Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ESV Gospel Transformation Bible

If you run in the T4G/TGC/Challies/Justin Taylor circles you have certainly heard about the "Gospel-Centered" hermeneutic. Crossway produced this study Bible to help us to be Gospel-Centered by showing us Christ in all of Scripture. Unlike some study Bibles, you've probably even heard of some of the contributors. There are men like Miles Van Pelt (Kings and Chronicles), Michael Horton (Joshua), Darrin Patrick (Zephaniah), Kevin DeYoung (Ephesians), and JD Greear (Titus) as well as women like Elyse Fitzpatrick (Esther). The contributors include a mixture of scholars and popular authors. All their contributions went through the editing of Brian Chapell and Dane Ortlund. I recognized about 2/3 of the names and they are all very solid, conservative evangelical voices.

The book itself is quite striking. The hardcover is black with red and black stitching in the Smyth-sewn binding.  The pastedowns and flyleaves are also a brilliant blood red. The Bible text is in the familiar Lexicon font, while the study notes are in Gotham. This gives it a fresh look from other study Bibles I've used. I rather liked it, despite the two-column format, which really can't be helped in a work like this. It really is a beautiful book. It also has the standard features you'd expect from an ESV such as maps in the back, the ESV reading plan, and even a topical index.

Of course, all this is meaningless if the content doesn't match the beauty of the book. To me, the biggest red flag when thinking about a "Gospel-Centered" hermeneutic comes in the story of the floating axe head in 2 Kings 6. There are some who say that the floating axe head reminds us of baptism while the stick Elisha used reminds us of the cross. The editors make a point in the introduction that they would not allow baseless allegories to dominate the notes, and they were true to their word. Nothing like that can be found in this story. Instead, the note I see is on 6:15-17, which is the story of Elisha's servant having his eyes opened to see the chariots of fire around the city. The note makes the point that we say that we would have more faith if we could just see like that, but then reminds us that we already have in the Incarnation of Christ. That is a wonderful way to apply this story.

But what about a book that seems less practical for living like Leviticus? Just about every page has a note and they deal with how the sacrifices in Leviticus point forward to the ultimate sacrifice Christ paid on the cross. The notes also emphasize the problem of sin, which is why we needed to have sacrifices. There is a note on 5:14-6:7 which connects the laws for guilt offerings with how Paul applies this to believers in 1 Corinthians 6:18 and Ephesians 1:7. There is a note on 13:1-14:57, which describes the laws about leprosy. This note reminds us of how Christ dealt with this impurity by simply touching the diseased person and making him clean. There are notes that discuss how the atoning sacrifices in Leviticus point us to the atonment that happened for believers at the cross. There are notes that show how the Israelites were to be different from the other nations just as Christians are to be different from unbelievers today. In short, these notes take what is often seen as an esoteric book and make it intensely practical for us today.

Anyone who has studied Hebrews probably already knows that Leviticus points us pretty clearly to Christ, but what about something harder like Proverbs? Take Proverbs 15:15 which reads, All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. I don't immediately see the gospel in this, but the note reminds me that the joy of Christ is ultimate and victorious. In other words, there may be real sorrow in this world, but the Christian has ultimate hope and joy in Christ. Again, this is a very solid, sane way of looking at this verse. I don't think it is a stretch at all to get that from this verse.

The New Testament notes are just as good. The note on Romans 9:19-24 reminds us of the comfort that we have in knowing that God is absolutely sovereign over our salvation, whether we fully understand how it all works or not. The note on Ephesians 2:4-5 reminds us that "We were not strugglers in need of a helping hand or sinking swimmers in need of a raft; we were stone-cold dead--spiritually lifeless, without a religious pulse, without anything to please God. But he loves the loveless, gives life to the lifeless, and is merciful to those deserving no mercy." The note on Revelation 20:1-10 doesn't get into debates on the millenium, but stresses the need for the believer to remain vigilant. While I certainly didn't read every note, all the notes I did read were similarly excellent.

As you can see, the notes in this Bible are extremely practical for the believer without getting into the foolishness of "4 steps to a better marriage" that pervades so many pulpits today. Many may wonder how to make "Gospel-Centered" preaching relevant to the 21st century ear. I would recommend that they read through this bible to get their answer. In fact, I would recommend this bible to anyone who wants to have all of Scripture come alive for them.

The closest analogy I can think of is that this is like the Jesus Storybook Bible, but for grown-ups. I loved reading that bible to my kids when they were little because it edified me to see how all the familiar stories pointed to Christ. Go much deeper with that concept and you have the heart of the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. I remember pre-ordering the ESV Study Bible and being thrilled when I got it. But since going to seminary I really don't use it that much because I can look in commentaries to go even deeper. This bible shines because it is more pastoral than it is scholarly. I think that I will refer to it many times in the future because of how well it feeds my heart.

Note - the publisher gave me a copy to review.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kingdom Through Covenant

I attended a Dispensational seminary, but am not a Dispensationalist. I have some Covenantal leanings, but I remain firmly credobaptist. I have found that I have more in common with Presbyterians than most Baptists, but I keep seeing comments that "there is no such thing as a Reformed Baptist." Obviously, that is true, but I needed to have some name for what I believed.

I am extremely thankful for the book Kingdom Through Covenant. Gentry and Wellum wanted to use this book to propose a middle way between the two systems. They acknowledge the strength of both systems, but also point out some glaring weaknesses. Much of these problems center around the Abrahamic Covenant. They rightly point out that each system chooses which part they will take literally. The Dispensationalist focuses on the land promise to Abraham and the Covenantalist focuses on the genealogical promise. This book shows how both miss the mark in ignoring the whole promise.

