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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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Andrew Peterson: My Love Has Gone Across the Sea

Andrew Peterson’s The Monster in the Hollows has this lovely lyric embedded within the wider story:

My love has gone across the sea
To find a country far and fair
He sailed into the gilded west
And lo, my heart will never rest
Until my love returns to me
Or I set out to find him there.

Come home, come home! I sing to thee
My love, come home and rest thy head
I’ll watch for you the winter long
And sing for you a summer song
And if you can’t return to me
Then I will sail to you instead

Through tow’ring wave and shriek of gale
I’ll aim my vessel ever west
And steer it by the cord that bound
My heart to yours, until you’re found
And should you find my body pale
And wrecked upon the loamy shale
Rejoice, my love, and call me blessed!
In death, my love, I loved you best

You can read his explanation on the Kickstarter page for The Warden and the Wolf King, and you can see his daughter sing it with him here:

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Idiot’s Guides: The Bible

Before we had kids, my sweet wife and I got a dog. I knew I didn’t know anything about how to train a dog, so I bought Dogs for Dummies, and set to work. The book was entertaining, brief, and insightful. It advocated concentrated, reinforced, rewarding (as in, give the dog treats when he does what you want him to do) training time with the pup. We were in a season of our lives where I could carve out 30 minutes a day to spend with Spurgeon, and though his behavior wasn’t perfect, he was a very good boy.

My experience with that book makes me very excited that my friend Ben Phillips of SWBTS Houston is the author of the new version of the idiot’s guide to the Bible. Ben has a lot of personality, a lot of energy, and best of all he’s an evangelical. What a blessing that the publisher got someone who believes the Bible to write a guide to the Bible!

I suspect you’ll see this book in all the major bookstores, and I trust you’ll join me in asking the Lord to prosper his word. May this book help that great cause.

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Unsung Heroes: People Who Made the Response Possible

I think the best people in the world are probably the ones whose names you never hear. These are the people who live and serve like Jesus did. He wasn’t in big cities all the time, didn’t write any books, made no headlines, networked with no one important.

He was with fishermen and no-counts, prostitutes and sinners.

Why am I reflecting on these realities this morning? Because of the little glimpse I had into how hard the dedicated Communications team at Southern Seminary worked to bring out God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.

I’m not aware of all the details, but they had a very short turnaround time to meet the deadline of having that project ready to go when the Vines book released last night at 3am. They worked nearly until that time, some of them having started almost 24 hours earlier. While the rest of the world was watching the NBA Playoffs or sleeping, this team was re-reading, editing, fixing, and fussing over that last detail.

They left it all on the court.

So if you are helped by this book that Heath Lambert, Owen Strachan, Denny Burk, myself, and Dr. Mohler wrote the words of, let me encourage you to thank God and pray for the people who made sure those words were grammatical, made sure the references were right, made sure the cover looks sharp, and did a thousand other things that we would never imagine such a project would entail.

I give praise and thanks to God for the quiet, behind the scenes work of Jim Smith, Steve Watters, Aaron Hanbury, Eric Jimenez, RuthAnne Irvin, Matt Damico, Jason Thacker, Jason Coobs, and I probably haven’t gotten them all. Unsung heroes. Thank you guys. I’m praising God for you.

If you know these folks, you know they are talented people who each have important stuff going. Know, too, that like their Master, Jesus, they can serve when there won’t be any recognition, when they won’t get so much as a mention on a masthead. But when you see a phrase like “SBTS Press,” know that there are hardworking people making that happen. Pray for them. Thank God for them. Where would we be without them?

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Check Out Books at a Glance

Jim Zaspel writes:

Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? If you love books, your greatest frustration is keeping up – “So many books; So little time!” we say. Books At a Glance is a new online service designed to relieve this frustration, and in doing so it provides a much-needed service.

“Executive summaries” is a familiar concept in the business world, and this is what Books At a Glance now does for Christian readers. Their book summariescondense the leading argument(s) of a book, chapter by chapter, into a mere 7 – 10 pages. This enables you to keep informed and up to date and widen your learning in minutes, without infringing on your schedule. And of course it will help you know which books you want to purchase for a deeper understanding of the book’s topic. You can check them out at www.BooksAtaGlance.com.

