Mark Seifrid on the Difficulty of Writing a Commentary

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IMG_5968.JPGIn the latest issue of Towers magazine, a production of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mark Seifrid, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, talks a bit on what the most difficult part is about writing a commentary. [See his most recent commentary on 2 Corinthians here.]

“Listening to the text is the most difficult part of writing a commentary, or any interpretation of Scripture. Listening, listening, and listening again. There is a fourfold responsibility here.

“(1) First, to let the text speak in all it’s particularity and detail, even (or especially) where he challenges are thinking.

“(2) Second, not to lose the forest for the trees. We have to be able to synthesize, to gain a perspective on the whole of what the text is saying.

“(3) Third – and here many New Testament scholars fail – we have to be aware of what we are saying with respect to the Christian tradition, with respect to what Christians have believed, taught, and confessed before us.

“(4) Fourth, we have to remember that we are writing for others. Their needs and concerns must be in our minds. Someone has described preaching as being placed between the upper and lower millstones of the Word of God and the congregation, and attempting to come through the grinding. Writing a commentary is something like that.”

Collin Hansen: “Move into a house with a front porch”

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Collin Hansen, editorial director of The Gospel Coalition, has written a wonderful opening essay for the latest Books & Culture. He offers some great practical suggestions on rooting yourself in a local place together with friends and neighbors:

“So how do you share that place? No one life-change can guarantee it, because sin follows us wherever we move. But you can make some simple adjustments. Move into a house with a front porch. Resist the urge to retreat in front of the TV. Invite your neighbors to dinner. Volunteer in your church and another organization dedicated to civic well-being. Limit your commute time. Avoid activities that require you to shuttle your kids across the city each day. Settle somewhere people have known you across various stages of life, maybe even somewhere they knew your parents or grandparents. Make regular errands where you see familiar faces. Seek unpaid adult involvement—whether family or friends—in your children’s lives. Weigh the economic advantages of taking a new job against the human cost of upheaval to your church, school, and family life. Stay put if at all possible. And if God calls you to go, make a home of this new place by following this same time-tested wisdom wherever you can.

“This lifestyle probably won’t make you famous, but it just might make people want to attend your funeral.”

The Task of the Historian

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IMG_5944.JPGGreat word by Scott Manetsch on the task of the historian:

“[T]he task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts of ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’ The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.”

Calvin’s Company of Pastors (Oxford Univ. Press, 2014), p. 304.

Movie Recommendation: “A River Runs Through It” (Robert Redford, 1992)

river-runs-through-it-dvd-coverRobert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” (1992) is a beautiful film. It is set in pre-WWI Missoula, Montana, and tells the story of two sons of a Presbyterian minister. It stars Tom Skerritt and a young Brad Pitt. (It’s also on Netflix!)

Read this poignant closing narration told by the older brother:

“Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand in my youth are dead. But I still reach out to them. Of course, now I’m too old to be much of a fisherman. And now I usually fish the big waters alone, even though some friends think I shouldn’t. But when I am alone in the half-light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

“I am haunted by waters.”

J.I. Packer on Fyodor Dostoyesvsky: Greatest novelist and greatest Christian storyteller

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226405J.I. Packer likes to say, “Packer’s my name, Packer’s my game.” Even his brief blurbs on the back of books, Packer packs a lot. Read his brief introduction on the just released The Gospel in Dostoyesvsky: Selections From His Works (Plough, 2014):

“Dostoyesvsky is to me both the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time. His plots and characters pinpoint the sublimity, perversity, meanness, and misery of fallen human adulthood in an archetypal way matched only by Aeschylus and Shakespeare, while his dramatic vision of God’s amazing grace and of the agonies, Christ’s and ours, that accompany salvation, has a range and depth that only Dante and Bunyan come anywhere near. Dostoyesvsky’s immediate frame of reference is Eastern Orthodoxy and the cultural turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia, but his constant theme is the nightmare quality of unredeemed existence and the heart-breaking glory of the incarnation, whereby all human hurts came to find their place in the living and dying of Christ the risen Redeemer. In the passages selected here, a supersensitive giant of the imagination projects a uniquely poignant vision of the plight of man and the power of God. If it makes you weep and worship, you will be the better for it. If it does not, that will show that you have not yet seen what you are looking at, and you will be wise to read the book again.”

Louie Zamperini and Conversion

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zamperini-olympian-lgOver at The Gospel Coalition, I’ve written on Louie Zamperini and the power of conversion. Here’s how I begin:

Louie Zamperini’s amazing life is the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It has remained on the New York Times bestseller list for almost four years (a remarkable feat!), and on Christmas Day the much-anticipated movie adaptation is slated for release. Although it is one of my favorite books, I have to agree with Collin Hansen: “The title is all wrong.” After the war, Louie returned home a broken man.

