A miscellany of interesting reading …

I don’t usually do these kinds of posts, but several things have come across my reading-radar over the past couple of days that I really felt like sharing.

First, this study of the history of the Hebrew language has finally been released.  I had the great pleasure of sitting in a seminar on the book’s topic with the author back in 2008 and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release since then!

Second, I noticed that this book is available on Amazon for purchase new.  When I bought my copy last fall, I had to purchase it used.  I’m glad to see that it is back in print (or back in stock – whichever one caused the problem for me last year).  I’ve found it to be a really nice apologetics-type book.

Third, I read this very interesting blog post dealing with parenting.  So often people are either completely hands-off with their parenting, or they’re ridiculously gung-ho, micromanaging every aspect of their kids’ lives.  Very thoughtful words by Kevin De Young.  Apparently this is an excerpt from his newest book.

Fourth, I thought this too was a very interesting blog post considering reading and writing about books where the author holds to questionable views on a subject not related (or only tangentially related) to the topic of the book.  In this case, David Murray wrestles with reading N.T. Wright’s recent book on the Psalms, suggesting three options for one who is considering blogging about one of Wright’s books.  While I lean toward option #3, I wonder if there is another way of articulating it.  As a pastor, I’m inclined to agree that some form of warning is necessary for the sake of the flock, though I’m not sure if “repeated” warnings are necessary provided the warning given is not too subtle.  (Incidentally, Tim Keller even drops by in the comment box!)

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R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

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9 comments on “A miscellany of interesting reading …

  1. Jen says:

    Any specific comments on the Hebrew language book?

    • None yet, I haven’t had a chance to read any of it as of yet. The author, however, is approaching the history of the language recognizing that Hebrew was spoken by specific people living in specific circumstances. While that might seem obvious, most language studies tend to focus on grammar and spelling rules, as well as comparisons to other languages, without trying to see how historical and social factors may have shaped those different features. That is to say, most studies like these are more theoretical and timeless in their purview; this one will seek to be more concrete.

      -Andrew

  2. Nevada says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I read through Murray’s post and had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I understand his trepidation and actually don’t always mind engaging in his #2 strategy (i.e., reading such works profitably but only mentioning them to discerning individuals). Some individuals simply cannot handle certain aspects of truth. That sounds terribly “un-democratic” and dissembling, but I think it’s simply pastoral reality. Most of the time, however, I engage in some form of #3.

    On the other hand, I must say that I’m always a little annoyed when someone hands me a book and proceeds to caution me about how “even though this is a good book, the author is a heretic on point X, Y, or Z.” Maybe it’s just the Protestant in me (or perhaps remaining elements of the Old Adam), but such tremulous cautioning makes me more inclined to give the “heretic” the benefit of the doubt.

    As a side note, I’m convinced that Wright wouldn’t be near the “problem” he is in Reformed circles if there weren’t so many jowl-wagging denunciations of his “heresy.” I get the need to respond to inadequate doctrine, but sometimes we are tactically stupid when we make authors like him into bogey-men. (i.e., the more forbidden he is, the more people are curious) On a happier note, it does seem from some tantalizing selections from his forthcoming volume on Paul that Wright has moved in a more Reformed direction in his understanding of justification.

    • I had hoped you’d chime in, Nevada!

      How you word #2 is helpful. Originally it sounded to me like he was saying to never mention to anyone that you’ve read the book. The clarification is beneficial.

      I agree too about the annoyance of cautions, although I think that is just a prudent pastoral practice – at least with congregants. Congregants can easily think that if a trusted pastor is reading a given book, then he must therefore be in agreement with that book. (I know, this isn’t always the case.) To warn a lay person to be discerning just seems like a good idea. (Incidentally, well-liked professors can do this too – students will often start gobbling up anything by a given author the professor mentioned on class. If there really is something to be concerned about, even professors do well to just be careful with that.) But I think you’re right too – the warning needs to be intelligent, not fear-mongering. I totally hear you … there are some people who give warnings in such a strident way that my assumption becomes that the writer is probably right on and the warnings given are more a result of poor categories on the warner!

      Instead of cautions, I usually like to just make disclaimers. (Tomato / Tomahto?) I figured that way the person knows about me and my stance on a particular matter but it doesn’t sound like I’m chiding them or treating them as undiscerning.

      I’ll be interested to hear if Wright is nuancing some of his readings of Paul on justification. I doubt I’ll be reading his 2-volumes anytime soon (too many pages and outside my academic discipline), but it does look like this will be the new reference work with which any scholarly treatment of Paul will have to interact.

      ~Andrew

      • Nevada says:

        Hi Andrew,
        I think the idea of “disclaimers” is helpful. So with someone like Wright I might say: “He is really good on Jesus and the Kingdom of God. He also has some fine material on Paul though I do find him a bit problematic on the topic of final justification.” This kind of statement tends to diffuse the “forbidden fruit” effect and allow congregants/students to appreciate Christians from other traditions without having to either defend or demonize their writings.

        To be honest, the entire reason I started reading N. T. Wright years ago was because members and ministers in URC churches that I attended at the time were expressing outrage over “the New Perspective on Paul.” Curious at all of the overblown rhetoric, I starting reading some of his essays. Frankly, I was thrilled by his emphasis on Paul and Jesus in their respective historical contexts and the ways in which he ironed out passages in Paul that had not made sense to me within a strictly doctrinalist framework. In particular I had long been troubled by certain readings of Romans 3 that seemed to miss the problems with δικαιωσυνη θεου and didn’t explain the sweep of Paul’s larger argument in Romans. (I had puzzled over this since reading Romans in Greek while in college.) I was also very excited about what I perceived as a substantial amount of overlap between Wright’s positions on Jesus and Paul and individuals like Vos, Ridderbos, and others in the redemptive-historical school.

