Sparing the Rod and Ruining the Parishioner

9780825444456There are few people who enjoy talking about church discipline. Sure, there is the occasional pastor or elder, who probably talks quite a bit about how things used to be, that will speak up when a church member should be brought under the guidance of 1 Corinthians 5. And most will likely shake their head, and move on in the conversation as though nothing had been said. But as Jeremy M. Kimble is quick to point out, that would be a mistake.

Dr. Kimble is a professor of Cedarville University, and he is the author of 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline from Kregel Academic. And he takes both issues of Christian living seriously (he even wrote his dissertation on church discipline). This passion for an historically droll topic translates into a fairly engaging book that sets a practicable and faithful standard for understanding membership in the local church, and the discipline which is a part of that. With that said, go ahead a get the book. It is worth your time.

As for the details, the book is part of a series from Kregel called 40 Questions About (I reviewed their entry on the Historical Jesus topic as well as the volume looking at the creation debate a while back). Series like this are written for generalists, not specialists, and they aim to present information in a simple, digestible format that is as thorough as it can be. I think this is important to understand up front, because otherwise a review of such a work can easily fall into nitpicking at details which most likely belong in a systematic or extended treatment. If you are a pastor researching the legality of church discipline, this is only a starting point. Such a project will require a different resource. Likewise, if a church member is looking for an exposition on baptism as a requirement for membership, you would do best to look elsewhere. But remember, this book is not meant to be those things.

Consider Kimble’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 5, which only occupies 5 pages of the book. Someone expecting a detailed exegetical study will be sorely disappointed with the simple approach that Kimble takes. But that is why they should begin with the Pillar Commentary or the Baker Exegetical Commentary to get such a linguistic breakdown. Kimble’s take is not flawed, but it is narrow. “What does 1 Corinthians 5 say about church discipline?” In a nutshell, “that this is a non-negotiable matter” and that it is an act of love to “root out unrepentant sin” so that the individual  “will awaken . . . from their sinful propensities” and renew their call to holiness (159).

Such issues are not explored ad infinitum in this work, nor should they be. 40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline does exactly what it should: it hits the high points of debate, and offers a snapshot answer which ought to provoke the inquisitive to further reading on the matter. As such, Kimble’s work is a welcome entry on a topic that receives far too little attention in the modern church, and I whole-heartedly recommend it to pastors and laymen alike.

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Going Back to the Beginning

I reviewed volume 3 of Allen Ross’s commentary on the Psalms some time ago. It seems a bit backwards, starting at the end and only then going to the beginning, but I was so thoroughly impressed with volume 3 that I thought it would be worth my time to work through volume 1 and 2 as well. Volume 2 is waiting for me to crack open its spine, and as each volume comes in at around 930 pages, it might be waiting for a while yet.

41RK4MMfRgLThe style, layout, and approach in this volume is the same as in volume 3, so I don’t feel the need to revisit it is great detail. In my previous review, I highlighted the ease of interacting with the structure of Ross’s work, and the treasure trove of information that he provides for each Psalm. What sets this volume apart is the lengthy introductory essay in the front.

Composing almost 200 pages of the first volume, it covers the necessary explanations of Ross’ approach, and how to make the most of these commentaries. While the essay was not necessary for my reading of volume 3, having now spent some time with it, I dearly wished I had read, at the very least, “Literary Forms and Functions in the Psalms” (p. 111-145). Ross handles the minutiae of this section throughout his exegesis, but I found his summary and his presentation of the big picture to be a great help as I worked through volume 1. For instance, while I had read about royal and lament and wisdom psalms previously, enthronement psalms were new to me. The general concept, and its conceptual history, fascinated me, and gave me refreshed perspective when looking at Psalm 41 or 99. And there were additional categories in this section to consider, such as the Songs of Zion, which greatly added to how I interact with the Psalms as I read them now.

Of course, saying that a commentary changed one’s perspective is not new, nor is it limited to Biblical studies. But the nature of Ross’s writing is different from the commentary one picks up on Hemingway or on the Iliad. The point of understanding the Psalms better is to approach God’s revelation and purposes with eyes open wide. Here, though the poetic form of each psalm provides challenges, exegesis is so helpful in grappling with texts that can be difficult or even opaque at times.

