Posted by Jason on December 19, 2012
I’m sure all three of my readers have noticed that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for quite a while. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it’s been a crazy year. Over the last few months my time has been given to writing my thesis and preparing for exams. As I mentioned a while back, DTS’ PhD entrance process is a bit different (read here for my brief synopsis). Well, I am glad to say that after several months of reading, writing, and studying, I will be starting Stage 2 in January! My thesis is done and I passed both written and oral exams, thus ensuring that I move onto the next phase of my degree. To say I am relieved is an understatement. I’ll start seminars in the spring and I’ll have two: Old Testament Backgrounds and History of New Testament Interpretation and Criticism. While the last couple of years class-wise have been ThM-level classes with additional work, the spring brings full-fledged doctoral seminars. I’ll have about 60-70 pages of writing for research papers and about 2500-3000 pages of reading. I’m going to try and enjoy my time off before jumping into the fire.
Who knows–maybe I’ll even blog again!
Here’s the cup from which I shall drink.
Αυτω η δοξα
Posted by Jason on November 30, 2012
Heaven and the Afterlife by James L. Garlow and Keith Wall
With thanks to Bethany House for the review copy!
This book is rather outside my normal reading in that it is a non-academic work. I typically shy away from works such as this for a number of reasons, but I thought I’d read through this one to see what kind of thoughts were hitting a larger audience than an academic treatise on the subject might.
Death and what happens after has long been an issue humanity has sought to understand. Because death is something all will face, it only makes sense that we would like to know something about it. The authors, one a journalist and the other a pastor, seek to provide some insight into what lies beyond the bounds of physical life. Questions such as “What happens after we die?”, “What do near-death experiences mean”, and many others in this vein were the impetus for this work. The authors have compiled a host of accounts from historical records and personal testimonies that tell of various kinds of experiences about a post-mortem existence and they seek to sort through it all to offer their readers a glimpse into these what might be.
For some this work will tickle an already-itching ear that longs to hear of encounters from beyond; for others the claims and accounts will not deter their agnostic or skeptical bent. For me personally, I find this book to be a mixed bag—some entertaining stories, some good and helpful discussions of biblical matters, and plenty of frustrating claims and suggestions.
The book is arranged into six sections:
1) Through Death’s Door (near-death experiences)
2) What Lies Between Worlds (ghosts, departed spirits, etc)
3) Crossing Over: The Upward Call (heaven)
4) Crossing Over: The Dark Descent (judgment and hell)
5) Hell-Avoidance Strategies (universalism, annihilationism, purgatory, and reincarnation)
6) Confident Before the King (essentially a “plan of salvation”)
As the title indicates, this book is about heaven and the afterlife. I will begin with a few comments on the authors’ discussion of heaven, followed by a few thoughts on their discussion of other post-mortem issues, then a brief summary of my own opinion.
Part 1 (comprised of chs. 1-4) is entitled Through Death’s Door and essentially tackles near-death experiences (hereafter NDE), both positive and negative experiences people have had. Having never had such an experience, I can’t say one way or the other what such an experience would be like. According to the authors, NDE are not an unknown phenomenon amongst the general population. Their reports of what they experienced when near death are interesting to read and I would not be so bold as to say they couldn’t have experienced what they claim to, for I’ve not ever been near death. This first section, then, is basically a collection of personal accounts/stories of those who have been near death and experienced various kinds of phenomena—some good, others not so much. One story the authors share is of a man who “died” only to come back to life a short time later. It was during his “death” that he claims to have left his body and went with people. While in this state, he encountered Jesus, who healed his wounds and showed him some of what awaits on the other side. It was then he decided to become a follower of Christ. I certainly don’t want to say that God can’t communicate with and reveal himself in such a way, but it seems quite outside the norm and honestly I am not sure what to think of it.
Part 2, entitled What Lies Between Worlds, explores various accounts of what are “ghostly” encounters, both benevolent and nefarious visitors from beyond, and the methods by which mediums and other “spiritualists” seek to communicate with the dead. Paranormal phenomena have been reported for as long as people have been able to do so and it’s no more popular than in our own time. Shows like the once popular Crossing Over and more current series such as Long Island Medium, Paranormal State, Ghost Hunters, and a plethora of others testify to the fact that people are fascinated with what lies beyond the grave.
