The title of one of John Piper’s latest books is direct and confrontational, yet inviting at the same time: just like the man John Piper himself. LiviThe title of one of John Piper’s latest books is direct and confrontational, yet inviting at the same time: just like the man John Piper himself. Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power (The Good Book Company, 2016) comes with a similarly direct yet inviting sub-title: “Making the most of three dangerous opportunities.” The book lives up to its title. It is both warning and invitation, in short it is John Piper challenging us to live to God’s glory in these three areas.
Piper explains that these three areas in themselves are not evil, they are God’s gifts to us. He defines them as follows:
"* Power is a capacity to pursue what you value. * Money is a cultural symbol that can be exchanged in pursuit of what you value. * Sex is one of the pleasures that people value, and the pursuit of it." (Living in the Light, p. 20)
He then looks to Romans 1 and the “great exchange” whereby man in his fallen state turns created things to idols and refuses to worship God. In our fallen state, we pursue sex and other things as means to their own ends – as a worship of self or other created things in opposition to God. Money is a status symbol, and power is self-exaltation. They represent real danger and Piper spares no punches in warning and unpacking the biblical warnings related to the unfettered pursuit of money, sex or power.
In contrast to the worldly way of using these things, redemption puts God in the proper place. Piper uses the analogy of the sun and planets. When the sun is in the proper place, the planets of money, sex and power line up in their proper spheres and complement our lives in ways God intended. When we bring one of those planets into a central place, life is out of order and God is spurned.
Piper does a good job explaining why and how each of these elements are properly to be enjoyed:
"Money exists so that it will be plain by the way we use it that God is more to be desired than money. Sex exists so that it will be plain that God is more to be desired than sex. And power exists so that it will be plain that admiring and dependeing on his power is more to be desired than exalting our own."
In all of this, Piper displays his pastoral burden to rein in Western Christians who are so pulled away from the centrality of the Son, by the gravity of the competing planets: money, sex and power. Yet at times he is too God-focused and too strong in his formulations. As in the quote above, I think sex is more than just something to be partaken of in light of God being better than sex. Same with money. God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17) and Piper’s arguments sometimes seem to downplay the goodness of earthy pleasures. (For a great complement to Piper’s call desire God chiefly, look at Joe Rigney’s The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, Crossway, 2014).
This quibble aside, this book is a clear and passionate call to live for Christ in today’s sex-crazed and money-obsessed culture. We could all do with a dose of John Piper challenging us to a more Godward focus in this day and age! I highly recommend this short book. It would make for a great small group or Sunday School resource, although it does not come with discussion questions.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by The Good Book Company. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review....more
Most Christians do not realize there is a large gap between Malachi and Matthew. We’ve noticed a blank page or two, but eagerly turn from the Old TestMost Christians do not realize there is a large gap between Malachi and Matthew. We’ve noticed a blank page or two, but eagerly turn from the Old Testament to the New without much thought. Those blank pages hide four hundred years of turbulent history in the life of the people of Israel. Some Bibles even include additional books to fill in the missing details. I’m not advocating a return to the Apocrypha, but every Christian can benefit from an appreciation of the harrowing tale that stands behind the Maccabean revolt. That history stands behind Jesus’ celebration (and endorsement?) of the Feast of Dedication.
The Maccabean history is helpful in today’s world where increasingly Christianity is marginalized and a pressure is building for us to synthesize our faith with the lifestyle of those around us. Just water down our faith, bend a little here and a little there, and we’re sure to increase our cultural status. A similar challenge faced the Jews who would be true to God in the face of the siren call of Hellenization and Greek influence.
This story of heroic resolve to stand for the faith finds new expression in a debut novel from a scholar who specializes in this time period: "Day of Atonement: A Novel of the Maccabean Revolt" (Kregel, 2015). The characters in this fictitious tale grapple with their changing world in different ways. Some give in and accommodate the Greek way of life, ever giving more and ultimately finding that compromise was too costly. Others try to keep roots in both ways of life and ultimately must choose for whom they will stand. Some resist quietly and others spur on a rebellion. Then there are those who give their all: becoming objects of gruesome persecution at the hands of Antiochus IV himself. There are no easy paths to follow, but those were no simple times.
