Praying the Bible: Book Review

9781433547843 I wish to start by saying that I’ve read a lot of books on prayer. Some have been helpful and some I wish I didn’t even take the time to finish them. For Don Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible, I can faithfully say this is a book that has been incredibly helpful.

The book is short and can be digested within a day if one truly wanted to – yet I would recommend slowing down and taking stock in what is written. It is an incredibly accessible book, organized well, and clearly articulated. Better yet, he advocates a simple methodology to enhance and revitalize your prayer life.

If you are anything like me, prayer can be a difficult thing to be enthralled with some days. We have hordes of literature giving ten easy steps to a better prayer life that impose upon the reader that if they neglect step 7, their prayer life will go unfulfilled. Beyond this, the repetitious task of completing such steps often removes the joy of prayer and places upon one’s self the yoke of burdensome prayer. Prayer should never be a burden.

Instead of tasking the reader with multiple steps to a better prayer life, Whitney simply advocates a simple approach: you pray using scripture as your source, namely, the Psalms. The reason being: we can avoid vain repetition in our prayers, use inspired text that covers a wide range of emotions, doctrines, and troubles, and initiate the conversation of prayer with God freely. It focuses our minds to keep us from wandering during prayer and is incredibly easy to implement. All one must do is open up the Psalms, pick a passage, and pray through it.

The task is not one in which we must pray every single line found within that Psalm; it is content driven, utilizing the text as a means to follow the paradigm of praise given in the Psalter. Thus, one can praise God’s character, give thanksgiving, express lament, petition Him to act, and close again in praise and thanksgiving.

In this, Whitney advocates that we allow our minds to bring certain things to light as we pray through the Psalm. Thus, an easy example from Psalm 23:1 would be as follows:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I praise You in Your provisions and leadership in all aspects of my life. You bring forth food for even the birds of the air – let me not be concerned with provision as the Gentiles are, but instead trust that You will be faithful in all things and uphold your beloved children. I thank you, as my shepherd, that You guide me. May You continue to guide me in righteousness, that I may display the richness of Your grace to all who see me. May You guide my children upon this path that they might fear you and come to see wisdom in Your Law – for it is good, and holy, and righteous. May You provide for them the way of salvation. Open their eyes to see and ears to hear of Your great mercy, so that they too shall see what it means to not be in want.

One verse can prompt content-rich, biblical prayer. Imagine what you can do with the rest of a Psalm that has been repeated throughout the church so much that most can recite it without hesitation – yet don’t meditate on what it means. In this, you not only meditate on what the passage is saying, but you take directly inspired words of God back to Him in prayer. You are speaking to the Lord using His language. In more simple words: you are seeing the Lord initiate the conversation through the scriptures, and you are simply responding to them.

I can promise you that if you struggle with prayer – and you read and faithfully implement the practice he lays out, you will have an enriched prayer life. It is so simple, yet so effective. Buy the book, read it, and put it into practice. Use what time you have, whether it be a few minutes or an hour (which before I felt was daunting, but if you have the time and want to continue – simply turn to the next Psalm. If you don’t know how to pray from that Psalm, turn to the next).

It really is that simple.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway Books through the Beyond the Page book reviewer program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?

9780805446548_cvr_webIn reading Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope, one can’t quite help but see the effect of Enlightenment ideals upon modern critical scholarship. Interestingly, the primary concern isn’t liberal scholarship, but the growing tendency within conservative Evangelical scholarship to deny a strictly Messianic interpretation of many key Old Testament texts. While this does not indicate all of these scholars are denying a Messianic understanding of the text, Rydelnik’s concern is the detraction from a clear Messianic understanding to the original audience: the prophet delivering oracular (and later, written) revelation to God’s covenant people.

The Content:

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the purpose of why Messianic prophecy is important. What is unique to this chapter is not simply the admonition of Rydelnik from Luke 24:44, but the perspective he brings to this study as a Messianic Jew. For Rydelnik, understanding the role of direct Messianic fulfillment is deeply personal. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish home, he witnessed his father divorce his mother over her conversion to the Christian faith. Rydelnik, seeking to disprove his mother’s newfound faith, went to the Hebrew Scriptures, only to find they indeed spoke of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Chapter 2 addresses how modern interpreters approach the Old Testament’s Messianic prophecy. In this section, he deals respectively with Historical Fulfillment, Dual Fulfillment, Typical Fulfillment, Progressive Fulfillment, Relecture Fulfillment, “Midrash” or “Peshur” Fulfillment. While he acknowledges there are various other interpretive methods, these are the most common found in Evangelical scholarship.

