John Calvin did not celebrate Thanksgiving, obviously. But this Thanksgiving Westminster Bookstore is selling a very attractive, new edition of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, published by Banner of Truth, along with A Guide to Christian Living this Thanksgiving for just $35. So, Happy Thanksgiving from John Calvin!
John Calvin (1509–64), the French theologian and pastor of Geneva, was one of the principal 16th–century Reformers.
Calvin was born on 10 July 1509, in Noyon. He received the equivalent of his Master of Arts in Theology in 1528 at the unusually young age of 17, subsequently received a doctorate in law, and developed as a humanist scholar, publishing a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia. Calvin was exposed to the work of Martin Luther in his student days, and was converted to the Reformed cause.
Calvin was forced to flee Paris in 1533. Settling briefly in Basel, he published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In 1536, William Farel convinced Calvin to become involved in establishing the Reformation in Geneva. Though Calvin and Farel were ousted in 1538, and moved to Strasbourg, in 1541 Calvin returned to Geneva and ministered there until the end of his life. Calvin’s ministry of regular preaching and church discipline turned Geneva into an admired model of Reformation for the rest of Europe.
And here is a description of this translation:
The Institutes of the Christian Religion is Calvin’s single most important word, and one of the key texts to emerge from the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Yet, as many who have purchased an English translation of the final Latin edition of 1559 know only too well, the sheer size of the work and the proliferation of technical details and polemical themes do not make for easy reading. It has left many wishing for an edition that avoided such things but yet kept intact the very heart and soul of Calvin’s teaching.
Such an edition is now available, and it is not the work of an editor or an abridger, but of Calvin himself. The Reformer’s 1541 French edition of his Institutes really ought to be better known than it is because it offers the reader a clear yet comprehensive account of the teaching of the Bible—of the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation, revelation and redemption, in the life of the individual Christian and in the worship and witness of the church. Here is doctrine but here too is life–shaping application, for the practical use of Christian doctrine is always Calvin’s abiding concern. The author of the Institutes invites us both to know and to live the truth, and thus allow God’s Spirit to transform us.
Robert White’s new translation of the 1541 French edition of the Institutes makes Calvin live once again, and the reader will be truly amazed at both the power and the relevance of the Reformer’s doctrine and application for Christian living in the 21st century
“Calvin’s Institutes remind us that there is a good and bad way to do theology. Speculative theology, which asks questions the Scriptures do not answer, or intuitive theology, which works upwards from man to God, is bad theology. The human mind cannot fathom the unfathomable. Calvin is adamant that only God can speak of God, and in words which accommodate themselves to our weakness. Since we do not recognize God in his works of creation and of providence, we must seek him in his written word, whose witness is sealed to us by his Holy Spirit. The Institutes of 1541 contain well over 2,000 biblical references, widely spread but with a marked concentration on the Psalms, Isaiah, the first and fourth Gospels, Romans and 1 Corinthians. Nor is Scripture a convenient peg on which doctrine may be hung, more or less at will; it is the indispensable foundation on which doctrine rests, the standard by which it is judges and the rule by which it is corrected.“
– Robert White (translator)
Graham Cole. The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of the Incarnation. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2013.
Today skepticism about religious claims and objective truth has become the norm. This is especially true with regard to the supernatural claims of the Bible. Liberal and postmodern theology has so influenced our country’s perception of Christianity that many do not know the religious significance of Easter and Christmas. This is a reality that Christians must face if they give an answer for the hope they have in Christ. It is also an obstacle that must be overcome for many who are considering the claims of the gospel. And no place is better to confront an increasingly secular culture than the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, Graham Cole’s recent book does just that. In The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation, Cole, the Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School (Birmingham, Alabama), provides an articulate and biblical explanation of the Incarnation. Divided into six chapters, Cole follows the trajectory of the biblical narrative to show how the Bible itself develops the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation. As has come to be expected with Cole, his writing is rich in exegesis and far-reaching in impact, as he engages church history, systematic theology, and issues in contemporary culture.
The first chapter sets the pace by defining terms and illuminating the theme of Incarnation as it relates to the doctrines of God and man. In the second chapter Cole explains how the patriarchs and other Jewish leaders replicate some of the Incarnational themes found in the creation account. The third chapter is about redemptive history as a whole. It considers especially the historic period of Israel’s history. In this chapter he also touches on typology, which is a crucial component to his argument.
The fourth chapter is about the realization and culmination of the Incarnation found in the New Testament. The fifth chapter is more philosophical, considering Anselm’s question: Cur Deus Homo? Answering from the biblical text, Cole explains how and why God became man, turning at the end of the chapter to consider Thomas Aquinas’s contribution to the doctrine. The sixth and final chapter shows the ramifications of the Incarnation on our theological systems.
Focusing on the strengths of The God Who Became Human, chapter one introduces the reader to three terms that relate to the way Scripture uses human imagery to speak of God. Instead of relying on the general language of anthropomorphism, Cole presses for more precision. By using a three-fold taxonomy (e.g., anthropomorphic, anthropopathic, anthropopraxic), he brings light to the fact that God is described with various kinds of language in Scripture. The disadvantage to this classification is that sometimes language overlaps. God is said to have eyes that run all over the earth in 2 Chronicles 16:9. Likewise, in speaking of his patience, Exodus 34:7 says that God is slow to anger (anthropopathic, right?), but literally it reads “long-nosed” (so anthropomorphic). In any case, the reader is greatly helped by Cole’s attention to language.
Moving to chapters three and four, Cole explains how the Incarnation is one component of Jesus’s Messianic identity. In this section, he explains that Jesus fulfilled the typological realities of the Old Testament Christ. In chapter four, he outlines the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, as well as the Epistle to the Hebrews, and he makes this helpful observation: “In Hebrews the implied incarnational theology of Matthew and Mark gives way to an explicit one” (104). He calls the reader to remember the significance of Matthew’s genealogy and Mark’s New Exodus theme, which both allude to the Incarnation.