As Ross nicely summarizes the issue: “the exegetical exposition . . . is the one method that guarantees the entire psalm will be explained, correlated and applied in a clear, interesting, and meaningful way” (179). Ross certainly approaches this goal in his commentary, and his observations and study will benefit any Christian wishing to better understand these worship “essentials”, both of the past and for today (147).

 

 

Coming Down from the Mountain: A Tribute to Ravencrest

“This strength and comfort from the second blaze / came to me, whence I raised my eyes unto / those mountains that had bowed them.” — Dante, Paradise XXV.37-39

I can still remember roaming the cool mountainside, stopping on boulders that jutted out from the ground which formed precarious cliffs. Those ledges beckoned for any who were brave enough to sit on their edge and breathe in the world that lay below them. The soft breeze coupled with the bright sun created a feeling that, here in this place, Spring was more than a season on the calendar; it was alive. Of course, the livelihood of Spring only came after the snows of Winter and the Autumn trees exchanging their Summer clothes for something more sensible. But it was not the weather, nor the outdoor adventuring which brought me to Estes Park, Colorado in September of 2011. I arrived at the top of Pole Hill because I wanted to study the Bible.

Ravencrest Bible School, a small community based out of Ravencrest Chalet, had not been my first choice out of high school. Hunkering down in a school of some eighty-odd strangers, traipsing through the snows in October, and dodging elk in downtown Estes every Wednesday did not sound like a grand time. My primary desire as an eighteen-year-old was not to dive deep into Scripture, at first. When I had submitted the application that February before graduation, I had merely wanted my parents to be satisfied that I had applied somewhere. When my acceptance letter arrived a few weeks later, I had to come to terms with the idea that I would be spending five hours a day, five days a week, for eight months, reading and discussing and wrestling with the Word of God. I warmed up to the idea slowly, and benefitted from a rigorous education which embodied the admonitions of St. John Chrysostom. We learned hymns, read the stories of the Bible, learned to serve one another, and conducted our relationships in the open light of the community (Gamble 195-200).  I was receiving an education that I did not understand, and in spite of myself, God moved in me.

During my time at Ravencrest, the presence of God permeated our classrooms, dorms, and excursions. This inculcated a devotion to truth that, in the moment, seemed as though it would never wane. In this way, Ravencrest was what medieval Irish monks called “a thin place” (Balzer 29). This idea of thinness, where we are “honest with God and listen to the deep murmurings of his Spirit,” perfectly captures the atmosphere at Ravencrest. God’s Word prompted soul searching, discovery, and repentance. When we wounded one another, there was no place to go hide; a community of eighty people does not make for continual avoidance strategies. At every turn, maturation knocked at the door, and beckoned that we might step further along the path of righteousness. We read through the entire Bible in my first year, and I found myself reading the same Pauline letter every day for a month if I wanted to understand it. I learned “to think nothing of wealth or worldly reputation or power or death or the present life on earth” (Gamble 205). Thus, for two years, the painful pilgrimage in Estes Park paid for itself with the building of friendships and the grasping of God’s word.

The return to the world below, the thick reality of living and working and having to make time to study the Bible, was more than I could handle at first. A desire to retreat back to the shelter of the mountains, to take Jesus’ moments where he “would slip away to the wilderness to pray” as a model for my every difficulty (Luke 5:16, NASB). But the follow through, where Jesus would return to the masses and give of Himself, kept me from the hermitage. It took years to learn the balance in a world thick with voices clamoring for my attention; the goal became more than survival in the dark. I went on to become a teacher of God’s Word, implementing the strategies and lessons which had done so much to shape me.

But unlike Dante or even Aeneas’s men whom he invokes, I do not suffer the loss of memory as  “when the wind blew the weightless leaves away” (XXXIII.64-66). The gift of Ravencrest was the hiding of something invaluable, just as the Psalmist “treasured in my heart” the Word of God (Psalm 119:11, NASB). Still, the sight of a mountain peak still stirs my soul, as if Colorado has seeped into my bones. And when the first real chill of Autumn sets in, I pour a hot cup of coffee, crack open the worn spine of my Bible, and remember that time which some days seems to call out from so long ago.

