Review: An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology

9780830840953Thomas H. McCall is Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding. McCall has a MA in Theology from Wesley Biblical Seminary, and received a PhD in Systematic Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. McCall is the author of a number of important books related to the disciplines of theology and philosophy, including, Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans, 2010), Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (with Keith D. Stanglin; Oxford, 2012), Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters (InterVarsity Press, 2012), and most recently, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2015).

An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology is a well-timed introduction to a growing and engaging movement within contemporary theological circles. At the expense of providing an oversimplified definition of a budding and variegated discipline, analytic theology is, in many ways, simply the intersection between theology and analytic philosophy. As McCall explains, “analytic theology signifies a commitment to employ the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy where those tools might be helpful in the work of constructive Christian theology” (p. 16). The book opens with an appropriate question for most readers: What Is Analytic Theology? McCall positions the question in context and brings clarity where clarity is needed. As the book unfolds, McCall appears to be intentionally sensitive to the reluctance of some to receive the theological approach offered by analytic theology, and thus, builds a sturdy framework for embracing such as helpful and complementary to other traditional theological approaches.

I have to admit, when I first receive this book from the publisher, I found myself scratching my head asking, “what is analytic theology?” In other words, An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology was quite literally an invitation to analytic Christian theology. I had no prior exposure to the discipline or approach. With that said, I found McCall’s treatment of the subject to be a well-written and appropriately curated introduction. Moreover, the sensitivity to the reader that McCall exhibits, specifically in relation to grounding analytic theology in Scripture and Christian tradition, helpfully guides the reader to and immediate and practical benefit. As McCall rightly concludes, “analytic theology . . . needs to be theology; it needs to be grounded in Scripture, informed by the Christian tradition and alert to its ecclesial and cultural contexts” (p. 178). An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology was not only a helpful and inviting introduction to an unknown field of study, McCall was judicious and charitable in the process.

It’s not often that one is able to enter into a complex discussion for the first time and leave with a level of competency, understanding of purpose, and vision. It takes a gifted communicator with a particular set of interests to make this happen. Thomas H. McCall is one of those communicators. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology is a well-equipped introductory textbook firmly grounded and intentionally positioned in all the right places. McCall has provided the Church and academy a theological treasure that is certain to influence many theologically minded and philosophically sensitive thinkers. If you have been looking for a point of entry onto the growing intellectual highway known as analytic theology, then you should look no further. This volume comes highly recommended.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.

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Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God

9780830840847.jpgThe Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord (PhD., Claremont) is an attempt to propagate a logical explanation for randomness and evil in light of divine providence. The Uncontrolling Love of God seeks to wrestle with two weighty and important questions: (1) if a loving and powerful God exists, why doesn’t this God prevent genuinely evil events?, and (2) how can a loving and powerful God be providential if random and chance events occur? (p. 16). Oord finds the traditional answers to these questions largely unsatisfying and assumes that most Christians do as well. The Uncontrolling Love of God attempts to offer the reader an alternative explanation found within open and relational theology.

Oord begins his investigation by emotionally framing the discussion around four seemingly random and evil current events. It is here that Oord effectively brings the reader into the wrestle of his heart as he seeks to struggle with such questions openly and honestly. However, it also appears as though Oord is attempting to undercut the confidence of the reader in the traditional ways such situations and questions have been addressed. It’s an effective and commonly used tactic for getting the run-of-the-mill reader oriented to receive his proposal with open arms, but largely unhelpful for the learned reader who is familiar with the debate and is simply seeking to evaluate his arguments.

Because the traditional understanding of providence has been abandoned as unsettled in his evaluation of the world, for Oord, the explanation of tragedy and calamity is first to be understood as dependent upon the existence of randomness and chance. Unfortunately, Oord seeks to build a case for the existence of randomness and chance primarily through philosophical and scientific evaluation, rather than an evaluation of the Scriptures (p. 28). This is unfortunate because the questions that Oord seeks to answer are primarily theological in nature, and thus an appropriate understanding of such must be yielded from a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Oord begins from the wrong start point and his conclusion appears to be previously decided rather than discovered. Surprisingly, no meaningful interaction with the biblical text is found to substantiate the assumption of the actuality of randomness. In fact, Oord actually concludes, “If dominant views in science and philosophy are correct in their affirmation of randomness and chance, theologians . . . are wrong” (p. 41).

