Lexham Bible Dictionary Articles

I received word that the Lexham Bible Dictionary articles I wrote are now all available! You will need the Logos or FaithLife Bible apps to view. The dictionary has numerous articles for background and explanations for a plethora of biblical subject matter to compliment your studies. And best of all, it’s a free resource!

Fall, The
Co-written with Derek Brown, academic editor at FaithLife, the article describes the history of the fall, its relation to other ancient near eastern accounts of humanity’s condition, the view from the intertestamental period, and the appearance of the idea in the New Testament with some modern scholarship summaries.

Memphite Theology
Also called the Theology of Memphis, this article describes an ancient account of creation that was discovered on a black milling stone dated around 700 BC. The story written on the stone is believed to date back to the First Dynasty of Egypt. One of the major significances is its reference to creation by divine decree like we find when God speaks creation into existence in the biblical narratives. This provides some evidence that the biblical narratives are quite older than some proposed later datings.

Remnant
This article provides a summary of a major theme in the Old Testament concerning the people of God. The remnant of God’s people are those who suffer, survive divine judgment, and remain faithful to God. The idea can be traced from the Old Testament, through the intertestament period, and well into the New Testament.

Temple Scroll
The Temple Scroll was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran. It is the longest scroll and presents some of the law of Moses as spoken by Moses himself, first-person. It provides details for the eschatological temple and insight into the Qumran community, and the interpretation of the Old Testament during the later intertestamental period.

These are four among many articles that you’ll find very helpful.

Blessings on your studies!

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To Bake or Not to Bake

Michael Bird posted an excellent comment on the issue of whether or not Christian businesses should provide their wedding-cake-15services when those services are being used in conjuction with something that conflicts with the Christian faith. It is well worth a read.

I tend to agree with Dr. Bird in that providing our goods and services for customers that have conflicting views with our own is precisely what it means to be in the world but not of it. In addition to the Scripture references that Dr. Bird makes, Jesus advised us to make friends with those who have worldy wealth (Luk 16:9). There was no requirement that they be Christians. It would prove difficult to stay a friend during such a protest as to refuse to bake a cake from a business we own.

I think seeing this particular issue as being forced to do something contrary to one’s faith is a perspectival argument. There are other ways of viewing the situation that seem to fall in line with how God advises us to behave. No one is asking the businesses to agree with homosexual wedding ceremonies. Walking a mile with someone doesn’t mean that we agree with their theological views. Pastor Greg Boyd has said that the only judgment we should make concerning a person is to agree with God that he or she has “unsurpassable worth” (Boyd, Greg A. Repenting of Religion. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004). I think Boyd is helpful here.

As soon as I attempt making discernments regarding the receiving end of any part of my work, it proves difficult to draw lines between blemishes. In doing so, don’t we then become judge in such an undertaking? I think we need to remember that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us as well as all others (1 Joh 2:2).

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If at first you don’t “get it”, it’s ok!

I was reading Paul’s letter to Titus and in the second verse it states that God “promised before the world began” (Tit 1:2, ESV) that there would be eternal life. I immediately started thinking, where did I miss that in Genesis? I’ve read that text many times! But the next verse in Titus reveals something that calms the anxious beast, that in “due times [God] manifested his word” (Tit 1:3, ESV). The full realization of that truth was not fully revealed at such an early time as in the book of Genesis. Whew!

It doesn’t mean that we can’t look back in the pages of Scriputre now that the full revelation has come via the cross of Christ and see evidence of God revealing this truth a little at a time throughout his dealings with Israel and with humanity. It does highlight, however, that this truth took time to reveal.

There are many things God promised to those who love him such as eventually wiping ever tear away, blessing the increase of our hands, or answering our personal and intimate prayers. These things aren’t always revealed or accomplished right away. Our goals, dreams, and visions take time to manifest.

It is reassuring that it is perfectly OK if we don’t “get it” at first. God has not set up his creation for immediate gratification and immediate answers to important matters. We grow, we mature, we experience, and we gain wisdom and knowledge over time. Our duty is faithfulness to he who has called us. We are learning how to become those faithful people of God. If we “commit [our] way to the Lord and trust in him, he will act. He will bring forth [our] righteousness as the light, and [our] justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psa 37:5-7, ESV).

We have need of endurance. Let patience have her perfect work!

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Heaven, Hell & Purgatory Book Review

JeWalls-Heaven Hell and Purgatoryrry L. Walls
Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama
Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015. Paperback $19.99
ISBN 9781587433566

(*I was provided a review copy by Brazos Press and am under no obligation for a positive review. The following comments and opinions are my own.) 

