Category: Theological Studies

Review: Christ and Covenant Theology

35847115Cornelis P. Venema is President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies at Mid-American Reformed Seminary. Venema has a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and is the author of several books, such as The Promise of the Future (Banner of Truth, 2000) and Getting the Gospel Right: An Assessment of the Reformation and ‘New Perspectives’ on Paul (Banner of Truth, 2006). He is also a co-editor and frequent contributor to The Outlook and the Mid-American Journal of Theology. Most recent, Venema has assembled together a number of useful essays summarizing and defending various aspects of Covenant Theology.

Christ and Covenant Theology: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants is divided into three parts: (1) the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, (2) covenant and election, and (3) covenant theology in recent discussions. Part one offers an introduction to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, as Venema argues alongside Westminster Confession of Faith and distinguishes between a pre-fall and post-fall covenant. For Venema, the distinction between these two covenants is vital to understanding God’s redemptive purpose in the person and work of Christ. Part two focuses more narrowly on the topic of election within the realm of covenant. More specifically, as election and covenant relate to the children of believers. Part three seeks to address the contemporary discussions concerning justification and election more broadly within the arena of covenant. Most of Venema’s interaction is with the “Federal Vision” folks, although he does provide a fascinating essay examining N. T. Wright’s interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 as it relates to covenant and justification.

Christ and Covenant Theology is a classic treasure trove of Reformed riches. Those familiar with Venema will appreciate his keen ability to evaluate and examine contemporary issues in view of the confessional Reformed tradition. Venema is both judicious and accessible, though a working understanding of the Reformed confessional tradition is assumed. Still, while readers will likely gravitate towards one of the three parts, it’s interesting to see how Venema naturally allows the whole to hang together. This demonstrates the functional consistency of Venema’s theological conviction and displays his deep familiarity with the Reformed tradition. There will be inevitable disagreement that arises for those in opposition to Reformed theology as articulated by the Westminster Confession of Faith. Nonetheless, most readers approaching this book should have a firm understanding of such differences prior to opening the initial pages. Additionally, it should be noted that most will agree that Venema provides some of the best, most reflective and persuasive material on the various topics intersecting with Covenant Theology.

Thus, agree with him or not, Christ and Covenant Theology: Essays on Election, Republication, and the Covenants by Cornelis P. Venema is nothing short of a must-read resource! It is a collection of essays that cannot be ignored.

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Review: Sons in the Son

31243443David B. Garner is vice president of advancement and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS). Garner received his ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and PhD from WTS. He is author of How Can I Know for Sure?: Christian Answers to Hard Questions (P&R Publishing, 2014) and editor of the influential work Did God Really Say?: Affirming the Truthfulness and Trustworthiness of Scripture (P&R Publishing, 2014). Garner is well-respected in the academic community and his many research interests culminate in a special concern for the interface of theology and missions. Most recently, Garner has written a classic theological exploration of doctrine adoption.

Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ is a groundbreaking examination of adoption in Pauline thought. Garner divides the study into three parts: (1) hermeneutic, history, and etymology, (2) exegetical and theological survey of key texts, and (3) biblical and systematic theology. This threefold division is intentionally oriented towards Garner’s goal of providing an examination of adoption that moves from divine revelation to theological refection, rather than social and cultural reconstruction to theological conclusion (p. xxv). It is also here that Garner offers a somewhat unique approach to the topic of adoption. In part one, Garner provides readers with a hermeneutical and historical-theological survey of adoption and an exceptional treatment of huiothesia. For Garner, huiothesia “captures the whole scope of filial grace enjoyed by means of the Spirit-wrought union with the resurrected Son of God” (p. 54). In part two, the readers are judiciously guided through the three major Pauline huiothesia passages, including Ephesians 1:3-6, Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 8:15-17 and 22-23. Finally, in part three, Garner gathers everything together and begins to uncover the systematic thread of adoption as it joins the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and the doctrine of salvation in the Ordo Salutis and union with Christ.

Sons in the Son is a phenomenal work, full of rich theological reflection and practical wisdom. The organization is appropriate for road traveled and readers will appreciate Garner’s detailed knowledge of the subject. Because the majority of literature on adoption is saturated with social and cultural reconstructions, some readers may be slightly dissatisfied with Garner’s theological approach. There is something to be said about the social and cultural practice of adoption in the Greco-Roman world and how such informed the biblical metaphor in Pauline thought, but the approach that Garner takes seems to offer a more sustainable reflection upon the overall scope behind the metaphor rather than the metaphor itself. That is, these perceived shortcomings are actually a strength when taken within context of the purpose of Garner’s exploration.

Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ by David B. Garner is both timely and timeless. Garner is comprehensive, clear, and readable. I’m honestly flabbergasted that other contemporary Reformed theological minds haven’t attempted to write this book. It’s so basic to the heart of the gospel. But, then again, I’m so very thankful that Garner was the one to do it! It is without a shadow of a doubt that Garner has written one of the most important books of 2017. If you’re looking for a book that with alter how you view and think about the relationship between salvation and Christ, then Sons in the Son should be at the top of your list. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly!

Review: The Essential Trinity

prpbooks-images-covers-md-9781629952987The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman is a collection of essays by leading New Testament scholars and theologians who have built a career upon the importance of the Trinity to Christian doctrine— including well-known individuals, such as Richard Bauckham, Benjamin L. Gladd, and Michael Reeves. The essays offer a biblical-theological exploration through the New Testament and culminate with a number of essays that survey the practical relevance of the Trinity in the Christian life.

The Essential Trinity is naturally divided into the two parts detailed within its subtitle: (1) New Testament foundations and (2) practical relevance. The initial part comprises the majority of the book and each chapter takes on a specific New Testament subcorpus. For example, Brandon D. Crowe addresses the Trinity in the Gospel of Mark and Brian S. Rosner takes up Paul and the Trinity. The entire New Testament is handled in eight essays and the initial section closes with a brief essay on the Trinity and the Old Testament. The second section brings the exegetical rigor to a much-needed culmination with essays on the relevance of the Trinity to prayer, revelation, worship, and preaching. The second section does much to establish the widespread importance of Trinitarian theology to nearly every aspect of Christian existence.

The book itself is a refreshing treasure-trove of exegetical riches. The overall presentation and organization of the book is superb, and readers will appreciate the level of detail explored as a consistent witness is uncovered across the New Testament. Bauckham’s essay on the Gospel of John was phenomenal, as most will expect. That said, Jonathan I. Griffiths’ essay on Hebrews was among the best in the book. It is worth the price of the alone. Recognizing the scope of the volume as a New Testament engagement, readers should evaluate the major shortcoming of the book as minimally impactful—a lack of Old Testament engagement. There was a clears sense in the book of the value and importance of the Old Testament to the New Testament foundation that was explored, and some authors explicitly brought such into their essay (e.g. Benjamin Gladd on Revelation). It would have been extremely useful to see further exploration of the Old Testament Trinitarian themes that include Old Testament scholars both exploring shadows of the concept and putting to rest many of the misconceptions propagated in contemporary Christian thought. Again, this is a major shortcoming of the volume, but also recognizably beyond its scope.

The Essential Trinity: New Testament Foundations and Practical Relevance edited by Brandon D. Crowe and Carl R. Trueman is undoubtedly one of the most useful books on the Trinity in recent years. Apart from the shortcoming mentioned above, it is hard to think of a more well-rounded and exegetically sound engagement on the Trinity. It comes highly recommended!

Review: God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views

81MwvV6VpNLSome of the most helpful books in the field of biblical and theological studies have come in the form of multiview dialogs. These books are especially useful for laity looking to survey the landscape of ideas, and the format is exceptional for argument analysis. The most recent of these books, from the Spectrum Multiview Books series, seeks to address an age-old problem with a bit of modern flare—God and the problem of evil.

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. brings together five theological minds with very different views of God and the reconciliation of such to the existence of evil in the world. The book is comprised of two parts. Part one is a positive presentation of each of the five views. Phillip Cary represents the classical theist view, arguing that no evil takes place unless God permits it, and in doing so, his purpose is for a greater good to be brought about in the world. William Lane Craig represents the Molinist view, arguing that divine middle knowledge essentially becomes the solution to the problem. William Hasker represents the open theist view and argues that God created humanity as free creatures. Thus, it is impossible for him to know with certainty what they would do in any given situation. Thomas Oord represented a modified open theist view which he refers to as an essential kenosis view. Oord argues that God, for the sake of love, emptied (kenosis) himself of the ability to control the actions and effects of free creatures, and thus, is unable to stop evil from taking place. Lastly, Stephan Wykstra represents a more philosophically abstract approach to the problem of evil which is labeled the skeptical theism view.

