Sunday, January 6, 2013

Phasing out....it was a good run....

Well, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This blog, Listening to the Giants, was a joy and a great first blog to "cut my teeth on", but it is time to shut it down and move forward.

Now a couple housekeeping items.

First, the concept and focus of examining the Giants will continue on in my new blog, http://pastpresentblog.com/ . I am presently beginning John Knox and I am excited about the weeks ahead.

Second, the added content will focus around "thoughtful engagement of today's culture" (hence, the present part of the blog title). I found myself wanted to comment on the issues of the day, but felt locked in to sticking to the focus of this blog, which was the "men of old".

Finally, I want those who read and followed my blog to stay with me. I am committed to continuing to write at a higher literary level and maybe encourage us on our journey towards the Celestial City.

So again, this blog, Listening to the Giants, will soon phase out....but it is being replaced with something, in my opinion, that will be better and more comprehensive.

Here is the link again:

http://pastpresentblog.com/

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Book Review: The One Year Father –Daughter Devotions


This reviewer has been a dad for 12 years now and yet I have consistently struggled in finding the right time, place and devotional content for my daughters (ages: 12, 9). This is the primary reason why I took the opportunity to review, The One Year Father –Daughter Devotions.

The Good

Each day begins with a title and 2-3 paragraphs of interesting facts and/or appealing anecdotes, which relates to the verse of the day. The author’s uses of entertaining and original facts are vital to grabbing the daily interest of the female progeny. Surprisingly, the authors never reveal the intended ages of their audience, but I would assert daughters from the ages of 6-12 would find it relevant.



Another element is the use of creative, hands-on ideas in the section called Daddy-Daughter Time. This part of the devotional is normally used for applicational questions, but frequently the authors used it to conduct science experiments (April 29th), culinary moments (Feb. 27th) or encourage a movie night (March 29th). Their fresh approach to application is helpful, especially for dads like me who lack a creative gene.

Finally, this book provides two appendixes in the final pages of the devotional. In appendix #1, the authors do a sufficient job offering movie suggestions and also correlating discussion questions that can infuse a spiritual element in a mundane activity. Appendix #2 offers not only innovative ideas for “daddy-daughter” dates, but gives 14 reasons why fathers should make “dating” their daughters a priority.

The Bad

There is no doubt the authors build their devotional foundation on a daily verse or verses, but I was confused why the verse itself was located at the bottom of the page under the title What’s the Word? Most fathers will naturally begin reading at the top and then work their way to the bottom of the page. Therefore, this organizational pattern prevents the listening audience to hear or meditate on the verse until the end of the devotional, which is counter-intuitive, in my opinion.

The other disappointing aspect is the author’s occasional laxity in the area of hermeneutics. The title of July 23rd is Treating Precious Things Well and the text is Matthew 7:6, “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” Regarding the interpretation of the text, the author states,
“Jesus is mainly talking about holy teachings that the world often doesn’t understand. But you could also take it to mean not to share the treasures God gives you—including your body—with those who would only abuse them.”
Here the author clearly blurs the difference between interpretation and application and therefore, violates the timeless hermeneutical maxim, “One interpretation, many applications”. In my opinion, the author seems to be forcing an interpretation upon the text that is unwarranted, instead of simply placing it in the category of application.

The second example of this interpretative looseness in found on August 28th. The text is Genesis 37:5, “One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever.” The author uses Martin Luther King as a contemporary example of someone who “had a dream” and God blessed this dream. The author concludes,
“Indeed, even the noblest dreams will face challenges. But God wants you to dream big anyways, knowing that if He is the author of your dreams, no force on earth can keep them from coming true.”
There are three problems here: 1) The author gives no scriptural evidence that God still speaks through dreams today; 2) the author gives no advice on how to discern if God is the author of the dream and 3) the author employs a proof text that gives no proof.

Conclusion

This One Year Father-Daughter devotional is to be applauded for its desire to encourage dads to lead their daughters, specifically exposing them to the truthfulness and authority of God’s word. Though this reviewer prefers a more robust and scripturally-precise devotional, I appreciate the author’s desire to meet “fathers where they are” in their journey to spiritual leadership. My advice: Fathers, if you are going to use this devotional, make sure you explore the text yourself. Use it as a reference point, not a crutch.  

Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: The Decalogue through the Centuries



This book is a collection of essays, focused on the Decalogue, its interpretations and devotional usage throughout the centuries. Many of the great Christian thinkers are examined such as, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Aquinas and Karl Barth. The book is edited by Jeffrey P. Greenman, who is the Associate Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies and Professor of Christian Ethics at Wheaton College and Timothy Larsen who functions as the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College.

I will admit from the start that this type of book is difficult to review. Each chapter interacts with a “giant” of the Christian thought and boiling down his or her musings on the Decalogue is a challenging task for each of the 14 contributors. Therefore, I am striving to highlight certain chapters, which grabbed my attention for either positive or negative reasons. Please forgive my trendy, categorical approach to this review. 

The Most Interesting Chapter

To its credit, the book begins with a bang. Daniel Block gives a wonderful introduction to the Decalogue and addresses some of the most fundamental issues like, “Why are there ten commands and not five or seven?”, “Is the Decalogue primarily a covenantal document or a recapitulation of moral law?” and “Does the Ten Commands have a special place in the Pentateuch and/or the Hebrew bible?” Block is not comprehensive with any of his answers, but sets a stable foundation for the upcoming chapters.

Block’s most interesting observation is the debunking of the traditional understanding of the two tablets. Tradition states that the Ten were divided (in some way) on each tablet. Professor Block argues that the use of “two” tablets were meant as a Near Eastern covenantal document and therefore, each tablet contained the “Ten” and were kept as a visual covenant between YHWH (one tablet) and Israel (one tablet).

The Most Biblical/Historical Chapters

Chapter two is titled The Decalogue in the New Testament and the subsequent chapter is Early Syriac, Greek and Latin views of the Decalogue. These two chapters will satisfy the cravings of both the Biblicist and Church historian. Dr. Craig Evans does a complete job analyzing the multiple NT texts that deal directly or indirectly with the Decalogue. He also deals with specific individuals of the NT (John the Baptist, Jesus, James and Paul) and their use of the Ten Commandments. In my opinion, his abbreviated summary/chart on the Decalogue’s use in the NT is the most practical (and re-usable) part of the chapter.

Dr. Alison G. Salvesen is a research lecturer at Oxford and specializes in the areas of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. She shows her researching prowess in her overview, which spans to the fifth century. This chapter interacts with both common and obscure characters with her attention placed firmly on the Patristics’ view of the authority of the Decalogue.

To this reviewer, Salvesen’s presentation of Justin Martyr and Tertullian were both informative and captivating. She excavates from the writings of Justin Martyr that he accepts the absorption view of the Decalogue, which views Christ’s two commands (love God, love others) as absorbing the authority and moral emphasis of the Ten Commandments.

Tertullian, according to Professor Salvesen, holds that the Decalogue remains in force but is presently more stringent because Christ expanded its commands. Yet the Latin Father’s dogmatism regarding the communication of the Ten Commandments to Adam and Eve (whether embedded in their conscience, verbalized or written is unclear) is fascinating and thought-provoking.

The Most Pastoral/Homiletical Chapters

If the above category needs further definition, I am referring to the applicational and homiletic aspects of the Decalogue. In examining the decalogical musings of Martin Luther (Chpt. 6) and John Calvin (Chpt. 7), the reader will clearly observe the pastoral sensitivity of both Reformers. Timothy J. Wengert, who teaches at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, spends the majority of his chapter examining Luther’s shorter and larger catechism, which discusses the practical ways to obey the Ten. Of all the essays, Wengert’s is probably the most practical and therefore, the most pastoral.

Susan E. Schreiner, who is a historian at the University of Chicago’s divinity school, provides the reader with a softer view of the Reformer, who is often identified by the doctrine of predestination or the burning of Michael Servetus. Dr. Schreiner’s essay focuses primarily on the third purpose of the law (i.e. sanctification), which is seen through the lens of Calvin’s Geneva, a unique bastion of church and state. One of Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy 5:22 emphasized the completeness of the Decalogue and therefore, encouraged his congregants to never add anything to the law, especially by the irresponsible use of imagination. This intriguing application defined Calvin the preacher and provides homiletic help to the pastors of the 21st century.

