Book Review: In the Beginning – By Henri Blocher

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Letter TThe opening chapters of Genesis have likely had more written about them than most any other section of the Bible. Especially in the modern world the question of how to interpret these chapters is seen as especially pressing in the light of claims that the theories of science call into question and influence how they should be read.

In his book In the Beginning Henri Blocher offers a fairly in-depth analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis (with a short chapter surveying chapters 4-11 at the end). This analysis is not primarily a technical breakdown of the grammar and syntax of the chapters nor an interaction with the ancient Near Eastern context. Rather it is a commentary on the major themes of the chapters which seeks to weigh varying interpretations and offer an internally and biblically consistent vision of not only what is going on at the beginning of Genesis but also what lessons should be gleaned.

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Luther’s Other Reformation

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Letter TThe Protestant Reformation is without a doubt one of the most significant events in history. Even non-Christian scholars can agree that the Reformation had a profound political and philosophical impact on the Western world. For Christians the import of this event is most squarely set around the theological and ecclesiastical revolutions which took place and are perhaps best exemplified in the five solas.

Yet often obscured behind the theological and societal watershed that was the Reformation is another reformation almost as widespread and long-reaching in its impact. This was Luther’s – albeit unintentional – reformation of marriage.

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Book Review: God’s Rivals – By Gerald R. McDermott

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letter-eEver since the world began to be truly globalized the question of other religions has been brought to the forefront of modern thought. The question is not new by any means but whereas in previous ages other religions could be dismissed as things only existing in some faraway land, today we meet and interact with those of other religions every day.

For Christians – who ascribe to the sovereignty and exclusivity of God as the creator and sustainer of the world and history – this question can be particularly pressing. McDermott‘s book God’s Rivals is an attempt to explain the phenomena of other religions from a Christian perspective with special focus on insights gained from the Bible and from early church fathers.

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Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One – By John H. Walton

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Letter TPerhaps there is no topic more widely and hotly debated in the past century of Christianity – and especially in the past few decades – is that of creation and evolution as it relates to Genesis.

The Lost World of Genesis One is one of John H. Walton‘s multiple contributions to this discussion. This is a work which according to Walton serves to be faithful to the original context and to not only preserve but enhance the theological vitality of the text.

Central to Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 is an understanding that while the text does communicate to us and was written for all of humankind, it is not directly written to us, but to Israel; there is a barrier of sorts separating 21st century Western American and European cultures from that of the ancient Israelites). Because of this it is not only the language that needs to be translated but also the culture. While the key to translating certain ancient languages might have been the Rosetta Stone, for Walton the key to translating this ancient culture is the literature from the rest of the ancient world (noting that there are bound to be both similarities and differences).

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Book Review: The Call – By Os Guinness

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Letter TThis book has been sitting on my shelf for about three or four years. I had expected it to be rather trite and boring fluff. I was glad to have been proven wrong.

Every person has the desire to know that they are fulfilling their purpose in life; The Call, as the subtitle suggests, is about finding and fulfilling that central purpose. ‘Calling’ – in the context used by Guinness – is the specific purpose for which we were created: “calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service” (p4). It is in this calling, this purpose, that we find our identities.

Once the foundational idea of calling and its importance is laid Guinness proceeds to unpack the various aspects of calling: our primary calling is as followers of Christ, our secondary calling is to live, think, speak, and act for God as our sovereign. It is this secondary calling which – according to Guinness – comprises our specific ‘vocation’ (a teacher, lawyer, construction worker, etc), what Guinness calls “our personal answer to God’s address” (p31).

When viewed through this lens our calling gives us meaning, meaning which mere work or a mere job cannot. Despite referring to lines of work as ‘secondary callings’, Guinness pushes back against equating work with vocation, noting that “slowly such words as work, trade, employment, and occupation came to be used interchangeably with calling and vocation… The original demand that each Christian should have a calling was boiled down to the demand that each citizen should have a job” (p40). Guinness chief issue seems to be that secondary callings took center stage over the primary calling [to follow Christ]. He thereby seeks to counter the Protestant distortion of making the secondary calling primary and the Catholic distortion of confining calling only to the clergy.