In addition to book summariesBooksAtaGlance.com also offers book reviews, author interviews, and a blog, and their list of resources grows daily.

You will see on their Board of Reference that Books At a Glance comes with rich endorsements, and I am impressed with the excellent staff of Review and Assistant Editors that have teamed up for the work. I’ve been aware of the development of this website for some time, and now that it has launched I expect this to be a very useful tool for many.

Check them out at www.BooksAtaGlance.com.

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Marriage Redefined Step-by-Step

Dr. Mohler has an important analysis of the Utah court ruling on polygamy, in which he traces the “progress” toward the redefinition of marriage:

Of course, the moral revolution that has transformed marriage in our times did not start with the demand for legal same-sex marriage. It did not begin with homosexuality at all, but with the sexual libertinism that demanded (and achieved) a separation of marriage and sex, liberating sex from the confines of marriage. So sex was separated from marriage, and then sex was separated from the expectation of procreation and child-rearing. Marriage was separated from sex, sex was separated from reproduction, and the revolution was launched. Adding to the speed of this revolution, then, was the advent of no-fault divorce and the transformation of marriage into a tentative and often temporary contract.

Once that damage had been done, the demand to legalize same-sex marriage could not be far behind. And now polygamy is enjoying its moment of legal liberation. Once marriage was redefined in function, it was easy to redefine it in terms of permanence. Once that was done, it was easy enough to redefine it in terms of gender. Now, with the logic of moral revolution transforming marriage in all respects, polygamy follows same-sex marriage. If marriage can be redefined in terms of gender, it can easily be redefined in terms of number.

The intrinsic relationship between the purpose and function of marriage and the intimate relations God designed to be enjoyed within marriage (a permanent, exclusive, one-flesh, comprehensive interpersonal union of one man and one woman) is precisely why Denny Burk’s What Is the Meaning of Sex? is the most important book published this year. More on that shortly.

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Books from SBTS Faculty in 2013

This year (2013) the SBTS faculty published the following books (alphabetical by author’s last name):

Chad Brand, Flourishing Faith: A Baptist Primer on Work, Economics, and Civic Stewardship

Chad Brand and Tom Pratt, Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty, and Political Economy in Christian Perspective

Denny Burk, What Is the Meaning of Sex?

Dan Dewitt, A Guide to Evangelism

James M. Hamilton, The Bible’s Big Story: Salvation History for Kids (children’s book)

James M. Hamilton, What Is Biblical Theology? 

Michael A. G. Haykin, Ardent Love for Jesus: English Baptists and the Experience of Revival in the Long Eighteenth Century

Michael A. G. Haykin, A Consuming Fire: The Piety of Alexander Whyte (Kindle ed.)

Dr. Haykin was also presented with a festschrift in his honor: The Pure Flame of Devotion: The History of Christian Spirituality

Heath Lambert, Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace

R. Albert Mohler, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (contributor)

Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon 

Robert L. Plummer, The Story of Scripture: How We Got Our Bible and Why We Can Trust It

Robert L. Plummer, Understanding the Bible: A Guide to Reading and Enjoying Scripture

Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments

Owen Strachan, Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome

Brian Vickers, Justification by Grace through Faith: Finding Freedom from Legalism, Lawlessness, Pride, and Despair

Members of our faculty also contributed to the following edited volumes:

From Heaven He Came and Sought Her

In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture

The Call to Ministry

Acting the Miracle

Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling

I think I got everyone–if you see something I overlooked, please do bring it to my attention!

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The Thrilling Adventure of Bible Reading

I’m honored to commend the new book by R. Reed Lessing and Andrew E. Steinmann, Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament, Concordia, 2014.

Here’s my endorsement:

To read the Bible is to risk a thrilling adventure through wild jungles with thunderous cataracts and soaring timbers teeming with life. Some turn its pages like those who would make rain forests into concrete wastelands for billboards and bobos. Others, and we thank God for the likes of Drs. Steinmann and Lessing, come to the forest with a gleaming eye and forward lean, eager to plunge in, to explore the glories and relish the sights and smells and sounds, for there is always more to see. This book will take you on a life-changing expedition through the Book of books. Your guides are as faithful as they are courageous, and you will not regret your time on this excursion with these authors. Enjoy!

