by Dan Phillips

This is one last (?) overdue bit from the Strange Fire Conference days.

Todd Friel — who actually is, as it turns out, freakishly tall, even next to my > 6′ — asked me what was characteristically an excellent question. I (equally characteristically) didn't have an excellent immediate answer. I murmured something, stammered, and said I'd get back to him. Within an hour, I had a much better answer… but I was never able to penetrate the coterie of adoring fans to chat Todd up again. So I promised I'd give it to him this way. And heeere we go.

Todd's question was about Michael Brown. To paraphrase, it's this: here's this Christian brother who's well-studied in many ways, right on a number of issues… but we say he's dead-wrong when it comes to Charismaticism. So what do we do with him? How do we see him? False teacher, erring brother, what?

In response: first, I concur that Brown's very well-studied, better than many with whom I agree on a greater array of doctrinal areas. I've used Brown's set of books on objections to Jesus as Messiah with profit. Indeed I was stunned to find that someone as learned as Brown had identified himself with as troubled a denomination as AoG. Yet when I hear him speak, Brown pulls out Hebrew and Greek from memory — accurately, and accurately-pronounced — as very few popular speakers can do.

An aside: this is the downside of reading the Bible in Hebrew and Greek for ~40 years. It is painfully obvious when some well-known folks attempt a Hebrew or Greek word in a message — painfully obvious, I say, that they're just trying to approximate a transliteration they read in a commentary. It's what a Brit must feel when a Yank misuses a Britishism, or affects an appalling attempt at an English accent. When Brown whips out a Hebrew or Greek word or phrase, he nails it. It's evident that he's studied the original. That's very apparent, and it's very much to Brown's credit.

So how to class Brown, given that he's thrown in with the wholly-wrongheaded movement, a schism responsible for some of the most harmful setbacks, distractions, and errors in Christian history?

Here's my best attempt:

Suppose you have a sister you love dearly.  Dear lady, good sister, many shared memories and values and loves. But then, as sometimes happens, she falls for this total loser of a jerk. Appalled, you try to talk to her; you reason and beg and plead. You even warn. But it seems like the more you reach out to her, the more tightly she wraps her arms around this odoriferous trainwreck of a man.

His name, of course, is Cary. You know, like Cary Grant? Only it's Cary S. Maddick. Yeah, sorry. Anyway.

Bad as that is, it gets even worse. You know for a fact that this Cary guy has a long and sordid past. There's airtight evidence of his collusion in a series of crimes and atrocities, though somehow he's managed to elude the authorities every time. What's worse, you find out that he can't be trusted around women, or even children. Given the opportunity, he'll work his way with them, corrupt them, and ruin them.

Now you find yourself living in a nightmare. You love your sister dearly; you're just sick with concern and regret for her bad choices. Your sister herself is welcome at your home any time, for any reason. But you've got kids, and you've got girlfriends who also come by to visit. If sister is there, Cary is there too. How could you in any way expose them to him?

So you tell your sister, “I love you. You can come any time you like. You're welcome here. But Cary is not, not ever, not under any circumstances. Don't bring him, and don't talk about him with those googly, swoony eyes you get. I don't want anyone I care about coming anywhere near Cary, or vice-versa. The man is poison.”

“Oh come on,” sis says. “You're blowing this way out of proportion. Cary's not that bad. He's grown. In fact, he's the best thing that ever happened to me. He's totally changed my life for the better. I'm liberated and happy, because of Cary. I think everyone should know him, and I want everyone to know him. If I come, he comes; if he goes, I go. I'm proud of him, and I'll tell the world. You can never part us.”

Feel better? Has sister reassured you? Not so much?

So what do you do? As I say, it's a nightmare.

I think what you do is you love your sister, you pray for her, you long for her… but as long as (and to the degree that) she's twitterpated with this corrupt, pustulent, corrupting louse, she's going to have to stay away from anyone you care about, and you're going to have to warn everyone who knows her.

Make sense?

Now, I could massage this even further to get more service out of it. Suppose your sister is an excellent dance-instructor. People ask you if you'd recommend her. What do you say?

Well, on the one hand, there's no denying that she's really, really good at what she does. And you do love her.

But on the other hand, if they go hang around your sister, even if it's only for dance, they're going to meet Cary. Because she's made it clear: she's not apologetic about Cary, she's not embarrassed about Cary, she sees no harm in Cary. Perversely, she's proud of him…or so she insists, with significantly protesteth-too-much shrillness. She thinks he's the best thing since DVDs. Better. She wants everyone to know Cary. She'll use the dance-connection to bring out dear ol' Cary and introduce him around.