In all of these New Testament books, he shows how the New Testament authors appropriate Old Testament offices and types to explain the two natures of Christ’s Incarnation. That said, Cole is reticent to say the Old Testament prophets expected an Incarnation in the way it came to be revealed in the New Testament (91–95). In fact, against many popular interpretations (e.g., B. B. Warfield, Ray Ortlund, Jr.), Cole spends time in passages like Micah 5:2 showing why the verse does not conclusively prove Christ’s deity in the eyes of the Old Testament prophets. All in all, when the whole of Scripture is considered, the faithful reader of the Bible is left with no option but to affirm with Thomas—“My Lord and my God!”
The culmination of his work reaches its conclusion in chapter six where he systematizes a theology of the Incarnation. Relating biblical theology to historical theology, Cole states, “This study thus far has yielded conclusions that are classically patristic” (143). The reason this chapter is crucial to the book is because it shows how the Incarnation has been approached in recent history. After laying out a biblical theology of the Incarnation, Cole shows the implications of how one thinks concerning the doctrine in the minds of individuals such as Karl Barth, Martin Luther, Mark Noll, and Jürgen Moltmann. This enables the reader to take a lot of the biblical data and see where these scholars ideas might lead if they do not have a precise understanding of the incarnation. Accordingly, this interaction with modern scholarship helps clarify what the rest of the book demonstrates, and it challenges the reader to do the hard work of systematic theology.
In the end, while the book is not apologetic in nature, it can be utilized to bolster the faith of Christians and answer objections to skeptics. Cole’s volume strengthens the already-reputable New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D. A. Carson. It provides pastors with a great biblical resource on the Incarnation. And it affords students of the Bible an excellent model for founding a dogmatic position in biblical theology, all the while appropriating from historical theology, so that the evangelical witness can engage contemporary revisions of Christ’s person with an orthodox Christology. Cole’s work wonderfully equips the church to know Christ and more than that, to worship him as the Incarnate Lord.
Andrew Keenan, Content Assistant at The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
We are pleased to announce the release of a new book by one of the main contributors to Credo Magazine, Michael A.G. Haykin. Haykin has been writing and teaching for years on the historical figure (as opposed to the myth) of St. Patrick. Finally, his book on Patrick is out and is called, Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact.
Here is what others have said about Haykin’s work:
A fine balance between a biography of an extraordinary servant of Jesus Christ and an explanation of the beliefs that sustained Patrick.
Michael Ovey ~ Principal, Oak Hill Theological College, London
Michael Haykin paints a compelling portrait of this bibliocentric bishop and earnest evangelist. The dedicated missionary and thoughtful theologian that emerges belongs to the Gospel-loving global church and not just the Emerald Isle.
Paul Hartog ~ Adjunct Faculty, Biblical Studies, Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa
To read this account is to fill us with thankfulness for the Lord’s work in history and with hopefulness for… another era of lost-ness.
Edward Donnelly ~ Principal, Reformed Theological College, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Judicious… knowledgeable…insightful… Readers will be impressed.
D. H. Williams ~ Professor of Patristics and Historical Theology, Baylor University, Waco, Texas
Beautifully detailed portrait in miniature… all Christians will benefit from learning more about this mighty figure in the great cloud of witnesses.
Lewis Ayres ~ Professor of Historical Theology, Durham University, Durham, England
The book is part of the series, edited by Haykin, titled, “Early Church Fathers.” Today we would like to give you a little taste for what the book is like by providing an excerpt from the book, which Haykin has called, “An Evangelical reflects on Patrick of Ireland.” But first, a little about Haykin. He is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His most recent book is Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011). Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.
E.A. Thompson has rightly noted that Patrick’s “character is complex and of the utmost fascination.” My own fascination with Patrick began quite early in my studies of the Ancient Church. Initially, I suspect I was drawn to him because of my Irish ancestry. But in time, his rich Trinitarianism and zeal for missions, his Biblicism and dependence on the Spirit exercised their own pull on my heart and mind.
It would be both wrong and anachronistic to describe Patrick as an Evangelical. His encouragement of monasticism, for example, hardly squares with Evangelical piety. His devotion to the Trinity, however, has much to teach Evangelicals, far too many of whom seem to have forgotten the absolute necessity of being Trinitarian in teaching and worship. His zeal for missions and the salvation of the lost is not only inspiring, but deeply convicting. And he is into missions for all of the right reasons: the glory of God, his love for the lost, in this case, the Irish, and his concern for their salvation, and the duty he owes to God’s call on his own life and obedience of the Scriptural mandate to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Then, there is his bibliocentrism: whether he had read many other books or not, he leaves us with the overwhelming impression that only one Book supremely matters, and that is the Bible. He is not afraid to find truth in other sources—all truth is God’s truth—but in the final analysis, it is Scripture that guides him. Finally, I love his dependence on the Spirit. While his thought and expression are indeed shaped by God’s infallible Word, he sought in all integrity to listen to the Spirit in his daily life and so find that much-needed balance of Word and Spirit that we all need in our day. And most importantly in this regard, because of his own weaknesses, Patrick knew that the Spirit’s work in us is a humbling work, showing us that all in the Christian life is of pure grace—a truly Evangelical note: “if I have achieved or shown any small success according to God’s pleasure,…it was the gift of God.”
 “Reviews”, Britannia, 11 (1980), 440.
 See Confession 41–42, 49; Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus 12. Christine Mohrmann [The Latin of Saint Patrick (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1961), 26] is not convinced that “the Irish church of his [i.e. Patrick’s] time was characterized by monasticism.”
 See especially the helpful essay on this topic by Christopher Bennett, “The Puritans and the Direct Operations of Holy Spirit” in Building on A Sure Foundation. Papers read at the 1994 Westminster Conference ([London]: The Westminster Conference, 1994), 108–122.
