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Don’t Play Travel Ball: Stay in the Rec League

I have friends I respect whose kids have played (and some who do play) travel ball, and I mean no offense to them by this post. Nor am I categorically condemning their decisions and choices. I am offering these thoughts for parents who are considering whether to put their kids on a “competitive” team, or a “travel-ball” team, or a “tournament” team, or whatever it may be called in your sport and locale.

Don’t get me wrong: I love competition. I love excellence. And I want to provide the best competitive opportunities I can for my own kids.

I played two years of major college baseball at the University of Arkansas, and I’ve been coaching my sons in baseball and basketball for the last 7 years or so. These reflections grow out of my own experience playing and coaching and watching other families. My thoughts will be mainly applied to baseball, but I think they are valid for basketball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, and whatever else.

Here are 10 reasons I think you should keep your kid in the rec league rather than quitting it for travel ball. These are presented in the order in which I suspect most dads think about them, not in the order of importance I would rank them (#6 would be #1, and #4 would be #2).

  1. Kids should play not work.

Growing up I loved baseball. I wanted to play all the time, until I got to college and had to do so. When I walked on and made the Razorbacks, the sport I loved to play became a year-round job. A job is not a game. We practiced a lot, doing as much as the NCAA allowed, all year long, in season and out.

That’s fine for an 18 year old on the cusp of adulthood, but there’s no reason to put a 7–14 year old through that kind of rigor.

After my first year of it in college, I found that what had been so fun because I had the opportunity to look forward to it in the off season, or even on days between practice or games, began to feel like a dreaded obligation that consumed a significant portion of every day.

The daily grind not only sapped the joy of the game, it was physically punishing. My arm hurt all the time, and I wasn’t a pitcher. The journey the Lord had me on led to me being cut from the team after I did not play summer ball following my sophomore year. I had played non-stop from the summer before my freshman year, through fall ball, winter weights, the spring season, then summer ball before it started all over in my sophomore year. I needed a break, and I wanted to be a counselor at a Christian camp that summer (Kanakuk).

The gods of baseball punished me for my lack of devotion. I was sad when the team cut me from the roster, but I was also relieved. I had my schedule back. So much time was freed up by not having to go to practice. I could now study what I wanted to study, and my classes were no longer determined by baseball practice. I could rest.

I’ve heard of travel ball teams that play 60 games in a summer—for kids under 10!—and then they practice at least once a week through the winter.

I’ve also heard more than one parent tell me that after a few years of travel ball, in some cases only one year of it, their son decided he didn’t want to play baseball anymore. I never felt that way until I got to college, but looking at the demands of travel ball, I totally understand how the kid feels.

That’s why I’m writing this post. I want your son to love baseball, to have the opportunity to be a kid, and to play the game as a kid. Baseball should be a fun game for him not a demanding job.

Keep him in rec ball, where he won’t get burnt out because he’s a kid facing the demands of a profession.

  1. Your kid isn’t going pro (and that’s a good thing).

The percentages are outrageous. So many kids grow up dreaming, so few put on a big league uniform. No one should expect to make the show.

I grew up wanting to be a major league baseball player, and I’m so glad I never even got drafted. I spent my 20s laying the foundation for what I’m doing with the rest of my life, not bouncing around in the minor leagues. I got an education, got married, we started having children, and now I get to coach my kids.

If I was in the big leagues, my summers (and falls, and springs) would be dominated by an unrelenting schedule leaving no opportunity to coach my kids’ teams. Travel is not glamorous but grueling. How does a big leaguer have a family? And at best a professional athlete might play into his late 30s or early 40s, then what?

I submit that even with all the excitement of the game, and the money and fame that come with it, the life of a professional athlete is not one to be envied.

Don’t sacrifice your son’s childhood on the altar of the hope that he’s the next Derek Jeter. Have fun with sports, and use it to build character, not dream-castles in the skies.

Give your kid the chance to be a great person and cultivate that through sports.

  1. If your kid does go pro, rec ball is the likelier path.

On the off-chance that your kid is a freak athlete with the arm strength, foot speed, power, stamina, and character, who gets all the right breaks at just the right time, chances are he’ll rise up through the ranks of rec ball rather than being groomed on the travel ball circuit.

Small towns breed professional athletes, and the reason seems to be that kids in small towns aren’t over-coached, over-organized, and over-specialized by the travel ball opportunities found in larger cities. Small town kids grow up playing lots of sports not getting burnt out playing the same one all year round.

  1. Your family doesn’t need travel ball.

This is the one your wife wants you to care about. And you should. Your marriage matters a lot more than some sport your kid plays. What will travel ball mean for your marriage? What will travel ball mean for your other kids? If you’re coaching your 12 year old’s travel ball team, what does that mean for the rec league opportunities your 7 year old has? Do you want to miss the younger kid’s games and practices?

If you are traveling every weekend, or most of them, for a Friday, Saturday, Sunday tournament, what happens to non-sport family time? If you’re exalting baseball over all these other things, are you serving a false god, an idol, that is going to use you and then throw you away?

Is the travel ball opportunity your 7–14 year old kid has more important than Friday nights and Saturday mornings at home with the family? Is it more important than being at church on Sunday morning? (on which more below).

  1. Your wallet will thank you.

I don’t even want to think about how much parents pay for their 7–14 year old kids to travel to tournaments, to stay in hotels, to pay the tournament entry fees, and whatever else all this costs. I am confident that there are better ways to steward those thousands of dollars.

You may be betting on the kid getting a scholarship. I’m betting you would be better off saving your money to help him with college expenses. Consider D1 baseball: each team is allowed a maximum of 11.7 scholarships, and those scholarships can be divided up between players. The roster includes 35 players, 27 of whom can receive scholarship money.

When I was playing at Arkansas, none of my teammates had a full ride from the baseball program. Not one. The only kind of baseball scholarship D1 programs offer is a partial one. That means that even if your kid is the best thing since Babe Ruth, if he goes off to play major college baseball, the baseball team isn’t paying all the expenses. And given the number of kids playing and the number of available spots, even a partial baseball scholarship is terribly unlikely.

  1. You should be in church.

As a follower of Jesus, this consideration is the most important one for me.

I talked to a dad who was committed to having his family in church even when they were on the road—and he said they traveled as a family as often as they could—for tournaments. That’s commendable, but I suspect that those tournaments don’t always start the Sunday games at times that make finding a worship service possible.

More important than that, you and your family don’t need a summer long break from the life and fellowship of your local church. Christians need to be gathering with the same group of people every week to worship the risen Lord Jesus, to hear his word, and to fellowship with each other.

Kids need to see that Jesus and his church are more important to their parents even than baseball. Jesus is God not baseball.

You need the church, and the church needs you.

