Rolfing Unshelved

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Preaching Christ in the Old Testament: A Look Forward to the Upcoming Table Talk with Dr. Scharf and Dr. Luy

On Wednesday, November 11 from 12-1:15 pm at the front of the library, Dr. Scharf and Dr. Luy will be facilitating a discussion on preaching Christ in the Old Testament. We will be examining some of the different perspectives and issues involved in that endeavor. Because of the complexity of this topic and the many subjects it raises to our attention, Dr. Scharf and Dr. Luy will begin the Table Talk by making some brief introductory comments. These initial remarks will serve to focus subsequent discussion. And after discussing these matters in groups, we look forward to a time of interaction with Dr. Luy and Dr. Scharf on further questions and group observations.

I hope that you will bring your lunch and join us!

This blog post seeks to introduce you to the subject at hand–preaching Christ in the Old Testament–and to expose you to some of the issues involved in that conversation.

As Dr. Scharf recently wrote me in an email,

The practice of preaching Christ in the Old Testament raises a host of questions and subjects the preacher to significant perils as well as offering great promise. Navigating these waters requires that the preacher have a defensible theology, a valid hermeneutic, and exegetical expertise (enriched ideally by a grasp of the history of interpretation of the preaching text) as well as a love for his or her listeners, the required spiritual gifting, and prayerful reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

You’ll immediately notice from his statement that the issues involved here are multi-faceted.

On the one hand, there are hermeneutical questions.

For example, many are concerned about preserving the original authorial intent of the text in its immediate literary and historical context. You may share my experience of sitting in classes with professors, typically Old Testament professors, who express such concerns. One question for preaching Christ from Old Testament texts then is, how do I connect the apparent authorial intent of this text to Christ (or, maybe better: preach Christ from this text) and still preserve faithfulness to its authorial intent, that is, without engaging in what might be called “Christo-eisegesis”?

Sometimes this particular question is posed in terms of an “either/or” issue. “Either you can preach the original intent or you can preach Christ. But, if you preach Christ, then you are necessarily not preaching the original meaning.” But are preaching Christ and preaching the authorial intent mutually exclusive or necessarily incompatible, or might that original meaning be organically related to Christ? Is not the latter the very claim of thoughtful advocacy of preaching Christ from the Old Testament, an advocacy based on a presupposition of the unity and Christocentric nature of scripture itself?

And with that latter point, what do we mean when we speak of ‘meaning’? Is it appropriate to make a distinction between two dimensions of meaning–original meaning and meaning unveiled through Christological connections?

These are some of the sorts of hermeneutical questions with which we need to wrestle if we are to think well about this matter.

But we can go on. It’s one thing to say we can preach Christ from the Old Testament, i.e., that it’s legitimate to do so and doing so does not necessarily violate scripture’s intention and meaning. But it’s another thing to actually do that sort of preaching.

The question at hand here may be, for example, “How does this text relate to Christ?” And this may be where Biblical theology enters the discussion as at least one possible avenue for answering that question. How does the Bible hold together? And where does this particular text fit into that larger redemptive-historical unity?

Second, I want to bring up the “why” question–why preach Christ from the Old Testament? What’s the point, the motivation, the driving assumption behind such preaching methodology? Is preaching Christ merely an alternative approach to preaching, one as equally as valid as others? Or do we have an obligation as Christian preachers to preach all of scripture in light of Christ?

One might argue that there is nothing wrong about preaching the Old Testament simply in terms of its original meaning, in terms of its immediate grammatical, historical, and literary context without consideration of its relationship to the broader Christian canon and Christ in particular. I mean, God purposed that original meaning. Thus, we may have a sense of wanting to guard ourselves from somehow implicating that this original meaning is deficient if preached solely on its own terms. But, at the same time, we may worry, “Can this sort of preaching be described as ‘Christian’?” In other words, what is distinctively Christian about it in such a case?

I’ve heard some claim that the Old Testament is inherently Christian. Thus, we don’t need to somehow Christianize it. The text does not need to be “baptized.” Preaching the original meaning is Christian preaching. To argue otherwise is to claim, by implication, that the text is deficient, somehow less than Christian.

But, to come at things from another angle, would this sort of preaching disclose the full significance of this text in light of the full witness of scripture and especially in terms of its relationship to Christ? Is that is what we mean by a distinctively Christian form of preaching, one the considers those broader theological connections?

