I have been reading Sam Storms’s outstanding book on Amillenialism. He poses a number of questions which I believe are insuperable problems to the premillenial view. The most significant has to do with death in the millenial age. The premillenial position requires that there be death during the millenial kingdom, since there will be great battles towards the end of it. The premil position also holds that the second coming of Christ comes at the beginning of that millenial reign. The problem is that the annihilation of death is not tied to the end of the millenial period in biblical revelation, but rather to the second coming of Christ. In Revelation 19, the wedding supper of the Lamb is followed by a description of the second coming of Christ, in which the beast and his followers are all cast into the lake of fire. The destruction is total and complete (see in particular verses 19-21). This makes chapter 20 a recapitulation of chapter 19, not a temporally subsequent chapter. The rest of the New Testament bears out this simple fact: it is when Christ comes back that the judgment happens, the annihilation of all the enemies, and the double resurrection (not first one group and then the next) occurs (see Storms’s book for an outstanding treatment not only of the passages involved, but also of the hermeneutical issues). This means that the millenial reign happens before Christ’s second coming, not after. Amillenialism and Post-Millenialism are the only viewpoints on the millenial kingdom that can account for these particular data.
March 3, 2014 at 11:08 pm (Books (reviews and recommendations))
Now, there’s a catchy title! It has such a familiar ring about it, doesn’t it? Now that everyone knows precisely what I am talking about…
This is a massively huge project (a 10-volume work), of which the director of the program (Christian Locatell) is trying to assess interest. It will need a fair bit of support for the project to get underway. Polanus’ work is nothing more or less than a complete compendium of Reformed theology from the period of Reformed orthodoxy. This work has been buried in the mists of obscurity before now, but it was a very important work indeed in its time. Polanus is one of the most-quoted sources in Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. So show your support for this work, and help get some of the riches of Reformed orthodoxy in print in English!
Why I’m NOT Seeing the Movie Son Of God
by Reed DePace
Yeah, expect some will disagree with this. Follow this argument with me:
- Is Jesus God?
- If you say “yes”, does the 2nd Commandment (Ex 20:4) apply to Jesus?
- If you say, “yes”, nuff said – you better not go see the movie.
If you say, ‘yeah but” … A common objection to my argument is the idea that the context of the 2nd commandment is about images of God for purposes of worship. I.e., as long as the image made is not for worship (e.g., teaching), its ok. Well, let’s follow that argument:
- What is the only proper, biblical response to God?
- Worship (Dt 10:12; Ps 99; Mt 22:37)
- If Jesus is God (Joh 1:1-5),
- Then what is the only proper, the biblical response to Him?
- Uh, worship.
Think about the response on the Mt of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1, ff.) – worship. Think about John’s response on Patmos Island (Rev 1:17) – worship. Think about the response of Doubting Thomas (Jh 20:28) – worship. Think about what Paul says is the proper response to Jesus in light of His great salvation (Rom 12:1)– worship. It is only when folks DO NOT recognize Jesus as God that they give a wrong response (Mt 4:9; 11:31; Mk 6:51; Jh 12:37) – NOT worship.
Think about the response of the 24 elders in heaven, responding to Jesus (Rev 5:8-14) – they worship the ascended, enthroned Jesus. Who are they attempting to picture in the movie Son of God? The ascended, enthroned Jesus!
Even the producers of the movie hope for a worship response to their portrayal of Jesus:
Mark Burnett: “The disciples, they don’t know they’re in the Bible. They’re following their charismatic leader. They later realize it’s the son of God. It’s God on earth. So they fall in love.” (I.e., they worship!)
Roma Downey: [In seeing the movie] “And you get an opportunity to fall in love with him [Jesus], I think. You understand who he is and what he was doing and that he came and did that for us. I think it’s very humbling.” (I.e., worship!)
Respectfully, I’d ask those who allow themselves this exception, “Images of Jesus for non-worship purposes are not violations of the 2nd Commandment” to re-think their understanding of their relationship with Jesus. Do you really think that even once in the New Heavens/New Earth you will ever respond to Jesus with something less than worship? “Yo! Jesus Dude, hey Baby, how’s it, er, oops, sorry God.”