Walls makes an observation that what is fundamental to human motivation is the desire for happiness (20). Some people question if it is achievable while others celebrate whatever form it may take in their lives. Is complete happiness possible or is it an addiction we are chasing? Walls posits that there is a connection between the desire for happiness and for love. This is part of what drives us to the eternal hope we have in an afterlife: in heaven. I think Walls is agreeable here, for whatever my opinion is worth. We are most satisfied when we find our satisfaction in God.

Heaven
It is God who says that he is the Alph and Omega (Rev 21:6). God as the creator of everything and the ultimate end for which everything exists. Walls is certainly correct that this has important implications. The origin of things is not the big bang, even if that was the method used, the origin is the eternal love of God. Its end is the satisfaction of our happiness and desires without quenching them (28).

Heaven is the perfect end to the cosmic love drama, as Walls puts it so well among his 7 truths about heaven. Whether or not the earth will be new or renewed, heaven will be on earth (Rev 21:2-11). We believe in a resurrected body, not a specifically new body. We eagerly await this resurrection now and after death; until God’s final salvation (30). Heaven is a conclusion but not a final stop. “God’s plan of salvation is much larger and more comprehensive than saving human souls or even human beings.” God is in the process of redeeming the entire creation (Rom 8:22).

Atheistic views that argue heaven is an untenable reality receive good interaction in Walls’ work. He critiques the philosophical claims of some such as Bertrand Russell, Richard Taylor, Thomas Nagel, and Keith Parsons. What Walls asserts is that even though some reject the belief in heaven, they still pursue it other ways (50). Russell admits that there is a part of him that searches beyond the world for something infinite. Taylor claims that we’re living out a type of Sisyphus drama; finding satisfaction rolling the rock because it is our obsession. Walls argues that this view is implausible because many, if not most, do not find lasting satisfaction with “the tasks and accomplishments of this world” (56). Nagel has said that it is precisely because we can take a step back and examine ourselves and our lives that affords us the ability to realize our mortality (58). Walls argues that this “signs the death warrant” on our dreams and aspirations and does little to comfort us as Nagel intends. Parsons opposes the view that everlasting life provides the ultimate meaning for life (59), but we should value our finite time by finding meaning and creating meaning in our lives. Walls’ critique of this view is that it attempts to install meaning into fleeting passions. What provides meaning in Parsons’ type of view is destined to come to an end.

Hell
If heaven is the intended and ultimate end, why would there be a hell?

God loves us so why would he want anyone to go to a place of torment. C.S Lewis answered this question with human freedom; highlighting that the doors of hell are locked from the inside. It is the ultimate end of rebellion. It is a successful end for those who wish to reject God (73). Rob Bell also affirms this: that love demands freedom and we can have all the resisting, rejecting, and rebellion that we want. Though some philosophers, even Christian philosophers, don’t ascribe to this view. They argue that it is not the sort of respect God should afford to his creatures. The gap between God and his creature is too enormous: like that of a mother and her infant. Would she allow the child to crawl into fire for freedom’s sake? Walls argues that God repeatedly gives commands and expects obedience. I think he is right. We are not like infants who do not have the capacity to understand enough to obey. We have the capactiy to obey.

Walls continues to repond to some rejections of the reality of hell and uses the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I found it refreshing and actually worth the price of admission, so no spoiler here. But he continues to discuss C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce and that true repentance has always been a requirement of genuine conversion. Without that, words becomes excuses and insincere attempts at self-justification.

Purgatory
One of the reasons Walls suggests that purgatory has received such resistance is that it was included in the points of disagreement that led to the Reformation. The Roman Church was profiting by selling indulgences to those who were concerned about the afterlife and whether they or their loved ones would be freed from purgatory. There are additional reasons for the negative views of purgatory such as how it is viewed as opposite of the cry, salvation by grace through faith alone.

Walls shares several arguments in support of purgatory and I will not treat them all here. One is that heaven can only contain fully pure, holy people and that “doing evil must be impossible for the redeemed in heaven” (94). He quotes Hebrews 12:14. Since none are fully holy when they die, they cannot enter heaven in that condition. But to use a parable Walls already makes use of, Lazarus was comforted while the rich man was not (Luk 16:25). Also, Scripture says the Devil came to be cast out; along with his angels (Rev 12:9). There had to have been a time of rebellion until they were evicted. I wasn’t convinced by this A = B therefore C argument because I don’t think A has been established. Even if only the holy can enter, the redeemed may not finally be in the place God the father occupies (Rev 21:3), but rather the renewed earth.