 Confession 62, trans. R.P.C. Hanson, The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick (New York, NY: The Seabury Press, 1983), 124.
Zondervan continues to release videos highlighting what advice professors have for students. Here are a couple of others from Oliver Crisp, Bill Barrick, Miles Van Pelt, Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, Scott Rae, and Bill Mounce:
I’m a big believer in family Bible reading and my family devours children’s Bibles faster than I can down cups of coffee. Recently we’ve discovered another children’s Bible which, while somewhat unknown in our circles and unique from the rest that we own, has turned out to be a real delight to me and my family. It’s the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible and let me tell you why I think this kid’s edition of the first 77.2% of the Bible is likely worth adding to your library.
First, what I absolutely love about this children’s Bible is that the text is actual Bible text and not somebody’s paraphrase. Not infrequently, when reading children’s Bibles which retell biblical stories by means of loose paraphrase, I find myself disagreeing with the interpretation underlying the paraphrase. Sometimes when this happens I try to edit on the fly, which can result in a confusing, incoherent mess. Thankfully, you won’t have that problem with this Bible. The text is a simplified form of the acclaimed (both by Jews and Christians) New Jewish Publication Society translation of the Old Testament, which is, by the way, an excellent, very helpful translation (and was one of my textbooks in Bible college). In this case, the translation is lightly edited for ages 5 and up. I’m always more comfortable reading true Bible text to my children, and not somebody’s rehash.
Second, the artwork in this Bible is beautiful, theologically-accurate, and actually quite didactic. I find artwork in Bibles helpful for getting my younger children to focus on something while I read the text aloud. This prevents them from pinching their brother or playing with the Legos they found in the crack of the couch. But there’s nothing worse in children’s Bibles than art which is distracting, outlandish, or heretical. When it comes to the artwork in the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, it not only holds my kids’ attention, but it teaches biblical truth as it does. Just to give two examples of this, the creation account is accompanied by a 6-panel picture showing what was created on each day of creation. Likewise, when we come to the plagues on Egypt, there is a 10-frame picture dramatizing the plagues in sequential order. Such beautiful, accurate images, when combined with the reading of the biblical text, can aide (especially those of us who are visual learners) in better retaining God’s Word.
Lastly, my foremost reason for loving the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible is because it includes important biblical stories not included in most other children’s Bibles. Since we’ve worked through several other well-known children’s Bibles (some multiple times), my kids are thoroughly familiar with the standard menu of Bible stories deemed suitable for kids. Though they are young, they could quickly recount the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and David and Goliath. But when it comes to certain other stories, some of which are crucial in drama of redemption, they’re fearfully unaware. This is where the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible can fill a real void. For what other children’s Bible includes the account of Sodom and Gomorrah (in a discreet way) or the golden calf fiasco or Balaam’s attempt at cursing Israel or King Saul and the Witch of Endor or David and Bathsheba (again, in a clear but modest account)? I believe this is where the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, if used in conjunction with some of the more popular evangelical children’s Bibles, could be a huge asset to Christian families.
Now, realizing that I absolutely love the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, here are a couple caveats worth mentioning. Obviously our Christian readers will want to supplement this children’s Bible with the reading of the New Testament. My plan is to read the Old Testament from the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, and then go directly to reading the New Testament from my all-time favorite children’s Bible so my children are learning the whole counsel of God. This may take a bit longer than reading through your typical children’s Bible, but at this point I think it’ll be worth it. Moreover, I don’t understand why the length of the stories the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible vary so considerably. Some of the stories cover only 10 to 15 verses, while others cover several chapters. I’ve decided to break up the longer stories into bite-sized chunks, but it would have been easier if they had done this for me. Lastly, there are very rare occasions where the translation reflects Jewish rather than Christian assumptions (e.g., translating the Red Sea as the “Reed Sea”). But truth be told, these are so rare that you could ignore this point all together and be fine.
I’ve already gone on record as to which children’s Bible my family would want if we were stuck on a deserted island. But all in all, the JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible is an important addition to the Christian family’s library and one I heartily recommend.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Tim grew up outside Syracuse, NY and previously served at Berean Baptist Church, Nicholson, PA (member and teacher during college and seminary) and Calvary Baptist Church, Sandusky, Ohio (seminary internship location). Tim met his wife Bethany at college, and they were married in May 2001. Tim enjoys reading, weight-lifting, wrestling with his three sons, and attempting to sleep.
N. T. Wright. Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
Review by David Burnette
The former bishop of Durham and renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright now serves as the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews’ School of Divinity. His latest in a long line of books is titled Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, which is a revised and expanded edition of his earlier work titled The Last Word. Most notably, this latest edition includes two appendices in which Wright applies his view of scriptural authority to the specific issues of the Sabbath and monogamy. Wright’s central claim is this: “…that the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through Scripture’” (21, emphasis original). The remainder of the book is spent unpacking what is meant by this notion of Scripture’s authority and how it should affect the way we understand God’s Word.
Wright’s main goal is to help readers understand and apply Scripture as the medium of God’s authority. The book is not written with scholars in mind, as is evidenced by the lack of footnotes and endnotes; however, I suspect that readers with no formal scriptural training will need more background on the relevant hermeneutical and philosophical issues. Among the many topics covered are: Jesus’ view of Scripture, the “Word of God” in the Apostolic Church, the first 1600 years of the church’s use of Scripture, the challenge of the Enlightenment, and a critical look at postmodern views of scriptural authority. These wide-ranging issues form the backdrop for Wright’s exhortation concerning how to “get back on track” in our reading of God’s Word.