Do you think there is some exception in the Already/Not-Yet of our present relationship with Jesus? When you preach, teach or witness to people, do you want them to think of Jesus as anything less than God to whom they owe all the love of their heart-soul-mind-strength? I.e., do you want them to not worship Him?
So, no, I’m not going to see this movie. But I don’t think this is not a matter of mere private conviction. I am very concerned that I live amidst a Church in America that thinks so little of the 2nd Commandment that the argument I just made is not even worthy of consideration. “Legalism!” and with a sweeping gesture, the issue is ignored.
In recent preparation for a sermon on Jeroboam II I ran across a comment (can’t find where now) in which the person observed that the reason this king, great in many ways, was still considered evil, was because he followed his namesake in violating the 2nd Commandment (2Ki 14:24). Why is that so bad? Why is it wrong to image God? Because if you get the image of God wrong, you get your understanding of God wrong. If you don’t understand God, who He is, His nature, there is no hope. Remember, true wisdom begins in fear of the Lord. (Pro 1:7) Getting God’s image right requires submission to His own self-description. Nothing is more foundational to this than His command – don’t image God!
I.O.W., blowing the 2nd Commandment results in worshiping God according to your own understanding. Need we be reminded that left to ourselves we worship and serve the creation rather than the Creator? (Rom 1:25, read the context!)
- So, if Jesus’ self-description is that He is God (Joh 10:58-59), and
- The only proper response to God is worship (Ps 99; Rom 12:1), and
- God judges getting His image wrong as an evil worthy of His highest condemnation (Rom 1:18-32),
What might we expect to see in a Church that willy-nilly ignores Jesus at this point of command?
The Church in America is already experiencing the discipline of generations of getting the gospel wrong (the essence of Jesus’ self-description). Could it be that one factor in the Church’s failure is her eagerness to support portraying Jesus on film? Since the first movie went on the reel, one estimate is that there have been over 1,000 movies made about Jesus (IMDB listing, top 30). Over a dozen actors have portrayed Jesus. If putting Jesus on film is so valuable, such a great tool for the Church, why is the Church in America so sick?
Numerous “leading” pastors are actively supporting this movie, seeing it as a great tool for the support of the Jesus they preach and teach (bit.ly/Pastors4SofGmovie). Among them is a man who denies the Trinity. Another teaches the prosperity-gospel heresy. Others are hardly stalwarts in proclaiming the Jesus imaged in the Bible.
Seriously, this is going to be another Passion of the Christ (2004). That movie was so great that a wave of remorse and repentance swept our land; abortion was ended, no fault divorce was reversed, and sexual immorality was reigned in. Oh, wait, um …
God is not mocked. We are reaping what we’ve sown. Even if this movie followed the gospel accounts word for word, it would still violate the 2nd Commandment. Yes, God can draw lines with crooked sticks. But He does that in mercy. He certainly does not use crooked sticks who celebrate their crookedness, and flaunt it as a strength to be used to achieve God’s will.
Think about what Jesus said to Thomas, who would not believe and worship until he saw with his own eyes, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have believed.” (Joh 20:29)
Don’t put Jesus to the test on this one. Don’t go see this movie. You’ll find He more than strengthens your faith!
by Reed DePace
There are very few full-length books on the council of Trent. There is an historical reason for that, in that the pope forbade any commentaries from being written about the council, since he wanted to control the reception and implementation of the council. With the opening up of the Vatican archives in the twentieth century, Trent is finally fair game for historians. In this regard, John O’Malley has done it again, and the scope of his achievement is rather mind-blowing to me, especially when one considers how much research he also has done on Vatican II. In both cases, he not only read the complete series of books that document the councils, but also most of the secondary literature as well. This may not seem huge until one realizes that in both cases (Trent and Vatican II), the documentary series of books runs to over 30 volumes. O’Malley certainly seems to have read everything of importance, and the result is a highly compact, incredibly fact-dense, but also very readable history of Trent. I thought I was going to run out of the world’s supply of lead, I underlined so much. Now, his being Roman Catholic means, of course, that I am not going to agree with him in many places. However, that does not take away from the fact that this is an incredible book. It will give you an excellent handle on what happened at Trent. Given the situation of the RCC at the moment, which is in large part determined by Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, it is exceedingly important that we know not only what happened at Trent, but also what did not happen.
