In the most recent issue of BJU Seminary’s Journal of Biblical Theology and Worldview, I have an article that evaluates David VanDrunen’s two kingdoms, natural law approach to culture by examining his understanding of the biblical covenants. While appreciative of many of VanDrunen’s insights, it finds that flaws in his understanding of the covenants renders his two kingdoms theology untenable.
Michael Brendan Dougherty notes that Trumpism poses a threat to religious conservatives.
Donald Trump has endorsed New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik to replace Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican caucus…. She also voted for the Equality Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that would dramatically weaken religious-liberty protections in the face of LGBT claims….[T]here has always been another side to the Trumpian coin. Trump was always stronger among voters who identified as non-church-going Evangelicals. And there are political figures such as Stefanik who like Trump precisely because he will wave the rainbow flag and declare himself the “most pro-gay president” ever. They like him because his nationalist culture-warring can act as a replacement for the religious culture war…. We may really see this tested in a candidacy such as Caitlyn Jenner’s in California. Jenner is being advised by people from Trump’s orbit.
My greatest concern is not these kinds of political losses, though I do not think that they are insignificant. My concern is with the way Trumpism has led many Christians to violate the ninth commandment in support of a president who was breaking the eighth commandment. However, it does show that compromising one’s integrity to gain political influence often results in the loss of the very goals the Christian was after in the first place.
[P]rogressive dispensationalists have moved toward answering the classic covenantal objection as to how one can distinguish between national Israel and the nations, given Jesus’ messianic status as simultaneously the promised Israelite Messiah and the head of the one new humanity. Their view is not inconsistent with a holistic, cosmic salvation. Indeed, it would appear that the more progressive strains of dispensationalism seek to share the holistic soteriology of Ladd’s Kingdom theology. Indeed, the claim to hold an even more ‘holistic’ salvation than Ladd because they see no biblical grounding to translate the Old Testament national/political promises into spiritual blessings of the present age. At the same time, the new dispensationalists argue that salvific equality does not mean equality of roles, an understanding shared by their conservative interlocutors on the question of male/female relations. After all, some progressives argue, salvific equality in Christ does not rule out differing roles for national groups, even as Galatians 3:28 does not rule out complementary roles for men and women, who also enjoy salvific equality in Christ. But this argument falls short also, in that it fails to distinguish between the creation order and the specific place of Israel in redemptive history. After all, human beings are created male and female—and that pronounced ‘good’—but are human beings created Jew and Gentile from the beginning? The answer is obviously no, since the biblical storyline begins with one man and one woman—from whom all nations spring (Acts 17:26). The Galatians 3:28 text, when seen through the lens of male/female complementarity, actually undermines the dispensationalist argument at this point. For Paul, there is ‘no male or female,’ just as there is no ‘Jew or Greek.’ Why? It is because all Christians are, not ‘sons and daughters of God, but ‘sons of God.’ In accordance with the laws of biblical patriarchy, all Christians (male and female) receive a common inheritance because they are ‘in Christ,’ who is the Jewish royal firstborn son who receives all these blessings. Indeed Galatians 3:28 does not establish androgyny—or even egalitarian gender roles. But it does speak to the key issue in the debate over the future of Israel, namely, who will inherit the promises made to the Israel of God?”Russell D. Moore, The Kingdom of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 116-17.
Moore makes two errors here.
First, he reads the creation order too narrowly. As Christopher Wright and Daniel Strange both argue nations are indeed part of God’s created order and are part of the plan of redemption. (Neither of these men is a dispensationalist.)
Although we first meet the nations in the context of the fallenness and arrogance of humanity even after the flood, the Bible does not imply that ethnic or national diversity is in itself sinful or the product of the Fall—even if the deleterious effects of strife among nations certainly are. Rather, nations are simply ‘there’ as a given part of the human race as God created it to be. God’s rule over the nations, amply affirmed throughout the Old Testament, is simply a function of the fact that he created them in the first place. Speaking as a Jew to Gentiles in an evangelistic context, Paul takes for granted the diversity of nations within the unity of humanity and attributes it to the Creator and to his world-governing providence. ‘Form one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times et for them and the exact places where they should live’ (Acts 17:26).
Although Paul goes on to quote from Greek writers, his language in this verse is drawn from the Old Testament, for the ancient song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32:
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, / when he divided all mankind, / he set up boundaries for the peoples. (Deut 32:8)
National distinctives, then, are part of the kaleidoscopic diversity of creation at the human level, analogous to the wonderful prodigality of biodiversity at every other level of God’s creation
Furthermore, the eschatological vision of redeemed humanity in the new creation points to the same truth. The inhabitants of the new creation are not portrayed as a homogenized mass or as a single global culture. Rather they will display the continuing glorious diversity of the human race through history: People of every tribe and language and people and nation will bring their wealth and their praises into the city of God (Rev 7:9; 21:24-26).Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.