If you’re a non-Christian reading this post, don’t you want to live for something more than baseball? I would urge you to consider how trustworthy Jesus is, how he can reconcile you to God, how he has paid for your sin, and how his Spirit can enable you to love others and enjoy life with them in a gathering of people joined together at a local church. Baseball can’t raise the dead, but Jesus will do just that when he returns to make this world into the new heavens and new earth.

If you’re in Louisville, come check us out at www.KenwoodBaptistChurch.com.

  1. Better to play more than one sport.

I’ve alluded to this somewhat above. Kids need to play more than one sport so their rotator cuffs can recover, so their elbows can rest, so they don’t have to have Tommy John surgery at 17. They need to run and jump and exercise other muscles than the ones required by baseball. They don’t need to have baseball practice every week all year long, and you don’t need to be their taxi for that every week all year long either.

  1. Don’t dilute the talent pool in the rec league.

Part of the argument for travel ball is the appeal of better competition. As more and more kids get involved in travel ball, the best players are taken out of the rec league. It’s a vicious cycle. The best coaches and the best players stop playing rec ball in favor of travel ball, leading to fewer teams and a lower level of competition in the rec league.

  1. Don’t cause the rec league to dry up.

This is related to the previous: the best players leave the rec league for travel ball, and then the mediocre players get tempted to do so, and then all the kids get burnt out and stop playing baseball. Thus the rec league dries up. Was it really worth it?

  1. Don’t get seduced.

As I’ve talked to people about this dilemma, one friend proposed this to me: he said that I should start my own travel ball team, and I should commit myself to being “low-key” about it. Sound familiar? It did to me. Several dads had told me that they were leaving rec ball for a “low-key” travel ball team, or that they were adding a “low-key” travel ball team on top of the rec ball their son was playing.

But my friend who suggested that I do this also told me what was going to happen: he said I needed to understand that the other travel ball teams weren’t going to be low-key, so we would get pummeled at tournaments and probably lose every game. That would inevitably awaken the competitive impulse, leading to more practices, more effort expended, and the gradual creep to a higher key. He said he had seen it happen. Dads get into it for a little better competition not meaning for it to take over their lives, and the next thing they know their schedule and wallet are dominated by travel ball.

So I’m writing in the hope that you’ll see that rec ball is a better route. It’s better to honor God than to win, and it’s better for your kid to enjoy the game than for him to play at the highest possible level.

Conclusion

Do I think you are sinning if your kid plays travel ball? Not necessarily, but if your kid is in the 7–14 age range, I will suspect that you might not be pursuing the wisest course. I could be wrong. There may be instances in which it’s the right thing, and when a kid gets to be 15 to 16 years old, it’s understandable that commitment levels and demands are going to rise and choices are going to have to be made.

But I say be wise. Be a parent. And for the good of rec ball leagues everywhere, for the good of your family, and for the good of your kids, I would urge you to avoid travel ball until the kid is old enough to commit to a more demanding regimen. It seems to me that time comes in the mid to late teens, but that’s going to be a judgment call . . .

Bottom line: give your kids a childhood they’ll want to replicate with their own children not one they’ll react against.

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Great Books Selections for Fall 2015 and Spring 2016

When I was choosing which books to assign for Great Books at Boyce College this year, I googled the topic and surveyed the choices others had made. Teaching Great Books has been a joy to my heart. I was an English major, and I wish I could talk about these books like my teacher, the eloquent Skip Hays.

Here are the books we covered in the Fall of 2015:

Homer, The Illiad.
Pre-Christian violence and nobility in poetry that has been studied for thousands of years now, inspiring offshoots and firing imaginations as it supplied the straw for not a few bricks of literary metaphors, similes, and illustration. The Illiad shows that the adultery of Paris and Helen leads to the smoking ruin of Troy surrounded by its blood-soaked fields, Hector dead and Achilles hopeless.

Shakespeare, Macbeth.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through fog and filthy air.” Brave Macbeth cannot maintain his resolve to “do all that may become a man” and no more, and his false face hides what his false heart knows. Temptation. Ambition. Marriage. Murder. And in the end we see the triumph of the faithful and the downfall of the traitors.

Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment.
Old Fyodor was well acquainted with the dreamers who thought they could bring about a better world if only they could bring themselves to accomplish the worst crimes. All the “progressive” attempts to rationalize evil for the greater good are set forth in this 1866 masterpiece. And the harlot and the murderer find life together as they read the eternal Book. Lazarus, come forth!

Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
I agree with John Granger: the chronicle of the boy who lived is the shared text of this generation. Rich with biblical imagery and themes, laced with imagery and allusion to the western literary canon, the weak who love goodness, truth, and beauty overcome the strong who know only power and love only themselves. Love is the true magic, and the only person who really finds the Philosopher’s Stone is the one who seeks it to serve and benefit others.

Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
A flying Ford Anglia, a book within the book, and a hero who descends to the underworld to stab the snake in the head to save the girl. These stories get better page by page, book by book. As the characters grow the plots deepen in color and texture. Rowling’s seven volume accomplishment is unrivaled.

These are the books we will, Lord willing, consider this spring semester of 2016: 

Beowulf.
The noble champion defeats the seed of Cain and then slays the dragon as his disciples, that is, fellow-soldiers, flee the scene. Douglas Wilson has proposed an intriguing chiastic structure as well as a convincing explanation of the author’s apologetic art.

Shakespeare, Hamlet.
Another tale of another murder of another king. The Bard shows that those who kill to get what they want never succeed. Many think Shakespeare was a closet Roman Catholic in officially Anglican England, but Hamlet is a thorough protestant–studies in Wittenberg, even.

Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
This novel gives a better feel for what life was like in Paris during the reign of terror than a history book ever could. The romance of resurrection shows the power and the glory of the love than which there is none greater, when a man lays down his life for his friends.

Tolkien, “Leaf by Niggle.”
Tim Keller discusses this short story in his book Every Good Endeavor. Tolkien depicts the frustration of work in a fallen world followed by the fulfillment of all our efforts in the new heaven and new earth. To be read repeatedly and slowly, pondered and treasured.

O’Connor, “The Displaced Person.”
How will the world treat a helpful Jewish servant? Harrowing, convicting, and thought-provoking. Vintage Flannery.

McCarthy, The Road.
A father and son on the road in a post-apocalyptic world. Headed toward hope, carrying the fire, enjoying the small things, and there is nothing the father won’t do to protect his son from roving bands of cannibals. McCarthy’s prose is a thing unto itself.

Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Had to put volume three of the Potter series at the end of the semester so that students could read books four through seven over the summer. Because they will want to.

Happy reading!