Bibliography

Dante. Paradise. Translated by Anthony Esolen. New York: Modern Library, 2007.

Balzer, Tracy. Thin Places: An Evangelical Journey Into Celtic Christianity. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2007.

Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.

Living with Leisure

Picture a leisure suit. Perhaps this takes one back  to America in the 1970s, with brightly colored fabrics, and the occasional plaid pattern. Such an image hardly seems something which would invite a serious consideration. The thought of smarmy Hollywood agents, or thugs running a casino, all with a period piece soundtrack running in the background conjure up thoughts of comedic timing more than fruitful study. But consider for a moment: what is the leisure suit? A brief look at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that it is merely, “a suit consisting of a shirt jacket and matching trousers for informal wear.” How did something so simple, so eminently practical, become a fashion faux pas and the derision of so many born post 1985? While such a study might be valuable, perhaps the study of something similar might yield worthy results as well. For the word “leisure” has suffered a fate similar to that of its suit monikered counterpart.

Leisure is viewed as “the unimportant or superfluous” parts of life, the moments that happen in between the valuable or productive ones (Schall, 102). But this was not always the case. The roots of the word connect it back to the Greek skole or school, and its Latin equivalent, otium, became a part of English word “negotiate.” These suggest that this word was not necessarily vocation, or even directly opposite to it, but that it was still an important and vital part of life (103). Leisure, along these lines, is not the superfluous moments, but rather the moments of rest which allow the monumental things to be taken in at their true value. Aristotle went so far as to state that the beginning “of all action is leisure” (Gamble, 60). Leisure is not, then, a kind of escapism or immaturity. It is rather the place of refreshment from which all labor finds its source.

It is a curious thing that the Bible seems to say so little about “leisure.” Even one of the most perplexing usages of the word in the Hebrew (’itti), found in Gen. 33:14, is rendered as “slowly” in more recent translations like the ESV. The word seems to have little value in the prescription of Biblical living. Unless, as considered above, the word is in need of resurrection and restoration. For the Bible speaks extensively about a similar concept: rest. Rest, or sabbath rest, permeates both Testaments, and is mentioned in nearly every Biblical book. A brief survey found that no less than 50 of the 66 books of the Bible deal directly with teachings on the Sabbath or rest (NASB), including each of the Gospels. Taking time to follow in God’s pattern, to rest after laboring hard so that creativity and joy might return when the work recommences, is an important aspect of righteous living (cf. Gen. 1:24-2:3).

What is leisure then? It is more than a casual, pastel two-piece suit might imply. It is the starting point and end goal of all work. Leisure is the way in which every labor becomes a labor of love. To live a life with leisure is not to be lackadaisical, but rather to seize every moment, recognizing when those moments are to be set apart for the rest and refreshment which every human needs.

Bibliography

Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.

Schall, James V. On The Unseriousness Of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012.

What do you do with Daniel?

9780825427619I have been a fan of Kregel Academic’s Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis Having read the volumes on the Prophets and the Historical books, I was pleased to receive a copy of their Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature, and quickly found myself challenged in a number of ways.

David Howard, professor of Old Testament at Bethel University, approaches the Biblical text from an exegetical and literary viewpoint. While the other volumes in this series deal almost exclusively with the Biblical writings, Howard’s analysis of the apocalyptic writings involves a detailed look at extra-biblical sources as well. This was unexpected, but served as one of the most engaging parts of the books. Though I was already familiar with The Book of Enoch and the like, I had only encountered them in minor ways, usually in a “why to avoid these books” kind of way. Howard, however, uses them in a way that reminds me of John Walton’s analysis of creation texts or Jeffery Niehaus’s look into Ancient Near Eastern polemics.

But rather than singularly focused cultural study, Howard’s remains primarily focused on exegetical problems of the Biblical text. Chapters 3 and 4 concentrate on the text itself, with chapter 5 laying out practical guidance on how to preach these texts despite their linguistic and cultural difficulties. Chapter 6 remains my favorite section, though, with Howard’s advice sampled through analyses of Daniel 8:1-27 and Joel 2:28-32. Here, Howard’s comfort with the genre and the Hebrew text shines forth, with sermon material that any pastor would benefit from.