        Over time, of course, I eventually came to recognize the problematic nature of his conception of final justification, but I’ve always been grateful for his firm insistence that people ought to read the New Testament itself in Greek and wrestle with it within its 2nd Temple context. To my mind, that is a solidly Reformed impulse! The church always stands under the Word, and the dialectical relationship between church and Word means that we must alway be willing to hear the scriptures anew.

        I also have to say (and if I’ve made this point before, forgive my repetition) that I am convinced that much of the N. T. Wright vs. Presbyterians/Reformed debate is really an exercise in talking past each other. This is especially apparent in Piper and Wright’s exchanges. Neither are terribly aware of the other’s methodological categories (and terminology), and that creates all sorts of communication problems. I find it very telling that many of Wright’s fiercest critics in the Reformed camp are not biblical scholars but historians and systematicians. At one level, I think this should give Wright some pause (especially in his naive statements about Lutheranism and Reformed treatments of justification and the Law). However, at another level, the methodological differences invite all sorts of misunderstanding given the different “contexts” within which each is seeking to interpret the text. In many ways it’s the old diachronic vs. synchronic debate revived in an ecclesial context with biblical scholars and systematicians playing their predictable roles.

        Alright… Enough of that… I’m getting off topic :-)

        Here’s was the interesting snippet from Wright’s new book as it appeared on Michael Bird’s blog (who incidentally is a top-notch Reformed Anglican New Testament scholar):

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2013/10/n-t-wright-on-justification-in-pfg/

        I don’t think it will alleviate all of our Reformed concerns, but as one commenter put it: “He’s come a long way since ‘What St. Paul Really Said.'”

  3. Monty Ledford says:

    Nevada, you hit the nail right on the head. I am wondering how much theology would have been done differently if we just translated “Christ” as “Messiah” instead of thinking of it as a sort of last name; Wright anchors Paul in his actual world of discourse, where Messiah came with its law and prophets accoutrements. I certainly have problems with his rejection of imputed righteousness, though. I read through “Justification” with what I thought was care, but now realize that I could not for the life of me recall what he said there. I guess I need to read through things several times over to get the point.
    On another note, coming home from the school where I work today, I found on the road a printed page blown by the wind from the nearby Catholic church, on which was printed out the traditional prayer to the guardian angel in Spanish and English–You know, “Angel of God, my guardian dear…etc.” This moved me to get out my copy of the Institutes and read Calvin’s great chapter on the angels, and that led me to get out my copy of Selderhuis’ biography of Calvin. Any comments on Selderhuis? I found him refreshing and easy to read.
    Also, any comments on John Frame’s new systematic theology? I know it is not officially published yet, but I was wondering if any of you had had early access to it and had anything to say about it. I know his other fine books are the fruit of his many years of teaching, and I had him at Westminster in Philadelphia, but I have not followed him closely enough over the years to know where or how some of his ideas may have changed.

    • Nevada says:

      Hi Monty,
      Honestly, I am a little mystified by Wright’s denial of imputation. Why he thinks he has to go after it, I’m not quite sure (especially given his understanding of union with Christ, which sounds a lot like imputation). My guess (and I’m speculating) is that he is reacting to what he perceives as a kind of category mistake. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he thought the Reformation paradigm had affinities with medieval notions of righteousness as a kind of ontological “substance.” Whatever the case, it is clear that he’s not terribly familiar with the nuances of Reformed and Lutheran exegesis and so he spends a great deal of time shadow boxing with opponents that don’t exist.

      I actually found his book “Justification” to be less than illuminating. In general I have not been a huge fan of his popular stuff (though I have read and appreciated some sections of Simply Christian). Most of it is simply his more academic material rehashed.

      At the end of the day, Wright is a British Anglican. Reformed folk often forget this. Anglicans are not Reformed in the Presbyterian or Continental sense. They do not submit to a confession (though they do hold to the ancient creeds). Instead they submit to their bishops who oversee their life and doctrine. This creates a high level of diversity, and given that the communion has 75 million members, it is not surprising that there are a variety of streams within the it (including the Anglo-Catholics who like to out-Roman the Romans). I would probably place Wright somewhere in the Evangelical wing of the Anglican church.

      Re: Selderhuis: I’ve never actually read Selderhuis’s book, but it looks interesting and well written. Being a bit of an iconoclast myself, I like Bruce Gordon’s biography (no hagiography there!).

      • Trent says:

        I hate Wrights popular stuff. He goes out of his way to praise himself and instead of saying popular evangelicalism today, he goes off on a schpiel on how the reformers are to blame. Everyone calls him out on it yet he refuses to retract his statements and/correct them. I read a quote from his P&FG on election and instead of naming he reformers he subtly implies they got election wrong too.
        He comes across as arrogant in those books and he may not be, but someone needs to call him on that percieved arrogance and less than gracious tone with those he hasn’t even read.

  4. Nevada says:

    Hey Andrew,
    I see Douglas Moo posted a review on Wright’s new Paul book. Here’s the link: http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/paul_and_the_faithfulness_of_god

    It’s disappointing that Wright’s final justification stuff apparently hasn’t changed much.

    On a different note, Moo epitomizes a Christian spirit of charity and humility throughout the review. This is exactly the sort of attitude/tone I think is appropriate when dealing with someone you disagree with.

    Anyway, thought you might be interested.

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