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Book Excerpt: The Final Page of With the Clouds of Heaven

What a book the Bible is! There is nothing else like it. And to think that this unified book from the hands of so many individual literary geniuses transcends itself by imparting the knowledge of the living and true God. What a privilege to have such easy access to the text of Scripture in the original languages. For a taste of the Bible’s beautiful interconnectedness, here’s the final page of With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology:

“The book of Daniel contributes to the Bible’s unfolding redemptive historical storyline. Like a plug in an outlet, the book joins itself to the Bible’s broader narrative, and as the currents course through the light of revelation shines on the way things will go until God brings about the promised consummation (see chapter 2). The literary structure of the book of Daniel (chapter 3) demonstrates that the biblical authors used wide-angle strategies to communicate (cf. chapter 9). The books of the Bible are like cathedrals, with architectural features that repay close examination. The four kingdoms prophesied by Daniel (chapter 4) are both historical and symbolic: historical in that they match the kingdoms between Daniel and the first coming of Christ; symbolic in that they encapsulate the tendencies and characteristics of the kingdoms of the world, which will continue until the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. Daniel’s seventy-week prophecy (chapter 5) informs John, who interprets Daniel’s seventieth week as the inter-advent period (chapter 9). The one like a son of man seen by Daniel (chapter 6) is identified with and distinguished from the Ancient of Days in a way that would be mysterious until Jesus came as both son of David and the incarnation of Yahweh. The interpretations of Daniel in early Jewish literature (chapter 7) attest historical, typological, and eschatological interpretive strategies similar to those employed by the authors of the New Testament. The New Testament authors (chapter 8) provide a Spirit-inspired interpretation of Daniel that was learned from Jesus, and in Revelation (chapter 9) John uses Daniel’s language, imitates his structure, points to the fulfillment of his prophecies, and clarifies the meaning of his seventieth week. When we consider broader biblical theological and typological structures (chapter 10), we see that Daniel seems to have seen himself as a new Joseph, forerunner of the new exodus.

God accomplished the anticipated new exodus salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and he will yet once more shake the heavens and the earth as he did at Sinai. Then the kingdom that cannot be shaken (cf. Heb 12:26–28) will fill the earth, and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the dry lands as the waters cover the sea.”

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Is Biblical Faith a Kierkegaardian Leap?

These reflections were prompted by the first chapter of David Crump’s Encountering Jesus, Encountering Scripture: Reading the Bible Critically in Faith.

In his introduction, Crump is very clear that his understanding of faith has been heavily influenced by Soren Kierkegaard. Crump explains,

“Arriving at faith in the Word incarnate is not the inevitable result of a logical syllogism and doesn’t follow as the obvious sum of a line of convincing evidence. It is always a step, perhaps even a leap, across an otherwise unbridgeable gap.”

To test this, I want to compare it with Adam’s faith-response in the naming of Eve. Arguments similar to the one I’m about to make could be pursued with Abraham’s faith-response to the promise of Isaac and with Abraham’s faith-response when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac, but to keep this manageable I will limit myself to Genesis 3.

In some ways this is less about Crump and more about Kierkegaard, since these are Kierkegaard’s ideas that Crump has adopted and is heralding. The question comes down to this: does the Bible present faith as a leap or as something else? What that something else might be will become apparent as we continue, but those who would like a hint at where I’m going can take a glance at Romans 10:17 (and to anyone who wants to allege that Paul is controlling how I read narrative, I reply that Paul’s statements are summaries and interpretations of the narratives, meant to teach us how to read narrative–and turn the question back on my accuser: do you follow Paul or some other teacher?).

Adam had been told that he would surely die in the day he ate the fruit (Gen 2:17). He ate the fruit, then he heard the footsteps and hid (3:8).

When the Lord began to speak words of judgment in Genesis 3:15, he told the serpent that there would be enmity between him and the woman. Attentive readers might pause and ponder the fact that enmity seems to involve an ongoing conflict, which already begins to suggest that the death of Adam and Eve might not be immediate. That the author of Genesis intends to present Adam and Eve arriving at this conclusion shortly becomes apparent.

The suspicion that the death of Adam and Eve will not be immediate is confirmed by the next words of Genesis 3:15, where the Lord tells the serpent that along with the enmity between serpent and woman, there will be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This means that neither Adam nor Eve face immediate execution, for both are necessary for offspring to be born. In the final statement of Genesis 3:15, the serpent is told that he will receive a head wound from the seed of the woman, only delivering a heel wound himself, suggesting that the seed of the woman will defeat him.

When God speaks to the man and woman, the idea that though they will eventually die, their death is not immediate, becomes a necessary working assumption. The Lord tells the woman she will have pain in childbearing and a difficult relationship with her husband in 3:16, then he tells the man that his toil will be painful and eventually he will return to the dust from which he was taken in 3:17–19.

So Moses has presented these characters as going from the expectation of immediate death on the basis of what God had said in 2:17 and what they did in 3:6, to now having reason to think, to believe, that they would live, have at least one child, and that this seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent, hopefully triumphing over and defeating the one who brought evil into the world.

The next thing Adam does in Genesis 3:20 is give his wife a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “life,” accompanied by the explanation that “she was the mother of all living.” They expected to die, but now they believe they will live. On what is their faith that they will live and have children, with the hope that the child will triumph, on what is that faith based?

Is that faith a leap?

Rather than being a leap, Adam’s act of faith in the naming of Eve was a response to the word of God.

God made a statement that Adam and Eve had reason to believe. The word of God prompted their faith. Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the word promising a future redeemer.

Kierkegaard was an important philosopher who said challenging things to his generation, but when he talks about faith he does not present it the way the biblical authors do.

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Why You Need To Preach the Song of Songs

The smut is everywhere. On billboards, on TV screens, and eye-level in the checkout line at the grocery store, to say nothing of what is one click away on the device in your pocket or the screen on your desk. Beyond the superficial temptation of all the eye-catchers, the smut comes with a story. These sirens aren’t just singing an isolated hypnotizing song, they are selling a vision of the good life, appealing to your ideas about what pleasure is, about how you can have it now, and trying to convince you there won’t be a reckoning later. As though no one has ever foundered on the rocks trying to get to that shore.

These advertisements—from the billboards to the commercials to the mannequins—are all presenting themselves as icons that symbolize a wider story. They whisper in your ear: this is who you can be. This is how you can live. This is what you can look like. This is who you can have. And this life will satisfy all your longings.

But will it?

And if we’re convinced that there are longings deeper than the ones they’re stroking, how do we counter the intrusive message that saturates our surroundings? How do we convince other people that what they’re seeing is the harlot Babylon posing with that girl next door look? Can we woo them with something better, something that will entice them away from the lust that looses disaster?

Can I suggest to you that this is exactly why the Song of Songs is in the Bible?

What if there was something so beautiful it could break the spell of all that eye-candy? What if there was something so satisfying it would empower us to hear the siren song for what it is—an invitation to ruin and misery with the smoke of your destruction going up forever and ever?

