Wenham, Gordon. The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013.
The book is a collection of essays, most of them based on lectures that Wenham has delivered in various places. They are clearly occasional writings, and as such there is some repetition to the book and no unifying theme. Nevertheless, the book is full of insights. For instance, Wenham suggests that the Psalms were collected in a purposeful order that communicates a specific theology. He unpacks arguments for this at various places and in one chapter demonstrates how reading Psalm 103 in light of the surrounding Psalms enriches our understanding of the Psalm. In connection with this canonical approach, Wenham argues that the Psalter is more intentionally messianic than the old form critics would allow. He even suggests that laments may in many cases be messianic since the person speaking in them ascribes to himself better behavior than David can claim in the historical books. Thus the Psalms may well be the part of Scripture Jesus has in mind when he questions his disciples about why they did not recognize that he had to suffer. The chapter on imprecatory Psalms is helpful, and the chapters on singing and praying the Psalms really do encourage the reader to make the Psalms more a part of his worship. This book led be to desire to pray, sing, read, and understand the Psalms better.
McLoughlin, William G. Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967.
Not much has been published on Backus, who is an important early American Baptist. McLoughlin, an editor of Backus’s diary and other writings, provides a readable biography. Grenz, in his dissertation on Backus, faults McLoughlin for linking Backus with the Pietistic tradition rather than with the Puritans and laments that McLoughlin’s popular biography was not footnoted or endnoted. There is certainly some justice to these complaints, but McLoughlin’s biography remains one the key sources for understanding the life and context of Isaac Backus.
Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.
In chapter one of The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, Synan roots the origins of Pentacostalism in the teachings of John Wesley. He notes the influence of William Law as well as Jeremy Taylor, Thomas à Kempis, Madame Guyon, François de Sales, Félon, etc. Wesley’s teaching of Christian perfection is a key root. This develops into an idea of a second blessing. Also significant to the development of Pentecostalism are the frontier revival meetings with the ecstasies manifested by the participants. Finney’s teaching on perfectionism with his addition teaching that it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that brings about entire sanctification contributes. Chapter 2 discusses the importance of post-Civil War holiness camp meetings, divisions in the Methodist church and a denominational rejection of the Holiness movement, and the development of new Holiness denominations. Also notes these new denominations rose up in areas where political populism was most prominent. Subsequent chapters document in greater detail the emergence of many different Pentecostal groups. Chapter 5 recounts the emergence of Tongues speaking in 1900 at the Bethel Bible School of Topeka Kansas and the events at Azusa Street which served as a catalyst for the spreading of Pentecostal teaching. Chapter 8 details controversies surrounding and within Pentecostalism: opposition from non-holiness Pentecostal groups, opposition from within to Spirit-baptism as a second blessing, oneness or Jesus-only Pentecostalism, and so forth. Chapter 10 includes sections that deal with Pentecostals relations to other groups: fundamentalists, evangelicals, and charismatics. Chapter 11 details the movement of Pentecostalism from the fringes of American church life to a place of greater respectability among evangelical and mainline churches and the development of an inter-denominational charismatic movement. Chapter 12 tells the similar story in connection with Roman Catholicism. Chapter 13 discusses the spread of the charismatic movement within various denominations from the 1970s through 1990s. It includes discussions of the Shepherding movement, Peter Wagner’s Third Wave, the Vineyard churches, and the Toronto Blessing.
As the dean of the School of Divinity at Regent University (founded by Pat Robertson), Synan writes as an insider to the holiness-Pentecostal tradition. His research is careful and he includes both positive and negative aspects of the tradition. Nonetheless, many of the aspects of the story that Synan sees as positives are troubling: its emergence from the doctrinally flawed holiness theology and revivalism of the Second Great Awakening, the eventual embrace by mainline denominations and ecumenical organizations, and the acceptance of charismatic practice in the Roman Catholic Church. Synan seems to think that the broad acceptance of the charismatic movements is a sign of its success, whereas, for those concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy, it seems that this should raise uncomfortable questions about the movement as a genuine work of God.
Wright, Christopher J. H. God’s God’s People in God’s Land: Family, Land, and Property in the Old Testament. 1990; Reprinted, Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 1997. [Read Parts one and two]
This is a revision of Wright’s dissertation, which means that there is quite a bit of tedious interaction with critical theories that in another kind of book could have been left aside. Leaving such interaction aside would have opened more space for a positive development of Wright’s ideas.
Positively, Wright demonstrates the importance of the land concept in the Old Testament. He covers that typical themes, such as Yahweh being the ultimate owner of the land, but he also delves into the jubilee laws and why the adulterous woman in Proverbs is labeled "strange" or "foreign" (Wright does not think she is ethnically foreign, but that her actions have placed outside the family structure of Israel, which formed the foundation of the nation).