How we answer these sorts of questions will likely effect the importance (or imperative) we place on preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

Along with these “why” questions are the often uninvestigated “what” questions. For example, when we say, “preaching Christ?” what do we mean by “Christ”? Is the goal to simply show the unity of scripture, i.e., how everything relates to Jesus? Or (and?) by “Christ” do we mean the Gospel, in which case “preaching Christ” is a synonym for “Gospel-centered preaching”?

We would do well to examine the nature of our particular contrual of “preaching Christ” before we enter discussions about what it would look like to do that from the Old Testament.

In other words, I’m trying to point out that many times when people advocate preaching Christ from the Old Testament, there are often (stated or unstated) assumptions about what this sort of preaching is and why it should be pursued. And, I think, in order to sort out our disagreements over these matters, we would do well to disclose those conceptions and their motivations and ask if they are legitimate. In short, let’s go to the source of the debate.

Finally, I want to revisit the “how” question I introduced above. As I said, it’s one thing to say we can (or ought) to preach Christ from the Old Testament, but it’s another thing to actually do it, and do it well. We must move beyond theory to methodology and practice if any of this discussion will affect our pulpits.

It’s worth asking a range of homiletical questions. For example, how do I convey these connections to Christ effectively? Winsomely? When do I preach Christ in the sermon? Do I tag it onto the end as a neat ‘bonus feature,’ or does the reality of Christ somehow pervade my entire message? How do I preach the original meaning of the text and preach Christ within my time restraints (presuming we have those)? These are a few of the sort of homiletical questions I think we want to ask as we approach the matter of preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

I hope you have found these thoughts stimulating and informative. I look forward to meeting with you at the Table Talk and continuing the discussion!


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Working on a Theology or Biblical Studies Paper? Be Sure to Use Journals!

To their detriment, many students writing academic papers fail to consult scholarly journals.  Journals are valuable to research for a number of reasons.  (1) Journals generally contain very focused, specialized studies on a particular topic or issue, and at times may delve more deeply into a specific issue than a book covering the same subject area. (2) Through articles and book reviews, journals provide a window into current research in a particular field.  It is important to remember that good academic writing is not solely conversant with older sources of information (though older sources can still prove helpful), but demonstrates awareness of recent developments and avenues of inquiry. (3) They preserve the history of thought, or a record of trends, in a given discipline.  By searching a particular topic in a database (such as ATLA or JSTOR), and paying attention to titles and publication dates, one can often trace historically the conversation about a particular topic.  Many times, journals will publish articles with titles such as “Recent Trends in the Study of Old Testament Wisdom Literature,” or “Recent Research in New Testament Textual Criticism.”

Rolfing Library has a sizeable collection of theological journals.  Some of the more commonly used journals for biblical studies and theology include: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Journal of Biblical Literature, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, International Journal of Systematic Theology, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Pro Ecclesia, Revue Biblique, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, and Tyndale Bulletin.  Additionally, Trinity Journal is published every fall and spring by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Accessing information in journals can be done in various ways.  One of the most productive ways is to use a database such as ATLA, which is a database of published works pertaining to the theological disciplines, though other databases will occasionally prove useful.  Searching ATLA for articles on a particular subject (click here for a helpful tutorial on using ATLA) will often present a list of entries, including the name, volume, year and page numbers of the journal in which they are published.  Many times (but not always!), these entries will have full text pdf files attached that you can download to your computer for free.  In cases where there is no full text file, you will need to search for the journal title (not the article title) in TrinCat to see if a hard copy is available in the library.  Rolfing Library’s journals are located, in alphabetical order, on the shelves on either side of the stairwell, directly behind the main desk.  Articles in journals that we do not own may be acquired through ILLiad, depending on availability.

Unfortunately, journals cannot be checked out of the library.  However, you may make photocopies of articles in the library.  Photocopies are $0.07 per page for TIU students.  You may also use one of our book scanners to make an electronic copy free of charge.

If you have questions about theological journals, using ATLA or locating articles, don’t hesitate to ask for help at the Reference Desk.

