: while there is more than simply one meaning, there can be wrong meanings as well. The text leads the interpreter to a variety of meanings.

2. Fowl recognizes that we can easily use the Bible to support our sin, as has often happened throughout history. I think that this trait is especially present in the theo interp idea (although not towards sin, but towards are preconceived ideas), because theological presuppositions are to be embraced before interpretation, not ignored.  Fowl's guard against this is for the reader to always assume they are being sinful and to seek to be vigilant in their reading, looking for holes. The community is to play a large role in this process.

3. The Spirit is an important part of interpretation. He gives a controversial example by going to Acts 10-15 and examining how the Spirit works there. The Spirit works in the lives of various Gentiles, which shows that God has now accepted Gentiles. But they would not have known that unless someone (Peter at first) had actually come to interact with them. Fowl applies this to homosexuals today: since the church has so little contact with homosexuals, there is no way to see if the Spirit is working in their lives.

4. He is intrigued with the mention of stealing in the midst of a series of thoughts about talking. His idea is that the members of the church still shared their goods with each other to some degree, so that the stealing was a "minor" stealing but was from each other. This signals a breakdown in communication among the community, as they would not talk to each other about what was happening with the stolen goods. He gives the example of a shared refrigerator, where the line between borrowing and stealing is very fine and where disagreements can ruin friendships. One of the points of the chapter is that the church needs to be more open with each other on a broader variety of topics. Appealing to Bonhoffer, he says that there are some things that should be kept to oneself, but that we need to think more about being in community to a greater degree.
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Does the Bible Justify Violence?

Posted Thursday, December 06, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Military Issues   Comments: None
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This short book is a modified version of the SBL Presidential address in 2002 and presents some interesting thoughts on violence and the OT. While it cannot go into much detail (only thirty pages long), he does a good job surveying the evidence, showing briefly how other views are deficient and then presenting his own view.

His view is that we need to sideline the violent parts of the OT. Not all of the Bible is an ethical model for us today, and so we should follow the texts on love for neighbor rather than warfare. Of course, it is somewhat difficult to follow this line of thinking if one believes in inspiration. But even if we ignore inspiration, there are still problems. The main issue is why we should highlight the love commands and ignore the war commands. Why not the other way around? The source of authority is no longer the text, but what we think should be emphasized.

Here is his final conclusion:

"The Bible has contributed to violence in the world precisely because it has been taken to confer a degree of certitude that transcends human discussion and argumentation. Perhaps the most constructive thing a biblical critic can do toward lessening the contribution of the Bible to violence in the world is to show that such certitude is an illusion." (32-33)
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Reading Scripture with the Church

Toward a Hermeneutic for Theological Interpretation

Posted Tuesday, December 18, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hermeneutics   Comments: None
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This is a helpful work in which various proponents of the theological interpretation of Scripture present essays which further their views and then respond to the essays of their co-authors. This gives them an opportunity to interact with each other to a greater extent than I have seen elsewhere.

The first chapter is by A. K. M. Adam and is a plea for abundance in interpretation. He bases this upon the belief that God has given great abundance in the text, which can be read in a variety of ways. Since this is the case, to not read abundantly is to go against what God has desired for us. Limits for this interpretation includes such factors as the rule of faith and the community of believers. He also reminds us that communication is not simply words, but occupies a much broader field. Hence, communicating our beliefs is not merely a verbal affair, but takes our whole lives.

The second chapter comes from Stephen Fowl and jumps off from a study of the literal sense in Thomas Aquinas. While we usually think of a single literal sense, Fowl shows that Aquinas believed in a multivoiced literal sense: a text has several literal senses. Hence, we can have multiple readings of texts and stick with the literal sense.

The third chapter, the longest in the book (not surprising, since it seems that Vanhoozer does not know how to write anything short) is from Kevin Vanhoozer, who uses the essay as a way to blend together his earlier emphasis on speech act theory and the authorial discourse with his more recent focus on theodrama. He looks at the book of Philemon as an example of a place where identity was found not in a social status, but in Christ. This thought is key for Vanhoozer, as he desires Christians to be free in Christ and to view doctrine as a drama: not as a dead book but as a living play. "This is the kind of theological interpretation that the church so desperately needs: dramatic interpretations that embody the script and refresh the heart" (93).

The last chapter is from Francis Watson, who builds off of the connecting of the four gospels with the four living creatures of Revelation by Irenaeus. He sees the four gospels as presenting various viewpoints, so that each is needed. I only skimmed this chapter, but it seemed that it was of a different tone than the rest of the book, as was his response at the end.   

The responses were the most interesting part for me, as the authors had the opportunity to interact with each other. Watson applied his thinking on the four gospels to the author/reader problem that the other three authors had discussed in their essays. He says that both are important: the authors wrote them, but the authors were also readers (Matthew of Mark, Luke of Mark and Matthew).

Fowl thinks that some of the problem the church is having (such as the wide acceptance of the Da Vinci Code) is not due to a wrong hermeneutical theory but to bad catechesis. He thinks that biblical interpretation should not cause church division, since this only began with the Reformation. He also says that he thinks that Vanhoozer is moving closer to his view in regard to authors as far as the practical implications. He wonders why Vanhoozer is still placing so much importance on the philosophical idea of an author.

Vanhoozer (writing the longest response) argues for his view of authoral discourse, showing once again that the guards Fowl and Adam put up for their view of meaning are insufficient. He then playfully assigns each of the authors to a living creature (Watson: calf, Fowl: eagle [obviously], Adam: man [once again, obvious], Vanhoozer: eagle, or ass as he later describes himself).  He argues against Fowl's point by saying that Fowl is being a little too slippery with his terms: is it a multifaceted literal sense or many literal senses? Vanhoozer argues for a "thick" literal sense (the former option). He argues against Adam by saying that he needs to move from local criteria to global criteria.

In his response Adam argues once again for his view, presenting such as statements as "'correctness' derives from blending our voices and actions harmoniously and concordantly with the surrounding voices, rather than from identical reproduction or transposition of an authoritative paradigm" (147).
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A History of Christian Thought, Volume 1

Posted Thursday, December 27, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Church History   Comments: None
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            This past semester I did some reading in historical theology in the ancient church. I've put together some reviews of those primary and secondary sources I read, many of which were interesting. Happy reading! The first is a general overiew of the period.

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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!
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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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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. 
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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!
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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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Biblical Interpretation: Then and Now