Review: Retrieving Eternal Generation

34460448The doctrine of eternal generation has been affirmed by thinking Christians and theologians of nearly every ecclesiastical tradition since the fourth century. Eternal generation is a foundational component of two vital convictions of the Christian faith concerning Christology and the Trinity. Still, the doctrine of eternal generation has fallen upon difficult times among many evangelical theologians since the nineteenth century. The need for a retrieval is both immanent and timely in contemporary evangelicalism and few theological minds are more capable of facilitating a rescue mission than Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain.

Retrieving Eternal Generation presents the multifaceted approach needed to establish the biblical necessity of the doctrine of eternal generation for contemporary evangelical theology. Retrieving Eternal Generation is separated into three parts: (1) Biblical Reasoning, (2) Historical Witnesses, and (3) Contemporary Statements. The contributors include D. A. Carson, Charles Lee Irons, R. Kendall Soulen, Michael Allen, and more. Following a brief introduction by Sanders and Swain, there are seven essays focused on building a biblical basis for the doctrine of eternal generation. In this section, the reader discovers three essays that explore aspects eternal generation in the Old Testament and four in the New Testament. The following five essays are historically motivated and trace the conviction of eternal generation from Origen to Karl Barth. The final segment has three theologically oriented essays that bridge the gap between the Bible and history to theological reflection. The volume closes with a number of indexes to help for further reference.

The importance of Retrieving Eternal Generation cannot be overstated. As Sanders and Swain articulate in the introduction, “it is not enough to say that the Son is God; we must see that he is God the Son, not just God in general. Sonship, or eternal generation, is what gives both form and content to the relation between the Father and the Son: the relation has the form of fromness and the content of filiality” (p. 17). The weight of this reality is demonstrated in the initial section of the book and then carried through with clarity into the subsequent sections. The initial section is also the highpoint in the book, in my opinion. Each essay in this initial section transmits its own importance. Nevertheless, the essay on John 5:26 as the interpretive crux of eternal generation by D. A. Carson and the essay on the “only begotten” in the Fourth Gospel by Charles Lee Irons are among the finest in the volume. The shortcomings of the volume are discovered in the variegated nature of the essays and the narrowness of content that occasionally overlooks a fuller portrait of the importance of the doctrine of eternal generation. This is trivial in contrast to the tremendous value the readers will find in Retrieving Eternal Generation.

Retrieving Eternal Generation edited by Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain is a fascinating set of essays that is both immanent and timely in the context of contemporary evangelicalism. Eternal generation is an inseparable reality of the core convictions of the Christian faith. The thought of eternal generation somehow becoming divorced from the life and wellbeing of the identity of the Christian confession is unimaginable and Retrieving Eternal Generation is a clear example of the need that exists—a need for a doctrinal conviction that is rooted in the Christian Scriptures and expressed in the history of God’s people. If you’re looking for a book that will ignite your heart with a passion for biblical truth that matters, then Retrieving Eternal Generation comes highly recommended.

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Review: Prostitutes and Polygamists

9780310518471David T. Lamb is Allan A. MacRae Professor of Old Testament and the Dean of the Faculty at Biblical Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Lamb received an MDiv from Fuller Theological and both an MPhil and DPhil from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Righteous Jehu and His Evil Heirs: The Deuteronomist’s Negative Perspective on Dynastic Succession(Oxford University Press, 2007), God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? (IVP, 2011), recently published The Historical Writings: Introducing Israel’s Historical Literature (with Mark Leuchter; Fortress Press, 2016), and Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style(Zondervan, 2015).

Prostitutes and Polygamists is a provocative and refreshing read that explores the overlooked depths of sexuality of the Old Testament. Lamb begins with an introductory chapter that turns the readers towards the wild nature of “love, Old Testament style.” Following a chapter on the God-ordained union of man and woman—husbands and wives—Lamb investigates nearly every major sexual issue found in the Old Testament, including polygamists, prostitutes, rapists and adulterers, incester, and homosexuals and sodomites. Each chapter is surprisingly detailed for the size of the volume, and Lamb’s witty approach and frequent illustrations lighten the tone of the volume despite the weight of the content. Lamb is also keen to allow the biblical text to guide the reader towards the intended conclusions in the lives of biblical figures explored in each of the chapters.