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A Review of The Pastor as Public Theologian

Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015. 221 pages. $19.99.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan have set forth their vision for pastoral ministry in The Pastor as Public Theologian.  Vanhoozer and Strachan are no strangers to the Trinity community: Vanhoozer is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at TEDS, and Strachan, Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, received his PhD from TEDS in 2011.  The book also features contributions, inserted between the four main chapters, from several evangelical pastors, endorsing  the importance of theological engagement in ministry.  The book’s purpose is to encourage pastors to embrace the role of “public theologian,” that is, the role of guiding their congregations (people)  to “understand the world in which they live and, what is more important, how to follow Christ in everyday, as well as extraordinary, situations” (23).

The book’s first chapter, authored by Strachan, examines the role of the pastor through a biblical-theological lens.  He contends that the fundamental functions of pastoral ministry have their roots in the Old Testament.  Prophets spoke God’s truth, priests drew the people near to God and the king mediated God’s wisdom to the people; all of these activities, according to Strachan, are paradigmatic for pastoral ministry, as described in the New Testament.

Strachan’s second chapter sets forth the historical-theological roots of pastoral ministry, describing how the pastorate was viewed from the patristic period, all the way through the rise of neo-evangelicalism.  Noting some exceptions in the medieval period and in 19th and 20th century American revivalism, Strachan shows that the importance of a sharp mind and robust theological understanding to the pastorate has, in general,  tremendous support in Christian tradition.

Chapter 3, from the pen of Vanhoozer, lays out a vision for the theological work of the pastor.  “Pastors are called not to practice academic theology but to minister theological understanding, helping people to interpret the Scriptures, their cultures, and their own lives in relation to God’s great work of redemption summed up in Christ” (112).  Drawing on syntactical metaphors, Vanhoozer notes that there are both indicative and imperative “moods” to the pastor’s theological work: teaching people the Gospel (what God has accomplished through Christ: the indicative) and urging them to walk in accordance with it (the imperative).

In Chapter 4, Vanhoozer turns his attention to pastoral practices, showing how the pastor participates in “God’s mission” (139).  Though he appeals to various NT texts (see esp. Eph 2:18-22),  perhaps his most intriguing contribution is where he turns to the OT, describing  Ezra as a “quintessential public theologian,” who, through teaching  Scripture, works for “the restoration of a holy people” (147).   Vanhoozer concludes the chapter by showing how all pastoral functions  are oriented around the reality of “what is in Christ” (152).  The pastor’s roles of evangelist, liturgist and apologist involve teaching and  responding to this reality, to which the Church was founded to bear witness.

The book’s conclusion is a list of fifty-five theses from Vanhoozer, demonstrating the need for pastor-theologians.  The theses are thus intended to reinforce the books’ main points.

I enjoyed several features of the book, not the least of which is the very holistic angle from which it approaches pastoral ministry.  In an age where many evangelicals have a bifurcated understanding of the Christian life, Vanhoozer and Strachan propose a sort of pastoral ministry that guides people to view their identity “in Christ” as having bearing on their whole lives.  Moreover, the book challenges the “real ministry is all cut and paste” mindset that devalues the life of the mind, and theological competence, in ministry, and that has characterized the way many view the pastorate today.  The book reminds us that the ultimate reality for the Church is what is “in Christ”; thus, there is nothing more “real” that a pastor can do than shepherding a congregation toward a right understanding of God and their place in his redemptive mission.

I do wish the book had given some focused exegetical attention to 1 Tim 3:1-13, which specifically lays out the virtues and role of the pastor. Doing so certainly would have enhanced the book’s already cogent argument, as this is a foundational NT text for understanding what God himself requires of a pastor.  1 Tim 3:2 strongly alludes to the necessity of being able to teach for pastoral ministry, perhaps even more straightforwardly than does Eph 4:11, which is discussed in the book.  Moreover, the virtues required of a pastor, set forth in 1 Timothy 3, may be the greatest demonstration that one has truly grasped Christian orthodoxy, and that this person is capable of leading others to grasp the same.

Nonetheless, this book conveys powerfully a vision for pastoral ministry that must be heard by the Christian community. Drawing from the resources of Scripture and Christian tradition, Vanhoozer and Strachan help their readers rediscover what makes shepherding God’s people “a noble work” (1 Tim 3:1; HCSB).  While I feel its message should be digested by clergy and laity alike, I especially recommend the book to pastors, other church leaders and all aspiring ministers.