He does an especially good job making distinct the actual acts of the council from the reception and perception of the council. His delineation of the political situation was a real eye-opener. The reason why the council took so long and was interrupted, was due to the highly volatile political situation involving the two most powerful political entities (France and the Holy Roman Empire) in their various relations and machinations with the popes of the day.
The only thing I wish he had done was to analyze the Joint Declaration that the Lutherans did with the Roman Catholics. O’Malley seems to think that the entire discussion of whether the anathemas of Trent still apply is to be referred to those ecumenical discussions. I’m not so sure about that, to put it mildly, and I would have liked to see his own evaluation of that in the light of his own mastery of the history of Trent. Still, this is only a minor blemish on a work of fantastic historical value. If you want to know what happened at Trent, you really need to read this book.
Timothy Ward concludes his wonderful book on Scripture with some wise words on preaching that I would like to share with folks.
Firstly, he notices that some pastors are so afraid of seeming too arrogant, authoritarian, or tyrannical in the pulpit that they seek to avoid any and all trappings of power in their sermons: “In sermons like these the preacher comes not proclaiming, declaring, exhorting and rebuking, but sharing, musing, reflecting and imagining” (157). He puts his finger directly on the problem with this: “The main problem with preaching in this ‘weak’ style is that it is not weak for any of the same reasons that the apostle Paul judged his own preaching to be weak” (157). His trenchant conclusion on this issue is very quotable indeed: “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know, because Scripture is silent” (158).
Secondly, Ward establishes a very clear, strong and beautiful connection of the Holy Spirit to the Word in preaching: “[W]hat the faithful preacher does, and what the Holy Spirit does with Scripture through him, is best described as a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act that the Spirit performed in the original authoring of the text” (emphasis original, 162). This should have a profound effect on the preacher himself: “The preacher should have grappled with the meaning of the text in his preparation, desiring the Spirit-given purpose of the biblical text to become real in in his own life. He should enter the pulpit as someone who has been chastened by the Spirit, or given new hope, or set out on a new course of action, or renounced a kind of behaviour, or had love rekindled in his heart, that is, responding faithfully to the speech act conveyed by the Scripture on which he is preaching” (164).
Thirdly, Ward connects the private reading of Scripture to the public preaching in an interesting and helpful way: “the healthiest way to relate the two is to think of the individual reading of Scripture as derivative of, and dependent on, the corporate reading and proclamation of Scripture in the Christian assembly” (171). What he means by that is that “good preaching exercises something of a ‘credal’ function in the local church” (172). It helps the people read their Bibles better.
Fourthly and lastly, Ward gives us a good argument for turning to commentaries a bit sooner in our preparation of sermons. This statement is worth quoting in full. Notice how balanced it is, with appropriate qualifications and limitations set on it:
There is certainly merit in not simply turning to learned books to find ‘the answer’, as a lazy short-cut to avoid wrestling with Scripture for myself. Yet increasingly, when reading Scripture, I find myself wanting to turn to a good Bible commentary sooner rather than later. My reason is this: a good commentary will give me an insight into the consensus view on the meaning of each passage held by the generations of believers who have come before me. Working within that framework seems to be a sensible, humble and faithful place to start. For most Christians, who lack the time, resources and perhaps also the inclination to do the research themselves, good preaching will be a crucial means by which that historic consensus on Scripture’s meaning is conveyed to individual believers. For that, of course, the preacher needs to be, as he should be, well educated in biblical, historical and systematic theology. (paragraph break, LK) Nothing that I have just said denies outright that God can cause new light to break out from Scripture, enabling us to see truths in it that our forebears did not” (173-174).
February 25, 2014 at 9:44 pm (Blogroll)
Ron Henzel is now a Baggins on this blog, with editing and moderating powers. Maybe we should nickname him Bungo, Drogo, Frodo, or some other famous Baggins. You guys decide. Anyway, give him a warm welcome. I’m very happy to have him come on board. Just for our readers’ interest, it is my plan to introduce several new Bagginses in the next few months, in order to have more content. They will all be trusted, confessionally Presbyterian or Reformed authors. Bon Appetit!