There is much to appreciate about Prostitutes and Polygamists.First and foremost, Lamb is an engaging communicator and a brilliant Old Testament scholar. There have been at least a few academic attempts to accomplish what Lamb has done here, and none them come close to the combination of wit and humor of Prostitutes and Polygamists. Second, Lamb tackles real and relevant issues without hesitation. The content itself necessitates this approach. However, Lamb does much to balance that necessity with honesty and insight that is rarely seen from the vantage point of the pew. Third, the textual dependence encountered throughout the volume allows the reader to freshly engage the biblical text alongside Lamb’s insight.

The shortcomings are mostly the result of interpretive and category difference. For example, while the incident between Noah and Ham is not commented on at length, it is mentioned in a footnote related to homosexuality (p. 162) despite Lamb’s disbelief that a homosexual action took place. What seems clear is some form of incestral relationship between Ham and either his mother or father—likely the former Leviticus 18—but there is no interaction with Genesis 9 in the Incester chapter. These types of disagreements are somewhat inevitable given the content of the book, but readers should be aware that such shortcomings exist.

Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style by David T. Lamb is a fresh and sensible. Lamb is well-informed, sensitive, witty, and downright hilarious at times. Readers will be sure to appreciate Lamb’s approach and insight into the often-controversial content of the book. This is a book that deserves to be read widely and should be on the shelf of every Pastor, especially those living among the sexual revolution that is sweeping across North America. If you are looking for a book that is both informative and engaging on a topic rarely discussed in church, then Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style by David T. Lamb is an excellent choice. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Studies in the Pauline Epistles

91IlUeY7VtLDouglas J. Moo is Kenneth T. Wessner Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School. Moo is a well-respected New Testament scholar with prominent publications ranging from a magisterial commentary on Romans in The New International Commentary on the New Testament series to the widely used New Testament Textbook An Introduction to the New Testament (with D. A. Carson). Moo’s steady influence and academic esteem over the last several decades have left a long-term mark on the field of New Testament studies, especially in the arena of Pauline scholarship. So, the idea of a festschrift to honor the life and career of such an individual as Douglas J. Moo only makes sense.

Studies in the Pauline Epistles: Essays in Honor of Douglas J. Moo edited by Matthew Harmon and Jay E. Smith is a must-have for any serious Pauline scholar or student of the New Testament. Studies in the Pauline Epistles opens with a brief introduction to the volume followed by a short biography of Douglas J. Moo by Dane C. Ortlund. The collected essays are organized into three major sections: (1) Exegeting Paul, (2) Paul’s Use of Scripture and the Jesus Tradition, and (3) Pauline Scholarship and His Contemporary Significance. The contributors include Thomas R. Schreiner, D. A. Carson, G. K. Beale, James D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright, and more.

The initial six essays are grouped under the heading of “Exegeting Paul” and focus on specific Pauline passages. The scope of these essays are narrow and positioned to highlight the reach of Moo’s academic interest in the Pauline Epistles. The following three essays are grouped under the heading of “Paul’s Use of Scripture and the Jesus Tradition” and focus on the intertextual nature of the Pauline Epistles. Craig L. Blomberg has a fascinating essay entitled “Quotations, Allusions, and Echoes of Jesus in Paul” where he interacts with the criteria of Richard B. Hays for identifying Old Testament references and applies it to Paul’s use of Jesus tradition. The final seven essays are grouped under “Pauline Scholarship and His Contemporary Significance” and focus on a few of the anticipated Pauline issues. These essays are among the most noteworthy in the volume, especially the essays by James D. G. Dunn, Stephen Westerholm, N. T. Wright, and G. K. Beale.

