Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

We Become What We Worship: Review – I

Greg Beale‘s biblical-theological acumen is remarkable. Although a self-proclaimed maximalist (24), Beale leaves no stone unturned whether he is tracing an exegetical arguments or redemptive-historical themes. His latest book We Become What We Worship: a biblical theology of idolatry is no exception. The seeds of this book were sewn through several of his seminary courses, including his Use of the OT in the NT, which proved quite challenging my first year of seminary. It required a working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, and I only had Greek at the time. I eventually dropped the 10 day course. However, I recall spending considerable time in Isaiah 6 tracing its influence on the NT and its description of “sensory organ malfunction,” the pattern of Gentiles and Jews being rendered spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb. Beale makes this text the seminal starting point for a biblical theology of idolatry in WBWWW.

In chapter one, Beale takes Martin Luther’s definition of idolatry and slightly tweaks it: “whatever your heart clings to or relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol.” Beale adds “whatever your heart clings to or relies on for ultimate security.” (6) This is an excellent definition of idolatry, both heart-focused and God-centered, perceiving idolatry to be a matter of heart not just action. The rest of the chapter outlines Beale’s hermeneutic, which is a good, concise introduction on how to do biblical theology. WIthout wading into the frey of sensus plenior debate, Beale notes his hermeneutical preferences summarizing his position as canonical, gentic-progressive, and intertextual. Typical Bealian verbosity!

Chapter Two lay the biblical-theological groundwork for his thesis: “we resemble what we revere, either for ruin or for restoration.” Isaiah 6 portrays Israel as deaf and blind, like the idols they worship. Their idolatry has rendered them idol-like, a judgment for idolatry. We become like what we worship. Beale convincingly traces this dynamic throughout the rest of Isaiah. Chapter three extends this examination to the rest of the OT, overtuning a host of exgetical gems through rigorous biblical digging. In particular, Beale notes the prominence of the Golden Calf rebellion in Deuteronomy 29 as programmatic for idolatry themes and dynamics in the rest of Scripture. Chapter four continues tracing the become what you worship dynamic through Judaism, with chapter five turning the corner into the New Testament. It is in the Gospels that we begin to see the resemble what we revere for restoration more prominently. I will pick up with the review here in the next post.

For another review, see Josh Otte’s blog.

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Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem

Desmond Alexander’s From Paradise to Promised land was a great biblical theology of the Pentateuch. He has followed that work up with his newest work, From Eden to the New Jerusalem. From the Table of Contents, it looks like a great introduction to Biblical theology.

Theology of Mediation – II

In Colossians Paul tells us that Jesus is the Agent of creation: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him.” Paul goes out of his way to use three prepositions to denote Christ’s work in creation, which he repeats in vss. 19-20. How should these texts shape our theology of Mediation? Why the close attention and repetition of prepositions?

Greek Philosophy

I believe that Paul is deliberately engaging Greek philosophy and turning it on its head. In Greek philosophy there was this preoccupation with creation being made from something, some agent. With the Thales it was water. Everything was made from water. Then came Heraclitus who said that everything was made from the logos, which was some kind of fiery, fluctuating thing. Then came along, Plato. And Plato was more sophisticated than the Pre-Socratic philosophers. He didn’t think that the world came from stuff, it came from some metaphysical principle which he called the Forms. The Forms were these eternal realities that determined what finite created things would look like. But the point is that everything came from the forms, and if you read Plato closely, you might see that he posits this thing called a Demi-urge, but either way there is this Agent or substance that does the creating.

Trinitarian Creation

When it comes to Paul, we discover that God needs nothing to create. He creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. God creates in Jesus, a Person, not a substance. Together with the what St Irenaeus called this the “two hands of the Father” God created all things. This is important because, contrary to a lot of Greek philosophy and early Christian theology, God isn’t bound up with his creation. He is not to be confused with the rocks and the trees. There is ontological distance between God and creation, so he can freely and lovingly relate to us and our world and we need not worship the world. God isn’t in the rocks and trees. He made those things with his two hands, Son and Spirit. This is not pantheism—God is in everything. The rocks and trees aren’t meant to be worshipped; they are to point us their sovereign and free Creator for worship. See, God creates as a Trinity, out of his boundless self-sufficiency and pleasure and creativity. He doesn’t need anything and isn’t compelled by anything, like some eternal substance.

