Book Review: Paul Behaving Badly

paul-behaving-badlyE. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, coauthors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (IVP 2012), dive into the complicated life and teachings of the apostle Paul in their newest release, Paul Behaving Badly. This is now the third “behaving badly” publication from IVP. The other two are God Behaving Badly by David T. Lamb (IVP 2012), and Jesus Behaving Badly by Mark. L. Strauss (IVP 2016). You can read a review of Jesus Behaving Badly here, which was written and reviewed by my Greek and Biblical Studies professor from my undergraduate studies, Dr. Phil Long. All three books explore the difficult portions of scripture many readers find themselves wrestling with. There is no question that understanding the sociological, historical, and cultural contexts of scripture is necessary for interpretation, and the life and teachings of Paul solidify this further. It’s because of such why Paul tends to get a bad rap, and rightly so. Nevertheless, Richards and O’Brien attempt a conversation to alleviate these poor perceptions.

The book’s introduction addresses the problems most people, if not all, would encounter at some point when observing Paul’s persona and teachings. Richards and O’Brien include experiences of their own to relate to the readers with similar qualms. This all points to hermeneutics (interpretation) and how readers are led astray without it. The “problems” that one experiences in reading Paul is exactly why they emphasize the importance of a good hermeneutic. The introduction finishes with an invitation to the reader; an invitation to journey with them through these difficult portions of scripture with an open mind, and prepared to better understand this apostle who comes off as… well, kind of a jerk (21).

Each chapter deals with the common problematic verses of Paul’s teach, and each is unapologetically titled with, what I would consider to be cleverly marketed with their enticing shock value. The chapter titles are as follows:

  1. Paul Was Kind of a Jerk
  2. Paul Was a Killjoy
  3. Paul Was a Racist
  4. Paul Supported Slavery
  5. Paul Was a Chauvinist
  6. Paul Was Homophobic
  7. Paul Was a Hypocrite
  8. Paul Twisted Scripture

You may be thinking, “What passages are you referring to that fits these claims against the apostle?” Richards and O’Brien ask questions and make observations of these problems one sees when reading of Paul. This is done thoroughly in each chapter without restriction. For example, Paul opposes Peter upon his arrival to Antioch and does so “because he [Peter] stood condemned” (Gal 2:11), yet exhorts to other believers, “as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone” (Rom 12:18)? What about Paul’s expulsion of the wicked person in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 5:13), or saying “let them be under God’s curse” (Gal 1:8-9) if one were to disagree with his message? Jesus himself said to turn the other cheek and encourage all who were weary or burdened to come to him (Matt 5:39; 11:28), why on earth would Paul speak on behalf of the gospel, but say something so opposite to Christ’s teachings? Not to mention the verses that make Paul seem racist (Rom 10:21), sexist (1 Tim 2:1-14), homophobic (1 Thes 4:3-6), and a supporter of slavery (1 Cor 7:20-21), giving Paul the benefit of the doubt is difficult to do when read with western eyes (pun intended); even the apostle Peter admits that Paul is “difficult to understand” (2 Pet 3:16). This is a brief synopsis of the several passages conversed throughout the book. All of which include analogous anecdotes from the Richards and O’Brien’s life experiences in addition to their Biblical study, which I found very beneficial.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book was the structure of each chapter. Both sides of the coin are given fair consideration without indecisive “fence-riding” one might expect. When a book’s focus is to bring newfound understanding to the umbrella of civil rights issues one sees in Paul’s writings, it is bound to be rattling some cages; especially considering the consistent increase of social injustices we see from the media.This makes the need for theologically sound interpretation of Scripture all the more significant, and further proves the urgency for literature that will address these “problem” passages. Richards and O’Brien have provided an excellent aid to the church considering, and I hope to see many more like it for the sake of people the church can be salt, light, and love to.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in bringing clarity to the difficult passages attributed to the apostle. Any reputable exegetical, theological, or socio-rhetorical commentary would discuss these same issues (probably at greater length), but shouldn’t turn anyone away from reading this book. Though commentaries might discuss the issues at greater length and interact more with the original languages, Paul Behaving Badly is different from that. Think of this more like a well researched collection of essays by Richards and O’Brien. Each chapter/essay deals with a unique “problem” passage rather specific letters he wrote.  In addition to this, it is layered with testimonials from the authors, which makes the contemporary significance easier lay hold of for the reader. It would make an excellent book for a small group to work through, and an affordable resource for those studying the apostle. If you would like to purchase this book you can buy it on IVP’s website here.

Conclusion: Was Paul a chauvinistic homophobe who supported slavery? Was he a hypocrite who signed God’s name on his own agenda? Did he manipulate the masses by twisting scripture with motives ulterior to the gospel? Was he anti-Semitic and arrogant in his superior-like statements of judgment? Was he really a jerk?

I believe the answer to all of these questions is no, and the authors have done a fantastic job defending this with grace and understanding to both camps. The 21st century lens that readers look through presents a problem that seems to never dismay, and Paul’s letters are not exempt from this irresponsible habit. Paul was a product of his cultural context, and his writings do not fit the guidelines of Western Europeans. Paul Behaving Badly emphasizes the necessity of understanding the context of every portion of scripture, and we must wear glasses fitting to apostle’s first century context if we wish to achieve that.

Disclaimer: Thank you to InterVarsity Press and Krista Clayton for generously providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not effect the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.