The authors, as they have done thus far, recount numerous stories and accounts of those who have seen and otherwise encountered what they say are ghosts, angels, and demons. The chapters on ghosts include much of what you might find in any of the episodes from the shows mentioned previously. I found this section to be somewhat interesting, though most of it is stuff I’ve heard or knew of already. I was also glad to read that the authors discourage communication with the dead (90).
Part 3 is entitled Crossing Over: The Upward Call and deals with the “first heaven,” judgment, and the “permanent heaven.” The “first heaven,” as the authors call it, is temporary stopover and the account of Lazarus and the rich man is touted as the best description of this first heaven. One of the questions raised is that of physical bodies in this first heaven—will we/they have them? Personally, I believe the intermediate state (the interim between death and the eschatological resurrection) will be an existence absent the body (2 Cor 5:8). The author remains a bit hesitant to argue a fully physical body upon death, though he seems to suggest that we will have some sort of one (141). In all the discussion of heaven and rewards, the author remains a bit reserved in pressing the imagery of the scripture to the point of hyper-literal, and this I appreciate. That is not to say that he doesn’t think heaven is a real place—indeed he does—but that the language and imagery used by the biblical authors to describe such a place is simply inadequate to express its wonders.
One thing that may strike some as odd is what will take place in heaven according to the author. I appreciate that he says heaven will not be an eternal church service, but his description may come off as strange to some. I must say at this point that I certainly believe heaven is a real place; in fact, that the “final heaven,” or as the scripture describes it, the new creation, will be right here on earth. Earth will be freed of its bondage, all unrighteousness will be purged, and God and Christ will rule over it with us there with them. Exactly what we will do in the new creation I am not completely sure, save for living in God’s presence. Garlow offers quite a few possibilities as to what life will be like. He says there will be pets, there may be games, there will be goods, services, major events, transportation, and communications, education, eating (let’s hope so!), and work. The picture he paints is much like life here and now only without the evil one and sin and death, a picture I can agree with, at least generally. Whether or not all of the things he mentioned will be there I can’t say for sure (nor can anyone else).
One point of disagreement I will mention is his argument that the dead can contact us and that doing so is part of the “communion of saints” (165). I know some of my Roman Catholic friends would have no issue with this, but I have always been leery of any kind of communication with the deceased. He likewise appeals to authority and refers to a “respected community professor” who communes with his deceased wife (165). The Israelites were strictly forbidden from communicating with the dead (Lev 19:31) and the NT is silent on the matter; however, it would seem within reasonable interpretation of the scripture to assume that communication with the dead is not a good idea.
Part 4 is Crossing Over: The Dark Descent is about “hell” and judgment. I’ll only mention a few things here; I feel this review is already a little too lengthy. For one, the authors argue that hell, as a concept, has been around since OT times, but rightly note that it was not as developed a concept as that found in Jewish apocalyptic and in the NT. Second, the author likens the term Gehenna to the smoldering trash heap, an idea that has found great popularity in the evangelical world, but has more recently been questioned as the actual idea behind the word. Third, the author seems to suggest that natural revelation is sufficient for salvation. Ironically, he cites Rom 1:19-20 as evidence that God may indeed save some this way. While I think the passage from Romans actually mitigates against his view and that natural revelation is insufficient to lead to saving knowledge of God in Christ, if God were to save someone that way it would be a good thing. Fourth, the author sees hell as largely figurative, a position that I am quite comfortable with. Whether hell is a figurative place or a real physical one, the end is the same—separation from God and all that is good—and this is its true horror. He writes, “Separation from God after death means separation from everything that’s right, true, and wonderful; he is the source of all that is good. Eternity without God means exposure only to what is wrong, false, and horrible” (190).
Section 5 is entitled Hell-Avoidance Strategies and deals with the various ways in which people have sought to deal with the doctrine of hell, namely universalism, annihilationism, purgatory, and reincarnation. This is an informative section and is helpful, though a bit succinct.
The last section, #6 (Confident Before the King), is essentially a presentation of the gospel, a brief God-loves-you piece that points people toward Christ.