Still, Oord rightly recognizes that if he is going to succeed in his projected remedy to the proposed problem, he is going to need to establish more than the existence of chance. As expected, Oord seeks to further found his case in the autonomy of the will of man—specifically libertarian freewill. Still, similar to the previous section, Oord does better at presupposing his conclusion than establishing it within the biblical text. In fact, a biblical case for libertarian freewill isn’t even attempted by Oord. This is a tragedy given the theological nature of his concerns. Unfortunately, philosophy and science continue to function as Oord’s support group, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if the concern of his questions didn’t require a theological starting point. Furthermore, the attentive reader is likely to wonder if libertarian freewill, as Oord suggests, really allows him to escape the difficulties of the mess that he is so desperately running away from in the first place—especially if libertarian freewill is simply a theoretical scapegoat lacking any substantial biblical support.

When it comes to the specific concerns of divine providence, Oord argues for a position he coined Essential Kenosis. According to Oord, God is involuntarily self-limited because his nature of love logically precedes any inclination of his sovereign will (p. 94-95). Oord appears to understand the role and actuality of divine providence through the lenses of three tenants: (1) God is relational, (2) the future is open, and (3) love matters most (p. 107). Of course, when it comes to establishing the reality of these three tenants, the interaction with the biblical text is minimal at best, and persuasive exegetical argumentation is completely absent. For example, after briefly discussing 2 Chronicles 7:14-20, Oord states simply, “God is not sure which action will be taken until creatures respond” (p. 110). This would have been an appropriate place for Oord to establish his case with persuasive exegesis of the text, but the reader gets a mere assertion of a presupposed conclusion.

For Oord, open and relational theology functions as his movable framework for wrestling with life’s biggest questions and Essential Kenosis becomes the unique outpouring of that intentional thought. A number of important observations can be gleaned (more than room permits here) as the reader analyzes Oord’s thought—specifically in chapter seven, The Essential Kenosis Model of Providence. For example, for Essential Kenosis to work, Oord is required to hierarchically reorder the nature of love and God’s sovereign will. Oord views divine love as absolute and foremost to the person of God, and as his primary attribute, love has limited God and constrained him from overthrowing the autonomous will of man. In other words, for Oord, any overthrowing of the will of man would be contrary to the nature of God’s love in giving them such, and thus genuinely evil events occur not because God didn’t want to stop them or couldn’t stop them, but rather because God’s love makes it impossible to thwart the will of man. Still, despite its importance to the overall thrust of Oord’s argument, the attentive reader will at this point remain wondering how it is possible to attribute a hierarchical order to the attributes of God apart from philosophical reasoning.

The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence by Thomas Jay Oord is a stimulating attempt to wrestle with some of the most difficult questions that life brings our way. Oord is moved by a sense of dissatisfaction in the responses that are traditionally found anchored in the person and work of a sovereign God. Unfortunately, Oord seems to be moved more by experience and observation than a grounded understanding of the person of God revealed in Scripture, and his methodology proves such over and over again. This is unfortunate because the questions that Oord seeks to answer are primarily theological and first require an answer from the source of theology—the Scriptures—before looking to philosophy and science. Oord is an excellent and engaging writer, and The Uncontrolling Love of God exemplifies this well. Still, despite the unsatisfied tenor that sparked the exploration of this book, many readers will assuredly and ironically walk away unsatisfied, or at least unconvinced that Oord has solved anything.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.

