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Why Do Animals Suffer When They’ve Done Nothing Wrong

Many theologians have claimed that all the suffering that we see in the world around us is a result of the fall. In the Garden, there was perfect peace. After the fall, suffering and death were introduced, not just for humans but for all of creation.

But does this really make sense?

death before the fallIn his new book Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (IVP, 2014), Ronald Osborn says no. That answer results from an overly literal reading of the Creation/Fall narratives, and it fails to account for the fact that animal predation, and the corresponding death and suffering of animals, seems to be part of the natural order (e.g. lions look like they have been painfully devouring gazelles from the very beginning).

With this book, Osborn joins a growing list of scholars dealing with the problem of animal suffering from a biblical perspective. In just the last few years we have Michael Murray’s Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (OUP, 2008), Nicola Creegan’s Animal Suffering and the Problem of Evil (OUP, 2013), and Andrew Linzey’s Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics (OUP, 2009), among others. So clearly this is a question whose time has come. But has Osborn done the question justice? That’s what remains to be seen.

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Being More Gracious than Jesus

What should we do with the seemingly impossible demands of the Sermon on the Mount? The lofty character of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:2-12), the expectation of pure attitudes and not simply moral actions (Mt. 5:21-47), the impossible ideal of divine perfection (Mt. 5:48). What do we do with all these demands and commands? Should we ignore them, explain them away, embrace them with all their implied perfectionism, or something else entirely?

Nobody's Perfect Concept

This is the question that Scot McKnight wrestles with at the beginning of his excellent new commentary Sermon on the Mount (Zondervan, 2013). Like all the volumes in The Story of God Bible Commentary, McKnight’s book focuses on connecting the truth of the text with the everyday world in which we all live. And he starts strong with this book, quickly raising some good questions for those who want to place the “demands” of the Sermon inside a broader framework of grace. Although he’s clearly sympathetic to this approach, he’s aware that it can come with some major drawbacks.

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The Least Popular Books of the Bible

Thanks to information from BibleGateway.com, here’s an infographic from The Overview Bible Project on the 10 least popular books in the Bible. Most of these aren’t terribly surprising, especially the fact that the list is dominated by the Minor Prophets. But besides the surprising inclusion of Jonah on the list, it’s too bad not to see more love for Zephaniah and Jude at least.

least-popular-books-of-the-bible.infographic.png.pagespeed.ce.Sd_VQ0NxZm

The Holy Spirit in Scripture (Wheaton Theology Conference 1)

Vector doveWheaton’s annual theology conference opened yesterday, focusing this year on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Since this is my first time at the conference, I was interested to see how things would go. And so far, I’m quite impressed. (A few people are live tweeting from the conference. Follow #WTC14 if you want to follow along.)

I don’t know that I’ll have time to comment on each of the papers, though they have all been interesting in their own way. But I will highlight the ones I found most compelling. And I’ll start where the conference did, with an impressive paper from Sandra Richter on “The Holy Spirit in Scripture.”

Despite the fact that she only had a couple of weeks to put the paper together after one of the other presenters backed out for health reasons, she nailed it. Covering everything the Bible says about the Spirit in 45 min is impossible. But highlighting some of the most important ideas in a truly engaging way while synthesizing biblical and theological insights? Apparently that can be done.

It’s hard to select just a couple of favorite insights from the paper, but I’ll try. Most importantly, the paper focused on the Spirit as God’s “presence” with his people in creation. She traced that from God’s presence in creation, through his presence in Israel and the temple, to his presence in the incarnate Christ, and then his presence in the church, and the ultimate, eschatological restoration of God’s full presence with his people in his creation at the end of days.

Richter helpfully spent considerable time on the Spirit in Gen 1-2. Discussions of biblical pneumatology routinely skip over most of Genesis after a suitably cursory comment about the Spirit “moving/hovering/brooding/whatevering” over the waters in 1:2. But Richter rightfully took some time to talk about the role of the Spirit in the creation of the world and the formation of God’s people. And in the process she gave us one of the best lines of the day: “The Holy Spirit is what makes us image rather than merely animate.”

Of course, “Peter, you rock!” after summarizing Peter’s Pentecost sermon was pretty fabulous as well.

And a line that I’ll be using regularly came when discussing the meaning of ruach in the Old Testament. After a quick summary of the word’s tremendously diverse range of meanings, Richter refused to try and pin down one “core” meaning of the word that would serve as the basis for her biblical presentation, which is something that many do when talking about the Spirit in the OT. Instead, she commented, “Good exegesis demands more than lexicography.” The same is true for theology. Defining terms is important but ultimately inadequate.

And you have to love a biblical studies paper that concludes by having everyone stand and read Epiphanius’ Creed!

In the end, it was the perfect way to begin a conference on the Holy Spirit. The paper was both delightful and insightful, and it’s not easy to accomplish both of those in the same paper.

We Won’t Solve Biblical Literacy with Bible Trivia

For some time now, people have been rightly concerned about the trajectory of biblical literacy. Talking to those who have been teaching Bible/theology for many years, they all say that one of the greatest challenges they face is that people just don’t know the Bible like they used to. So they spend far more time teaching basic biblical literacy and consequently less time building on that foundation.