Kreitzer, along with a number of other recent commentators, takes both the table of nations and Babel to be a single literary unity and ordered dischronologically. Although there are various strands of structural and literary evidence for such a reverse (or better, interspersed) chronological order, for Kreitzer such an order is theologically important, for it gives justification to one of his major contentions throughout his study that ethno-linguistic diversity is itself a naturally occurring creational ordinance and blessing, rather than a judgment and curse, a ‘negative’ impression that would be created if the Babel pericope had come first in the narrative.Daniel Strange, Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 124.
Note especially that though Moore quotes Acts 17:26, it actually disproves the point he is trying to make from it. The nations are all “made” by God.
Second, Moore errs in the way he sees all promises fulfilled in Christ. Israel’s promises are ultimately fulfilled in Christ as the Davidic Messiah. The Bible describes this fulfillment in terms of the Davidic Messiah extending his rule from the promised land over the entire earth. The benefits of the land promises are therefore extended to the Gentiles by virtue of the Davidic Messiah’s rule over the entire earth, but this is not done in such a way that the specific land promises to Israel are negated.
The progressive dispensationalist argumentation here holds together all the relevant biblical data better than all the alternatives.
Last year I had an article published in Bibliotheca Sacra critiquing Charles Hill’s book Regnum Caelorum. Several years ago, I noticed that many amillennial writers were citing this book has having disproved the consensus that the earliest fathers held to a premillennial viewpoint. I have the greatest respect for Hill’s scholarship, so I was a bit daunted to undertake a critique of it (and remained open to the possibility that he was correct on the historical question). But the more I tracked down the primary sources he cited, particularly those from Irenaeus, the more convinced I was that his argument had a serious weakness.
Brian C. Collins, “Were the Fathers Amillennial? An Evaluation of Charles Hill’s Regnum Caelorum,” Bibliotheca Sacra 177 (April-June 2020): 207-20.
Charles Hill’s Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity seeks to reverse the one-time consensus that the earliest church fathers held to a millennial, rather than an amillennial, viewpoint. At the heart of Hill’s argument is the claim that early millennialism and amillennialism were part of systems of eschatology in which fathers who held to the millennial position also held to a subterranean intermediate state whereas fathers who held to the amillennial position also held to a heavenly intermediate state. From this assertion Hill claims that a number of early fathers, along with the New Testament writers, held the amillennial position. This study demonstrates the linkage of millennial views and views of the intermediate state to be faulty on the grounds that the early Irenaeus held to both a heavenly intermediate state and to a millennium.
Craig Blaising, whose scholarship I also greatly respect, also has an article in this issue of BibSac critiquing Hill’s Regnum Caelorum.
A friend asked me to share recommended resources on Progressive Dispensationalism and then suggested I post what I sent him on my website. Here’s a lightly edited version of the email I sent him.
I’d start with the festschrift John Feinberg edited for S. Lewis Johnson, Continuity and Discontinuity. It has a point-counterpoint format featuring John and Paul Feinberg, Willem VanGemeren, O. Palmer Robertson, Allen Ross, Doug Moo, Martin Woudstra, Robert Saucy, Bruce Waltke, Walter Kaiser and more. I found John Feinberg’s essay on systems of discontinuity quite good. In the pairs of essays, I sometimes found myself more in agreement with continuity and sometimes more in agreement with discontinuity.
The two programmatic, but accessible books that introduced Progressive Dispensationalism to the general Christian public were Blaising and Bock’s Progressive Dispensationalism and Robert Saucy’s The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. I’ve found Blaising’s discussion of the various historical phases of dispensationalism very helpful. Overall, I’ve found Saucy’s book more useful. I wish it had a different title. I’m sure that The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism spurred sales in the 1990s, but Saucy is doing more than just making a case for Progressive Dispensationalism. There’s a lot of valuable material there that may be overlooked today because readers don’t think to turn to that book for a treatment of the covenants or baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church: The Search for Definition, ed. Blaising and Bock is a set of essays laying out Progressive Dispensationalist views on key issues. It also includes responses from three non-dispensationalists.