Review: Reordering the Trinity

4378 trinity cover CC.inddThere are few doctrines more central to orthodox Christianity than that of the Triune Godhead. Still, despite its imperative nature, the Trinity remains one of the most difficult doctrines for most Christians to defend biblically. Is the Trinity in the New Testament, or it simply a patristic misunderstanding? Does the triune nature of God matter to the average Christian as they seek to live faithfully and biblically? It is within the difficulty of answering these questions that Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament by Rodrick K. Durst (Ph.D, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) positions itself as a timely and helpful volume.

Reordering the Trinity is an exciting and engaging academic voyage into the New Testament attestation of the triadic formula, or formulas as presented by Durst. Most readers of the book will be well-acquainted with the traditional triadic formula found within the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), where Jesus mandates the baptism of disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit (F-S-Sp). However, looking across the literature of the New Testament, the representation of this triadic order only accounts for 24% of the occurrences (p. 70). In fact, as Durst skillfully presents, there is a total of six triadic formulas—each exhibiting a different order, and each emphasizing a specific purpose.

Durst begins his examination with four important introductory chapters. Chapter one looks to review the state of the doctrine of the Trinity in contemporary circles. It is here that Durst seeks to place Reordering the Trinity before the reader as a fresh approach to the significance of the Trinity in the worship and life of the Church. Chapter two provides the reader with the data and research that underlies the presentation of the six triadic formulas articulated in later chapters. The reader will find this chapter well constructed and extremely useful for future reference and research. Chapter three looks the Hebrew Scriptures to make a case for plurality in the Godhead of the Old Testament. Durst does well in building his case, although I was surprised not to find any reference to Alan F. Segal (Two Powers in Heaven, Brill, 1977) or Michael S. Heiser (The Divine Council in Later Canonical and Non-Canonical Second Temple Literature, PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 2004). Lastly, chapter four traces the doctrine of the Trinity through the historical landscape of the Christian Church.

The remainder of the book, chapters five thru ten, seeks to analyze and expound upon function and purpose of the six triadic formulas (F-S-Sp/Missional, S-F-Sp/Christological, Sp-S-F/Ecclesial, S-Sp-F/Regenerative, Sp-F-S/Sanctifying, F-Sp-S/Formational). Each chapter opens with a table outlining all the occurrences within the specified triadic formula, and includes a designated rating, a word or two about the context, and a brief summary. Following the table, Durst examines and comments on each occurrence individually and in canonical order. The chapters close with a few discussion questions for reflection and retention, as well as a sermon starter section aimed at helping the pastor articulate the content for his congregation. Durst appropriately concludes the book with a practical chapter on becoming a functional Trinitarian and several helpful appendixes (great for future reference).

Reordering the Trinity is an exciting and helpful book. I found Durst to be both thorough and thoughtful in his research and presentation. The intentional balance between scholarly rigor, pastoral application, and Christian spiritual formation is admirable in its own right. Add the consistently fair and faithful examination of the biblical text in relation to the Trinity, and you have a volume well-worth its weight in gold. I found this book to be refreshing and persuasive in its presentation, and thus I find myself indebted to the labor therein. It has largely reoriented how I read the triadic formulas and provided me with much to think about, both academically and spiritually. If you are looking for a fresh engagement into one of the most important theological convictions of the Christian faith, Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament by Rodrick K. Durst is an essential read. I foresee it being off my shelf often for reference.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.

Review: Talking Doctrine

26116052Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet is a collection of essays culminating from nearly two decades of intentional inter-faith dialogue between Evangelicals and Mormons. The collection essays are diverse and address a wide assortment of topics that are traditionally associated with the Mormon-Evangelical discussion. Accordingly, the book is helpfully organized underneath two general section headings: (1) the nature of the dialogue and (1) specific doctrinal discussions. It is here that the conversation begins.

The opening section of Talking Doctrine helpfully sets the tone for the conversation ahead. The reader is first brought into the background and context of the project. It is here that the reader encounters the charitable character exhibited in the exchange. The tone is respectful and cordial despite the clear theological differences. As an Evangelical who appreciates inter-faith dialogue and worldview analysis, I found this first section of the book to be an exciting and appropriate demonstration of how responsible exchange should be facilitated. However, I also found myself a bit concerned with the soft-handed approach of some of the Evangelical contributors.

