Thursday, February 2, 2017

Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature

I've grown to love the books published by Kregel Academic. When offered the chance to receive a review copy of Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature in their Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series, I couldn't say no. I'm just as interested in gaining a better understanding of the visions in Daniel or the book of Revelation.

The book is divided into six chapters along with an appendix on the possible antecedents to Jewish apocalyptic literature. The first chapter clarifies what is meant by the term "apocalyptic literature" and differentiates it from "apocalypse," "apocalypticism," and other terms. Chapter two discusses major themes in apocalyptic literature. The rest of the chapters walk readers through the process of interpreting apocalyptic texts and preaching or teaching them to others.

I found the chapter on major themes to be the most helpful because of the numerous examples and analyses of Old Testament passages and extra-biblical apocalyptic texts like the book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Testament of Moses, and more. By seeing the similarities and understanding how to interpret extra-biblical texts, I gained insight into the mechanics of how apocalyptic texts work.

I'm glad apocalyptic literature is getting more attention from serious scholars and not just novelists with a wild imagination. Interpreting Apocalyptic Literature shows that these texts were part of a wider body of apocalyptic literature and that they carried an intelligible message for their original audiences. By studying these texts we can discover how they apply to us today, not to some future generation awaiting a literal fulfillment of all that these books describe in such graphic imagery.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Resumen de Rut (Reina-Valera 1602)

Uno de los tesoros que se puede encontrar en Google Books es un PDF de la Biblia Reina-Valera de 1602. Tiene muchas notas, incluso introducciones a cada libro y cada capítulo de la Biblia. Aquí hay las notas para el libro de Rut (ligeramente editadas):

Rut, moabita, por la memoria de su primer marido ya difunto, el cual se había casado con ella cuando, por la hambre, se había ido de Judea a tierra de Moab, y por el deseo que tenía del verdadero culto del Dios de Israel, se fue de Moab en compañía de su suegra a Judea donde, por derecho de parentesco se casa con Booz, del cual parió a Obed, abuelo de David, del cual, según la carne, Cristo descendió (Mateo 1). Es historia de poco más de diez años, que pasaron desde la salido de Noemí hasta su vuelta y casamiento de Rut con Booz.

Capítulo 1. Noemí vuelve de Moab con su nuera Rut, muerto su marido e hijos, a Belén, de donde se había ido a causa de la hambre.

Capítulo 2. Rut va a espigar a la segada de Booz, pariente de Noemí, el cual le hace buen tratamiento.

Capítulo 3. Rut, instruida de Noemí su suegra, trata de casamiento con Booz y él lo admite.

Capítulo 4. Booz, escusados el más propinquo, toma por mujer a Rut conforme al derecho de la Ley, de la cual le nace Obed, abuelo de David, con el cual se continua la genealogía del Mesías desde Fares hijo de Judá.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Balanced Preaching

We tend to like the idea of balance. Eat a balanced breakfast. Maintain a healthy work/life balance. Balance your checkbook. Balance your budget. Maintain a balance of power in the Middle East. Balance is desirable.

As preachers, we ought to recognize the power of our words and exercise extra caution in how we use them, since "we who teach will be judged with greater strictness," and "if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man." We don't want people to misconstrue what we're teaching and pursue unwise or unbiblical paths because we failed to narrow the scope of application, so we try to give examples or warnings to balance out what we're saying. How many times have you or someone you've learned under said something like this:
"Now, this passage doesn't teach that we should all sell everything we own..." 
"When James says 'faith without works is dead,' we need to remember what Paul wrote in Romans..." 
"Please don't go up to your boss and quit your job tomorrow..." 
"You better not get in an argument with your spouse on the way home today because 'Pastor said that you have to...'" 
"I'm not telling you to..."
Part of faithfully handling the word of truth is ensuring that we clarify to our listeners what we mean. Providing counterpoints or putting limits on the scope of application to balance our message is not a sign of poor speaking skills because the Bible offers us many examples of this same practice. Consider:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." Jesus, Matthew 5:17 
"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." Paul, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10

"I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth." John, 1 John 2:21.
As good as the practice of balance is in our preaching, we must not always be balanced. Yes, I'm saying we need balance in our use of balance. Here's what I mean. Sometimes a passage is intentionally extreme in order to confound, amaze, and make an emphatic point. Consider Matthew 5:29,
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
If you check the rest of the context, you won't find Jesus balancing this statement. He doesn't say, "Now, I don't mean that you should literally gouge out your eyes..." He doesn't say, "I'm not telling you to gouge out your spouse's eye because you know it's been leading them to sin..." Why not? For one, he can reasonably assume no one is going to actually gouge out their or someone else's eyes. Secondly, it would so "balance" his statement as to negate its power.