Walls highlights that a popular writer and thinker among evangelicals, C.S. Lewis, believed in purgatory and denied the penal substitution view of Christ’s atonement. We are being transformed into holiness and this continues into the afterlife. Purgatory is not about punishment, but rather about love. Because God loves us he desires with our souls that they be clean before entering heaven. Love continues to be a key working principle for Walls.

Conclusion
There is much to consider in Walls’ good work. I wish that the work based arguments from Scripture a little more. Though Scripture is referred to, the arguments tend to be philosophical. Even if one disagrees with his arguments and conclusions concerning purgatory, I don’t doubt Walls’ heart and intention to rightly discern the word of truth and make a meaningful contribution to the Church.

One area that wasn’t addressed in the sense I had hoped was concerning the separation from the body in the afterlife. He does have a discussion, but what I was looking for was concerning the question of sin being condemned in the flesh and how our separation from the body affects that relationship to sin? Would sin still have the same draw? How does Christ’s atonement square with that idea? How would the atonement be insufficient to set us truly free and make us truly holy when loses its draw as we expect in the resurrection?

There is a lot of meat to deal with and I believe it is a great interaction with the doctrine of purgatory from a Protestant perspective. Walls accomplished what he set out to do. Agreement is not required for this to be a good work and worthy of our time. For those who are interested in the discussion, you will find substantive treatment to sharpen your theological acumen.

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Rejoicing in Lament Book Review

J. Todd BillinRejoicing in Lamentgs
Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ
Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015. Paperback $18.99
ISBN 9781587433580

(*I received a review copy from Brazos Press and am not expected to give a positive review. The comments and opinions are my own.) 

I’d like to thank Dr. Billings for writing this book about his faith and health. His honesty in his reflection shines bright. Billings shares a comment from a woman at his church after he was diagnosed with an incurable cancer: “God is bigger than cancer.” Her comment was one that began to remove what he calls “the fog”: a limited view of his future. The fog hindered his once wide-open view of the possibilities after receiving the diagnosis. Being there for things like his children’s growth, high school experience, and other milestones were shaken. He could no longer assume he would enjoy those events.

Billings shares how he wrestled with questions of existentialism and theology that awoke with the reality of disturbingly less than ideal “chances” of seeing his daughters’ futures. Why would God end his life and do this to his children? Affirming that God doesn’t owe us anything, Billings still believed that he shouldn’t receive such a diagnosis with “stoic fatalism” (10). He used several Scriptures to support that death ultimately stands in the way of YHWH being God over his people, and in the end it will be overcome (1 Cor 15:25-26; Rev 21:3). The Psalms, particularly those of lament, provided encouragement and support for him. Quoting Calvin’s preface to his Psalms commentary, Billings reflects that the Holy Spirit uses psalms of lament to draw us before the face of God amidst “all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated” (14).

I enjoyed Chapter 2 where Billings wrestled with the problem of evil. Billings’ reflections on the book of Job were insightful and helpful. He believes that we simply are not given an ultimate answer to the problem of evil. All the suffering Job experienced was not due to sin (Joh 9:2-3). When Job lays his case before God, God responds with four chapters of his freedom in “creating the world and the huge distance between God’s viewpoint and human understanding” (26). One thing we do know is that suffering requires a response from the people of God. Billings so eloquently states that “unjust suffering is a scandal, and we should cry out to God in our hearts with our compassionate action” (30). This reminds me that when one part of the body suffers, the healthy members gather round (1 Cor 12:26).

As Billings suffered through treatment and its’ painful side affects, he shares how he held onto and repeated prayers such as Psalms 27. His hope was centered on life with God, but there was “nothing automatic about trusting and hoping in God” (38). Attributing the insight to Augustine, Billings discusses that by praying the Psalms we come into alignment with the right way of looking at lament and the right things in which to be joyful. I resonated with this section on what is referred to as lectio divina; practiced as early as Origen and used by other church fathers such as Augustine and St. Ambrose. But even in Judaism, the Psalms were committed to memory and used in public worship. Billings’ appreciation for this has deeply historic roots. He refreshingly suggests that appreciation for the Psalms of lament have unfortunately not been used in our contemporary worship as much as they should. An overarching theme in all 150 Psalms is that of “loving faithfulness” (49). Billings draws the connection that lamenting Psalms bring our hearts before God in expectation of his loving, covenant faithfulness. It subsequently opens our eyes to see all the ways that God demonstrates his faithfulness.