I’ve been reading in Timothy Ward’s excellent little book Words of Life, and he has a very helpful and clear description of the three main view of Scripture and tradition that were circulating at the time of the Reformation. In this description he builds on Heiko Oberman’s very important work in his Harvest of Medieval Theology. What Oberman calls Tradition I (T1) is the view “that tradition is a tool to aid in the faithful interpretation of Scripture, expounding the primary teachings of Scripture, with Scripture remaining the only source of infallible divine revelation” (Ward, 144). Tradition II (T2) is the view “that there are two distinct sources of divine revelation, Scripture and church tradition, with the latter being handed down either orally or through customary church practices.”
Ward argues that T1 was the position of the early church, and that T2 developed only in the twelfth century, appealing (in his view wrongly) to Augustine and Basil in so doing. The Reformers were therefore advocating a return to T1 in their rejection of T2.
The Anabaptists rejected both T1 and T2 in what Ward calls T0 (this comes from Keith Mathison and Alister McGrath). This view elevates individual interpretation above the corporate, which T1 and the Reformers did NOT do, contrary to Roman Catholic accusations. It is a failure to distinguish these various views of tradition that has prompted so much misinterpretation of the Reformed tradition, and this misinterpretation comes from various quarters.
From the perspective of Roman Catholicism, any view that is not T2 (though there have been some rather widely differing interpretations of T2 in modern Catholicism) elevates personal interpretation above corporate. When Reformed folk respond with T1 views, the typical Roman Catholic response harps on the situation where an individual disagrees with the church. What happens then? The ultimate authority for the Christian is the Bible. Furthermore, Reformed folk believe that the Bible actually means something objectively considered. It is not all just a matter of interpretation. Otherwise, God should never have given us the Bible in the first place. The Christian needs to be patient in asking his church what the church’s real position is, and needs to show that interpretation great deference. However, since the church can err, the church cannot bind anyone’s conscience. If the church contradicts the Bible, then the church loses. This is not making the individual higher than the church. It is making the Bible higher than the church. Remember that the Reformed position holds that the Bible objectively means something apart from our interpretation of it. This is, I believe, one of the great sticking points when Roman Catholics and Protestants speak about authority. What is the nature of the Bible? Does it have any objective clarity on any issue? Does it have any inherent authority? The Roman Catholic typically believes that the Bible doesn’t exist except as interpreted by the church. We demur and say that even if there was no soul on earth existing at all, the Bible would still be there, and would still be clear on the matters of salvation, would still have the authority of God behind it (since He wrote it), and would still mean something.
Another attack from another quarter comes from the “no creed but Christ” crowd. They, like their Anabaptist forefathers, reject all tradition, as if the Holy Spirit never instructed anyone else in all church history before they came along, and as if they have nothing to learn from church history. This is the T0 crowd. Among them, the Hebrew Roots Movement has shown itself definitively to be in this category. They despise the church, and they despise all forms of extra-biblical tradition, whether those traditions are elevated to the level of Scripture (T2) or not (T1). And they cannot distinguish between T1 and T2. To them, everything that is extra-biblical is automatically T2 if appealed to in a debate. Usually the only time they quote the early church fathers, for instance, is to find fault with them. The entire church was completely heretical until they came along. There never has been the seven thousand who did not bow their knee to Baal until they came along. To put it mildly, this is sectarianism in its worst form. For them, the gates of Hell prevailed against the church until they came along.
The Reformers were very different in their approach to church history. They believed that the Roman Catholic church, by excommunicating the Reformers (who didn’t leave of their own volition (another myth initiated by Roman Catholics), but were expelled) and anathematizing the gospel at the Council of Trent, thus broke themselves off from the true church.