Would God be so good to us that he would give us a book that could describe the lost intimacy of Eden? Not only describing it: holding it out as a possibility, offering it to us, inviting us to partake, inspiring us to imitate.

The Song of Songs, Solomon’s most sublime Song, is no more an isolated statement than those Viagra commercials are. The Song of Songs has to be read in the context of the story of the whole Bible.

That story starts with a couple in a garden, naked and without shame, in perfect harmony and bliss. Sin ruins their safety and shatters their intimacy, and they hide themselves from God and one another. God searches them out, and he promises a redeemer who will defeat the one who tempted them to sin. That redeemer’s line of descent is carefully traced, and eventually God promises that a descendant of David will rise up to redeem. When the prophets speak of what life will be like when he comes, it sounds like things will be better than they were in Eden before sin.

When God put that couple in the Garden in the beginning, he gave them to each other in marriage. Then when God made a covenant with the nation of Israel, he spoke of the relationship as a though it were a marriage. The unfaithfulness of Israel to the Lord was illustrated in the book of Hosea. The Lord commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute, and faithful Hosea stood for the Lord himself, while his wife’s promiscuity and unfaithfulness stood for Israel’s spiritual adultery.

The book of Hosea communicates the failure of the covenant between the Lord and Israel, leading to the “divorce” of the exile of the people from the land. There are plenty of indications in Hosea, however, that the Lord intends to make a new marital covenant with his people, after he has disciplined them for their sin (see esp. Hos 2:16–23).

If the book of Hosea presents a failed marriage, the Song of Songs presents a poetic success. The Song of Solomon depicts an idealized Solomon, scion of David, king in Jerusalem, who overcomes every barrier to intimacy between himself and his bride. This picture provides the wider backdrop that explains the way that carpenter’s kid from Nazareth came hailed as “the bridegroom.”

Once the Galilean had shown himself to be the long awaited Redeemer, the apostle Paul explained in Ephesians 5 that marriage exists so that the world will understand the relationship between him and his people: the new covenant between Christ and his Bride, the church. Then in Revelation 19 we read that the great celebration of his conquering kingdom is going to be a marriage feast.

The good life isn’t the lie of a non-stop, no-consequence orgy with the whore of Babylon. The good life is a permanent, exclusive, comprehensive union of one man and one woman in procreative marriage. In such marriages, husband and wife follow in the footsteps of the one who has made it so that the gates to the Garden of Eden stand open to those who keep his word.

Whatever those billboards say, your life is not about your looks and your identity and your pleasure. Your life is about God, in whose image you were made, and every marriage —including yours—is about Jesus and the church.

The Song of Songs is one movement in the Bible’s grand symphony. Heard in the context of the whole orchestral production, its movements, harmonies, and developments will ravish and purify, enrich and sanctify, deepen and delight. We need to listen closely. You need to preach it. So the Bride will be pure.

This article originally appeared at LifeWayPastors.com

On Wednesday, Oct 28, 2015, I’ll be leading a seminar on Preaching the Song of Solomon as Christian Scripture at the Expositors Summit at SBTS. 

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What Does It Mean That We’re Made in God’s Image?

Here’s the opening of a piece I wrote for InTouch Magazine:

Sometimes a counterfeit helps us understand the purpose of the genuine object. People produce counterfeit money, for example, not to hoard but to exchange for things of value. And that should remind us money is not to be treasured for its own sake but used. Those coins and pieces of paper have no value in and of themselves. They are merely conveniences that allow us to exchange our labor and expertise for milk, eggs, gasoline, books, and other necessities and pleasures. The same principle holds true for copycats of the imago Dei—a Latin phrase which means “image of God.” To shed light on the original, let me tell you about the knock-offs, the cheap imitations.

The whole thing is here.

 

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The Song of Songs: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation

Song of Songs CoverChristians have long read the Song of Songs as music that sings of the one who so loved his bride that not even death could keep him from her. If Hosea could present his relationship with Gomer as a kind of allegory of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, why couldn’t Solomon have done the same thing in his very positive depiction of the idealized king’s love for his bride in the Song?

Not only am I convinced that Solomon intended an allegorical layer of meaning for his poetry, I’m also convinced that he understood the importance of his role as Israel’s king, as the scion of David, and as one whose life and writings contributed to significant patterns of events. These patterns of events lay the groundwork for the assertion, “One greater than Solomon is here,” and such historical correspondences and escalations in significance are typological.

If Solomon intended the Song to be both allegorical and typological, we can describe it as Christological. My biblical-theological exposition of the Song, which has just appeared from Christian Focus, attempts to be faithful to the text and apply the truth of Scripture to the heart.

I pray the Lord will use this little book to help people feel his love, stronger than death, a flame no waters can quench, and I pray it will heal and strengthen marriages, guide and bless Bible studies, and bring glory to the Bridegroom whose voice made the Baptist rejoice.

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Can We Arrive at a Young Earth and 24-Hour Period Days in Genesis One from Scripture Alone? A Guest Post by Steve Ham

Steve Ham is the Senior Director of International Outreach at Answers in Genesis. It has been a privilege to get to know him and to enjoy his friendship. 

I do believe the Bible gives ample justification for calculating the age of the earth at around 6,000 years and for seeing six normal 24-hour days in the week of creation. I also believe that this position most appropriately meets the confines of the textual boundaries and best upholds the doctrine of Biblical perspicuity.

How Old Is the Earth?

To suggest that the Bible does not directly teach the age of the earth is to suggest that we need an explicit statement of age. The lack of an explicit statement, however, does not mean that something is an unimportant or undecipherable teaching. Notably, the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture, but with careful synthesis it is clearly understood from what the Bible directly states. Using Biblical data—such as the genealogies in the Old Testament—we can, with insignificant variance, approximate the amount of time between Jesus and Adam.[1]

Then there is the discussion of the six days of creation. Those who believe the earth is billions of years old base their understanding on the varied ways the word “day” is used.

