Stephen Myers has produced the best recent exegetical and theological argument for covenant theology, and this paper, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Theology & Worldview critiques his argument for an overarching covenant of grace, of which the post-Fall biblical covenants are administrations.
“Thirdly, It is the first and principal grace, in respect of causality and efficacy. It is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of; they are all communicated unto us by virtue of our union with Christ. Hence is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification, our fruitfulness, our perseverance, our resurrection, our glory. Hence is our adoption; for it is upon our receiving of him that this right and privilege is granted unto us of becoming the sons of God, John 1:12. No man can be made the adopted son of God but by an implantation into him who is the natural Son of God, John 15:1–6, 20:17. And thence also are the consequent privileges that attend that estate; for “because we are sons, God sends forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father,” Gal. 4:6,—that is, to own God, and address ourselves unto him under the consideration of the authority and love of a father. And hence is our justification: for,—1. Being united unto Christ, we are interested in that acquitment from the condemning sentence of the law which was granted unto himself when he satisfied it to the utmost, Rom. 1:3, 4; Isa. 50:8, 9. For he was acquitted as the head and surety of the church, and not on his own personal account, for whereas he did no sin, he owed no suffering nor satisfaction to the law; but as “he suffered for us, the just for the unjust,” so he was acquitted as the representative of his whole church. By our union, therefore, unto him, we fall under the sentence of acquitment, which was given out towards whole Christ mystical, head and members. 2. Our union with him is the ground of the actual imputation of his righteousness unto us; for he covers only the members of his own body with his own garments, nor will cast a skirt over any who is not “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh.” And so he is “of God made unto us righteousness,” 1 Cor. 1:30. Hence also is our sanctification, and that both as to its principle in a new spiritual nature, and as unto its progress in fruitfulness and holiness. The principle of it is the Spirit itself of life, holiness, and power. This God sheds on us through Jesus Christ, Tit. 3:6, or on the account of our interest in him, according to his promise, John 7:38, 39. And for this cause is he said to be “our life,” Col. 3:4, because in him lie the springs of our spiritual life, which in and by our regeneration, renovation, and sanctification is communicated unto us. And its progress in fruitfulness is from thence alone. To teach this, is the design of the parable used by our Saviour concerning the vine and its branches, John 15; for as he showeth our abiding in him to be as necessary unto us, that we may bear fruit, as it is unto a branch to abide in the vine to the same purpose; so without our so doing we are of no more use, in the ways of God, than a branch that is cut off and withered, and cast aside to burn. And men do but labour in the fire, who, in the pursuit of their convictions, endeavour after holiness or the due performance of good works, without deriving strength for them from their relation unto Christ; for all that they do is either nothing in itself, or nothing as unto acceptation with God. “We are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” Eph. 2:10. Becoming new creatures by our inbeing in him, 2 Cor. 5:17, we are thereby enabled unto those good works, or fruits of holiness, which God hath ordained that we should walk and abound in. And hence on many accounts is our perseverance; for, 1. By virtue hereof we are interested in the covenant, which is the great means of our preservation, God having engaged therein so to write his law in our hearts as that we shall not depart from him, Jer. 31:33. Now, this covenant is made with us under this formal consideration, that we are the children and seed of Abraham, which we are not but by our union with Christ, the one seed, to whom the promises of it were originally made, as our apostle declares, Gal. 3:16. 2. His care is peculiar for the members of his body: for as “no man hateth his own flesh, but loveth and cherisheth it,” nor will suffer any of his members to perish, if by any means he can prevent it; so is the heart of Christ towards those that are united to him, and therein are “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” Eph. 5:29, 30. And therefore, 3. The care of giving out supplies unto us for assistance against opposition and strength for duties, which is the grace of perseverance is incumbent on him. Our resurrection also depends on this union,—I mean, a blessed resurrection in joy and glory unto light and life eternal; for this resurrection is nothing but the entire gathering up together of the whole body of Christ unto himself, whereof he gave us a pledge, example, and assurance, in his own person. So the apostle assures us, Rom. 8:11, “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you” (which, as hath been showed, is the means of our union with him), “he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” And this he expressly proveth at large, 1 Cor. 15. And this lands us in eternal glory; which, as was observed before, is nothing but the consummation and perfection of this union with Christ. And hence it appears on how many accounts it is the principle and measure of all other graces and privileges whatever.
And we may see hence how great our concernment is to inquire diligently into this foundation of all grace, mercy, and glory. If we fail here, as too many seem to do, we do but run in vain, and build in vain, and boast in vain, for all will be lost and perish. We may do well to remember what became of the house that was built on the sand, when its trial came: it fell, and its fall was great and irreparable. Such will be the end of the profession of men that doth not spring and arise from union with Christ.
John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 21, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1854), 149–151.
I recently wrote a post for the Logos blog, which they titled The Definitive Guide to Bible Commentaries: Types, Perspectives, and Use. Check it out if you’re interested.
Christ Over All is a new online venture that attempts to teach Christians about how the Bible applies to all of life. This is an important and necessary venture. However, it is also a difficult venture. Ideally Christian discipleship involves training Christians for vocations in a myriad of fields. Christians with exegetical and theological expertise should partner with Christians with expertise in the various aspects of life to which the Bible is being applied. However, there is a danger when Christians with exegetical and theological expertise wrongly diagnose the situation to which they are applying Scripture.
Stephen Wellum’s article, “Thou Shalt Be Vaccinated: When “Love Thy Neighbor” Does Not Fulfill the Law,” in an example of this. Wellum argues against the claim that persons should vaccinate themselves against Covid-19 on the basis of the love command. He claims:
For what we now know about the truth of this vaccine (which doesn’t necessarily apply to other vaccines) is that it causes more harm than good, as I’ll show below. As such, if we truly love our neighbor, Christians should lovingly warn others of its serious consequences.