The tale itself is told masterfully and the reader is slowly drawn into the world of the second century B.C. Historical figures find their way into the tale, Antiochus IV makes several appearances, but only after sufficient time to grasp the setting of Jerusalem at that day. The account is believable and the personal touches are compelling. Detailed account of sacrifices in the Temple and personal prayers are sure to inspire devotion in the reader. Historical details are abundant and the author weaves a picture of life in Jerusalem in full color.
The backstory to the rebellion takes most of the attention, along with the personal challenges to accommodate or persevere. But enough of the action is told to satisfy the curiosity of the reader who may know what is coming. Still it made me want to pick up a copy of I and II Maccabees (or is it III and IV Maccabees?).
One feature of the story deserves special attention. The author appears to describe the book of Daniel (in the form we know it today) being written during the Maccabean period. He still has the prophecy tell the future, but not from Daniel’s hand. “The spirit of Daniel” rests on the book’s author. Since other characters betray knowledge of Daniel’s example of faith in the face of apostasy, not every reader will pick up on this point. But it seemed clear to me the author must hold to a late author for at least the visions of Daniel. This point is not vital to the storyline and the conservative who holds to a sixth century B.C. date for the book of Daniel can easily disregard it.
For a first novel the book does not disappoint. At times there were some artificial elements. The Maccabean rebels at one point sound almost like the Covenanters of Scotland. But on the whole the book does a superb job of telling the Maccabean story in a personal and poignant way. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review....more
Perhaps there is no issue which more clearly divides conservative Evangelicals, than the question of the relationship between Israel and the Church. SPerhaps there is no issue which more clearly divides conservative Evangelicals, than the question of the relationship between Israel and the Church. Subsumed beneath that overriding concern are the intramural debates over soteriology (Calvinism, Arminianism or “neither”), eschatology (premillennial or amillennial and pre-trib or post-trib), and ecclesiology (paedobaptism or credobaptism). These questions are not minor. The baptism question divides the Protestant church into denominations. The millennial question bars the entry into parachurch organizations, mission boards and educational institutions. Yet most agree that people from all perspectives on this issue take the Bible seriously: this is a Christian debate, separating fellow believers.
In the last hundred years, the larger question over Israel and the Church has turned from a covenant theology vs. dispensationalism debate into a more nuanced and many-sided affair. Dispensationalism has matured, and progressive dispensationalism presents a new understanding of the question which is both true to its dispensational roots and yet distinct at the same time. And in recent years, new covenant theology has arisen and is often referred to by the term “progressive covenantalism.” This refinement and change is not a bad thing. As the views have interacted with each other, people have tried to modify and clarify their understanding of Scripture. Such has been the history of the Church down through the ages. And while some look at the newer positions as an abandonment of principles, others may see a hopeful realignment that results in a greater unity across all the positions. Indeed it seems that progressive dispensationalism has become a primary view in the academy that is viewed with mutual respect by covenantal views.
A new book from Broadman and Holman offers a restatement of the four dominant positions today, and includes an interaction between them. "Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views" brings together three of the most proficient authors for their positions, along with a team of authors for the newer progressive covenantal view. This book presents the debate in a calm and safe environment and allows some of the foremost representatives of the positions to advocate their approach.
Covenantal Theology: Robert L. Reymond’s chapter on covenantal theology is sharp and clear. He makes a point that modern softenings of dispensationalism still remain somewhat unclear as to the nature of saving faith for Old Testament saints. Throughout his chapter and in his responses, he does a great job unpacking his view and addressing the important points in other positions. He sees both progressive dispensationalism, and progressive covenantalism (as presented in this book) as still too close to dispensationalism and its pre-tribulational, pre-millennial position. His is a strictly amillennial position that sees Revelation as a cyclical book with the millennium being another description of the church age. He does not stress too much the three covenants of classic covenantal theology (coventant of grace, of redemption, and of works), instead he focuses more on the biblical covenants in an approach similar to that of O. Palmer Robertson. He also does not shy away from the term “replacement theology” but proudly uses that description of his position (p. 49).