The reader interested in Pauline Studies will have much to devour in this festschrift. The essays are all important for various reasons, and Harmon and Smith have done a commendable job both in bringing together the contributing roster and organizing the volume. I can’t think of any overt shortcomings. Although with the exception of Carson’s essay, I did find the essays in the latter two sections to be the most interesting due to the nature of the content and personal interest. It was also exciting to see an essay by Jonathan Moo, which was very well done. The final essays by Thomas R. Schreiner and Mark A. Seifrid offer a practical bridge out of a volume that holds a good deal of academic merit. These essays were both refreshing and helpful in reminding the reader the reason for doing biblical scholarship—a focus that has clearly marked the life and career of Douglas J. Moo.

Studies in the Pauline Epistles: Essays in Honor of Douglas J. Moo edited by Matthew Harmon and Jay E. Smith is a must-have for any serious Pauline scholar or student of the New Testament. Those who have been encouraged and blessed by the work of Moo will find themselves in familiar company, and the reward of reading through these honorary essays will demonstrate the grace of God present in biblical scholarship. This is a must-have volume that comes highly recommended!

Review: Echoes of Exodus

36899328.jpgBryan D. Estelle is Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California. He has an M.Div. from Westminster Seminary California and both an M.A. and Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. Estelle has written essays and articles in various publications, as well as Salvation Through Judgement and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah (P & R Publishing, 2005). Most recently, Estelle has written a biblical-theological exploration on the Exodus motif that proves to be a timely look into one of Scriptures richest themes.

Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif opens with an introductory chapter that orients the reader to the thematic presence of exodus throughout the Old Testament and into the New. The exodus motif more than the story of liberation from Egyptian oppression, according to Estelle. It is an all-encompassing motif about “God’s crafting a people for himself by bringing them to the very abode of his presence at Mount Sinai. Yet there is more . . . The deliverance from Egypt did not stop at Sinai, where God meets with his people. The deliverance was intended to include the Promise Land” (p. 3). That is, the Promise Land in both an immediate and eschatological sense. It is here that Estelle embarks on a biblical-theological voyage through the contours of the Old and New Testaments.

Before exploring the canonical landscape, Estelle spends a great deal of time establishing the hermeneutical foundations for his analysis of the exodus motif—a methodological establishment built upon the interpretive approach embodied by John Calvin and Campegius Vitringa. Estelle then moves the reader to Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Exilic and Post-Exilic Era. Estelle creates a visible awareness of the exodus motif in the Old Testament before turning the attention towards the New. The concluding five chapters explore the Jesus and the New Exodus in Mark and Matthew, Luke-Acts, Paul, 1 Peter, and Revelation. The salvific emphasis of this book demonstrates that “discussing the whole complex salvation is necessary if we are to fairly present God’s plan of redemption” (p. 323). The big-picture is an imperative element and Estelle provides a masterful framework for such discussion.

Echoes of Exodus is a wellspring of exegetical and biblical-theological riches. The sheer scope of Estelle’s engagement is extraordinary. Two examples of such engagement are noteworthy, and worth mention here. First, Estelle’s keen demonstration and utilized presence of intertextuality is a masterful representation of biblical theology. Estelle knows the rich history of biblical theology in the Reformed tradition and he exemplifies such with excellence. Moreover, Estelle’s unusual awareness of the sometimes-peripheral nature of the exodus motif affords readers the ability to more easily uncover the scarlet thread of God’s redemptive plan. Second, while the caliber of conversation occasionally presupposes a level of understanding that may be foreign to readers lacking a seminary education, Estelle is a gifted communicator and a skilled writer. Echoes of Exodus is easy to read and engaging on almost every page.

Echoes of Exodus: Tracing a Biblical Motif by Bryan D. Estelle demonstrates mature reflection and keen awareness on one of the richest biblical-theological themes of the Christian Scriptures. Estelle is insightful and easy to read, and the scope of his exploration has provided a fascinating demonstration of how to properly embody a biblical-theological mindset when approaching the Bible. If you’re interested in biblical theology and you’re looking for a book that will trace the heartbeat of God from Genesis to Revelation, then Estelle’s Echoes of Exodus is a worthwhile purchase. Trust me. It will be difficult to put down!

Review: The Decalogue: Living as the People of God

32284354David L. Baker is a lecturer in biblical studies at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire, England. Baker received a PhD from the University of Sheffield and is the author of Tight Fists or Open Hands?: Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2009) and Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship between the Old and New Testaments (IVP Academic, 3rd edition, 2010). Most recently, Baker has written an academically refreshing and practically engaging exploration into the life-giving nature of the Ten Commandments.