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For Our Good Always

Congratulations to Daniel I. Block on a festschrift (celebration-writ) presented to him by his students, edited by Jason DeRouchie, Jason Gile, and Kenneth Turner, For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block.

Here’s a personal testimony to the generosity and magnanimity of Dr. Block: I was a PhD student here at SBTS in the days when Dr. Block was part of the faculty here. My sweet wife worked as a secretary on campus the first year, and the word among the student wives serving as secretarial staff was that profs proved their Christianity in the way they treated secretaries. Dr. Block had a great reputation among those dear ladies, and one time he had a cookout at his home for the secretaries and their husbands. It was one of those evenings in Louisville that makes me think of the word halcyon. Dr. Block’s lawn and hosta beds were like the garden of Eden.

On another occasion, I had written an 80 page (!) paper that was related to my dissertation. Dr. Block disagreed with my conclusions, but he agreed to read it. I realize now how generous it was of him to agree to read that long paper. He not only read it, he provided detailed, handwritten feedback. I am grateful.

Congratulations, Dr. Block, and thanks for your good example.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

With a title adapted from Deut 6:24, For Our Good Always is a collection of 25 essays from evangelical scholars on the message of Deuteronomy and its influence on Christian Scripture. No other book colors the tapestry of biblical thought quite like Deuteronomy. It synthesized the theology of the Pentateuch, provided Israel with a constitution for guiding their covenant relationship with Yahweh in the promised land, and served as a primary lens through which later biblical authors interpreted Israel’s covenant history. Recent advances in scholarship on Deuteronomy and developments in biblical interpretation are raising fresh questions and opening new paths for exploration. This collection of studies wrestles with Deuteronomy from historical, literary, theological, and canonical perspectives and offers new questions, presents original discoveries, and makes innovative proposals.

The volume is offered in honor of Daniel I. Block on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Few Old Testament scholars have worked so ably, carefully, and intentionally to help the church and the academy grasp the message of Deuteronomy. Block’s own studies always exhibit an admirable balance of exegetical rigor, literary and theological awareness, and pastoral care, and for well over a decade he has, like the priest-scribe Ezra, devoted himself to the study, practice, and teaching of the deuteronomic torah (Ezra 7:10), helping and urging others to hear the life-giving gospel of Moses in Deuteronomy. The international group of specialists that contributed to this volume consists of Daniel Block’s colleagues, friends, and former students. It is their hope that these studies will in various ways supplement Daniel Block’s work, serving the church and the academy and honoring the God of Israel.

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Two Interviews

Shawn Tabatt welcomed me onto his Author Talks program to talk about The Bible’s Big Story. Have a listen.

And yesterday at SBTS Chapel Dr. Mohler hosted an Author Interviews Panel with Tom Nettles, Tom Schreiner, Denny Burk, Heath Lambert, and me. You can watch below or grab the audio.

Here are the books discussed:

Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth

Schreiner, The King in His Beauty

Burk, What Is the Meaning of Sex?

Lambert, Finally Free

Hamilton, What Is Biblical Theology?

I wish we could have turned the questions Dr. Mohler asked us back to him, so that we could have heard about his recent Conviction to Lead.

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What Rowling Said about Dumbledore

I’m sure you’ve heard what J. K. Rowling said about Albus Dumbledore: “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”

Dumbledore is a hero, one of the good guys through all seven novels. Unlike the way he is portrayed in the movies, Dumbledore is neither bumbling nor weak. He is commanding, authoritative, strong, sure, and only defeated by superior forces, never inferior ones. Dumbledore didn’t die because he made mistakes or because he absentmindedly mismanaged some magic. He died because he laid down his life, playing his appointed part in the outworking of a grand providential plan into which he had remarkable insight.

How do we deal with the information that Rowling has given us? How do we respond to her declaration that she thought of him as gay?

This calls for wisdom.

We should ask, I think, at least two questions: (1) what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire, and (2) what is it that makes Dumbledore a hero? Let’s start with the second first.