Traditional Dispensationalism: Robert L. Thomas’s chapter on traditional dispensationalism presents the dispensationalism I learned with clarity. This is Ryrie’s position which has sometimes been described as “modified” as opposed to “classical.” Thomas doesn’t agree necessarily with the “modified” descriptor, however. Thomas explains that the kingdom was offered and then rejected in Christ’s ministry, and presents a case against taking the NT use of the OT as a guide for how we should interpret Scripture. He also emphasizes how the OT promises are not cancelled by the NT. In his treatment of the land promise, however, he doesn’t deal with the conditionality in the OT associated with it (for instance Deuteronomy’s exhortations to faithfulness so that they would inherit the land, and even how passages like Ps. 37:9, 11 should be understood). He also doesn’t address Rom. 4:13 and how the “land” is expanded to the “world.” He makes a big deal too about no clear-cut use of the term “Israel” for the Church (although so many other Jewish terms and descriptions are used for the Church).
Of note is Thomas’s interaction with Saucy’s chapter on progressive dispensationalism. He takes issue with Saucy’s allowance for the NT use of the OT to shape his understanding of the OT passages. Thomas notes:
"By allowing NT passages to provide meaning for the OT, one is doing the same as other nondispensational systems… Saucy’s statement, 'proper interpretation begins with the Old Testament,' should be refined to read, 'proper interpretation of the Old Testament begins and ends with the Old Testament before going to the New Testament.'" (p. 218)
He also is not happy with Saucy’s refusal to defend a pre-tribulational rapture.
Progressive Dispensationalism: Robert Saucy does a good job explaining progressive dispensationalism. Many reared in traditional dispensationalism, like me, have later rejected that system and now find themselves leaning toward covenant theology but without a good understanding of later developments in dispensationalism. This chapter offers a helpful explanation for those unfamiliar with this position.
Saucy painstakingly lays down hermeneutical principles undergirding his position. He ultimately agrees with an “already, not yet” approach to prophecy but emphasizes the “partial” nature of many of the begun-to-be fulfilled prophecies. Salvation is not just provided through Israel and her Messiah, it is “channeled through” Israel:
"From Isaac, the descendants of Abraham are traced by physical descent through Jacob and his sons until the Seed, Jesus Christ, appears and the Gentiles are included in him. It is therefore impossible to ignore this physical dimension and identify Abraham’s seed merely as anyone of faith…. Thus, on the basis of the promise to Abraham, Israel is an ethnic people who constitute a nation among nations that bears a unique relationship to God – a nation created by God in fulfillment of his salvation promise." (p. 166-167)
So even though salvation extends to the Gentiles, they are not “spiritual Jews” or “conceived as part of Israel” (p. 184). Eph. 2 does not speak to Gentiles joining Israel in the covenant people of God. Instead both are part of a new humanity, but each are still distinct (p. 191). He again emphasizes that the Church is never called Israel (yet it is called the “real circumcision”…). So there is a unity in the people of God now as both Israel and the Church are together the “eschatological people of God” (p. 190). Yet, there is still a role for political Israel to play in a future millennium to totally fulfill historic promises. Saucy’s conclusion explains it best:
"Rather than detracting from the spiritual unity of God’s saving program present in the church, the fulfillment of Israel’s role as a particular nation, in which God is yet to display his glory, will expand the present spiritual salvation to bring about that holistic salvation of individual and society promised by the prophets, in which all people are united in their diversity as the one people of God." (p. 208)
Progressive Covenantalism: Chad Brand and Tom Pratt, in their chapter on progressive covenantalism intriguingly point to the debate over the new perspective on Paul as a way forward in this debate. There is a debate over whether personal salvation was primarily in view in Romans or the wider work of God for the people Israel and indeed all of creation. The answer is yes: both are in view. And that is how they approach the question of Israel vs. the Gentile church. There is a corporate and personal element in this question. Who are the people of God and what are their place in salvation history? “Israel” and the “Church” are terms separating out a “dichotomy” where there really seems to be a unity, a oneness to the people of God throughout the Old and New Testaments (p. 233-237). Supporting points for this include:
1) The oneness of God demands one people. 2) The people of God are his by divine election and spiritual birth. 3) The people of God arise from the supporting root of historic Israel. 4) The marker of the people is the internal presence of the Holy Spirit. 5) The people of God are the body of Christ.