Wellum rightly understands that in order to apply the Bible to a situation, we have to understand that situation. Because he thinks that Covid-19 vaccines are harmful, he thinks the way to live out the love commandment is to warn people of their danger. Hence, he charges those who exhort people to receive the Covid-19 vaccines on the basis of the love command of a misuse of the command.
The question is whether Wellum rightly understands the situation to which he is applying the love command. Are the vaccines in question are helpful or harmful? Wellum cites left-leaning organizations like BioLogos as supporting vaccination, but conservative organizations like Creation Ministries International also support vaccination. He notes that left-leaning organizations like BioLogos appeal to the love command, but so do theologically conservative ones like CMI. See CMI’s lengthy article, “Should Christians Vaccinate?” The CMI article is more detailed, makes use of more reliable sources, and represents its sources more accurately than Wellum’s article does.
Ironically, by linking the name of Christ to warning Christians against the vaccine (“if we truly love our neighbor, Christians should lovingly warn others of its serious consequences”; “we can make a strong case that to truly love our neighbor would be to abstain from taking it any further”) Wellum may be guilty of the very charge he makes against those who claimed that to take the vaccine was to love their neighbor.
There are at least two lessons here for those who desire rightly seek for the Bible to rule over all of life.
1. Distinguish between applications are clear and necessary and applications that require a great deal of additional research or inference. Moving from the Bible to real world biblical application on some issues requires right understanding the situation to which the Bible is being applied.
A few qualifications:
a. This is not an argument against making such applications. It is an argument for awareness of the necessary work involved in making such applications—and a spirit of charity towards Christians who interpret the situation differently.
b. Nor is this to say that in complicated situations any Christian interpretation of the situation is acceptable. The Christian must still seek for a true understanding of the situation. Misdiagnosing the situation can result in misapplying the Scripture, and that is not of minor concern.
2. Christians seeking to develop a biblical view of life cannot work in isolation but must work with other mature Christians who together have a deep and wide understanding of both God’s Word and God’s world.
Rose, Matthew. A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right. Yale University Press, 2021.
Rose treats the philosophers of the radical right with seriousness, not dismissing them out of hand or claiming that they are wrong in every respect. He also recognizes that liberalism contains serious flaws. Nonetheless, his account makes abundantly clear that the radical right is hostile to Christianity. Furthermore, he elucidates how much of what the radical right is reacting against in contemporary liberal culture are perversions of Christianity. The radical right seeks not merely to undo these perversions but to attack their Christian roots.
The alt-right is anti-Christian. Not by implication or insinuation, but by confession. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that “Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline” and a “necessary condition of white racial suicide.” Johnson edits a website that publishes footnoted essays on topics that range from H. P. Lovecraft to Martin Heidegger, where a common feature is its subject’s criticisms of Christian doctrine. “Like acid, Christianity burns through ties of kinship and blood,” writes Gregory Hood, one of the website’s most talented essayists. It is “the essential religious step in paving the way for decadent modernity and its toxic creeds.”
Alt-right thinkers are overwhelmingly atheists, but their worldview is not rooted in the secular Enlightenment, nor is it irreligious. Far from it. Read deeply in their sources—and make no mistake, the alt-right has an intellectual tradition—and you will discover a movement that takes Christian thought and culture seriously. It is a conflicted tribute paid to their chief adversary. Against Christianity it makes two related charges. Beginning with the claim that Europe effectively created Christianity—not the other way around—it argues that Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous to the West. A major work of alt-right history opens with a widely echoed claim: “The introduction of Christianity has to count as the single greatest ideological catastrophe to ever strike Europe.”The Anti-Christian Alt-Right by Matthew Rose | Articles | First Things
Rose’s contribution is vitally important because many Christian ministries are now focused threats to the Christian faith from the left. These are real threats, and Christians must address them. These threats are culturally influential, and Christians unprepared to meet these threats will simply absorb unbiblical ideas from the culture.
On the other hand, many of these ministries seem averse to any criticism of the right. At the least damaging, they critique Democrats while never mentioning the problems of their political allies. For instance, the most recent “Christ Over All” podcast critiqued Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for espousing the sexual revolution. But there was no mention that Donald Trump had done the same—not only in his personal life but also in the policies of his administration (see here and here). More seriously, some critics of the left have embraced some of the ideas from the radical right (e.g., Stephen Wolfe’s The Case for Christian Nationalism; cf. page 7 of Kevin DeYoung’s “The Rise of Right-Wing Wokeism“).
Faithful Christians must be aware of threats to the faith from both the political right and the left. Some will charge this concern as a compromising third wayism. To be sure, when one way is true and the other false, proposing a third way is to compromise. But if there are two false options on the table, the Christian must argue for a third way, a biblical way.
In all this, Scripture must be the standard and guide—not just in rhetoric but in truth. Otherwise, Christians run the risk of fleeing from one error into the arms of another error.
Excerpts from Rose’s book are available on the First Things website:
The Outsider (on Samuel Francis)
I’ve recently been reading various commentaries on the trumpet judgments in Revelation 8-9. Everybody acknowledges that these judgments are modeled on the Egyptian plagues. Further, John’s description of the trumpet judgments are intensifications of the plagues.
The idealist interpreter must argue that the referent of these judgments are the normal kinds of events that characterize the entire inter-advent period. Further, it is not clear how the famines, diseases, etc. of the inter-advent period differ from those that preceded Christ.
The Egyptian plagues are the type, John’s description of antitype properly escalates the type, but the idealist interpreter must then deescalate the type to something less than the original type.
In my post on Mitchell Chase’s 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory, I noted that Peter Leithart is an unhelpful mentor in the area of hermeneutics. A number of years ago I read Leithart’s Deep Exegesis and jotted down these notes.