Is Dumbledore a hero because he has decided that the desires he feels must be right? Has he concluded that his appetites are to be gratified? Has he chosen what he wants over what he deems right? Has he chosen what is easy or what is true and good? Has he done whatever he wanted to do without concern for how it affects other people? Does he advocate that his impulses, his freedom, and his right to do whatever he wants to do matter more than any consideration of traditional morality or societal standard? Does he demand the right to throw off moral norms and be considered righteous by everyone?

The answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who has read the fabulous Harry Potter stories. Dumbledore is a hero not because he has thrown off Christian morality and Christian conceptions of what is good and true and beautiful but because he has embraced them. Dumbledore is a hero because he selflessly opposes evil—moral evil—and the definition of moral evil in the Potter stories corresponds to the definition of moral evil in the Bible. Dumbledore is heroic because he is Christ-like.

There is a character in the Harry Potter stories who has moved beyond traditional morality, who has decided that his appetites are to be gratified, that what he deems right is what must be true, that what he wants he will have without respect for the way it harms others. This character says that there is no good and evil, only power. There is a character who chooses that path, but his name is Voldemort not Dumbledore.

I would suggest, then, that Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction does not take away from our conception of him as a hero but adds to it because it shows us one more way in which Dumbledore has crucified evil, selfish, fleshly desires for the sake of what is morally true, ethically right, lovingly beautiful, and in every way good.

Skeptical of my interpretation of Rowling’s intentions? Need proof? Let’s move from the second question to the first: what does Rowling show us of Dumbledore’s conduct as it relates to homosexuality/same-sex desire. We’ll answer this question at two levels: on the surface, then under the surface.

On the surface, Rowling shows us nothing of Dumbledore’s same-sex attraction. That’s why people were shocked when she announced it. Observe: Dumbledore never overtly declares that he is gay. He never says or does anything to identify or define himself in those terms or by his own desires. Dumbledore never evidences a desire for a day when people’s conception of what is “moral” will be different so that he can pursue his impulses without social stigma. Dumbledore never encourages anyone to “transcend” moral norms of acceptable sexual orientation. In fact, I contend that Dumbledore would view that not as transcendent but as transgression, and this is precisely what makes him heroic.

Had Rowling not told us Dumbledore was gay, we would never suspect it. We would have seen Dumbledore as the self-sacrificial, wise, good hero that he is. And we would be right. Now let’s move from the surface, from what we can know from reading the novels for ourselves, below the surface, to what we might suggest about what Rowling shows in the novels now that she has given us this tidbit about her conception of Dumbledore.

I want to make three suggestions here: first, Dumbledore seems to have chosen a life of celibate singleness. Second, Dumbledore seems to take steps to protect himself and others from his own harmful impulses. Third, Rowling is therefore implicitly presenting Dumbledore as a heroic model for how those who struggle with same sex attraction can nevertheless be good and true.

First, Dumbledore has no partner. Rowling indicates that he had a dalliance in his youth, a dalliance that involved a plan to raise up a new world order, likely extending to a redefinition of sexual morality. While Rita Skeeter and other slanderers use Dumbledore’s youthful mistakes to call his character into question, the characters in the novel who see the truth understand that while Dumbledore may have forayed into those waters in his youth, he fled them and spent the rest of his life fighting those floods. Dumbledore seems to have learned from his own past, and he seems to view his youthful involvement with Grindelwald as a mistake. As a result of his own mistakes and his awareness of his own weaknesses, he is prepared to extend mercy, to give second chances to the likes of Rubeus Hagrid and Remus Lupin. He even trusts Severus Snape. Dumbledore is a great man not because he looks at people’s wickedness and trusts them anyway. He is a great man because though aware of people’s past wrong choices, he is willing to give them new chances to make the right choices. I would add that Dumbledore is fully prepared at all times to accept responsibility for his mistakes, for his own wrong choices, and he confesses them and repents. His desire in giving second chances is a desire for others to recognize their own wrongs, turn from them, and do right in the future.