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Book Displays: February 2015

Paul and the New Perspective

Thinking through Paul : A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology – Todd D. Still and Bruce W. Longenecker

The Apostle Paul is a prominent figure in the New Testament. The story of his missionary journeys takes up about half of the book of Acts, and his epistles make up about half of the books of the New Testament. The prominence of Paul’s epistles in the New Testament inevitably means that no student of the New Testament can avoid Paul for long. Unfortunately, Paul is not always easy to navigate through. Many of his epistles are long and contain deep and complex theology that is not always so clear to the reader, especially one reading them nearly 2000 years after he wrote them. There is often Thinking through Paulmuch confusion for students about what Paul was trying to say, and often, upon only a cursory study of Paul, the student does not have a thorough understanding of Paul and his theology.

Mastering the breadth and depth of Paul and his theology can be a daunting proposition for anyone studying the Pauline epistles. That is why Todd Still and Bruce Longenecker have undertaken the task of writing Thinking through Paul : A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology. Still and Longenecker contend that “if … we approach the study of Paul with the goal of acquiring only a superficial familiarity with the basic features of his life and writings, the process is unlikely to be exciting, challenging, or life-changing” (10).

The book is divided into three parts. The first part reviews the life and ministry of Paul, the second part gleans a better understanding of Paul by evaluating each of his 13 epistles, and the last part evaluates Paul’s theology from different aspects. These three parts make it easier for the student to better understand how Paul “ticked,” helping not only to better know who Paul was as a person, but also to better understand the basis for Paul’s theology. This book is is an invaluable resource for students of the New Testament, not just as a classroom textbook, but also as a text for self-study. Still and Longenecker explain that “you will have the textbook that we would have wanted available to us in earlier days — that is, a practical and user-friendly guide to Paul’s life, letters, and theological discourse” (12). If you are looking for a clear, readable book about the life, epistles, and theology of Paul, this book is perfect.

Other Titles:

Paul’s Witness to Formative Early Christian Instruction
Christ Absent and Present : A Study in Pauline Christology
Grace and Agency in Paul and Second Temple Judaism : Interpreting the Transformation of the Heart
Paul and the Vocation of Israel : How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans
Paul in Acts and Paul in his Letters
Ancient Perspectives on Paul
Philippi : How Christianity Began in Europe : The Epistle to the Philippians and the Excavations at Philippi
Outlaw Justice : The Messianic Politics of Paul
Paul and the Miraculous : A Historical Reconstruction
The Death of Jesus : Some Reflections on Jesus-Traditions and Paul
Paul and Judaism Revisited : A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation

Presidents’ Day

The True Mary Todd Lincoln : A Biography – Betty Boles Ellison

Every year on Presidents’ Day, we are reminded of the great men that have led our country over the years. But what about the great women who stood beside them every step of the way? There is possibly none more well-known — at least in Illinois — than Mary Todd LinTrue Mary Todd Lincolncoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln. Most probably remember her for her abrasive personality and her stint in an insane asylum near the end of her life. But is there more to Mary Todd Lincoln than is often credited to her?

Betty Boles Ellison thinks there is. She has set out to give Mary Todd Lincoln a fair appraisal, evaluating Mary not just on her unpleasant qualities, but on her praiseworthy qualities as well. Ellison sets out to challenge the common misconceptions about Mary’s “extravagant” spending, her supposedly excessive purchases to refurbish the Executive Mansion, and her mental health and well-being. Ellison has exonerated Mary from many of the unfair and derisive accusations that have been leveled against her. This book paints a clearer and more accurate picture of Mary as the “sassy, politically savvy, sophisticated, sarcastic, intelligent, temperamental, sensitive, attractive” woman that she was (5). With its superb research and excellent argumentation, The True Mary Todd Lincoln is an invaluable contribution to the history of the Lincoln family. It is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the history of America’s Presidents and the incredible wives who stood by them and supported them.