Leithart, Peter J. Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009.
1. The Text Is a Husk: Modern Hermeneutics
In general, I found this chapter helpful.
- His critique of paraphrastic translations was on point.
- He rightly identified Spinoza as the turning point who ushered in modern hermeneutics.
- His discussion of Kant’s influence on modern religion, including evangelical religion was on point.
- I think Leithart’s goal of allowing the NT authors to shape our hermeneutic is correct.
Caveat for chapter 1:
- Leithart clearly likes the four-fold hermeneutic; he even tries to connect Calvin with it. I don’t think Calvin is easily connected to the four-fold hermeneutic. Calvin completely rejected the division of senses into literal and spiritual. He even identified the hermeneutical turn to allegory in the previous era as Satanic (cf. Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. King, 1:114; Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. Pringle, 135). Calvin did have a richer literal sense that was attuned to analogy, typology, theology, and moral issues. But this richer literal sense is fundamentally different from the fourfold sense approach.
- By linking Calvin to the quadriga, I fear that Leithart will present us with a false option in this book: modern hermeneutics or the quadriga. But I think Calvin shows us that this is a false choice. The argument in my dissertation is that we can look to the Reformers and Post-Reformation exegetes—standing as they do between the medieval and modern periods—for a pre-critical exegesis that avoids the problems of both modern and medieval hermeneutics.
2. Texts Are Events: Typology
- The observation that placing texts within various contexts (original historical context, canonical context, personal life context) affects meaning.
- The analogy drawn between the meaning of historical events and the meaning of texts
- Leithart does not provide definitions for meaning or for typology. Part of what makes this chapter work is the slipperiness of the terms. They mean (!) slightly different things, I think, in different parts of the chapter. If E.D. Hirsch has drawn too stark a line between meaning and significance, Leithart keeps things fuzzy where it would be helpful to make some distinctions.
- It would have been helpful for Leithart to make use of the categories of author, text, and reader.
- Surely the author has an intended meaning. A merely human author can write in such a way as to fail to communicate his meaning, but the divinely superintended authors of Scripture do communicate divinely intended meaning. We do need to assert the stability of that meaning or else we participate in what Carson calls the gagging of God. These author-intended meanings are not found outside the text but within the text.
- These texts are found within the canon of Scripture. While that means that when we read earlier texts in light of the whole canon, we can see a fuller meaning than we would if the text were isolated, I would want to insist that this fuller meaning is always tethered to the original meaning of the text. The fuller meaning is seen because of God’s progressive acting in history and because progressive revelation.
- I agree with Leithart that readers have a role to play in interpretation. Leithart brings out that texts may mean different things to the same person at different points in their life due to differing life experience. But here it is important to note that we are not talking about the meaning of but the meaning for. If the connection between the meaning of and the meaning for is utterly broken, we would say that the reader has misunderstood the text. On the other hand, if the connection is close, we would be willing to say that a reader better understands a text after having greater life experience. With certain non-inspired texts I would even be willing to say that some readers can better understand the meaning of a text than the author—if the meaning of the text concerned some aspect of reality that the reader understood better than the author. This, of course, could not apply to the divine Author of Scripture since the Bible since God is omniscient (though it may describe a difference between the human writers of Scripture and Christians readings of Scripture today).
- It is unhelpful to collapse the difference between meaning as it relates to author, text, and reader. For instance, I dealt in the dissertation with Paul’s use of Genesis 16 in Galatians and found that Paul was not allegorizing as the Fathers conceived of allegory. Leithart’s proposal regarding parallels between Ishmael, Isaac, and Israel are interesting, but I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind in Galatians 4. Paul’s reading was something that could be derived from a theological reading of the literal sense of Genesis 16. I think Leithart’s explanation for the rock following the people in the wilderness is on point. Regarding Hosea 11, it seems that Leithart opts for simple typology, which is fine. But Leithart is misleading when he says this changes the meaning of Hosea’s text.
3. Words Are Players: Semantics
- I think the opening critique of dynamic equivalence is correct. I have long thought that common arguments regarding translation and interpretation that are narrowly informed by linguistics are too often lacking in literary sensitivity—texts and their words are interpreted almost mathematically rather than literarily. Leithart is sensitive to the literary nature of biblical interpretation.
- Characteristically, Leithart takes a good thing and presses it to the point where it is no longer valid. I seriously doubt that the name Nicodemus is meant to be a play on the words nike and demos in connection with his being called a ruler of the people.
- I am also unconvinced of Leithart’s argument that the diachronic meanings of words are routinely significant for exegesis. Leithart’s point only works with certain, selected words, but no one is aware of the history of most words. Thus, writers do not bring a historical awareness of most words to their writing. (I am indebted to Mark Ward for this observation)
4. The Text Is a Joke: Intertextuality
In this chapter Leithart again elides certain key distinctions. He makes the valid point that good readers bring information with them to the text. So, a good reader of Matthew 1:1 will bring a knowledge that “book of the genealogy” is making a Genesis allusion, that “Christ” is a messianic term, that “son of David” and “son of Abraham” carry covenantal connotations, etc. But Leithart then labels this eisegesis because this information is not explicitly stated in the text. He links his Matthew 1:1 example to the fathers who compare Moses’s outstretched arms to the cross or Rahab’s red cord to the blood of Christ.
The problem is that Matthew intended the allusions in Matthew 1:1 (likewise with Leithart’s bartender, Shrek, Virgil, Eliot, Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, and Lion King illustrations). It is exegesis, not eisegesis, to notice allusions that the author has put into his text. The fathers were operating from different principles in which harmony with the rule of faith was more decisive than authorial intention (though the latter was not irrelevant to them) (see Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, 3.2.2; 3.2.5; 3.27.38; 3.28.39).