Chapters 3-7 yield evidence to defending his thesis that direct prophetic fulfillment of the Messiah is the most frequent form of interpretation that should be seen. Chapter 3 deals with text-critical evidence, espousing that variant texts supporting the Messianic reading are to be preferred over the MT. Chapter 4 builds the case by examining innerbiblical evidence, namely, to display that later biblical authors read the former as Messianic.

Chapter 5 present canonical evidence to display the united theme of the closed Hebrew canon to reveal a Messianic understanding in the specific shaping of the canon, as well as the books included. Chapter 6 brings New Testament evidence to display that the NT writers and Christ believed the OT writers knew they were writing about the coming Messiah, rather than the NT authors adding a more full, inspired Messianic meaning to OT prophecy. Chapter 7 explores the hermeneutical principles of the NT in regard to understanding messianic prophecy; not all examples are direct fulfillment – thus, it is important for us to take note of these principles in order to see Christ in the OT.

Chapter 8 is devoted to trace the influence of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (otherwise known as Rashi) from his own time, the Reformers, and our current day. Most notably, Rydelnik builds the case that Rashi intentionally interpreted direct messianic passages in an anti-messianic fashion in order to dissuade Jews from believing in Yeshua.

Chapters 9-11 focus on key messianic texts, including Gen. 3:15, Isa. 7:14, 52:13-53:12, and the book of Psalms (namely Psalm 110). Genesis 3:15 he regards as Protoevangelium, that is, the “first gospel” account between the promised seed of the woman who will crush the head of the snake. From the prophets (Isa.) he critically defends reading the Hebrew almah as “virgin”, rather than “young maiden” and for the messianic interpretation of the passage rather than historical fulfillment. In using Psalm 110, Rydelnik again views this to be a messianic passage referring to the future King who will reign forever upon the throne of David.

Finally, in chapter 12 Rydelnik issues a plea to return to a messianic understanding of the Hebrew Bible, as this is the intended, historic meaning of the text.

Why Does This All Matter?

In anything we are studying, we ought to ask the simple question: what impact does this have upon the church? What are the natural consequences of rejecting a Messianic interpretation outright (Historical Fulfillment), holding to a Sensus Plenior interpretation (Dual Fulfillment), a Progressive Fulfillment, and so forth? Are there weaknesses for the argument of a Direct Fulfillment interpretation of these passages?

While I have generally viewed the discussed passages as inherently Messianic, it is troublesome for more than a few reasons to see many leaving these interpretations behind. One of the most problematic inferences to this would seem to pose an unintended detriment to scripture’s perspicuity. If the scriptures are clear in matters of Messianic expectation to us, it would seem self-evident that they should be so for those whom first heard the promises of God regarding Christ. The potential drawback to refraining from understanding the direct fulfillment of Isaiah 7 can easily lead to a slippery slope, failing to uphold the virgin birth of Christ. Many may claim this to be an overstatement – yet hermeneutically, we have seen this departure take place in more than one account of scholars who have espoused this view.

Beyond this, to assume the NT authors utilized creative exegesis to arrive at their conclusions emphasizes the inability for one to understand the text as it should be understood. I understand there are difficulties in arriving at the same conclusions regarding some of the NT usage of OT texts as messianic fulfillment, yet it would seem that this is not a hermeneutical problem of the NT authors. The problem of understanding is within us.

Final Thoughts on the Book:

While there were some things I could not fully get behind in Rydelnik’s treatment (such as Isa. 7:13-15 and v. 16 depicting another child other than the Messiah), the book was absolutely phenomenal. Within the footnotes is a treasure trove of information that the reader would be foolish to bypass; they are there for a reason. The format of the chapters and overall layout of the book is excellent and easy to follow, thus, it made for pleasurable reading.

There are difficult parts to follow if one doesn’t have a thorough background in the original languages (especially in dealing with text critical issues in why the MT should not be followed in certain passages) – yet it is not detrimental to understanding the breadth of his argument. I feel this work is pertinent to our time, as some Evangelical scholars are embracing more liberal treatments of the text and supplanting their own definition to particular doctrines (take for example, Blomberg’s current stance on inerrancy). It is an incredibly important topic, especially with regard to how we understand the revelation of Christ in the focus of redemptive history.

