Book Review – Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery (G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd)

 

G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd. Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 393 pp. $27.00.

HiddenThe past few months have seen the release of several books co-authored by G. K. Beale, who needs no introduction – 1) An Interpretive Lexicon of New Testament Greek: Analysis of Prepositions, Adverbs, Particles, Relative Pronouns, and Conjunctions; 2) God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth; and 3)  the volume presently under review, Hidden But Now Revealed: A Biblical Theology of Mystery. I want to read everything Beale writes, but out of these three I was most excited about Hidden But Now Revealed because of the presence of “biblical theology” in the title.

Co-written with Dr. Benjamin Gladd, who wrote his doctoral dissertation under Beale at Wheaton on the use of mystery in Daniel and Second Temple Judaism, Hidden But Now Revealed explores the biblical conception of mystery, a term found in conjunction with key doctrines such as eschatology, soteriology, relationship between Jew and Gentile, etc. in the New Testament. The authors’ goal for this book is that “the church would gain a greater appreciation for the concept of mystery and the intersection of the Old and New Testament. The gospel itself contains both ‘old’ and ‘new’ elements that stand in continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament” (8). In this study, mystery is defined generally as “the revelation of God’s partially hidden wisdom, particularly as it concerns events occurring in the ‘latter days'” (20).

Hidden But Now Revealed begins with a look at the use of mystery in the book of Daniel, where “Revelation of a mystery can be defined roughly as God fully disclosing wisdom about end-time events that were mostly hitherto unknown” (43). The second chapter continues providing background into the New Testament’s use of mystery by analyzing the use of mystery in early Judaism, looking at a few key texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Targums. Like in the book of Daniel, mystery in Second Temple Judaism is eschatological and characterized by an initial hidden revelation followed by a fuller interpretation.

Having illumined the background of the use of mystery in the book of Daniel and early Judaism, Beale and Gladd devote the next eight chapters to an examination of every one of the twenty-eight occurrences of the word mystery in the New Testament. For each occurrence, the immediate NT context and the wider OT/Jewish context are both examined, concluding with an analysis of how the NT occurrence stands in both continuity and discontinuity with the OT and early Judaism.

Recognizing that studying a biblical theme isn’t as simple as just doing a word study, the penultimate chapter looks a few key NT topics that fit within the category of revealed mystery without using the term mystery – the staggered nature of the resurrection, the christological understanding of the Old Testament, Jesus as the temple, inaugurated eschatology, and the gospel itself. Finally, the last chapter compares and contrasts biblical mystery with pagan mystery religions and demonstrates that they do not have much in common and that the NT concept of mystery should be understood from the background of the OT, not pagan mystery religions.

Finally, the appendix provides a condensed version of a forthcoming paper by Beale entitled The Cognitive Peripheral Vision of Biblical Authors. Because hermeneutical presuppositions shaped this study and because it has implications on our understanding of the NT’s use of the OT, the essay is a helpful read. It argues that “Old Testament writers knew more about the topic of their speech act than only the explicit meaning they expressed about that topic. If so, there was an explicit intention and an implicit wider understanding related to that intention. It is sometimes this implicit wider intention that the New Testament authors develop instead of the Old Testament author’s explicit or direct meaning” (341).

Hidden But Now Revealed provides a robust study of an important biblical concept that’s connected to many key New Testament doctrines. It’s accessible to the serious layperson, but detailed footnotes and plentiful excursuses also provide much to think about for pastors, students, and scholars. An exegetical and biblical-theological study, this book fills a lack in the literature on the biblical concept of mystery. All with interest in biblical theology, NT use of OT, or the biblical concept of mystery would greatly enjoy this book.

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Book Review – The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing (Jonathan Dodson)

Jonathan K. Dodson. The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 240 pp. $16.99.

TUGIt’s been years since I’ve read a book on evangelism. But I read a ton in my first few years as a Christian; as is typical with dramatic conversions later in life, I was passionate about evangelism from day one as a Christian and was consumed with a desire to share the gospel at all times. I learned many different gospel presentations, including several that Dodson mentions in his new book, The Unbelievable Gospel. Sure, there were times when I felt awkward, when my words felt canned, when I felt discouraged; but as I grew in my Christian faith and continued to both read about and “do” evangelism in the context of community, it felt less and less canned and awkward. Different evangelistic presentations and methods became like tools on a toolbelt, ingredients at your disposal with which to get creative and create a good meal.