As usual, Wright’s style is engaging and his thoughts on this crucial subject are thought-provoking. Though he is a bit repetitive and at times unnecessarily abrasive, he is never boring. Before listing several strengths regarding the book’s central arguments, it is worth noting that the very treatment of Scripture’s authority is a welcome contribution from a New Testament scholar. Though there are some wonderful exceptions, scholars who focus primarily on “biblical studies” too often treat the issue of scriptural authority as being foreign to their discipline, as if the nature of the biblical documents did not affect their interpretation. However, the issue of scriptural authority cannot be relegated solely to the domain of systematic theology or church history, for Scripture’s own self-testimony forces us to either submit to the text or go our own way. Wright correctly laments the modern distinction between theology and biblical studies (2).
At least three strengths of Wright’s work deserve mention. First, Wright reminds us that interpretation is never done in a vacuum. Both modern and postmodern philosophical influences affect the way we understand Scripture and the very questions we ask as we approach the text. Wright insightfully critiques the Enlightenment’s challenge to God’s authority.[i] On the other hand, concerning the irony of postmodernism’s appeal to tolerance, Wright memorably refers to it [postmodernism] as “an ideology which declares that all ideologies are power plays, yet which sustains its own position by ruling out all challenges a priori” (99). Wright’s inclusion of the church’s view of Scripture throughout history is also a good reminder in this discussion, even if one has some disagreements with his brief summary. More than a few biblical scholars have been guilty of “chronological snobbery,” to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, acting as if they were the first to approach the text in a thoughtful manner.
Third, Wright encourages the reader to interpret Scripture with contextual and canonical awareness. That is, in order to understand and apply the various commands, warnings, etc. contained in God’s Word the reader must consider such issues as genre, literary style, and the place of a particular episode in the context of the overall movement of Scripture. A helpful example can be found in the first appendix dealing with the Sabbath (143-173). Not all readers will be convinced by Wright’s views, as the issue is admittedly complex and often fraught with personal attachment. Nevertheless, Wright gives us a helpful interpretive model by considering the issue of the Sabbath in the context of God’s covenantal dealings with his people and in light of Christ’s fulfillment of God’s purposes.
Given the wide range of historical, hermeneutical, and theological issues touched on in this book, many readers will have at least some minor quibbles with this or that point. Wright admits the rather abbreviated nature of the book, noting its lack of interaction with other authors and viewpoints (xii-xiii). With this in mind, I will note two closely related critiques that are more integral to Wright’s main arguments.
First, Wright has not adequately defined what is meant by “the authority of Scripture.” He concludes that “when unpacked” this shorthand phrase “offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community” (115-16, emphasis original). What Wright has given us here is not so much a definition or explanation of Scripture’s authority, but rather his own perspective on Scripture’s role in God’s plan of redemption. Since there are a number of Christian and non-Christian narratives on offer, the question still remains: why is this account of God’s plan for his creation authoritative? The authority of Scripture doesn’t merely “offer a picture” of God’s plan, it explains why, among other things, God’s plan is binding on all humanity.
To be fair, Wright notes that Scripture derives its authority from God and Jesus (21-22), so that it exercises authority in a “mediated” fashion (23). This is helpful insofar as it connects Scripture’s authority to God and keeps us from equating Scripture with God. However, to say that Scripture is the medium through which God exercises his authority does not adequately characterize that medium. For instance, can this medium ever err? Does God’s authority extend to the entire text of Scripture? Some of Wright’s comments seem to point to an affirmative answer to this question, but his definition of inspiration is hardly satisfying (35-36). Wright’s discussion runs the danger of distancing the authority of God from his Word. We need more specificity with regard to the relationship between God’s authority and the actual words of the text.
A second critique of Wright’s work is related to the first critique above and concerns his emphasis on the narrative or “story” aspect of Scripture. Whether or not one agrees with this emphasis on “story” over against Scripture’s propositional character, Scripture’s “story” aspect cannot shoulder the load as far as defining it’s authority. While it may be unintentional, Wright ends up locating authority in a meta-narrative constructed from his own reading of the text. After explicating this meta-narrative and God’s over-arching purposes for creation, Wright then interprets various texts based on whether or not they fit the narrative he has constructed. This approach works in the wrong direction, for Scripture’s authority means that any narrative or grand purpose we discern in the text are authoritative only to the extent that they are derived from and faithful to the inspired text. Wright’s question concerning how a narrative can be authoritative is certainly worth reflecting on, but his emphasis on the “story” aspect of Scripture over its propositional character only pushes the question of authority back further. Why should anyone accept as authoritative this particular story?
Readers will benefit from several aspects of Wright’s book mentioned above, and surely more could be added. Nevertheless, this book has not adequately answered what Wright himself has identified as one of the three key underlying questions in interpretation: “In what sense is the Bible authoritative in the first place?” (16) One wonders whether this question can really be answered without some recourse to terms such as “inerrancy” and “infallibility,” Wright’s disappointment with traditional “battles for the Bible” notwithstanding (1). This book’s purpose and target audience may rule out an extensive dialogue with Warfield, Rogers/McKim, and Woodbridge, but we would expect a more lengthy discussion of the nature of the God-inspired text. In keeping with Wright’s very practical purpose, readers should be motivated to listen carefully to Scripture when they believe that in its very words the God of all creation is speaking to them. A more lengthy discussion of verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 might also be helpful in which Scripture testifies to its own authority. In any case, Wright’s work reminds us that the age-old task of defining and submitting to the authority of Scripture will continue to be crucial for God’s people. This “battle for the Bible” is at least as old as Genesis 3.
[i]Interestingly enough, Wright has not escaped his own criticism of modernism in the view of C. Stephen Evans. Evans charges Wright with practicing a less critical form of methodological naturalism in Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. See Evans’ chapter titled “Methodological Naturalism in Historical Biblical Scholarship,” in Jesus & The Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1999, 180-205.
David Burnette is a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
After recommending some excellent videos and MP3s on the Psalms, in my last post I directed our readers to my favorite commentaries for preachers on the Psalms. In today’s post I’d like to muse briefly on my four favorite academic commentaries on the Psalter.