Second, think of the way that Dumbledore protects himself and others from his own weaknesses. In chapter 37 of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore explains to Harry that he distanced himself from Harry to keep Voldemort from exploiting any perception that their “relationship was—or had ever been—closer than that of a headmaster and pupil.” Dumbledore explains that had Voldemort known of his love for Harry, Voldemort would have used Harry against Dumbledore. There is nothing in the book at this point that would lead anyone to the conclusion that Dumbledore might have felt inappropriate, perverse desires mixed with his appropriate love for Harry, but the passage takes on deeper, unstated meaning in light of what Rowling has told us about Dumbledore’s inclination. In fact, what Rowling has told us enables us to see Dumbledore as more heroic, not less. There is not the slightest hint that Dumbledore used his position as headmaster of Hogwarts to gratify his own desire. There is every indication that Dumbledore recognized ways that magic could be used in the service of illicit pleasures and he opposed all such use of magic—think of the way that Dumbledore warned Harry of the temptation presented by the Mirror of Erised.

All this leads me to think that what J. K. Rowling is celebrating is not homosexuality but virtue as traditionally conceived. Virtue is not the redefinition of sexual morality away from biblical norms, away from the dictates of nature. Virtue is the rejection of wicked desire, desire that would lead us away from biblical norms. Virtue is choosing the true, the good, and the right, even if—precisely when!—what we want is the false, the bad, and the wrong. Albus Dumbledore is heroic because he is virtuous, because he is Christ-like, because he is a celibate single who refused and repudiated his own immoral impulses.

In reaction to Rowling’s declaration, “One blogger wrote on a fansite: ‘My head is spinning. Wow. One more reason to love gay men.’” But Rowling herself contrasts Dumbledore with Bellatrix Lastronge. She said of Dumbledore, “he met someone as brilliant as he was and, rather like Bellatrix, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down by him.” (source). This comparison is instructive: Bellatrix is evil because rather than repudiating what attracted her for the sake of what was right, she abandoned what was right and chose what she desired. Dumbledore did the opposite. Rather than indulge his desire though it was wrong, he crucified his desire and chose to do what was right. That blogger misunderstood. Rowling’s declaration is not “one more reason to love gay men” but one more reason to celebrate and admire those who—whether repentant traitors or werewolves—repudiate their own evil impulses and choose what is good and right instead.

I recommend you read or listen to the books for yourself and hear the wisdom that cries aloud in the street (Prov 1:20).

Postscript: I haven’t read Jerram Barrs’ book yet, but I just saw on Justin Taylor’s blog that Barrs has an appendix in his forthcoming Echoes of Eden entitled “The Outing of Dumbledore.” I’ve been thinking about what Rowling said about Dumbledore since it was first brought to my attention, and seeing that Barrs has an appendix on it spurred me to finish this post. I don’t know what Barrs will say, but this is my take on Rowling’s declaration that in her conception of Dumbledore he felt same-sex attractions.

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This post originally appeared at Christianity.com.

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Warden and the Wolf King Kickstarter

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We’re big fans of Andrew Peterson‘s work in word and song here at the Hamilton house, and we’re excited about the fourth book of the Wingfeather SagaThe Warden and the Wolf King.

My oldest son drew this picture of Janner after we watched the kickstarter video on the new book.

This kickstarter is the most successful one I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve paid that much attention to many others), and I think it’s a tribute to the way Mr. Andrew Peterson serves us all with beautiful and edifying stories.

May his tribe increase.

You can still contribute to the cause, and if you’re looking for books to read to your kids or for them to read, we like these:

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

North! Or Be Eaten

The Monster in the Hollows

The Warden and the Wolf King

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Despite Doubt by Mike Wittmer

Mike Wittmer is one of my favorite theologians. Heck he’s one of my favorite people. So I’m glad to see that he continues to find ways to say Don’t Stop Believing, the latest being a new book entitled Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith.

Here’s a trailer for the book:

Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith by Michael E. Wittmer from Discovery House Publishers on Vimeo.

Mike has preached a sermon with this title. I suspect Mike’s preaching will strengthen your confidence and bring a smile to your face.

This is a short book of short chapters. Despite Doubt will speak to those wrestling with big questions and seeking to know the truth.