The Most Confusing Chapter

George Hunsinger, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, has the unfortunate task of presenting Karl Barth’s view of the Decalogue (chpt. 12). I admit that this reviewer has always been stumped by the dialectic method of Barth and his neo-orthodox/Christological hermeneutic is both annoying and refreshing.

I was hoping Dr. Hunsinger would be a “Barth-whisperer” for me, but he did little to defuse my bias towards the Swiss theologian. So unless you are a fan of Barth and his works, this chapter will likely leave you bored and perplexed.

The Most Unnecessary Chapter

I wanted to use the adjectives bias or political to describe this category. Why? Because though I find Christina Rossetti fascinating as an Anglican, as a women and even as a poet, I was convinced her inclusion in these essays is not about her impact in Decalogical studies, rather it was that she was a woman and possibly, a feminist.

Timothy Larsen, one of the editors of this book, spends many pages forming a biological sketch of Rossetti, defending her approach to hermeneutics and her lifelong decision to be celibate, rather the discussing the actual influence (or lack of) she has made in

But the most disturbing element of the chapter is Larsen’s relentless effort to exonerate Rossetti from the label of “feminist”. In one breath, he asserts that Rossetti voted against the woman’s right to vote, but then writes how “gleeful she is when the bible shares that the wife is the more impressive of the pair”. Rossetti seems to have an unusual preoccupation with Eve. Larsen says later, 
“In a striking inversion of Victorian gender stereotypes, Rosetti reads this (the account of the Fall) as the woman being lead by her “mind” and the man by his “heart”. 
Never mind that scripture says Eve was deceived (2 Cor. 11:3) and theologically, there is no distinction between the mind and the heart. The bottom line is Christina Rossetti is a charming character, but she offers little clarity to the issues surrounding the Ten Commandments.

The Most Impactful Chapter

Out of all of the authors, this reviewer was most familiar with the works of Carl R. Trueman. Dr. Trueman is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His topic was John Owen and his views of the Decalogue.

There is one reason why this chapter was the most impactful: Dr. Trueman strove to answer this question (from Owen’s theology), “If the Decalogue is primary moral law, rather than covenantal law, what was the purpose for giving the tablets on Mt. Sinai?” It is a monumental task of which Trueman (via Owen) delivers.
The answer? Dr. Owen believes that the delivery of the law at Sinai was essentially a recapitulation of the covenant of works. For this reviewer, who stands in the dispensational camp, this interpretation was original and eye-opening. This is not to say I agree with the interpretation of Owen, but it does provide a robust argument for the legitimacy of the covenant of works, especially since it is assumed to be clearly understood by our first parents (according to Covenant theologians), though the means of divine communication continues to be an in-house debate.

Conclusion

As a resource in Decalogical studies, I judge this work to be of reasonable help, primarily for those in academia or those who have a taste for scholarly work. Unfortunately, most Christians and sadly, most pastors will not take the time to excavate the “diamonds in the rough”. To be honest, this resource would not be in my “top five”, though as a specialized Decalogical study, I would place it in my “top ten”. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Did the "Giants of the Faith" make New Year's resolutions?


Is setting resolutions for 2013 wrong? Did the men/women of old participate in a similar activity? Well, to be honest, no they didn't. The reason is New Year's Day is originally based on a pagan holiday and therefore, Christians of old didn't celebrate such days.

Does that mean we shouldn't have a party or make resolutions? Ultimately, each Christian must act according to their conscience. That being established, America is not Rome (where New Year's Day originated) and there is no church/state government-regulated worship. Therefore, it is apples and oranges, as the saying goes.

Actually, I strongly agree with the sentiment of Burk Parsons (editor of Tabletalk magazine and co-pastor at St. Andrews Chapel), who states that Christians should be resolving to be resolved. In his post, he encourages Christians to be resolving sensibly, dependently, humbly and for the sake of Christ. To read the whole article, click on http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/resolved-grace-god/?mobile=off .

So even though the giants didn't write down specific resolutions, I challenge you to examine (in the quotes below) their resolving to be resolved




A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent. 

                                   John Calvin



Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth: help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart 

                                 Martin Luther



If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. 
                       John Owen


When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me. 

                                    John Wesley



O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams. 

                                     Augustine



The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well, till it is burned into my heart by prayer. 

                                    John Bunyan



A bushelful of resolutions is of small value; a single grain of practice, is worth the whole. 