But before I do, a couple preliminary comments are in order. First, as you’ll see, none of these commentaries are in the uber-scholarly category. There are several uber-scholarly commentaries on the Psalms, some of which I’m certain are excellent, but I have not relied upon these as I’ve preached through the Psalter. While I have a natural bent toward very scholarly studies and I certainly recognize the need for uber-scholarly commentaries for those writing journal articles or Bible translators, truth be told, I’ve struggled to see their place in busy local church pastoral ministry. Most of us only have so much time.
Second, it’s helpful to be aware that liberal academic commentaries on the Psalms are legion. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case (perhaps it’s because of their constant use in mainline liturgies), but non-evangelical biblical scholars seem to be infatuated with the Psalter and will devote hundreds of pages to discussions which assume certain words or verses or entire stanzas in the Psalms are not the inspired Word of God (this is especially the case in the imprecatory Psalms). Maybe just stay alert to this and realize that whether or not you believe the Bible is inerrant has an enormous impact on how you write a commentary. This isn’t to say liberal scholars can’t teach us anything, but just be discerning and don’t unwittingly adopt conclusions which contradict your view of Scripture.
Now, here are my four favorite academic commentaries on the Psalms, all with very creative, original titles:
Psalms 1-72 and Psalms 73-150 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) by Derek Kidner – Kidner’s little volumes on the Psalms (as well as his ones on Genesis and Proverbs) have become something of modern day classics. They’re conservative, concise, exegetical, thoughtful, pastoral, and consistently trustworthy. Kidner has that very enviable skill of being consistently profound in few words. He also has one of the better defenses of the inspiration of the Psalm titles I’ve read.
Psalms (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary) by Geoffrey W. Grogan – Grogan was a specialist in the Psalms and this commentary, while very helpful, doesn’t put his expertise on full display due to the somewhat awkward format of the series. His comments are clear, concise, and conservative but you wish the commentary were about three times the length. Grogan’s remarkable theology of the Psalms should also be consulted.
Psalms (Expositors Bible Commentary) by Willem VanGemeren – VanGemeren’s tome on the Psalms is probably the closest thing evangelicals currently have to a “go-to”, must-have Psalms commentary (sort of like Fee on 1 Corinthians or Moo on Romans). As you would expect from VanGemeren and the EBC in general, it is undergirded by the most careful scholarship but pitched to the busy pastor committed to expositional preaching. While it’s often weak on application, some of VanGemeren’s paragraphs are downright poetic.
Psalms Volume 1 (Psalms 1-72): A Mentor Commentary and Psalms Volume 2 (Psalms 73-150): A Mentor Commentary, by Alan Harman – I’ve saved my favorite for the last. Harman, Research Professor of Old Testament at the Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia, and author of commentaries on Deuteronomy and Isaiah, has given us a commentary which, while lesser known, is truly outstanding all-round. It’s clear, staunchly evangelical and Calvinistic, supported by careful scholarship, attuned to contemporary application, interestingly written, and about perfect length. While ideal for the pastor, it could be profitably read by any serious layman. This has become my “will-always-read-even-if-I’m-super-busy-and-behind-on-sermon-prep-commentary.” It’s one you really should check out.
In my next post, Lord willing, I’ll conclude this miniseries by briefly reviewing a handful of books on the Psalms. I close by reiterating my invitation. If there are resources on the Psalms (i.e., lectures, commentaries, books, etc.) you’d like me to review or would recommend yourself, leave them in the comments below.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.
Provocative as always, the title of Wilson’ newest book, Against the Church, immediately caught my eye. I was further intrigued as I read the back cover description, “Wilson takes a hammer to some of our very favorite graven images, and we’ve set up display cases for them in our churches: Liturgy, Tradition, Systematics, Infant Baptism, and that crafty old baal Doctrine.” The statement opens itself up to the wildest speculations. Is Wilson beginning to reconsider the error of his ways?
One must, of course, look beyond the marketing rhetoric and hyperbole, and observe what Wilson is actually doing between the covers. In the introduction, Wilson outlines his book this way: “This book has four sections. The first lays out the case against the church, both generally and in some particulars. After having made all sorts of people angry, the second section seeks to address certain background assumptions that go into these discussions—philosophical assumptions about human nature, dualism, and lots of other cool stuff. The third section is ‘the Father Principle,’ in which I discuss the source of life in the heart, the family, the church, and the world. The conclusion of the matter is where I seek to bring everything full circle, and lay out the case for the church.” That gives us the flow of thought, but not the main thesis of the work which is, quite clearly, Wilson’s defense of the doctrine of regeneration, the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in converting sinners. There are a couple other themes as well, but this is the taproot.
First, a few notes on structure before content. Although Wilson’s stated outline seems clear enough, I felt as a reader that I was never quite sure what or who Wilson is placing in his cross-hairs. He is clearly responding to something in this book. Part of this is my ecclesiastical and theological location as a Southern Baptist. Part of it, I believe, is that Wilson is not entirely transparent about it either. The further one gets into the book’s argument, the more one comes to think Wilson is responding to disagreements within the ranks of the “Federal Vision.” Wilson refers to Peter Leithart favorably at a few points, but one senses this is damage control in light of recent events and statements (consult the blog trail over at Green Baggins). It appears that Wilson, as a pastor, is responding to a trend among his devotees that criticize “regeneration” theoretically and undermine it practically.
Regarding the former, there is a faction of Auburn Ave. theologians who question whether we have a “nature” that can be changed into another as the doctrine of regeneration implies (pg .181). Regarding the latter, Pastor Wilson is responding to self-professing Christians who rest on their covenantal membership and sacramental laurels to justify unbecoming behavior. As he says, there are “parishoners who are rolling around in Galatians 5:19-21 with shouts of libertine joy. It is time to attack this kind of covenantal presumption, and it needs to be attacked with a canoe paddle. I wish I could say this were a hypothetical problem, but it has not been” (207). Neither of these problems threaten the Federal Vision project, however. Wilson does not wish to retreat from the Federal Vision (FV) convictions he helped develop, particularly, the “objectivity of the covenant” which is the theological center of the movement in Wilson’s mind. Rather, Wilson believes that keeping to the straight and narrow “objectivity of the covenant” will keep us from sinking into the quagmire of covenantal presumption on the left and the abyss of a nominalist denial of “nature” on the right.