It seems from The Unbelievable Gospel that my experience is atypical; the feeling one gets from reading it is that in general this generation of Christians is disillusioned about evangelism because of both growing up in an “altar call” culture and because of experiences with gospel presentations that felt very canned and ineffective. If this is how you feel about evangelism, then The Unbelievable Gospel is definitely for you and can be paradigm-shifting; you’ll come away with a rather different conception of evangelism and a renewed vision for it, as well as helpful practical suggestions in methodology. Even if one does not have a distaste for traditional models and methods of evangelism, this is still a great book to read for anyone passionate about evangelism or wanting to (re)gain a passion for evangelism. Dodson writes from a place of sound theology and passion for the gospel and the local church, but also with keen insight into the postmodern culture.

Operating from the premise that traditional methods of evangelism are no longer effective, Dodson communicates that evangelism is not just about what we say, but how we say it and aims in this book to help readers share the gospel in a way that is worth believing (14). Part I addresses four reasons why we tend to avoid evangelism – essentially, four typical approaches that are not effective. These are impersonal evangelism (seeing people as “projects” rather than taking time to build authentic relationships), “preachy” witness (being seen as self-righteous and hypocritical), intolerant witness, and uninformed witness (avoiding evangelism due to fear of not knowing enough). Part 2 unpacks the content and message of the gospel. Dodson defines the gospel as “the good and true story that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us” (110). He emphasizes that there are three dimensions to the gospel – historical, personal, and cosmic, which necessitate a corresponding threefold response – doctrinal, personal, and missional. Dodson also highlights five gospel metaphors which allow us “to communicate the good news in personal and contextual ways” (128) – justification, redemption, adoption, new creation, and union with Christ.

Finally, in part 3, Dodson devotes a chapter to each of these gospel metaphors, showing how they facilitate sharing the gospel in a “believable” way that connects with a person’s felt needs – justification for those seeking acceptance, new creation for those seeking hope, union with Christ for those seeking intimacy, redemption for those seeking tolerance, and adoption for those seeking approval. A concluding chapter emphasizes that it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) and reminds us of the importance of praying and being led by the Spirit in our evangelism.

The Unbelievable Gospel is a helpful and refreshing read for Christians disillusioned by traditional conceptions and methods of evangelism. There is a sensitivity to the culture, an awareness of the importance of relationship, and an emphasis on the Holy Spirit that is sometimes missing when more conservative circles talk about evangelism. As such, those in more conservative circles might be uncomfortable about some of these elements. However, regardless of certain elements of discomfort or disagreement, the core of this book is helpful. It’s an encouraging and edifying read for all Christians passionate about evangelism or wanting to (re)gain a passion for evangelism.

Thanks to Zondervan and GCD for a review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

Book Log: October 2014

It’s been quiet around here. Last month I didn’t write many book reviews, and only read a few books cover-to-cover. This is because I was trying to prepare for my visit to Trinity this coming Sunday – Monday. I have a meeting set up with a faculty member and will try to chat with a few others during the faculty lunch on Monday. So, of course, I had to read some of their papers, book chapters, etc. Oh, and also there was a span of about a week in which if you visited my blog, you got a message saying it had been suspended for violating WordPress policy. I thought it was surely an error, but upon contacting support I found out that it’s because if you have a free wordpress blog, you’re not allowed to have image links. So my sidebar which displayed my reading, as well as every book review (which contained the book cover with a link) was a violation. Anywho, onto October’s reading:

  1. Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration – Matthew Barrett. I think this is in general an excellent and comprehensive overview of monergism for the typical reader who cherishes Reformed soteriology. More advanced readers should seek out the full dissertation (available as an ebook from P&R as well as in SBTS’s free dissertation database) rather than this published version, which falls short of what one expects for a doctoral dissertation. Full review here.
  2. And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep – Adrian Reynolds. The central thesis of this book is that “Sleep is part of our created humanity, a good gift from God to be treasured and enjoyed; an earthly picture of a spiritual reality” (10). This short, popular-level book addresses a topic Christians typically don’t read/write/think about, but one that is important because we all sleep (duh). We need a biblical perspective on everything in life, sleep included. Full review here.
  3. Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity – Stephen Holmes and Paul Molnar, ed. This, the latest in Zondervan’s Counterpoint series, looks at classical versus relational Trinitarianism. It’s not for the novice looking for an introduction to Trinitarianism, but is an excellent overview of recent debates for the reader who has some background historical and systematic knowledge of the doctrine. Full review at Grace for Sinners.
  4. Judgment According to Works – The Meaning and Function of Divine Judgment in Paul’s Most Important Letter – Kevin McFadden. I didn’t mean to read two SBTS dissertations in one month….it just kind of happened. McFadden’s study examines “each passage in Romans in which the theme of divine judgment according to works plays a prominent role in Paul’s argument: 1:18-32 (chapter 2); 2:1-29 (chapter 3); 3:1-8 (chapter 4); 3:9-20 (chapter 5); and 14:1-23 (chapter 6). The meaning of the motif in each passage will be examined along four lines: the agent of judgment, the action of judgment, the ground of judgment, and the object of judgment” (31). McFadden uses the traditional tools of historical, grammatical, and theological exegesis, examines the rhetorical function of the judgment motif in each passage, and explains the function of the motif in light of the purpose of the Epistle to the Romans. The above quote is from the revised version published in Fortress Press’s Emerging Scholars series. It is also available in SBTS’s free dissertation database.
  5. Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology – Oliver Crisp. I need some time to solidify my thoughts on this book. I had requested a review copy significantly prior to the book’s release, before a TOC or any kind of publicity was available. And it was nothing like what I expected (this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I really enjoyed reading this book). The scope of this book is a bit narrower (or perhaps just different) than what I had expected just based on the title – universalism is the star of this show. Click here for an interview with Crisp on the book in the Fortress Press Live podcast. Review forthcoming.

