New issue of Journal of Biblical Literature is up

Issue 131.3 of The Journal of Biblical Literature is out. You have to be a Society of Biblical Literature member to access the full contents, but you can see what’s in the new fall 2012 issue here.

From SBL, here is what’s inside the issue.

Judah Comes to Shiloh: Genesis 49:10ba, One More Time
Serge Frolov, 417–422

The Four Moses Death Accounts
Philip Y. Yoo, 423–441

Not Just Any King: Abimelech, the Northern Monarchy, and the Final Form of Judges
Brian P. Irwin, 443–454

The Heart of Yhwh’s Chosen One in 1 Samuel
Benjamin J. M. Johnson, 455–466

Secrets and Lies: Secrecy Notices (Esther 2:10, 20) and Diasporic Identity in the Book of Esther
Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor, 467–485

Psalms Dwelling Together in Unity: The Placement of Psalms 133 and 134 in Two Different Psalms Collections
Ryan M. Armstrong, 487–506

Archer Imagery in Zechariah 9:11–17 in Light of Achaemenid Iconography
Ryan P. Bonfiglio, 507–527

Eyewitnesses as Guarantors of the Accuracy of the Gospel Traditions in the Light of Psychological Research
Robert K. McIver, 529–546

Voluntary Debt Remission and the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1–13)
John K. Goodrich 547–566

Paul’s Areopagus Speech of Acts 17:16–34 as Both Critique and Propaganda
Joshua W. Jipp, 567–588

“Be Ye Approved Money Changers!” Reexamining the Social Contexts of the Saying and Its Interpretation
Curtis Hutt, 589–609

Guest post: Robbie Pruitt on A.W. Tozer

Magnificent Monograph Monday this week features a guest blogger, Robbie Pruitt. I have guest posted on his blog (My Two Mites) before, and today he posts here. It’s a review of Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. Robbie is a gifted youth minister, teacher, poet, reader, writer, and friend.

Nothing is more important than a right understanding of God, or “thinking rightly about God.”  In Knowledge of the HolyA.W. Tozer states, “The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men.”  Tozer is addressing idol worship that many fall into by thinking wrongly about God.

It is into this reality that Tozer speaks in Knowledge of the Holy, which is an excellent study of the attributes of God. (See pdf of book here.)  Tozer describes in detail the importance of thinking rightly about God, going so far as asserting, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  When it comes to our thinking about God, everything is at stake.  We must think deeply and accurately about God if we are to know Him and worship Him rightly and truthfully.

According to Tozer, when we think about God, we are using the language and the concepts that our finite minds can grapple with.  Our understanding of God is limited, as God is infinite and we are finite.  We are also unaware of the fullness of God as there are attributes we have not had revealed to us yet, and which we do not currently have the capacity to comprehend.  Tozer says, “We learn by using what we already know as a bridge, over which we pass to the unknown. It is not possible for the mind to crash suddenly past the familiar into the totally unfamiliar.”

While Tozer is acutely aware of the magnitude of his subject, God, he is not deterred from writing a most excellent reflection on the attributes of God that we can understand and contemplate.  An attribute, simply stated by Tozer, is “whatever may be correctly ascribed to God.”  While there is ample evidence to conclude that what we do not know about God is vast, there is so much about God’s character and nature that we can accurately know.  To begin with, we can know His attributes, and we can ascribe these attributes to Him with confidence.

In thinking about the enormity of God, Tozer is quick to warn against idolatry and thinking wrongly about God.  He says, “To think of creature and Creator as alike in essential being is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature.”  We must not think of God in “human” terms, though we are using human brains and creation and are reasoning, to contemplate the essence of God.  In thinking of God we must proceed cautiously, reverently and prayerfully, in faith and in love, as we rest in God’s divine revelation to us.

If we are not cautious, the dangers are clear.  We can think of something less than God and find ourselves in idolatry, worshipping something less than God.  Tozer says, “If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hand.”  The other danger in thinking about God is attempting to manipulate, control, or manage God, which essentially places us above God as “god.”  Tozer describes this phenomenon this way: “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms.  We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him.”