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John Meade Reviews T. Michael Law

John Meade is doing a multi-part review of T. Michael Law’s book, When God Spoke Greek. At one level neither Law’s claims nor Meade’s response is new. At another level, these questions are constantly being re-examined, and the re-hashing of the debate can bring things into sharper focus. Like Martin Hengel and Lee Martin McDonald, T. Michael Law claims there was no OT canon prior to the second century AD. Like Robert Hanhart and Roger Beckwith, Meade responds that the evidence can be read another way. Here are some excerpts from Meade, with whom I agree:

“As stated in the first post, Michael Law set out to write a narrative history of the Septuagint, a worthwhile endeavor to say the least. So much goes into writing a history but the first obstacle one must face is that the facts are not self-interpreting. To be sure Law no where claims that they are, but it should be stated in a critique which is going to offer an alternative way of analyzing the data.”

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“Law portrays the forming and perhaps closing of the Hebrew Bible as occurring in the 2nd CE. This is not a new view and can be found in many manuals on the Old Testament. As one attempting to read Law’s book carefully, the question is does Law deny even a canonical consciousness or a developing canon in the period before the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE? In the book he does not admit of a canonical consciousness in the the preceding period, but I am open to correction on this point. In his recent blog post on the question he does treat some of the relevant evidence but he still does not speak of a canonical consciousness or developing canon. Here is the problem with Law’s view: during the time of Jesus and long before Jesus the Jews refer to a collection or corpus of books, which means they had at the very least some consciousness of their collection and what that final collection might be; an idea of which books would eventually be in and which books would eventually be out. The assumption is that the authors and readers shared a mutual understanding of what these titles denoted. The alternative assumption is that the author wrote nonsense when using these titles and therefore the titles do not refer to a set collection or corpus of books and therefore they do not communicate to the readers. The following are only the so-called tripartite titles (there are many single and bipartite titles which refer to the same reality as well)”

Meade here discusses evidence from Ben Sira, 4QMMT, the NT Gospels, and Philo, mentioning also Josephus, drawing two conclusions:

“(1) What does this evidence mean? On page 71 Law comments on Sirach, “‘The other ancestral books,’ according to this assumption [complete Hebrew Bible by 132 BCE], would be the Writings (Ketuvim). Most scholars, however, do not accept this hypothesis since the ‘other ancestral books’ could refer to anything, including the books that never became canonical. At best it seems that the Torah and Prophets might have been a known collection by this time, but we should not read this statement in the Prologue as a confirmation of the later canon of the Hebrew Bible” (WGSG, 71). At the opening of chapter 3 (cited at the top of this post), Law claimed that prior to the second century CE there was no way of knowing which books would be included in the collection. Here his skepticism recedes, however slightly, and he now holds out the possibility that Torah and Prophets (and on page 42, the Psalms) were already a collection and perhaps canonical by the end of the first century. If Hanhart’s reading of the Prologue is correct, as I am inclined to think, then there was already a categorization of books into canonical and non-canonical, Sirach already being one of the excluded books–a work of edification and reflection on the Law, Prophets, and other books. This would mean that by 132 BCE there is at least a developing canon or a canonical consciousness, not simply in retrospect but in prospect. Prospectively, then, the Jews had a view as to which books they considered canonical.

(2) Two ways to view the evidence? As in all matters historical, there are different ways to view the evidence. The titles for the Old Testament corpus of books indicate to me that there was at the very least a canonical consciousness, a recognized corpus of books by 132 BCE and more probably a closed canon by that time complete with a categorization of the canonical and non-canonical. There are more reasons such as the numbering of the books and the ordering of the books which corroborate this point. Part of the historian’s difficulty is that there are not allot of sources to examine from this period. There is no list of books from this early period. This fact does not mean there was no canon. In the period of the temple there would have been no need for a list of books since those books were all laid up in the temple following ancient precedent (cf. Deuteronomy 31:26; cp. 2 Maccabees 2:13-14). If a Jew during this early period wanted to know her holy books, she would need to go and inquire at the temple. Therefore there is a good reason why no such list was composed at this time–it was not needed. It is interesting that the first lists appear after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE (Bab. Talmud Baba Bathra 14b).”

The whole.