Many thanks to P&R, Christian Focus, Zondervan Academic, and Fortress Press for the review copies!

 

Book Review – Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration (Matthew Barrett)

Matthew Barrett. Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. Philllipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. xxix+388 pp. $24.99.

monMonergistic versus synergistic regeneration is perhaps the key distinction between Calvinism and Arminiansm. Not only that, but the glory of God is very much at stake in this debate – it’s not just theoretical and academic. While monergistic regeneration (alternatively known as “effectual calling” or “irresistible grace”) is, in the words of B. B. Warfield, “the hinge of Calvinistic soteriology,” this doctrine seems to be significantly in the shadows of predestination/election in contemporary literature. I was therefore very eager to read Matthew Barrett’s book Salvation by Grace, an entire lengthy book dedicated to monergism. This book is an abridged version of Barrett’s doctoral dissertation completed at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary under Thomas Schreiner. The full dissertation is sold by P&R as an ebook entitled Reclaiming Mongergism: The Case for Sovereign Grace in Effectual Calling and Regeneration.

Overview

The thesis of this project will argue that the biblical view is that God’s saving grace is monergistic – meaning that God acts alone to effectually call and monergistically regenerate the depraved sinner from death to new life – and therefore effectual calling and regeneration causally precede conversion in the ordo salutis, thereby ensuring that all of the glory in salvation belongs to God not man. Stated negatively, God’s grace is not synergistic – meaning that God cooperates with man, giving man the final, determining power to either accept or resist God’s grace – which would result in an ordo salutis where regeneration is causally conditioned upon man’s free will in conversion and, in the Calvinist’s opinion, would rob God of all the glory in salvation.

(xxvi)

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Music Monday – Heaven Song (Phil Wickham)

Phil Wickham is one of my favorite contemporary worship artists, and I think Heaven Song is one of his most underrated songs. I absolutely love this song – when it first came out I played it on repeat every day for weeks. I honestly don’t know if it’s because this is truly that amazing of a song, or if my love for it has much to do with the fact that the subject matter is so neglected in contemporary Christian music. It’s no “Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending” lyrically, but I still think it’s a beautiful song. And it expresses in a simple way my heart’s longing for the return of Christ and the age to come.

Slapped by Mike Bird with a Soggy Fish

In the preface to his new book The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, Michael Bird dedicates the book to N. T. Wright and recounts the significance of reading the following in Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God: “For many conservative theologians it would have been sufficient if Jesus had been born of a virgin (at any time in human history, and perhaps from any race), lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and risen again three days later.” Bird goes on to write,

Reading those words felt like being slapped in the face with a very soggy fish. That was exactly how I read the Gospels. They beheld Jesus, the Lord of Glory, the propitiatory sacrifice of Paul’s theology, but they were just the hors d’oeuvres to Paul’s meaty theology of atonement and justification.1

Well, call this soggy-fishception, or slapception, because reading Bird’s account of feeling slapped in the face with a soggy fish slapped me hard in the face with a soggy fish. The Gospels as the  hors d’oeuvres to Paul’s meaty theology of atonement and justification describes perfectly how I viewed the Gospels for the majority of my Christian life. Actually, I must confess that I am still trying to weed out this attitude. Prior to this year I was all about Paul, but this year I’ve focused my readings on Jesus and the Gospels. Check out the video below for the scoop on The Gospel of the Lord, straight from the Bird’s beak.

 

1. Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), x.