This clarifies what Wilson is aiming at. However, most of this clarity only comes in the final chapters of the book. Herein lies the structural problem. I would recommend folks read the final section first, indeed, read the appendix entitled “biting the left hind leg” first before starting the book. In fact, it’s best to just read the book backwards. I understand Wilson’s rhetorical strategy, but it provokes a constant urge to read between the lines. A second structural concern is the fact that the book reads like a string of blog posts. Perhaps this is uncharitable or a failure on my part to appreciate Wilson’s style. Nonetheless, the book has more of a “collection of essays unified by a common theme” feel to it. This results, I believe, is a rather stream of consciousness approach in which all kinds of ideas that should be set side by side are strung out in every which way across the book.
This comes very much into play when considering the book’s content. I’m not going to spend time on Wilson’s great gifts as a writer and wonderful flourishes, nor the many points I found myself agreeing with Wilson. Instead, as a credo-baptist, I feel a burden to respond to Wilson’s book which is driven, in large part, by defending regeneration on the basis of his peculiar sacramental beliefs. I will focus on the places where Wilson agrees with me in spite of himself, that is, where I think he is just plain inconsistent and, unfortunately, somewhat deceptive.
Let’s start with this idea of the “objectivity of the covenant” (hereafter “O of C”). A frontal assault on the “O of C” is impossible here, all I want to do is point out some questionable ways Wilson stacks the deck in its favor particularly in the chapter, “Against Systematics” and later on in “Apostasy and the New Birth.” His basic argument is that only the FV takes all the ways the Bible speaks about election and covenant membership consistently, across the board, and without one privileging the other. In other words, both Calvinists and Arminians let their “systematics” dictate the Scriptures. As Wilson says, “Just lay out all the verses, all of them, and throw away your scissors and your mallet. Let the Scriptures speak.”
Things are nowhere near that simple, of course. I know that Wilson is not making a full defense of the “O of C” in this book, but I find it uncharitable to make such sweeping claims without any interaction with the many sane and textually oriented arguments that are made for the preservation of the saints and for not equating “church membership” with divine election. What becomes clear in the rest of the book is that Wilson really can’t live with this tension himself—with this both/and approach to election, apostasy, and church membership.
For instance, after citing some dominical parables Wilson says, “tares are weeds the entire time, the sow that is washed is a clean pig but still has a natural affinity for the mire, the dog that vomited is still a dog. On the other side, all the branches are true branches, including those to be cut out, etc. We should simply want to affirm all the passages at face value and to let God sort it out. The only way I can do this is to affirm the objectivity of the covenant, affirm that ontological differences exist between the elect and the reprobate whether the covenant is involved or not, and affirm that we should not pry too closely into it.” In another context, Wilson chides Baptists for wanting to “uproot the tares before their time” and by doing so “damage the wheat.” Leaving aside for the moment the straw man here (is that a pun?), Wilson then goes on in the chapter “God’s Phonic program” to outline in what ways we must attempt to uproot the tares and “pry into” a person’s confession of faith. Consider these representative statements:
“It is [not] possible for us to read the decrees of God, and we should not act as though we can do that either. We can’t read hearts, and we can’t read the Book of Life. But from these important truths many have concluded (erroneously) that it is not possible for us to read the story we are in.”
“Jesus is telling us –[in Matt. 7:15-20] that—without access to the decrees or the examined prophet’s heart laid out before us on a dissection table—we have the authority to conclude that someone is inwardly a ravening wolf. This is not reading hearts, or reading the decrees. It is reading the story. The outer story reveals the man.”
“Can such [church discipline] judgments ever be wrong? Well, of course they can. That does not mean that we are warned away from making them.”
“It is no good to dismiss the division of sheep and goats as an eschatological vision and thus put it out of all practical consideration.” (pg 163, this compromises his criticism of Baptists cited above)
Is there anything here a 9marks Baptist would disagree with? I don’t think so. So what kind of pastoral and theological payoff does the “O of C” really give you? Baptists have always approached church membership in all the categories Wilson wants but without the confusing dogmatism of the “objectivity of the covenant.”
Yes, “dogmatism.” As much as Wilson criticizes “systematic dogma” that carefully distinguishes divine election and church membership, he has some dogmatism of his own that steam rolls over a great deal of Scripture. The whole theological notion of the “O of C” is conjured up, I believe, from Wilson’s grappling with the doctrine of infant baptism. I completely understand his confusion, because I think Presbyterians have always been confusing about what baptism is and accomplishes. Because you are willingly and knowingly baptizing people (infants) who are not regenerate, you have to grapple with their status as baptized unregenerates in the church. Wilson’s solution to this problem is straightforward as it is astonishing.
While affirming the traditional definition of regeneration as the sovereign, monergistic work of God, Wilson goes on to say that God can do this work whenever he chooses, without means (which is excruciatingly awkward given Wilson’s high sacramentalism). He says, “I believe I am applying [regeneration] consistently, and across the board. To affirm the reality of regenerate zygotes (which I do affirm, lots of them) is not a contradiction of evangelicalism simply because the zygote doesn’t have legs yet and cannot walk the aisle at the invitation…[or] until after the kid has memorized the Heidelberg Catechism.” Here’s an even more direct statement: “[their regeneration could occur] in the womb or when they were born or when they were baptized or six weeks, three days, and ten minutes after their baptism.” Wilson comes up short of saying “baptism regenerates,” but what he is saying is “we are baptizing infants that might well be regenerate” and “we will assume they are.”