There are those even in the PCA who have a great deal of sympathy with the “no creed but Christ” crowd. Whenever any confessionalist quotes the Westminster Standards to address any question whatsoever, they will immediately charge us with T2. For them, there is no intermediate, fallible authority present in church creeds at all. Therefore, the creeds should never be used in any church controversy. The problem with this, as Ward demonstrates so clearly and helpfully, is that we need a rule of faith as a summary of what the Bible is saying. Creeds and confessions provide the church’s agreed upon Rule of Faith. It constitutes the analogy of faith as we understand it. And, as Trueman in his book The Creedal Imperative says so well, everyone has a creed! The question is not whether you will have one or not. The question is whether your creed is visible or not, and thus can be used as a means of accountability, and for unity in the church. People who desire to have unity by scrapping the creeds are therefore whoppingly wrong. There can be no unity without truth. And without creeds, we have no way of agreeing on what that truth is. So creeds and confessions are T1, fallible authorities that nevertheless have more authority than an individual, but less authority than the Bible. It is as we are abandoning the Westminster Standards, for instance, that we are having the unity problems in the PCA right now. The abandonment of the Westminster Standards will presage not the salvation and progress of the PCA, but rather its destruction.
February 21, 2014 at 9:47 pm (Books (reviews and recommendations))
The subject of bibliography has always been a favorite of mine, and that of commentaries in particular. I have my own commentary recommendations here. So, I picked up the recent editions (both published in 2013) of Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey.
I will start off with Carson’s survey, because it is so incredibly impressive. I was very hard pressed indeed to think of a single important NT commentary that has appeared since his sixth edition (2007) that Carson has not commented upon, and that is certainly saying something. Almost all the time, I agree with his assessments, as well. He even knew about some commentaries that are not in the mainstream of scholarship, and mentioned them as well. The only commentaries published between 2007 and 2013 of any real importance for pastors that he failed to mention were Pipa’s and Fesko’s commentaries on Galatians. He mentioned McWilliams’s commentary, though, which I did not expect (not because it is not important, but because it would appeal primarily to a fairly niche market). I highly recommend Carson’s study as a great bibliographical help for students and pastors seeking the best commentaries.
I cannot be nearly as positive about Longman’s book. Most of the shortcomings of the previous editions are still there, and there are vast swaths of scholarship that he simply ignores. There is almost no mention of the Historical Commentary on the Old Testament (which has a growing number of volumes in it), which is not only available through Dove Booksellers (and most of them on Amazon as well), but represents extremely important scholarship. He mentions the name Renkema, for instance, in connection with Garrett/House’s commentary on Lamentations, but fails to rate Renkema’s own commentary, which is surely the most important detailed exegetical commentary of Lamentations in existence. Many of the recent International Critical Commentary volumes are missing, as well (Williamson on Isaiah 1-5, Goldingay/Payne on Isaiah 40-55, Mackintosh on Hosea, Salters on Lamentations). On Lamentations, he includes the Daily Study Bible entry, but not the ICC volume. Really? Absolutely none of John Currid’s commentaries are mentioned at all, nor are Dale Ralph Davis’s. Only one of Iain Duguid’s commentaries are mentioned (his Ezekiel volume), and none of John Mackay’s. So, among the four best living Old Testament commentators (in my estimation), only one receives any mention at all, and only for one of his books. I am well aware how huge the field is. It is impossible to include absolutely everything. But the gaps I have mentioned are particularly glaring for Reformed pastors. Reformed pastors should own every commentary published by Currid, Davis, Duguid, and Mackay (who among them have covered a huge amount of the Old Testament).
It is not very well updated, either. For instance, he shows no knowledge that Fox completed his Anchor Bible commentary on Proverbs (the second volume was published in 2009). His blurb on the first volume reads precisely the same as it did in the fourth edition (“The only drawback is that it covers just the first nine chapters. Hopefully, we will not have to wait too long for the rest of the commentary to appear,” page 78). Oops! He does include a review of every single contribution to the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary, which he edited. I’m glad he did that, don’t get me wrong, but without some of the other far more important contributions, it feels a bit like an advertisement for his own work. I counted only 35 new entries outside the REBC. There have been quite a few more than 35 new important commentaries written on OT books since 2007.
He still includes glaringly arrogant recommendations of his own commentaries, though not always. His blurb on his Job commentary is much more humble than his blurb on his Proverbs commentary, which I hope is an embarrassment to him (“You can guess my feelings on this commentary. I wouldn’t have published it if I didn’t like it!” p. 79).