Book Review – And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep (Adrian Reynolds)

Adrian Reynolds. And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2014. 96 pp. $7.99.

sleepI rarely read “Christian Living” books because most of the time they just don’t interest me. But when And So To Bed…A Biblical View of Sleep first came across my radar, I knew I had to read it. But I was also afraid to read it. I knew it was a book I needed to read because, well, I suck at sleeping. I’m a recovering insomniac, and prior to reading this book my view of sleep was pretty distorted. When I was an atheist, I was pretty content sleeping as little as possible – when this life is all there is, of course it makes sense that one would want to maximize the time and “sleep” when you’re dead. But after becoming a Christian, my perspective on sleep didn’t really change – “there’s so much to do. I’ll catch up on sleep in the age to come, when I won’t even need it.” As you can see, though I don’t enjoy being tired all the time, I’ve never really minded being an insomniac. But….I knew my perspective on sleep wasn’t right. And that brings me to why I was afraid to read this book – I was afraid that reading this book would ruin my productivity (if you spend more time sleeping and trying to fall asleep, of course you have less time to get things done). But I knew I had a problem, and I knew that I needed to read this book.

Adrian Reynolds wrote And So To Bed…because he could not find a single Christian book on sleep; nor could he find an entry in the Dictionary of Pastoral Theology. This short, little book fills the lacuna and provides a brief yet robust popular-level look at what the Bible says about sleep. The central thesis of this book is that “Sleep is part of our created humanity, a good gift from God to be treasured and enjoyed; an earthly picture of a spiritual reality” (10). The first chapter takes a general look at sleep, pointing out physical and psychological effects of sleep deprivation. Chapter 2 dwells on sleep as part of our created humanity and a good gift from God. Chapters 3 and 4 are the heart of the book, taking us through many Scriptures to summarize a biblical picture of sleep. Chapter 3 shows that sleep is a sign of trust in God, and here the author also exhorts the reader to both pray for good sleep and to thank God for sleep. I do remember years ago praying for God to help me establish good sleep patterns, but I haven’t prayed for good sleep in years. I appreciated the reminder to both pray and thank God for sleep. Chapter 4 is very rich spiritually as well, looking at sleep as an earthly picture of a spiritual reality – sleeping and waking are symbolic of death and resurrection.

Chapter 5 is very practical, addressing what to do when sleep eludes us. Here, as Reynolds does several times in the book, he reminds the reader that though this book focuses on the spiritual, there may be other reasons why people can’t sleep well. I appreciate that Reynolds does not discount or ignore the “non-spiritual” aspects, reasons both practical and medical, physical and psychological. However, Reynolds notes well that we are holistic beings, and that you can’t easily separate the spiritual from the physical. He argues that sleep is not less than a spiritual issue, and makes a good case that I agree with. So this chapter addresses practical/environmental strategies for getting better sleep, takes a look at common physical and psychological causes of bad sleep, and of course, focuses on the spiritual aspect of sleep. The chapter presents 5 “solutions” to the problem of not getting good sleep. The book concludes with a chapter that reiterates the thesis, especially emphasizing sleep as pointing to death and being in the presence of Jesus. The chapter ends with a prayer about sleep from the Valley of Vision

And So To Bedis a quick and easy read and the only book I know of that presents a biblical view of sleep. It’s very short and very simple, and so my only criticism is that I wish it was longer and went deeper. However, this is a great introduction to the matter, and should be the go-to book for anyone looking for a quick read on a biblical perspective of sleep. I’d say this is a book every Christian should read, because we don’t really think about sleep; at least, not in spiritual terms. But it’s much more spiritual than we tend to realize, both in terms of the physical act and what the act ultimately points to.

Purchase: Amazon

Thanks to Christian Focus for the review copy!