The subsequent section turns more pointedly towards the specific doctrinal differences traditionally witnessed between Mormons and Evangelicals. This interaction was helpful and appropriately modeled. Although, as someone who interacts with Mormons with some level of frequency, I would be hard-pressed to believe that the Mormon contributors of this volume represent the theological convictions of the missionaries that knock on my door. Still, the honest and candid conversation about the trinity, grace, the origins of mankind, the nature of God, deification, and authority are well worth the price of the book—especially if you engage in similar conversations regularly.

Talking Doctrine: Mormons & Evangelicals in Conversation is a valuable book if for no other reason than it models the effectiveness of a relationally driven inter-faith dialogue. If compassion for people and understanding of worldview are absent from our efforts to pursue truth, then our efforts will ultimately fail. There will inevitably be several points of disagreement throughout the book for both Mormons and Evangelicals, both in methodology and affirmation, but the book has undoubtedly accomplished what it intended to accomplish. If you are in the market for an up-to-date exploration into some of the similarities and differences between current theological trends shaping Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity, the present volume is a suitable entry point.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.

 

Review: Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 3.48.12 PMFor the student of the Greek New Testament, there exists no shortage of Greek-English lexicons. So, why then look to buy another Greek-English lexicon? The answer is likely simpler than one might think. For the sake of brevity, I will list three reasons here: (1) portability, (2) price point, and (3) practical usefulness.

First, it goes without saying, but, a lexicon such as the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is not going to replace a gold-standard work such as A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), nor is that its intention. The scope of the entries is comprehensive and wide-ranging, but its size remains concise. Mark A. House has done an excellent job providing the reader with the need to know information about a given Greek word—some more than others—and keeping the volume truly compact. Those familiar with BDAG and similar lexicons know that it’s not an easy travel companion. However, the trim size of the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (7.3 in. x 4.8 in. x .3 in.) is ideal for the daily commute.

Second, let’s be honest, lexicons aren’t cheap. A lot of scholarly effort goes into the production of such works and the price point is reflective. But, with a price tag of only $19.99, the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is not going to break your bank. This is a huge bang-for-your-buck if you are looking to obtain accurate lexical information on a budget. But, again, the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament should be used as a companion rather than a replacement to other, pricier, lexicons such as BDAG—especially for the serious student of the Greek New Testament.

Third, a lexicon can only be as useful as it is accessible to the intended audience. If it’s not useful it’s not worth buying, regardless of the price point. It is here that the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament shines the brightest. The organization and layout of the lexicon are ideal for quick reference, rather than long study. This is important for the end-user because the intended use of a “compact” lexicon is almost always going to be for the purpose of quick reference, not an in-depth study. Moreover, for some of the more significant entries, the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament includes grammatical, etymological, other extraneous information, as well example passage where the word occurs.

The Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament is an expanded revision of Alexander Souter’s popular A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Oxford, 1916). Mark A. House has effectively retained the usefulness of Souter’s work and added several appropriate and important update—both in content and aesthetic appeal. From the portability to the practical usefulness of the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, and everything in between, the reader will do well having this work nearby. If you are looking for a user-friendly supplemental aid for your study of the Greek New Testament, then look no further. This book will be off your shelf often.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.

Review:The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

499353_1_ftcThe Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is a time-tested Bible reference resource that has now been further revised, updated, and expanded for the contemporary reader. It’s not often that a dictionary remains at the top of the best-sellers list, but for the last twenty-five years The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has been the go-to resource for teachers, pastors, and Bible students around the English-speaking world. With nearly 400 contributors, more than 6,500 articles, and over 1,700 pages, The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is both comprehensive, concise, and clear. Each article begins with a concise definition followed with a more developed treatment of the topic. Moreover, The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary boasts roughly 700 beautiful full-color photos, maps, charts, and reconstructions that help illuminate the biblical world like never before.