More recently, there hasn’t been as much on Progressive Dispensationalism in particular. You have to look for what particular authors have been writing. Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have been editing books of essays, which originated in conferences. The papers are midway between popular-level and academic. They’re a mixed bag, but there are usually some standout essays. For instance, if you can get past the sensationalist cover and the Joel Rosenberg foreword to The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel you’ll find some excellent essays. Criag Blaising’s “Israel and Hermeneutics” is a must read. (There are also essays by Eugene Merrill, Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, Craig Evans, Mark Saucy, John Feinberg, and Michael Vlach.) I recently picked up Israel, the Church, and the Middle East (also edited by Bock and Glaser), and the essays by Averbeck on the covenants and Blaising “A Theology of Israel and the Church” both look good.
Gerald McDermott recently edited a collection of essays under the title, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land. It’s not really a Progressive Dispensationalist book, though Blaising and Bock do have essays. McDermott, Joel Willitts, and others who aren’t dispensationalists also contribute. McDermott has an essay in it that distances the book from dispensationalism. I don’t care for the Zionism label, and some of the essays are more in a messianic Judaism stream, which I think misinterprets the function of the law at present. But several of the essays are worth looking into.
Steven L. James’s New Creation Eschatology and the Land: A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives is not explicitly Progressive Dispensationalistm, but I’m pretty sure this is a published dissertation done under Craig Blaising’s supervision. It’s quite a good book.
Michael Vlach’s little book Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths is an excellent brief book for orientation to dispensationalism. He has several little self-published books. How Does the New Testament Use the Old Testament? and Premillennialism: Why There Must Be a Future Earthly Kingdom of Jesus. B&H published his Has the Church Replaced Israel? And his big book is He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God. Vlach isn’t a Progressive Dispensationalist (he still holds to a postponement view of the kingdom), but he’s willing to be influenced by Progressive Dispensationalism. Matt Waymeyer’s work falls into a similar category. His Amillennialism and the Age to Come is helpful, though not even explicitly dispensational.
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, is worth reading. Lunde’s introduction is excellent. Walter Kaiser’s position is basically that of traditional dispensationalism, though he eschews the label and Bock gives a good defense of the Progressive Dispensationalist view. I wish they had gotten a good conservative covenant theologian for the third view rather than Peter Enns.
The Naselli-Compton book on Israel and the church Romans 9-11 that Vlach, Zasepl & Hamilton, and Merkle contributed to is worth reading. Zaspel and Hamilton persuaded me of their position, and I think it is compatible with Progressive Dispensationalism, though that’s not their label.
I also try to read seriously in covenant theology. That’s not a monolithic position. There are many different covenant theologies. And frankly, they’re not all incompatible with progressive dispensationalism. Or at least there is significant insights that can be taken on board. In the end, while I really respect the scholarship of people like Vos and Hoekema, and while I want to distance myself from a lot of sloppy and frankly weird dispensationalism, I don’t find arguments against the future conversion of Israel or the denial of the fulfillment of the land promises exegetically convincing. I think I can get the best of what Covenant Theology or Progressive Covenantalism teach—the promises are all extended to the gentiles and Jesus is at the heart of the fulfillment of all the OT promises—while also affirming that specific promises to Israel aren’t canceled out. I sometimes wonder why there is such an effort to deny a future conversion and return to the land for Israel by contemporary reformed folks when reformed theologians like Jonathan Edwards held to both. I wonder if some of it is just a reaction against dispensationalism combined (at times) with an ignorance of what earlier covenant theologians taught.
Chemnitz, Martin. Examination of the Council of Trent. Volume 1. Translated by Fred Kramer. Saint Louis: Concordia, 1971.
I first discovered Chemitz in a class on Reformation era literature in which we were required to read primary sources from several different streams of the Reformation. Since Luther was taken by another student, I chose Martin Chemnitz as my Lutheran representative and have enjoyed reading him ever since. His section on tradition is one of the best in print. This volume also contains sections on original sin, justification, and good works (with regard to both the regenerate and unregenerate). I highly recommend this work.
Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation. Vol. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.
I value Bavinck’s dogmatics because (1) he gathers a comprehensive list of Scripture passages pertaining to each doctrine, (2) he surveys that doctrine’s place in the history of theology and philosophy, and (3) he synthesizes the whole into an orthodox doctrinal statement. His historical surveys are valuable because Bavinck is recent enough that they reach into the twentieth century. His gathering of the relevant Scriptures are not bare lists; he weaves these passages into paragraphs that delineate the Scripture’s teaching on the doctrine.
O’Donovan, Oliver. Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics. 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
O’Donovan provides a solid theological foundation for ethics. Though he says a great deal in his own careful but dense way, his basic thesis is found in the title. Ethics must be rooted in the moral order which is part of God’s good creation. However, in a fallen world, an evangelical ethic (or an ethic that arises from the gospel) must be oriented by the resurrection of Christ which is the first fruits of our resurrection (which entails the restoration of creation). O’Donovan skillfully explains how this relates to the gospel, the kingdom, history, Christ’s authority, the Christian’s freedom and more.