Book Review: The Historical Reliability of the New Testament

Craig Blomberg (Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary) is notorious for his contributions to The Bible’s historicity. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels was his first publication on the subject, and following were The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, as well as Can we Still Believe the Bible? Soon thereafter, Blomberg authored his two volume introduction to the New Testament titled Jesus and the Gospels, and From Pentecost to Patmos which also has small excerpts regarding historicity issues, however, hardly scratches the surface with historicity issues being minimal. Though the notoriety of these works could stand alone, Blomberg’s most recent work The Historical Reliability of the New Testament (B&H Publishing Group) surpasses them in both length and thoroughness regarding objections to the New Testament’s reliability.

The title alone indicates the book’s separation from Blomberg’s prior works as far as material is concerned. He utilizes 14 chapters arranged into six different sections: Synoptic Gospels, Gospel of John, Acts and Paul, Non-Pauline Letters, Cannonicity/Transmission, and The Problem of Miracles. All of which unapologetically confront objections to the New Testament’s reliability as well as address the “illicit” issues that most western conservative fundamentalists would deem heretical. Even with the amount of material covered in the 816 pages, it still doesn’t cover everything Blomberg believes should be included regarding the subject, and reiterates this at several points throughout the book. Nevertheless, this book is still incredibly dense literally and figuratively, and to some that might be an immediate redflag as you read this review. This is not loaded with PhD-level diction that would lose you after the first page. Let me reassure you that Blomberg elaborates to bring those without prior knowledge up to speed so they engage. The only prior knowledge one would need to read this is a very basic understanding of the New Testament. So put down the copy of Crazy Love, because you don’t have anything to worry about.

The size of the book is by far more intimidating than it actually is. From my experience, I have assumed any book over 400-500 pages to be considered a reference, and have rarely picked up a reference with the intention of reading it cover to cover (Disclaimer: I have read every book assigned to be read for homework in every class as was written in the class schedule). I’ve always associated the amount of pages with how easy of a read a book is:

The number of pages is equivalent to the amount of information, and the more information means it is more useful as a “one stop shop” for research and study, and since it is designed to be a reference then it is likely more expensive, which means that most millenials won’t purchase it because, hey, that’s what google is for, right?! Though my lighthearted speculation is accurate, this book is the straw I’ve needed to paralyze the camel that is this presupposition. To put it bluntly, I read the forward and introduction and didn’t stop, I just kept reading.

That’s a big deal.

I’ll explain to alleviate any confusion. Typically I take a break after reading the forward and introduction, especially when they are over 31 pages combined. This was not the case for this book. I was hooked, and continued for an additional 50 pages before putting it down. The only reason I stopped was because I had time set aside specifically to spend time with my wife. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being a married seminary student, it’s that me putting off plans with her to read books is a big no-no during semester. Because of school I’m required to read books more than I sleep for 30 weeks a year, so I can’t say I blame her (not to mention it was Christmas Eve…). Nevertheless, the book’s infringement on previous plans was the last thing I expected to happen, but thankful when it did.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject. If you’re hesitant because of length, trust me when I say this book is not going to do that for you. Remember, I know this because I’ve had the same presuppositions. If you don’t want to buy it because it’s too big to fit in your purse or satchel (#murse) then it is available on kindle as well. Now, those reading may be asking themselves, “Well, do I really need to buy this if he’s got all these other books on the same subject? Or do the other books go into more depth and this is just a cheaper alternative?” I cannot answer each of these questions fully because I haven’t read any of his other works regarding historicity. However, Blomberg tells the reader, “This present work gathers most of the major threads of these works together, in a completely new topical arrangement, but also moves on to numerous additional issues that the scope of my previous works prevented me from addressing at all” (p. xxiv). Based on this, I would say owning this is sufficient enough, but you’ll just have to make the decision yourself. It is only $23.17 on amazon, and you can purchase it here.

Disclaimer: I want to thank B&H Publishing Group for providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not effect my review in any way.

A devotional on the word “devotional”

Many Christians today practice daily devotionals. Whether through prayer, scripture reading, silence, or a combination of them, the discipline of setting aside an amount of time daily for devotion is very common to Christians in any stage of life. What does the word devotion mean though, and have we distorted its scriptural use to accommodate our busy lives? Let’s examine the origin along with its use in scripture…

The word for devotion in the Greek is προσκαρτερω (prokartero) and derives from the words προς, meaning “to” or “towards” and καρτερος, meaning strength or stronghold. Depending on the grammar with its use, this can render different translations in the New Testament and Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). To name a few:

  1. Acts 2:42- to persevere; to give constant attention to
  2. Romans 13:6- to give unremitting care to; to be steadfastly attentive to
  3. Numbers 13:21- to be in constant readiness for a person/thing 
  4. Colossians 4:12- to be devoted or constant to a person/thing

As you can see, there is a notion of relentlessness with a continuing drive for each definition. Yet for most of us, our daily devotion tends to be a 15 minute block of prayer/reading a day. Granted, I understand that it isn’t realistic for anyone to read and pray all day every day, nor am I suggesting our should quit your job or school so you can do so. I do, however, want to impose a few questions related to the info above, and hope it leads you to think about devotions in the future. Why is it that we have deviated from this initial meaning of devotion, and replaced it with just another conscience pleasing task to start our day with? Why do we settle for a 15 minute window? How is devotion both constant perserverance and only 15 minutes a day? 