I will voice two main problems with this, though others could be thrown in. First, the Bible is virtually silent about how infants and “zygotes” are drawn to God. Second, we should not build our entire ecclesiological system on answering that question. If the Bible is clear on anything, it is that “faith comes by hearing.” We see this in every account of salvation and every theological reflection of how it comes about. I know this raises the question about the salvific status of infants and embryos who obviously never have the opportunity to hear the word that brings faith. I think as good of an answer as you are going to get can be found here. As a Baptist, I operate within the categories I am given in Scripture, making sure I do not attempt to “peer into the decrees” as I take confessors at their word until proven otherwise. Wilson, however, is using a dogma that has no clear biblical precedent to build an entire theological system on. Physician, heal thyself.
These are the broad strokes of my critique of Wilson’s message. As I said regarding structure, the format of the book hides many of these problems because his argument is more episodic that methodical. In wrapping up this review, I want to end with one area where the difference between how a Baptist sees things and how Wilson sees things makes a great pastoral difference.
While defending “paedo-communion” (allowing children to partake of the Lord’s Supper), Wilson says the following: “When [children] begin to reach for bread and you have to hold the bread away from them, that moment has become didactic. If the lesson is, ‘We’re in and you’re out,’ that’s contrary to the statement we made at their baptism that they’re in with the rest of us. So we encourage parents to begin at that point to give them the elements accompanied by the teaching: ‘This is the body of Jesus . He died for you. He paid for your sins.’ …this practice, however, should not be perceived as a low-bar cognitive admittance test. We are not after understanding first, so that children may be admitted to the company of those who have passed their ecclesiastical prelims. Rather what we want with children who are taking the Supper is gladness, so that the right kind of understanding will then be able to grow.”
There are several assumptions here about the nature of the church as “believers with their children.” I reject those assumptions, of course. I reject infant baptism, so the situation envisioned of withholding the bread despite a child’s baptism gives me little pause. What I really want to take issue with is the final thought that a child’s first experience of Christianity should be “gladness” as an “insider.” Wilson is attempting to take the moral high ground here. Who wants to argue against a child experiencing joy in their first encounters with Christianity? I would say two things: 1) this sentiment contradicts the order of redemption history: first, agony, despair, cliffhangers, nail biting, the Law; and only then relief, joy, gladness, praise. You can’t fully experience Christian joy until you know what you’ve been saved from. 2) The better approach, which is entirely scriptural, is to let the child see the joy in those who profess Christ much like the world should see a Christian’s good works and rejoice. Perhaps I could trump Wilson’s moral high ground of providing “joy” as a child’s first impression with the higher ground of providing a “longing for joy.” We want the longing first, the ache, the hunger, because only then will the joy be sweet and satisfying when its finally tasted.
Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children.
 I take great exception to this unfair comment: “those who want to affirm the central importance of regeneration, but who also want to assert that they have the power to peer into hearts and determine who around here is really born again and who not … are paying far too high a price for it. That price is that they have also introduced the very dangerous sectarian (and—sorry everybody!—baptistic) impulse into the life of the church. We, the Pure and Lovely, consist of ‘thee and me, and I have my doubts about thee.’” Apology not accepted. This is a gross caricature and not even remotely a defensible entailment of baptistic doctrine (Anabaptist doctrine may be something else).
In my first post in this series on resources on the Psalms, I directed our readers to some excellent videos and MP3s, all available for free on the internet. There really is a wealth of wonderful, conservative evangelical scholarship in existence on the Psalms and those of us who preach and teach would be wise to take advantage of this. In today’s post I’ll be drawing attention to the commentaries I’ve found most helpful as a pastor in turning the ancient Psalms into contemporary sermons.
But before I do so, a word of explanation is in order. As I’ve explained before, I’m thoroughly convinced that preachers ought to be using both exegetical, scholarly commentaries and pastoral, applicatory commentaries in sermon preparation. If we only ever read exegetical commentaries, such as the NICOT, our sermons will be grammatically precise but most likely deadly boring to the normal Christian. Likewise, if we only ever use pastoral commentaries, such as Matthew Henry’s, our sermons will connect with the person in the pew, but will likely model a sometimes fanciful exegesis. By utilizing both pastoral commentaries and exegetical commentaries we’ll engage in careful exegesis and explore how a text feeds the souls of the sheep entrusted to our care. But enough of that soap box…
Here are my four favorite pastoral, applicatory commentaries on the Psalms with a few brief comments as to why:
The Treasury of David by Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Pride of place goes to Spurgeon’s magisterial exposition of all 150 Psalms, originally in 7 volumes. As you would expect, Spurgeon is always clear, profound, deeply-reverent, theological, devotional, practical, Christological, and often humorous. If I could only have one commentary on the Psalms, this would be the one. The section “Hints to the Village Preacher,” found at the conclusion of each psalm, is a goldmine for sermon outlines. The one drawback of this set is its wordiness. Apparently people weren’t so pressed for time in the 19th century and seemed to reason, “Why say something in 100 words when you could use 1,000?”
A Guide to the Psalms, by W. Graham Scroggie – This lesser known tome is a treasure. Scroggie (1877-1958) was a later successor of Spurgeon’s at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and his Guide to the Psalms is sort of like an abridged Treasury of David. If my house was burning down and I couldn’t carry out all seven volumes of Spurgeon’s Treasury, I’d grab A Guide to the Psalms instead. The most helpful aspect of this work is how Scroggie provides incredibly clear, memorable outlines of the psalms. Once you’ve seen his outline, you’ll be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I see this before?” Unfortunately this volume is currently out of print, so buy the used copies while they’re available.
The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12 by Dale Ralph Davis – For several years now Dale Ralph Davis has been pumping out excellent Old Testament expositional commentaries and this little one on the first twelve Psalms is a homerun. As is typical for Davis, it’s clear, well-illustrated, built on careful exegesis, applicatory, and frequently hilarious. Davis is a master of the punchy, pithy sentence. One feature which I’m not too terribly fond of is how he feels compelled to illustrate every major point with a fairly substantial story. After a while, I just skim over these and get back to the exposition. I hope he goes on to finish the Psalter.