We must look to God with great anticipation and appreciation of God’s revelation to us.  It is adequate.  God has revealed Himself to us and God is knowable.  God, in His great love and mercy, has revealed Himself to us in His son Jesus and we can know Him in faith and in love.  Tozer asserts, “In Christ and by Christ, God effects complete self-disclosure, although He shows Himself not to reason but to faith and love. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and love an organ of experience.”   We can know God and we can experience God.  This revelation of God is a great mercy to us and is a gift to us in Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit, which leads us into all truth.

As Tozer says so eloquently, “For while the name of God is secret and His essential nature incomprehensible, He in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself.”  These truths of God are, indeed, His attributes, and we can know them and study them.  Knowledge of the Holy is a great tool for this study as we seek to come to know the eternal, magnificent, and indescribable God that we seek to worship rightly.

An attribute study is a great way to come to know God more deeply and is a great way to explore the richness of the Scriptures in a more non-linear approach.  Knowledge of the Holy covers some essential thoughts and attributes of God, as well as doctrines, that every Christian should think about.  As Tozer rightly points out, “The study of the attributes of God, far from being dull and heavy, may for the enlightened Christian be a sweet and absorbing spiritual exercise. To the soul that is athirst for God, nothing could be more delightful.”  As we seek God and seek to have our thirsts for Him quenched, this book, in addition to Scripture, prayer, and community, is a great place to start.

A thorough reading of Knowledge of the Holy highlights so many truths about God.  We are plunged into the depths of God’s character and nature and are left in a state of awe and worship in the presence of an awesome God.  While we will spend a lifetime and an eternity seeking to know God completely and to worship Him rightly, we can know God and worship Him now.  To quote Tozer one last time, “To our questions God has provided answers; not all the answers, certainly, but enough to satisfy our intellects and ravish our hearts. These answers He has provided in nature, in the Scriptures, and in the person of His Son.”  How marvelous it is to wonder at His greatness and to think rightly about our God!

frameworks (How to Navigate the New Testament): a review

Why the book frameworks? Author Eric Larson says,

frameworks, quite simply, is a book about Bible navigation and context, material that’s designed to build your confidence in your ability to negotiate the text and understand it. Think of it as a guidebook, a Bible companion, written for anyone who would like to have a personal biblical tour guide. This book can be used for self-study, in small group discussions or in classrooms to set the context for Bible reading and to lead you through it.

The emphasis in the book is on presentation and memorability. Larson uses rich and beautiful imagery (and “lots of refreshing white space”) to create a book that has a good home on a coffee/display table. Yet he doesn’t neglect solid content around each biblical book, either.

The introduction is short and sweet and covers essential territory like who the writers were, literary divisions of the book, and an especially helpful 7-part “Navigating Jesus’ Ministry” section with simple maps and narrative highlights. After an introduction to the New Testament in general, each book of the New Testament has these 10 sections: introduction, theme, purpose, outline, verses to note in that book (the best part of frameworks, I thought), navigation (a page of things to look for when reading a book-well done), unique things about that book, recap, questions, and a verse to apply right now.

There is a sample pdf of the table of contents and introduction here.

Charts, tables, photographs and other graphics are a strong point of this book. Some are as simple as this historical timeline, which is visually appealing:

Or take this visual outline of the book of Luke, from p. 92 of the book (and posted on the author’s blog):

(The spelling error in ascension is corrected in the book.)

This book will answer many questions people had about the New Testament but were afraid to ask–one of its intended purposes. For example, in Larson’s introduction to the Gospels (“Biographies of Christ”), he writes about the “four living creatures” that many have understood to represent the Gospels. (Lion, Ox, Man, Eagle.)

I’ve always seen Mark associated with the lion, but Larson has the lion with Matthew, the ox with Mark, the man with Luke, and the eagle with John. He notes that this is the order of the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-7. But the order as it appears in Ezekiel 1:1-14 is what I’ve seen more typically, where it’s human, lion, ox, and eagle. I understand that Christian tradition varies here a bit.

This is not a huge deal, but it is indicative of a larger trend in the book–nuance seems to be prioritized at times less highly then presentation. Larson’s laudable goal is to engage “anyone who would like to have a personal biblical tour guide.” It’s about “navigation and context,” but readers will still want to look elsewhere for greater detail and clarification on some matters.