And it’s a real problem, one that affects people’s ability to understand the whole scope of what the Bible has to say, how that relates to individual stories and verses, and how all of it connects to the challenging issues that people face every day.

But it’s a problem that we will not solve by mastering Bible trivia.

from Wikipedia

from Wikipedia

I had a conversation a while back with someone who was a little frustrated after hearing a Bible teacher lament the decline of biblical literacy. The teacher had asked the study group a few questions, and after no one seemed the know the answers, made several comments about the state of the church and lack of attention to solid Bible teaching. But the person I was talking to was frustrated and confused because she had grown up in a church with solid Bible teaching and did not consider herself to be biblically illiterate. So what was going on?

The problem was that the teacher was focused more on mastery of Bible trivia than real biblical literacy. For example, one of the questions he asked was which gospel is the only one to record the parable of the workers in the vineyard (the one where they all get paid the same). I can’t remember all of the other questions, but they were along the same lines. For this teacher, failing to know details like this means that you don’t really know your Bible.

I have at least three problems with this.

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When God Introduces Himself

nametag (300x300)What’s your name? That seems like a relatively simple question. If someone asks, you probably have a ready answer. Maybe you have a few nicknames that complicate things a bit, but generally this is not one of the more challenging questions you’ll face today.

But when Moses asked God for his name, he got a little more than he bargained for.

In Exodus 3:14-15, we find a fascinating exchange between Moses and God about God’s proper name. Moses is about to go speak to the people in Egypt, and he wants to know what to tell them if they ask for God’s name. And this is God’s response.

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”* And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD,’ the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

So Moses asks for God’s name, and he gets three different responses? What’s going on here?

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The Mystery of Being In Christ: A Review of Paul and Union with Christ

Jesus Christ savior messiah union with christ

You can’t read more than a few paragraphs of Paul’s letters without bumping into something about Christians being “in Christ.”  It’s so prevalent that many would say that it’s the most important theme in Paul’s theology, a concept you must grasp if you’re going to understand anything Paul says about salvation, the Christian life, or God’s plans for creation itself.

But there’s just one problem. No one seems to know what it means.

Thanks Paul.

paul and union with christIn steps Con Campbell with his book Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study (Zondervan, 2012). Campbell’s goal is to take another look at the biblical texts and see if we can work out what Paul means with this pivotal idea. And in the process he offers a thorough and insightful study of what it means to be “in Christ,” why that matters for how we read Paul, and, more importantly, how that shapes our view of salvation itself. Campbell’s book is a must-read for anyone looking to wrestle with these central issues.

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Union with Christ vs. Imputation: A Smackdown with Con Campbell

paul and union with christOkay, so this video isn’t really a smackdown. And union with Christ vs. imputation probably doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of a cage match. But many people do think that if we emphasize our union with Christ as the central aspect of our salvation, we will end up downplaying imputation — that is, the “great exchange” between us and Jesus where we receive his righteousness and he takes on our sin.

According to Con Campbell, though, this is a false dichotomy. Rather than seeing the two in opposition to one another, we need to understand imputation as flowing out of our union with Christ. I’ll be reviewing Campbell’s book Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study later this week. Until then, here’s a short video of Campbell explaining how he understands the relationship between these two important concepts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2ZzCVPwUVk

Two Are Better Than One: A Meditation in the Key of We

Every now and then someone comes along and helps you hear a familiar passage in a new way. Last week I was blessed with one of those opportunities. Sandra Richter, fellow newcomer to the faculty at Wheaton College, presented the following devotional as a reflection on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. And she’s graciously permitted me to post it here for your edification. Enjoy.

Ecclesiastes 4 teamwork community fellowship koinonia

Further, Not Faster

If you have been so blessed as to have received an e-mail from me, you know that the signature line on my new Wheaton e-mail account includes an old African proverb:

“If you want to fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

I’ve placed it there because I want to remind myself, in this particular season of my life, of the wisdom that it teaches.

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The Trajectory of Biblical Literacy

Bible3 (250x227) biblical literacyGeorge Lindbeck, longtime professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, once commented on the trajectory of biblical literacy during his decades-long teaching career. Phil Ryken, who attended the meeting, recently shared Lindbeck’s comment. According to him, Lindbeck lamented the fact that evangelical students at the end of his teaching career know less about the Bible than the non-Christian students he taught at the beginning of his career. That’s a remarkable transition in just one lifetime.

People often lament that today’s students just aren’t like they used to be. Apparently students in earlier generations wrote like Hemmingway, reasoned like Aristotle, read 1,000 pages an hour with total recall, and never complained about doing homework. I think they could also capture moonlight with their hands and weave it into magical cloaks that would let them fly to the stars. They were impressive beings.

Obviously I’m a little skeptical about some of the criticisms often leveled at today’s students. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue with this one. The overwhelming consensus of those involved in biblical education, whether in the church or in academia, is that we have witnessed a monumental shift in biblical literacy in just a few decades.

People often say that the church is only one generation away from losing its commitment to the gospel and the Bible. Lindeck’s comment is a powerful reminder of how true that can be.

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