Leeman, Jonathan. Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule. Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2016.
Leeman’s own summary of the book:
This book set out to establish that Jesus grants Christians the authority to establish local churches as visible embassies of his end-time rule through the “keys of the kingdom” described in the Gospel of Matthew. By virtue of the keys, the local church exists as a political assembly that publicly represents King Jesus, displays the justice and righteousness of the triune God, and pronounces Jesus’ claim upon the nations and their governments.
To that end, we considered the reigning liberal paradigm and how it is reinforced in Christian circles by a concept of the church’s spirituality. The problem with both perspectives is that they treat the human being as divisible between a political part and a religious part, which humans are not. There is no such thing as spiritual neutrality in the public square and no such thing as political neutrality among the saints. In the biblical (and Augustinian) perspective, people either worship God or worship idols—on Sunday and every day.
Yet the fact that all of life can be viewed through both a religious lens and a political lens does not mean that God has not established different institutions for different purposes. Therefore, we began the project of building a broader political conceptuality that included God within its horizons by seeking a more precise understanding of political institutions. A political community, we saw, is a community of people united by a common governing authority possessing the power of life and death according to some conception of justice. And political membership, by extension, is a relationship in which an individual is subject to a governing authority and in which the authority affirms the individual. This institutional hermeneutic was then applied to the Bible’s covenantal storyline, which showed us that politics is nothing more or less than the mediating of God’s covenantal rule.
Life is broadly political in that it should be lived in accordance with the mandates of the Adamic and Noahic covenants to represent or image God in all the activities of human dominion. Yet life is narrowly political (politics as people typically conceive of it) through the Noahic covenant’s provisions for a justice mechanism and the various institutions established by the line of special covenants.
We also saw that God intended to use a special people to model for the nations what a true politics looks like. When Israel failed at this task, it was handed to the divine Son, who came to do what Adam and Israel could not do. This second Adam, new Israel and Davidic son came to rule obediently by laying down his life for the sins of the nations and rising from the grave. In so doing, he offered a new covenant in his blood, so that all who would repent and believe might receive a pardon from sin and a share in his kingly authority. To that end, he granted them the keys of the kingdom, enabling them to fulfill their covenantal responsibilities to identify themselves with God and one another, distinguish themselves from the world, fend off any serpentine intruders and pursue together the life of righteousness and justice that rightly represent the Son, the Father and the Spirit.
As such, a local church publicly administers the office responsibilities of the new covenant. And a local church exists wherever a group of saints regularly gather to preach the gospel and exercise the keys by publicly affirming and submitting to one another through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The life of the church, among other things, is a citizen’s life, whereby the saints share in kingdom rule together, jointly exercising the keys of the kingdom in one another’s lives. By this token, a church’s faith and order are linked through the gospel word and the power of the Spirit. The gospel word not only gives life to a people, it restores them to their covenantal job responsibilities, the ones that humanity possessed at creation but had forsaken. keys of the kingdom authorize them to fulfill these job responsibilities individually and corporately.
In all this, the local church exists to display the righteousness, justice and love of the triune God. It is to exemplify for the nations what a true politics looks like. And in so doing it represents the King who possesses all authority on heaven and earth, and who therefore lays claim upon the nations. All humanity is called to repentance and faith, fealty and honor” (389-90).
Horton, Michael S. Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ. Louisville: WJK, 2007.
In part 1 of this book Horton provides the best theological critique of the New Perspective on Paul that I’ve read. In sum, he grants E. P. Sanders’s characterization if covenantal nomism as being active in Second Temple Judaism. But then he argues that such a view is precisely what Paul was opposing (and was also akin to what the Reformers were opposing in Roman Catholicism). As part of this argument, Horton makes the case for distinguishing between the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant. I think his case is exegetically compelling, though he does seem to have trouble integrating his exegetical insights into traditional Covenant Theology (sometimes he seems to indicate that the Sinai Covenant is a covenant of works and at other times he seems to include it as part of the covenant of grace).
The second part of the book, while containing an excellent critique of Radical Orthodoxy and the Finnish interpretation of Luther, seemed a bit muddled in its discussions of union with Christ. On the one hand, Horton wanted to see justification as the forensic basis for every other aspect of the ordo. In this way he sought to hold together the forensic and transformative elements of soteriology. The latter are grounded in the former. Thus union with Christ is founded on justification. On the other hand, he seemed to also acknowledge that union precedes justification. In one paragraph he identified both justification and Christ as the engine that pulls the train cars that make up the ordo.