Other Titles:

The Gamble : Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election
Change They Can’t Believe In : The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America
Morning in America : How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980’s
Presidents and the Dissolution of the Union : Leadership Style from Polk to Lincoln
Conservative Internationalism : Armed Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan
John Tyler, the Accidental President
Creatures of Politics : Media, Message, and the American Presidency
Who Are the Criminals? : The Politics of Crime Policy from the Age of Roosevelt to the Age of Reagan
Barack Obama’s Post-American Foreign Policy : The Limits of Engagement
Not Even Past : Barack Obama and the Burden of Race
Watergate : A Brief History with Documents
The Politics of Presidential Appointments : Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance
Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State : Why Americans Vote the Way They Do

Liberation and Black Theologies

Liberation Theologies in the United States : An Introduction – edited by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas and Anthony B. Pinn

Any student of the Bible and theology has at least heard of liberation theology, but for many of them there is confusion about exactly what liberation theology is and how it affects Christianity. One of the things that makes liberation theology so difficult to completely grasp is that there are many theologies that fit under the rubric of liberation theology. What began as a response to the poverty, mistreatment, and marginalization throughout Latin America has grown to include those around the world who find themselves in a similar albeit unique situation of their own. The book often refers to these theologies as “contextual” theologiesLiberation Theologies in the US because of the unique social context from which these theologies arose.

Many of these contextual theologies have either taken root in or migrated to the united States. Liberation Theologies in the United States : An Introduction provides a thorough description of the various forms of liberation theology found within the United States – some of them well-known, others more obscure. For instances, black, gay and lesbian, and feminist theologies are somewhat familiar, yet Asian-American, native feminist, and Latina theologies are not as well known. It is important for the students to strive to understand and to interact with these theologies, especially those who intend to pastor a church. A pastor should be prepared to answer questions and engage in discussion about these theological ideas, explaining liberation theology and how it relates to traditional theology. If you are a bit unsure of what liberation theology is all about and you are interested in educating yourself, this is good place to start.

Other Titles:

The Divided Mind of the Black Church : Theology, Piety, and Public Witness
Esotericism in African American Religious Experience : There is a Mystery…
Indigenous Black Theology : Toward an African-Centered Theology of the African American Religious Experience
The Forgotten Prophet : Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition
The Commercial Church : Black Churches and the New Religious Marketplace in America
African American Religious Experiences : A Case Study of Twentieth-Century Trends and Practices
Representations of Homosexuality : Black Liberation Theology and Cultural Criticism
Experiencing the Truth : Bringing the Reformation to the African-American Church
The Poor in Liberation Theology : Pathway to God or Ideological Construct?
The Reemergence of Liberation Theologies : Models for the Twenty-First Century
Urban God Talk : Constructing a Hip-Hop Spirituality
The Black Church and Hip-Hop Culture : Toward Bridging the Generational Divide
Heart and Head : Black Theology : Past, Present, and Future

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Book Displays: January 2015

Homosexuality and Gay Marriage

Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-sex Attraction by Sam Allberry

In recent years, the issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and gay marriage have come to the fore. Many churches and even denominationsIs God anti-gay have been torn apart over their stances on these issues. The controversy surrounding homosexuality has raised many questions for Christians about what the Bible says about homosexuality. There is a huge body of work dedicated to this issue, so it can be difficult to get straight answers about homosexuality and the Bible in a clear and concise way. Sam Allberry’s little book, Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and Same-sex Attraction, tackles these questions plainly and succinctly. Allberry addresses some of the biggest questions that Christians ask themselves, including whether the Old Testament prohibition of homosexuality is still applicable today and whether Jesus had anything to say about homosexuality. Allberry also briefly addresses how we as Christians should respond to homosexuality not only in our church, but also within society and culture. The size and content of the book is perfect for anyone who is looking for a manageable read that will help them become more familiar with what the Bible says about homosexuality and how Christians can remain true to Scripture while still reflecting the love and compassion of Christ.

Other Titles:

EFCA Conference 2015

The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority by John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy 

The doctrine of inerrancy has recently become a hot topic among evangelicals. While evangelicalism affirms inerrancy of the Bible, there has been a push against traditional views of inerrancy not only from outside of evangelicalism, but also fromLost World of Scripture within. In order to address this situation and discuss the importance of affirming the inerrancy and authority of scripture, the theme “The Doctrine of the Scriptures” has been chosen for the 2015 EFCA Theology Conference, hosted by TIU later this month. The conference has set out to address the importance of providing churchgoers with a firm foundation of biblical inerrancy. Following the lead of the EFCA conference, one of our monthly displays provides a selection of books on biblical inerrancy and other topics that the conference will feature, such as Calvinism, Arminianism, Luther, evangelical theology and Christian doctrine. We also have e-books available on these issues. Among them is The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority by John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy. Walton and Sandy explore the history of the oral and written transmission of the biblical text and what implications it might have for inerrancy, inspiration and the authority of scripture. The first two parts of the book review the history of written and oral communication of information in the Old and New Testaments, respectively. The third part of the book discusses the various literary genres that were typical of the biblical world, and the final part concludes with a discussion on the reliability and authority of the Scriptures. A 2014 Readers’ Choice Awards Honorable Mention, this book is certainly worth a read if you are interested in learning more about the Bible’s transmission, reliability and authority.