I definitely believe that a daily time of prayer and bible reading is good, but why stop there? We live in a world full of beauty, love, grace, joy, and peace. All of which is gifted to us to enjoy and cultivate. Be attentive to the the Creator’s creation as you enjoy it. When you find yourself struggling with the day, think of the blessing it is to have life on this day. If you dislike your job, think of how fortunate you are to have one as well as the vocational opportunities for the future. Take a minute and pray for your family, friends, coworkers, enemies, and the like. Give thanks for the weather, your morning coffee, and your means of transportation. Find joy in your relationships, school work, career, and church, and give praise to Jesus for giving you those things freely. These are just a few suggestions that only scratch the surface of what devotion truly means, but all of which go beyond the “15 minutes a day” bible reading plans we incorporate in our daily rituals. 

I challenge you to Live your life in constant attentive devotion today, and enjoy every moment of it. 

Book Review:Reading Revelation Responsibly, by Michael Gorman

 

 

The book of Revelation has a reputation for the fear and confusion it has led people to embrace. For Michael Gorman, the book of Revelation is far from the cheap Kirk Cameron screenplay reading it has received. In his book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness Following the Lamb into a New Creation Gorman’s approach for reading Revelation seeks to rescue the book from the vast amount of hermeneutical injustice wrongly received.

The first four chapters of the book answer the “what are we reading?” and “how to we read it?” questions regarding interpretation, literary style, and the historical/political context of Revelation. Chapters 5-9 are Gorman’s commentary-like walkthrough of Revelation where he utilizes the principles explained in the first four chapters. The brevity in these chapters hardly constitutes the length of a typical commentary the writing, both rich and thorough, puts to practice the insightful interpretation strategies chronologically. Chapter ten is a concluding summary with Gorman’s connection to the spirituality of Revelation. For this review, I will not summarize to accurately summarize chapters 5-9 considering there isn’t much regarding his method explained in these chapters. Instead, I will instead keep the summary limited to chapters 1-4 and 10, where his argument is best explained. I will then summarize his critique of the dispensational approach, and recap on his proposed alternate method of reading.

 

Chapter 1 titled The Puzzle, Problem, and Promise of Revelation, is an overview of the negative responses to Revelation. Introducing the body of the book, Gorman summarizes the preoccupation of those reading Revelation, along with the vast influence the book has had on music, art, and culture (which is incredibly ironic). This chapter addresses the problems with Revelation’s interpretation, and is Gorman’s overview of what he offers in the following chapters as an alternative approach for interpretation.

Chapter 2 is Gorman’s first response to the “What are we Reading?” question. This chapter tackles the form of Revelation. The form (or genre) has been characterized by words/phrases which have led its readers to assume it. Terms such as 666, the rapture, the end, the antichrist, judgment, etc. have encapsulated the book’s message, and dismissed what Gorman sees as central to the book such as throne, lamb, or witness (p. 1). These presuppositions come not just from the book’s cultural norm, but also from historical figures of high influence to the Christian faith today such as Calvin and Luther. With this in mind, Gorman argues the form of Revelation being a Hybrid Genre, rather than exclusively prophetic, apocalyptic, or a circulatory letter. Quoting Frank Matera he writes,

           

            “As an apocalypse, it reveals what “must soon take place” (1:1). As a prophecy, it testifies to the Word of God and Jesus Christ (1:2). As a letter, it addresses seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (1:4).”

 

Gorman concludes this chapter with identifying John as the writer of the letter according to the letter itself (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). Gorman’s purpose for this, however, is not limited to the name, but rather understanding him as a witness, poet, theologian, and pastor fully driven, intoxicated, intellectual in God.

This brings us to Chapter 3 addressing substance, which is the second response to the “What are we Reading?” question. Gorman’s focus on substance is carefully considered with two aspects of Revelation: liturgical and theopolitical. It is liturgical because it has to do with worship as a public service of a people (p. 34). It is theopolitical because it “parodies and criticizes both the oppressive nature of imperial power and the blasphemous claims made about it (p. 40)”, and in this the book acts as a manifesto and summons to “Uncivil” Religion (p. 55). Gorman points out that the two are synonymous, because if one reads Revelation liturgically, they will inevitably read it theopolitically. His conclusion is that, much like its form, it is not mutually exclusive to one or the other; summarizing his interpretation to a theopoetic, theopolitical, pastoral-prophetic text (p. 59).

Chapter 4 addresses the hermeneutical question of “How do We Read It?” Starting the chapter off, Gorman discusses historical factors regarding Revelation’s canonicity and interpretation, he then segues into five approaches to the book’s interpretation: predictive, preterist, poetic (theopoetic), political (theopolitical), and pastoral-prophetic. As one could see from the preceding chapters, he sides with the latter three modes of interpretation. Gorman then lists six common interpretive mistakes most people make when reading Revelation, along with their corollary antidotes; the antidotes are listed as helpful tools to ensure Revelation’s textual integrity with responsible study. These common mistakes are correlated with the predictive approach to revelation, and, after informing the reader of this approach being favored by dispensational readers, segues into his critique of such.

Gorman begins his summary of a dispensational reading by addressing their hermeneutic as primarily eschatological. This mode of reading is a means to define the symbols with figures and events in the future. It divides history into various ages (dispensations), and connects the rapture with the tribulation period (Rev. 6-19), which in their approach is the 70th week from Daniel 9:25-27. In an unapologetic fashion, Gorman reverts from the technical terms dispensational and predictive, referring to them instead as the “Left Behind” approach because of the series created by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Gorman’s critique is divided in three categories: Hermeneutical, Theological/Spiritual, and Political (p. 71-73).