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Joe Rigney Wants You To Live Like a Narnian

Joe Rigney has a tantalizing new title, Live Like a Narnian. The table of contents did what such a thing should: made me want to read more. Here it is:

1 Deep Magic, and Deeper: Moral Law and Sacrificial Love

2 Witch’s War on Joy: Why Christmas, Feasts, and Spring’s Arrival Really Matter

3 We Will Be Who We Are Becoming: Our Direction Determines Our Destination

4 Trumpkin’s Surprising Obedience: The Difference between Giving Advice and Taking Orders

5 The Lost Art of Chivalry: Recovering the Virtues of Ferocity and Meekness

6 Folly of Nothing-Buttery: There’s Always More Than Meets the Eye

7 After Darkness, Light: Seeing Everything by the Light of the Lion

8 Parents, Educrats, and Bureaucrats: Lewis’s Subtle Assault on Progressivism

9 Breaking Enchantments with Burnt Marshwiggle: Defending the Faith against Modern Fables

10 Shasta’s Hard Lesson: Receiving the Reward for a Job Well Done

11 A Society of Self-Regard: Learning to Whistle Like a Humble Narnian

12 The Heart of the Laughing King: Learning from Lune What It Means to Be a Man

13 Tell Me Your Sorrows: Pursuing Healing through Happy Endings

14 A High and Lonely Destiny: The Dangerous Trajectory of Those Who Seek to Be Gods

15 Tirian’s Trials and Tragedy: Enduring Deep Doubt and the Soul’s Dark Night

16 The Glory of a Narnian Queen: Standing in Awe of the Peculiar Majesty of Women

Epilogue: More Narnian Hills to Explore

Appendix: A Short Q&A with the Author

Joe will be speaking at the 2013 Desiring God National Conference, and Live Like a Narnian releases this week.

A personal note: several years back, when the Hamiltons were in Houston, Joe Rigney contacted me because he was going to be passing through Houston to visit family. It fell out that the only time our schedules worked was when I was going to be laying insulation in our attic. Joe Rigney came over to help, and would you believe it, that attic full of insulation began to smell like Narnia! Joe is one of those curious, thoughtful, humble, loving, servant-hearted men who are a joy to be around, even if you’re trying to keep fiberglass out of fingers and lungs. This brother’s a blessing, and I think his book will bless you.

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Death by Living Trailer

HT: Douglas Wilson.

Hitchcock said a good story was life with all the boring parts taken out. That’s what N. D. Wilson summarizes in this powerful clip:

I’m looking forward to reading Death by Living.

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Paris Review Interview with Shelby Foote

Deeply enjoyed this long interview in Paris Review with Shelby Foote (HT: JT). Here are a few snippets.

Advice for young writers:

To read, and above all to reread. When you read, you get the great pleasure of discovering what happened. When you reread, you get the great pleasure of knowing where the author’s going and seeing how he goes about getting there—and that’s learning creative writing. I would tell a young writer that. Of course I would tell him: work, work, work, sit at that desk and sweat. You don’t have to have a plot, you don’t have to have anything. Describe someone crossing a room, and try to do it in a way that won’t perish. Put it down on paper. Keep at it. Then when you finally figure out how to handle words pretty well, try to tell a story. It won’t be worth a d***; you’ll have to tear it up and throw it away. But then try to do it again, do it again, and then keep doing it, until you can do it. You may never be able to do it. That’s the gamble. You not only may not be able to make a living, you may not be able to do it at all. But that’s what you put on the line. Every artist has that. He doesn’t deserve a whole lot of credit for it. He didn’t choose it. It was visited upon him. Somebody asks, When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? I never decided I wanted to be a writer. I simply woke up a writer one morning.

Then some motivation from Robert Browning:

One of the most remarkable jobs of becoming a writer I ever heard of was done by one of my favorite writers, Robert Browning. Browning decided at the age of fourteen, I think, out of the clear blue sky, to become a writer. His father had books all over the house anyway. He said, If I’m going to be a writer, there’s certainly one thing I must do, and then he proceeded to memorize Johnson’s Dictionary—both volumes, cover to cover. He has, next to Shakespeare, the largest vocabulary of any English writer. Now that’s preparation.

The whole thing (warning, some language).

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