Other Titles:

MLK and Civil Rights

Misremembering Dr. King: Revisiting the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by Jennifer J. Yanco 

When one thinks of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is difficult not to think of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he speaks out against racial discrimination in the United States, is well-known. King gave his life for the Civil RightsMisremembering Dr. King movement, and his life and death have had an enormous impact in the United States. But what about the other contributions that Martin Luther King made? Why doesn’t anyone ever remember King’s “giant triplets” – militarism, materialism and racism? Jennifer Yanco attempts to rectify this disproportion in her book Misremembering Dr. King: Revisiting the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Yanco argues that King’s other interests have been overshadowed by his role in the Civil Rights Movement. She contends that over time successive generations have left out, or “misremembered,” crucial elements of King’s legacy. Few are aware of King’s concern for the effects of a culture caught up in greed and materialism or his firm stance against militarism and nonviolence in the heat of the Vietnam War. Yanco does not deny the importance of King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, but she is mainly concerned with emphasizing King’s contributions in other areas in order to reveal more fully who Martin Luther King Jr. was and what he stood for. This book is a great read for those who are interested in learning more about King’s ideals and values and why they are so important to remember alongside his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.

Other Titles:

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Book Displays: December 2014

Christmas and the Incarnation

Christmas : A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes

Christmas A Candid HistoryThe Christmas season is upon us and with it the familiar yuletide sights, sounds and traditions. Christmas cards, candy canes, the decorating of Christmas trees, the hanging of stockings and mistletoe, Santa Claus, and classic Christmas stories and music – all signs to us that Christmas is steadily approaching and with it the hustle and bustle of shoppers. But where do all of these Christmas traditions come from, and why is there an ever-present preoccupation with shopping and gift-giving during the Christmas season? More importantly, what do all of these things have to do with the birth of Jesus? In his book, Christmas : A Candid History, Bruce Forbes delves into the history of Christmas, investigating its origins and how it has become the holiday that we celebrate today. Forbes brings new insight to Christmas, addressing important issues like the secularization of Christmas and Christmas for those who are nonreligious. This book is a good read for both those who has become frustrated with Christmas, feeling that it has become a consumer holiday rather than a time for joy and reflection on the birth of Jesus, and for those who just want to know a little more about the history of Christmas and its traditions.

Other Titles:


Bioethics and the Christian Life by David VanDrunen 

Bioethics and the Christian LifeWith ever-increasing technological advances allowing us to do things that were impossible in the past, we find ourselves faced with more tough ethical questions than ever before. Questions about the ethics of abortion, artificial reproduction, assisted suicide and stem cell research (among others) have gained widespread attention in the media. Some questions, like cloning or stem cell research, do not directly affect us in our day-to-day lives. But what about other issues like contraception, fertility drugs or forgoing medical treatment for serious illnesses? How should a Christian respond to these various ethical questions? In his book, Bioethics and the Christian Life, David VanDrunen aims to help Christians wade through the murky decisions we face about ethical issues that impact our lives. The first part of the book addresses the foundations of bioethics and how it is integrated into the Christian worldview, evaluating Christian virtues and how they affect our decisions about certain ethical issues. The second part of the book addresses issues pertaining to the beginning of life (e.g. abortion, contraception, fertility drugs), and the second part of the book deals with issues pertaining to the end of life (e.g. suicide, euthanasia, forgoing medical treatment). This book is a great read for anyone looking for guidance about deciding how a Christian ought to respond to the various ethical questions we are faced with today.

Other Titles:

Pastoral Ministry

Pastors in the Classics : Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature edited by Leland Ryken (et al.)