As far as a New Testament framework goes, Larson’s 4-1-9-4-8-1 scheme did not immediately strike me as easily memorable. He divides the NT this way:

  • 4 biographies of Christ
  • 1 history book (Acts)
  • 9 letters of Paul to the churches
  • 4 letters of Paul to people
  • 8 general letters
  • 1 book of prophecy (Revelation)

This is less memorable than the 4-1-21-1! chant I’ve used with young people. (See the pdf of it here, from Center for Youth Studies.) Larson’s 4-1-9-4-8-1 does have the advantage of dividing up the 21 letters/epistles into their types/authors, but as much as I wanted to latch on to 4-1-9-4-8-1, I never quite did. This is not too say it’s a bad thing to use; it is to say a reader might not pick it up as easily as some other NT “frameworks.”

One other critique I offer is that, although I appreciate the approach of using visual imagery and stories and examples rooted in culture to try to connect the ancient text to today, sometimes the connections feel a bit stretched. For example, the photograph accompanying the “history” title page (for the book of Acts) is an unfinished attic with a sawhorse in it and a window with light coming through. It’s a beautiful image. But what’s it trying to evoke? The upper room? The light as the Holy Spirit? Okay, but why the sawhorse? Other such images left me curious as to why they were selected, or how they were meant to visually reinforce the author’s text.

Similarly, while the story about Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller to begin the book of James is itself inspirational, its application to James and his audience sure felt reach-y. That James’s “self-indulged spiritual children” were “behaving badly and desperately need a spanking” is an odd way, indeed, to describe things! James would have never “spanked” his listeners. I know the author doesn’t mean that literally, but that image was distracting. I often found myself reacting this way in the introductions to each of the books.

Everything after a book’s introduction is generally solid–and creative. In Mark, for example, Larson has a selection of verses from that Gospel that he has the reader “read…without stopping to take a breath.” He puts in bold words like “at once,” “quickly,” and “immediately” (a favorite of Mark’s). Then he concludes, “If you feel out of breath, congratulations. Mark has succeeded in brining you into his fast moving narrative.” I thought this was a great way to draw the reader into the fast-paced action movie that Mark often feels like.

I like the approach to this New Testament introduction; it’s creative and will reach a larger audience then some less visually-oriented books on the same subject. The short descriptions of each book are generally solid, but the occasional lack of nuance and informal tone distracted me at times as I worked my way through the book. (In other words, as with any book, this one should be read critically.)

Yet I do think Larson’s efforts will guide the reader into deeper engagement with the biblical text. His emphasis on what to look for in a book, pulling out and quoting specific verses, and his constant admonition to “Read It!” are refreshing. He even gives an estimate for how long it takes to read through a book at a casual pace, which is an enormous aid to anyone who will commit to sitting down and doing reading through God’s Word.

I received a free copy of frameworks for review purposes. Thank you to the author and publicist for the chance to review it.

What makes a worship song good for congregational singing?

What makes a worship song suitable for use in a corporate worship service?

I’ve been mulling this question over lately, trying to articulate what is often largely an intuition for me as a worship leader. Here’s a first go at it. (Thanks to my friend Steve for sharing some good thoughts with me on this.)

The song needs to be neither too low nor too high. Worship leader Jamie Brown has what I’ve found to be a helpful guideline for what range of notes to cover: “From C to shining C.” He puts it well, so I quote him here:

My rule of thumb is “C to shining C”…, meaning that the lowest a song should generally go is a C (one octave below middle C on a piano) and the highest it should go is one octave up from there. I’ll still use songs that dip a bit lower than a middle C or jump up to a D, Eb, or even an E from time to time, but I want to make sure the song isn’t “hanging out” up in the stratosphere or down in the depths.

Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United both sing their songs pretty high. Just try doing “From the Inside Out” in its original key!  (Or, rather, don’t. Drop it down a few steps before leading a congregation in it.) Same with Charlie Hall–love his music, but I often change the key before leading others in his songs. And that’s okay! In fact, it’s an important part of my job as a worship leader to make sure the range of the song is singable for a congregation.

The rhythm and lyrical cadence ought to be simple. Too many dotted eighth notes or too-fast moving lyrics are difficult for a group of folks to sing well together. I often slow down “Blessed Be Your Name” and “Everlasting God” when I lead them for this very reason. I want to make sure we have time to savor the lyrics we’re singing, and not feel rushed to squeeze them all in to the song.