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature is perhaps a bit more academic than the other volumes I have read, particularly in terms of the literary comparisons. This quality might be of less interest to some laymen or pastoral counselors, but I think is necessary to the specific study of Old Testament writings. I recommend Howard’s work to anyone interested in the topic.

A Balm in Textual Studies

9780825443824There is an abundance of textbooks on the New Testament. Concordances, dictionaries, grammars, and their ilk proliferate book shelves of students and teachers across the spectrum of studies. Dr. Charles Lee Irons is not unawares, but with the publication of his A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament has demonstrated a knowledge of the holes that often plague the student laboring under the load of Biblical languages. This guide is not a substitute for hard work, but rather an aid “to provide concise explanations of syntactical, clause-level features that may not be immediately obvious to the beginner” (8). Of course, the out of practice pastor might find it helpful too.

For instance, a young pastor is preaching through Hebrews and turns to his Greek text for exegetical purposes. Everything is cruising along, and then wham! 3:16 stops him as he cannot quite recall what to make with “τἰνες.” Rather than digging through multiple commentaries to sort it out, or revisiting his professor’s self-published grammar book, he pulls out Irons’s book and turns to p. 506. “Ah,” he recalls, “there is an accent issue to be sorted out here.

This is the brilliance, and practicality, of SGRGNT. It serves as an immediate reference for problems that often come up if your Greek is not quite as good as your Hebrew (or perhaps your English, if you’re like me). This handy little volume is small enough to keep out on the desk all the time, and user-friendly enough to make any M.Div. holder wish they had owned it earlier.

I think we can all thank Dr. Irons for his efforts. May they act as a balm in Greek class, when Gilead seems so far away.

Keeping Up Your Greek with the LXX

9780825443428One of the easiest things to do, when the grades are in and classes over, is to let your language skills slip away. Sometimes this is simply an issue of time management, but at other times it is a matter of interest; I don’t keep studying because I do not have a professor to keep it engaging. Fortunately, books come along that do serve that purpose of renewing the interest of the mind with material that is new or appealing. Karen Jobes’s Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader is just such a book.

To Protestants, the LXX often appears to be a curiosity (shedding light on Catholicism in some way) or an experiment in translation. I teach the Septuagint every Spring, and the reactions from students is fairly predictable. “Why is this so strange? I don’t understand these changes here.” And those are all from the English translations. What I have hope to do in the past, but been unable to do thus far, is bridge the gap between my students’ Greek classes and their Classical studies. Jobes’s book is perfect for this, and laid out in a manageable format, which can be used by students, teachers, or laymen alike.

While the book doesn’t get into too much apocryphal material aside from 73 verses from the “Additions to Esther,” the selected texts stand out as great examples of how the Hebrew and Greek inform one another, sometimes with stark differences between them. Because the book is more of a introductory language textbook, there are relatively few critical comments to slow down the chapters. Thus, what you have is a quick-paced study of the Greek Old Testament that can breathe life into dying Greek skills that have sat too long in disuse.

As stated in the front matter of the book: “if we are to better understand the New Testament and the world in which it was produced, then we must acknowledge the role of the Septuagint in how the Bible has come down through history to us,” (p. 12). If for other reason, this is a great starting point for truly digging deep into the LXX.

Craziness & Romance in the Bible

9780825425561I have read three previous entires in the Kregel Exegetical Library, and have come away edified by any of them. Each is written by a scholar of the highest integrity, and deals openly with problematic passages. A Commentary on Judges and Ruth does not disappoint. Dr. Robert Chisholm, a regular Biblical commentator for most folks who have taken a Hebrew class, handles some of the strangest passages in the Old Testament narrative in a clear, effective manner. If you are looking for a book that will help unravel some of the violence and bizarre events of Israel’s early days, then this is a good place to start.