Hermeneutically, this approach views Biblical prophecy as “history written in advance” as is noted in the book (Left Behind p. 214). According to Gorman, this is a form of “biblical hopscotch” because it jumps around scripture taking a verse here and there to connect them to the end times; they are taken out of context, and in turn, make the book’s purpose eschatologically exclusive. This misunderstands the nature and function of both prophetic and apocalyptic literature which, as he sees it, is a gross misuse of the Biblical texts utilized as proof and only further disproves their claim of being literal. Most importantly, their temporal (eschatological) emphasis dismisses theological significance; an absence theologically inevitably results in a spiritual problem as well.

The theological and spiritual problems with the dispensational reading reduce the gospel to “God and Jesus and the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing,” according to Gorman (p. 72). This reduction leads to an unhealthy preoccupation with the details and events surrounding Christ’s second coming; along with this reduction the main reason for one’s conversion shifts to being rooted in fear. This view also eliminates any ethic or discipleship between the rapture and second coming to continue, exposing it to be inherently militaristic (p. 72). The inevitable militaristic downfall dismisses any loving or peaceful action, bringing global disunity, and forcing Christians to participate in violent warfare alongside Jesus. Politically, Gorman reveals, this is very pro-American. There would be no international relations without suspicion war with the Middle East would not only be considered good, but also as part of God’s plan.

Gorman’s critique of the “Left Behind” approach shows error in God’s stamp of approval being on a patriotic, hostile, survivalist with a crusader mentality waging war on all who disprove the dissention predicted from the Bible out of context. Though he mentions he could’ve gone into more detail, Gorman limits it to those points as sufficient. Afterwards, he concludes with seven theological themes in Revelation, and a fivefold strategy for interpretation. This strategy is given to aid with his alternate approach he defines to a cruciform interpretation (p.78-79):

 

  1. Recognize that the central and centering image of Revelation is the Lamb that was slaughtered
  2. Remember that Revelation was first of all written by a first-century Christian for first-century Christians using first-century literary devices and images
  3. Abandon so-called literal, linear approaches to the book as if it were history written in advance, and use a strategy of analogy rather than correlation.
  4. Focus on the book’s call to public worship and discipleship
  5. Place the images of death and destruction in Revelation within the larger framework of hope.

 

Gorman’s conclusion is that Revelation, though highly important in its spirituality, cannot stand by itself. Instead, it is intended to be a “conversation partner with the rest of the canon” (p. 186). The book of Revelation is uncivil worship and witness: following the Lamb out of fallen Babylon into the new creation (p.77). For Gorman, this cruciform interpretation holds to the Hybrid genre in every way, and thus provides a means for us to Read Revelation Responsibly. Overall, I would rate this book as excellent. The only critique I have is the association he makes amongst all who approach Revelation with a predictive hermeneutic. His distaste for this view is aggressively laid out, and doesn’t seem to give leeway to any who aren’t in the “left behind” camp. Basically, if someone uses the predictive method of interpretation, they automatically are on the same extreme level as Kirk Cameron, praying for the day where they will be taken up to heaven, naked and without a single memory of the growing pains he experienced (pun intended). Other than that, I felt that this was an excellently written book that addressed a very important issue regarding Revelation’s interpretation which, in turn, brings the reader back to thrust of Gorman’s argument: The book of Revelation is for the church today as it is a call to public worship and discipleship. If this is something you’d be interested in buying I’ve included the amazon link here

reading-revelation-responsibly

31 Women of the Bible Book Review

31 Women of the Bible: Who They Were and What We Can Learn from Them Today is a wonderful resource for anyone. This book features the profiles of 31 different women who have played important roles in the Scripture. Each individual profile includes scripture references and a summary of their character. Probably my favorite part of each profile is there is a list of questions for the reader to ask for practical application of that chapter’s character; it is an excellent way for the reader to discover these 31 women of the Bible and dig into what we can learn from them today. Additional features for this book include:

 

-Vibrant and Colorful layout with pictures on every page

-Concise yet thorough character profiles (2-3 pages each)

-Significant descriptions of characters often looked over!

-Hardcover and Pocket-Sized so it’s both sturdy and easy to carry/store

-31 profiles makes for a great daily devotional for a month

-Affordable and an excellent source for a Bible Study
For the past few months I have been very intrigued by studying the women of the Bible. This started off because of a Complimentarian vs. Egalitarian discussion I had at church with a few friends. From there I’ve bought works by NT Wright, Ben Witherington III, and my personal favorite, Philip Payne’s Man and Woman, One in Christ. All of these works were academically heavy and rich in theological scholarship, however, I would not recommend them as a resource for someone looking for a daily devotional or weekly Bible study. 31 Women of the Bible: Who They Were and What We Can Learn from Them is the perfect resource for those circumstances. It is Biblically sound, concise, yet rich in information. At an easy to digest 144 pages and pricing less than $15, this is a very easy page turner for anyone looking to expand their library and grow in their understanding of Biblical characters.

 

I would like to thank B&H Publishing Group for generously providing me with a copy of this book to review. This provision had no influence on my review of the book.

Philippians 4:13 misunderstood… and a brief note on the election

philippians-413“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

This is one of the most quoted passages in the Bible, and is used by Christians regularly. It’s the go to encouragement statement for sports teams entering a Championship game, students about to take an exam, people entering job interviews, and the like. Since Christ is the provider of strength for believers, the passage becomes their motivating validation that surely they will conquer whatever trials lay ahead of them. It is the driving force for those needing a victory, and on top of that, looks great on a bumper sticker. It all sounds peachy, right?

Here’s the problem…

What about the several times people have prayed this passage but didn’t get the job?

What about the competing teams who reflect on this passage before the game?

If Christ guaranteed victory for both, how can only one be the champion?

Is Christ a liar if I fail my exam?