5. Texts Are Music: Structure
- I’m not opposed to the idea that texts can have multiple structures.
- But Leithart’s example from John 9 falls flat. In part, I’m not convinced that the biblical writers regularly structured narratives (as opposed to poems, proverbs, etc.) as chiasms. Narratives outlined chiastically always seem to be forced, and the chiastic structure regularly stands in tension with the normal flow of the plot: rising action, crisis, climax, falling action, resolution. Often the chiastic center does not align with the crisis or the climax, and yet it is taken to be central or most important according to the chiastic structure.
- In the next chapter Leithart admits, with reference to his John 9 example, “As we saw in the previous chapter, the narrative of John 9 is constructed, rather oddly, so as to put the Pharisees’ interrogation of the blind man’s parents at the chiastic center. This is not obviously the main episode in the story, and its presence in the center of the text’s labyrinth is something of a disappointment” (177-78). I think this shows the flaw in the proposed chiastic structure.
6. Texts Are about Christ: Application
- Leithart wants to see Christ-centered application that does not stand over against or in tension with the personal lives of Christians.
- He rightly bemoans: “If the Bible is about Christ, some preachers and interpreters conclude, then any direct application of Scripture to the life of the believer introduces works and threatens to collapse into moralism. Other preachers insist that the Bible be made practical, so that the stories of David are read not as foreshadowings of Christ but as stories that teach us courage, faith, and tricks (e.g., spittle on the beard) for dealing with oppressive fathers-in-law and kings” (174).
- Leithart’s solution is itself problematic. He wishes to revert to the fourfold hermeneutic. As he says in the epilogue, “the hermeneutical method offered here is very similar to the fourfold method developed by medieval Bible teachers. For the medievals, the literal sense of the text opened out into a christological allegory, which, because Christ is the head of his body, opened out into tropological instruction and, because Christ is the King of a kingdom here yet also coming, into anagogical hope” (207).
- Leithart thus opts for a patristic and medieval solution to modernist hermeneutics without reckoning with why the fourfold sense was on the wane in the latter part of the Middle Ages. Early on the spiritual senses had precedence for medieval interpreters because the spiritual senses seemed to solve apologetical difficulties and because that is how certain texts seemed to become relevant. But as the Middle Ages progressed, the literal sense became more and more important. The rise of Aristotle gave interpreters are greater appreciation for the theological significance of the material world. In addition, teachers outside the church’s mainstream could make use of allegory in ways that exposed it as a two-edged sword. Though the spiritual senses were not abandoned in the Middle Ages, the literal sense gained more prominence. In the Reformation, hermeneutical skill had developed to the point where interpreters could address apologetical challenges and make applications from texts without leaving the literal sense. Leithart hasn’t demonstrated why a pre-critical Calvinian or Bucerian approach would not provide the proper corrective to modernist hermeneutics.
- Leithart demonstrates by his multivalent reading of John 9 the problems of the fourfold hermeneutic. Leithart’s argument that John 9 supports infant baptism (because the blind man washes his eyes before he knows who Jesus is and confesses him as Lord) shows that those operating with this hermeneutic end up imposing their rule of faith on Scripture rather than attentively hearing the voice of God from Scripture.
There are numerous strengths to this book. Chase clearly holds a high view of the Scripture’s authority and inerrancy. He desires to have a hermeneutic derived from the Bible. Chase also has a healthy respect for the history of interpretation within the church.
The historical surveys of typological and allegorical exegesis are the weakest part of the book. For instance, in surveying patristic examples of typology, Chase notes that the flood and the ark are frequently referred to in patristic typology, but he only provides two references to patristic typological use of these passages. Furthermore, Chase does not provide an evaluation. Does he think that the eight people symbolize the eighth day, the day of resurrection? Does he think that the wood of the ark signifies the wood of the cross? (And does he think this is typology or allegory?)
When he moves into the Middle Ages, Chase doesn’t adequately account for (though he does acknowledge) the move away from allegorical interpretation to a focus on the literal sense. There are four reasons that the literal sense gained ground in the medieval period: First, heretical groups were able to exploit allegorical interpretation to further their theological agendas, and a focus on the grounding role of the literal sense became key to responding to these groups. Second, the greater appreciation for Aristotle led to a greater appreciation for the present world; there was a greater appreciation for the value of the literal sense and less of a need for it to point beyond this world to have value. Third, there was a greater interest in the history of salvation that increased appreciation for the literal sense. Fourth, a dialectical method of raising questions about the text and using logic to provide the answers began to supplant older methods of spiritual interpretation (see Healey, “Introduction,” in Weinandy, et al., Aquinas on Scripture, 8; Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 284-85). Chase often justifies typological and allegorical exegesis by an appeal to the “Great Tradition,” but this “Great Tradition” is not a static thing. A defense of the recovery of allegorical interpretation must take into account the reasons that medieval interpreters began to move away from it and why many of the Reformers were hostile to it.
I think the weaknesses in this book can be attributed, in part, to the fact that the mentors Chase chose (as indicated by the footnotes) are not reliable guides. Peter Leithart, Craig Carter, and Han Boersma recur frequently in the footnotes. Carter, however, seems sloppy in his historical work, often making broad, unwarranted claims and indefensible antitheses. Peter Leithart, aside from his doctrinal errors regarding justification, has an exegetical imagination that is too often creative rather than textually rooted. He exemplifies the problem with allegorical interpretation, even if there are some exegetical gems that can be found in the mass of unwarranted claims. Carlton Wynne insightfully critiques both Carter and Boersma: “upon careful review, it must be concluded that the metaphysical project underpinning each of these works and, therefore, the views these works espouse, conflict with the best of Reformed theology at central points…. Unfortunately, rather than elucidate these tenets of Reformed theology, Boersma and Carter’s retrievals of patristic and medieval concepts too often obscure and even deny them. As a result, for those who seek to follow the “deeper Protestant conception” (to use the language of Geerhardus Vos), their books should prompt Christians to shun, rather than to embrace, Christian Platonism as harboring unbiblical Neoplatonic influences and to hold firmly to biblical theism as expounded in Reformed confessionalism” (Themelios 44, no. 1 : 171).