Read the rest here. If you’re a fan of the book, let me know what you think.

Michael Haykin’s “9 Top Biographies”

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michael-haykin1Today I stumbled on a list of recommended biographies by Michael Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. I’ve listed them here with links and their publication information.

1. Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (vol. 1 and vol. 2)

2. Faith Cook, Grimshaw of Haworth (Banner of Truth, 1997)

3. Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (Judson Press, 1987)

4. Timothy George, Faithful Witness (Christian History Institute, 1998)

5. Andrew Fuller, A Heart for Missions: A Memoir of Samuel Pearce (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005)

6. Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival (vol. 1 and vol. 2)

7. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (University of California Press, 1969; new revised version, 2013)

8. George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004)

9. Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1987)

The “Most Tender Friendship” of George Whitefield

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Preaching-George-WhitefieldAlthough a bitter rift had occurred between George Whitefield and John Wesley, Wesley could still say these things about Whitefield the man, given as a eulogy during Whitefield’s funeral:

“[H]e had a heart susceptible of the most generous and the most tender friendship. I have frequently thought that this, of all others, was the distinguishing part of his character. How few have we known of so kind a temper, of such large and flowing affections! Was it not principally by this, that the hearts of others were so strangely drawn and knit to him? Can anything but love beget love? This shone in his very countenance, and continually breathed in all his words, whether in public or private. Was it not this, which, quick and penetrating as lightning, flew from heart to heart which gave that life to his sermons, his conversations, his letters? Ye are witnesses!”

(HT: Steven Nichols during his lecture the Andrew Fuller Conference on “Whitefield and the Great Awakening”)

Book Briefs (Sep/Oct 2014)

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Here’s what I’ve been reading over these few months.

5175zsnFBDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale, 2009). Kidd prefers to call it the “long First Great Awakening.” This designation highlights the fact that the there were important revivals before the traditional dating of 1740. The Awakening started before Edwards’ revivals of 1734-35 and continued on through the end of the American Revolution. To bring it all together, it can be said the the First Great Awakening was a lengthy period 50 or 60 years that included revivals, “then a whole range of missions, agendas, and less celebrated developments” (xix). Kidd presents four reasons the Great Awakening happened because (1) God graciously poured out the Holy Spirit; (2) ongoing tensions between Protestant Britain and Catholic France and Spain; (3) of the so-called consumer revolution of the 18th century and, in particular, the advent of new media sources and techniques; and (4) of the role that simple hard work played in generating the awakenings. This is well-documented and important read.

2279David McCullough, Truman (Simon & Schuster, 1993). Remarkable biography! I would have had a hard time supporting many of Truman’s progressive agenda, but I’m thankful for the man, his impeccable integrity and the dignity he brought to the presidency. He was routinely mocked and minimized, but he overcame all his obstacles with a tireless work ethic and devotion for and duty to his country. I’ve enjoyed every McCullough book I’ve read, and this is no exception.

ross-psalms-2Allen Ross, Psalms: 42-89 (Kregel, 2014). Books are an indispensable component of a pastor’s arsenal. Commentaries hold special place in this arsenal as a preacher seeks to rightly handle the Word of God in his exegesis. Allen Ross’ three-volume work on the Psalms deserve to be on the shelf of every pastor. They blend the best of rigorous interpretation of the text and warm pastoral application. I have some minor quibbles with the presentation, but this is an invaluable resource that will help the preacher study and apply the treasure trove of the psalms.

616Eizn12dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Marilynne Robinson, Lila: A Novel. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). It’s hard to surpass Robinson’s Pulitzer prize winning Gilead (2004), but this is a beautiful book in a raw kind of way. Think of it as an extended autobiographical reflection on Ezekiel 16—it pervades the novel from beginning to end. I read one reviewer compare Robinson to Flannery O’Connor and noted that where O’Connor shouts (with her grotesque), Robinson whispers. I find that to be so true.

rinity, Revelation, and Reading by Scott SwainScott Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and its Interpretation (T&T Clark, 2011).This slim academic book is gold. It is well written and conversant with a wide-ranging collection of ancient and contemporary theologians. His discussion on the inspiration, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture is grounded and precise. Perhaps most helpful are the final two chapters on reading Scripture “as an act of covenant mutuality.” In these chapters he highlights the “rule of faith” and the “rule of love.” I wasn’t entirely convinced by the various “dogmas” we should subscribe to, but it was good fodder for thought. Swain’s presentation of the four “phases” of interpretation—prayer, explication, meditation, and application—ought to be instilled in every student of Scripture. Swain identifies himself with the TIS movement (Theological Interpretation of Scripture). The movement as it currently stands is broad on the theological spectrum—it has Roman Catholics, liberal Protestants, and evangelicals. I’m wary of TIS and afraid that will move people away from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” but this work presents the movement at its best.