In sum, Heaven and the Afterlife is an decent read and is geared towards a lay audience. One of the positives of the book is that the authors are Christians and ultimately point toward Christ. This book also manages to cover quite a bit of ground in terms of competing views on various aspects of the afterlife. Aside from the few points of disagreement mentioned, most of the points made herein are right and helpful. The sprinkling of evangelical clichés throughout I found a bit annoying, but that’s a matter of personal preference. A second point of additional criticism I’ll mention is the rather common negative portrayal of Rudolf Bultmann (which is spelled Rudolph in the book). Though it is brief (only a paragraph), he casts Bultmann’s demythologizing as stripping the scripture of its authority, something that I am sure Bultmann would say is quite far from his intent.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, to some; to others, no. My only concern with is that some, perhaps those with a fascination with the paranormal, may find in its pages justification for practices I am confident are contrary to God’s good purposes for them.
Αυτω η δοξα
 The author does not address the parable other than the imagery it provides. Scholars debate whether or not this particular account is a parable, a decision which makes quite a difference in how one reads and understands it. I happen to believe it to be a parable, so I don’t believe it is meant to provide a geography of the afterlife, but to illustrate the consequences of neglecting those who are less fortunate and the permanence of that consequence.
Posted by Jason on October 16, 2012
Hmmm...the same scholars who think a single manuscript fragment of a 4th century Coptic document must be true will then say that thousands of manuscripts attesting four 1st century Greek documents must not be true. I just love scholarship. -- Lawson Stone
Posted by Jason on September 27, 2012
Posted by Jason on June 17, 2012
I know it’s somewhat of a dead horse, but I am curious as to your thoughts on this.
Do you find the view that first-century Judaism was inherently legalistic to be
- somewhat accurate, but in need of some qualifications?
- way off–a caricature at best?
I know this is quite simplified, but I’m just thinking out loud. What do you think?
Posted by Jason on May 22, 2012
I’ll confess that for the first few years of my Christian life, I read the bible in ignorance. I didn’t know anything about anything concerning scripture. Sure, I knew the book names and memorized some verses over time and I got the gist of certain parts of it after a while. But I was ignorant, ignorant of so many important factors that simply must be considered if we’re going to rightly discern and interpret scripture. It wasn’t until I went to seminary that the scales were lifted and I began to see the scripture in a whole new light. *as an aside, you don’t have to go to seminary to learn to interpret scripture* It was there that studying Hebrew, Greek, and hermeneutics totally transformed my approach to scripture.
In addition to these critical tools, over the last few years I’ve also come to the point where I try to read a text, no matter what portion, in light of the whole. Once an interpretation is reached in light of the immediate context (which isn’t always a satisfactory one), I want to know what part it plays in the larger story. While I am not totally convinced a singular unifying theme ties both testaments together, there are enough thematic strands present to bind the two testaments together as a grand narrative.
All that to point you to a helpful post at The Gospel Coalition, one you may have read already. If not, take a moment to read it–it’s quite good. Jen Wilkin names and discusses a few reading strategies employed by Christians that leave them ultimately unchanged by the scripture. Why? Primarily because the scripture isn’t read in the way it should be. Check out the categories and be reminded how not to read the scripture!
Αυτω η δοξα
Posted by Jason on May 9, 2012
…if these comments have been made to you! If only one, you might be ok, but I think two or more and you’re a certified fundy! Enjoy!
10. I’m so happy that you’re here knocking on my door on Saturday morning. Please, come in and judge me for a while!
9. Waiting to kiss my spouse until we were married has made it so much more enjoyable!
8. Your culottes are so modest that they make me feel like I’m dressed like a hussy! Can I get your sewing pattern for them?
7. The Bible makes so much more sense to me since I threw away my NIV and started reading the King James.
6. Since coming to your church I realized what was missing in my spiritual life: more pastoral screaming.
5. Looking at your family makes me so sad that I am too selfish to have six more children.
4. I get to go to heaven AND vote for Republican Presidential candidates? What a sweet deal!
3. I’d so much rather have this Gospel tract than food or money.
2. Yes! I had always suspected something sinister about The Smurfs!
1. Since joining your church I finally understand what Jesus meant about His yoke being easy and his burden being light.
Αυτω η δοξα
Posted by Jason on May 8, 2012
A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41) by Allen P. Ross.
With thanks to Kregel Publications for the review copy!
While it may possible to read through this entire volume for the purpose of this review, I never read commentaries that way. As such, I will focus on a handful of psalms to serve as the focal point of this review. Volume 1 spans the first 41 psalms and from them I will provide a brief synopsis of Ross’s treatment of psalms 1, 2, 22 and 23. At the outset I must say that I am no expert on the psalter or the language in which they were written; in fact, I’m barely a novice, so my reflections will be in accordance with the measure of knowledge I have of the psalms. With that said, let’s commence with the review.