Why is this important? Because God in Christ, through Christ with the Spirit is completely free and sovereign. There is no water, logos, forms or eternal matter or primordial gas that competes with his sovereignty and freedom to create. As firstborn in whom all things are made we discover that Jesus has priority over all things, nothing existed before him. As image of the invisible God, we find that Jesus has absolute preeminence over all things. Not only is he the rightful heir, number one, but he is also the sovereign ruler, the best.

Think of it like this. In many sports it is possible to be ranked #1 and not be the best team or player on the circuit. It is only the end of the season that we find out who is the best. Jesus not only has the priority of number one, but he also has the preeminence of being the best, most sublime, supreme creator and lord over all things. Why? Because all things were made in him and through him.

Theology of Mediation

I’ll be writing some posts in the weeks to come on a theology of mediation. Many are familiar with the need for Christ to mediate redemption to sinful humanity in order to reconcile us to God, but what of Christ’s mediation of creation? It is only with the development of the NT that we get a clear theology of mediation, particularly Christ’s role in creating all things. If Christ mediates creation for the good of all humanity, then doesn’t it follow that he would mediate redemption for the good of all humanity? If not, what is the difference between Christ’s mediating creation and redemption? J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema in their forthcoming Concise Reformed Dogmatics state:

Without knowledge of Christ, who is the Word made flesh, and without considering his glory, the evangelist would not have thus referred to the Word in the beginning. But this does not mean that creation by the Word and redemption through the Word incarnate should be identified with each other or thought to coincide in principle. Then there would be no distinction between creation and re-creation. Salvation in Christ would already be implicit in creation. In believing this, one would open the door to the “monism of grace” with far-reaching consequences in the direction of universalism.

Do you agree? Is there a distinction to be made between Christ’s mediating of creation and redemption? What is this distinction? How does his agency differ between the two? What difference does this make for our engagement with culture and people? Contra Barth et. al, van Genderen and Velema respond:

The Bible teaches us to retain the distinction between creation and redemption. Creation is theocentric; redemption, which was necessary on account of sin and made reality through grace, may be called christocentric. Creation does not rest on redemption or on the plan for redemption, but redemption presupposes creation and the fall into sin. Ontologically, creation has priority.

Richard Lints and Theology

Dr. Richard Lints has assumed David Wells’ Andrew Mutch Chair of Theology at Gordon Conwell theological Seminary. Some may know of Lints’ impressive work The Fabric of Theology. In addition to being a fine theologian, Lints is a very winsome man. I recently learned of two new writing projects he is finishing up.

The first is provisionally called image and idol and deals with human identity and idolatry. The second is deals with religious pluralism and democracy. Keep your eyes out for those.

Lints has also announced a 2009 conference devoted to the life and legacy of David Wells. This will be held in October of 09 at Gordon Conwell. Seems like some great things are coming from Gordon Conwell in the months to come, including three new professors: Peter Anders, Patrick Smith, & Adonis Vidu.

The Apostles Creed: Basic Belief for Membership

In an attempt to iron out where we will draw the doctrinal lines for partner, deacon, and elders at Austin City Life, I’ve been doing some research on the Early Church and Creeds. We’ve settled on the Apostles Creed as a requirement for partnership, which we explain in our Partners Class. We have chosen to affirm this creed for several reasons:

  • To align our church with historic, Christian orthodoxy. It is important that Austin City Life locate its identity in the flow of historic Christian faith, not in a Great Emergence that lays claims to revisionist Church History.
  • To emphasize that belief in doctrine is both a matter of the heart and the head. The first article of the creed intends both heart and head belief: “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth.” Commonly referred to as a credo, this statement is creedal because it requires a head to say it and a heart to believe it. To “believe” is to exercise faith as well as confess one’s faith, both of which are in view here. (See Jaroslav Pelikan, Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Christian Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, 35.

History of the Creed

The Symbolum Apostolorum, also known as the Apostles Creed, was developed between the second and ninth centuries. It is the most popular creed used in worship by Western Christians. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator.

Legend has it that the Apostles wrote this creed on the tenth day after Christ’s ascension into heaven. That is not the case, though the name stuck. However, each of the doctrines found in the creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period. The earliest written version of the creed is perhaps the Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus (ca. A.D. 215). The current form is first found in the writings of Caesarius of Arles (d 542).

The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Hence it is also known as The Roman Symbol. As in Hippolytus’ version it was given in question and answer format with the baptismal candidates answering in the affirmative that they believed each statement. Here is as modern version of the Creed:



I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. A
MEN.