StoriesWeTellMike Cosper. The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Crossway, 2014). I really enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about TV shows and movies I’ve never watched—or care to watch, really. Again and again Cosper shows how the stories we tell reflect—to greater or lesser degree—the grand story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. There are echoes of Eden all around us. And this books helps us hear them well.

51ndsDLf2uL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2014). First, some concerns. Eugene Peterson’s blend of ecumenism and mysticism is problematic and often irritating. He has no problem associating in his “company of pastors” with Christian and Jew and from conservative to liberal. He praises Reformers like Luther and Calvin while then embracing the dangerous, experience-based mysticism of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. That said, his insights into Scripture and pastoral ministry are refreshing and spot on as he counters the commercialization of American Christianity. In this, his words are prophetic and needed in today’s church culture.

Prayer by Tim KellerTim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014). (I wrote a lengthier review here.) I devoured this book in a matter of days. It is the kind of book that invites multiple re-readings since we never master prayer. Keller showed me how cold I often am before the Lord (seen in an impoverished and anemic prayer life), but he also pastorally pointed to a better way to truly experience “awe and intimacy” with God. Frequently I was compelled to close the book, apply its rich truths, and seek the Lord in secret. If it has the same effect on others, I think Keller—and the Lord—will be pleased.

51Aiyo6zElL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Philip Jenkins. The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014). This past summer marked the 100th anniversary of First World War (1914-1918), a war often forgotten and little understood. Philip Jenkins, professor of history at Baylor University, retells the story afresh in The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade. Jenkins argues that we cannot understand the war apart from understanding its religious and spiritual aspects. ​”The war took place in a world in which religious faith was still the norm,” he writes. Elsewhere he writes that “[r]eligion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war.” Some readers will find his presentation disjointed, missing a unifying theme; others will appreciate the various selections that serve as snapshots into the religious dimensions of the war. All readers, however, will come away with a better understanding of the “Great and Holy War” and grasp how it irrevocably changed the world, even into our own present day.

016166Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2011). Metaxas has made more accessible his earlier, more expansive work on the German pastor-theologian. One common criticism is that Metaxas’ portrays Bonhoeffer more like an American theological conservative than what he actually. (I think recently this image has been helpfully balanced by Marsh’s account). That said, I still appreciate Metaxas’ lively book. Though a biography, it reads a lot like a novel or spy thriller. Here was a man who stood up to Hitler and the compromising German church of his day, and ultimately paid the price with his life. This is a melancholy yet inspiring account of a man who truly picked up his cross and followed the Master.

516qfG4YixL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Greg Forbes. 1 PeterExegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (B&H, 2014). One of the joys I have in seminary is to head up a ministry at two local nursing homes with some devoted and faithful brothers. With a rotation of three or four men, it’s been wonderful to work my way through 1 John, Philippians, a smattering of the psalms, the Gospel of John, and now a return to 1 Peter, an apt epistle for those suffering and eager for glory. What I most appreciate about this series from B&H is that it helps the student of Scripture, who knows Greek but is a bit rusty, remove the mental cobwebs and use the original languages in preparation. Also, the epistle is broken up into digestible, exegetical units. Those wanting further study will no doubt appreciate the “For Further Reading” section which highlights journal articles, dictionary entries, monographs, etc. The “Homiletical Suggestions” are honestly a bit tacky at times, but they stimulate thinking and provide helpful examples on how to divide a passage into preaching points. Overall, this is a great tool for the preacher to own and use. (Download a sample chapter here.)

517BNb2a88L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Paul Johnson, Eisenhower (Viking Adult, 2014). Johnson is a master (short) biographer. He can take a large, titanic figure and present the essence of that life into a digestible book. His brief account of Churchill is one of my favorites. Last year he wrote on Mozart. And now he turns his attention to Ike. While I eagerly looked forward to this addition, I was not as impressed. Perhaps it’s that I read this in conjunction with McCullough’s sizable Truman. Or that Eisenhower and Truman were at odds with one another, with Eisenhower bordering on disrespect of his predecessor. Or perhaps it’s that Johnson paints Ike in glowing colors or that Johnson too often interjects into his account a lot of his own political and personal opinion. In any case, I learned a lot about Ike, but somehow this book fell flat on me.
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