                                  Charles Spurgeon 



The secret formula of the saints: When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord's choicest wines. 

                                  Samuel Rutherford



Lord, be pleased to shake my clay cottage before Thou throwest it down. Make it totter awhile before it doth tumble. Let me be summoned before I am surprised.
                                
                                  Thomas Fuller



Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by. 

                                 Jonathan Edwards

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Facts about John Knox: 

  • He remarried a woman named Margaret Stewart (age 17), who was 33 years younger than Knox.

  • 1/5 of his writings were about predestination.

  • John Calvin was his primary mentor.

  • Knox wrote none of his sermons down (only two sermons survived).

  • He was his spiritual father’s bodyguard and carried a broadsword.

  • His son-in-law was in prison for insubordination to the throne. The king asked Elizabeth (Knox’s daughter) to persuade her husband to submit to his authority. Her response: “Please your Majesty, I’d rather have his head here.”

  • Knox is one of the four reformers on the wall of Geneva. The words next to the Scottish reformer, “One man with God is always in the majority.” 


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who is John Knox?


He was a minister of the Christian gospel who advocated violent revolution. He was considered one of the most powerful preachers of his day, but only two of the hundreds of sermons he preached were ever published. He is a key figure in the formation of modern Scotland, yet there is only one monument erected to him in Scotland, and his grave lies beneath a parking lot.

John Knox was indeed a man of many paradoxes, a Hebrew Jeremiah set down on Scottish soil. In a relentless campaign of fiery oratory, he sought to destroy what he felt was idolatry and to purify Scotland's religion.
Biography 

John Knox was born around 1514, at Haddington, a small town south of Edinburgh. Around 1529 he entered the University of St. Andrews and went on to study theology. He was ordained in 1536, but became a notary, then a tutor to the sons of local lairds (lower ranking Scottish nobility).

Dramatic events were unfolding in Scotland during Knox's youth. Many were angry with the Catholic church, which owned more than half the real estate and gathered an annual income of nearly 18 times that of the crown. Bishops and priests were often mere political appointments, and many never hid their immoral lives: the archbishop of St. Andrews, Cardinal Beaton, openly consorted with concubines and sired 10 children.

In the early 1540s, Knox came under the influence of converted reformers, and under the preaching of Thomas Guilliame, he joined them. Knox then became a bodyguard for the fiery Protestant preacher George Wishart, who was speaking throughout Scotland.

In 1546, however, Beaton had Wishart arrested, tried, strangled, and burned. In response, a party of 16 Protestant nobles stormed the castle, assassinated Beaton, and mutilated his body. The castle was immediately put to siege by a fleet of French ships (Catholic France was an ally to Scotland). Though Knox was not privy to the murder, he did approve of it, and during a break in the siege, he joined the besieged party in the castle.

During a Protestant service one Sunday, preacher John Rough spoke on the election of ministers, and publicly asked Knox to undertake the office of preacher. When the congregation confirmed the call, Knox was shaken and reduced to tears. He declined at first, but eventually submitted to what he felt was a divine call.

It was a short-lived ministry. In 1547, after St. Andrews Castle had again been put under siege, it finally capitulated. Some of the occupants were imprisoned. Others, like Knox, were sent to the galleys as slaves.

Nineteen months passed before he and others were released. Knox spent the next five years in England, and his reputation for preaching quickly blossomed. But when Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne, Knox was forced to flee to France.

He made his way to Geneva, where he met John Calvin. The French reformer described Knox as a "brother … laboring energetically for the faith." Knox for his part, was so impressed with Calvin's Geneva, he called it, "the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles."

In 1555, they invited Knox to return to Scotland to inspire the reforming task. Knox spent nine months preaching extensively and persuasively in Scotland before he was forced to return to Geneva.

Away from his homeland again, he published some of his most controversial tracts: In his Admonition to England he virulently attacked the leaders who allowed Catholicism back in England. In The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women he argued that a female ruler (like English Queen Mary Tudor) was "most odious in the presence of God" and that she was "a traitoress and rebel against God." In his Appellations to the Nobility and Commonality of Scotland, he extended to ordinary people the right—indeed the duty—to rebel against unjust rulers. As he told Queen Mary of Scotland later, "The sword of justice is God's, and if princes and rulers fail to use it, others may."

Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, and he again deployed his formidable preaching skills to increase Protestant militancy. Soon he was elected the minister of the Edinburgh church, where he continued to exhort and inspire. In his sermons, Knox typically spent half an hour calmly exegeting a biblical passage. Then as he applied the text to the Scottish situation, he became "active and vigorous" and would violently pound the pulpit. Said one note taker, "he made me so to quake and tremble, that I could not hold pen to write." Knox finished out his years as preacher of the Edinburgh church, helping shape the developing Protestantism in Scotland. During this time, he wrote his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland.

Though he remains a paradox to many, Knox was clearly a man of great courage: one man standing before Knox's open grave said, "Here lies a man who neither flattered nor feared any flesh." Knox's legacy is large: his spiritual progeny includes some 750,000 Presbyterians in Scotland, 3 million in the United States, and many millions more worldwide.

*This biography was copied and adapted from ChristianHistory.net. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: Ruth: From Bitter to Sweet


Dr. John D. Currid is Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a PhD in archaeology and has authored several commentaries (e.g. The Pentateuch, Habakkuk). In his introduction, Dr. Currid breaks up the book of Ruth into five sections: Part one—Setting the scene (1:1-5), Part two—Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-laws (1:6-22), Part three—In the fields of Bethlehem (2:1-23), Part four—The scene at the Threshing Floor (3:1-18) and Part five—Redemption (4:1-22). These sections encompass the majority of the commentaries’ brief 136 pages. Also, the introduction contains the author’s valuable thesis statement, “Thus the book is serving a greater purpose than merely being a moral story of human goodness: it points to the future reality of the coming King”.

I would label Professor Currid’s commentary somewhere between an exegetical commentary and a devotional one. To be clear, both elements are beautifully integrated throughout. The exegetical component is not only seen in the author’s commitment to the literary / historical context but also in his detailed explanation of key words and phrases of each verse. As to the devotional feature, Currid incorporates in each chapter the orthopraxical Points to Ponder, which helps the reader be not just ‘a hearer of the Word, but also a doer’ (James 1:22).

For those readers who love Reformation history, you are in for a treat. Every chapter is woven with either Puritan anecdotes or quotes from the spiritual giants of previous times. Admittedly, Dr. Currid’s affection for the past may not connect the young or modern reader, but what else would you expect from a professor who received his doctorate in archeology, the study of old stuff?

One of the most important concepts of the book of Ruth is the goel (Heb.) which means literally, kinsman-redeemer. Here Dr. Currid is at his literary best. His clear, engaging exegesis of this Israelite societal provision is eye-opening. In just three pages, the author describes the four duties of the goel, which all revolve around the concept of redemption. Though most readers will automatically perceive the link to the coming Messiah, Currid leaves no room for blindness and states, “Jesus claims (in Luke 4) to be the one who will bring release and liberty to His people; He is the goel for the believer” (p. 92).

Criticism                                                                                                                               

If you were to ask any pastor or scholar, “What is the most provocative part of Ruth?”, the answer is always, “The scene of the threshing floor, of course!” This scene is the apex, the crescendo of the story. Ruth, by the advice of Naomi (her mother-in-law), dolls herself up and sneaks into the bed of Boaz and lies down at his feet. Provocative, indeed!

Dr. Currid argues strongly that not only was this act culturally appropriate, but there was no sexual activity between Ruth and Boaz. He does admit that the term “uncover” is often used to describe sexual activity in the OT, but the connection to Boaz’s feet speaks to redemption, not sexual conduct. He states on page 104, Ruth ‘is asking that Boaz would be willing to take her under his redemptive wings to protect her……the placing of the blanket over her is symbolic of that protection and security’. Though I agree with the author’s conclusion, I think this issue required direct interaction with those views critical of his, of which he did not do.

Finally, I continue to be unsettled with the need for Ruth’s nightly encounter with Boaz. Dr. Currid gives no cultural precedence for such an interaction and his application of Ezekiel 16, though original to this reviewer, is not convincing. I am left wondering if Naomi’s advice reveals impatience, rather than godly discretion.
                                 
                                                     Conclusion

In my opinion, this resource is a wonderful addition to the short list of Ruthian commentaries. Currid’s work is brief, readable and from the reformed tradition (though it doesn’t feel that way). If you are just starting to build your library, I would start with this work.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.