If it’s new, teach it first. I wrote about this last week here.

“More stepwise motion and fewer big leaps up or down.” This one is from Steve. It articulates well what is often intuition for worship leaders. Simpler is better. An example:

Thanks to some students with whom I lead worship in a Christian college setting, I’ve really gotten into the band Gungor recently. I love their song “Dry Bones.”

This song has quite a few “big leaps up or down” and not a lot of “stepwise motion.” It’s hard for me to imagine a congregation singing this in a worship service. But I will blast it through my speakers when I am feeling the need for God to breathe life into my dry bones! I might even rock out to it on guitar with a fellow worship leader, or in a jam session. Great for in car, perhaps not for in the chapel.

I hesitate to use Gungor as a foil, especially since he’s one of the most thoughtful contemporary music worship leaders I know of. His We Will Run, on the other hand, is a great song for congregational singing–especially with its focus on repentance of sin and corporate turning back to God. Listen to it if you like:

Notice that “We will run” is one note, then “to you” is just a half step down:

That same pattern is then repeated a few notes higher: “Turning from our” is one note, “our sin” is just a whole step down.

Simple.

What would you add to this list?

Teaching a new worship song to a congregation

This morning I had the privilege of teaching our worshiping community this song:

Because I had guessed it would be new to the majority of our congregation, I decided to teach the song before we sang it all the way through. There are at least six things I like to try to do when teaching a new song:

1. Split it into pieces. I had the chorus for All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises on two Powerpoint slides. So I sang through the first half of the chorus (one PPT slide), stopped, and invited the congregation to sing that same part with me:

Then I repeated that same process for the second half of the chorus:

This way the congregation had heard the chorus once and sung it once.

2. Teach it not in order. This helps me and hopefully others remember that we’re actually working on learning the song. It also keeps us attentive to what part of the song we’re working on. We’ll piece it all together only once we’ve learned the component parts.

3. Highlight the lyrical content. If the tune is new, the lyrics likely are, too. At least they were in this case. So because this song speaks of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, I took the opportunity to highlight that. I actually read some of the song lyrics before teaching it, and connected them to something my church says in our weekly worship: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I mentioned that like 1 Corinthians 15 and Luke 24, this is one of the great summaries of our faith that can unite us across multiple denominations and Christian backgrounds.

4. Teach it with a conversational tone. I can’t think of any other way to teach a song than by actually talking with the congregation about it, what we’re doing, what we’re about to do, etc. I find a friendly, inviting, conversational tone works best. At least it feels right to me when I am teaching a song!

5. Affirm the congregation. Our worshiping community picked this song up so fast today (some knew it already, I think) that this was easy to do. I actually cut short the process of teaching the song so that we could begin from the beginning singing it all the way through. This was due to the fact that as I began teaching the verse (i.e., “I’ll sing so you can hear it”), I could already hear folks singing along. It would certainly not be out of place to sincerely say something like, “You all are good singers!” (Provided it’s true.)

6. Have them hear the song even before I teach it. For example, I had All the Earth will Sing Your Praises played over the speakers as they were leaving worship Monday, knowing we’d be learning it today. It’s a little thing, but it helps. Other options could have been playing it as the prelude today, emailing a Web link to the tune, etc.

The bottom line for me is: if we’re doing a song that I think will be new to most in the room, we highlight it as such and carve out time to work to learn it together. Then singing the new song from start to finish is not only easier, but feels like something we have worked at together in a way that draws us closer as we worship.

And God planted a garden…

[R]econciliation has too often been discussed in Christian circles as if it took place in a vacuum, as if only people and not trees, rivers, mountains and farms are swept up in God’s redemptive drama. Our aim, then, is to point our attention back to the land, to say what a faithful life on it might look like, and to show that the land–indeed, the entire cosmos–is inextricably bound up in God’s salvation through Jesus Christ (see Col 1:20).

–Fred Bahnson & Norman Wirzba in Making Peace with the Land

The newest offering from IVP Books’ Resources for Reconciliation series is Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with CreationThe Resources for Reconciliation series pairs a practitioner with an academician, who then together address the theology and practice of reconciliation in a given sphere of life. The first book in the series, Reconciling All Things, profoundly influenced my development of a Biblical theology of justice and reconciliation.