We do not need a catalogue of quotations to serve as an appeal to authority for either side in this conversation. As with many other doctrines in Scripture, we could list innumerable respected orthodox Christian scholars of the past and present and note their varying views. In many of these instances we can also identify influences that led them to those views. Significantly, since the early nineteenth century there has been an escalating proportion of Christian scholars holding old-earth positions. No matter how much we try to rise above them, we all have to battle with the outside influences of our day when we come to the text. Regarding the days of Genesis and the age of the earth, the scholarly struggle most visible has been with uniformitarianism. Uniformitarianism became prominent in geology in the nineteenth century and holds that present processes dictate the way we understand the past. The quotations that follow (Augustine excepted) are presented to show that uniformitarianism has had an impact on the way many very respected godly Christian scholars and leaders have interpreted the days of Genesis 1. Consider the following:

  • Augustine did not hold to 24-hour periods in Genesis 1 and he could not have been impacted by uniformitarianism. But he did not hold to an old earth. He noted, “Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at the plodding pace at which they now pass.”[2] Augustine talks of creation as more of an instantaneous event and held to the genealogies of Scripture to arrive at no more than 6,000 years for the age of the earth.
  • Edward J. Young, writing after the popularization of uniformitarianism, wrestled with views of the scientific establishment of his day: “For one thing it is difficult to escape the impression that some of those who espouse a non-chronological view of the days of Genesis are moved by a desire to escape the difficulties which exist between Genesis and the so-called ‘findings’ of science. That such difficulties do exist cannot be denied, and their presence is a concern to every devout and thoughtful student of the Bible.”[3]
  • Gleason Archer’s words reflect a similar struggle (although unlike Young, Archer did advocate a particular old-earth day-age position): From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author (a questionable deduction, as will be presently shown), this seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.”[4]
  • R. C. Sproul, Sr. summarizes the difficulty that arises from the apparent discrepancy between the scientific consensus that the earth is old and his impression from the Bible that it is young:“When people ask me how old the earth is I tell them ‘I don’t know,’ because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible does not give us a date of creation. Now it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth. And at the same time you get all this expanding universe and all this astronomical dating, and triangulation and all that stuff coming from outside the church that makes me wonder.”[5]

We are all situated within a historical-cultural context, and we all come to the Bible with assumptions and ways of thinking that seem obvious because they are taken for granted in our culture. To some degree we all have an “outside influence log” in our own eye. We must be aware of outside influences and test everything by the Scriptures allowing the Bible magisterial authority from start to finish.

The Genesis Week

The week of creation unfolds sequentially, day by day, as God prepares the earth, creates plants, speaks the heavenly bodies into existence, creates animal life, and makes mankind in His image. There is stylistic beauty to Genesis 1, but such does not require that Genesis 1 fall outside the genre of historical narrative where some who also question a normal week of sequential days have placed it. One can see the difference between poetry and narrative simply by reading Judges 4 and 5, which contain a narrative account followed by a poetic song—both speaking of the same event.[6] Genesis is a masterful literary work, structured in such a way to communicate rich theological truth. It is a text that is both historically accurate and theologically profound. Furthermore, Genesis 1 and 2 was a suitable historical reference point for Jesus’ argument about marriage (Matthew 19:4–6, Mark 10:6–9).

Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, which state God’s commandment for the Sabbath, are best understood in light of a literal creation week correlating to the normal week of an Israelite’s experience. McCabe notes, “He created the universe in six, sequentially arranged, normal days. Both passages use an adverbial accusative of time (‘in six days’). This grammatical construction indicates the duration of God’s creative activity by stating how long it occurred, ‘during six days.’ This construction, as Benjamin Shaw has correctly noted, ‘implies both that the days were normal days, and that the days were contiguous. Thus, the “dayness” of the six days, as well as the seventh, is essential to the meaning of the Sabbath commandment.’”[7]

I also believe the seventh day to be a normal 24-hour period. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy. If we are to see God’s rest on the seventh day as an enduring or unending day of rest, we would have to ask the question, How then on this blessed unending day is the earth cursed with the fall of Genesis 3?

When Does a Day Mean a Day?

Yôm (day) in the Old Testament generally refers to a normal day.

– When yôm is used with a cardinal or ordinal number, it refers to a normal day.

– When yôm is used with the words morning, evening, or night, it refers to a normal day.

– A possible exception noted recently by Justin Taylor is Hosea 6:2. Yāmîm, the plural of yôm, is used in Hosea 6:2. Some have used these passages as examples for when the plural of yôm does not mean a literal day. Others believe that Hosea 6:1–3 shows that if Israel would repent, God would quickly heal and forgive them—making sense of a normal day. It may be possible that it is used both ways. Others believe it is pointing the restoration of Israel in the eschaton and used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:4. Either way, this one example is disputed and so it is a very weak justification for not taking the days of Genesis 1 as literal.

Andrew Steinmann notes that Genesis 1:5 employs yôm with an ordinal number as well as with the contextual indicators “evening” and “morning” and says, “Evening is the transition from light/day to darkness/night. Morning is the transition from darkness/night to light/day. Having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day. Hence the following equation is what Genesis 1:5 expresses: Evening + morning = one day.”[8]

Why Be Concerned?

The question I prefer to ask is, What is wrong with believing the world has been here for millions of years?

  1. We should be able to apply our conclusions about the text to the world we live in and find consistency. This is what it means for the text to inform our view of the world and not the other way around. Genesis 3:18 states that thorns and thistles are a consequence of sin. On the assumption of the Bible’s historical accuracy, I must therefore assume that wherever I see thorns and thistles, they are a product of the fall. We do see fossilized thorns and thistles in the geological record in layers assumed by uniformitarians to be millions of years old. If uniformitarian dating methods are right, this would necessarily place these fossilized thorns and thistles before humans and, given what Scripture plainly states, before the sin of Adam and Eve. Therefore, I reject the uniformitarian assumptions that establish ages for the geological layers.
  2. We also see these thorns and thistles in the same geological layers as animal fossils, and fossils with evidence of disease. Paul tells us that, because of sin, the whole of creation is groaning (Romans 8:22). Old earth views would necessitate placing a groaning creation prior to its cause, sin.
  3. In Genesis 1:29–30 we find that animals and humans were created on the sixth day as vegetarians. If the fossil record is millions of years old and precedes the fall, we should not find evidence of carnivorous activity – yet we do.

Placing the consequences of sin before the intrusion of sin itself creates problems that the young earth position does not have. This raises questions about God’s purpose and character and makes this issue exceptionally important to me.

Because of Jesus’ victory, we can be assured that all things will again be reconciled—and not just the elect but the entire creation. To what state will the creation be reconciled if not to its original state of perfection? We hope not for a future full of disease, suffering, animal death, or thorns and thistles (Isa 27:4; Romans 8:21; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20).

Psalm 104 has sometimes been used as an objection to this noting that the Psalmist is talking of an original creation that includes lions going after their prey. It also, however, talks of ships on the sea and man going out in his labors. The Psalmist is acknowledging that the wonder of creation—even the corrupted creation he is seeing in his time—was originally by the hand of God.

Conservative evangelicals are also fighting against the naturalistic explanations of evolution and the allowances made by some for an allegorical Adam and Eve. We should take heed that the idea of an allegorical Adam and Eve is only ever raised in a context where the world is thought to be millions of years old.

God called His finished creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). I cannot read this statement in any other way than as the creation being a reflection of God’s pure and holy character. The idea of millions of years of death and suffering prior to sin allows too many things that conflict with God’s holiness and perfection.