Aside from books on covenant theology (reviewed on this site throughout the year), and works on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and books on false religions and philosophies (see below), the following are the ten best books I read in 2022.
Top Ten Books
Goodwin, Thomas. The Works of Thomas Goodwin. Volume 3. Edinburgh: Nichol, 1861.
Volume three of Goodwin’s works contains some particularly edifying and valuable works. The Return of Prayers is meditation on the duty of Christians to give attention to the answers to their prayers. A Child of Light Walking in Darkness addresses the Christian who is experiencing the withdrawal of God’s felt presence. In other words, this is a helpful work on Christian assurance of salvation. The Trial of a Christian’s Growth is a treatise on sanctification and mortification of sin drawn from the parable of the vine and the branches. The Vanity of Thoughts Discovered, with Their Danger and Cure encourages Christians to discipline their minds so that they do not think unprofitable and/or defiling thoughts.
The volume opens with An Exposition of Revelation. Goodwin operates in the historicist mode common in his time. His exposition does not have enduring value and is of interest only to those interested in the history of interpretation. For a summary of the Exposition, see this post: Three Post-Reformation Revelation Commentaries.
McKenzie, Robert Tracy. We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2021.
McKenzie is doing a number of things in this book. He is modeling good historiography from by a Christian historian. He provides a careful discussion of how the American founders viewed original sin. He then traces how an increasingly democratic age and an increasingly positive view of human nature reinforced one another. He provides a helpful history of the main events of the Jacksonian era in light of the these transformations. Finally, he makes wise applications to our own democracy in light of the theology and history discussed.
Crowe, Brandon D. Why Did Jesus Live a Perfect Life? The Necessity of Christ’s Obedience for Our Salvation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2021.
This is an excellent, accessible, exegetical and theological defense of the active obedience of Christ. In this book Crowe deals with the law’s requirement for perfect obedience. His version of covenant theology complicates his exegesis at points, but he is headed in the right direction. I highly commend this book.
Fanning, Buist M. Revelation. Edited by Clinton E. Arnold. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020.
This may be the best recent commentary on Revelation. For a review see here.
Gerhard, Johann. On the Law. Theological Commonplaces. Saint Louis: Concordia, 2015.
A Lutheran scholastic view of the law. I found it helpful, and I am sympathetic to the Lutheran approach to the law, with some modifications brought over from the Reformed view.
Tweeddale, John W. John Owen and Hebrews: The Foundation of Biblical Interpretation. New York: T&T Clark, 2019.
Tweeddale’s published doctoral dissertation includes helpful background about the writing of Owen’s Hebrews commentary. More significant however are the careful treatments of how Owen saw the OT and NT relate and the place of the in relation to the new covenant. This is significant because Owen departed from many of the covenant theologians of his day. In my view Owen’s views were better grounded in sound exegesis. Highly commended as a resource into this part of Owen’s thought.
Wells, David. No Place for Truth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
Wells persuasively argues that it is not abstract ideas which shape people’s thinking (ideas have consequences) but the inculturation of ideas that shape people’s thinking. This is a helpful corrective to a pure intellectual history.
Given my work at BJU Press, I found some of the most helpful material to be on the democratization of American culture and how that has fostered both problematic individualism and problematic communities.
Adams, Isaac. Talking about Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022.
Chapters 7-9 of this book are particularly Bible saturated and provide a great deal of biblical wisdom for this fraught topic. One aspect of this book that I greatly appreciated was its recognition that no technique can solve our racial divisions. Instead, Adams directs readers attention to dependence upon God in prayer and to relating biblical teaching on sanctification to this topic.
Jacobs, Alan. Breaking Bread with the Dead. Penguin, 2020.
Jacobs makes a case for reading past authors with whom we disagree. As typical for Jacobs the argument is supported by well-chosen literary examples and careful reflection.
Whitney, Donald S. Praying the Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2015.
The most valuable benefit of this book for me was Whitney’s schedule for praying through the psalms.
Three Notable Articles
Webster, John. “Sins of Speech.” God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology: Virtue and Intellect. Vol. II. New York: T&T Clark, 2016.
This is a careful theological essay on the ethics of speech. Webster begins with the theological foundations in God and creation for virtuous speech, relates human nature to virtuous speech, describes how sin disorders speech, and then looks at how speech can be mortified and vivified for the regenerate person. I found the essay spiritually warm, and it had the effect of arousing desire for more God-honoring speech in my own life.
Jonathan M. Cheek, “Bruising, Crushing, or Striking: The Translation of שׁוף and the Promise of Victory in Genesis 3:15,” Journal of Biblical Theology and Worldview 2, no. 1 (Fall 2021).
This is a helpful investigation of the meaning of שׁוף. Cheek argues that “bruise” is an anachronistic translation that no longer communicates what it died in the seventeenth century. He finds “crush” to be an adequate interpretation of what the seed of the woman does to the serpent’s head (cf. Rom. 16:20), but he prefers “strike” as less interpretive and more fitting to describe both what the serpent does and what happens to the serpent. He finds this sense supported in the other passages where שׁוף is used: Job 9:7 and Psalm 139:11. Cheek acknowledges that the strike of the serpent on a heel can be fatal if the serpent is poisonous, and he grants that the passage could point to the death of the Messiah as a key component of the victory of the Messiah over the serpent. Though this would be cryptic to original readers, the unfolding of Scripture would clarify this. Cheek does maintain that in context Genesis 3:15 does give the reader an expectation of victory over the serpent.