Ross’s introductory section (180 pages!) covers some of the typical issues (date, authorship, provenance, etc.) encountered in most commentaries, but he doesn’t devote whole sections to them. He instead intersperses discussion of these issues throughout the commentary itself as he finds them relevant. His attention then is paid to matters that are more particular to the psalter: abbreviations, the psalms’ value, the text and versions of the psalms, and titles and headings. Reading through these chapters shows the reader the psalms’ truly variegated nature. Following these chapters, Ross attends to other matters that are more broadly applicable, but important for understanding the psalms. These chapters cover the history of interpretation (which shows quite a diversity of approaches), biblical poetry (a notoriously untamable beast!), literary forms and functions in the psalms, theology of the psalms, and an exposition of the psalms. I won’t deal with these sections except to say they are helpful in equipping the reader with the appropriate tools necessary to begin the interpretive process in the psalter.
The first psalm I chose to evaluate is arguably the most important in the entire collection—Psalm 1. It’s place at the head of the psalter is not accidental and, as Ross argues, it along with Psalm 2 sets the theme for the whole psalter: the way the righteous are to live among the ungodly and the salvation the righteous have in their divinely chosen king (182). Psalm 1 is indeed concerned with the comparison of the righteous and the wicked and Ross ably works through the details so that the reader is clear on some of the important nuances in the descriptions. One aspect here I appreciate is his attention to the description of the ungodly (which plays out primarily in the footnotes). Discussing each of the three terms used to describe these “ungodly” each bear a slightly different nuance and drawing such distinctions can prevent unnecessary and inaccurate depictions of those outside the faith. Ross also draws attention to the apparent escalation of the descriptions of the two groups as well as to the verbs used to describe their actions (or inaction in the case of the righteous). All this reinforces the point—to enjoy the “heavenly blessedness” of God is to pursue life in the fashion of the righteous and abstain from undue influence from the ungodly. In general, Ross’s interpretation of this psalm is fairly consistent with how I understand it (not a claim to the veracity of said interpretation!) and there’s nothing here that one probably wouldn’t find in most standard commentaries.
Psalm 2 is a regal psalm that serves to remind God’s people of His plan for them in the absence of a Davidic king (199-200). Here, as in the previous psalm, Ross offers a fairly straightforward interpretation that would find resonance with more conservative interpreters, though I don’t know that those who are less conservative would find much to disagree about. I certainly don’t consider that a bad thing, for I myself am in that camp more times than not. One thing that readers will notice here is that Ross does not spend a great deal of time tackling matters of how this psalm (or part of it) is used in the NT, specifically in Hebrews 1. While he addresses the language of sonship in footnote 25 (p. 208), he leaves it at that and focuses on the psalm itself in the commentary.
Psalm 22 presents several challenges to interpreters, a couple of which are understanding the textual variants and how it (the psalm) is interpreted Christologically. Ross gives some attention to the text-critical questions, but keeps things fairly manageable due to the nature of the commentary, namely to remain accessible. Though I personally do not enjoy reading about and sorting through text-critical issues, it is a good and necessary part of exegesis and Ross makes the issues fairly understandable without oversimplifying them. As to the matter of Christological appropriation of the psalm, Ross claims that though Christians will find it nearly impossible to read the psalm and not think of Christ’s suffering, we must first read it in light of the psalmist’s experience of suffering. Once readers can interpret the psalm in its original context can the parallels and Christological overtones be seen and heard. Ross handles this psalm in the same erudite manner as those before and after it, providing a solid interpretation supplemented with abundant discussions of various theologically significant vocabulary in the footnotes.
Psalm 23, arguably the most well-known psalm of the whole collection, is also ably handled by Ross. In fact, of the four psalms I focused on, this was the most enjoyable to read. This is due partly to the general familiarity I have of the psalm, but also because of Ross’ explanation of the text (what’s a commentary for if not that!). While certainly this psalm is committed to the memories of many in the KJV or other older translation, Ross demonstrates a number of points concerning how one translates the psalm that show more accurate ways in which to translate it. As with the previous psalms (and others I skimmed), there are grammatical references aplenty! Overall, Ross’ exegesis of the 23rd psalm is solid and thoroughly readable.