It is always profitable to discuss the Bible with Christian brothers. I read and admire the writings of great Bible scholars of the past and the present, some of whom held or hold views on the days of creation that I cannot agree with. The issue of the earth’s age is a significant one, and serious discussion of these important issues is a sign of spiritual health. This subject, I contend, matters more than most will admit or perhaps have carefully considered.

While Martin Luther could never claim infallibility, I believe he has given us an example of the type of humility we all need. The trick is applying it consistently. Luther asserted with humble boldness: “When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.”[9]

[1] Tim Chaffey, “Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies? Appendix C,” Answers in Genesis, March 22, 2012, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/are-there-gaps-in-the-genesis-genealogies/. Note from JMH: Fred Zaspel raises good questions about the possibility of establishing dates from the genealogies (http://www.credomag.com/2013/03/08/telling-time-in-scripture-part-22/) but I am not convinced that the problems he raises are insurmountable.

[2] Cited in John Hammond Taylor, St. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Newman Press, 1983), 1:141.

[3] Edward J. Young and Robert Young, Studies in Genesis One (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1999), 51–52.

[4] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 156.

[5] “The Age of the Universe and Genesis 1 — A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture,” Ligonier.org, June 22, 2012, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/age-universe-and-genesis-1-reformed-approach-science-and-scripture/.

[6] A helpful work by Steven W. Boyd presents a strong case for reading Genesis 1 as narrative, studying and cataloging 522 historical narrative and poetic texts, and classifying Genesis 1 as historical narrative with a probability of virtually one. See a presentation of Boyd’s material in “A Proper Reading of Genesis 1:1 to 2:3” Donald DeYoung, Thousands Not Billions: Challenging the Icon of Evolution, Questioning the Age of the Earth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2005), 158–170.

[7] Robert V. McCabe, “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 2 of 2),” DBSJ 11 (2006): 112–13.

[8] Andrew E. Steinmann, “One as an Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5,” JETS 45, no. 4 (2002): 583.

[9] Cited in Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 1523.

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Chesterton on the Convincing Accumulation of Evidence

From Orthodoxy:

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind.

I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.

Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences. I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it.

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Anachronistic Assumptions and the Documentary Hypothesis

David M. Carr opens his book, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature, as follows:

In her book Oral World and Written Word, Susan Niditch vividly illustrates the problems with contemporary assumptions about ancient textuality, as she outlines the picture many biblical scholars often assume in their discussions of biblical formation. Critiquing the traditional documentary hypothesis (J, E, D, P), she says:

At the heart of the documentary hypothesis [sic] . . . is the cut-and-paste image of an individual pictured like Emperor Claudius of the PBS series, having his various written sources laid out before him as he chooses this verse or that, includes this take not that, edits, elaborates, all in a library setting. . . . If the texts are leather, they may be heavy and need to be unrolled. . . . If texts are papyrus, they are read held in the arm, one hand clasping or “supporting” the “bulk” of the scroll, while the other unrolls. Did the redactor need three colleagues to hold J, E, and P for him? Did each read the text out loud, and did he ask them to pause until he jotted down his selections, working like a secretary with three tapes dictated by the boss?

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The Days of Creation and Exodus 20:11

Justin Taylor has caused quite a stir with his post on “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.”

The decisive factor for me is how earlier biblical statements are interpreted by later ones, so Exodus 20:11 is BeastMode (a.k.a. Marshawn Lynch) on the goal line in this argument.

Re-reading the Van Pelt quote JT gives on Exodus 20:11, I think it misses the point and fails to do the job old-earthers need it to do.

The point Moses is making in Exodus 20:10–11 is a different point from the one being made in Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3–4.

The author of Hebrews cites David as saying something like this in Psalm 95:

  1. God did the creation for six days, then rested on the seventh day.
  2. God did the redemption at the exodus, then offered Israel rest in the land.
  3. Israel rebelled in the wilderness, so God swore they would not enter into his rest–the rest he offered them in the land.

The author of Hebrew sees David in Psalm 95 drawing an analogy between creation and redemption, and between God’s seventh day rest and the rest Israel was to enjoy in the land of promise.

The rest that remains in Hebrews 4:1 would seem to be a rest analogous to the one offered to Israel, along these lines:

  1. 6 days of creation, followed by sabbath day rest;
  2. Exodus from Egypt, followed by an offer of rest in the land;
  3. New Exodus at the Cross, followed by the promise of rest in the fulfillment of the land (new heaven/new earth).

It seems that just as John 17:3 says that eternal life is knowing God and Christ, so also Hebrews 4:2 says that those who believe have an already/not yet experience of the future rest now, even as we pilgrimage through the wilderness toward the city that has foundations (not least because we have rested from our works–which points to salvation by faith not works).

It is not the intention of either David or the author of Hebrews to assert that God’s seventh day rest was something other than a single day that stood at the end of the six days of creation. That David and the author of Hebrews are drawing analogies does not indicate that they are thinking of something other than a normal week.

Then when we go to Exodus 20:10–11, we find Moses drawing an entirely different analogy than the one drawn by David and the author of Hebrews. The analogy Moses draws looks like this:

  1. God created in six days. God rested on the seventh day.
  2. You work for six days. You rest on the seventh day.

The most natural reading of Exodus 20:10–11 seems to be that the six days of creation followed by the sabbath day of rest was a cycle of the same kind of seven day week that was to become the pattern of Israel’s experience.

It’s hard for me to imagine someone coming to some other kind of conclusion unless he seeks to accommodate extra-biblical considerations from philosophy (a la Augustine) or science (a la contemporary old-earthers).

Here are the theses I would offer for discussion:

  1. The most natural reading of the text is that in Genesis 1–2 Moses intends his audience to think of a normal week of seven days, and that reading is confirmed in Exodus 20:11 (cf. also 31:17).
  2. We can hold such a position with epistemological humility and not, as AiG does, suggest that old-earth creationists (such as Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware) are opening the door to abortion on demand and gay marriage.
  3. The real lesson of the Galileo episode is that Christians should not tie their understanding of the Bible to scientific theories.

If God created Adam as an adult male, he has no problem making something that has the appearance of age.

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The Days of Creation and Death Before the Fall

What follows is my response to Gavin Ortlund‘s response to Douglas Wilson. Check them out for context on this conversation that plunges right in mid-stream.

Gavin tries to deal with death before the fall, but I don’t think we can retroject onto the pre-fall situation what “must” have been the case given the way things are now.

If I grant that humans would not have died had they not sinned, can I not imagine a situation where low-level organic life might not have died either? Gavin says the world would have become uninhabitable apart from those kinds of death. How does he know? Couldn’t there have been some pre-fall, uncursed, very good way that God had in the offing to deal with those realities? I suspect he could have handled the logistics.

As for the overhaul of creation that is proposed if predatory behavior only begins after the fall, again, we don’t know what those eagles and eels and saber toothed tigers might have used their peculiarities for in a very good world. It sure looks to me like the animals weren’t afraid of people until after the flood (Gen 9:2), which would seem to imply that maybe they weren’t a threat to humans until that point, either.