Craig Blaising, “A Critique of Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant: A Hermeneutical-Theological Response,” Master’s Seminary Journal 26.1 (2015): 111-27.
This is an excellent review of Kingdom through Covenant. Blaising praises the attempt at a canonical reading of the covenants and of biblical theology that is not superficial but which captures deep connections. Blaising’s overall critique is that KtC does not pay enough attention to certain “crucial textual details” which, if attended to, would provide for a more holistic biblical theology.
More specifically, Blaising critiques the continuity/discontinuity framing for evaluating biblical theological systems. Blaising suggests, “It would be better to avoid these abstractions and refocus the issue on plot development and resolution.” The better system will account for how the biblical narrative develops “as a coherent narrative” and how it brings all the elements of its plot to a resolution.
Second, Blaising critiques KtC’s understanding of typology. 1. He notes that not all types are directly Christological nor escalatory. 2. He demurs from the claim that types “establish” God’s plan, arguing that the plan is established in the narrative and framed in covenant promises. He is wary of typology when used to “contravene, suppress, or subvert the meaning of explicit covenant promise, and even more so when the NT explicitly repeats and reaffirms the same promise as declared in the covenants of the OT.” 3. He denies that the covenants prior to the new covenant are types of the new covenant, especially when the antitypical nature of the new covenant is appealed to as justifying a reinterpretation of those covenants’ promises.
Blaising instead calls for an understanding of the nature of the speech act of a covenant promise and the commitment God makes when he swears to covenant promises. Blaising also calls for a “holistic anthropology” that recognizes that the scriptural vision for humanity into the eternal state is multinational. Third, Blaising calls for a holistic new creation eschatology that recognizes the particular land promised to Israel is a part of the whole, renovated earth. The whole does not replace the part; the part is necessarily a part of the whole. Fourth, Blaising calls for a Christology that does not reduce all fulfillment to the Person of Christ but which recognizes variegated richness of the realm Christ inherits. Finally, Blaising argues that the ecclesiological payoff that progressive covenantalists are seeking―a regenerate new covenant community―is to be had in progressive dispensationalism without losing the fullness and complexity of the biblical narrative.
Top Ten Books on Philosophy and Religion Finished in 2022
Chirico, Leonardo. Same Words, Different Worlds: Do Roman Catholics and Evangelicals Believe the Same Gospel? London: Inter-Varsity, 2021.
This is a superb work that does an excellent job of describing Roman Catholic beliefs and how they differ from orthodox Protestant theology. Chirico understands that Roman Catholicism is a system and that individual teachings must be understood in light of the system. As a result, apparent agreement between Roman Catholic and Protestant theology is just that—apparent. I also read De Chirico’s A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Papacy (Christian Focus, 2015) and A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Mary (Christian Focus, 2017) and Gregg Allison’s 40 Questions about Roman Catholicism.
Trueman, Carl. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020.
This book is as good as everybody says it is. Well worth reading.
Snead, O. Carter. What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2020.
Carl Trueman put the phrase “expressive individualism” into evangelicals’ lexicon with regards to LGBT issues. Carter Snead shows that expressive individualism also undergirds arguments regarding abortion and other issues of bioethics.
Cooper, John W. Panentheism—the Other God of the Philosophers: From Plato to the Present. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.
This is a historical and theological survey of the concept of Panentheism. It does an excellent job of describing the variety of views that fall under that label and how the concept developed in history.
Watkin, Christopher. Jacques Derrida. Great Thinkers. P&R, 2017.
Watkin, Christopher. Michel Foucault. Great Thinkers. P&R, 2018.
Watkin, Christopher. Gilles Deleuze. Great Thinkers. P&R, 2020.
I found Watkin’s books on these French postmodern thinkers to be helpful in understanding their thought. He did a good job of accurately describing these difficult thinkers in an accessible but accurate manner.
Stevens, Anthony. Jung: A Very Short Introduction. OUP, 1994.
This book reveals the great influence of Jung on contemporary thinking. Though the author is secular and sympathetic to Jung, it is hard to read without wondering if Jung was engaged in occult practices that put him in touch with the demonic.
Bennett, Matthew Aaron. 40 Questions about Islam. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020.
This is a helpful introduction to Muslim beliefs and practices.
McGuckin, John Anthony. The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
McGuckin is an Orthodox theologian, and this book does a good job of describing its history, doctrine, and practice from an Orthodox perspective.
For 2022 I focused my personal Bible reading on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I read a shorter commentary on these books, the notes in the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, and a few other resources.
Richard Averbeck contributed excellent notes for the NIV BTSB on Leviticus. I also read his articles in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch and in NIDOTTE on the sacrificial system and the key words related to it. I also read his article “Reading the Ritual Law of Leviticus Theologically” in Interpreting the Old Testament Theologically. Averbeck is slated to write the Leviticus volume in the EEC series, and based on these articles, I expect to be especially helpful on the ritual elements of the book.
For the commentary I chose Jay Sklar‘s entry in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries series and found it to be excellent. He was less helpful than Averbeck on the opening section of the book, which discusses sacrifices, but I found him full of insight in his comments on the laws in the latter part of the book. I found that he anticipated the questions that I had about these laws and answered them with clarity and brevity. He has a fuller commentary on Leviticus coming out this spring in the ZECOT series.
I also read Michael L. Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Leviticus. This was one of the best books I read all year, and it is one of the best entries in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. It is subtitled “A Biblical Theology of Leviticus,” but it is more than that. It locates Leviticus within the structure of the Pentateuch, and thus discusses the structure of the Pentateuch. Morales also traces the theme of God’s presence through Genesis and Exodus. Morales is also full of insight on how this theme and others extend through the rest of the canon. And that is all in addition to his insightful theological comments on the book of Leviticus.
