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 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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Scripture in Context: Greek Oratory

greek-forumletter-oOne of Paul’s main sources of competition during his missionary journey were the Greek orators that he encountered in the various cities of his travels. With regards to these orators there were some similarities, and many differences, and Paul actively sought to differentiate himself from them.

In looking at the writings of Paul it is apparent that he is differentiating himself from the Greek orators. In 2 Corinthians 4:2 he talks about how he would refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God,” and in 2:17 that “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity.”

In 1 Corinthians 1 he talks about the simplicity of his message – merely preaching Christ crucified – and in chapter 2 he mentions how the style of his message his also simple, he “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul can be found stating how they “never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed” but instead “worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”

In these ways Paul can be seen as similar to some Greek orators. For instance, Dio Chrysostom often talks about how he is not engaging in flattery, and that he is not expecting money or praise. Plato, also, speaks of the rhetoricians as flatterers.

Still, while these select orators may have not been directly out to flattery, or to garner praise, they did still use a high eloquence in their words and wrote extensively in their writings.

Paul, on the other hand, spoke with general simplicity and brevity, thereby further distancing himself from those rhetoricians. However, perhaps the most striking difference is that of the fundamental motivations behind their actions.

The Greek orators even in their best form sought to serve either their state, themselves, or their idea of some ‘good’; as Dio Chrysostom states “all who act deliberately do so either for money, for reputation, or for some pleasurable end, or else, I suppose, for virtue’s sake and because they honour goodness itself.”

While Chrysostom is getting slightly closer to the mark with things like ‘virtue’ and honoring ‘goodness itself’, the fact that he is operating on a non-Christian world-view makes his view of these things fundamentally different than that of Paul, even if Paul were seeking these same things.

But indeed, Paul was seeking something much more than this, for he sought to further the cause of the one true God.

Paul is seeking the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom in specific, thus he speaks against the divisions of the church of Corinth; both in chapter one and chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians he is found addressing the fact that the Christians have divided themselves into various factions under certain personalities (“What then is Apollos? What is Paul?”).

It seems it is just this that the Greeks were likely keen to do in their own pagan circles, to find some pagan orator that they might follow such as Socrates.

Thus, while Paul’s style and superficial motivations bore some similarities to the Greek orators, on the whole they were fundamentally different – the one out to serve the world, the other to serve God.