A prime example comes from the section on Jephthah’s foolish vow (Judges 11:29-40). A number of explanations for understanding this passage have been explored over the years (Wikipedia even has a section dedicated to it), but consensus is rare. Chisholm dedicates 17 pages to the issue, and alternates being exposition in the main body of the text, and extensive footnotes about various views. Though Chisholm does not convince me of his own view, that Jephthah does in fact offer a human sacrifice to Yahweh, he is cautious in dismissing opposing perspectives and provides ample space for those views to be considered by the reader.  This kind of writing is typical of the entire work, and made reading it an exercise in humility and conversation.

Of course, the extensive footnoting method used by Chisholm might be daunting to some, particularly the laity. But it is most definitely worth it to sift through those lengthy academic ramblings in order to find a beautiful gem of wisdom that adds to one’s understanding of the Biblical story.

It is also worth noting that Chisholm treats the book of Ruth as part of the story told in Judges, rather than a one shot episode of the coming kingdom through David. Chisholm is careful not to throw arbitrary labels at Ruth, chastising the myriad of scholars who has sought to impose their own perspective on the book, rather than letting it speak for itself. Though his treatment of the book is brief, Chisholm offers a balanced, reverent account of one of the most overlooked books in the Bible.

This has been my favorite of the Kregel Exegetical commentaries thus far, and has definitely whetted my appetite for more.

Redeeming the Past (A Convocation Address)

This post originally appeared at the Trinitas Christian School blog. 

When thinking of the past, we often find ourselves in one of two precarious positions: veneration or disdain. Looking back on those “good ole days” can cause us to miss out on the gifts of God before us now. Do we, like Saul, desperately seek to evade the consequences of today by reaching out to the ghosts of the past? Or are we more like Ajax, holding silently onto old grudges, forsaking forever a chance for restoration to a friend and comrade? Surely these are not the only ways to view what has gone before us? Is there a way to recall the past without glorifying it unnecessarily, or a way to avoid treating as an experiment in regret? In fact, when we turn to the Old Testament, we find that the writings of Moses and his fellow authors are replete with reminders to remember: “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not,” (Deut. 8:2). Verses like this show us that remembrance is not just about the past, but it is even about the present. It is how we know where we stand in relation to what came before. As Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent,” (Rev. 2:5). As you go throughout the year, I challenge you to remember the past, so that you might easier repent of your sins and learn to quickly forgive your neighbor. That is how we hold the past in the right relation to the present and future.

Books, Covers, and Genesis

On the back of The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, one the latest books coming out of Kregel publications about the age of the earth, boasts a Paul Copan quote recommendation on that back that goes like this: “Irenic in spirit, scientifically informed, and biblically sound.” Dr. Copan is one of my favorite apologists out there at present, and a genuinely nice guy. So when he states that a book is aimed at peace and the reconciliation of denominational differences, I do not hesitate to pick it up.9780825444210

On the surface, The Grand Canyon looks like a work of great care and consideration. As scientific textbooks go, it is by far the most readable I have encountered in some years, interspersing the scientific lingo with beautiful pictures and engaging diagrams. The eleven authors mentioned on the first page demonstrate a breadth of knowledge that is impressive. They present the case that the Grand Canyon serves as irrefutable proof that the Earth cannot be young, and that Noah’s Flood cannot possibly have created something like the gorge surrounding the Colorado River. The book showcases remarkable lucidity with a topic that is often tedious or difficult to understand. Having read several books on the topic, including Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies and Francis Collins’s The Language of God (to name a couple), and find there is a fine line between scientific tedium and understandable theorizing. But the authors work hard to make the subject even enjoyable.

All of that being said, I think to call this book irenic is a bit misleading. While there are authors out there genuinely working to bridge the gap between Christians who disagree (like Kenneth Wheately and Alvin Plantinga), the bulk of this book is dedicated to converting Young Earth Creationists to a different view. Now, I understand that books are frequently written to make an argument. This can be done in a tasteful way, however, and much of the shots taken at YEC proponents through the book detract from what would otherwise be an insightful contribution to the larger discussion. Such a dismissive attitude limits the book’s potential.

While the book is one I recommend, I do so with caution. Coming to this book for a genteel and fair-minded discussion will not go far. But if you are already in, or leaning towards, an Old Earth view which congeals with Christianity, then this book is definitely for you.