The Psalms, Three Volumes by James Montgomery Boice – Pastor of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for over three decades, Boice (1938-2000) is well known for his expositional commentaries which are essentially transcripts of his sermons lightly edited for publication. These volumes on the Psalms are wonderful examples of a loving pastor who worked through the entire Psalter in a local church context, taking 8 years to go through them all. Boice is similar to Spurgeon in emphases, but perhaps more concise and certainly less humorous.
Lord willing, in my next post I’ll recommend a few academic, scholarly commentaries on the Psalms. I’ll close by reiterating my invitation. If there are resources on the Psalms (i.e., lectures, commentaries, books, etc.) you’d like me to review or would recommend yourself, leave them in the comments below and I’ll consider including them.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.
Editor’s note: This book review is taken from the recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Justification: The Doctrine On Which the Church Stands or Falls.”
Preaching: A Biblical Theology (Crossway, 2013) is a new volume in the world of homiletics, and hopefully its effect will be a lasting one. Jason C. Meyer serves as a gracious, but formidable attorney making his case for an expositional approach as the preferred method for the vast majority of preaching from Scripture today. Meyer roots his case in a conviction that “the whole Bible alone can give a holistic answer to what preaching is” (14).
Out of that conviction, the reader is taken on a journey surveying the entirety of Scripture to see a paradigm of “the ministry of the word.” This paradigm is described as stewarding the word, heralding the word, and encountering God through his word. It’s the thoroughness of this holistic approach that is perhaps the book’s greatest strength.
Meyer’s first section provides an overview of how he sees that paradigm function in Scripture. Then, in the second section he dives deep, surveying redemptive history to see eleven “paradigm shifts in the ministry of the word”, each an important expression of the stewardship of the Word. He concludes with a third section that applies this paradigm to preaching today.
Through this holistic look at preaching, a broad range of readers could be served very well by Preaching, including:
- the convinced: those already convinced of the primacy of expository preaching
- the skeptical: those preferring to make other preaching methods more central
- the weary: those currently weary in the preaching task
- the future preacher: those who may be engaged in future preaching ministry
For the convinced, there is a feast in Meyer’s book. From helpful practical tips to a wonderful survey of preaching literature, Preaching can be a “go to” resource in many ways. For instance, Meyer’s reminder to share the main point, show the main point, and shepherd the congregation with that main point is a wonderfully simple but profound one. Even more importantly, there is a cumulative effect as one reads eleven examples of stewardship throughout the Bible, such that the great privilege and holy responsibility of preaching gets cemented further into the soul.
For the skeptical, Preaching provides healthy engagement with the question of method. Meyer also provides an even-handed presentation of the strengths of topical preaching, arguing for a real (though limited) place for topical preaching in the teaching diet of a church. Unfortunately, the truly skeptical may tune out before the lengthy stewarding > heralding > encountering survey of redemptive history is complete. This is a slight detraction, though there is still much benefit for those in the more skeptical camp.
For the weary, much help could be derived from Preaching. Where the focus in a typical homiletics book might fall on the “how to,” Meyer includes a healthy dose of the “what” and “why” of preaching. In doing so, Meyer provides real potential to sustain a preacher with joy and purpose in the task of preaching. That sustaining benefit for the weary will require working through and wrestling with a lengthy survey of redemptive history before it is truly felt, but it is well worth the effort and regular review.
For the future preacher, Meyer’s book should be required reading. Any aspiring pastor needs to wrestle with the holy responsibility of rightly stewarding God’s word. Preaching will help them do just that, perhaps like no other recent work.
That being said, two areas of potential improvement could have made it an even stronger volume. One area is in the structure. The book is clear in its structure, and Meyer provides helpful guidance for how to best benefit from Preaching. But, the steward > herald > encounter paradigm isn’t clearly or entirely carried through into the address of preaching today. The connections are stated, but some of the powerful cumulative help from the survey of redemptive history seems to be left behind in the third section.
The other area of potential improvement is in the sections of application. To be sure, there is application, like the sober call to flee sexual immorality in light of the fearful examples of David and Solomon. One might wish, however, for more sustained application at times. For instance, the teasing out of the implications of God equipping the called (Moses) and not calling the equipped, or of the implications today of a false stewardship, or of the sustaining hope of a faithful stewardship even when it doesn’t appear to be as fruitful as one would like, would strengthen the effect of what is an already very strong and very helpful book.
In summary, however, Preaching is a book that can bring much profit to the reader’s soul—and much help to the preacher’s preaching—to God’s glory and the good of his church.
Tab Trainor, Pastor, Grace Church, San Diego
Read the recent issue of Credo Magazine today:
Justification: The Doctrine on which the Church Stands or Falls
While we could point to many different factors that led the sixteenth century Protestant Reformers to break from Rome, perhaps one that would be at the very top of the list is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. For Luther and Calvin, this doctrine is the very hinge on which the Christian religion turns. In part this is because sola fide is what sets Protestants apart. While every other religion puts something of man into the equation, Protestantism removes man’s works from the justification formula altogether. Therefore, the “sola” in sola fide makes all the difference in the world.
With over 2,000 years of church history in our rear view mirror, it appears that sola fide is a doctrine that comes under discussion in every generation. Our generation is no exception. Much dialogue continues over the New Perspective on Paul, Protestant and Catholic statements of agreement, and the relationship between justification and the Christian life. In this issue I am proud to welcome some of the finest thinkers on the subject in order to better understand what Scripture says about how sinners can be made right with a holy God.
Contributors include Thomas Schreiner, Michael Allen, Michael Horton, Philip Ryken, J.V. Fesko, Matthew Barrett, Korey Maas, Guy Waters, Brian Vickers, Fred Zaspel, and many others.