I understand why Horton wants to keep the forensic and transformative elements of salvation united, but I’m not convinced that he has the right formulation.
[I am about to finish People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology, the final volume in this series. While it contains some helpful insights about the impact the doctrine of the ascension should have on Roman Catholic and incarnational ecclesiology, I’ve not found this book to rise to the same high standard of the previous volumes. Horton is going after some of the same targets as in his popular level writings: pietism and revivalism. But in doing so he writes off the entire free church tradition. While his targets are appropriate for his popular-level critiques of evangelicalism, Horton needed to interact more with the best of free church arguments in this book. (It was also interesting how many of his foils are already irrelevant, just a decade after the book was written.) In the end, his Reformed ecclesiology is so narrow that it excludes Reformed Baptists and even Presbyterians of a Banner of Truth bent.]
Horton, Michael. Justification. Two Volumes. New Studies in Dogmatics. Edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018.
In his first volume Horton undertakes a historical survey of the doctrine from the church fathers through the Reformation. However, Horton is not merely surveying history; he is mounting an argument against the claim by Roman Catholic and Radical Orthodox theologians that the Reformation was suffused with nominalism and that this shift from realism to nominalism accounts for the rise of secularism. In general, I think Horton provides a sound refutation of this thesis while also effectively documenting patristic, medieval, and Reformation views of justification.
In this second volume Horton provides and exegetically-grounded defense and formulation of the Reformation doctrine of justification. He meets the challenges posed by the New Perspective on Paul, particularly the version advanced by N. T. Wright, the apocalyptic reading of Paul championed by J. Louis Martyn, and the radical reading of Douglas Campbell.
Too often exegesis, church history, and theology are held apart, with different writers emphasizing one of these three disciplines (sometimes almost in opposition to the others). Horton helpfully models theological writing that brings all three together.
I also found Ryan McGraw’s review of Horton’s two volumes insightful (WTJ 81, pp. 321-32). McGraw’s overall assessment of Horton’s work is positive. He notes that speech-act theory, theosis/deification/ and Barth are either “absent” or “subdued” in this work. I agree with McGraw that this makes these volumes stronger than some of the Horton’s other writings.
- Does not define nominalism clearly enough; equivocates on the term real, and ascribes to post-Reformation Roman Catholicism Biel’s views.
- Continues to be confusing in his statements about Union with Christ, sometimes making union the ground of justification and others making justification the ground of union. McGraw cannot completely make sense of the contradiction, but he notes there may be a confusion between redemption accomplished and applied.
- Makes anachronistic statements about historical figures and makes some overstated claims.
- Identifies the Sinai covenant as a law covenant in contrast with the gracious Abrahamic covenant. McGraw notes, “The only other place that this author has encountered this kind of reasoning historically is in classic Baptist covenant theologies, which sought to drive a similar wedge between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants.”
I too have been puzzled by Horton’s seemingly conflicting statements regarding union with Christ. However, when it comes to the covenants, I find Horton’s exegetical and theological arguments more compelling that McGraw’s objections. Further, as a Baptist, I find the fact that Horton’s view is found most prominently among early Baptists a recommendation of the view.
Wellum, Stephen J. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.
Wellum structures his Christology in four parts. In the first part he deals with epistemology and philosophy. The first chapter of part two deals with the storyline of Scripture and the biblical covenants. This introductory material means that the reader doesn’t get to strictly Christological material until 150 pages into the book. While that felt like too long, Wellum does make important points in these opening chapters, and he rightly justifies his approach to doctrinal formulation in them. Part 2 is focused on the biblical data that testifies to the deity and humanity of Christ. It also addresses issues such as the virgin conception, sinlessness, and the purpose of the incarnation. Part 3 traces the doctrinal development of Christology throughout church history. Part 4 opens with a summary of modernist and evangelical kenotic Christologies. Following this comes a critique, a positive summary of historic, orthodox Christology, and a defense of orthodox Christology against criticisms.
Harmless, William. Augustine in His Own Words. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2010.
Augustine wrote so much that it is helpful to have an entry point into his work. This volume provides the reader with selections of Augustine’s writings in ten chapters: 1. Confessions, 2. Augustine the Philosopher, 3. Augustine the Bishop, 4. Augustine the Preacher, 5. Augustine the Exegete, 6. Against the Manichees, 7. Against the Donatists, 8. On the Trinity, 9. On the City of God, Against the Pagans, 10. Against the Pelagians. The excerpts are of sufficient length to be valuable, and the effect is to gain a taste of the full range of Augustine’s writing.