This is a book in which even the places where I think Morales is wrong were helpful in stimulating my thought. For instance, Morales argues for a structure of the creation week account that highlights days four and seven and which minimizes day six. From this structure he emphasizes the theme of God’s presence with his people in festivals and Sabbaths.
Morales is correct to highlight the importance of the seventh day, but I am not convinced of his Days 1, 4, 7 palistrophe, with day 4 setting up the times for cultic festivals. מוֹעֵד can refer to cultic festivals, but it is a much broader word than that. In a creation Psalm (104:19) it is clearly contrasted with the normal order of day and night and the seasons.
I also remain skeptical of readings which read cultic material back into Genesis 1 and 2. It is more plausible that Genesis 1 and 2 are about the normal creation order rather than about the cult of the Mosaic covenant. Connections between creation and cult are due to the cult looking back to what was lost in creation because of the Fall and to it looking forward to the restoration of creation.
I further doubt that the rule of the sun and moon over the day and the night is a rule that is placed over the rule of man. This would place parts of the creation over man, the image bearer of God. Different terminology is used, suggesting that distinct kinds of rule are in view (the terms used of man indicate that he is to continue to shape the world that God has made; they are not static terms).
The argument that “word allotment” is not sufficient to demonstrate the significance of day six is true in the abstract, but in this case the narrative slows down with the creation of man and shifts into poetry at some points. Thus, the argument is not merely that there are more words given to day six. The argument is that the narrative pace shifts to place special emphasis on the creation of man in God’s image and on the dominion blessing.
In addition, the dominion blessing is the fountainhead for the blessing, seed, land themes that are central to Genesis and at the heart of all of the covenants. These verses are also the foundation for the kingdom of God theme, which is central to the Bible’s storyline and to the gospel.
Finally, to say that the primary blessing of the imago dei is to have fellowship with God is, without minimizing the importance of that blessing, not actually what the text says. Grammatically, the blessing of the imago dei is tied to the blessing of dominion over the earth. Further, the idea that the seventh day is about the presence of God and fellowship with God is not actually found in Genesis 2:1-3. Humans are not mentioned in those verses nor is the theme of presence/fellowship.
I agree that the presence of God theme is one of the central themes of Scripture. Exodus 33 makes clear that to receive the seed and land blessings apart from God’s presence is no blessing at all. But the presence of God theme is assumed rather than explicit in Genesis 1 and 2.
A better way forward is to bring together the imago dei/creation blessing with the seventh day. I wonder if a case could be made that God is setting a telos for man in the seventh day. God blessed mankind with rule over the earth, which meant that he was to extend the Garden to cover the world, as it were (along with other cultural developments). But at a certain point man would complete this work and enter into God’s rest.
I further wonder if under the Second Adam this task will be completed in the Millennium. Man can then enter the rest of the new earth. Humans will continue to reign under Christ, but it will not be a reign of subduing and gaining dominion.
Other works on Leviticus: Other works on Leviticus that I’ve found helpful are Wenham (NICOT), Kiuchi (AOTC), Hartley (WBC), Rooker (NAC), Currid (EPSC), Ross, Holiness to the Lord. I almost chose Wenham as my commentary for Leviticus this year, but I opted for something briefer. Wenham, however, is hard to surpass for insight. I’ve also found Kiuchi helpful on numerous occasions. I recall his comments on Leviticus 18:5 being especially helpful. Hartley has the most detailed treatment of the Hebrew (though Kiuchi also deals with Hebrew technicalities), but I too often find him operating with critical assumptions. Rook is good, but thinner than the others. I’ve benefited from Currid’s commentaries on the Pentateuch, especially those on Exodus and Genesis. I’ve only recently acquired his Leviticus volume; I expect it to be good. Ross spans the gap between exegesis and exposition and is regularly helpful.
For Numbers I chose Gordon Wenham‘s entry in the Tyndale series. It is an excellent, brief commentary. Though an older entry (1981), I still think it is an excellent entry point into the book.
I didn’t think that Jay Sklar‘s notes on Numbers in the NIV BTSB rose to the level of some of the other contributors. I didn’t feel as though he was orienting me to the structure and flow of the book the way many other contributors did. Instead, too many of the notes seemed to be of the one-off variety common in other study Bibles.
Other works on Numbers: Other works on Numbers that I’ve found helpful are Ashely (NICOT), Allen (EBC), Harrison (WEC), Cole (NAC), and Currid (EPSC). I don’t think that I’ve read anything by Ashley other than this commentary, but I’ve regularly been helped by his comments. Harrison also gives detailed help with the Hebrew. In addition to these, I’ve found Roy Gane (NIVAC) helpful on the numbers in Numbers (though I’ve not read other parts of his commentary) and Stubbs (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) helpful on the structure of the book.
Stephen Dempster contributed helpful notes to the NIV BTSB. I also read J. Gary Millar‘s contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. I found this book most helpful in outlining the structure of Deuteronomy. It also provides a helpful, high level commentary on the whole book. This would be a good place to start a study of Deuteronomy. Millar is slated to write the Deuteronomy commentary in the Christian Standard Commentary series.
I chose Daniel Block‘s work in the NIV Application Commentary series as my commentary for Deuteronomy. Based on my experience with Block’s commentaries on Judges, Ruth, and Ezekiel, I expected to be in basic agreement with Block throughout. However, I found myself disagreeing with Block’s exegesis at key points. For instance, Block takes the “fathers” in Dt 4:31 to be the exodus generation and the covenant to be the Sinai covenant rather than taking the “fathers” to be the patriarchs and the covenant to be the Abrahamic. The latter is more likely. In verse 37 the “fathers” are distinct from the “you” that Yhwh brought out of Egypt. Motivating Block’s interpretation, in part, is his belief that the Abrahamic, Israelite, and new covenants are all part of the same covenant. A result of this framework is the blurring of distinctions between the unilateral nature of the Abrahamic and new covenants and the bilateral nature of the Mosaic covenant. Disagreements notwithstanding, the commentary is a helpful contribution.