Pastors in the ClassicsThroughout history, pastors and preachers have appeared as prominent parts of various works of literature. Pastors in the Classics sets out to examine twelve timeless works of literature in which pastors figure prominently, drawing attention to specific aspects of pastoral ministry and gleaning profound insights into the pastor’s experience. The book evaluates the good and bad ways in which pastors are often portrayed in literature in order to better understand pastoral ministry and its various facets. This book can help pastors to better understand themselves and their calling outside of typical books dealing with pastoral ministry. It also offers unique insights for pastors and enthusiasts of classic literature alike. If you are looking for a fresh, insightful look into pastoral life and ministry, this is the book for you.

Other Titles:

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November Table Talk: Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?


“Garden of Eden” by Jacob Savery the Elder (paint on copper panel, 1601)

On Tuesday, Drs. Averbeck and Hoffmeier will be leading this month’s Table Talk on “The Historical Adam.” Now, if you’ve traveled in theological circles for a while, you’re probably familiar with the issues going on here (and if so, please forgive me for the VERY quick and dirty analysis I’m about to do). If not, you might be wondering why we’d take an entire month to focus on this topic — so, then, let me give you a little background on the issue so you don’t feel like you’re walking right into the middle of a conversation.

Through much of church history, the predominant view among Christians has been that humanity stemmed from one literal man named Adam and one literal woman named Eve, whose story is told in the opening chapters of Genesis. However, scientific advances of the 20th century — especially in the final quarter or so — have called that belief into question for some Christians. Francis S. Collins, a self-identifying evangelical Christian and the director of the National Institutes of Health, is perhaps foremost among this group. In his 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, he makes a couple key assertions that come into contradiction with traditional understandings of the Genesis account. First, he argues that modern humans emerged from their primate ancestors approximately 100,000 years ago; and second, he claims that the necessary genetic material for the human race to be what it is today had to have come from an original population of at least 10,000 (not just the two that Genesis records).

Obviously, trying to line up science and faith isn’t an easy task. This case is no exception — and Richard Ostling, in his Christianity Today article “The Search for the Historical Adam,” describes four main streams of thought that try to make sense of this apparent mismatch:

  • Young Earth Creationism. In this view, the earth (and the whole cosmos, for that matter) was created as a fully-functioning package deal about 6,000 years ago. Young earth creationists argue that evolution couldn’t have happened, because there simply hasn’t been enough time.
  • Old Earth Creationism. Like the young earthers, old earthers discount evolution. They too believe in a fully-formed, fully-functioning creation — but they affirm science’s view of the earth taking a whole lot more than 6,000 laps around the sun. Some folks in this camp also allow for intra-species evolution — in other words, they posit that animals and humans can adapt to their changing environments, but a fish stays a fish and a monkey stays a monkey.
  • Intelligent Design. Proponents of this view discount evolution as well, believing that the heavens and earth were created according to a specific plan. However, they don’t necessarily define the “planner” as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Theistic Evolution. This is the view held by Collins and his associates. In a nutshell, they affirm that God created (and is continuing to create) the cosmos, but did (and does) so by using evolutionary processes like natural selection and genetic mutations over millions of years.

Now, why am I telling you all of this to get you ready for a talk on Adam and Eve? Well, if you think about it, the way we conceive of where we come from can have a pretty big impact on the way we understand who (and what) we are as human beings. Here are just a few of the philosophical and theological questions that come up as a result of the interaction of Christian faith with genetic and evolutionary theory:

  • If we hold to the idea that humans are the product of evolutionary processes, how does that affect our understanding of being God’s image-bearers?
  • If we claim that we as humans hold a special place in and over the rest of creation, how should we wrap our heads around the scientific finding that we “share common ancestry” with many primate species?
  • If we hold to a literal view of the “Historical Adam,” how do we reconcile the idea that the Bible itself hints at a larger initial population than just Adam and Eve? (For example, who did Cain marry?)
  • How might our conception of original sin change if the initial human population was 10,000 instead of 2?
  • How might our understanding of (and faith in) Christ as the “Second Adam” (Rom. 5; 1 Cor 14) be affected if there didn’t happen to be a first one?
  • How might these questions also affect our conceptions of family, birth, death, work, and any of the other identity-forming experiences we have as humans?

Hopefully, by this point, your head is swimming — you’re starting to see that this seemingly simple issue has remarkably far-reaching effects. And you know what the worst part is? I’m not going to answer a single one of the questions I just posed. I’m just going to leave them hanging, in order to entice you to the library at noon on Tuesday (11/11/14) so that you can talk about them with people who are also thinking about these ideas. See you then!