I would fully recommend this book.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B & H Academic through the media reviewer program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

The content of this review was also posted on another site I contribute to: http://www.chorusinthechaos.com/

Banner of Truth Book Giveaway (Last Day)

I’m a sucker for books, especially free books. If you are too, here is a link to a promotional giveaway from Banner of Truth, including the Puritan Paperbacks set, Romans commentary series from MLJ, and Lectures to my Students from Spurgeon.

http://throughtheeyesofspurgeon.com/giveaways/huge-banner-of-truth-giveaway/?lucky=12080

Hearken, O’ Earth

Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face.
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.

The First Time We Saw Him

9780801016301Matt Mikalatos sets out with a noble goal in his book, The First Time We Saw Him. The intended purpose of the book appeals to understanding the scriptures with fresh eyes, namely, the eyes we once saw them with at the initial point of salvation. In these early months of receiving the gift of faith, we read with veracity, having scales fall off of our eyes due to the cleansing effect of His word upon our souls.

While he never goes into an in depth description of what discipleship is, Matt aptly points out that discipleship is not simply a body of information that needs dissemination to new converts. Rather, it is modeling this behavior in light of having the correct information from scripture. Thus, it is akin to Paul saying, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” Orthodoxy meets and informs Orthopraxy. Though we don’t know the principles by which Mikalatos informs his understanding of Orthodoxy – this statement is incredibly solid.

His writing is clear and articulates what he desires to within the text. Simply stated, this book is easily accessible to those who have difficulty reading and maintaining focus. However, Matt takes liberty with common parables of scripture by rewriting them. Many convey a similar intended meaning yet ultimately fail to do justice to the text.

One specific example is in respect to the parable of the Good Samaritan. However, instead of the Samaritan being a Samaritan, Mikalatos changes the character to a practicing Muslim. Surely, Matt displays the “Good Samaritan-Muslim” as the one who exhibits compassion upon the needy soul as others whom we would expect to act pass by unflinchingly. However, the context of this parable is in reference to salvation.

Remember, the expert in the law asks Christ, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This parable hinges off of the premise that saving faith is one that understands not only the facts of salvation, but puts them into practice. Matt specifically writes in his dialogue of the parable, “Could the teacher be saying that a man like this is closer to eternal life than a respected pastor or seminary student [who do not respond accordingly]?”

The intended point in this passage is not to diminish a proper understanding of the Law – but that a true understanding of it brings about a heart of compassion. In other words, Matt’s “Muslim Samaritan” is not closer to eternal life, as his beliefs are still damnable. The illustration used asks that if one has poor or false teaching and is still merciful – how might the one who understands what the Law requires reconcile deliberate disobedience to it?

Beyond this, we see Christ portrayed on the cross in the manner of a kicking and struggling, unwilling participant in the crucifixion. This is horribly inadequate and against what scripture teaches. Christ went willingly to the cross, enduring the punishment and despising the shame of it – however, He did so with full intentionality and without complaint, bowing in submission to the Father to accomplish His will.

While Matt aptly highlights some of the costs associated with following Christ, and respectively, not following Him – one of them is not eternal separation. Beyond this, he treats the cost of following Christ without particular clarity. Part of this is obedience to the scriptures, another, losing one’s life (as Piper so eloquently puts it, “picking up the means of your execution and carrying it to the place of execution). Following Christ requires a large cost – yet not following Christ requires a large debt that cannot be satiated by those who are not in Christ. It is more than missing out on a transformed life – it is missing out on restored fellowship to your Creator and subsequently being damned to eternal punishment.

The larger problems in this book are not theological premises, but attitudinal. Namely, Matt never addresses the heart behind one’s lack of desire for scripture and how to read it, nor plainly, the sin in this. What is paraded instead is an appeal to emotion – ultimately implying that there is something wrong with the person who picks up their bible in the morning to be faithful, and doesn’t feel anything when they read it. In other words, when we read the scripture (especially the words of Christ – seemingly, displaying more of the red-letter preference nonsense) we ought to be touched in our hearts every single time.