So, back to Brown and folks like him: yep, what he's good at, he's really good at… as he will tell you, over and over. This is despite Brown's lamentable charismaticism. But though often rebuked, Brown is stiffening his neck, and doubling down on what a powerful source for wonderfulness charismaticism is. If someone, with charitable motives, tries to say what I just said (“despite”), Brown will promptly correct that person. So we won't be looking for Brown to soft-pedal it.

Michael Brown may be a really good guy in many ways. But he's gotten tangled up with something that is a real nightmare, and he's doubling-down. I wish it weren't so; but ah, what a different world it would be if wishes were realities. The reality of the situation can't be shrugged off.

IN CONCLUSION: I don't know that this answer will make anyone happy. Giving it doesn't make me happy; having the situation doesn't make me happy.

But it is the best way I know how to yoke together three horses that want to pull in different directions: affection for a brother in Christ as such; appreciation for a brother's accomplishments; and necessary and appropriate horror and alarm over the harmful doctrine to which he insists on wedding himself.

SPECIAL NOTE TO FIRST-TIME COMMENTERS: since I have to keep deleting repeated attempts to comment off-topic from folks who apparently (A) haven't read the post, and (B) haven't read even the first comment, I lift two from the meta and put them here:

Commenters should note the premise/starting point of the post. It isn't, “What do we make of Charismaticism?” It is, rather, “Given that Charismaticism is a harmful error, what do we make of a beloved brother who very loudly and repeatedly insists on being identified with it?”

And:

I continue to have to delete comments apparently responding to some other post, some post that begins “Hi! This is the first post this blog has ever done on continuationism! I wonder what to think of it. Would you please tell me?”

This is not that post.

Please, before commenting, READ THIS POST and at least the first comment. Then comment on it.

You're welcome.

Dan Phillips's signature


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Able to the Uttermost, pages 175-76, Pilgrim Publications.

“We have no comeliness, but He gives us all His beauty. When He took us He took us as we were, but He made us to be as He is.” 

And now when the Lord does look upon Christ what does He see in Him? I want you to think this over. I won’t try and put it in many words, but leave it for your own private meditation. It is a subject of that sort. I, being in Christ, desire God the Father to look at Christ instead of me.

Why? Why, because, first, when the Lord looks at Jesus Christ He sees in Him His own self, for the Lord Christ is God and one with the Father, and by a wonderful and mysterious union not to be explained; so that when He looks upon His Son He must look with ineffable love and affection because He is looking upon the godhead—the perfect godhead—in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is something delightful in that—that the godhead stands for me, and God in looking at my representative sees Himself. He cannot see anything there but what shall be to Himself well pleasing. But then He sees in Christ perfect manhood. When the Lord thinks of manhood is not there enough to make Him feel weary at His heart of the very name?

Remember how, before the time of the Flood, it repented Him that He had made man upon the face of the earth; and many a time, surely, if the Lord had been as we are, we should have been destroyed.

Manhood! It must be coupled in God’s mind with everything that is ungrateful, unnatural, vain, foolish, wanton, wicked. Shocking word, the word manhood! But now when the Lord looks upon His Son, He sees perfect manhood—manhood that never had a trace of sin about it—manhood the same as ours with this one exception, that it has never gone astray in thought or word or deed.

God sees there what manhood can accomplish—manhood that has obeyed His law without a single flaw—manhood that has suffered for God’s glory, suffered even unto death. And God loves man because there is such a man as Christ Jesus—that there should be a possibility of a creature being made like man who should be able sinlessly to suffer, which I suppose angels could not do.

God looks, therefore, upon manhood on account of what Christ has been and is, and looks upon it still with love.


by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Phil back in January 2011. The topic was genuine versus artificial passion, and what lies behind each.

As usual, the comments are closed. 

When we consider Christ as the very incarnation of divine glory, it ought to put all our other passions into proper perspective. It ought to make us ashamed that our focus is so far off and we are not really passionate about the one thing that ought to excite us the most.

We imitate all the world's passions. We invent gimmicks to try to win worldly people by appealing to whatever mania has captured our culture's attention at the moment. We devote our energies and our emotions to things that are not even worthy of our attention. We do things to stir artificial passion—which is an especially sinister form of false worship.