The Decalogue: Living as the People of God is divided into four major sections: (1) What Is the Decalogue?, (2) Loving God, (3) Loving Neighbor, and (4) The Decalogue Today. In the initial section, Baker orients to the reader towards the ancient and contemporary conversation regarding the shape, form, origin, and purpose of the Ten Commandments. This section offers the reader an appropriate introduction to the Decalogue, and Baker’s mindfulness of the ancient Near Eastern world brings a contextual perspective not found in other works of similar size and scope. After an overview of the details of the Decalogue, Baker divides his discussion of the commandments into two main parts: Loving God and Loving Neighbor. The former explores commandments 1-5 and the latter explores commandments 6-10. Baker concludes the volume with a practical chapter which points the reader towards the life-giving nature of the Decalogue.

There is much to be appreciated about The Decalogue: Living as the People of God. First, Baker is uniquely qualified to bring fresh life to the Ten Commandments. Baker possesses a noticeable familiarity the Old Testament, the ancient Near East, and the contemporary scholarly literature at the forefront of both. Second, the organization of each chapter on the Commandments allows the reader to (1) understand ancient Near Eastern law and culture, (2) resolve the canonical context of each commandment as it relates to the rest of the biblical corpus, and (3) reflect upon the contemporary significance of the commandment for the world today. This methodology is both unique and beneficial. Third, Baker converses with a wide array of commentators and scholars on the Ten Commandments, and the use of footnotes provides readers with a goldmine of riches. An example of Baker’s academic awareness of the literature on the subject can be found in the 38-page bibliography! Lastly, Baker is an excellent writer and a clear communicator. This book is engaging from beginning to end, and Baker is to be commended for his work in making such possible. He really does begin to bring the blessing and joy of the Law of Moses to life for the contemporary audience.

The Decalogue: Living as the People of God by David L. Baker is simply outstanding. It is easily the best book on the Ten Commandments published in the past three decades. Baker is aware of each major facet of study needed to accomplish a meaningful exploration of the Decalogue, and he shows himself capable of bringing fresh insight over and over again. For anyone studying the Ten Commandments or Old Testament ethics, this book will prove itself to be indispensable. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

1413493Christopher J. H. Wright is International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership, which provides literature, scholarships, and homiletical training for pastors in Majority World churches and seminaries. Wright received a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is internationally recognized as one of the most influential Old Testament scholars today. Wright is a committed Anglican clergyman and the author of several books, including The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story, and The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission.

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is the distilled reflection of several decades. Wright has comprehensively revised, updated and expanded his previous work An Eye for an Eye: The Place of Old Testament Ethics Today and included additional material from Walking in the Ways of the Lord: The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament. For Wright, the Old Testament occupies meaningful space in the Christian life for the purposes of informing ethical engagement, and Old Testament Ethics for the People of God demonstrates an innovative approach that examines a theological, social and economic framework for Old Testament ethics.    

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is comprised of three major parts: (1) A Structure for Old Testament Ethics, (2) Themes in Old Testament Ethics, and (3) Studying Old Testament Ethics. In Part One, Wright explores three distinct angles for approaching Old Testament ethics, including theological (“the LORD, as the God of Israel”), social (“Israel themselves as an elect people in unique relation to the LORD”), and economical (“the land of believed the LORD had promised and given to them” [p. 19]). The three chapters in Part One are absolutely foundation for the exploration that follows in Part Two, and readers will do well to spend as much time as needed here before moving into the heart of the book. In Part Two, the foundational structure of Part One is applied to various ethically related themes in the Old Testament. As the heartbeat of the book, Part Two is where most readers will spend their time excavating the riches that Wright has presented. In Part Three, Wright concludes the volume with a historical survey of approaches to Old Testament ethics, a chapter on contemporary scholarship, and a crucial chapter on the hermeneutical implications of the Old Testament as authoritative Scripture for the purpose of Christian ethics.