Book Log: September 2014

  1. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything – Fred Sanders. In this book, a sytematic theologian specializing in Trinitarian theology brings his excellent scholarship to the masses in a popular-level introduction to Trinitarianism. Sanders shows how the Trinity is the Gospel and how Christ-centeredness and Trinity-centeredness go hand-in-hand, even though evangelicals tend to emphasize the former and neglect the latter. Through it all, and with specific chapters devoted to Bible study and prayer, Sanders demonstrates how the Trinity changes everything for the Christian. Full review here.
  2. From Messiah to Preexistent Son – Aquila Lee. This is a more affordable republishing by Wipf & Stock of a WUNT II monograph from Mohr Siebeck. From Messiah to Preexistent Son is a revised version of Aquila Lee’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Aberdeen under I. Howard Marshall. With a conviction of strict Jewish monotheism and timing that’s basically in agreement with the “Early High Christology Club,” Lee’s thesis in this study is that “at the root of the pre-existent Son Christology lies the early Christian exegesis of Ps 110:1 and Ps 2:7 (the catalyst) in the light of Jesus’ self-consciousness of divine sonship and divine mission (the foundation)” (34). This is a must-read for any with interest in the origin and development of Christology, especially those who identify with the EHCC. Full review here.
  3. Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today – Adam Hamilton. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S., has written Making Sense of the Bible – Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today to help the average person in the pew make sense of the Bible. However, I would not at all recommend this book to the target audience. Troubling assertions about the nature of the Bible abound (such as its inspiration being no different than how a pastor today might be inspired in the writing of a sermon), all leading up to the practical issues in the second part (such as a case for homosexual “marriage).” For those familiar with mainline thought, this book presents nothing new. For those unaware, this book is confusing at best and dangerous at worst. Full review at Grace for Sinners.
  4. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done – Matt Perman.  This is a productivity book that every Christian needs to read, whether one is unconcerned about maximizing productivity or one has read tons of productivity books. That is because there is very little Christian teaching on productivity, and all the productivity books are from a secular perspective. Perman does offer a GTD system in part 2, drawing from the best of the world’s teaching, research, and methodology, but grounded in a robust theology with gospel at the center, to which the first part is devoted. Full review here.
  5. A Theology for the Church – Daniel Akin, ed. The distinguishing feature of this introductory theology is that it’s integrative. One-volume introductions to systematic theology abound, and publication is not stopping; but integrative theologies are rare, especially ones that are lay-accessible and geared toward the church. Such is this theology – written by some of the finest Baptist theologians of our day, all with passion for God and passion for the Church, examining the core doctrines of the Christian faith from biblical, historical, systematic, and practical perspectives. A must-have introductory theology text for pastors and laymen alike. Full-review here.

Many thanks to Crossway, Wipf&Stock, HarperOne, Zondervan, and B&H Academic for these review books!

 

Book Review – A Theology for the Church (Daniel Akin ed.)

Daniel L. Akin, ed. A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2014. 770 pp. $54.99.

theologyEvery time I say I’m not going to read another introductory systematic theology I read another one; and I have never regretted it. Last year it was Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, this year it was A Theology for the Church edited by Daniel Akin. There are several distinguishing features of A Theology for the Church. One is the length – at 728 pages not including backmatter, this volume is considerably shorter than typical one-volume systematic theologies (which are over 1,000 pages), making this volume more accessible – less daunting and easier to get through for those not accustomed to reading such tomes. Another is that every chapter is written by a different person and the whole book is from a Baptist perspective (though competing views are always presented fairly).

Thirdly, this volume was written by churchmen for the Church. Systematic theology is often perceived as dry, academic, and irrelevant by those without an affinity for the discipline. But many systematic theologies by evangelicals who love the Church and see doctrine as fuel for doxology and orthopraxy do convey that in their tomes (e.g. Grudem ends each of his chapters with a memory verse and a hymn). However, in this volume implications on the Christian life and mission are much more explicit than is typical, and recur much more frequently. In the midst of teaching on the various doctrines, authors frequently exhort the reader to know and love God more and to participate in His mission. This unique emphasis can be explicitly seen in the fact that every chapter ends with a section entitled “How Does This Doctrine Impact the Church Today?

Perhaps the most significant distinguishing feature/strength of A Theology for the Church is that it’s not actually a systematic theology as I had expected: it’s an integrative theology. “The present volume is born out of the conviction that a theology for the church should integrate the historical, biblical, philosophical, systematic, and practical aspects of theology as it seeks to achieve a unified, coherent, contextual, and compelling account of the Christian message” (46). Integrative theologies are much rarer than volumes that treat a specific discipline, and typically one must read a different book on each discipline (e.g. many read Grudem’s Systematic Theology at over 1000 pages and Allison’s Historical  Theology at over 700 pages, and that leaves several other facets unexplored). To have a one-volume integrative theology at just over 700 pages that is so accessibly written and geared toward the Church is truly a blessing.

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Book Review – What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Matt Perman)

Matt Perman. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 352 pp. $19.99.

WBN

“It is odd that there is so little Christian teaching on productivity because, as Christians, we believe the gospel changes everything – how we go about our home life, work life, church life, community life, everything. Yet there has been little Christian reflection on how the gospel changes the way we get things done – something that affects all of us every day. In fact, good productivity practices are often downplayed in the church at the altar of overspiritualization” (Perman 18, emphasis original).

Matt Perman calls his approach to productivity “Gospel-Driven Productivity” (GDP). GDP is “centered on what the Bible has to say about getting things done while at the same time learning from the best secular thinking out there – and seeking to do this with excellence and original thought, rather than simply taking over secular ideas and adding out-of-context Bible verses” (28).

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