It is because of this faithfulness, Billings illustrates in Chapter 4, that we question God when we experience suffering. It is because we believe that he is sovereign that we cry out to him. I thought this was helpful. Since we know all good things flow from the Lord, when good things are not flowing we naturally question why (59). I think one of the most important observations Billings makes is that Scripture teaches there are other agents acting against the will of God: “God is not the sole actor in the world” (62). We are in the midst of God making his enemies his footstool. Though Billings doesn’t make the connection in the book, I think this ties well with God’s sovereignty and our trust because we cannot comprehend all that is involved in God’s final victory over his enemies. Billings, however, illustrates that since God works through means such as other people (63), it can be prideful to assume that God always works in direct ways. God is not active in a way that leaves humanity inactive.

I also resonated with Billings’ discussion of when people die. Often others respond that God has called them home. This doesn’t properly illustrate what is truly happening. This phrase is especially used when the person who has died is young. An 8-year-old boy dying of cancer, for example, is hardly God’s ideal or his wishes for his creation. This person did not “slip through God’s fingers” somehow (66) or was not torn from his family for God’s own delight. We struggle with the powers of the darkness of this age (76). We trust in God’s goodness and through those terrible occurrences and in his wisdom that is beyond our understanding. “Hardened hearts become tender as we hope in God’s covenant promise” (77).

Billings discusses the problem of good in the next couple chapters. There are not only evils in the world, but also very good things that we enjoy. Who do we thank for this life we have been given? This creation we enjoy? How about our spouses? Children? If events are simply by chance or simply the way things are, such as the position some take toward the problem of evil, why is there so much that mankind wants to praise and celebrate? Who are we going to thank for the blessed and dear things such as watching our children giggle and blow bubbles, Billings asks for example (94). This was another helpful discussion in the book that I enjoyed.

I thought that Billings did a good job showing his perspective that death is a part of our story with God. It is another thing we walk through and experience in our relationship with God. Though some experiences with death, such as that occurs with cancer victims or accidents with young children, seem senseless, Billings reflects that “the gospel is good news that is big enough to incorporate and envelop our dying and death, even when it seems senseless” (107).

In the final chapters, Billings goes into detail about prayer and seeking quick fixes. Our requests for healing to be immediate and direct may not be in line with the timetable in which God operates (112). “The culmination of Christ’s kingdom in the end will make things right…but while Scripture testifies that God will make all things right…the Bible doesn’t promise that the resurrected in glory will know all the answers to our present questions” (187-188). Billings summarizes that the full restoration of God’s creation has not yet come, and while we experience tastes of the life to come we wait with groaning and protest against the enemies of that harmony.

Anyone interested in the subject matter of suffering, healing, the problem of evil, and how to navigate through the challenges that health concerns can call into question will find this book helpful. I gladly recommend it to the church.

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Spiritual Friendship – Coming Review

Washed and WaitingI reviewed Dr. Wesley Hill’s first book, Washed and Waiting, and was delighted in his brave, honest, and spiritually reflective work on the struggles that same-sex oriented Christians face. I highly recommend the book as a resource for your own growth regarding the subject matter, but also as a tool to inform how we might converse on the issue in the church body. The book reflects sensitivity to the word of God and the journey of faith. You can read my Amazon review hereSpiritual Friendship

Therefore, I’m delighted that Brazos Press has selected me to review his second book on Spiritual Friendship. I am looking forward to posting a review in the next few weeks and seeing where Hill’s faith has brought him. Until then, I have a couple of reviews I will be posting on Rejoicing in Lament and Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory first. I have some reading to do, so…more to come!

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Limiting Theology

ChristianTheology

“Each theologian and each student of theology lives at a specific period of time rather than in some timeless vacuum, and theology must be done within that situation.”

Early in my academic study of theology, I was confronted by this statement in Millard Erickson’s text, Christian Theology. It was a statement that would prove to be quite useful. At the time, however, I thought it was unnecessarily limiting. I was attending a holiness movement, charismatic, deliverance church and Erickson’s comment seemed initially rather institutional.

Be that as it may, I eventually came to understand what Erickson was referring to as my theological and ministerial understanding grew. There is a reality that each group of people, no matter to which you or I are a part of, tend to organize around a topic they feel is important, timely, and which resolves contemporary struggles. Of course each time period in history faces different challenges. When one is doing theology or studying the Bible, one tends to be interested in those personal things that one discovers in the biblical text or certain concepts that challenge their understanding. These latter concepts are indeed important, but the reality is that it is not as likely that others will face the same questions.