Wright’s thesis is that "family-plus-land units had a basic role and importance in Israel’s understanding of their relationship with Yahweh. When therefore economic changes and human greed later combined to attack and destroy large numbers of such small family landholdings, certain prophets were moved to denounce this, not merely on the grounds of social justice but because it represented an attack upon one of the basic socio-economic pillars on which Israel’s relationship with Yahweh rested—the family and its land" (65). However, I came away unclear as to how exactly family landholdings in Israel were foundational to the relationship with Yahweh. In other words why and in what way were these landholdings fundamental to the relationship?
Also unconvincing was Wright’s argument that in the New Testament "in Christ" is equivalent to the Old Testament’s "in the land" and that the social and economic laws connected to the land find their fulfillment in the NT teaching about fellowship.
In sum, this book has helpful exegetical insights on individual passages, but I was not convinced of the overall thesis.
Baker, Hunter. The End of Secularism. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.
Hunter Baker’s The End of Secularism provides a good introduction to secularism. His endnotes point to resources of greater depth. Baker notes that secularism is a Western reaction against the idea of a Christian state. After religious pluralism developed in the sixteenth century and the wars of religion followed, philosophers posited that given differing beliefs about God and uncertainty about who God is, religious issues should be excluded from "education, law, and any other public endeavor" (19). Religion may be pursued privately or with groups of likeminded people, like a hobby. But it should not be brought out into public.
Along with the argument for secularism came the secularization thesis. This thesis proposes that as societies modernize, they secularize. Eventually science will push religion from every sphere of life except, perhaps, the personal, devotional sphere. Peter Berger, once a proponent of the secularization thesis, concluded that, empirically, secularization does not progress with modernization. Whereas the United States was once seen as the exception to the secularization thesis, the secularization of Europe and of the American academy is now seen as the exception to the norm. Baker concludes that far from being inevitable, secularization has succeeded in these limited areas because of the activism of key secularist figures.
Baker argues that not only has the secularization thesis failed empirically, but also the entire premise of secularism (that it provides a neutral space mitigates religious controversy) has failed for three reasons. First and foremost, secularism is not a neutral party but an ideological player in religious debates. When it arrogates to itself the role of deciding who is allowed to speak in public and who is not it harms the democratic process and angers those whose voices are shut out from the discussion. This does not lead to social harmony, but to social dissent. The second, and related reason, is the critique of Stanley Fish that "finding common ground assumes a capacity that has already been denied . . . by the framing of the problem." Thus secularism is simply a power play to exclude some orthodoxies in favor of others. The third failure of secularism is that the problem secularism proposes to solve is not uniquely religious. Baker notes, "One need not be forced to live under Christian or Muslim values to feel severely put upon. Equally negative emotions may arise when socialists, feminists, or ethnic groups find channels for imposing their will" (132). In fact, given the non-neutrality of secularism, a secular hegemon may be just as coercive as a religious one.
Baker is not interested in replacing secularism with erastianism. But he does argue for a world in which every view, whether religious or secular, has the right to make its case in the public square.
"McConnell retells the story of Zarathustra, who brings the news that God is dead. When he encounters a hermit who sings, laughs, weeps, and mumbles so as to praise God, Zarathustra ‘leaves the old man to worship in peace.’ The hermit has been spared because he lives alone in his self-constructed reality. "If the hermit left the forest and attempted to enter into public discussion and debate, he would be given the news of God’s death like everyone else.’ The lesson to be drawn from the story, McConnell suggests, is that religious freedom is to be protected, strongly protected—so long as it is irrelevant to the life of the wider community’" (111).
Lubet, Steven. Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2010.
This book centers on three trials related to the 1850 fugitive slave act. The first is the trial of Castner Hanway, an unarmed bystander to standoff between some escaped slaves and slavecatchers. After the owner is killed and slaves escape to Hanway is put on trial for treason in an attempt to stamp out the entire abolitionist movement as treasonous. The second is the trial of Anthony Burns, an escaped slave who is recaptured in Boston. Since the overseer lied about the last time he saw Burns in the South to cover his lax oversight, Burns’s defense attempt to cast doubt that the right man has been apprehended since multiple witnesses testify that he was seen in Boston at the time when the overseer claimed Burns was still in Virginia. The final trial is of a group of residents from Oberlin, Ohio who stormed a hotel to rescue a captured runaway. The runaway escapes to Canada but his rescuers are put on trial for violating fugitive slave act. The trials are recounted as engaging narratives; it would be hard to find fictional court drama to rival these stories.
