Putting Marduk in the Right Perspective

517I9RrDE7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Admitting I am a geek about certain things is a necessity up front. When given the opportunity, I thoroughly enjoy pouring over varying ancient religions, looking for comparisons with Christianity and deviations as well. So while the title may be off putting, excitement bubbled up in me like the waters of the deep when Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology arrived on my doorstep. The chance to expand my understanding of the Ancient Near East, particularly in light of religious texts and concepts? What is not to love?

I wasn’t overly familiar with Jeffrey Niehaus before this book, doing most of my exploring under the guides John Walton and Alexander Heidel. But I had encountered his name in a few articles and looked forward to his two cents on the matter. His book is laid out in a particular fashion, that I sometimes found distracting, unfortunately. His premise, however, I think is sound. Niehaus essentially asserts that most ANE religious texts follow a particular outline, as seen below (30):

NiehausSchemaHis primary argument is that this process occurs in numerous ANE texts, including the Bible. In fact, he suggests that this is inherent in the entire Biblical narrative, and that the ANE texts illustrate a fallen example of how this concept played out in the pagan world (32, 177-181). With this in mind, Niehaus structures each chapter around a single concept (Chapter 2, “God and the Royal Shepherd”), and then unpacks how each of the major cultures explored this idea. Throughout, he maintains his thesis, and constantly reminds the reader how God was the real fulfillment of each part of the ANE process.

Undoubtedly, the material he covers is vast and informative, and I would recommend this book at every college student or pastor who is likely to encounter this material. Universities are filled with people who choose to focus on the similarities of the Bible with its ANE parallels, and consequently ignore the drastic ways in which the texts differ. Niehaus brings this concept to the forefront in an expert way. I do wonder if the text would be better suited to be broken out by culture, with a concluding chapter drawing everything together. Boyd Seevers’s Warfare in the Old Testament is put in such a format, and I found it easier to follow.

Despite this complaint, this book is worth the time. It is a short introduction to some of the major themes that scholars debate, and is handled in a gracious way. The book has earned a permanent spot on my shelf, and I suggest any interested readers do the same.

 

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Charting the Course of Paul’s Theology

Charts can be one of the greatest study tools. I use Zondervan’s Charts of Church History every year in my 11th grade class, if for no other reason than this: charts give readers a simple view of vast research. There are few ways to condense information as handily. That’s why I have been so glad to see Kregel Academic putting their own books of charts together. I have already reviewed their Charts on the Book of Hebrews here on my blog. While I haven’t had a chance to use it in class yet, I was so impressed with that volume that I have been making plans to do an in-depth teaching on Hebrews come this fall.

As Kregel continues to add to their stellar line up of books, they have also published another volume in their Charts of the Bible series: Lars Kierspel’s Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul. I was particularly excited for this text to arrive. Paul is such an important figure in the development of Church History and Christian Thought that I am always looking for new resources (I have Campbell’s Paul and Union with Christ sitting next to Zondervan’s Four Views on Paul and Zuck’s Teaching as Paul Taught on my book shelf). Kierspel’s work certainly does not disappoint. His research is staggering, and his methodology for putting the information together is commendable. I regularly put together charts for my own students, so I can testify that it is not always easy to decide what goes in and what stays out. Still, Kierspel deftly maneuvers such hurdles and has produced a fine work that any student of Paul should have on their shelf.

The first thing I examined, of course, was his Bibliography. I was looking for N.T. Wright’s name, and was pleased to find a substantial list of his works were used. On top of that, other names found in the back continued to build my confidence in the work: Kostenberger, Carson, Capes, Beale, House and Hays, just to name a few. Of course, no resources list is perfect. I would have liked to see more works from Wright, and the inclusion of Constantine R. Campbell’s recent tome. This exposes probably the only real shortfall of works like this: inevitably they become outdated. Kierspel’s work is nothing to shake one’s head at though, and his research is laudable. My own research pales in comparison to his, so while he may not include everything I would have, I will certainly give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he is doing.

The book is divided into four sections: A) Background & Context, B) Life & Ministry, C) Letters and D) Theological Concepts. While all of them are vital, I found Section C to be the most intriguing. Particularly, the charts connecting Paul’s writings to their references was outstanding. Kierspel separates out the different allusions and quotes, breaking them down by Old Testament sources. He even does a bang up job sourcing Paul’s extra-Biblical references to things like II Maccabees or the Wisdom of Solomon. These charts alone gave me much to review, and sent me to my own library to cross reference the material. Since this is what I think a book of charts is really supposed to do, I was thrilled when I realized Kierspel’s work had accomplished that goal.

In the end, I simply cannot recommend this book enough. I think students, both professional and lay, should have this by their side when digging deep into the writings of Paul. It’s simplistic in form and challenging in depth. What more could you ask for?