The second part of the book comprises the responses of each contributor to the other contributors’ essays. Each response essay is brief and curated into a single chapter. For example, Cary’s response essay interacts with Craig, Hasker, Oord, and Wykstra in a single chapter. In my experience, the format of the book hasn’t provided as much room for interaction, and actually, makes the book more difficult to navigate then if the each response followed the positive presentation in the first section (e.g. each contributor interacts with a single view immediately following the positive presentation). Consequently, while the content of the interaction between the views is helpful, it is rather brief and sometimes seems outright dismissive (e.g. Hasker’s interaction with Carey). That said this is the biggest shortcoming to an otherwise excellent display of scholarly engagement on a very important and far reaching theological topic.

God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. offers an up-to-date engagement with the current landscape on one of the most theologically problematic questions to meet the modern age: if an all-loving and all-powerful God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world? Despite the lackluster organization of the response section, the book shines with deep theological reflection and worthwhile interaction. It’s a well-done primer that I wouldn’t have any problem recommending to others interested in the topic. Trust me, its worth the reflection!

Review: Embodied Hope

91jQapQkEyLIf one thing is certain about life on earth, it’s that pain and suffering are inevitable realities regardless of who you are or where you grew up. There has been much Christian literature written to mend this reality and provide hope for a hurting world, and rightly so. But, few of these books have actually sought to share in the lament of human suffering, as they seem to be more focused on providing canned Christian answers that explain away the problem than actually dealing with the reality of suffering itself. Fortunately, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering by Kelly M. Kapic has provided a much-needed breath of fresh air that is both theologically grounded and biblically sensitive.

Kelly M Kapic is professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Kapic received his PhD from King’s College, University of London and is the author or editor of several books, including A Little Book for New Theologians and Mapping Modern Theology.

Embodied Hope is somewhat of a personal memoir about pain and suffering in the life of the author. As Kapic notes, “although I have a PhD, I find that I rarely know what I think—really think—about something until I have had to write about it . . . therefore, after a few years, and under the encouragement of others—including my wife—I have aimed to wrestle through some of these questions in a more public manner” (p. 3). Still, Embodied Hope is not a personal memoir, but a theological entry ramp into a much larger conversation concerning who we are in this world and how we relate to God therein. “This book will make no attempt to defend God,” Kapic writes, “I will not try to justify God or explain away the physical suffering in this world. Instead, I wrestle with nagging questions about our lives, our purpose, and our struggles” (p. 7-8). This gives the book a very raw, but surprisingly polished and organic feeling.

Embodied Hope is comprised of three parts: (1) the struggle, (2) the strangeness of God, and (3) life together. Kapic recognizes the problem, articulates how God identifies with us through the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and finally provides a solution (if it can be called such) in a community-driven model of life. The heart of the book is discovered in the second section. Kapic points the reader to Jesus as a model for embodied hope. Still, the most rewarding and encouraging section (apart from the necessary road to be traveled in the person and work of Christ), in my opinion, is the destination of the book—namely that life should be lived together in faithful perseverance in Christ.

Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering by Kelly M. Kapic is a book on a familiar topic, done in a not so familiar way. Kapic is deeply entrenched, both personally and professionally, in the realities that knock at the door of every human being. Kapic is bold and unashamed of the suffering that he and his family face, because he knows that it will bring glory to Christ. But, more than that, Kapic is confident that hope—embodied hope—is made manifest in the person and work of Christ, and lived out in faithfulness and community. This is a book that accomplishes what it sets out to do. Kapic does not defend God, he provides hope. Kapic does not offer theological remedies, he demonstrates true theological meditation. Healing and comfort are found within these pages, and I can think of no reason not to recommend Embodied Hope, because everyone will need it at some point.

John Wesley: Sin in a Framework of Perfection

Introduction  From the beginning of his ministry, John Wesley has continuously encountered opposition against his adherence to Christian perfection. Wesley preached several sermons on the topic and published a number of well-articulated tracts and books in his defense. Still, serious biblical and theological disagreement confronted … Continue reading John Wesley: Sin in a Framework of Perfection