The scope of The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary is quite impressive and the articles are consistently well-written and thorough. This completely revised third edition of the best-selling dictionary brings up-to-date archeological information, theological conversation, and more. The usefulness of this resource cannot be overstated, but for the sake of space a few highlights are worth mentioning. First and foremost, each biblical book has an “at a glance” section that allows the reader to quickly capture necessary information related to any of the sixty-six canonical books of the Old and New Testament. This section includes author, date, setting, genre, and major themes. Second, the articles are consistently written from a conservative evangelical perspective and unashamedly seek to tackle related issues from within that framework. Third, the articles are broad and reach into other related disciplines outside the narrower confines of many Bible dictionaries, such as the inclusion of articles on Flavius Josephus, Textus Receptus, and even includes an article on the Weather. Lastly, a pronunciation guide is provided for all proper nouns and other hard-to-pronounce words. This is a helpful feature that displays well the detailed thought that went into the production of The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has been updated once again. Now packaged between an all new contemporary designed hardcover, The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has received a much-needed facelift. But the cover isn’t the only thing that changed. The content has been finely combed and updated to reflect the most accurate and up-to-date archeological information and theological conversations. The format has been revised and additional and updated illustrations have been utilized. In short, if you are looking for an up-to-date one-volume Bible dictionary, then few resources available are going to compare to the usefulness of The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. It’s the first off my shelf when I need a quick answer to an imminent question and the last to be closed at the end of a study. It comes highly recommended.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.

Review: Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary

23493027The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary is a comprehensive reference tool produced with the Bible teacher, pastor, and student in mind. This new one-volume commentary covers both the Old and New Testament. Each book of the Bible includes a brief introductory section that aims to provide a detailed overview of the circumstances of writing, including the author and background, the message and purpose, contribution to the Bible, structure, and outline of the specified book. The content of the commentary is arranged in a section-by-section format that seeks to help the reader gain a greater sense of understanding of the bigger picture of the biblical book, and the numerous illustrations throughout helpfully drag the reader into the biblical world with minimal effort. Each book of the Bible closes with a healthy bibliography that allows the reader to further explore specific interests of study.

Many readers will undoubtedly find the content of The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary strangely familiar. That is because the basis of the commentary itself is the HCSB Study Bible. E. Ray Clendenen and Jeremy Royal Howard explain such in the preface, writing, “The basis of this one-volume commentary is the award winning HCSB Study Bible. Those verses that escaped comment in the original work due to space limitations have been included in the present work, with comments provided by E. Ray Clendenen” (p. IX). In other words, The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary is essentially the study note content of the HCSB Study Bible with some additional comments and complementary illustrations reformatted and repackaged.

Should the reader who already owns the HSCB Study Bible seek to add The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary to their library? This is ultimately going to be a decision that the reader must make. Still, two comments are in order that may help the decision process. First, after spending a good hour and a half intentionally flipping through the pages comparing content between the two resources I found little that differed from the HSCB Study Bible. There is additional content, but it’s minimal at best. Second, for most readers, I think that the format of The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary is to be preferred over the HSCB Study Bible. It’s clean, easy to read, and user-friendly. Not that such characteristics are absent from the HSCB Study Bible, but rather The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary is going to be a much better option if the study note content is your primary target for pulling the HSCB Study Bible off the shelf.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary is an excellent one-volume commentary. It’s comprehensive and yet concise. It’s user-friendly and well formatted. It has a clear objective, and it accomplishes that objective with excellence. Takes the award-winning study notes from the HSCB Study Bible, written by some of today’s leading biblical scholars, expand the content slightly, add numerous illustrations, maps, and photographs, pack it between a high-quality hardcover binding, and you have the recipe for something amazing—a future best-seller. Regardless if you own the HSCB Study Bible or not, The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary is a resource you will want on your shelf. It comes highly recommended.

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. 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.