The book is strongest in parts one and three, which were written by Wellum. Part one presents their thesis and hermenutic while part three summarizes how it all fits together based on all the exegesis done in part two. You really could get away with checking this book out from your local seminary library and reading just those parts. That would save you about 460 pages of very technical writing leaving you with about 250 very readable pages.

I would not recommend part two for anyone who does not know Hebrew. Although there is a lot of transliteration there is also a fair amount of straight Hebrew text. Obviously a book focused on exegesis is going to have to deal with the language, so be warned that this section is not for the casual reader. Be prepared for some tough sledding through this section. I saw in another review where someone wrote that the middle sections felt like disconnected papers. I suppose that is true to a degree, but that's also the nature of such academic work. Despite the difficulties, this part is essential for proving the authors' thesis. I believe that they accomplished their goal.

I particularly appreciated their point that the Dispensational distinction between conditional and unconditional covenants is an unnecessary one. It was also valuable to see how the physical promise of the land to Abraham has already been fulfilled, but that the promise is actually much bigger in how God is going to give the whole earth to Abraham's children. In other words, to get all excited about a strip of land in the Middle East is to miss the bigger promise. It is also encouraging to see them make some distinction between Israel and the church. The church is indeed a new thing that, unlike Israel, is composed entirely of believers.

I suppose I'm somewhat biased because I wanted to like this book. I finally have a book that describes what I have come to believe on my own. It is possible to be strongly Calvinistic in soteriology, but strongly Baptist when it comes to the ordinances and the composition of the church. I still find that I have more in common with Covenantal brothers than most Baptists, but I am glad to have this middle way. When you're not in a large camp it is comforting to know that you are not on your own.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Devotions on the Greek New Testament

Given the nature of this blog, I was excited when I saw that Zondervan published a scholarly version of what I had been trying to do. Devotions on the Greek New Testament is a collection of 52 short devotions each written about a passage in Greek. Unlike my blog, the contributors to this book are all scholars. What's refreshing is that not only are they scholars, but they also write from the perspective of a believer in Christ. Some names you might recognize include William D. Mounce, Scot McKnight, Craig L. Blomberg, Ben Witherington III, and Darrell L. Bock. There are others, but these are some of the more famous authors.

Each devotional begins with the Greek text. The author then keys in on something from the text to help the reader further understand the meaning. For example, in the passage on Ephesians 5:18-22 (be filled with the Spirit), David L. Matthewson emphasizes how the five adverbial participles modify πληροῦσθε. It doesn't necessarily come off as well in English, but this passage shows us that addressing one another in psalms and hymns, etc., is what being filled with the Spirit looks like. Matthewson bases this on the way the participles work together.

There are also devotionals that will look at the structure of a passage. For example, David M. Morgan illustrates the chiastic structure of Colossians 1:26-28 and explains how Paul's suffering relates to Christ's suffering. He then connects this to Epaphroditus' ministry described in Philippians 2:20 to show how this is normative for a Christian. He also connects this passage to the general message of Colossians to explain how this is part of bringing the gospel to the world. 

I did not read the whole book as I do want to use it as a devotional and didn't want to plow through it all right away. However, out of the dozen or so sections I did read what I found was solid exegesis based on the text. The whole point of studying Greek and Hebrew is to get closer to the text. This devotional will help you to do that.

Of course, this book is not for everyone. It does presuppose that you've had at least a year of Koine Greek. I would have found reading each passage difficult after only one year, but I could have muddled through most of them. Looking back, I wish I had a resource like this after I finished my first year of Greek. It feeds the brain by giving examples of good exegesis and it fills the soul with the Word of God. Anyone who can read Greek should own a copy of this book.

Note that I received a copy from the publisher for review. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Blog Site

I have finally made the switch to a new blog on Wordpress. Please start following me at http://jason.sovereignchristchurch.org.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Real Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

13 Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, περὶ τῶν κοιμωμένων, ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε καθὼς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα.

I think it is pretty obvious that Paul uses "asleep" as a euphemism for "dead." Paul uses the subjunctive mood with the phrase ἵνα μὴ λυπῆσθε. This is the mood of possibility. It is not something that has happened yet, but it might happen. That is why it is translated as "may not grieve." This is one of the instances where it has a weak imperatival force to it. Paul is telling them not to grieve. He contrasts them with οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. This could be thought of as "the remaining." In other words, this is everyone else. Everyone who is not a Christian goes through life μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα. Note that ἔχοντες is a participle. This gives a continuous force to it. He is saying that everyone who is not a believer goes through life in a continuous state of hopelessness.

Of course, hope is big business. That concept got someone elected president. But if our hope is in any person then we are closer to this.I don't care if that person is a Republican or Democrat. There is no hope is a person apart from Christ.

This is a truth that we need to believe deeply. We say we do, but the way we live indicates otherwise. How zealous are we for evangelism? If our zeal is weak then it is because we do not believe this deeply. Do we despair when a brother or sister in Christ dies? We should be sad and miss them, but we should never despair because if they are in Christ then they have real hope. It's the same hope we have if we are in Christ.

But where this gets really tricky is the other side. Every funeral I've ever attended has promised that the deceased is in heaven. But how can someone say that unless he is sure that the person trusted Christ for his salvation? Otherwise, that person was living in hopelessness and will continue to do so for eternity.

It all begins and ends with Christ. He also is everything in between. You want real hope? It's in Christ and nowhere else.