Practitioner Fred Bahnson is an agriculturalist and writer (and excellent theologian); academician Norman Wirzba is a theology professor at Duke Divinity School (and grounded practitioner). Making Peace with the Land makes the Biblical case that “redemption is cosmic,” and so extends to the whole created order, not just humanity. God wants all creatures (“human and nonhuman”) to be “reconciled with each other and with God.” In other words, our Biblical theology of reconciliation is anemic if it does not extend to a loving stewardship of the whole of God’s creation. The authors warn against “ecological amnesia.”

Our “ecological amnesia” is at its core a theological issue. God is God of the soil, a gardener who loves the soil and brings forth life through it (as noted in Genesis). But we have worked against the land in developing systems and structures for farming that draw heavily on “our own agricultural scheme” and “monocultures of annual crops.” Instead we need to “look to nature as a model for how to practice agriculture,” engaging in what Bahnson calls regenerative agriculture, founded on the truth that “the ecosystems in which we find ourselves–created by God and deemed ‘very good’–are far more adept at growing things than we are.” The profile in chapter 6 of the work of ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) both astounded and inspired me. (Check out ECHO here.)

Bahnson and Wirzba are compelling: “Surely it is a contradiction to profess belief in the Creator while showing disregard or disdain for the works of the Creator’s hands.” After reading a lengthy description of how Chicken McNuggets are made, I was about ready to become a vegetarian. Regardless of how the phrase “animal rights” makes you feel, animal torture is not possibly justifiable by those who have been called to co-steward the creation with God.

At times I desired more exegetical nuance when the authors dealt with Scripture. For example, though the prologue is convincing enough that we ought to view God as gardener, to accept that God’s gardening work is “the most fundamental and indispensable expression of the divine love that creates, sustains, and reconciles the world” is difficult for me to… well… reconcile with the expression of divine love on the cross. In the end, it’s all of the above. That said, Bahnson’s note on the acacia tree in Isaiah 41:18-19 as a nitrogen-fixing tree and thus “divine agroforestry advice” was awesome. And the authors do affirm elsewhere that reconciliation begins with the person and work of Jesus–it is in Jesus that all things hold together, as they point out from Colossians 1.

Many of us practice “a sort of gnostic disdain for manual labor, soil husbandry, caring for physical places and living within our ecological limits.” If I make enough money to simply buy food, I don’t need to get close to that food except to pick it up at the store (or restaurant!). Then I eat it and keep going with my work, however disconnected I may be from the source of that food. However,

Reconciliation with the land means learning to see the land as part of God’s redemptive plan and acknowledge God’s ongoing presence there. That will require putting ourselves in proximity to the land and staying there long enough to be changed.

After reading this book, I’m unsettled. I’m a lot farther from “the land” than I perhaps should be. I’m not sure what to do with that. And my theology of reconciliation has often not been robust enough. But I’ve been thinking more about my food, its sources, and my connection to God’s land now that I’ve read Making Peace with the Land. I’m not suggesting that we engage carbon offsets as a solution. (Slight detour: does this not look eerily like indulgences?)

But if I’m unsettled, I’m also inspired. What if I allowed my having been reconciled with Christ to inform a ministry of reconciliation not limited to other people? What if we followed Wirzba’s advice to allow our weekly “Eucharistic eating” to “not only transform the eating we do with people,” but to also transform “the entire act of eating, which means [changing] the way we go about growing, harvesting, processing, distributing, preparing and then sharing the food we daily eat”?

That would be an abundant life.

Thank you to IVP for the free review copy, in exchange for an unbiased review, and–as it turns out–a re-examined life. Find more about Making Peace with the Land here (IVP) or here (Amazon). Highly recommended.

Tonight’s theological questions at dinner from the 4-year-old

There were two:

Does Jesus make people do stuff?

and

What does “crucified” mean?

My answer to the first question (after a long pause): “Jesus can make people do stuff. Jesus can do anything he wants to. But he usually doesn’t make people do stuff. He lets them decide.” Some will disagree with this. But I think it has pretty good Scriptural warrant. I’m sure this question will come up again. And I thought the sex question was hard!

The second question I answered as specifically and succinctly as I could. I actually got a little teary-eyed as I described crucifixion to him. His response to my answer was appropriate, I thought: “Why did they do that?”