To be clear – I am not saying that one ought not feel anything in the midst of reading scripture. However, I will emphatically argue that being faithful to dive deeply into the recesses of God’s revelation to mankind is not about getting the fuzzy-duzzies. For an excellent treatment of this, read this link.

The attitude with which one ought to bring to reading the scriptures is not one of sensationalism, but of desiring to know the Lord and His active plan in redemptive history and how that affects those whom are called. Moreover, ask questions like the following (and more): What do the scriptures teach about the condition of man? In what ways is the gospel applicable to my current situation? In what ways do I need to repent? In what ways can I further understand God, His purpose for the church, and His sanctifying work in my life? In what ways do I need to understand how to share this with others? How does this particular passage fit within its context – and how then does it apply to the church? What does the passage teach is the proper response to the truth I am reading? How then, do I practically respond in obedience to the truth that I am confronted with in order to please God?

Overall, I would not recommend this book. Another title I would recommend in its place would be: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Life Update: Seminary is Here

So incredibly thankful to the Lord today. I am not officially starting seminary until this upcoming Tuesday, but I received an email today allowing access to one of my first classes. Now some may see this as a bit dorky, and I am completely fine with that (as it rightfully is a bit dorky to get so worked up over being able to access classwork sooner than needed).

For me, this brings me tears of joy and gratefulness. I was a man who flunked out of college because I decided to get high and deal drugs to sustain my habit and other expenses. I lost jobs, family, and friends because of the life I lived. I saw things that I can never be unseen in a house of debauchery – a house that I propagated and sustained in that debauchery. At some point the Lord was gracious to open my eyes and bring me from death to life in Christ.

He planted the desire to go back to school, for an English degree; I made it a year in that program before He changed my desire to be a man who studied a greater word than any human author. I just graduated this last Spring at MBI, having raised my GPA back from .35% to 2.9% to finish out my bachelor’s.

I am overwhelmed with the Lord’s kindness as I start this new journey in seminary – not simply because I get to go to school now with a desire to learn, nor because I deserve to be in school (or even because I’m done with “gen eds”), but because the Lord saw fit to plant the calling in me to pastor. Now I know not if that is within the Lord’s will for me – but it is my greatest desire and I have never had anything consume me with such passion as this.

I love God’s Word and I wish to impart that same love to others. So what particularly am I thankful for? The fact that the Lord is gracious in allowing me to have the chance at dying all over again. This time though, I have the opportunity to die to self, whereas before, I was dead in sin.

This time through, I have an opportunity to give it everything I have. If I am ever to be fit for use for the pastorate, there is undeniably much in me that needs to change; that I might become less so Christ is made much of.

I was asked just a few short days ago, “Would you like a church full of people just like you? Your shortcomings and your strengths?”

My honest answer: no.

Pray with me as I make this journey to become a man worthy of the calling placed on me. It is so easy to do this all for vain glory. Give praise with me that I am able to be afforded this opportunity and that whatever may come, I just perform honorably, diligently, and with humble trepidation in knowing that what I am setting out to do incurs greater judgment upon me. Not many should become teachers.

I know time will pass quick enough; I know I have a strong enough desire to see it to the end (I’m stubbornly decisive and unflinching in my resolve when I earnestly believe something is good, worthy, and honorable to God in my pursuit); pray that I would continue to see this opportunity as I do now: an incredible blessing given to a man who once spat in the face of God, never tried at anything, believed everything should be handed on a silver platter, and was just content in his sin.

May I never make light of that blessing – and may I be wholly mastered by the text as I apply myself wholly to the study and application of it.

Richard Dawkins on Abortion

I’m quite glad that Richard Dawkins is refreshingly honest in issues of abortion, pedophilia, and rape. I find this sort of honestly admirable for one simple reason: it doesn’t cloak itself in nobility. Instead, it is cold, calculated logic for him to simply express one extremely common reason why women abort (among many others). While I disagree completely with that logic, I appreciate it simply because it displays the logical outcome of a man who views morality in a completely twisted manner.