Our passions should not need to be whipped up by spiritual cheerleaders and stadium chants. We shouldn't have to be worked into an emotional state by hype and melodrama and musical manipulation. If we can get pumped to a fever pitch by some rock-star pastor's antics rather than by the truth of the biblical message, then whatever we are feeling isn't even a legitimate passion in the first place.

Ersatz enthusiasm and crass tomfoolery actually contradict the message we're supposed to be proclaiming. With so many churches merely trying to entertain people, or lull them into a state of self-satisfaction, or simply gross them out, it's no wonder the world is not being won to Christ but actually becoming steadily more hostile to Christianity.

By the way, the passions stirred by a clear vision of God's glory aren't necessarily warm and comforting. It's not always a good feeling. In fact, it is much more likely that the first time someone catches a glimpse of God's glory, the result will be intense fear. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Do a study on this in Scripture and take note of how people usually respond when they first see God for who He is. They fall on their faces in sheer terror. Almost every time.

God's glory also provokes profound amazement and wonder. Sometimes it's delight and rejoicing. (Peter fell on his face and confessed his sin when he first began to realize who Jesus was. But he sounded almost giddy when he saw Christ's glory unveiled on the Mount of Transfiguration.) All of those are legitimate emotions, and if they are real, they will make a lasting difference in us—something more than an impressive display of arm-raising and swaying with closed eyes during the song service; and something more credible than the pseudo-drunken behavior that has become such a plague in recent years.

Artificial religious enthusiasm is the bane of our age, and it's a powerful detriment to the church's testimony. There is perhaps no more reprehensible variey of raw hypocrisy.

On the other hand, if we really grasped and meditated on how the glory of God is revealed to us in Christ, we would never need any artificial gimmicks to stir our passions, and we certainly would never dream that we needed to try to make God seem “cooler” or more appealing than He actually is.


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Christ's Incarnation, pages 54-55, Pilgrim Publications.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ is, in some senses, more completely man than Adam ever was.” 

Adam was not born; he was created as a man. Adam never had to struggle through the risks and weaknesses of infancy; he knew not the littlenesses of childhood,—he was full-grown at once. Father Adam could not sympathize with me as a babe and a child. But how manlike is Jesus!

He does not begin with us in mid-life, as Adam did; but He is cradled with us, He accompanies us in the pains, and feebleness, and infirmities of infancy, and He continues with us even to the grave.

There is sweet comfort in the thought that He who is this day God, was once an infant; so that, if my cares are little, and even trivial and comparatively infantile, I may go to Him with them, for He was once a child.

Though the great ones of the earth may sneer at the child of poverty, and say, “You are too mean for us to notice, and your trouble is too slight to evoke our pity;” I recollect, with humble joy, that the King of Heaven was wrapped in swaddling-bands, and carried in a woman’s arms; and therefore I may tell Him all my griefs.

How wonderful that He should have been an infant, and yet should be God, blessed for ever! The Holy Child Jesus bridges the great gulf between me and God. There was never a subject of sweeter song than this,—the stooping down of Godhead to the feebleness of manhood.

When God manifested His power in the works of His hands, the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy; but when God manifests Himself, what music shall suffice for the grand psalm of adoring wonder? When wisdom and power are seen, these are but attributes of Deity; but in the Incarnation of Christ, it is the Divine Person Himself who is revealed, though He is, in a measure, hidden in our inferior clay.

Well might Mary sing, when earth and Heaven even now are wondering at the condescending grace by which “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”


by Dan Phillips
 

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Dan back in December 2006. The topic was the contrast between God's various temporary “dwellings” among us, and the permament “dwelling” accomplished in the birth of Christ.

As usual, the comments are closed. 

Mirabile dictu, sometimes fancy-schmantzy words are actually useful. One such is metanarrative. The metanarrative is the grand, overarching story tying together and giving meaning to apparently disparate tales…The Bible's metanarrative is something like this: man flees from the presence of God, and God acts to restore man to His presence.

Focus with me on a single word that first appears in Genesis 3:24. It is the Hiph`il (causitive) imperfect form of the root sh-k-n, dwell. Most English versions have something like that God “placed” or “stationed” cherubim at the entrance to the garden; more woodenly the Rotherham has that God “caused to dwell” (cf. Young's Literal Translation). The cherubim dwelt at the entrance, so that man could no longer dwell in God's presence in the garden.