The most useful or productive approach then is to identify a concern in which a larger group of people are interested. This provides an entrance into the discussion, works to promote change or more complete understanding, participates in your current church body, and it moves the church forward. When theology is not done within these sorts of rails, it ends up derailing and becoming isolated and irrelevant.

Yes! God is interested in and working out those personal, important theological issues of our own, but it doesn’t mean that God intends them for everyone else around you or me. This isn’t limiting. This is what it means to belong to a vine and to be a fruitful branch. This is what it means to belong to a body and to gather around where that body needs the most immediate help (1 Cor 12:26).

When we take this approach, it can lead us to anticipating what the body will need in the near future. We then end up becoming effective and strategic about filling those needs and contributing to the body’s vitality.

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A Short Summary of St. Patrick

StPatrick1I knew very little about St. Patrick, so I decided to spend a little time getting acquainted in order to share a helpful summary for those like me.

Patrick was certainly instrumental in the development of Christianity in Ireland once he arrived in 432 AD, but it is a bit of a misnomer to credit him with the introduction of Christianity to Ireland. We have evidence as early as 314 AD from Eusebius (Sulpicius Severus) that the apostles went as far as the British Isles. There are others such as John Chrysostom (Ev., Dem., iii. 5; vi. 635; and viii. 111), Tertullian, and Origen that have stated that there were Christians in Britain. Pope Cellestine sent Palladius to evangelize Ireland in 431 AD. At any rate, three hundred years before Augustine arrived in 597 AD, Christianity was fully organized in Ireland.

Patrick’s loyalty and love of Holy Scripture was infectious. He was a humble leader who took better liking to being a Bishop in Ireland rather than Bishop of Ireland. Patrick attributed any success he had in his ministry to the grace of God (Hitchcock, F.R. Montgomery, St. Patrick and His Gallic Friends, London: Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge). Patrick resembled Apostle Paul in the manner of his dedication, loyalty, and labor of love for the gospel message. All of these qualities makes it easy to understand how he could become so esteemed and honored.

These lyrics from a hymn he wrote demonstrate his central focus on Christ.

“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

Similar to Paul, Patrick faced hardships in his position, threats, even captures. Yet, he remained faithful and full of zeal for the long road that is often required of those treading the missionary fields. Patrick may not have first introduced Christianity in Ireland, but was most certainly instrumental in the acceptance of the gospel in Ireland, and exemplified such faithfulness that allowed the gospel message to take root.

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Prayer Breakfast: April 11

Mens Prayer Breakfast

The Harvest is Ripe Christian Center, April 11, 2015, 9 .m., 11000 Excelsior Blvd, Hopkins.

I will be speaking about The Unity of Believers during a prayer breakfast at The Harvest is Ripe Christian Center, April 11. There will be several other excellent speakers. The event will be a blessing for your belly and your spirit, if you can attend.

Speakers:
Pastor Charles Dahl – River of Life Church of God
Bishop J.R. Riley – Christ in You Ministries
Pastor Jack Moore, Jr. – Christian Restoration Ministries
Pastor Wilbur Hankerson – Alpha and Omega Ministries
Minister Ramon Mitchum – Koinonia Ministries
Paul A. Nierengarten, Th.M. – Becoming the Faithful

Visit the Harvest is Ripe Facebook page or call 651-347-5166 for more information and for reservations.

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The Value of the Writings of the Early Church / Apostolic Fathers

I was doing research involving Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians and enjoyed a forward written by, I believe, Scott Hahn in Herron’s Clement and the Early Church of Rome.
Appreciating the value of extra biblical writings surrounding the period of the early church yields dividends that pay us back for years to come.

“The witness of those texts [that have survived from the generations immediately following the generation of the Apostles] is rare and precious. They open a window on a world we wish to know, a world otherwise inaccessible. Tradition considers these witnesses collectively as the Apostolic Fathers, the first echo of the Apostles. For centuries, Christians took utmost care to preserve these writings, copying them out laboriously by hand and even risking their lives in order to hide them from persecutors. In the case of Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, some local churches even preserved the book for veneration and proclamation, as part of the New Testament (vii).”

Understanding the social and cultural climate of the early church benefits our study of the New Testament and sheds light on interpreting the Old. It is not only the Roman Catholics that can recognize such benefits. These words can only follow one who has been in the presence of the Spirit of Christ and mentored by His disciples:

“Learn how to subordinate yourselves, laying aside the arrogant and proud stubbornness of your tongue. For it is better for you to be found small but included in the flock of Christ than to have a preeminent reputation and yet be excluded from his hope (1 Clem. 57:2).”

God bless, readers. Remember to, “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Pet 2:17).

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