Abernethy, Andrew T. The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic—Theological Approach. Edited by D. A. Carson. Vol. 40. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL; London: Apollos; InterVarsity Press, 2016.
This book helpfully surveys the kingdom there in Isaiah, and it makes the case that this theme is central to the book. Given the importance of the kingdom theme in Scripture, and given the importance of Isaiah, this is a significant book. I found the structural and thematic arguments compelling. I’m not convinced that Isaiah himself failed to identify the Davidic Messiah, the Suffering Servant, and God’s Messenger as the same person. I was also disappointed to find a NSBT volume fuzzy on authorship and composition.
Kennedy, Rick. The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather. Library of Religious Biography. Edited by Mark A. Noll. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015.
This brief biography of Cotton Mather effectively raised my interest in Cotton Mather and his extensive writing. He had a mind to capture and catalog all that he could learn. But all this learning was in service of a warm evangelical piety.
Kennedy also makes the case that Cotton Mather was situated at a historical hinge between Puritanism and the evangelical movement that would follow.
This biography also provides an effective window into Boston at the beginning of the 18th century.
Sheldon, Garrett Ward. The Political Philosophy of James Madison. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
This is a brief (~150 page) study of Madison’s political philosophy. He makes a good case for coherence within Madison’s thought while also allowing for change on some issues. He also pays attention to the way Madison’s schooling among theologically conservative Presbyterians affected his political philosophy. Sheldon holds that Madison’s political philosophy emerged from the combination of three influences: “Calvinist Christianity, classical republicanism, and Lockean liberalism” (15). The first of these influences meant that Madison had a lively awareness of human sinfulness and the need to take it into account in political matters. Sheldon also covers Madison’s concern for religious liberty, which was rooted both in has familiarity with the persecution of ministers in dissenting denominations (Anglicanism was the established church in Virginia), his belief that established churches become corrupt, and his belief in freedom of conscience (here, reflecting more the Lockean than the dissenting Christian tradition, the latter of which would have argued against established churches on the grounds that they involved divinely unauthorized government intrusion into the church). On the debated issue of federalism, Sheldon maintains that in general Madison held that the national government should deal with international affairs (war, trade, tariffs, etc.) while the state governments dealt with internal matters. However, Madison was not as ideological as Jefferson and he operated with a good understanding of the conservative virtue of prudence.
In 2020 I focused my daily Bible reading on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. I wanted to read these books along with a brief commentary that would orient me to my reading.
In the past for these books, I’ve used Barry’s Webb’s The Message of Isaiah, Derek Kidner’s The Message of Jeremiah (both in the Bible Speaks Today series), and Peter Cragie’s Ezekiel (in the Daily Study Bible Series). Craigie is a bit less conservative than the previous two authors, but in general these books were helpful for that purpose.
This year, I choose Herbert Wolf’s Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah, Charles Feinberg’s Jeremiah: A Commentary, and Charles Feinberg’s The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord. Wolf, a translator of Isaiah for the 1984 NIV, does quite a good job of briefly and insightfully summarizing the thought of each chapter. I picked up Feinberg’s commentary on Jeremiah recalling that Dr. Bob Bell, on of my seminary professors, identified it as one of his favorite on the book. (It appears in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 6, but someone had given me a standalone version). Since I had also been given a copy of Feinberg’s book on Ezekiel, I thought I’d stick with Feinberg through Ezekiel. The Ezekiel commentary served its purpose, but the Jeremiah commentary is superior to it.
On the side, I did some other reading in connection with these books, reading Andrew Abernethy’s The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom: A Thematic-Theological Approach, Andrew Shead’s A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah (both in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series) Daniel Block’s By the River of Chebar: Historical, Literary, and Theological Studies in the Book of Ezekiel, and Daniel Block’s Beyond the River of Chebar: Studies in Kingship and Eschatology in the Book of Ezekiel. Abernethy’s book is helpful survey of the vitally important theme of kingdom in Isaiah. My one disappointment was the credence he gave to critical scholarship on the authorship of the book. I found Shead’s book most helpful on the issue of Jeremiah’s structure. Block’s two books on Ezekiel are a collection of articles he wrote on this book over the years. Though not all were of equal interest to me, his studies on the theology of Ezekiel in the first volume and his studies in the second volume on the Messiah and on the final vision (Eze. 40-48) were very helpful.