Block has also compiled three books of essays on Deuteronomy: How I Love Your Torah, O LORD!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy, followed by The Gospel according to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy, and concluding with The Triumph of Grace: Literary and Theological Studies in Deuteronomy and Deuteronomic Themes. These studies were always rigorously argued and thought-provoking, even though I didn’t always agree with Block.
In “Reading the Decalogue Right to Left,” among some insightful observations about the Decalogue, Block also seems to relativize its status. In addition, he argues for the numbering the commands according to the Catholic and Lutheran tradition rather than with the Reformed tradition. His arguments are worth reading, though I did not find them persuasive in the end.
In “How Many Is God?” Block argues that the Shema is not “a great monotheistic confession,” noting “Moses had made that point in 4:35, 39. Instead, he argues for the translation, “YHWH our God! YHWH alone!” The point, then, is that Yhwh is Israel’s only God. I have to give more thought to this.
In “A Prophet Like Moses: Another Look at Deuteronomy 18:9-22” Block argues that this passage is not Messianic but that it predicted a series of prophets that followed Moses; indeed, in “Hearing Galatians with Moses: An Examination of Paul as a Second and Seconding Moses,” Block argues that Paul stands in this line of prophets like Moses. Again, I am not entirely convinced, but Block’s arguments are to be reckoned with, and I’ve marked them down for further study.
His essay, “Convenance,” spells out in greater detail his theology of the biblical covenants. Here he argues in greater detail for the linking of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and new covenants. He recognizes that his formulation runs into some difficulties in Hebrews, and he attempts to address those problems in this essay (unsuccessfully, in my estimation).
I found myself in greater agreement with other articles. For instance, “The Fear of YHWH: The Theological Tie that Binds Deuteronomy and Proverbs” contains an excellent study of the semantic range of ירא as well as an insightful linking of Deuteronomy and Proverbs in connection with this theme.
In the essay, “All Israel Will Be Saved: An Examination of Moses’ Eschatological Vision in Deuteronomy, ” Block surveys Deuteronomy’s outline of Israel’s history—both that which precedes Deuteronomy and that which Deuteronomy predicts will follow. Block then turns to examine in detail three key eschatological passages: Deuteronomy 4:29-31; 30:1-10; and chapter 32. He then insightfully links these passages with Romans 9-11, arguing that Paul’s conclusion “all Israel will be saved” has roots in Deuteronomy’s eschatological vision. Block also argues in “Covenance” that although there is some spiritualizing of Israel in the NT (e.g., Paul calling the church “the temple of the living God”),
we should not interpret this spiritualizing and universalizing move to mean that the ethnic/national nature of the covenant was either forgotten or superseded…. On the contrary, in Rom 9-11 Paul emphatically declared that while Gentile believers have been grafted into the covenant community, a future for physical Israel remains.
Indeed, in fulfillment of Deut 30:1-10 and Jer 31:31-37, with great excitement he anticipates the day when the ideals of the original covenant will be finally realized—all Israel will be saved (Rom 11:25-32). I resist speculating under what circumstances this will transpire—whether in a millennial context or in the new heavens and the new earth, but it is difficult to imagine Moses and the prophets who followed in his train (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) being happy with contemporary supersessionists, for whom God’s eternal commitments evaporate into irrelevance.
There were also a number of essays that I was not able to read but which look interesting: “Preaching Old Testament Law to New Testament Christians,” “All Creatures Great and Small: Recovering a Deuteronomic Theology of Animals,” “Other Religions in Old Testament Theology,” “‘A Place for My Name’: Horeb and Zion in the Mosaic Vision of Israelite Worship,” “‘O Day of Rest and Gladness’: Rediscovering the Gift of Sabbath,” “The Patricentric Vision of Family Order in Deuteronomy.” I found the essays in Triumph of Grace to be the most interesting and helpful.
Other Resources on Deuteronomy: I’ve yet to find a Deuteronomy commentary that I really love. I’ve found Edward Woods’s entry in the Tyndale series uniformly helpful when I’ve consulted it, and I wondered in the course of this year if I should have chosen it rather than Block for my Deuteronomy commentary this year. I’ve also found Christopher Wright’s contribution in the NIBC series (now Understanding the Bible) to be uniformly insightful. My main complaint with these two commentaries is that they are too brief. Allan Harman’s contribution to the Focus on the Bible series is another brief but insightful entry. For a fuller treatment, including of the Hebrew, I’ve used and benefited from McConville’s entry in the Apollos OT series. Note also his theology Grace in the End. However, I’d like someone a bit more conservative than McConville. Eugene Merrill in the NAC volume on Deuteronomy and Grisanti in the revised EBC fit the bill, and I’ve found help in both. However, I’ve also found them a bit too thin. The same can be said for Cragie in NICOT: good material, but thin for what the series has become. Bill Arnold has just come out with the first of a two-volume commentary on Deuteronomy (to replace Cragie in NICOT). Based on his discussion of authorship, I’m not sure it fits the “conservative” desiderata. Adolph Harstad’s contribution to the Concordia Commentary series may fit the bill: this series has been consistently conservative and at over 1,000 pages that include detailed treatments of the Hebrew text, this commentary is not thin. I also see that Jason DeRouchie is slated to write on Deuteronomy in the forthcoming Pillar Old Testament Commentary series, and I have high hopes for his contribution.