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 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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“The Bible was WRONG”… or Not; Religious Illiteracy in West Reaches New Low

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Letter IImagine for a moment being told that your history book is wrong because archaeologists digging in Georgia have discovered evidence that the United States previously allowed slavery. You would rightly scratch your head, because anybody who knows anything about U.S. history knows that slavery has always been one of its defining features. A similar scenario recently played out in headlines across the web.

As background, the above painting is an oil on canvas by the eighteenth century French painter Jean-Germain Drouais. It currently hangs at the Louvre in Paris and is entitled ‘The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ.’

For anyone who’s been paying attention to the recent headlines this painting should come as quite a shock. Sources from USA Today to The Telegraph and Science and Daily Mail all rushed to the presses in recent weeks to report that “The Bible was WRONG,” “DNA vs the Bible,“The Bible got in wrong,” “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim,” “Was The Bible Wrong?,” amongst others.

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Book Review: Hitler’s Theology – By Rainer Bucher

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Letter TThere aren’t many individuals in modern history more studied – or at least referenced – that Adolf Hitler. As we know from Godwin’s Law, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”

One of the areas which has received less attention in all of this discussion is the topic of Hitler’s theology. Many assume that Hitler was an atheist, others that he was a Christian, and others believe that it is irrelevant what his thoughts about the theological were. A sea’s worth of ink has spilled trying to discern what happened in Germany during the early part of the 20th century, but very little on the topic of Hitler’s theological system. Enter Rainer Bucher.

Mr. Bucher’s goal in this is not to argue against or disprove Hitler’s theological views, but merely to study what they were, and to furthermore study why many theologians (and philosophers and scientists in actuality) welcomed his views so enthusiastically.

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Book Review: The Angelic Doctor‏ – By Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain The Angelic Doctor.pngLetter TThe Angelic Doctor, as one might well guess from the title, is Jacques Maritain‘s biography of Thomas Aquinas, as well as a treatise on the philosophy of monolithic thinker. The latter portions of the book are especially devoted to discussing the philosophy of Aquinas as it affects us today and laying out what Maritain believes to be the proper course of action for Christians in the face of the various systems of thought which face them.

As noted the first sections of the book are devoted to discussing the life of Aquinas in a purely biographical arena. The life of Aquinas as presented by Maritain is both readable and informative, as well as insightful.

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Book Review: Augustine as Mentor – By Edward L. Smither

Smither Augustine as Mentor.pngLetter TThe first line when opening this book reads “How could a fifth-century African bishop be relevant to the twenty-first century?” and goes on to note that “Many pastors today… are struggling in isolation without a pastor to nurture their souls.”

The goal of Augustine as Mentor is to answer that question while providing for the concern of pastors in isolation. It is a text meant for aiding spiritual leaders in the task of mentoring, as well as being mentored.

The text is fairly simple in setup. It begins with a brief discussion of what mentor-ship is and uses the New Testament to develop a set of eight characteristics present in any good mentoring strategy, including: a group context, the mentor as a disciple, discernment in selection, a personal mentor-disciple relationship, sound teaching, modeling and involvement in ministry, releasing to ministry, and resourcing leaders. Following this introduction to the mentoring model Smither goes on to evaluate the most prominent First Century Christian leaders and demonstrate how each of them followed this model, including Cyprian, Basil, and Ambrose of Milan. This is followed by a discussion of who exactly mentored Augustine, so as to better understand his own mentoring strategy.

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What is a D.Min (Doctor of Ministry)?

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Letter WWithin the past 40 years or so a [relatively] new type of program has cropped up in education, that of the DMin, the Doctor of Ministry. The degree surged in popularity for a few decades, began to fall to the wayside (so much so that Princeton discontinued its DMin program), but has kept a somewhat steady pace amongst evangelicals.

The DMin may sometimes get a bad rap in academia as being a ‘fluff degree’ or a ‘watered-down doctorate’, but with more schools offering DMin programs and more ministers entering into those programs, it’s helpful for us to have an idea of what we’re dealing with.

In short, the DMin is a degree program designed to fill the learning vacuum present for ministers who have completed their Master of Divinity (MDiv) and have been serving in ministry for a while. Ministers who stop cultivating their knowledge will inevitably stunt their maturation as leaders, and so the DMin is a practical doctoral-level degree designed to integrate scholarship with practice and push those in ministry towards further growth.

Thus, the DMin is the highest professional degree for those in the field of ministry – the terminal degree for ministerial studies – with the goal of increasing the minister’s effectiveness in their area of the church.

It is a professional degree – as opposed to an academic degree – which means that the focus of the curriculum is geared more towards practical application than research.

A DMin program usually takes around 3-4 years (2 years of coursework and another for the final project/thesis) and most programs work to have a flexible schedule by combining short on-campus residential seminars with distance learning (this isn’t unique to the DMin, many schools across the pond have a similar setup). The goal of this is to help those in the program to earn the degree without leaving their ministry to do so.

Most DMin programs require their applicants to hold a MDiv from an accredited theological school (some allow applicants to substitute other ~72 hr master’s level degrees provided they include Greek and Hebrew), and between three and five years of active ministry experience.

So it is a fluff degree or a watered-down doctorate? Well, no. The DMin is not merely an lighter version of an academic doctoral degree (PhD); rather, it has a completely different goal. The DMin – like the MDiv – is a professional degree rather than a research degree; in that respect it is more like a Medical Doctorate. The DMin is a degree in action, where as a PhD is a degree in intellectual rigor.

So is what the DMin? the terminal degree for those in the field of ministry – a practical professional degree geared towards growing ministers in their field of expertise, whether that be expository preaching, reformed theology, pastoral ministry, counseling, apologetics, ministry leadership, or many others.

Given that a DMin is a degree completed after a master degree and has the word ‘doctor’ right there in the title, there is some debate as to whether somebody with a DMin should be referred to as Doctor (as we do with those with a PhD). We’ll tackle that question next time…

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PCABoba

Eugene Lilley (MDiv, MA) is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Chesterton Society.

He may or may not be a Time Lord.