How does one “do all things through Christ who strengthens them” when they still don’t have the money they need at the end of the day?

Philippians 4:13 has been taken out of context more times than not, and with how often the passage is quoted, the context being brought to light is way past due. In order to do that, we need to first ask the question,

What is Paul really saying in his letter to the Philippians?

The book of Philippians was one of Paul’s prison letters, meaning it was written while he was under house arrest during his time in Rome. The Romans were well known for their persecution of the church, so Paul was left uncertain on whether or not he would be executed by them. Paul was imprisoned for interfering with the economy spreading the good news of Jesus being the Messiah. This was shortly after Paul had planted the church in the city of Philippi. So the book of Philippians is a letter written by Paul to a house church he planted in Philippi while being held prisoner in Rome. Paul’s intentions for writing were to thank the church for their support (1:1-11), update them with his current predicament (1:12-30), encourage them to be unified with one another (2:1-18), and most importantly, to experience the joy found in Christ alone together (3:1-4:20).

How is it then that Paul can say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” when he is being unjustly imprisoned and uncertain on whether or not he’ll be executed? Why on earth is he writing a letter to this church in Philippi just to tell them he’s joyful? Is he delusional or just naïve to the severity of his circumstance? It doesn’t really sound like he can do all things at all. If anything, it sounds like his predicament puts him in the exact opposite position of being remotely victorious. This conundrum raises another question;

What does Paul mean by “all things”

 

If “all things” means “every task and trial we face” then Paul must’ve been off his rocker, because we know that wasn’t true for him at the time of his imprisonment, and certainly isn’t true for us. Let’s consider the verses preceding Philippians 4:13…

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

As you can see, Paul’s concern is not with “coming out on top” for every difficulty life throws his way. As he states in verse 11, “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. Paul’s idea of “all things” is not limited to what our perceptions of victory, success, or accomplishing are in regards to all things. Paul is encouraging the Philippians to seek the joy that is can only be found in Christ, because it is impossible to do so when they are consumed with things going according to their expectations. When we read Philippians 4:13, we should consider the translation less of an ambiguous motivational verse, and shift our focus to being content in Christ. Rely on the encouragement Paul is writing to be content in all circumstances, not on a motivational quote. If we want to do the text justice, we must consider the context of Paul’s writing. Once we do, the interpretation of the verse would be more along the lines of, “I can find contentment in all of life’s circumstances, good or bad, because it is through Christ and his grace I am given the strength to do so.”

How should we apply Paul’s understanding of being content today?

Or more practically, let’s consider the current event of the election; how should this verse effect a believer’s response to the election results?

Whether you were rooting for Trump, Hilary, Gary Johnson, or hoping Ralph Nader would somehow end up on the ballot, this passage holds a lot of value in how we approach both current and future results of presidential elections for one reason: contentment. Let me be clear, I am not saying everyone needs to be okay with Trump as president. What I am saying is that you do have the ability to control your emotional response to the election despite its results. You can choose the path that seeks contentment in any circumstance. The underlying beauty of Philippians 4:13 is that no matter what side of the political fence you fall on, you can still find peace and joy in Christ, and be content with where you are as an individual in life. By choosing to be content, you are choosing to find joy in Christ and NOT in the country’s political shift. If you are against Trump and his policies, great! You have the freedom to act on them and you should do so! If you are for Trump and his policies, then that’s great too! You have just as much freedom to act on those as well! Whether the election has made you happy or further discouraged you, Christ remains the faithful provider of strength. By grace alone we are given direct access to him, and through him we can be content and joyful in all circumstances; especially when we really just don’t want to.

“Designed to Lead” Book Review

 

Designed to Lead, co-authored by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck, is a new release from B&H Publishing group and is bound to be a “go-to” for books on discipleship and leadership development.

My first thoughts on the book were skewed from the books I’ve read on discipleship/leadership development in the past. It seems that the majority of books on the topic have often been a regurgitation of the same principles within the evangelical world. Too often the same model for discipleship is presented under different authorship, and is predictable with the excessively layered quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bonhoeffer, and there is a reason The Cost of Discipleship is considered a classic. However, seeing that it is quoted as often as it is in discipleship literature, it seems borderline unnecessary to write something else when you can find a used copy of Bonhoeffer at pretty much any book store. That’s just my opinion. Maybe I’m being a bit cynical, maybe I’m not; regardless of such, Designed to Lead has broken the stereotypes that have given guys like me these initial impressions. Written to all who want to better understand the biblical mandate to disciple, I promise that Geiger and Peck will not disappoint.

After an introductory explanation of purpose, the first chapter of the book develops the framework for leadership development. Peck and Geiger lay out the three C’s that are central to this framework, and then finish with a Conclusion section; which is an encouraging word and testimony regarding the subject at hand, along with a scriptural overview of Jesus’ style of leadership development. The conclusion section was scripturally dense and practical for application. I found it very beneficial to my position in the church where I serve. The three C’s I mentioned earlier make up the body of the book:

  • Conviction
  • Culture
  • Constructs

The authors utilize these points as the core for the leadership development framework, which are presented to influence the reader to embrace the divine calling God has placed on every believer’s life, rather than market another discipleship program. This theme is prefaced early in the book as the reader is advised, “your church should be a leadership locus” (p. 1).  Seeing that they provide their definition of Locus as, “a central or main place where something happens or is found”, the term makes a consistent appearance throughout the book. They then connect the church with leadership development, and urging the reader to realize that the church needs to be a Leadership Locus. Here is one of the several quotes from the book that stuck with me; which also resembles this mentality of the church as a leadership locus:

“There is a holy cause and effect in ministry. If we will make the training of the saints our holy cause, the effect is a healthy church.” (p. 35)

Conclusion: All in all, this book was a breath of fresh air for me. As I have already stated, it is both practical and scripturally robust. If I am honest, it really sold me with its uniqueness in these areas. There are too many discipleship books out there that are more focused on developing a program rather than being intentional with the way believers should engage with those we are called to disciple. Geiger and Peck have deviated from what I have come to know as the stereotype for discipleship reading, and raised the bar. If you are looking for a good page-turner that is will still challenge you with urgency, this is the book for you. Or, if you’re a fan of Austin Stone Worship’s music, it might intrigue you to know that one of the author’s (Kevin Peck) is the Lead pastor of Austin Stone Church. Either way, if you’re looking for an excuse to purchase a book, and want to guarantee your money will be well spent, this is the book for you. I’ve included a link to the website from which you can purchase the book here.

I would like to thank B&H Publishing Group for generously providing me with a copy of this book to review. This provision had no influence on my review of the book.

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You and Your Spouse photo challenge Day #2

To preface, I am not a fan of the city of Chicago. In this post you will come across many jokes about the beloved Chi-town. These jokes are rooted in honest feelings about the city, but are meant to be taken light-heartedly as well. They are both playful  and serious, like the “E” light for a car. Truthful, but something you can find humerous. With that said, here is Day#2 of the Photo challenge.

This first picture was during the five minutes of no rain during our one year anniversary trip to Chicago, and man was it miserable. The fact that our anniversary weekend was spent in Blackhawk country was bad enough, but then finding out about the NFL draft taking place in Chicago that very same weekend made me loathe the state of Illinois for the 96 hours we were there. The NFL tourism alone was enough for me to crave a 2 Liter of Drano; now add in the consistent 30-40 degree weather and cold showers we experienced, and I am one unhappy camper without even camping. The only thing that could’ve made it worse is if i woke up to Kathy Bates standing over my bed with a sledgehammer… These circumstances in the land of the Toews took away the joy of leisurely walking and sight-seeing in the Windy City and replaced it with a wet and claustrophobic irritation, yet I held onto what optimism I had left and tried to make the best of a bad situation. I tried as hard as I possibly could with hopes higher than the Dave Chappelle, Snoop Dogg (not Lion), and Afroman watching a Cheech and Chong marathon in Denver at the top of the rocky mountains on April 20th. Despite my efforts, the windy city followed through with what it does best—it blew (pun intended).

 

On the bright side, we got to use AirBnB for the first time! We’d been forward to this great experience that so many people had talked up to us, but instead this was just another area of disappointment for us. The people we stayed with were great… or so we thought. We talked about beer, traveling, church, faith, and marriage, and were astounded by how well we connected with them! Unfortunately, what we thought was a memorable experience with new friends, turned out to be pretty one-sided. The day after we left their house we got a horrible review from them about stuff we apparently had damaged. Actually, the only thing we damaged was a picture frame. Everything else they accused us of damaging was not of our doing, nor did we know it was damaged to begin with. The funny thing about this is we offered to pay for the picture frame, and they “politely” declined our gesture to make things right in person. They saved their opinions about us as house guests for their macbook a week or so later; ironically, they didn’t give the Michigan exclusive food, drinks, or pipe tobacco we gave them as a thank you a bad review. On top of that, during our stay we went to three different pizza places to get a deep dish pizza. We were only able to get into one in less than two hours, and once we were seated, they didn’t even have deep dish. Needless to say, our one year anniversary getaway had more bad memories than good, and at about three days in we were at our breaking point. We were annoyed and short-tempered as a result of all of these issues. As you are probably already aware, the mixture of annoyance and short-temperedness with unfortunate circumstances is always a great mix for implosion both literally and figuratively, but I need not remind you that this isn’t a post about our weekend trip. This is a post about the fun I had with my wife on this trip despite the terrible circumstances. I just wanted to preface the important part with an overview of what we experienced, before I got to the night that was going to be legen… (Wait for it)…

 

It was our last night in Chi-town, and we wanted to just have fun. We didn’t care what it was we just wanted to do something memorable that would surpass the disgusting weekend we had thus far. So we went out to a bar that was way overpriced because we needed to get out of the house. Upon our arrival we were delightfully surprised by the DJ and his playlist. The only songs played where from the 90’s, and it was mainly hip hop, r&b, and pop. The nostalgic sounds of Christina Aguilera, Nelly, and Third Eye Blind set the stage for a good night. Shortly after that we met a man from Australia and he loved us for some reason. It sounds creepy as I type it out, but I can promise you he was not that way at all. He was delightful little dingo prancing about like he was down under without a care in the world. Now that I think about it, he probably had one too many Foster’s to drink (by one I mean a baker’s dozen). He tried talking to me as he cupped his hands around my ear and barked words I couldn’t understand, at which I smiled and nodded politely as if I did. After doing this for about 20 or so minutes, Alex and I’s anniversary came up in shouting match he called a conversation. The minute he heard this he let out a triumphant warrior yell, ran to the bar and immediately bought us each a beverage. Expressing gratitude to the man we took our time to enjoy his gift of a celebratory drink. He, however, slammed three shots of scotch in our stead (each costing $15), ran out on the dance floor and continued to awkwardly thrust like a wallaby in the outback. The night came to a close, and we went to cash out, but there was an issue. They couldn’t find Alex’s debit card. We waited for an hour for them to find it, and it turned into us not paying a single thing for the entire night we had. Our last night was one to remember, and made the entire weekend worth it despite its difficulties.