This approach avoids the rigid “replacement theology” that is directly advocated by Reymond. Instead it interprets the true people of God through all ages as representative of true believers today. This presentation actually struck me as less directly baptistic than the new covenant theology position of Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry presented in Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012). (The authors of this volume mention that Wellum and Gentry’s work was released after their book was all but finished, yet they are in substantial agreement with that position, see p. 12.) Emphasizing the experience of the Spirit in the true people of God has the drawback of downplaying the church ordinance of baptism, which seems odd since new covenant theology typically corrects covenant theology on the very question of baptism.
Brand and Pratt go out of their way to renounce a “replacement theology” position:
"…we conclude that the idea of “replacement” of Israel by “the church” with a resultant “church age” is not only a misnomer but a misreading of the history of salvation as well. Richard Bauckham remarks, in commenting on Rev 7:4, that the picture there presented “indicates not so much the replacement of the national people of God as the abolition of its national limits.” In Goldswothy’s characterization, it is the glorious result of the mission to the Gentiles carried out by the saved remnant of ethnic Israelites. Therefore, the current stage is more adequately denominated the age of transformation or new creation, for “in Messiah” nothing matters but “new creation” (Gal 6:15), which for Paul and others has already begun, though it has not yet been consummated." (p. 257)
Brand and Pratt go on to explore how the NT really does refer to the church as “Israel” (or by terms referring to Israel). In this section I was intrigued by their explanation of how Luke in Acts doesn’t use the term “church” for the new people of God until after Stephen first roots the term’s meaning in the OT assembly of God’s people. They then conclude with an explanation of their post-tribulational, premillennial view. They concede that reading Revelation in a roughly chronological order is not necessary to their conclusion (premillennialism), but they don’t seem to go out of their way to allow for variations of progressive covenantalism that are not premillennial. Perhaps they are at pains to keep their position tenable for institutions that require premillennialism, I cannot say; but I found their advocacy of premillennialism confusing and contradictory. Kingdom through Covenant‘s presentation of progressive covenantalism lacked any premillennial hints, and also majored on the land promise (and Israel’s identity herself) as typological in nature, and that was extremely persuasive. So the progressive covenantalism offered in this book seems a step lower than what Wellum and Gentry offer. The position as a whole is still young, and this book will certainly help those trying to understand that position.
Recommendation: I highly recommend this book for those seeking to sort out their own position on how the Old and New Testaments should be read in light of each other. Even if you have “landed” on one perspective in this debate, this book will both challenge and sharpen you. With the possible exception of the progressive covenantal view, the book presents a top-notch explanation for each of the major views. The arguments are well-reasoned, and Scriptural discussion abounds. Footnotes point the way to further reading on important questions, and the end result is a useful and accessible manual on the nature of this debate at present. The book will reward careful study and offer help to some who are confused. It was a joy to work my way through it and I trust it will benefit both student and teacher alike.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by B & H Academic. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a positive review....more
Commentaries come in all types and sizes. Some are daunting: a thousand pages long, detailed Greek and Hebrew in the body of the text, voluminous footCommentaries come in all types and sizes. Some are daunting: a thousand pages long, detailed Greek and Hebrew in the body of the text, voluminous footnotes and interaction with a variety of ancient literature beyond the Biblical text itself. Others are a glorified sermonettes with a few points of application.
Down to earth commentary from a Reformed perspective
In the latest volume for the “Evangelical Press Study Commentary” series, Guy Prentiss Waters provides an accessible volume designed for the typical pastor or lay teacher today. He covers the book of Acts and his writing style is warm and inviting. The book is more of a survey of the interpretive landscape with a focus on what matters for pastors teaching through the text. There is not much discussion of Greek, and the footnotes routinely direct the reader to other resources for more detailed discussions of various questions.
This summary nature of the book may make it less useful to more versed scholars, but for the average pastor it clears the plate to focus on the good stuff. Additionally, Waters has combed through a variety of works and saved us the time by quoting the best portions of these commentaries and highlighting which discussions are worth interacting with in those other works. The book is long (614 pages), but the font is large with extra generous spacing, and even the footnotes are easily readable.
Waters approaches the text as a Reformed author, so he does not promote a charismatic reading of the text. He highlights the covenantal nature of the gospel emphasizing the household conversions that feature so prominently in Reformed defenses of paedobaptism. Another key feature of the commentary are the frequent application sections throughout the book.
This book will be useful in study, and prove to be a help for many.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review....more