Fast-forwardto another theologically weighty occurrence of sh-k-n. It is in Exodus 24:16a—”The glory of the LORD dwelt [sh-k-n] on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days.” This was an awesome sight, etched into the minds of those present. But it was a temporary dwelling, a passing presence, if you will.

However, on this occasion, Yahweh immediately gives instructions to make possible a more abiding dwelling place: “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.” The word translated “tabernacle” is mishkan, which is simply the root sh-k-n with the letter mem prefixed. In Hebrew, a prefixed “m” often denotes the place where something happens. Hence z-b-ch is “sacrifice,” m-z-b-ch is an altar, a place where sacrifice takes place.

Fast forward to that day we mark each year on December 25. A baby was born that day. The Bible gives no support to superstitions of any miraculous means of birth. It was not the birth that was miraculous. No, it was the conception that was miraculous, as the seemingly oxymoronic prophecy of a pregnant virgin was fulfilled in young Mary.

What was that, in her womb? Who was it? The angel Gabriel had said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). But what is the full meaning of this child's birth?

It is found in what is probably my own favorite Christmas verse, John 1:14. Here is my translation of that verse: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us as in a tent, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the unique One from the Father, full of grace and of truth!” Focus with me for a moment on the single word translated “dwelt…as in a tent.” It is the Greek word skenoo. Do you notice anything about that verb? What are its consonants? They are s-k-n, the equivalent (as Greek has no “sh”) to the Hebrew word we discussed earlier, sh-k-n (dwell or abide). That word is in fact used often in the Old Testament, both in verbal and noun form, for both the Hebrew shakan and mishkan.

John is telling us that the passing picture of the Tabernacle has become eternal truth in Jesus Christ. In this baby, God Himself has tabernacled—permanently. He has come to be Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14), in the fullest sense. He has come to do in truth what was previously done only in picture-form: to dwell among us, to make atonement and propitiation for our sins, to cleanse us from their defilement, to give light to our darkness, food to our souls, and to make intercession for us. The shadow has become substance. In Jesus the presence of God is restored, and that fully and permanently.

Jesus Christ is both the fulcrum and the goal of the Bible's metanarrative. He restores the presence of God to us, and us to the presence of God. In Him God has come near, does come near, and shall come near forever.


Haiti earthquakeOn January 12, 2010 an earthquake measuring 7.0 magnitude struck Haiti and killed more than 200,000 people while injuring more than 300,000. Over 15% of Haiti’s 10  million people were left homeless. My vocabulary is not adequate enough to describe the devastating effects of that event I have seen with my own eyes. And I have only seen a very small part. As a result of the earthquake the church I serve has become heavily involved in ministering in what is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Today I am middle of my third trip here. I am part of a team that is training Haitian pastors and church leaders. We are teaching on the doctrine of God. One of my lectures yesterday was on the knowledge and foreknowledge of God. Afterwards we had a Question and Answer session. All of the questions were thoughtful. In fact, they reflect a growth in doctrinal understanding among the pastors that is encouraging.

800px-Haitian_national_palace_earthquake-1

That National Palace in Port-au-Prince

The most poignant question that I received yesterday went like this: “If God exhaustively foreknows everything because He has decreed everything, then why did He decree sin to come into the world and was the earthquake His will?” Great question. Given the context, and the fact that I was looking into the eyes of church leaders who had lost family, friends, church members, houses, possessions and jobs because of the earthquake, I wanted my answer not only to pass theological muster but also to be pastorally faithful to the love and compassion of our all knowing, sovereign God. So after breathing a prayer for help, I answered by making four points.

First, God created the best of all possible worlds

The sovereignty and wisdom of God assures this. Not only is He able to do all that He determines He will accomplish all that He has purposed (Isaiah 46:10-11). As the sovereign One, “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” (Proverbs 3:19). Though we may not be able to comprehend it, these truths about God assure us that this world, even with its evil and pain, is not an accident or failure on God’s part. Not only is this broken world a prelude to the new heavens and new earth that is to come, but we can see how even sin serves the purposes of God in creation. We would never know God’s mercy if we had not know sin. Neither good angels nor fallen angels have experiential knowledge of God’s mercy. The former do not need it and the latter have no provision for it. People who are redeemed by Jesus Christ have come to experience God’s grace and mercy through faith in Jesus. So we can see the wisdom and goodness of God in not preventing sin from entering into the world.

Second, we must think biblically about the will of God

Deuteronomy 29:29 is a verse that ever Christian should memorize. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God has not revealed all of His ways to us. There are realities about His will and ways that are beyond our ability fully to understand. This should not surprise us because He is the great and glorious God and we have tiny little pea brains. He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). As we put together all that the Bible says about the will of God we quickly are forced to acknowledge that we cannot think of it in simplistic terms. There is a secret will and a revealed will of God. His secret will is that which He has decreed—that He will infallibly bring to pass (as in Isaiah 46:10). But His revealed will is that which He has commanded us to be and do. In this sense one and the same event can be seen as both God’s (secret) will and a violation of God’s (revealed) will. I asked the pastors to raise their hands if they believed that the death of Jesus was the will of God. Most did. Then I asked those raise their hands who believed that the death of Jesus was not God’s will. A few did. I raised my own hand both times (as did some of the Haitian pastors). Acts 2:23 teaches us to view the death of Jesus in this way. This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” His death was God’s will in that it happened “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” But Jesus’ death was not God’s will in that it was carried out “by the hands of lawless men” in violation of the sixth commandment that says, “You shall not murder.” So while we can and should grieve at every expression of brokenness and sinfulness in the world because it falls short of God’s revealed will, we also can and should take comfort in knowing that God is ruling and overruling every event no matter how lawless it may be.

Third, the cross of Christ proves the sovereignty of God over all tragedies

What is the most wicked, tragic event in human history? It is the death of the only righteous man who has ever lived. Compared to the cross of Jesus all other tragedies, both moral atrocities and natural disasters, pale in significance. Yet, we know that in the death of Jesus on the cross God was doing His deepest work of redemption. This assures us that in the midst of our own sorrows and sufferings God is also working. The promise of Romans 8:28 is unshakeable. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This includes everything from earthquakes to cancer to betrayal. So in the midst of every tragedy God’s people should run to the cross of Jesus and be strengthened by the confidence of God’s wisdom, sovereignty and love that is displayed there.

Fourth, even earthquakes are included in the mysterious decree of God

All of this helps us think biblically about any particular situation, even the horrific earthquake that shook Haiti nearly four years ago. So, without diminishing the heart-rending, life-altering realities of that tragedy, we can grieve over it with real hope—hope that is grounded in the certainty that our sovereign God was not taken off guard by it, but was ruling over it for purposes that will bring about greater displays of His glory and deeper dimensions spiritual benefit for His people.

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2012)

This book is another addition to Logos' growing Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson previously, and will refer you thither to come up to speed about the aim and focus of this series. I really think EEC has tremendous promise, and love the facets of the books' layout for each section:
  • Introduction
  • Outline
  • Original Text
  • Textual Notes
  • Translation
  • Commentary
  • Biblical Theology Comments
  • Application and Devotional Implications
This is a genius design. All those strengths are present in this volume by Varner, minus Derickson's lamentable weakness for Hodges' gutless-grace views.
That author, William Varner, is a professor of Bible and Greek at The Master’s College, guides tours in Israel, has authored a number of books, and pastors the Sojourners Fellowship at Grace Community Church. He's written before on James, on the Psalms, and on Jesus as Messiah. Here Varner incorporates some of his earlier material on James in a full-orbed commentary.
The book opens eye-catchingly:

After four hundred years of languishing in a backwater of neglect that was largely influenced by the opinions of two German “Martins,” the Letter of James is finally emerging into the light of serious scholarly attention.

The two “Martins” are Luther and Dibelius. Varner himself thoroughly engages the literature on James, old and new, as witnessed by 852 footnotes. Given the wealth of writing on James, though — including thirty significant commentaries in the past 40 years — why another? Varner answers:

‎Some may wonder if there is anything more that needs to be said about James. I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because “God yet has light to spring forth from His word” (attributed to a Pilgrim pastor). Furthermore, the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages.

One of the specifics I found most interesting and educational was Varner's emphasis on James' prominence in the early church. Before reading him, asked who the prominent leaders were, I would have answered “Peter and Paul.” But Varner asserts that research on James “has led to a new perspective on James the leader and also on James the letter. There is still a need for a fresh reading of the James materials, and to that end results of my own fresh reading are offered.”

For instance, Varner notes that

‎A careful reading of Luke’s account in Acts and Paul’s comments in Galatians fully supports the idea that James was not merely a significant leader in the early church and not just the leader of the Jerusalem church, but that he was the leader of the church. The implications of this fact are significant not only for the Roman Catholic attitude toward Peter, but also for the Protestant evangelical attitude toward Paul.

Ironically, Varner observes that it was a chapter written by still another “German Martin” (Hengel) that first raised the possibility of a new perspective on James.‎

So what is the “new perspective on James”?

The argument is that after the Pentecostal effusion James rose quickly to a parity of leadership with the traditional apostles and by the early forties was the leader, although as a primus inter pares (“first among equals”), not only of the Jerusalem church (a point usually recognized) but of the entire Jesus movement. If a stranger arrived in Jerusalem or in Antioch between the years A.D. 40–62 and asked, “Who is the person in charge of this movement?” any knowledgeable Christian, including Peter or John or Paul, would have answered without hesitation, “James.”

Vaerner also points out neglected indications of James' priority, such as the fact that apart from alluding to “the tribe of Christians” in the Flavian Testimony about Christ, James is the only NT church figure Josephus mentions.

Varner sees James as “‎probably the first NT document written and the first Christian writing of any kind,” written about 46-48. He has a good section on literary connections with the OT, notes the absence of allusion to cultic elements, and notes the frequent resorting to Lev. 19 connected with Christian specifics, ‎which “suggests the function of James as a sort of halakhic midrash (“commentary”) on Leviticus 19.” He also includes a solid survey of James' relationship to 2nd Temple literature.

A judicious section on James' theology counters Dibelius' assertion that James “has no theology,” as well as criticisms of un-Christian/Christless orientation. I was helped by Varner's observation that “allusions to the oral teaching of Jesus are so abundant that it is not going beyond the evidence to call James the most Jesus-soaked book in the NT after the Gospels” (emphasis added).

Further on that subject, Varner discusses standards of identification, and says that

‎When we realize…the thorough way in which Jesus’ teachings permeate the writing, we could conclude that, after the Gospels, James is the most Jesus-centered book in the NT canon. While Paul theologizes about Jesus, he displays a measured interest in the teachings of Jesus (Acts 20:30). However, almost every point that James makes is grounded in or illustrated by an adapted saying or aphorism that echoes in some way a logion of his brother.

He shows by a table how “‎the teaching of Jesus in some way influences every paragraph of the book.” Later, in the commentary, this perspective often “pays off,” as in his treatment of 2:5. Varner uses this as an occasion to delve into reflections of Jesus' words in James, probing “layers at which many commentators cease exploring.” For instance he sees this verse as echoing Matt 5:3//Lk 6:20b, and says “‎It is more than a chance similarity because both Jesus and James mention the poor as recipients and heirs of the kingdom.”

How does Varner deal with the perceived clash between James and Paul? He laments, “Rarely has reading James apart from its being a foil for Pauline theology ever really taken place.” He also says, very pointedly: “If either Paul or James is opposing the other, neither has done a very good job, because neither addresses the central point of the other’s argument.” Specifically, James' “concern is not ‘Should a person have faith?' but rather ‘When is faith dead and when is it alive?'”

As Varner later observes:

James and Paul are not opponents facing each other with swords drawn. They are standing with their backs to each other, each drawing swords as they face a different opponent.

Aside: a helpful feature of this book is a list of foreign and technical words. Oddly, however, in discussing James' literary type, Varner uses the uncommon word “protreptic” and doesn't define it or list it later appendix.

In his commentary, Varner shows that he is a very attentive reader of James, frequently featuring judicious observations on James' use of word linkage, catchwords, and alliteration, as well as employment of discourse analysis. And though very scholarly, Varner writes with a pastoral eye. Note his comment on 1:2 —

‎The salutation of 1:1 might sound like a mockery to those who were suffering under various trials, but James proceeds to show that these very trials are grounds for joy. For this thought, see also Matthew 5:10–15 and 1 Peter 4:12–14, where the teaching is that suffering is not strange or foreign to the Christian life, but is a part of the training for glory. Therefore, χαίρετε [rejoice]! The idea is exemplified by the disciples in Acts 5:41: “… rejoicing (χαίροντες) that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for the name.” “Joy is the proper perspective for the test of faith: ‘consider it sheer joy.’ This joy, however, is not the detachment of the Greek philosopher (4 Macc 9–11), but the eschatological joy of those expecting the intervention of God in the end of the age (Jud. 8:25)” (Davids, 67–68).