Koinonia Blog Tour: A Theology of Luke and Acts

The good people over at Zondervan Academic have been working on a new series of textbooks called The Biblical Theology of the New Testament. The purpose is pretty straight-forward: cover every book of the New Testament by having various biblical scholars hash out the theology inherent in different groups of writings. I have the privilege of being part of a blog tour regarding the second book in the series, A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell L. Bock. Here’s a quick snippet to give you an introductory look:

What really sets this book apart from the other textbooks I’ve read regarding Luke, Acts, or the New Testament in general is the focus. Bock does spend some time on foundational issues like authorship, date and what-not. He also writes about Luke’s place in the canon of Scripture. But these are not the centerpiece of his work. The bulk of the text, “Part Two” of the three sections, is entirely devoted to the thematic theological elements of Luke and Acts. Curious about the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts? There’s a chapter for that. Women, Rome, Israel, the Gentiles, eschatology and the use of Scripture are some of the themes Bock deals with, and he does so with great clarity.

While written on the graduate level, I never felt like Bock was talking over my head. This level of writing is important to consider when examining the author’s treatment of introductory material. Bock does not bother investing in lengthy debates. He does, however, summarize them in order for the reader to better comprehend the idea that informs his perspective on Luke’s writings: Luke and Acts are two volumes of essentially one work.

Bock explains why this unified reading is so important to understanding Luke-Acts:

…we contend that Luke-Acts as well as Luke and Acts is intended to set forth the program of God as delivered through Jesus. The Christ was sent to bring the kingdom and Spirit to people of all nations who embraced his message of promise and deliverance. Jesus is the promised Messiah who also was vindicated by God to show he is Lord of all. So the kingdom message can go to all (p. 60).

This argument may not be unique in the great history of Christian theology, but it is offered with clarity and integrity in A Theology of Luke and Acts. Bock’s assessment is critical, in my opinion, to understanding how Christian’s today should respond to the kingdom of God. Because in order to respond and take part, we must first discover the kingdom. By reading Luke and Acts as Luke-Acts, and subsequently drawing upon the themes of both volumes, we see a kingdom that is robust, diverse and ecumenical.

All in all, Bock’s book is a worthwhile read. It may not be the kind of reading that every Christian enjoys, but the insights and breakdowns offered within the text are incredibly valuable for all Christians.

A Dark Knight? Or A Bright Hope?

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In light of recent events, I hesitate to write about Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in the Dark Knight Trilogy. I by no means desire to trivialize the tragic loss of life that took place in Aurora. Nor do I wish to politicize something for my own ends. There is a better way to approach this whole thing, and its not being kept a secret. But I’m not interested in rehashing something someone else said (better than I could have, at that). Rather, I’d like to briefly explain why The Dark Knight Rises is easily my favorite movie now, and why that matters.

I’ll avoid serious spoilers of this latest film, but I have to revisit Nolan’s previous installments to show you the bigger picture. Read with caution though, minor spoilers will be necessary throughout.

Each of Nolan’s films has a theme. In Batman Begins, the theme is fear. In The Dark Knight, the theme is chaos. What both films thematically have in common is their treatment of truth, which is arguably the underlying theme of the entire trilogy.

To summarize, Batman Begins treats truth as malleable, especially in light of the positive and negative effects of fear upon the human condition. Think of Batman’s use of theatricality and deception. He deceives to help, and in the process alienates those closest to him (starting with Rachel Dawes, and slowly doing the same to Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth by the end of everything). His deception is seen as a necessity by all, but understood to be temporary. Of course, this changes dramatically with the entrance of the Joker in The Dark Knight, as chaos turns this deception on its head and exposes the ugliness inside of people. It would seem, at the close of the second film, that for every time trust and hope are rewarded, they are also overwhelmed by the continued need for deception instead of truth. Nolan paints this ominous picture so well that the closing lines of film sound so true that we forget what is happening:

Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

Despite knowing that something is wrong with this idea, you buy into it because the fear and the chaos have simply overwhelmed you. What other recourse is there?

But in reality, this is a setup. Every bit of it. Because, the truth is this: fear and chaos cannot rule. Humanity, as Nolan demonstrates, needs to have hope. Which is where the third film turns everything around. Hope is the theme of The Dark Knight Rises, and for the first time in Gotham City, truth is the vehicle of that hope.

For whatever short comings you may find in the film, like Batman not being enough of a “detective,” or whatever, I urge you not to miss the point of this film. What sets this movie apart from every superhero film before it (and probably after it) is its message. Even in the face of tragedy, there must be hope. While Bane would use that to destroy, turning ordinary individuals’ hope into a weapon of violence and selfishness, Batman and his friends will have no part of it.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make? “Its just a movie,” you might say. “It doesn’t change the real life tragedy that is overshadowing this weekend.” I disagree. And so does Paul:

Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love. – Romans 5:1-5

I’m not saying Nolan intentionally represented the Christian concept of hope in his comic book movie (he may have, I ultimately don’t know). But accidentally or not, its there. I cannot think of the movie from last night without hearing Paul’s words echo in my ears, reminding me that all Truth is God’s Truth, and as such it is not malleable nor deceptive. It is pure and righteous, as I believe the actions of the heroes in this film are as well. The Gospel is imbedded in this movie. For what greater hope is there than the resurrection of Christ?

You’re welcome to take issue with my interpretation. It doesn’t bother me. I simply ask that you think about it. Consider what I’ve suggested as the foundation of this film and ask yourself, “could this be true?” Then you too might find yourself on the path to rise out of the darkness.