Another resource that I picked up along the way was the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. I’m not typically a fan of study Bibles. I’d rather grab a brief commentary like Wolf on Isaiah, or Kidner on Jeremiah because they would typically give me fuller information with not much more reading than the fragmentary notes in a study Bible (notes which too often don’t address the question I have in mind). However, I found the NIVBTSB to be very helpful in orienting me to a passage. Its notes are hierarchical with a notes summarizing major sections and sub -sections of the text before the notes on the individual verses. In this way the NIVBTSB is an ideal companion for Bible reading.
The one drawback to the NIVBTSB is the NIV 2011 text. In many ways the NIV 2011 is an improvement on the NIV 1984. The one exception is its attempts to avoid the generic “man” and the generic pronouns “he,” “his,” “him,” etc. I wish the NIV 2011 reflected the original languages more closely in the area of gender. Gender is a hotly contested area in our culture at present, and it seems wisest to allow God to speak to us about this topic rather than trying to conform his words to our way of speaking.
For instance, the translation “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:28) obscures the representative nature of the first man, Adam. The obfuscation happens by trying to avoid using the generic “man” to stand for man and woman. But part of the teaching of this passage is that man does stand for both men and women, not just linguistically but for the race (Adam), in the home (husband), for the church (Christ).
Another example. I was recently studying Job 14 where Job is speaking of a representative man. On one level this man represents all humans but on another he represents Job himself. There is also likely an allusion back to Adam, the first man, who brought this trouble on mankind. The NIV 2011 obscures this by translating ‘adam as “Mortals.” This translation also allowed the translators to transform all of the singular pronouns (“he,” “him,” etc.) into plurals, which further obscures the fact that the man being referred to is a stand in for Job. This is most problematic in the final verse of the chapter where the loneliness and isolation of this man is portrayed: “He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself” (NIV 1984). The isolation doesn’t come through with the plural pronouns: “They feel but the pain of their own bodies and mourn only for themselves” (NIV 2011).
I routinely find examples where these kinds of subtle transformations end up obscuring the text.
Reading Feinberg on Jeremiah and Ezekiel this year was a step back into the world of mid-twentieth century dispensationalism. For instance, here is a passage I read recently:
“The emphasis here is unmistakably on the Sabbath and the new moon, which alone should indicate the Jewish setting of the passage, and that we are not here on Christian or New Testament ground. The broad context of the last chapters of Ezekiel, it cannot be repeated too often because so often ignored, is not treating Christian truth, though there are definite implications for such, of course. In short, the Sabbath of the Old Testament will be reinstituted for a restored and consecrated Israel. The Sabbath will be enforced as soon as the church is translated because the end of Daniel’s seventy weeks will occur on Jewish ground (Matt. 24:29). Then the Sabbath will continue into the Messiah’s reign, for this is the consummation and culmination of Israel’s, not the church’s, history (study Isa. 66:23 and the broad context there).”Charles Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, 267.
Feinberg seems unaware of the implications of this assertion. The transition from Sabbath to Lord’s Day was a transition from a day marking rest after the original creation to a day marking the new creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ. It would be exceedingly odd for God’s people to shift their day of worship back to the seventh day just as the new creation dawns in the millennium.
Furthermore, Feinberg seems to assume that the church’s history ends with the rapture. However, the church as the union of Jew and Gentile into one new man is part of the enduring cross-work of Christ. It is not mere a temporary phase in redemption history.
On the other hand, I was also reading George Schwab’s recent commentary on Hosea where he says, commenting on Hosea 2:21-23:
“On the one hand, the passage addresses historical Israel, the people who abandoned Yahweh in order to worship Baal. They are promised restoration as a religious-political entity on their traditional plot of land, which was fulfilled when Judah returned from exile. On another level, however, this passage is a picture of something much grander and more far-reaching. The scope of the new covenant is universal. According to Paul (quoting from this passage), it will encompass the whole earth and every people group (Rom. 9:25–26). Every Christian can rejoice in this fuller meaning, for he or she is a demonstration of its ongoing fulfillment.”George M. Schwab Sr., “Hosea,” in Daniel–Malachi, ESV Expository Commentary, 7:192–193.
But it simply will not do to limit Israel’s share in the fulfillment of this passage to the post-exilic period. That period did not see these new covenant fulfillments for Israel. This prophecy includes a future restoration of Israel “as a religious- political entity on their traditional plot of land” in the future day of the Lord.
There is a better way between the older forms of dispensationalism—which divided the church and Israel, and which was insensitive to redemptive historical developments from the Old Testament through the New and into the new creation (millennium and eternal state)—and the recent trend to deny any future fulfillment of prophecies made to the nation Israel.
That better way would see the church joined with Israel into one new man, and it would see the Gentiles become heirs of the covenant promises along with Israel—but in such a way that the specific promises made to the nation are not cancelled but extended.