I have two distinct memories of preaching about faith and works in James. The first time I preached it, I was careful to explain the difference between Paul's use of the word "justification" in Romans and Jame's use in the second chapter of his letter. As sermons go, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't powerful either. The second time I preached on that passage I explained what James meant by justification without mentioning Paul, then I said something like, "Instead of focusing on perceived differences between James and Paul, we ought to consider the similarities between James and Jesus," and then brought up Luke 13:6-9 to hammer the point home that true faith proves itself through action. It was a lot more powerful message than the first sermon.

Pastors and others who teach the Bible should take care how they handle the word of God. Balance is a good thing, but it's not ultimate. Sometimes we need to avoid balance to remain faithful to the words of Scripture and hammer its truth home. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Help for preaching the Old Testament

I've been preaching off and on now for about six years. During that time my favorite and probably best sermons came from a series I did on Daniel. When offered the opportunity to receive a review copy of Preaching Old Testament Narratives from Kregel Publications, I had to take it. I'm glad I did.

Benjamin Walton, formerly a pastor, is president of PreachingWorks, an organization that helps pastors become better preachers. Walton argues that Old Testament Narratives shouldn't be preached like New Testament epistles, prophecy, or other biblical genres. For one thing, a complete unit of thought (CUT) in the Old Testament may encompass a number of chapters, whereas a CUT in the New Testament may be as short as a paragraph or two. Old Testament narratives describe more than they prescribe, whereas New Testament epistles are filled with exhortations and succinct theological truths. Even where a command or expectation is clearly spelled out in the Old Testament, it requires careful analysis in light of the full revelation of the gospel in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Since the quality of a sermon depends first on a proper understanding of the text, Walton guides readers through the process of identifying a complete unit of thought, considering the theological and historical contexts, and studying the CUT in order to determine the original theological message (OTM) that author was communicating to his audience. This in turn will lead to an appropriate take-home truth (THT) in light of the fuller revelation of the gospel.

I admit that the acronyms were a little distracting at first, but having "complete unit of thought" or "original theological message" spelled out every time would have been even more distracting in certain sections of the book, so I'm glad he did it.

Half of the book focuses on developing the sermon, and the second half looks at delivery. He considers popular approaches to preaching and assesses their strengths and weaknesses before delving into his own method. Walton emphasizes the purpose behind the introduction, particularly building rapport with the audience and showing them the relevance of the message about to be preached. As he moves through the rest of the sermon Walton provides numerous examples and tips for preaching that, if put into practice, are sure to improve our preaching.

I told my wife that I liked the book because it made me want to preach again. That alone should be enough to commend it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Boy Called Christmas

I enjoy good stories. Give me adventure. Give me a quest, a journey into the unknown. Give me magic. Make me laugh. A Boy Called Christmas does all these and more. Matt Haig introduces us to an eleven-year-old boy named Nikolas who lives in the second-smallest cottage in all of Finland with his father, a woodcutter; a mouse; and a doll carved out of an old turnip. After his father fails to return from an expedition north to find proof of the existence of elves, Nikolas’s embarks on his own journey to find him. Throughout the story the narrator offers humorous asides, and Nikolas’s adventures are quite humorous as well.

I realize the intended audience is children between 8 and 12, but my kindergartener can follow along well, and my adult self enjoyed it immensely. In spite of the overall jovial tone of the book, there are a few moments of danger and even death that may upset younger readers, but I don’t have any reservations about sharing it with my daughter.

Because my daily commute offers me a good hour or so to listen to audiobooks, I enjoyed Nikolas’s story on CD. The narration by Stephen Fry (a British comedian famous for his skits with Hugh Laurie and appearances on Blackadder) is superb. I highly recommend it.


I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Baa! Oink! Moo! God Made the Animals

My youngest just turned one and does not sit still for books for very long yet, even when I flip through them quickly and don't read all the words. Yet that doesn't stop her from going to her basket of books, picking one out, and bringing it to me to read to her, even if for only ten seconds at a time. We introduced our kids to books at a young age, and they have the expectation that mom and dad will read to them on most days.

When I saw the cover of Baa! Oink! Moo! God Made the Animals available for review from the publisher, I knew I wanted a copy. Sure enough, my 1-year-old liked the pictures and I've been able to get her to sit and look at it with me a couple of times now. She even let me read it all the way through when she was down with a cold, but normally I can only get off a quick "God made the chickens" or "Look at the pigs" before having to flip the page to keep her attention.

I love how sturdy board books are, and the pictures are interesting enough to grab my daughter's attention for a few moments. I'm sure that in a few months we'll be able to sit for longer periods and read every word on the page.

I'm glad to have books like Baa! Oink! Moo! God Made the Animals to remind my kids that God is their creator. It might not leave much of an impact on my youngest beyond teaching her the routine of reading, but my other two are listening, and they know that their daddy believes these things.

Recommended.