Could God have designed eagles and eels and tigers with some other purpose than predatory behavior? I suspect the pre-fall world was different in ways we don’t conceptualize, so I’m not prepared to close down that possibility.

Acknowledging what I don’t know and can’t imagine seems a lot safer than elaborate speculations about demons and a fallen creation prior to human sin. (Gavin acknowledges the speculative nature of his proposal that “nature fell when angels fell.”)

I would rather believe what the Bible says and need more information than it gives me than adopt a hypothesis that entails extra-biblical information requiring exegetical gymnastics to pretzel the Bible’s statements around my theories.

I trust the Bible more than I trust that extra-biblical information.

The Bible’s material provides us with a grammar of sorts, and out of that grammatical material we construct our lexicons and syllabaries and mental books on syntax that we use to conceptualize and talk about the world.

It seems to me that the grammatical data on this one is pretty straightforward. Note the avoidance of the word literal, here. What I’m saying is that the grammatical data that the Bible gives us builds up an interpretive world where “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed'” (Exo 31:17 ESV) means that we are to think of God making the world in what we think of as a normal week. Then a bunch of other statements in the Bible get built out of that same stuff.

There is another set of grammatical pieces of information that drives people to look at a verse like that and say something like: well, actually it wasn’t a normal seven day week at all but was in reality a longer period of time than we can begin to conceptualize. The grammatical data that leads to that kind of interpretation of those words and phrases comes from outside the Bible, not inside it.

As for the three-tiered universe, I want to think further on that. I want to keep reading the Bible and see if what has happened to me in the past doesn’t happen to me on this one – I come to an understanding of the texts that makes total sense and gives the lie to the conclusions that, in my view, folks like Peter Enns have jumped to on these matters. Would love to tell you what I’ve come to conclude about Enns’s vaunted movable well.

On the specifics of the scientific evidence, I remain untroubled by the distance light has traveled from the sun or very distant stars. If God can create Adam as a full grown man, he can create a lot of other things that look like they’ve been growing for a while, too.

The idea that God did such things is easier for me to stomach than the alternatives. In fact, it’s not hard to stomach at all, and it begins to taste like honey from the comb.

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Read the Bible: Kindle Reading Plan

Chris Dendy came up with the idea for the God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment Bible Reading Plan, and Lindsey Jacobs designed it. The plan pairs daily Bible readings with relevant sections from God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, and you can read more about it here.

A number of folks requested that the plan be made available for the Kindle version of the book, and Chris and Lindsey have come through with one.

In addition to the two plans available for the print copy of the book, here’s a plan that will take you through the Kindle version: Kindle Reading Plan.

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My Favorite Books of 2014

Surveying the list of books I read this year, these jumped out at me as the most significant. These are books I intend to revisit, the kind of books that need to be known not merely read.

In no particular order:

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths

The best one stop resource for everything you want to know about Greek mythology. Aha moments aplenty areading this magnificent summary replete with artistic renderings. Knowing this material will fertilize the imagination and help you understand the myriads upon myriads of references to the classical heritage in all learned writing.

Clement Wood, Poets’ Handbook

I had no idea there was so much to know about poetry! How vast and deep was (and is) my ignorance. Clement Wood may have been a socialist, but he loved his poetry and knew it thoroughly. This is a comprehensive look at how poems are made, illustrated with many poems worth committing to memory. This book will help you understand the sublimity of the genre and give you language to describe it.

Manchester and Reid, The Last Lion

These monumental volumes must be listed separately:
Volume one: Visions of Glory
Volume two: Churchill Alone
Volume three: Defender of the Realm

This three volume set is easily the best biography I have ever read (actually I listened to it on Audible–highly recommended! Would that Frederick Davidson could have read all three volumes). Who is more colorful than Churchill? When did a figure more clearly understand himself to be in a vast struggle between good and evil with civilization at stake? Who could have made more memorable statements in such situations? Thoroughly heroic. You will not be disappointed by these books.

Scott Crider, The Office of Assertion

The logic of this book was so tight I felt dizzy at times. The sentences held exactly what they needed and nothing more. The prose as limpid as its content lucid. This is a beautiful book on rhetoric from which all preachers and teachers will learn.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals

Lincoln. What else needs to be said? I don’t know whether he was converted to Christianity near the end of his days, but the most noble things about the man were the points at which he was most like Jesus. Noble. Forgiving. Serious. Moral. Loving his fellow man. Seeking the right. A great depiction of a great man.

Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind

An absolutely fascinating history of ideas. The sentences Tarnas reels off are astonishing–full of precision and insight. Such summaries of Plato and Aristotle! Really puts the turning of the gears of the ages of philosophy into perspective. Then after a masterful survey, he goes into full wingnut mode in the final pages: the archetypal evolution of the collective psyche? The perinatal dialectic of the re-experienced birth canal produced by an LSD trip as studied by Stanislav Grof!? The sad thing is that he seems to be serious. He really believes that stuff. May God give him the new birth he needs, that the passion of his western mind might truly reunite with his ground of being in knowing God through Christ by the power of the Spirit.

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Asia Reformed Ministries

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to draw your attention to the relatively new website for Asia Reformed Ministries. I have twice been with them to teach pastors, and the work they are doing is cause for great rejoicing. The darkness stands no chance against the one they proclaim.

I would encourage you to check out the website, read about the work, and consider making a year end contribution to this tip of the greatest cause’s spear.

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Deuteronomy Section of GGSTJ Online

The section on Deuteronomy from God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology has been excerpted and published in the latest issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT).

If you’re considering doing the GGSTJ Bible Reading Plan and want to sample the book, click on over and check it out.

This is an excellent issue of SBJTHere’s the Table of Contents:

Stephen J. Wellum, Editorial: Reading Deuteronomy for God’s People Today, 3–5

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Has Any People Heard the Voice of God Speaking … And Survived?, 7–17

James M. Hamilton Jr., The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment in Deuteronomy, 19–33

Peter J. Gentry, The Relationship of Deuteronomy to the Covenant at Sinai, 35–57

John D. Meade, Circumcision of the Heart in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: Divine Means for Resolving Curse and Bringing Blessing, 59–85

From Condemnation to Righteousness: A Christian Reading of Deuteronomy: Jason S. DeRouchie, 87–118

A.B. Caneday, “Anyone Hung Upon A Pole Is Under God’s Curse:” Deuteronomy 21:22-23 in Old and New Covenant Contexts, 121–36

Book Reviews, 139–57 — includes reviews by Stephen Wellum, Jarvis Williams, Matthew Hall, and James Parker

The entirety is available as a free PDF.