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Book Review: The Unseen Realm – By Michael S. Heiser

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Letter IIf there is one great noteworthy trend going on right now in the realm of biblical scholarship it is the turn towards attempting to re-read the Scriptures in their original context. In the 21st century there are many layers of cultural filters that lay between us and the text; Michael Heiser is one of the scholars working to help peel back those layers and give us a better understanding of what the words of the bible meant to those who originally wrote and read them.Mugatu-So-Hot-Right-Now-ANE.png

The Unseen Realm is revolutionary in a certain sense – in the sense that G.K. Chesterton used the term – that “a revolution is a restoration.” In this work Dr. Heiser sets out to restore the supernatural worldview of biblical writers, a worldview which has since been watered down, diluted, and at times totally done away with either due to our post-Enlightenment mindset or due to our simple ignorance of ancient near eastern patterns of thought.

The specific goal of Heiser’s book is to explain the notion of “the divine council.” This is the idea that when the bible speaks of God’s “divine council” (Psalm 82), the “host of heaven” (1 Kings 22), the plural uses of elohim in Genesis, references to the gods of other nations, etc, these are all references to actual spiritual beings whom God has given some measure of authority beneath himself.

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Book Review: Destroyer of the gods – By Larry Hurtado

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Letter TTwo-thousand years after the birth of Christ, the missionary work of Paul, and a small movement within Judaism spreading throughout the Roman Empire, it can be easy to forget that during the years of its inception Christianity was a radically new and unheard of approach to religion, to ethics, and to the question of gods and God in general.

In his book Destroyer of the gods Larry Hurtado highlights some of the features that made early Christianity so distinctive, unprecedented, and indeed, nearly inconceivable for many at the time. These are features that are widely assumed as part and parcel to religion by many today, yet which at the time caused Christians to be viewed by outsiders as impious, irreligious, and a threat to social order. As Hurtado says, “This book addresses our cultural amnesia.”

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Book Review: Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; By Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

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Letter TThe topic of homosexuality has been discussed from a variety of angles from within the Christian context. Some scholars seek to address the ancient near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Scriptures were written to best understand their injunctions, others attempt to deal directly with and exegete the Biblical texts.

The goal of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their book here is to analyze how the most recent scientific research effects the Christian moral debate around homosexuality. To be clear, the book is not written to answer the question of whether homosexual actions are immoral in light of science, the authors begin from the assumption that it is. The goal is rather to show that “while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behavior, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance.”(p.13) The goal is to answer the question of how research on homosexuality should inform the Christian understanding of homosexuality.

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The Christian and Submission to Civil Government

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letter-aAGeorge Weigel reported in First Things, the past one-hundred years have been “the greatest era of persecution in Christian history,” so much so that “more Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined.

More and more often in the world there is an slowly increasing antagonism between the secular governments and the people of God. This antagonism has manifested itself even in the United States: Christian bakers and photographers being sued and driven out of business for refusing homosexual weddings; Christians-run businesses being forced to support programs that fund abortion; an overall increasing belief nationwide that person’s belief should be kept private.

As this antagonism continues and strengthens Christians are forced to ask the question: how are Christians to relate to government? Should they submit? Obey? Resist? Rebel? To what degree can Christians engage in civil disobedience while still being faithful to Peter’s command to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” and Paul’s command to “let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

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Sacred & Secular: How Should Christians Interact With the World?

vocationLetter IIn his classic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton asks whether one can “hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?”In this quote Chesterton – likely much to his chagrin – expresses something more in line with the reformer Martin Luther, setting Christ and culture in a paradoxical tension.

As sociologist James Davison Hunter has noted in the past, there is a tension between the church and the world that should not be minimized; there must be both affirmation and antithesis. According to Hunter, Christians can engage in world-building, but this is not kingdom-building (and it will not evolve into the kingdom this side of heaven). This affirmation is balanced with a constructive subversion of the negative aspects of the world. Hunter’s vision boils down to a doctrine of vocation – of being faithfully present in the world.

There is a danger when taking this approach of dichotomizing life into the sacred and the secular and thereby forcing the Christian faith wholly into the private realm. A proper doctrine of vocation should not result in a separation of the sacred from the secular, but of that which glorifies God from that which doesn’t.

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