Book Update – June 2014

I have completed three books in the last couple of months.  I typically try to write a review of the books I read, but I will not be doing that with these last few books.  I will try to give a brief sentence or two of feedback for each though:

On The Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria – Short but solid writing by a very early church father (written in the 4th century).  Well-written and very thoughtful.  This book has an introduction written by C. S. Lewis that is awesome and insightful on the topic of reading old writings.  Though I haven’t read much on the incarnation, this book would be at the top of my list for this topic.

The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther – One of the best books I have read in a while.  The author of this particular book included a brief history on Luther to better frame the purpose and time for Luther’s writing which is excellent.  It also includes the letter from Luther to Pope Leo X that accompanied his writing which also greatly adds to the context.  As for the topic of justification by faith alone, this is the best book I have read.

The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis – Very interesting and thought-provoking allegory on heaven and hell.  I greatly enjoyed the first part of the book where he describes his thoughts on heaven and hell.  Much of the rest of the book is processing his thoughts though dialogue between those in heaven and those in hell, which is deep and requires a good amount of mental processing.  Probably was even too intellectual for me at times, but nevertheless, I enjoyed it all the way through.


What is next:

The Didache (including a few other old writings) – This book is a compilation of numerous first century writings, some of which were almost included in the Bible.  I am excited to work my way through these and see what is in there.  I really do not know what to expect at all.

Five Festal Garments by Barry G. Webb – This will be the second book in the NSBT series I will have read.  This particular book consists of reflections on five often neglected books of the Old Testament: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther.  This book came highly recommended by a friend when I grew quite fond of reading through Ecclesiastes.

Luther On Serving Our Neighbor

I am currently reading through “The Freedom Of a Christian” by Martin Luther (excellent book!).  I just entered the section on works and service to our neighbors.  I found it to be very sobering in light of reality, and very challenging:

Let us be clear that no one needs to do these things [works] to attain righteousness and salvation.  Therefore, we should be guided in all our works by this one thought alone – that we may serve and benefit others in everything that is done, having nothing else before our eyes except the need and advantage of the neighbor.  The Apostle Paul wants us to work with our hands in order to share with the needy (Eph. 5:28).  Notice that he could have said that we should work to support ourselves.  But Paul says that we work to give to those in need.  This is why caring for our body is also a Christian work.  If the body is healthy and fit, we are able to work and save money that can be used to help those in need.  In this way, the stronger member of the body can serve the weaker.  This demonstrates that we are children of God, caring and working for the well-being of others and fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens.  Here you have the true Christian life, one where faith is active in love (Gal. 5:6).  It expresses itself joyfully and lovingly and results in the freest possible service.  Satisfied with our own abundance of faith, we Christians serve the neighbor without any hope of reward. (Pgs. 79-81 in the book)

Admittedly, I rarely think of my job and the money I make as something that is gained for the benefit of others (beyond my wife and children).  My first instinct is to think of how I can use it for me.  I feel so far from having this mentality that Luther talks about here that it feels daunting to even try.  If I do try, I am bound to fail quickly, get discouraged, and slide back into the same routine of thinking mainly about myself.

But, I think Luther is correct in his understanding of this.  I think that, as a product of sin and our wealthy and comfortable culture, we have become such a self-centered people.  The more we have, the more we want – to the point where our wanting is nearly unquenchable.    Once we have resolved our own budgets and desires, there is usually little or nothing left over for anyone else.

What do you think about this quote from Luther?  If you agree with him, how do we even begin?  What does it look like to really do this well?  If you disagree with him, why?

It Must Not Even Be Named Among You

I was reading Ephesians 5 yesterday, and I was really hit hard by some of it.  Paul gives a small list of things that are essentially prohibited.  Some of the items on the list are are more blatantly (at least outwardly) avoided, but others seem to have become more acceptable.  Here is the list:

  • Sexual immorality
  • Impurity
  • Covetousness
  • Filthiness
  • Foolish talk
  • Crude joking
  • Idolatry

I am not entirely sure what Paul means exactly by “foolish talk”, but I as for coveting, crude joking, and idolatry, these have become quite acceptable in the church today.  Most of us have no problem wanting things that we do not have, especially when our friend gets some awesome new thing that we really wish we had too.  And even within Christian circles, I have heard the “that’s what she said” jokes (and even participated in it) countless times.

What hit me hardest was how Paul frames these things.  He does not merely suggest that those in the church try to not do those things.  He goes so far as to say that those things should not even be named among them!  And, look at how he ends this:

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”  Ephesians 5:3-5 (ESV)

Paul views these things incredibly seriously.  Do you think most of the church is taking these things seriously?  I don’t think so.  And I know that I certainly don’t either.  Our culture is sexually immoral, impure, covetous, full of crude joking, full of idolatry.  It is all around us and unavoidable, and it is too easy to take part in.  But, if we are to heed the authority of the Bible, we must strive for this.