Right now, I think progressive dispensationalism captures this balance best, but what I’ve described above need not be limited to dispensationalism. For instance, the future fulfillment of the land promises for Israel was envisioned by a number of Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, and David Brown (of Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown fame). There is nothing inconsistent with covenant theology (or, I think, Progressive Covenantalism) and the position outlined above. True, such views have traditionally been limited to millennialists, but there is no reason in principle why they could not be held by amillennialists who believe in an earthly eternal state.
I highly commend Archbishop Ussher’s The Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is Scripture statured, theologically profound, and devotionally moving.
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Zondervan Exegetical Commentary
Ruth by Daniel I. Block – I’ve not used this particular commentary, but Block’s commentary on Ruth in the New American Commentary series was excellent. This one covers the book in greater depth.
Matthew by Grant Osborne – While I’d probably turn to Carson (EBC) and Nolland (NIGTC) first, I have found Osborne helpful.
Mark by Mark L. Strauss – While I’d turn to Edwards (PNTC) and France (NIGTC) first, I have found Strauss to provide helpful insights into the Olivet Discourse when I used him to study that passage.
Luke by David E. Garland – There isn’t a commentary by Garland that I’ve not been impressed with. This one is no exception.
John by Edward W. Klink III – There are times when I think Klink may be too imaginative, but he is an insightful literary reader. Helpful to read alongside Carson (PNTC).
Acts by Eckhard Schnabel – An excellent commentary on Acts. One of the best.
Romans by Frank Thielman – Thielman’s commentary competes in a crowded field―Moo (NICNT), Schreiner (BECNT), Cranfield (ICC), and more―nonetheless, having read Paul and the Law in Context I’m interested in just about anything Thielman writes.
Galatians by Thomas Schreiner – This is an excellent commentary on Galatians, ranking right up with Moo (BECNT) as one of the best to get.
Ephesians by Clinton Arnold – Not the first Ephesians commentary I would buy (I would get Thielman [BECNT], Baugh [EEC], and Hoehner first), but he has done a good job editing this series.
Colossians and Philemon by David Pao – I’ve not read this one yet.
1 and 2 Thessalonians by David Shogren – I’ve found this to be a decent contribution.
James by Craig Blomberg and Mariam Kamell – A commentary full of insights. Recommended.
1, 2, and 3 John by Karen Jobes – I’ve not used this commentary extensively, but Jobes’s commentaries have been uniformly good.
Revelation by Buist Fanning – I’m still working through this one, but Fanning’s commentary may be the best commentary on this book. Highly recommend.
There are several in the series by authors who are unknown to me but which I’m interested in because I’ve been impressed by the series thus far: Joel Barker on Joel; Kevin Youngblood in Jonah, Paul Gardner on 1 Corinthians.
NIV Application Commentary
Deuteronomy by Daniel Block – Anything by Block is worth getting. This entry-level commentary by Block is often more insightful than some of the larger commentaries.
Judges, Ruth by K. Lawson Younger – I’ve not purchased this commentary, but I’ve referenced it on Judges and found it helpful.
1 & 2 Samuel by Bill Arnold – Another I’ve not purchased by have found helpful when I referenced it.
Esther by Karen Jobes – An insightful literary reading of Esther.
Daniel by Tremper Longman III – A very helpful literary reading. Even in the passages where I would differ from Longman eschatologically, I still find helpful insights.
2 Corinthians by Scott J. Hafemann – Hafemann did his doctoral work on this book, and his expertise shows.
Philippians by Frank Thielman – Anything by Thielman is worth getting in my estimation.
Colossians and Philemon by David E. Garland – Again, a helpful entry level treatment by a sure-footed commentator.
Hebrews by George Guthrie – Guthrie did his doctoral work on Hebrews and his expertise shines through in this volume.
There are a number of volumes in this series that I’ve not used but whose authors signal that they are likely worthwhile purchases. (In some cases, depending on your purposes, however, you should consider buying the in-depth commentary that the author wrote on the same book.) These volumes would include Hill on 1 & 2 Chronicles; Oswalt on Isaiah; Smith on Hosea, Amos, Micah; Baker on Joel, Obadiah, Malachi; Boda on Haggai, Zechariah; Wilkins on Matthew; Garland on Mark; Bock on Luke; Moo on Romans; Blomberg on 1 Corinthians; Moo on 2 Peter, Jude.
No Quick Fix by Andy Naselli – An excellent readable critique of Keswick theology.
God, Revelation, and Authority by Carl F. H. Henry – Henry’s magnum opus. Required theological reading.
Theology of the Old Testament by Gustav Oehler – Classic Old Testament theology.