 

My point in all of this is to show that despite circumstances making our vacation horrifically equivalent to riding your motorcycle on the freeway and it starts hailing with hail the size of cantaloupes. and our own frustration and irritability making them worse, my wife and I still came together and had fun with each other, and a lot of it. We made the best of the last night we spent in Chicago, and even though I am not a fan of the blackhawks, or a giant bean designed specifically for people to take selfies with, she is still my favorite person to have fun with, and I never want to miss an opportunity to make a memory with her because of it. Whether it’s us binge watching Lost, eating ourselves into a taco/pizza coma, or going to some random bar in Chicago that plays 90’s hits, there’s no one I’d rather spend my time meeting intoxicated Australians with other than her.

 

Alex, your smile is captivating, and your laugh is contagious. I promise to spend the rest of my life making you smile and laugh as much as humanely possible. I know I have a lot of cat videos, makeup tutorials, nachos bell grande’s, seasons of Shield, and facebook posts from Bon Qui Qui to compete with, but I’m up for the competition because I will never get sick of that laugh.

 

 

…DARY!!!

You and your spouse photo challenge: Day #1

3 years, 8 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days ago I met you. I have seen you at your absolute worst, but I have yet to see you at your best. Before anyone gets upset and assumes I’m some misogynistic turd of a husband, allow me to explain. If you know my wife, or at least follow her on facebook, you know that she is very passionate about progression and growth in all its forms; she posts on this regarding everything from makeup, to nutrition and dieting, and, most importantly, her relationship with the Lord. Growing in this area specifically always takes precedence over any other area of growth for her. To me, that characteristic is something I have come to be more than just thankful for, and here’s why…

My wife doesn’t have a hobby or activity that consumes her; unless you’d consider tacos a hobby or activity (she’d be a gold medalist for both summer and winter Olympics if that were the case), she is a simple woman who is good at all the things she finds joy in, yet remains content on each. I absolutely love that about her. Simple is not bad by any means, it’s actually one of the reasons I knew she was perfect for me. She loves the little things without needing a big picture goal to work towards. When she does her makeup/eyebrows it is borderline flawless, and will make Kim Kardashian look like Rodney Dangerfield smeared ketchup on his face, but she never feels compelled to enroll in cosmetology school, or start her own business. Makeup brings her so much joy, and even more so when she is given the opportunity to do a bride’s makeup, but she is completely content with it being just that—a gift that she utilizes to bring herself joy and bless others. I admire this so much about her and there are times where I am pretty envious of it, because I am the exact opposite. My lack of contentment is not to my benefit because of how easy it is to quit on anything that isn’t a deep indwelled passion of mine. My wife, however, is not that way. She is both humble and content with the things that she loves and hobbies she has, and the one area she is not content is with her relationship with the Lord. Even so, her struggle with contentment is hardly a downfall. She yearns for more, and struggles with being content because of this desire. Her struggle is not an impatient one, rather anticipation for the good things to come. This is her consuming passion. This is where her passion for growth and progression began, and this is where it flourishes.

Alex, you are content in all the right places, and this trait is one that I envy regularly. Sometimes it makes me angry and I want to be childish, like give you a wedgy or something to show I’m stronger you, but it never lasts or turns into bitterness. Once I snap out of my self-centered mentality to achieve supremacy in all areas, I always come back to how I admire this quality of yours, and decide to just stare at your butt rather than continue with the onslaught of wedgies I just mentioned. I love you for who you are, and I am grateful that contentment comes easier with your hobbies than it does for me.First Look-0132

“Four Views on The Historical Adam” Book Review

Zondervan’s Four Views on The Historical Adam brings an ongoing debate amongst Evangelicals to light. The introduction to the book does a fantastic job of bringing the reader up to speed with the disputes discussed. To summarize, the Adam whom Bible readers see introduced in Genesis is being questioned as a historical figure. Contributors Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday take the helm on introducing the origins of Adam controversy. Starting with the release of Darwin’s On the Origins of Species in 1859, they tediously assess the history of the argument. Fast forward 150+ years; Evolutionary theory is no longer a topic solely embraced in secular contexts, but now breaches the evangelical world. The correlation of accepted science with traditional orthodox has evolved (pun intended), and now stands as one of the current “hot buttons” amongst evangelicals. For some, accepting the theory is a threat to doctrine, and for others, a step forward to understanding God’s supernatural process of creation. The four views expressed in the book are as follows:

 

  1. Evolutionary Creation View: Denis O. Lamoureux
  2. Archetypal Creation View: John H. Walton
  3. Old-Earth Creation View: C. John Collins
  4. Young-Earth Creation View: William D. Barrick

 

Denis O. Lamoureux presents his view of evolutionary creation very substantively. It is clear that his argument is richly rooted in scientific discovery. To summarize, “the Father, Son and Holy Spirit created the universe and life, including humans, through an ordained, sustained, and intelligent design-reflecting process” (37), but Lamoureux emphasizes that this does not mean his view supports the existence of a Historical Adam, and belief in him is essential for the Christian Faith. His argument approaches the Bible with absolute authority, but his approach alleviates it as a book of science. The term Lamoureux uses to define this is “scientific concordism”, meaning science must directly match with scripture. Scientific concordism should be avoided because it does not take into account the phenomenological perspective of the writers at the time. An example Lamoureux uses to explain this is when the biblical writers refer to the sun as rising and setting (i.e. Ps. 113:3). With modern science, we know that the sun doesn’t physically rise or set even though it gives the appearance of such. Ancient science could not have determined that. The believer’s approach to these sorts of passages should not seek to overthrow the science that we have because they were not written to make scientific claims.