Though I’ve not read many commentaries on the psalter (and what I have read has been on particular psalms, never a whole volume), I’ve worked with them enough to know what I expect from the commentary in general and whether or not it will be helpful to the overall interpretive process. I can say that after my examination of Ross’s commentary I am assured that many will find great help in this volume (and presumably the coming volumes 2 and 3), even those whose training in Hebrew far exceed my own.
Perhaps the most commendable aspect of this commentary is its accessibility, a goal that many commentators either eschew or miss altogether. To benefit from Ross’ commentary one need not have advanced knowledge of Hebrew to work through the exegetical discussions. However, some facility in Hebrew will be beneficial, perhaps even necessary, to fully benefit from Ross’s work. Ross, whom I know primarily through his introductory Hebrew grammar, offers plenty in the way of grammatical analysis and categorization of usage. While for me this is helpful, it may not be to some, only because some of the categories require minor explanations (which are standard fare in Hebrew grammars). In fact, it’s the one element that stands out about this volume in comparison to other commentaries on the same level, which is why I say some facility in Hebrew will help gain the fullest benefit from the commentary (just keep Ross’s grammar handy and you’re good to go!).
Another feature that I appreciate is the absence of transliterations. I am no fan of them so I was glad to see that Ross does not employ it, but rather puts terms/phrases being discussed in quotes as a translation and provides the Hebrew in parentheses. I also appreciate the relegation of more technical discussion to the footnotes (and by implication the absence of endnotes!), which of course is the whole purpose of footnotes, thereby providing opportunities for deeper study for those interested. I must admit that at times I was a little frustrated that the information I was after was in the footnotes and didn’t receive quite the attention I would have liked, but again this is in a way a commendation for Ross for keeping more technical points and discussions out of the main text.
One other interesting aspect of the commentary is its layout—each psalm is arranged structurally according to the Hebrew text, yet Ross takes another step and arranges the discussion homiletically. For those teaching or preaching through the psalms, this could be a great help.
I did encounter a few minor annoyances while reading through the commentary. For one, there is the occasional use of rather esoteric vocabulary. Because of the nature of Hebrew poetry, some technical jargon is to be expected and thankfully Ross keeps it to a minimum; yet, the presence of words such as epizeuxis and tapeinosis aren’t really necessary in a commentary written on this level, even with brief definitions provided. Second, there were a few instances in which I was hoping for a more helpful discussion in the footnotes (as I mentioned above). For example, in the discussion of Psalm 22, Ross claims that Jesus’ enemies knew Psalm 22 as a messianic psalm and thus quoted from it in order to mock and deride Jesus as he suffered (536). While I find it very likely that by the time of Christ’s death this psalm was being read through a messianic lens, Ross only points to one example from Jewish literature that substantiates this idea. I only wish there were more discussion of this. Again, this is comparatively minor complaint, especially given the detail some Hebrew words/concepts are given, but I hoped for a little more here. Third and finally, I had hoped for a little more background to explain the figurative language that permeates many of the psalms. I am certainly not saying such was entirely absent—hardly! The literal reality that stands behind figurative speech can really bring the text to life and such is the case when Ross fills us in, but it’s not quite enough to satisfy me. Again, this is more a personal preference and not necessarily a critique of Ross.
You might think that a commentary that addresses 41 psalms in just over 700 pages (for the commentary proper) would be verbose, but not so. Part of this is due to the length of some of the psalms themselves and part is due to Ross’s extensive footnoting (as previously mentioned), but in general he provides rather concise discussion for each psalm. Ross’s style is easily read and never comes across as pedantic and that makes this particular volume quite handy. Again, this series is not going to be as helpful to some (those whose own scholarly pursuits intersect with the material presented), but there is more than enough insight and exposition to benefit the vast majority of those for whom it was written. I would recommend this volume to any who are studying the psalms, but especially for those whose training in Hebrew and OT is/has been minimal.
Αυτω η δοξα
Posted by Jason on May 1, 2012
From the fount of ever-flowing confusion and hilarity that is Bible Students Say… comes this gem. Oh Heaven help us!
“We should be studying theologians like David Jeremiah, John Hagee, Perry Stones, T.D. Jakes, Franklin Graham, and Ed Young Jr…Each of these men have made great contributions to society and globally. These men should also be looked upon and studied.”
If you aren’t following @BibleStdntsSay on Twitter, you really should. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, you’ll break out your sackcloth and ashes and there may be gnashing of teeth. It’s that good!
Αυτω η δοξα
Posted by Jason on April 30, 2012