Along with these trials Lubet sets the context of the Fugitive Slave Act and tells the story of several smaller trials. But more significantly, he raises ethical and theological issues. The reader gains a real sense of the injustices of the time: a law that pays a judge $10 for ruling in favor of the slave owner but only $5 if he rules in favor of the alleged runaway; the seizing of free and women from northern states on the pretext that they were runaway slaves and the work of the federal government to prevent northern states from enacting laws to help protect these citizens; that the owners could bring witnesses forward in fugitive slave trials whereas the alleged runaway was prevented from testifying on his own behalf (though testimony could be taken from him to be used against him). The book also raises the issue of whether unjust laws should be disobeyed and how the courts should rule in such circumstances.
Overall, an engaging and thought-provoking book.
Gribben, Crawford, "Millennialism." In Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-century British Puritanism. Oakville, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.
Though the Reformers were primarily amillennialists, Gribben notes that in the seventeenth century various millennial positions developed. These were set off from the Augustinian view inherited by the Reformers in the conviction that the millennium was a future, earthly period. The millennial views expounded during this time were far more diverse than the typical: a, pre-, and post- options typical at present. Indeed, those options emerged during this time. Gribben says, "There were, of course, hugely significant disagreements among these millennial believers. Modern distinctions between pre- and postmillennialism find their roots in this period, as theologians sought to isolate and arrange the various elements of prophetic discourse. Some exegetes advanced their view of radical disjunction between this age and the next. They argued that Christ would return before the millennium, and often (though not always) added that he would remain in person with his church during that period. Some of these premillennialists were not slow to realize that their position actually demanded two future comings of Christ. For some, no doubt, this proved embarrassing, but others were keen to capitalize on the novelty. John Archer, in 1643, made the point with some force: ‘ Christ hath three comings,’ he declared; ‘the first was when he came to take our nature, and make satisfaction for sin. The second is, when hee comes to receive his Kingdome; […] A third is, that when hee comes to judge all, and end the world; the latter commings are two distinct commings.’ Not many of his premillennial brethren were as emphatic. Other postmillennial theologians postulated a more gradual move into the new age, as increasingly reformed societies paved the way for Christ’s return after the millennium. Some of these theorists called for radical intervention in the political status quo—the Fifth Monarchists engaged in a serious of violent attempts to destabilize successive governments through the 1650s and early 1660s, for example—but others assumed a much more obviously divine movement in the conditions of the new age" (95-96).
Herzer, Mark A. "Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth?" In Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-century British Puritanism. Oakville, CT: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.
This article examines what seventeenth-century theologians believed God promised to Adam in the covenant of works. Francis Turretin, Thomas Boston, and others held that God promised Adam a heavenly eternal life. Thomas Goodwin argued that God promised Adam life in the earthly paradise. This is based on Goodwin’s view that Adam’s obedience to a covenant of nature would be natural. Something gracious or supernatural would be needed to raise him above earth. Turretin finds it unlikely that the punishment would be so great and the reward so little. Turretin further argues that the trial had to give way the reward, and everywhere else in Scripture the reward is eternal life.
Smith, Steven D. "The Way We Talk Now," "Living and Dying in the ‘Course of Nature,’" and "Disoriented Discourse: The Secular Subversion of Religious Freedom," The The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2010.
The basic thrust of the first essay is that secularism has let public discourse to a place in which it does not have the tools to work through the moral problems that a society must face. As a result religious and moral assumptions must be smuggled into our public discourse, though secularism forbids the acknowledgement of them. In the second essay Smith demonstrates that this smuggling is both necessary but also insufficient by looking at two Supreme Court cases concerning euthanasia. In the third essay noted, Smith provides a history of the separation of church and state that argues this separation was previously (from the medieval period through the American founding) seen as jurisdictional but that it has come to be seen in terms of secularization. He then makes the case that the logic of a secular separation of church and state leads to rationalization as courts seek to preserve the status quo of religious freedom but without the basis that the old theory of jurisdictional separation provided. Next the courts revise the meaning of religious freedom. Finally comes the renunciation of religious freedom. Smith demonstrates that the courts are currently at the second stage but that some legal scholars have already embraced the third phase.
Witsius, Herman. The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity. Edinburgh: Thomas Turnbull, 1803. [Read 2.5-2.10] [Free Google Book / Physical copy via Amazon]
This section of Witsius’s Economy addresses topics including, the covenant of redemption (2.5.3), Christ’s qualifications to be our substitute (2.5.4), why Christians must still obey God even though Christ obeyed God perfectly in our stead (2.5.13), a defense of the substitutionary atonement (2.6.14), the necessity of the atonement for God to forgive sins (Witsius says the issue is not about the absolute power of God but about his "holiness, justice, and the like") (2.8.1; cf. 2.8.3, 7, 0, 10, 12, 17. See esp. 2.8.19), a defense of limited atonement (2.9), and the significance of Christ’s partaking of circumcision, baptism, Passover, and the Lord’s Supper (2.10.22-27). Much of Witsius’s writing is both devotional and theologically precise.