Theologically, Lamoureux feels that Adam’s existence should not affect the core doctrines of the Christian faith. However, Adam’s potential non-existence would invite the idea of original sin to be non-existent as well. Some believe this could completely dismiss humanity’s need for Jesus, and dismiss any idea of evolution. Sadly, Lamoureux did not provide explanation for this problem with his view, but did reassure that he does in fact believe that humanity is in desperate need of a savior, and that he believes in sin.

Walton’s heart for scripture is obvious to the reader in his contribution. He believes in Adam and Eve being real historical figures, but shows us that Genesis 1-3 is meant to be read as an archetype, not historical facts describing the mechanical process of the origins of man. He believes the biblical text is more interested in Adam and Eve representing all of humanity, and what remains vertical for us today, rather than a ledger of facts supporting the earth spawning from 2 people 6000 years ago. I found this very compelling, because his view doesn’t prove or disprove any side of Historical Adam. The exegesis, which I found to be very convincing, shows the reader one cannot simply approach this account of Genesis as historical.  No matter what side of the paradigm you fall on for Adam’s historicity, this portion of text needs to be read within its context. Very intriguing, but for the intended purpose of arguing a particular view on Adam, I felt he missed the mark. This should not lead anyone to dismiss his contribution from the book. On the contrary, it’s enticed me to seek out more of his resources to better understand his view.

John Collins presents the Old-Earth Creation View. This argues for a Historical Adam, but accommodates for those swayed by evolution. His argument focuses on “right thinking” for the believer by carving out the parameters for the believer investigating evolution. These parameters are what he claims to be the doctrinal beliefs every believer needs to maintain when tampering with any new science or view of scripture. These beliefs include: (1) humankind is one family with one set of ancestors for us all; (2) God acted specially (supernaturally) to form our first parents; and (3) our first ancestors, at the headwaters of the human race, brought sin and dysfunction into the world (p. 157-161). With this, he claims, “the biblical material should keep us from being too literalistic in our reading of Adam and Eve, leaving room for an Earth that is not young, but that the biblical material along with good critical thinking provides certain freedoms and limitations for connecting the Bible’s creation account to a scientific and historical account of human origins” (p. 143).

The final view is presented by William Barrick, Young-Earth Creation, or as many refer to it, the traditional view. Barrick believes in Adam as the originating head of the human race, and that the account given of him is historical. His view is in support of the literal 6-24 hour day creation narrative presented in Genesis, and that it should be interpreted as a literal historical record. His argument’s foundation is shaped by theological aspects of doctrine he believes would be ruined if interpreted otherwise; specifically, he lists 8 to emphasize the topic’s importance (p. 199). As he makes several assertions about the importance of Adam in Christian Doctrine, he notes the supernatural revelation given as a part of the Genesis account by alluding to the author, Moses. To put it bluntly, if Moses was the author of the creation account in Genesis and that was supernaturally given to him by God, then God would be made a liar if anything written was false. In light of this, he argues the reader does not need any other material to construct an argument for the Young-Earth Creation view. Anything that deviates from this literal historical approach is not a correct interpretation of the text, and jeopardizes every core doctrine of the Christian faith.  In his words, “this denigrates the biblical record and treats it with skepticism rather than as prima facie evidence” (p. 226). Barrick makes abundantly clear that science along with any form of extra biblical literature is not needed to support his claim, his neglect of such makes his argument much weaker than it should’ve been.

Overall, every contributor’s portion of the book was well written. Walton in particular presented the most intriguing of the views. His exegetical focus and rigorous passion for the text has prompted me to seek out more of his work. The arguments presented by Lamoureux and Collins were both cogently delivered as well, with a healthy balance and appreciation for modern science and Biblical authority. Barrick on the other hand, though well written, presented his view very poorly, and that is probably an overstatement. His very apparent confusion of the difference between inerrancy (scripture being viewed as without any error) and interpretation was absolutely maddening. The other contributor’s confessed to believing the inerrancy of scripture declaring it as their main authority, yet Barrick persisted to argue that his interpretation of scripture was the only way the Bible could maintain inerrancy. Basically, if I was to interpret a passage of Revelation as metaphorical and Barrick’s interpretation is prophetically literal, I couldn’t say that I believe in the inerrancy of scripture because of our hermeneutical differences. This sort of dialogue reeks of contempt, and I found his abrasive approach to be incredibly disrespectful. I won’t go any farther with my critique of Barrick. The last thing I would want is for anyone to not read the book because of it.

The density of these arguments could have filled a robust hardcover textbook easily, and provided a possible “ten views” publication instead of four. I found the diversity of the four arguments presented both insightful and entertaining despite the apparent roominess for additional contributors and vaster study.

Along with this book review, I have also written a research paper containing my heuristic position on the topic. I did not want to post it on here due to lengthiness and literary style, but I would be more than happy to send it to you if you would like to read it. I also would encourage those who are interested in this book to seek out other sources which dig deeper into the arguments held. Here are some I’ve found credible on the topic at hand.

 

  1. biologos.com is an evangelical foundation with the mission of accommodating science/evolution with scripture
  2. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate
  3. John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate
  4. C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care
  5. C. John Collins, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?
  6. C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary
  7. Karl W. Giberson and Francis Collins, The Language of Science and Faith
  8. Denis Lamoureux, I love Jesus and I Accept Evolution
  9. Denis Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution
  10. Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins