Inspiration and Incarnation (Book Review)

Enns_InspirationIncarnWhen Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,
So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.

I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.

~Hosea 11:1-3 (NKJV)

Above is Hosea’s brief history of God’s loving call of Israel out of Egypt and their unfaithfulness to Him. The chapter goes on to say that though God continues to love Israel, and though they will not go back to Egypt, they will still be put under the Assyrians for their backsliding and refusal to repent.

Matthew, in his gospel, writes this:

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

~Matthew 2:12-15

Matthew’s quote of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” is a complete misuse of scripture, taken out of context, and used by Matthew in a dishonest way. Or is it? Not if you understand that Matthew was writing to a specific audience (Jews), and he had a theme in mind when presenting the life of Jesus to that audience. Matthew wanted his readers to understand that Jesus is the true Israel and was acting as a new Moses.

The other three gospels are written by different authors to different audiences, and have different themes, and therefore present Jesus in different ways. This phenomenon is not only true for the four gospels. It is true for every book written in the bible. The bible is full of different authors writing at different time periods to different people with different worldviews, customs, and philosophies.

Therefore, when reading the bible, it is necessary to have some idea as to what the historical, grammatical, and hermeneutical context is for each book. When was it written? To what audience? What is the style of literature? What were the customs of the initial readers/hearers? What was the hermeneutical norm (the way scripture is interpreted) of the original audience? For example, what Matthew did with the Hosea passage might bother a modern Baptist preacher if done today, but apparently it was okay in Matthew’s day.

In 2018, we are as far from king David in the past as we are are from the year 5000 in the future. Think about that for a minute. Imagine if the canon of scripture was still open (it’s not), and that books written today will be a part of the bible in the year 5000. Would the readers in the future need to have some understanding of today’s world in order to fully understand what they were reading? Of course they would.

This reality of reading scripture leads to problems. What does it mean when we say that scripture is inspired? If some proverbs of Solomon are found similarly written in earlier Egyptian writings, are they still inspired? If the structure of law given to Moses in Exodus resembles the structure of law written by other near east cultures written earlier, is it inspired? How much should we take into account the existing culture that the books of the bible were written in?

Peter Enns attempts to address these issues in his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. I have read other work by Peter Enns before, and I would say he comes to a lot of wrong conclusions in his thinking. He seems to be a part of that crowd which is quick to condemn the O.T. actions of Israel based solely on modern day zeitgeist morals. Which is strange as it goes against his own teaching of biblical interpretation. Perhaps I am wrong about him.

This book, however, I liked more than I thought I would. Enns suggests that, just as we understand Jesus as being the incarnation of the Son of God — meaning He is both God and man at the same time — so should we view scripture. Scripture is both divinely inspired, but also written by flesh and blood (and imperfect) men. That, of course sounds controversial and dangerous, but in this book I found Enns to be a formidable defender of scripture. Here he doesn’t deny the truthfulness of any of the biblical stories (as he might in his other work), but rather he successfully explains that there were real worldly reasons for the authors of the bible to write what they wrote, and how they wrote it.

The basic theme of the book is: Yes the bible is inspired and from God. It is what God wants it to be, and we need to trust God. The bible is also written by real men who are products of their time and place and so is their writing. Don’t let your doctrine and hermeneutical method get in the way of letting God be who He presents Himself to be in Scripture.

One illustration by Enns to support the above:

And [God] said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” ~Gen. 22:12 (NKJV).

The story is of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. God told him to do it, and God stopped him at the last moment. Then God says, “Now I know that you fear God…” Did God not already know? He’s God isn’t He? He declares the end from the beginning, does He not? Some would say of course God knew, but the whole sacrifice test was for Abraham’s benefit. God knew, but Abraham wasn’t so sure of himself, so God pushed him to the edge to convince him. But, that’s not what the text says. The author of Genesis could have written that if it was true, but he didn’t. The text says God didn’t know, and the purpose of the test was for God’s benefit. And we need to read it as it is. This is what God wants us to see. It’s up to you to figure out why.

Even though I can’t recommend Enns’s other work, I’m giving this book a positive review — 3.5/5 stars. I recommend it to anyone who has questions about the difficult and seemingly contradictory or confusing passages of the bible.

Advertisements

12 Rules for Life (Book Review)

jordon-peterson-bookCanadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has gained quite a bit of fame in recent years through his controversial (but not really controversial) stance on some social issues. Many people have been listening to what he has to say and are finding answers to the tough questions about life which they’ve been unable to find from, what should be, the normal sources for such conundrums. All of that has compelled him to write this book: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

This book is kind of like a Christian book written by a non-Christian for Christians and non-Christians. There’s really two types of Christians: 1) The born-again and goes to church every Sunday type; 2) The merely product of western civilization type.

A brief story explaining what I mean by the second type (which I heard someone tell once, but can’t remember when or where)….

A reporter travelled to a middle eastern country for a story. Going through passport control, he noticed the border officer stamp his passport “Christian.” He then said to the officer, “Why did you stamp ‘Christian’? I’m an atheist, not a Christian.” The border officer ignored his complaint and waved him through.

Later, at his hotel, he observed some boys outside the building playing a somewhat gruesome game: They were hitting newly born puppies with a baseball bat, sending them flying against the hotel wall. That in itself is horrifying enough, but what really bothered the reporter is that the mothers of the boys were all sitting around watching and doing nothing, enjoying their day, laughing, and conversing together. The reporter then thought, “Ah, maybe I am a Christian after all.”

The point of the story is that if you are western, your morality is Christian. Whether you like it or not, you are heavily influenced by Christianity.

Jordan Peterson is a type two Christian. His book is full of Biblical quotes. Even though he might not even believe in the God of the Bible, he knows that the values of western Christianity are what shaped the best culture in known world history. He knows that if Christian values are forgotten and abandoned, it will lead to chaos. Indeed, this is already happening.

Peterson has dedicated much of his life to studying totalitarian cultures (the ones in which millions are murdered by their own governments), and he has had many patients in his practice whose lives are a “bloody mess,” as he would put it. Using his studies, his own experience as a psychologist, and his Christian influenced wisdom, he’s put together a fine book designed to help people get their own lives in order.

The 12 Rules are:

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping.

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you.

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.

Rule 5 Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech.

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding.

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

This is a dense book with a lot of information. I imagine the number one complaint by readers is that it is too long, and overly explanatory. But, if I were to give a one or two sentence long explanation of each Rule (which is far from the thorough conclusions put forth by Peterson), it would go like this…

Rule 1: Don’t be passive. Stand up for what you believe in — literally. Stand up straight. It has more effects than you realize.
Rule 2: Take care of yourself as though you were someone you deeply love and care about. Of course! But, many of us are quite negligent in self care.
Rule 3: Don’t hang around with losers, or you will become one too.
Rule 4: We’re all on different paths — some are further along than you, some are behind. Comparing yourself to them will either discourage you, or make you proud.
Rule 5: Of course you love your child, but do you like your child? Do others like your child? Will your child grow to be a likeable adult?
Rule 6: If the world around you is in a chaotic mess, start with the small space directly around you, put that in order and move out from there.
Rule 7: Think long-term.
Rule 8: You might not be able to know the truth about everything, but at least you can know what’s not true. So, don’t lie.
Rule 9: You can learn something from anybody.
Rule 10: Words have power. Use them carefully.
Rule 11: Kids need to gain confidence when they’re young so they can grow to be strong adults. That means doing dangerous things. Leave them alone.
Rule 12: Life is suffering. Take time to enjoy all the small pleasures when you can.

I give the book 4/5 stars, and I recommend you pick it up.

Related articles:
Jordan Peterson on Channel Four News
What are the Most Valuable Things to Know?

***

The Origin of Speech (Book Review)

1915557B-5A2F-4D38-A988-9FFBFE43EB97
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote some amazing books, and this might be my favourite so far. In The Origin of Speech, ERH illustrates that speech, and its creation, is the power which holds a civilization together.

For this book review, I’ll start by copying the Editor’s Postscript found on page 128…

Speech begins with vocatives and imperatives. It begins with formal speech which moves men to action and is embodied in ritual. Our grammar books on the other hand begin with the nominative and the pronoun I. The nominative is only usable when an experience is over. I can only respond as an I after I have been addressed as thou. I is the last pronoun a child learns to use.

We discovered that our systems of formal logic are skewed by accepting this distortion of our grammarians. The beginning vocative and lyric stages of all experience are thus called illogical even though they are essential before the narrative and nominative (abstract) modes can be applied. Common sense or daily talk is a derivative of formal speech.

Gender identifies the required participants in living interaction and is not synonymous with sex. Neuter is not a third sex but refers to all dead things. Thus grammar is a mirror of the stages of human experience. Inspiration through a vocative or imperative addresses us as thou, then forces us to respond as an I, makes us report as we, and at the end a story speaks of us as they. Thus we are conjugated through the stages of experience.

Instead of mental health, we propose grammatical health. Grammatical health requires the ability of command, the ability to listen, the ability to act, and finally the ability to free ourselves from the command by telling our story. Only then are we ready to respond again. We demonstrated that grammatical ill health can lead to war, dictatorship, revolution and crisis — and showed how formal speech can overcome these four.

We used the image of a time cup created to be fulfilled and to be discarded in time. All social order depends on the power of invoked names to create never-ending series of such time cups.

The grammatical method does not supply a rule book for our behaviour but a method to help us understand our history, to differentiate between valid and invalid names, and to determine the response appropriate to the stage of a particular experience or event. It should create a whole series of new social sciences unhampered by our skewed logic which has been dominated by nominatives and I’s.

Grammatical experience changes us. In the world of today, there are people at many different stages of grammatical development, and our method offers them the hope of more successful cooperation and understanding. It gives us all a common history, a history aware of timing, and a foundation for a possible peace among men.

***

Rosenstock-Huessy describes the difference between “pre-formal” speech, “formal” speech, and “informal” (or post-formal) speech. Pre-formal speech is akin to animal speech: grunting and growling, pointing and nodding. Formal speech is man’s high speech: the naming of things, ceremonies, political structures. Informal speech is somewhat of a combination of pre-formal and formal, in which we relax things a bit to make it more “low brow”. In formal speech I call my parents Mother and Father; in informal speech I can call them mama and papa. Pronouns are then considered informal speech as well. The informal is founded on the formal.

ERH lists four diseases of speech: war, revolution, decay, and crisis. These diseases arise when speech is no longer possible, or is being suppressed. War occurs when two sides are no longer willing to speak to each other and the tension between them grows to violence. Revolution occurs when a young generation, wanting change, is not yet able to articulate through speech the change it wishes, and so turns to shouting, protests, and violence. Where the young create revolutions, the old create counter-revolutions. The values of the past are held up against the revolution, but they have grown hollow and meaningless. Those praising the old values do not themselves live them out, and haven’t for some time. This leads to decadence and decay. A crisis in society occurs when those with knowledge do not speak to those who have no knowledge — they do not tell them what to do.

Of course all four of these diseases are interrelated. The unwillingness of the revolutionary to respect the “old ways” is countered by the old genaration’s unwillingness to embrace the new. The unwillingness of two parties to speak in war, but yet still willing to speak within their own communities, is met with the unwillingness of the “haves” (re: knowledge) to speak with the “have-nots” within their own communities.

ERH offers remedies to these diseases: to the deafness of war, a willingness to listen; to the incoherent shouting of revolution, the ability to articulate; to the crisis of muteness, a willingness to entrust; and to the decadence of hollow lip service, the rejuvenation of values through new representatives. “If this is true,” ERH writes, “the original character of all language should be connected with man’s victory over these evils.” (Page 17) New speech is generated when one or more of these diseases occurs. In fact, it must if a solution to the disease is to be found.

ERH covers many other topics related to speech in this book. All of it is quite illuminating, and I highly recommend giving it a read. I give the book 5/5 stars.

For a set of notes covering the whole book, click here: ERH Fund, Notes on The Origin of Speech

Related reading…

Past & Future ~ Connected by Speech

The Relevance of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

One Miracle of Speech

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Book Review)

James Jordan, in his book Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, writes…

The gospel as presented in Acts and by the early Church took this form: “You are living in isolation, lowliness, despair, chaos, and bondage. But there is a New World! There is a New Creation! There is a New Kingdom! You can leave behind your old horrible life and come into the warmth of the Church. You can join us at the table and sing psalms with us. You can come under the oversight of our elders, and be part of a new family.” (Page 44)

The medieval Church taught our civilization what God’s law is. Faced with social anarchy on all sides, early European rulers heard the gospel this way: “You are living in hell. But God has given His law! God has shown the way to live! Christ is King! You can submit to His High-Kingship and lead your people into a new way of life!” (Page 45)

The medieval Church fell into sin when the law ceased to be a wonderful guide to life and became an oppressive threat demanding good works as a way of “meriting the merits of Christ.” … Thus, the Protestant Church taught our civilization what God’s freedom is. Faced with bondage to law, the Reformers preached the free conscience under Christ: justification by faith alone. We are familiar with this doctrine, but notice that it is only really “heard” by people who have some knowledge of God and of the law. Once that prior knowledge has drained out of society, the Protestant message no longer has the power it once had.” (Page 45-46)

The famous Protestant sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God written by Jonathan Edwards was very effective in its day; a day when most of the American people were quite knowledgable of God, Christianity, and the bible; a day when the people should have known better than to turn away from God. But that day has obviously passed in the west, and a different presentation of the gospel is needed. James Jordan suggests looking back to the early Church and how they presented the gospel to people who were somewhat in the same situation as non-believers today: “You’re alone. You’re miserable. Come into the family of Jesus.” This message is what they’ll hear and understand.

zahndBrian Zahnd also understands this need for a fresh gospel presentation, and offers one with his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. But, is he offering a truthful presentation? I would say no. Zahnd is, what I like to call, a “Postmodern Jesusist“. Another term I could use is “Neo-Marcionist”. According to his narrative in the video above, I think Zahnd has always been a Marcionist, although ignorantly so (listen from 1:00 – 1:25). And his solution now is not to dismiss Marcionism altogether, but to worsen it by creating a kind of “Postmodern Marcionism”. Zahnd writes on page 60, “I’m a million miles from the second-century heresy of Marcion … My approach to the Old Testament is nothing like Marcion’s. I call the Old testament sacred scripture.” That may be, but that’s why I will say Zahnd’s approach to the O.T. is a really just a new twist on the Marcion heresy.

In the first chapter, he mostly expands on what you see in the book trailer. But as he does so, he also builds up to the idea that the authors of the Old Testament simply did not have a full revelation of God. They had an inferior revelation and therefore not a true one. He quotes the apostle John: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” So, since they didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t have a complete revelation. I can agree with Zahnd that their revelation of God was incomplete in the O.T., but I disagree with the idea that an incomplete revelation is necessarily false. There are some things that don’t change in their nature with an increase or decrease in size. Like truth. Truth is truth, whether known fully or not. When you take your kid to a restaurant, and order something for him from the kid’s menu, the food is the same food the adults eat, it just comes in a smaller portion. Truth’s nature is the same in large portions as it is in small portions. The revelation of God given to Israel was not in the fullness that would later be given in Christ, but it was still true.

In the second chapter, Zahnd constructs a couple of straw men for you to attack, or to identify with, depending on your agreement with him. For example, if you agree that God commanded the genocide of the Canaanites under Joshua, then you are open to Christians today committing genocide. In regards to the genocide, and other stories like it in the O.T., Zahnd gives three options on how to deal with the problem: 1) Question God’s morality; 2) Question God’s immutability; 3) Question how we read scripture. He rightly rejects options 1 & 2, but then goes on to give a method of reading scripture which is entirely based on postmodern philosophy: The O.T. authors wrote what they wrote not because they had a true revelation from God, but because of their biases and their warrior tribalistic worldview.

Zahnd seems to have little to no understanding of holiness, justice (apart from “social justice”), and covenant. He writes: If you’re going to imagine divinely endorsed genocide, you should not imagine yourself as Joshua but as the unfortunate Canaanite whose entire family and village have just been murdered. Instead of always seeing yourself as the cowboy, try being the Indian* sometime. (Page 44) First of all, was a holy God unjust in destroying the Canaanites?† Thankfully because of the person and work of Jesus, I don’t have to be destroyed like the Canaanite. I can be saved and created new. I can also enter into a covenant with God, just like Joshua was in covenant with God. Joshua wasn’t a blameless man, but he was in covenant, and that makes all the difference. I will imagine myself as Joshua.

(Note: If you read Jonathan Merritt’s article about this book, then you can skip the first two chapters. And before reading this book myself, I wrote a blog article about Merritt’s article, which I think is a good answer to the first two chapters as well.)

As I mention above, Zahnd is correct in writing that the O.T. Israelites did not have the fullness of revelation that would come with Jesus, but truth is truth, and we don’t read the bible like a Muslim reads the Quran; we don’t apply Naskh to the bible.‡ Before Jesus completed His work on the cross, God operated in the world a certain way, and after Jesus, God operated in a different way… and the O.T. is still a true account of who God is. Zahnd even applies Naskh to the sacrificial system — a system which is integral to Christianity. True, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore, but that’s because those sacrifices ended with Christ. But according to Zahnd, because of verses like Psalm 40:6 and Hosea 6:6, God never wanted the sacrificial system at all — so you can now ignore most of the Pentateuch.

As I read the third chapter, I found myself agreeing with most of what Zahnd says of Jesus being the greater revelation of the Word of God, but I kept asking, “But is the O.T. true? Does it truly portray God?” Zahnd says no, and for no good reason. He just doesn’t want it to be true — the O.T. doesn’t line up with his postmodern narrative. While he does believe that Jesus taught a new way to live, he doesn’t seem to believe that the world radically changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus — indeed, he doesn’t know the old world of the O.T. doesn’t exist anymore. Zahnd’s view of Jesus isn’t scandalous or radical; it isn’t radical enough!

In later chapters, Zahnd writes about hell and eschatology. I don’t have an issue with his take on hell, which is similar to C.S. Lewis and what you’d find in The Brothers Karamazov: Hell is an inability to love and be loved, and the gates are locked from within, not without. His view of eschatology and the book of Revelation is what you’d expect; something I think would be similar to what Rob Bell would teach — and I don’t have a huge issue with that either. But for the most part, these later chapters are more of the same of what I described above.

I find myself wondering: Why not just accept the O.T. at face value? What is the real reason Zahnd would reject so much of it? Is it because of years of theological study? No. Most people’s theology (if not all people’s theology) is not based on biblical study. It is based on personality and worldview. In order for Zahnd to believe what he wants to believe about Jesus, he has to reject the O.T. portrayal of God. He is offended at the O.T., and this is his way of dealing with it. Is he correct though? No, I don’t think so. He takes too much liberty in deciding which parts of the bible are true, and which are not, and he bases his exegesis on unreliable ground. For two thousand years Christians have understood that Jesus’ death on the cross was an atoning work satisfying God’s wrath towards sin and sinners. Why must we change that belief now? Because of postmodern philosophy?

I do agree that there is more to the cross than just Jesus dying for sin. N.T. Wright has written a lot of good stuff on the whole idea of the righteousness of God. I am happy that someone like Zahnd can write the book he’s written and this conversation can continue. I agree with Zahnd that the goal of Jesus is to restore the world (and not destroy it). And I do agree that the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God approach to sharing the gospel doesn’t work these days, and something fresh is needed. But Zahnd compromises too much.

I’m going to give the book 3/5 stars.

A book I recommend people read instead of Zahnd’s is the above mentioned Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future by James B. Jordan. James B. Jordan is an excellent Old Testament scholar and he explains much of the issues people might have about the difficult sections of the Old Testament. You can listen to his lectures by clicking here.

* I wonder if he’s referring to the Comanche Indians.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12 ESV)
‡ See the Quran 2:106

Related Reading…

In the Fullness of Time

Postmodern Jesusism

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness

The Art of the Argument (Brief Book Review)

The Argument favours the intelligent, the prepared, the resourceful, the courageous, and the well-trained. The Argument rewards intellectual and moral virtues of every kind. The Argument promotes the most civil to the highest reaches of influence in society, and demotes fools and bullies to the basement of irrelevance.
~Stefan Molyneux

aoa

The Art of the Argument, written by Stefan Molyneux, is a primer on logic, reason, and debate. The book is primarily written for today’s younger generation — those who belong to the “snowflake” generation — but it is good for all ages and all who do not know how to argue without relying on emotion and subjectivism.

So, if you’ve ever heard someone say, “Hate speech is not free speech,” or you have said that yourself, allow Stefan to explain to you why free speech is essential for any civilized world, because without the ability to openly discuss our differences and problems, we can only resort to violence.

Molyneux gives many examples of how to present a logical and objective argument — not in order to defeat an opponent, but rather to discover the truth. “The Argument is beholden to a third party – the truth.” (Location 1530 on Kindle)

I can recommend this book if you enjoy debate and see a need to speak out against the attack on free speech rising in the west today.

I gave it 4/5 stars.