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Review of Timothy Stone’s Book on the Five Small Scrolls

A version of this review was published in the most recent issue of Themelios.

Timothy J. Stone, The Compilational History of the Megilloth. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 59. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013. 258pp. Paper. $94.

What is the Megilloth and what difference does the history of its compilation make? The Megilloth are the “five small scrolls” (Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations) in the third section of the tripartite Hebrew Bible referred to as the Writings (Law, Prophets, and Writings). The issue of how these scrolls came to be grouped together is related to the wider question of when and how the Writings began to be considered in relationship to one another. Some think that the Old Testament canon was not closed until after the time of Jesus, and this view is often accompanied by the idea that the Writings are a random collection into which later rabbis sought to introduce meaningful organization.

Tim Stone[1] makes a historical and exegetical case for the view that these five small scrolls were intentionally grouped together into a meaningful arrangement as the canon was being formed and that “the tripartite canon was likely closed within mainstream Judaism sometime considerably prior to the end of the first century C.E.” (3). Stone builds on the work of Brevard Childs, Roger Beckwith, Julius Steinberg, Christopher Seitz, and others. He first discusses the question of Canon and Compilation, contending that “Canonization is not a dogmatic judgment passed down from above, but rather one at work in the canonical process” (13). Using the assembling of the Twelve Minor Prophets into a meaningful whole and the strategic arrangement of the Psalter as points of comparison for what he argues about the five small scrolls, Stone develops “compilational criteria” that he employs to analyze the relationships between the five small scrolls: 1) catchwords at the end or beginning of juxtaposed books; 2) framing devices such as inclusios; 3) superscriptions; and 4) thematic considerations (33). Discussions of the collection and arrangement of the Writings follow, and these set up the exegetical probes Stone uses to test and confirm his theories. Ruth and Esther receive chapter length treatment, and then the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations are sounded before Stone summarizes his findings.

Stone helpfully sets out three theses that outline his project (9). I will shorten these theses further, allotting only one statement for each: 1) the tripartite canon of the OT was closed well before the end of the first century [AD]; 2) there are only two main arrangements of the writings before the eleventh century C.E. (after which orders proliferate): those found in BB 14b and the MT; and 3) the five small scrolls are purposefully arranged (with slight variations) and sit in the middle of the Writings, preceded by a wisdom collection, followed by a national-historical collection.

I am enthusiastic about the confirmation Stone provides for an early closure of the OT Canon and the purposeful arrangement of those books. His project is a stimulating contribution to the pursuit of canonical biblical theology. As intriguing as his suggestions are, however, and as much as I agree with him that the canonical context of a biblical book should influence its interpretation, I hold vastly different conclusions on the meaning that results from consideration of the canonical context of books such as Esther, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. Stone’s view is that the canonical context of the book of Esther results in the conclusion that Hadassah (the character named Esther) is “an assimilated Jew who has forgotten Israel’s God” (173). Privileging other canonical material, I would see Hadassah as a model of biblical femininity, a faithful Jew who trusts God and makes the best of a bad situation. This example illustrates the inevitably subjective, perspectival nature of the necessary task of looking beyond the boundaries of a particular biblical book for wider canonical context.

On the matter of the organization of the five small scrolls, Stone proposes a chiastic structure:

Ruth

Song of Songs

Ecclesiastes

Lamentations

Esther

Ruth is positive, Esther negative; the best Song is matched by the worst; and at the center of the chiasm stands Ecclesiastes, the only book in the collection that “lacks a main female character” (206–207).

Some of the interpretive conclusions Stone draws, such as the idea that Mordecai and Esther are made to appear in a negative light by virtue of the way their actions differ from those of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1–6, seem speculative and unwarranted. I am remain unconvinced that the author of Esther intended his audience to derive a negative conclusion about Esther and Mordecai because their circumstances were different than those of Daniel and his friends.

This point about authorial intent leads to a wider difficulty with the project of deriving meaning from the arrangement of the biblical books—and I say what follows as one who seeks to do canonical biblical theology and believes that English translations should adopt the tripartite order of the books of the Old Testament. In my view, the biblical authors were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21), with the result that the final form of what they wrote is what should be regarded as inspired by the Holy Spirit. With this, the controlling concern in interpretation is what the Spirit-inspired biblical author intended to communicate. So unless it can be shown that the author of Esther, for instance, consciously composed Esther to be read against the backdrop of Daniel 1–6 and as a foil to Ruth, intended meaning is being attributed to someone other than the biblical author. It seems impossible to establish that an inspired prophet such as Ezra was responsible for the arrangement of the canonical order of the books, though there is strong evidence that Ezra may have done just that. If we cannot be certain that the Spirit inspired a prophet to organize the books into meaningful arrangement, then it seems we are considering the history of the reception and interpretation of the books and their arrangement rather than interpreting the intended message of the biblical author(s).

[1] Timothy Stone taught for two years at Zomba Theological College in Malawi as a PCUSA mission co-worker and now serves as a visiting professor at Eastern University. The Compilational History of the Megilloth is a revision of his doctoral thesis done at St. Andrews.

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SBTS Publications in 2014

Here are some ideas for Christmas and/or birthday gifts for the pastor, theologian, missionary, evangelist, seminarian, or teacher/student of the Bible in your life. Last year I posted a list of books from the SBTS Faculty in 2013, and I’m following it up with this list of books from the SBTS Faculty in 2014.

I may have missed something. If so, please bring it to my attention and I’ll update the list.

It’s an honor to serve the greatest cause with these great men. List alphabetical by author’s last name.

Gregg R. Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment

Dan Dewitt, Jesus or Nothing

Dan Dewitt, The Owlings: A Worldview Novella

Duane Garrett, Exodus

James M. Hamilton Jr., Ezra and Nehemiah: Rebuilding People and Wall

James M. Hamilton Jr., With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology

James M. Hamilton and Thomas R. Schreiner, (contributors), Adam, The Fall, and Original Sin

Michael A. G. Haykin, George Whitefield

Michael A. G. Haykin, Patrick of Ireland

Michael A. G. Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson Sr., To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy

Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan

Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones, Proof

Jonathan Pennington and Stephen Wellum (contributors), Heaven

Thomas R. Schreiner, editor, with James M. Hamilton Jr., Michael A. G. Haykin, Gregg R. Allison, Shawn D. Wright, and Bruce A. Ware (contributors), Shepherding God’s Flock

Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff K. Walters, Introduction to Global Missions

Mark A. Seifrid, 2 Corinthians

M. David Sills, El Llamado Misionero: Encuentre su Lugar el el Plan de Dios para el Mundo

Donald S. Whitney, Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards. . .

Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

May the Lord bless your study, and may the Lord bless the administration, faculty, students, graduates, and supporters of SBTS and similar schools seeking to advance the gospel. If you’d like to know more, head on over to sbts.edu.

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