Every word and every turn of James' syntax receives thorough analysis and documentation. Varner's style of writing is solid and broadly accessible. Sometimes, it's just plain fun. For instance, after a very technical exegesis of 1:5-8, in the Biblical Theology Comments Varner refers to “‎Mr. Facing Both Ways” from Pilgrim's Progress. Also, Varner calls the χρυσοδακτύλιος of 2:3 “Mr. ‘Goldfinger'”! And how many other technical, exegetical commentaries on James will reference Cool Hand Luke, as Varner later does?

One interpretive quibble I might voice is on 1:5-8, where I would have liked to see Varner more explicitly counter the (mis-)reader who would take this as a prescription for mysticism. (My own attempt to do this can be found in God's Wisdom in Proverbs, 107-126.)

Despite the thoroughness of the volume, I might have wished for more, here and there. For instance, still with the stench of Hodges' influence over the commentary on the Johannine epistles, on 2:26 I would have liked to see Varner interact with the pernicious idea that the faith being dead means that this faith was once alive, so it's really saving faith, just not robust in-fellowship faith. You know, it isn't really really dead, it's just restin', just pinin' for the Fjords. Yuck. Varner clearly does not hold that view but, as I say, I'd have liked to see specific engagement and annihilation.

I would have liked more comment on the grammatical force of the aorist passive imperative in 4:10 (ταπεινώθητε — get yourselves humbled?). How do I actively obey the command to receive an action? However, in the Biblical Theology comment section Varner does say:

To “humble ourselves before the Lord” means to recognize our own spiritual poverty, to acknowledge consequently our desperate need of God’s help, and to submit to His commanding will for our lives. As was already mentioned, this humility is exemplified in the tax-collector of Jesus’ parable, who because of the consciousness of his own sin, called out to God for mercy. In response, Jesus pronounces him justified, and declares: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). This saying was echoed later in 2 Corinthians 11:7 and 1 Peter 5:6 and becomes part and parcel of the rich series of paradoxes which convey the true nature of the Christian life (e.g., the last shall be first; the slave will be truly free; to die is to live; to be humbled is to be exalted—see the homiletical suggestions below).

Also, I was a little surprised not to read any comment per se on the unusual words ἡ εὐχὴ or τὸν κάμνοντα in the commentary on James 5:15.

If these are even seen as issues, they are minor. The beauty of the EEC series is that Varner easily might expand any of these with ease in future editions. In the course of reading, I found a host of typos, as I had with Derickson, again making me wonder about the thoroughness of the editorial process; but these were submitted to Logos and were or are being corrected — something impossible in hard-copy volumes.

I recommend Varner's commentary on James. Any evangelical pastor who wants to preach or teach on James must have Varner. Happily for you, there's time to get it for your pastor for Christmas! I appreciate Logos providing it to me for my impartial review, and happy to make a hearty recommendation.

Also: I just learned that this volume will be the inaugural volume of the EEC series to be printed as a hard copy.

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Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The New Park Street Pulpit, sermon number 27, “The eternal name.”

“The scorners have said that we should soon forget to honour Christ, and that one day no man should acknowledge him.” 

Now, we assert again, in the words of my text, “His name shall endure for ever,” as to the honour of it. Yes, I will tell you how long it will endure.

As long as on this earth there is a sinner who has been reclaimed by Omnipotent grace, Christ’s name shall endure; as long as there is a Mary ready to wash his feet with tears and wipe them with the hair of her head; as long as there breathes a chief of sinners who has washed himself in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleaness; as long as there exists a Christian who has put his faith in Jesus, and found him his delight, his refuge, his stay, his shield, his song, and his joy, there will be no fear that Jesus’ name will cease to be heard.

We can never give up that name. We let the Unitarian take his gospel without a Godhead in it; we let him deny Jesus Christ; but as long as Christians—true Christians, live, as long as we taste that the Lord is gracious, have manifestations of his love, sights of his face, whispers of his mercy, assurances of his affection, promises of his grace, hopes of his blessing, we cannot cease to honour his name.

But if all these were gone—if we were to cease to sing his praise, would Jesus Christ’s name be forgotten then? No; the stones would sing, the hills would be an orchestra, the mountains would skip like rams, and the little hills like lambs; for is he not their creator?

And if these lips, and the lips of all mortals were dumb at once, there are creatures enough in this wide world besides. Why, the sun would lead the chorus; the moon would play upon her silver harp, and sweetly sing to her music; stars would dance in their measured courses; the shoreless depths of ether would become the home of songs; and the void immensity would burst out into one great shout, “Thou art the glorious Son of God; great is thy majesty, and infinite thy power.”