In reading replies to his initial Tweets, you see only three different outcomes:

  1. His logic is sound. Aborting Down syndrome fetuses is kind, charitable, and morally correct. The person with Down syndrome simply suffers, having little quality of life, and will be a burden to those whom have to continuously cater to a perpetual child.
  2. Richard Dawkins is correct in his logic, however, he should have used a more neutral term than “immoral” in regard to those whom decide to raise a child with Down syndrome. The reason being, it is inherently their choice to raise a child – yet it would also be perfectly acceptable to terminate the pregnancy based on the fetus’ poor mental and physical health.
  3. Richard Dawkins is completely incorrect in his logic and is trying to play God. A fetus is life, life is precious, and thus, whatever quality of life one is given is not contingent upon the value of that life.

When looking at these things, we must understand the framework Dawkins operates under. I am not specifically speaking of the framework of his atheism, though that is inseparable from how he formulates his worldview. I am speaking of identifying his terminology and his definitions of those terms.

  • Fetus/it: Dawkins will use the term fetus over and again. It will not be referred to “life,” though it is living. The more impersonal you can make it (even abandoning impersonal pronouns, such as he/she – and using “it” instead) the better.
  • Non-essentialist: A non-essentialist believes that the substance (the properties that make something what it is, without which, it would not be that thing) does not imply virtue. Thus, it is then easy to say, biologically, a fetus is not human because humanity goes beyond a simple bundle of cells that will one day develop into the substance of a human being (i.e. logic, emotion, etc.).
  • Suffer: In the terms of an adult, low quality of life (specifically, what qualitatively substantiates a normal life style that is not inhibited by intellectual malady). In the terms of an unborn infant, will they be capable of reasoning in the womb that they are being destroyed? Though the infant may feel such pain, it is not cognitively responding to that pain except on the basis of bodily reaction. There is no emotional response, mental recognition, nor is there fear (beyond naturalistic primal fear).
  • Moral/immoral: subjective to the person’s desires (i.e. – not necessarily pertaining to social norms, but inherently built in societal structure and benefit of said society and individual).
  • Logic: devoid of emotional reasoning in any sense. What this specifically means is that it represents factual basis without an appeal to rational emotion. This is used in his integration of the sciences within what he would deem a philosophical question, such as abortion rights.

This is obviously not a treatment on the fullness of Dawkins’ vocabulary and his presupposed definitions – but it is helpful to understand nonetheless. On the basis of using these terms, he neatly defines his parameters and contains the argument where he desires it would go. Thus, any person in disagreement is disqualified as a rational thinker, as they substantiate their claims with emotive responses rather than based off of what is factually represented and naturally observed or tested.

He further claims that only in “intellectual dishonesty” can one substantiate claims against him. The sciences and philosophy of applied sciences will undoubtedly back him up. Essentially, what proponents of this worldview are saying is that you are stupid for believing otherwise due to an appeal to sources, which cannot be empirically tested or validated. This causes problematic reasoning in that we cannot ascertain what is morally acceptable beyond what develops consensus in subjection to each individual. Thus, each man does what is right in his own eyes – but as a collective sect.

Though there are societal constraints in defining moral evil (we see this in respect to laws governing the states) – we cannot possibly define moral evil in the basis where there is no law. Thus, it is problematic for a man like Dawkins to say that cannibalism in a third world tribe is truly evil, though it would be considered morally evil within his own society. This can be qualified by saying, “if you think that this is an endorsement of cannibalism, go away and learn how to think.”

This appeals to autonomous, societal rule, yet simultaneously, self-rule for the individual; freedom to make whatever choices they desire, be it through sexual expression, the governed right to abort, euthanasia, tribal practices, etc. All of these imply a personal, subjective value so long as they do not become matters of legality – yet the issue at hand is in regard to disagreeing with Dawkins. Though he “would never dream of imposing his views on anyone,” it is illogical and immoral to make the choice of keeping an unborn child who was screened positively for Downs. His apology is not one of sincerity in offending a position, but of one where he is seen as totalitarian.

So why do I find anything to appreciate out of all of this? I find Dawkins to be much more candid than most others who hold the same conviction. I find these convictions to be horribly atrocious – but he doesn’t cloak it with feigned dignity. He is ignoble, a downright fool, contradicts his own rules of logic, and a hater of God and His people – yet he is completely open in expression, even if he has to qualify his statements.

He is willing to go where his argument takes him. Most others simply will not because they either don’t have the fortitude or the foresight to see where it fully leads. For these likes, they simply bow down to the intellectual giants of their field and feign nobility, walking around in blissful ignorance to the true conclusion of their belief system.

Everyone is a worshiper; the difference simply comes in what they worship.