What do you think?  How are we supposed to understand what Paul is saying here?  How do we do this practically?  How do we foster this type of environment in our gatherings with other people?  What is a healthy way to “do” these things without being legalistic about it?  To what level should these commands be enforced?

Lastly, there is much more that Paul has to say about Christian living in Ephesians.  These verses are best understood in a fuller context, so I encourage you to read all of Ephesians, or at least read 4:17 through the end of chapter 5.

Church Services – How Would You Do It?

Most protestant church services these days all look relatively similar.  They include most if not all of the following within a timespan of an hour to an hour and a half:

  • Announcements
  • Multiple prayers by different people throughout the service
  • Music (worship)
  • Sermon
  • Offering
  • Communion (sometimes)

But why is it done this way?  There is definitely no guideline or command in the Bible towards any particular format at all, yet church services are all done the same way.  Is it tradition?  Has this format been proven to be the most effective?  What are the reasons we do church the way we do it today?

I really don’t know, but I also have not studied the topic much.  Have you ever thought about this? Do you like the current format of church services?  If not, what don’t you like, and why?  What would you change, if you were able to change anything you wanted?  What would be your ideal church service format, and what would be your philosophy behind your changes?

I have some of my own thoughts on this, but I will save them for another post.  I am very interested in getting some feedback on this topic though if you would be willing to share your thoughts.  Please share your thoughts and opinions and comment below.

First Semester of Seminary Almost Over

It’s time to breathe again.  If you follow my blog, you’ll have noticed that my posting frequency reduced significantly in the past couple months.  Turns out that the two classes that I took were a ton of work for me, and blogging had to take a back seat.  Outside of family, work, and school, I simply did not time to do anything else.  It was great, but very exhausting.

The only remaining task left to do is to take a final exam for Intro to Christian Theology this next Tuesday.  It should be rather easy, and I already feel pretty confident in my studying so far.  Once that is over, I’ll have the summer off to rest and read some of what I want to read, and get back to blogging.

I am excited to get back to reading I have been wanting to do for a while.  I think I’m going to start with On The Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria.  This version includes an introduction by C. S. Lewis, which some people have stated is quite a gem.  We’ll see!

I’m sure I’ll have some reflections on the semester and the classes specifically soon.  I’ll wait until it’s completely done and I’ve gotten my grades back.  Expect more blogging very soon.

When Selecting Bible Commentaries, Go With A Variety

It has been a while since my last post.  School and home life are keeping me very busy, and I’m finding it difficult to find time to blog.  That should change when I finish this semester.  It’s going to be a VERY busy next four weeks while I finish out there two courses.  I will probably only be taking one course at a time from now on.   It’s just too much work with everything else in life.

So, on to the post.  I had a conversation with Dr. Garland yesterday about the Acts study that he is leading.  I was mentioning to him how nice it has been to work with two very different commentaries, and how well they seem to compliment each other.  He asked me to write that out for him, so I did.  I figured I would also put it up on here:

In my recent studies of the book of Acts, I have had the opportunity to work with two very different commentaries from two very different periods of time. The first is David Peterson’s “The Acts of the Apostles”, which is part of the Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC) series, published in 2009. The second is John Calvin’s “Acts”, which was first first published in 1552.

The differences between the two are immense, but I have found that they greatly compliment each other. Peterson’s commentary is very technical, and provides vast amounts of historical detail. Very frequently, he tries to provide his insight into the accuracy of translation based on the Greek. The level of scholarship is very high, and the amount of research that has been done for this commentary is impressive, as is evidenced by the exhaustive coverage he provides, and the massive amount of footnotes and external sources he cites. It is a very helpful resource.

Where Peterson lacks is in the areas of theological thought, applicable commentary, and personal insight. This is where Calvin really shines. His personality can be seen through his writing. Very rarely does he cite any outside sources, which leaves the content mostly to his own thoughts and insights. He thinks and writes very theologically, making the text applicable to his time (much of which is still absolutely applicable today), and much more homiletical. I have found far more “gems” of thought in Calvin than I have Peterson.

I recognize that the lack of technical and historical study in Calvin and make him much more prone to inaccurate ideas about the text, especially when it comes to historical factors that really illuminate the text. But, his insights can be so incredibly helpful and encouraging, which I do not get often from Peterson.

The balance that these two commentaries provide for one another is exceptional. Because of this experience, I will certainly be eager to try and find this balance again when looking for more commentaries on whatever I am studying. I believe that a good variety (type of commentary, time-period, nationality of author, etc.) is going to be far more helpful than a stack of the most recent, up-to-date commentaries.

Bible Software: Logos Or Accordance?

I have been thinking about purchasing Bible software for personal and seminary use.  After doing some research, I am down to two options: Logos or Accordance.  I have heard great things about both of them, so I’m not really sure at this point which to choose.  I’m hoping to get some feedback here if anyone reading this knows anything about either of these applications.  Which one would you suggest, and why?  What are the benefits/disadvantages and how do they compare?  And, which package/collection would you recommend?