The strengths of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God are plenty and readers familiar with Wright’s work will anticipate much of the same. Where I found Old Testament Ethics for the People of God to shines is in Wright’s ability to demonstrate the useful, indeed the imperative nature of the Old Testament for developing a holistic vision of Christian ethics. Wright does a tremendous job upholding the relevance and authority of Old Testament as Christian Scripture and readers will appreciate the accessibility associated with the application therein. Not only will Wright’s audience begin to understand the Old Testament more faithfully, but they will begin to see how approachable it is for modern ethical conversations. The weaknesses of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God are few and far between. That said, I think that some readers may desire more than Wright offers at times. For example, there seems to be a looming question about the relevance of the Old Testament for ethical consideration due to the violent portraits caricatured therein. Wright does tackle these concerns throughout the volume in brief and offers an appendix concerning the Canaanites, but the question may still seem to loom over the content of the book. I think Wright made a good decision not to comment more on this particular issue, as it has been and is better addressed in a separate treatment with more dedicated space to the peripheral issues.

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J. H. Wright is one of the most rewarding and well-written books on the subject. Wright offers fresh insight in an illuminating fashion, and readers will reap the rewards of his labor on every page. For those interested in the Old Testament and its relevance to the Christian life, you will not find a more comprehensive and engaging book on the market. Its pages are rich with exegetical and theological treasure!

Review: The Majesty of Mystery

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 8.41.11 PMK. Scott Oliphint is Dean of Faculty and Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Oliphint is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a PhD from WTS. Oliphint is a leading voice of Reformed apologetics and the author of numerous publications, including Christianity and the Role of Philosophy (P&R, 2013) and Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013). Most recently, Oliphint released a fascinating exploration into some of the most shadowy corners of the Christian doctrine of God in hopes of encouraging a celebratory response to the glory of his incomprehensibleness.

The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God is comprised of nine chapters that address questions pertaining to the trinity of God, the incarnation of God in Jesus, the relationship of between God and his people, the providence of God and human choices, etc. The book is written with the layperson in mind, and thus should be easily accessible for most to enjoy. Oliphint is convinced that “nothing should motivate true Christian worship more than the majestic mystery of God” (p. 4). It is here that readers get a glimpse into the tone and purpose of the book, and Oliphint does well to bring the readers back to this point over and over again. As Oliphint summarizes, “These are questions that recognize some of the mysterious tensions that Scripture presents to us. They are good questions, but wrong answers to good questions can rob us of a full, and fulfilled, Christian life, and they rob God of His proper glory. Proper answers—answers that allow the mystery of God and His ways to shine brightly—will evoke in us proper worship, preparing us for an eternity of worship with Him, in which, because of the majestic mystery of God’s triune character, we will be ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise’” (p. 14-15).

The strengths The Majesty of Mystery are numerous. First, and probably foremost, Oliphint is a brilliant thinker and a capable communicator. The level of conversation generally exhausted for the topics addressed in this book tend to land outside the realm of the target audience. Oliphint has distilled and packaged an enormous amount of rich theological consideration into a rather small and approachable volume. Second, the tone, as Oliphint has set out from beginning to end, wonderfully complements the material therein. It allows the reader to move beyond the theoretical and into the throne room of God. Third, the scope of the volume is calculated and appropriately organized for a work of this nature. It is clear that Oliphint spent considerable time pondering the most relevant topics that exhibit tension, and the result allows readers to admire the mystery of God while ushering them towards practical means of worship. Much more could be said about the above, but these three, alone warrant acknowledgment here.

The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God by K. Scott Oliphint is a wonderful demonstration of how to move beyond theological tension to a formed doxology that stands in awe of the incomprehensibleness of God. Oliphint is clear that his treatment does not attempt to explain “exactly how these mysteries work, or even how they can be!” (p. 207). Still, it is clear, as Oliphint acknowledges, “that they are the sum and substance of our Christian lives and experience” (p. 207). Thus, rather than seek to reconcile the irreconcilable, Oliphint encourages us not simply to ignore or run away from such tensions, but to worship through them as we seek to know and love God more faithfully.

Available in Print and Logos Bible Software