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 January 2010. Dan explains why sin is infinitely more than “some stupid rule.”

As usual, the comments are closed. 

Non-Christians are baffled by what seems to be the Christian obsession with “sin.” To the non-Christian, “sin” often means “unauthorized fun,” or “fun that breaks some dumb rule,” or “fun that I don't want to have,” or “fun that I really do want to have, but my religion says I shouldn't, so I don't want anyone else to have it, either!”

But it is the conviction of most of the non-religious that sin is not that big of a deal. In fact, sin isn't really bad. I mean, think of our language: if something is better than just good, we say that it is sinfully good.

Sin is just some stupid rule. Stupid rules should never stand in the way of fun, of happiness, of joy, of self-fulfillment, of a life of freedom and self-realization. A hundred movies, a thousand TV episodes, tell tale after tale of some poor noble soul oppressed by joyless, loveless, graceless, dour, dessicated, usually hypocritical religionists.

The problem with this line of thought is that it starts off with a wrong step, and never corrects course.

The way the world thinks about sin starts with the assumption that man is the measure of all things. Whether the talk is of “enlightened self-interest,” or the heart's best impulses, or the “angels of our better nature,” or what-have-you, the assumption is that man is both alpha and omega. Maybe an individual man, or maybe the human consensus of an enlightened society — but the assumption is that morality bubbles up from within. It can be divined by a poll, which often turns out to be a poll of one.

The problem with that is that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). You see, with its very first words, the Bible turns our thinking on its head. We don't define our universe. We don't create meaning. We come into a universe already created, already defined, with already-assigned values and borders and lines and definitions.

That reality is absolutely fundamental to all thought.  Undervalue it, and wisdom remains under lock and key.

Were that not true, then common thinking is correct: man is both alpha and omega. However, since it is not true, neither is man-centered thought true. Before the whirl of the first atom, God existed: self-sufficient, self-delighted, the font of all perfection. When He created, He created. All things are His things. All creatures are His creatures. He owns, possesses, has rights over all things.

Including you, whoever you are.

You may pound your chest and insist you're an atheist. God overrides your vote. God exists in defiance of your notions. God owns you. You will answer to Him one day, for every thought, action and word.

Or you may be a religionist, a relativist, a post-modernist, or a nothingist. No matter. Those are all labels applicable to you, and they are all irrelevant to reality.

In reality, God is the center of the universe. He is its source, its creator, its owner, and its definer.

Sin is my refusal to deal with reality — specifically, with the game-changing reality of God. Sin is my insistence on being self-defining (as if there were no God), self-ruling (as if there were no God), self-pleasing (as if there were no God). In fact, sin is living as if there were no God. It makes me the opposite of the real Jesus Christ; it makes me an anti-christ.

In fact, sin is the desire that there be no God. Sin sees God as the great obstacle. Sin wishes there to be no such obstacle. Therefore, sin wishes there to be no such God as the God of the Bible. Therefore sin is, at heart, a desire to murder God; and all sin is attempted Deicide.

All of which is simply to say: to me, I am God.

Which is a very, very old lie. Because, you see, the thing is: you aren't. God is.

And that's what makes sin a big deal.


I once had a job I hated. Day after day I sat in a windowless basement office surrounded by hot, noisy computers. Day after day nothing happened. I had no major projects to inspire me, no big goals to work toward, no clear mission to fulfill. It was a bland and boring existence down there, just waiting for something interesting to happen. But nothing ever did, at least until the day came when they laid me off. I hated that job. I hated going to that office. The eventual pink slip, though intimidating and humiliating, was also something of a relief because at least it promised an end to those days.

I have thought about that job many times as the years have passed. Sometimes it is in the context of periods when the job I do now, a job I love, seems dull and insignificant, when pastoring involves more paperwork than people. Sometimes it is in talking to Aileen who often struggles with the humdrum nature of the work she does in keeping house and raising family. Sometimes it is in talking to other people who feel their skills exceed their opportunities, or who believe their training ought to take them beyond the tasks that consume their working hours.

And then I think back to that job in network administration, to the grumbling and discouragement, and in retrospect, and upon further reflection, I have to own my guilt in it. What I see more than anything, and what concerns me more than anything, was my utter lack of joy in what I was doing. I fully believe that job was my calling, my vocation, at that time in life, and yet I did it without any passion, any drive. I did it without any joy. I failed at my calling in that time and in that place. I deserved to be laid off!

But the job wasn’t the problem. I was the problem because I refused to attach any significance to the work I was doing. The work was boring and mundane, dull and tedious, because I allowed it to be that way. I wasn’t thinking Christianly about that job or the work I was meant to do there. My lack of joy in doing my job was a direct result of the lack of significance I attached to it.

Here’s the thing I had to see, and the thing I still need to call to mind: Work is not significant only when it utilizes my full capacity or full capabilities. Work is not significant only when it offers unusual challenge or special opportunity. Work is not significant only when it is measurable in dollars and cents or praise and compliments. Work has intrinsic significance because it gives me the opportunity to do something with joy—with joy in the Lord. I can do my work in such a way that it glorifies God, or I can do it in such a way that it dishonors him. Anything I can do to God’s glory has significance. It has great significance!

How do I do my work to the glory of God? I embrace that task, no matter how menial or insignificant it may seem. I do it when I’m told to do it, I do it to completion, and I do it with joy. When I do it this way, I am glorifying God.

I think of Jesus the carpenter. The Son of God had created humanity, he had created the earth, he had created the cosmos, and for most of his life on earth he created household furniture. But I don’t think he grumbled about it. I think he did it to the glory of God.

I think of Paul, the great intellectual, the brilliant scholar, the pastor and church planter, who was content to stitch together tents. I don’t think he grumbled about it either. He did it to the glory of God.

I think of that same Apostle writing to slaves in Colosse and telling them, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” By definition such people were unpaid and disrespected, and yet Paul could tell them that their work was full of significance because it gave them the opportunity to serve and glorify God.

Every day and every moment I have the choice before me: Will I do my work in such a way that it glorifies God? Or will I do my work in such a way that it dishonors and displeases him? In the face of such questions, I know my work matters. No matter what my work is, it matters. It matters because my work is a stage to bring glory to my God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Of all the casualties the church has suffered in recent decades, I wonder if many will have longer-lasting consequences than the loss of the evening service. There was a time, not so long ago, when many or even most churches gathered in the morning and the evening. But today the evening service is increasingly relegated to the past.

At Grace Fellowship Church we hold on to the evening service and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is a commitment, to be sure—a commitment for the pastors to plan a second service and to prepare a second sermon, and a commitment for the members to give the church not only the morning but also the evening. But these are small costs compared to the great benefits. Here are a few things I love about an evening service.

It Begins and Ends the Day With God

Perhaps the best part of having an evening service is that, just as the morning service allows you to begin the day worshiping God with his people, the evening services allows you to close the day worshiping God with his people. As a church we love to sing the song “We Are Listening” which proclaims, “Morning and evening we come / To delight in the words of our God.” And with an evening service, we are able to do exactly that: We begin the Lord’s Day in worship and close it in worship. That’s a beautiful thing.

It Sanctifies the Time Between

If beginning and ending the day in corporate worship is an obvious blessing of an evening service, a less obvious but still important benefit is that having these bookends around the day encourages the best uses of the Lord’s Day while discouraging the less significant uses. Knowing that you will have to leave the house before the football game ends does wonders to uproot any real desire to watch football (or, over time, to even care about football, as I have discovered!). Conversely, knowing that you have four or five hours between services helps you spot a perfect window for extending hospitality. There is no better or more convenient time to open your home, especially to those who drive from a distance, than between the morning and evening service.

It Provides Another Opportunity to Learn

I grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition where the evening service was considered an integral part of any Christian’s duty. The morning service was set aside for verse-by-verse preaching through God’s Word while the evening service was set aside for advancing question-by-question through the catechisms and confessions. Even if your church will not use an evening service for teaching the catechism, it does offer an opportunity to teach something else, perhaps a second book of the Bible or a topical series. It also affords a natural context to integrate new or young teachers, to give them a place to grow in their ability to teach and preach.

It Provides Another Opportunity to Worship

Just as an evening service opens up more time for teaching, it also opens up more time to sing. I often come to the end of our morning service wishing I could sing more than the five or six or seven songs we sing there. There are so many great songs to sing! The evening service gives us another chance to encourage and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—those great songs of the faith.

It Provides Another Opportunity to Serve

There are many people in our church who are eager to serve and to serve regularly. With only one service each week, these people would be serving very irregularly—there simply would not be enough ways for all of them to serve the church on a regular basis. However, the evening service immediately adds many more places to serve—we need more people to greet at the door, more people to lead us in song, more people to care for the young children, and on and on. If there is joy in serving one another, our evening service increases our joy by increasing the ways in which we serve.

It Gives More Time With People I Love

I love my church family; there is no group of people I would rather spend time with. And, frankly, Sunday morning and Wednesday evening just isn’t enough. As a pastor I want more time to be with the people I serve, to get to know them, to hear from them. As a church member I want more opportunities to fulfill all those “one another” commands with them and to have the other members fulfill them with me. An evening service is yet another opportunity to be with people I enjoy so much.

It Is Countercultural

An evening service counters our culture’s obsession with convenience and low commitment in matters of family, life and religion. It can be downright difficult to get the family out the door once on a Sunday, not to mention twice and your neighbors will be convinced that you’re crazy for doing it. Let them! The evening service also counters our Christian culture of expecting little from people and, for that reason, being intimidated to ask much from them. Experience shows that when a church sets the expectation for the evening service, the people rise to it and soon wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am in the unique and enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books and I like to provide regular roundups of some of the best and brightest of the bunch. Of all the books I have received recently, here are the ones that appear most noteworthy.

Life in ChristLife in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ by Jeremy Walker. “‘To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be in a position of privilege and blessing beyond anything the world might offer,’ begins author Jeremy Walker. Life in Christ explores the unsearchable riches of the Christian pilgrimage and traces its trajectory, highlighting key elements in the believer’s experience. Do you wrestle with assurance? Have you grasped the engagement demanded in Christian living? Do you find the way wearying at times? Do you struggle with your Christian identity? Walker provides instruction for Christians to assess their own standing and progress in the faith—exhorting and equipping and always pointing them ahead to the hope of the glory of Christ. Along the way, he encourages God’s people to live a life to the praise of His glory as he examines some of the basic truths that establish and direct a true child of God.” (Amazon)

 

 

 

MatthewMatthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth by Douglas Sean O’Donnell. “Jesus is King. Standing as a central theme of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ kingly authority has profound implications for our lives today—changing the way we view the world, interact with others, and respond to blessings and hardships. In this reader-friendly commentary, seasoned pastor Doug O’Donnell leads us through the first book of the New Testament, highlighting key themes and offering contemporary illustrations for preaching. Drawing on years of pastoral experience, O’Donnell helps us to see how Matthew’s various emphases—including Jesus’ messianic titles, fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, teaching on the kingdom of heaven, and present and future role as judge—all relate to Christ’s kingship over all of creation. Full of biblical insights aimed at both pastors and laypeople, this volume ultimately highlights Matthew’s call to all people to worship and obey Jesus, our humble King and gracious Savior.” (Amazon)

 

 

 

The Gospel at WorkThe Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs by Sebastian Traeger & Greg D. Gilbert. “Find God’s vision for your job. Reclaim God’s vision for your life. Many Christians fall victim to one of two main problems when it comes to work: either they are idle in their work, or they have made an idol of it. Both of these mindsets are deadly misunderstandings of how God intends for us to think about our employment. In The Gospel at Work, Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert unpack the powerful ways in which the gospel can transform how we do what we do, releasing us from the cultural pressures of both an all-consuming devotion and a punch-in, punch-out mentality–in order to find the freedom of a work ethic rooted in serving Christ. You’ll find answers to some of the tough questions that Christians in the workplace often ask: What factors should matter most in choosing a job? What gospel principles should shape my thinking about how to treat my boss, my co-workers, and my employees? Is full-time Christian work more valuable than my job? Is it okay to be motivated by money? How do you prioritize—or balance—work, family and church responsibilities? Solidly grounded in the gospel, The Gospel at Work confronts both our idleness at work and our idolatry of work with a challenge of its own–to remember that whom we work for is infinitely more important than what we do.” (Amazon)

Gods Solutions to Lifes ProblemsGod’s Solutions to Life’s Problems: Radical Change by the Power of God by Wayne & Joshua Mack. “We live in a world cursed by sin. Because of this, everyone encounters serious problems in their lives, but Christians must deal with unique challenges as well. In God’s Solutions to Life’s Problems, the Macks argue that we are not doomed to a life of failure. Instead of making excuses, we can accept God’s diagnosis of our condition and work to change it. With discipline and dedication to God’s Word and to prayer, we can flee temptation and break free of the patterns of sin in our lives.” (Amazon)

 

 

 

 

 

What Is Biblical TheologyWhat Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns by James M. Hamilton Jr. “How Do You Read the Bible? The Bible recounts a single story—one that began at creation, encompasses our lives today, and will continue till Christ’s return and beyond. In What Is Biblical Theology?, Jim Hamilton introduces us to this narrative, helping us understand the worldview of the biblical writers so that we can read the Old and New Testaments as those authors intended. Tracing the key patterns, symbols, and themes that bind the Bible together, this book will help you understand Scripture’s unified message and find your place in the great story of redemption.” (Amazon)

And how about you? Are there some new and notable books that you’ve added to your reading list? Is there anything I’m missing?

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2013)

Logos' Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series continues to churn out worthwhile volumes. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson first, then the commentary on James by Will Varner. Refer to the Derickson review to understand the aim and focus of this series. I continue to appreciate both the design of the series and the structure of each volume.

The author, A. Boyd Luter, is Adjunct Online Professor of New Testament at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has already written books on Ruth, Esther, preaching and other matters, as well as scholarly articles in periodicals such as BibSac and JETS.

Now to the part where I confess my weakness. Normally, when I review a commentary, I've already used some or many on that particular book. Not in this case. Song of Songs is a topic on which I'm not agnostic, but am unsettled. I could claim a position if you held a gun to a loved one's head, but once you eased off the trigger, I'd acknowledge others as having value, and admit indecision.

So I read this, my maiden voyage (if you'll pardon the minor pun) in the hopes that it would settle everything everything for me. Did it? Let's see.

Luter's tone is mature and reasonable throughout. He isn't in excited pursuit of any strange theory, and has no interest in bringing in readers with lurid discourses on erotic particulars. In fact if anything he's a bit (just a bit!) squeamish on the topic; that's all right, since others have clearly made up for that hesitance.

As to the topic of the Song, Luter says:

the overall movement of this ancient “love song” is from the early longings and expressions of affection of a young couple to their wedding day and night, then through the continuing growth of their relationship in the face of various problems that could easily derail their passionate love.

Very helpfully (and persuasively), Luter sees the book as composed of seven sections in chiastic structure. The first three and the last three frame the central section, which focuses on the wedding day and night. He also notes seven uses of the name “Solomon”: two at the beginning, two at the end, and three in the middle.
As to authorship and date, Luter provides a good section on dating by language, in which he issues an overdue challenge to the old evolutionary model of the development of the Heb language, suggesting that so-called “classical” and “colloquial” Hebrew, which included extensive use of Aramaisms, developed side-by-side.” He mounts an aggressive, positive case for Solomonic dating. He notes and responds to the various challenges to this position.
As to the opening words, Luter grants the wording could mean it was composed for or in the honor of Solomon, but then reminds that the goal of exegesis is finding the most likely meaning, not just possible meanings — and “the most natural meaning of 1:1 is certainly that Solomon is the author of the Song of Songs.”
If you're like me, the big issue to you is how Solomon is in any way qualified to write this book. A tome titled “On the Virtue of Selfless Truthfulness In All Things” and written by Bill Clinton would receive nothing but derision and mockery, and rightly so. How is this different? And anyway, what is the Song actually about? King Solomon and one woman? Other figures? Christ and the church? Yahweh and Israel? Celebrity bloggers and hit-count?
Luter faces the question (well, most of it) squarely and at some length, though frankly I wished the section was longer and dealt more fully with objections. Here's the core of his response on the issue of Solomon's fitness:

    At this point, consideration of one of Solomon’s more widely accepted compositions, Prov 1–9, will be helpful in two respects: 1) the wisdom laid out there for his son to follow (e.g., 1:8; 2:1; 3:1) was clearly not followed by Solomon’s son Rehoboam, whose behavior in 1 Kgs 12:1–17 reflects anything but the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, and which likely is at least partly attributable to Solomon’s parenting; and 2) his own recorded wisdom in regard to the exclusivity of marriage in Prov 5:15–20 was followed only partially. There is no evidence that Solomon ever went after prostitutes (5:20), though he apparently married virtually any and all women he desired, whether for pleasure (1 Kgs 11:2) or political advantage (e.g., 3:1; 11:3–8).
The key point here is that it was not necessary for a biblical author to be an exemplary figure with regard to the subject matter of the book in question. Under the dynamics of divine inspiration stated and implied in 2 Pet 1:21, the Holy Spirit sovereignly chose particular biblical authors and guided what was said. Relevant examples are Peter, who denied Christ three times, and Paul, who described himself as “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Tim 1:13). In addition, the Spirit chose David, the author of many of the psalms, in spite of his adultery and blood-guiltiness (2 Sam 11–12; Pss 32, 51).
The Lord chooses whom He will—sometimes irrespective of what many contemporary readers would consider to be major lifestyle blind spots—to accomplish what He wills. It appears He did exactly that with the flaws of character and practice of Solomon in his authoring of the Song of Songs.

Luter argues that the book was framed and written earlier in Solomon's life, during a possibly three-year coregency w/David, allowing for the freedom of movement the Song seems to reflect. Still, he thinks it unlikely that the Song depicts Solomon's first marriage.  There were at least two marriages during coregency. First-mentioned marriage, to Naamah the Ammonite, was probably political.
As to the purpose of the Song, the book

was intentionally crafted to portray God’s perspective on the romantic and sexual love between a man and woman. No other extended treatment of this subject, introduced as early in Scripture as the conclusion of the creation accounts (Gen 2:24–25) as a major aspect of man and woman coming together in marriage, is found elsewhere in the whole of Scripture. That is indeed a worthy purpose for the composition of the Song of Songs.

He notes that the “Interpretation of the Song of Songs is more varied than that of any other book in the biblical canon, other than possibly Revelation.” Indeed. Luter alludes to “very long history of fanciful allegorical and blushing typological approaches,” then discusses “The five major interpretive approaches to the Song of Songs,” which “are the allegorical, typological, dramatic, cultic, and literal/natural.” Each is explained, documented, discussed in turn. He concludes in favor of a consistently literal/natural approach. The book has many echoes of Gen 2–3 in the Song of Songs, as well important aspects of Gen 1 and Gen 4, and part of Gen 3 before the curse in 3:16, which he says have not received significant relevant discussion to this point.

Back to structure, Luter's most persuaded by a “grand chiasm” adapted from David Dorsey:
    A (1:1–2:7) Opening words of mutual love and desire
         B (2:8–17) The young man’s invitation to join him in the countryside
         C (3:1–5) The young woman’s first nighttime search for the young man
             D (3:6–5:1) Their wedding day and night
         C′ (5:2–7:11 [ET 7:10]) The young woman’s second nighttime search for the young man
         B′ (7:12 [ET 7:11]–8:4) The young woman’s invitation to join her in the countryside
    A′ (8:5–14) Closing words of mutual love and desire
In addition to this chiastic structure of seven sections, each structure itself is internally chiastic. (Jim Hamilton will love this book!)
On theology of love in the book:

the overarching theological focus of the Song is love and desire that has these characteristics: it is headed toward marriage (1:2–3:5), it involves making a very public commitment and having a very private consummation (3:6–5:1), and it includes working through the “growing pains” of a marriage relationship—including “baggage” brought into the marriage and tensions which develop within the marital bond (5:2–8:14).
The theology of the Song of Songs sets forth a marriage-related love. Also, it is important to observe that the Song does so while honestly depicting the full bloom of youthful infatuation (Song 1–2), against the dark backdrop of the selfishness (5:2–4) and disappointment (5:5–8) of “real life,” life worked out against the shadowy unavoidable prospect of death (8:6)—in other words, love in a fallen world!

On that, a further and very interesting note:

    At this point, a careful consideration of Song 6:8–9 serves to reinforce and expand that general point. There, the contrast that is drawn between “the one” (the Shulammite) and the women (queens/concubines/young women) “without number”111 may well have affinities to another part of Gen 1–3. If Genesis 2:24–25 is almost certainly antecedent “marriage theology” for the Song of Songs, what about the immediately preceding verses: Gen 2:18–23? Is it stretching things to hear an echo of Adam going through the process of moving from his aloneness (2:18) to being introduced to his exact counterpart (2:21–23), against the backdrop of the differentiation that came from naming all the animals (2:19–20), in Solomon proclaiming the Shulammite—whom he may have given the name of his exact counterpart (Song 7:1) for the purpose of the Song—as “the one” (6:9) against the backdrop of women “without number” (6:8)? If nothing else, in both cases Adam and Solomon went through a process to come to their points of insight and appreciation for the counterparts Yahweh provided them.

I give the lion's share of this review to those general features since I consider them most important, and I think readers will agree. I also learned a lot of interesting particulars; for instance, I hadn't noticed a feature of the names “Solomon” and “Shulamith”:

Solomon and Shulamith, likely the male and female versions of the same name, may echo “man” and “woman” in Gen 2:23 as being perhaps as close to the ideal human couple that there have been since the fall in the poetic depiction of the Song of Songs.

His commentary is detailed and frequently studded with references to the literature and to modern writers. I often wished, nonetheless, for more. For instance, on 8:6, which he renders as “a flame of Yahweh,” this is his comment in a footnote:

It remains lexically unclear whether the ending of שַׁלְהֶ֥בֶתְיָֽה (i.e., -yah) should be understood as an intensive (“most powerful flame”) or as “a superlative formed with the divine name” (“flame of Yah” [Estes, 407]).

Yet he doesn't really discuss or defend his translation very much beyond that.
I felt this a few times, as in his interpretations of 8:4 and 9 and elsewhere, where he doesn't fully explain or defend his view (to my mind). But that is not at all the rule, as Luter often notes and comments on points of syntax and lexicography, even relating to geography, as well as flora and fauna of the time.

 

The book is full of helpful tables and charts. Also, I noted the fewest typos of any EEC volume I've read so far, so something is improving in the editorial process!
In his final words of commentary, Luter gives what he thinks the book is about:

    This is how the Song of Songs ends: from 8:6–7 forward, the closing section paints a picture of silence where commitment needed to be by the man (8:6–7). This created an emotional and spiritual vacuum that was filled by the growing perception of domination (8:11–12) and distanced disenchantment (8:10, 13) on the part of the woman. In spite of all this, the desire for each other they both had exhibited through the book continued to the end (8:14).
There it is: a struggle of domination and desire. In the end, the picture of the tension between wives and husbands portrayed in Gen 3:16 goes on, because the ongoing theological reality is that their mutual love must be played out in a fallen world.

CONCLUSION: do I recommend the commentary? Yes. Will I use it if I ever teach the book? Absolutely, it will be a first point of reference. Did it answer all my questions satisfactorily. No. But it made a great contribution towards an eventual conclusion.

AFTERWORD: I accidentally mis-typed the title at one point as “Song of Snogs.” British readers would have had a merry time over that.

Dan Phillips's signature


A couple of years ago I began to share some infographics I titled Visual Theology. Through those infographics, and with the help of some talented graphic designers, I explored some of the great doctrines of the Christian faith: The order of salvation, the attributes of God, the Trinity, Reformed theology, the books of the Bible, and so on. You can see and download the complete list here or even buy them in print format here.

Visual Theology will return to explore more great truths and doctrines. But in the meantime, Josh Byers and I plan to share a few infographics that look to people—people we know and admire. We are kicking things off with John MacArthur. Here is John MacArthur: The Infographic.

John MacArthur Infographic

Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I’m in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.

My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I have turned to the experts to find what they say about Jeremiah.

Jeremiah


0802825303mJ.A. Thompson – The Book of Jeremiah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
. It appears that Jeremiah is not one of those books where there is clear and unanimous consensus on the top commentary. However, with that said, most of the experts, and especially the more conservative among them, do commend Thompson’s work. It contains detailed historical and exegetical examinations of the book and is suitable for pastors, scholars and general readers alike. It seems like it is as good a place to begin as any. (Amazon)

Philip Ryken – Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Preaching the Word). Ryken’s commentary is based on a sermon series he preached through the two books of Jeremiah while senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His theological perspective is distinctly Evangelical and Reformed. Derek Thomas considers it “a superb expositional commentary” and points out that it includes a helpful index of sermon illustrations. Because it is based on sermons, it would make an ideal resource for someone interested in exploring the book devotionally. (Amazon)

 

Lundbom JeremiahJack R. Lundbom – Jeremiah 1-20, Jeremiah 21-36, Jeremiah 37-52 (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries). Lundbom’s massive three-volume work will satisfy those who are looking for an exhaustive treatment of Jeremiah. Keith Mathison recommends it as “a treasure trove of valuable information.” He goes on to say, “The first volume contains a lengthy introduction dealing with the standard introductory issues of composition and context. Lundbom also deals with the theology of Jeremiah in this introductory section. The bulk of the three volumes is devoted to commentary on the text. Lundbom approaches Jeremiah’s work section by section, with detailed notes as well as section summaries.” (Amazon: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3)

J.A. Dearman – Jeremiah/Lamentations (New International Version Application Commentary). While the NIVAC is an uneven series, the volume covering Jeremiah and Lamentations is regarded as a sound choice for any reader, but especially the more general reader. Tremper Longman says it reflects, “A very sensitive theological reading that also brings these two books into touch with the contemporary world. In keeping with the series, Dearman does not deal with technical issues.” (Amazon)

Mackay JeremiahJohn L. Mackay – Jeremiah 1-20, Jeremiah 21-52 (Mentor Commentary). The Mentor series regularly receives accolades from conservative and Reformed commentators on the commentaries, but seems to be overlooked entirely by others. Still, Mackay is regarded as an excellent expositor and his two-volume treatment of Jeremiah will prove helpful to anyone who plans to preach through the book. It will be more detailed than some general readers will want, but still not too dense. (Amazon: Volume 1, Volume 2)

Let me close with a couple of questions: Have you ever preached through Jeremiah? What are your preferred commentaries? Are there some you’ve found particularly helpful for preaching or devotional purposes?

 

I sometimes find myself grumbling a little bit about the state of publishing today, and especially the state of Christian publishing. Many of the big publishers have been gobbled up by corporations whose primary concern is not the glory of God but the health of the bottom line. Some of the medium-sized publishers seem to collect any and every rambling word of the popular pastors and personalities so they can slap those words on paper. Many of the smallest publishers are churning out books that simply do not deserve to be printed. New tools for self-publishing allow anyone with an idea to commit it to paper and distribute it as widely as they can. And that’s not all that is concerning or annoying. There are the thousands of truly awful, unbiblical books being published each year, and the fact that the bestseller lists are inevitably dominated by titles that are not only bad, but often downright dangerous.

And yet, when I stop and consider the state of Christian publishing, I can’t help but think that we are in a golden age. A strange age, to be sure, but a golden one nonetheless. Christians today are extraordinarily blessed by a vast number of excellent, Christ-centered, God-glorifying books.

I see evidence for this golden age in so many different ways.

I see it in Christian-owned and Christian-operated publishers who believe their mission is to publish books that are doctrinally-rich, biblically-sound, and skillfully-written. Many of these publishers have existed for decades and have maintained their mission and focus for generations. I am grateful for the work of P&R (serving us since 1930), Crossway (serving us since 1938), Christian Focus (serving us since the early 1970’s), and so many others.

I see it in the dedicated men and women who work for publishers formerly owned by Christians that have since been purchased by giant multinational corporations. While the corporations may be answerable to their shareholders, there are sincere people within these organizations are who committed to publishing excellent and God-glorifying books. In that vein I am grateful for so many dedicated Christians who labor behind-the-scenes at Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, Multnomah, and others.

I see this golden age in new and promising strategic partnerships between ministries and publishers, where publishers are joining with gospel-loving ministries to extend the reach of those ministries through the printed word. The Gospel Coalition is partnering with Crossway, 9Marks is partnering with B&H (and several others), while many other partnerships are only just taking shape; as they do that, they will bring us even more good books.

I see it in publishers that are committed to publishing Bible commentaries that, though they may sell far fewer copies than the popular-level books, serve new generations of pastors by better equipping them to understand, explain and apply God’s Word to their lives and their congregations. InterVarsity Press has been doing this very thing for many years, as have Eerdmans, Baker, Moody, Evangelical Press and many others.

I see it in publishers that focus on academic works that, like commentaries, sell in lower volumes than those Christian living books we so love. These academic works allow scholars to continue to examine the deep things of Scripture and allow them to respond to those who take dissenting or even outright heretical perspectives. These are usually the same publishers who are producing commentaries, though most publishers serve us here to at least some extent.

I see it in publishers that look to the great books published in the past, seeking to draw from the best of the authors who lived many years ago. These publishers mine the voluminous writings of the Reformers and Puritans and other theologians of church history to make those old but brilliants works accessible. We owe a debt of gratitude to Banner of Truth, Reformation Heritage and others like them.

I see it in publishers that produce material specifically for devotional purposes and material that will help us raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. These publishers provide fine books that can guide us as we study God’s Word and as we teach it to our children. The Good Book Company excels here, as do New Growth Press, Matthias Media, Shepherd Press and B&H.

I see in in newer publishers that have been inspired by the mission of those publishers that have served us so well and for so many years. They have founded new companies to address specific issues, to serve specific demographics, or to fill specific niches. I thank God for 10ofThose and am blessed to have been involved in the founding of Cruciform Press, as just a couple of examples.

In all these ways, and so many more, today’s Christian readers are well served and greatly blessed. I believe that in the future we will look back on this time and see it for what it is: a golden age in Christian publishing.

 

I am in the midst of a series of articles on the seven ecumenical councils of the early church. These councils commenced with the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and concluded with the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. Between these two events were five more, each of which attempted to understand and establish a unified Christian theology.

In this series we are taking a brief look at each of the seven councils. For each one we are considering the setting and purpose, the major characters, the nature of the conflict, and then the results and lasting significance. We continue today with the sixth council: the Third Council of Constantinople.

Setting & Purpose

The Third Council of Constantinople was convened by Emperor Constantine IV in an attempt to settle further differences between the Eastern and Western church in the way they understood the nature of Christ’s will and power. The council began on Nov 7, 680 in the Trullus, a great domed room in the imperial palace at Constantinople. Only 43 bishops were present, marking this as the smallest of the seven ecumenical councils.

Major Characters & Conflict

Constantine IV opened the council and presided over the first 11 of the 18 sessions (which would go on for 10 months). But unlike the councils before and after it, the Third Council of Constantinople did not have one or two men who dominated the proceedings.

The primary conflict in the council was regarding the two doctrines of monoenergism and monothelitism. Monoenergism arose not long after the Second Council of Constantinople as another attempt to reconcile the churches of the East and West. It was the belief that, though Christ may have had two distinct natures, there was but one energy operative in his person: the divine energy. Leo Davis describes the position like this: “Whatever was done by the Incarnate Word was done by Him as Creator and God, and that therefore all the things that were said of Him either as God or in a human way were the action of the divinity of the Word.”

Not long after the emergence of monoenergism, the discussion turned more toward discussions about Christ’s will in place of his energy. From this came monothelitism, the belief that Christ had only one will, namely his divine will, “for at no time did His rationally quickened flesh, separately and of its own impulse … exercise its natural activity, but it exercised that activity at the time and in the manner and measure in which the Word of God willed it.”

The Proceedings

During the council, two patriarchs were accused of advocating the doctrines of monoenergism and monothelitism: George of Constantinople and Macarius of Antioch. In an attempt to bolster their belief that they were holding to the position of previous councils, Macarius presented extracts from the Fathers showing evidence for his positions. These documents were soon called into question as having been corrupted or twisted out of context. Alternate copies were found, demonstrating that this was exactly what had happened. In the face of this evidence, George changed his mind and embraced the orthodox position. Macarius, though, held his ground and was tried before the council for falsifying the writings of the Fathers. He was found guilty and deposed from his office.

One particularly bizarre event occurred at this Council. In one of the sessions after Macarius’ was deposed, one of his followers, a priest named Polychronius, claimed that he could raise a man from the dead and in this way prove monothelitism orthodox. A dead man was brought in, a profession of faith was laid on his chest, and Polychronius whispered in his ear. Not surprisingly, nothing happened, so Polychronius was quickly defrocked.

The Results

The Third Council of Constantinople reaffirmed the decisions of the first five councils and the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople I. The bishops also prepared and signed A Definition of Faith that explicitly condemned monoenergism and monothelitism as heretical, saying,

We … declare that in [Christ] are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be moved but subject to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of his flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as he himself says: “came down from heaven, not that I might do mine own will but the will of the Father which sent me!” where he calls his own will the will of his flesh, inasmuch as his flesh was also his own.

Lasting Significance

Once again, the church had clarified the nature of Christ as fully God and fully man, now extending that definition to include his nature, power, and will. And once again, the church had preserved orthodox, Trinitarian doctrine in the face of new assaults. For the time being there would be peace between the church of the East and West.