Can Christ’s name be forgotten? No; it is painted on the skies; it is written on the floods; the winds whisper it; the tempests howl it; the seas chant it; the stars shine it; the beasts low it; the thunders proclaim it; earth shouts it; heaven echoes it.

But if that were gone—if this great universe should all subside in God, just as a moment’s foam subsides into the wave that bears it and is lost for ever—would his name be forgotten then? No. Turn your eyes up yonder; see heaven’s terra firma. “Who are these that are arrayed in white, and whence came they?” “These are they that came out of great tribulation; they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore they are before the throne of God, and praise him day and night in his temple.”

And if these were gone; if the last harp of the glorified had been touched with the last fingers; if the last praise of the saints had ceased; if the last hallelujah had echoed through the then deserted vaults of heaven, for they would be gloomy then; if the last immortal had been buried in his grave,—if graves there might be for immortals—would his praise cease then?

No, by heaven! no; for yonder stand the angels; they too sing his glory; to him the cherubim and seraphim do cry without ceasing, when they mention his name in that thrice holy chorus, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of armies.” But if these were perished—if angels had been swept away, if the wing of seraph never flapped the ether; if the voice of the cherub never sung his flaming sonnet, if the living creatures ceased their everlasting chorus, if the measured symphonies of glory were extinct in silence, would his name then be lost?

Ah! no; for as God upon the throne he sits, the everlasting One, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And if the universe were all annihilated, still would his name be heard, for the Father would hear it, and the Spirit would hear it, and deeply graven on immortal marble in the rocks of ages, it would stand,—Jesus the Son of God; co-equal with his Father. “His name shall endure for ever.”


From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland — usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will “accidentally” swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following except was written by Frank back in December 2010. What sort of sign was a baby in a manger? What did God intend to convey by such a sign? Frank offers his thoughts.

As usual, the comments are closed. 

Last time I pointed out that the Angels, in speaking to the shepherds in the field on the night Christ was born, pointed them to a sign that it was true that unto them was born a Savior who was Christ, the Lord. And the sign was not a double-rainbow in 3D made of fire and lollipops; it wasn't that their seed money was returned 1000-fold; it wasn't that somehow someone was speaking in the tongues of angels (since plainly: angels were speaking in the tongues of men).

The sign was that there was a baby laid in a manger, wrapped in “swaddling clothes.”

I want to linger there a second, because the Greek word there rendered by Luke is “σπαργανόω,” which comes from the word “σπαράσσω.” It's rightly translated “swaddling clothes,” but it means to wrap up in rags — to wrap up in torn fabric as in to “swaddle” a baby.

swad·dle   [swod-l]
verb, -dled, -dling, noun
–verb (used with object)
1. to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.2. to wrap (anything) round with bandages.

–noun
3. a long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging.

So the sign the Angels point to is this baby placed in a feeding trough wrapped up in rags — rags which might be for babies, or for the wounded. Maybe for the dead.

So that's the sign at Christmas — the sign at the birth of Christ: there's a baby born not in a temple or a castle or some lofty estate, but born so low as to be born with the poorest of the poor, in a stable among animals. And his garments are not fine cloth or soft linens: they're rags that are only good enough for a baby's back-end business or to wrap the sick and dying in.

So what to think of this? Here are three things to think about as you get on with your Christmas:

1. In that sign, it is clear that God is with us.

That's the ultimate promise YHVH makes to Israel — when the savior is born, he will be “Emmanuel – God with us.” And the Angels point out that the sign to the Shepherds is that this child is born of no account at all — above no one in the world. This wouldn't be so true if Jesus had been born in Solomon's courts — because as the Prince of the nation, he would be above so many and unreachable by them.

2. In that sign, it is clear that God loves us.

Jesus gave up Heaven for a stable so that, as he said to the disciples, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. For us.

That's actually how we know what love is: the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

3. In that sign, God clears up everything He has been saying for the past 2 or 3 millennia.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son — the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word…God makes everything He said come true in the birth of a child in a barn because there was no room at the Inn.

All the ideas of blessing: rolled up in swaddling clothes.

All the ideas about being chosen by God: laying in a manger.

All those judgments and warnings in the Old Testament: now in the hands of a mother who admitted she didn't understand these things, but submitted to them and considered them in her heart.

All the promises: in poverty, to the least of these, with the least of these.

All the power: not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, but rather, made nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.

Here in the manger is the very clarification of all God meant — because he is here in this world as it is created.