There are many, many times when I disagree with his judgment on commentaries. For instance, his assessment of Hamilton’s Exodus commentary, while generally positive (which I do agree with wholeheartedly, as Hamilton’s commentary is one of my favorites), includes a statement that I think is completely off the mark: “a good treatment of the text’s meaning without much further theological or canonical reflection.” And he only gave it 4 stars. If any commentary deserves 5 stars, it’s Hamilton on Exodus, and there is a LOT of theological and canonical reflection. He does not appear to have read this one yet.
This is not much of an update on the fourth edition, has numerous gaps (where Carson has practically none), and has more than hints of self-serving in it. I cannot recommend this book as a reliable guide to commentaries, I am sorry to say. The fourth edition was much better in its time (though still suffering from some of the problems mentioned, the problems were less glaring in older editions) than this fifth edition.
February 14, 2014 at 8:26 am (Hermeneutics)
For those who don’t know, transliteration is the practice of rendering letters of a foreign alphabet into English letters that correspond roughly in sound to the foreign letters. I doubt that I’m the only one who dislikes the practice. Especially with Hebrew transliteration, I feel that it only slows down one’s reading of, say, a commentary when it has transliteration. After all, it isn’t going to help the English-only reader very much, and it only slows down the person who can read Hebrew, since they have to back-transliterate the English into Hebrew characters. So it really doesn’t help very much. The most ridiculous commentaries in this regard are the Anchor Bible Commentaries from Yale Press. Honestly, those commentaries are pretty much the most technical commentaries available today, and yet they use transliteration to “help” the person in the pew! I’ve got news for them. The people in the pew don’t read the Anchor Bible Commentary series very often. I’ve known only a very few who have read any of them. The category of “educated layman” is becoming virtually extinct. The AB commentaries are scholarly commentaries, in which case they shouldn’t need to use transliteration!
Transliteration is marginally more helpful in Greek, since English-only readers could theoretically benefit by being able to look up transliterated words in some language helps. Furthermore, there are considerably more words in Greek that are cognate with English than with Hebrew. However, doing this kind of work is known as “dabbling.” Dabbling is a very dangerous thing, because the person usually learns just enough to make themselves dangerous, while not really learning enough to help them read the Greek New Testament. If they desire to read the Greek New Testament, then they should go all out and learn Greek!
If there is anyone in the publishing business who is reading this, please eschew transliteration! It is pretty much only annoying to those who can read the original, and it doesn’t really help those who can’t. And, given the deterioration of the educated layman, there isn’t really a market left for it.
February 5, 2014 at 10:51 am (OT-Exodus)
I was reading along in my Exodus commentaries on the last part of chapter 32 (the incident of the golden calf). The Levites are ordered to bring God’s judgment on the rest of the Israelites, and they kill 3,000 people that day, which is half of one percent of just the males. I have wondered why it is that so few died. Surely just about the entire nation had gone astray. Now, there was a plague that took more people, as the end of the chapter tells us. However, we are not told how many people died in that plague. The stress of the passage seems to be the smallness of the number of people who died. A lot of people have the wrong idea about the 3,000, thinking that it is such a huge number of people. However, we should be thinking of that number as incredibly small, given the offense to God that the idolatry represented, not to mention the derision of the nations to which Israel’s sin made them subject (verse 25). The entire people deserved to perish.
Enter in this startling comment by a Jew (Umberto Cassuto), on page 421 of his commentary: “It is better that a few Israelites lose their lives rather than that the entire people should perish.” Anyone who knows the New Testament at all will recognize the startling similarity this comment has with Caiaphas’ remarks about Jesus’ death. There is no way to tell in the context whether this similarity was intentional on Cassuto’s part or not. This brings us to Moses’ request, which is basically that he be a substitute for the people, a request that the Lord denies. Another Jewish commentator (Nahmanides) notes the similarity of this passage with the ideas present in Isaiah 53, particularly verse 5: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” They seem very close to the truth, don’t they? The difference between Moses and Jesus (and the reason why God refuses Moses’ request, according to Ryken’s commentary) is that Moses was sinful, whereas Jesus was not.