Information taken from: http://www.creeds.net/ancient/apostles.htm

Hermeneutical Method for Biblical Theology

Richard Hays’ pioneering work in narrative theology, especially in Paul, has proven to be a massive contribution to Biblical Theology. Hays’ had a significant influence on N.T. Wright’s hermeneutic. In Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Hays outlines seven helpful criteria for detecting intertextual echoes:

  1. The text echoed must be available to the original recipients/readers.
  2. A significant volume of intertextual echo should be present, determined by repetition of words, syntactical patterns and general prominence in author’s overall thought.
  3. Recurrence, how often does the author cite or allude to the scriptural passage?
  4. Thematic coherence, does the alleged echo square with the author’s argument?
  5. Is the allusion historically plausible, could the readers and hearers have understood the allusion?
  6. Does the interpretation align with the history of interpretation?
  7. Does the allusion provide a satisfactory explanation with the other six criteria, illuminating the surrounding discourse?

It is rare that all seven criterion will apply in any given allusion or echo. Moreover, shades of certainty vary with the number and degree of criterion which are met. However, as Hays points out, texts are not inert and can not always be contained by our hermeneutical methods. Nevertheless, these seven criterion are valuable–critical–hermeneutical guide in doing Biblical theology

The Old Testament & Politics

Commenting on the complexity of Old Testament political postures, N. T. Wright says:

At points like these we realize how inadequate our left-right specturm is for understanding how the Jewish poeple thought about earlthly rulers. Radical subversion of pagan political systems does not mean support for anarchy. The Jewish poitlical belief we find in books like this was based on a strong theology of creation, fall and providence: the one God had in fact created all the world, incliuding all rulers,  and though they were often exceedingly wicked God was overrruling their whilsm for his own strange and often hidden purposes, and would judge them in thier turn. – Paul: A Fresh Perspective, 66

Suggested Systematic & Biblical Theologies

Here are some recommendations on Systematic and Biblical Theologies:

Systematic Theologies

  • Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology – Berkhof offers a classic Reformed systematic. His older language is worth the wade, as he addresses the attributes of God with a sense of reverence that is often missing from contemporary systematics. His section on the immensity of God is especially good.
  • Lewis & Demarest, Integrative Theology– This theology integrates historical, systematic, biblical theologies and apologetics all in one volume. The strength is its well rounded approach; however, at times it is too scientific in methodology and explanation.
  • John Frame, Theology of Lordship series – Frame is among the most cogent and clear systematicians. His triperspectival lens offers a unique perspective on systematic theology.
  • Tim Tennent, Theology in the Context of World Christianity– Tennent offers a global perspective on systematic theology, presenting various systematic doctrines from diverse cultural voices, i.e. Christology from an African perspective. Tennent is a consummate missionary-theologian.
  • Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology – lucid, readable, accessible, worshipful. Contains hymns and questions and a glossary at the end of each section. Contains a rare systematic treatment of Prayer, Spiritual Warfare.

Biblical Theology

  • N.T. Wright, History of Christian Origins Series, – an incomplete, multivolume work of remarkable scholarship, both in theological depth and historical breadth. Though demanding, these books are very rewarding.
  • Charles Scobie, The Ways of Our Goda massive treatment of major biblical themes gathered around four primary concepts (God’s Order, Servant, People, & Way) and one primary methodology (promise-fulfillment-consummation).
  • Hafemann & House, Central Themes in Biblical Theologyan oustanding collection of essays that offer various thematic studies as well as two excellent essays on overarching frameworks for BT by Hafemann and Ciampa.
  • Marvin Pate, The Story of Israel – traces the story and reconfiguration of Israel around Jesus throughout the whole Bible, paying particular attention to the role of covenant blessings and curses.

Moo’s New Colossians Commentary

I’ve been eagerly anticipating Moo’s new commentary on Colossians and Philemon. For my Th.M thesis I wrote about 150 pages on this letter, which has profoundly shaped my theology, ministry, and everyday life. I did email briefly with Moo about getting him to review my thesis for the commentary, but alas, the manuscript was already dedicated. I am moving towards publishing an article on my research, and will be eager to see how much I line up with Moo. His Romans commentary is among the best single volumes on that letter.

Anyway, I called Eerdmans yesterday and got a copy shipped within 24 hours of the book being published, fresh off the press. Amazon doesnt even have it yet! Excited to take and read; I’ll be preaching through Colossians this Fall.