Thursday, December 10, 2015

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to fix a bad attitude (and a wall)

By Tilly Dillehay

There’s a fine line, I've recently found, between a hormonally-driven crying spell and what my parents called a plain old bad attitude.

A bad attitude is not as difficult to diagnose as one might think. Even children can do it.

“Do you have a bad attitude?” my parents would ask. “If you do, it needs to be fixed.” And if I did, in fact, have a bad attitude, there was never a real question in my mind about it. “Do I?” I never had to ask. A bad attitude is like a toothache—easy to diagnose, painful to address.

Exact methods for fixing a bad attitude vary, and I won’t go into that sort of thing here (but I will just say that a good spanking seems to have dropped off the list of options in Parenting Magazine, and I call that unfortunate).

Recently I saw a small kid yell at his mother and then stalk down the outside steps at our apartment building, carrying his blankie with him. I was passing by the bottom of the staircase, and he stared defiantly at me. Without thinking, I asked him the appropriate question.

“Do you have a bad attitude?” I said, gravely.

“Yes,” he said after a moment’s thought.

“You should get that fixed,” I said. Then I smiled at him and carried my groceries inside.

Yessiree. Anybody can tell a bad attitude when they see one. Despite this, bad attitudes can strike when you least expect them. And I am by no means immune. I had a painful reminder of that this week:

See, this week my husband and I got into our new house.

We entered the back door armed with paint brushes and Pet Odor-X, ready to put our stamp on the place (and remove the stamp left there by a previous owner’s enterprising dog). The idea was to move in on Saturday, so we had just a couple of days to clean and paint specific rooms before they were full of furniture. We figured that other projects (of which there are many) could wait for the early months of actually living here.

I love a good remodel. My childhood is full of happy remodeling memories, because my parents tended to buy another project home about every 2-3 years. This yielded lots of fun experience for us kiddos—scraping popcorn texture off of dated ceilings, painting dark wood paneling (for a whole new look!), and living out of our living room for two weeks while the kitchen counters and appliances got redone.

I love befores and afters as much as the next girl, and have always enjoyed the hands-on, cheap fixes I remember from childhood. There are oodles of easy cosmetic improvements to be made on almost any home built before the year 2000. Painting, especially. Painting is part of the fun when you get a new space of your own.

But as I stood in the kitchen last week and examined our dark, tiny rooms (it’s a starter house all right) and contemplated the back-breaking work, the decision making, the late evenings, the packing and unpacking, the dirty carpets and strange closets to be investigated… I suddenly found myself bursting into tears. I cried for several minutes. Don’t ask me how long, exactly. Maybe two minutes. Maybe ten.

Then I settled into a sustained whine. I mumbled to myself as I opened drawers and cabinets. I pouted to myself about other opportunities lost, about other houses owned by other people, houses that didn’t smell and had reasonably sized dining rooms. Suddenly I wasn’t even sure if befores and afters are all that great.

Just then, a friend stopped by to see our new purchase. Chipper and enthusiastic, she got the tour, chiming in with observations and exclamations.

“Oh, how fun!” she concluded when we got to the last room. “A home of your own! And a project! We can pick your paint colors now!” And I thought: Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.

My upbeat friend had set me to rights. What’s more, she had a little extra time the next day, and actually came to help me paint the first and second room. (This is what true friendship looks like.)

That night, we put in the first coat of primer, on one of the darkest rooms (more of that wood paneling!). The next day, I picked the first paint color. The room was done by nightfall. It was lovely. It was suddenly transformed. Bright! Airy! Crisp! The perfect place for all seven of our bookshelves! (Justin has a book problem)

My enthusiasm is baaack.

I can’t wait to rip the carpet up in the second bedroom and get to that original wood floor! Can’t wait to sand and paint the trim in every single room, to steam off that hideous wallpaper border, to paint the kitchen cabinets! Maybe I’ll even get ambitious and try this DIY concrete countertop thing I saw on Pinterest!

It wasn't until the next day that I diagnosed this very obvious episode of a Bad Attitude. Granted, I’m pregnant. I’m in a weakened and vulnerable state.

But does that really explain it away? If my childhood training serves me well, there’s one thing I know: a bad attitude is a bad attitude. And what do you do with a bad attitude?

You fix it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My husband is bad at dating and good at being married

My husband and I celebrated two years of marriage last month.

Two years.
Justin, dressed as Martin Luther for reasons I
won't go into, holds an unidentified moo cow.

Two years that went by like a snap of the fingers. When I look at my husband now—across the room, cooking a pancake for his lunch because that’s how he rolls—it’s hard for me to even remember what he looked like to me two years ago. Three years ago. Four years ago.

He’s another thing to me entirely than the Justin Dillehay I met; another human being in my mind than the one I awkwardly conversed with in church hallways; a totally different personality than the one I thought I understood when we were going on our first little dates on a front porch.

“You’re not the man I married,” I could say to him. And it would be true. Surely two years has changed him some. But he also looks different TO ME, specifically, more than to any other person, because to me he has quite literally become another individual.

I guess everybody feels this way when they look at their spouse. Their spouse changes on them, most certainly at the beginning, probably the whole time, and it begins with the simple act of becoming a spouse.

What a strange thing, to feel so intertwined with another person, to the point of feeling conjoined somehow, and yet waking in the middle of the night and feeling them next to you and realizing that they aren’t you at all, aren’t even like you, can’t possibly understand you EXACTLY, and are actually so separate from you that you could hurt them and not feel the pain. People don’t hurt themselves, not usually. But they hurt their spouses.

They are absolutely different entities. And yet, they are said to be “one flesh.” It is a paradox, a complete mystery. A Christ-and-church kind of mystery.

But now I come to the point that I meant to make in sitting down. This is the thing that I most often try to explain to people I haven’t seen in a long time, when they ask about married life.

It’s wonderful.

I think that for almost any couple in Christ, it can be wonderful. Ought to be wonderful.

But in my case, I can’t help but feel that it is especially wonderful. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how wonderful it really is, and how accidentally I seem to have stumbled into this wonderful marriage. Only I—and God, my witness—are fully aware of how little of my own doing it is.

When I married him, I actually thought (just a bit, and of course I’d never have said it out loud) that I was doing him a favor. I was a catch, I thought, and he was… a good investment. He was a good decision, but I couldn’t help feeling that he was getting a pretty great deal marrying me.

A year later, I thought—well, he’s better than I expected; maybe I’ve improved him.

Six months after that it hit me: I’d been a total idiot.

Because actually, I lucked out. It took me a over a year to agree to marry him, and all along I was marrying up.

I am one of those lucky people who married somebody who’s better at being married than they were at dating. I mean that in the truest sense: Justin makes a better impression on me as a husband than he ever did as a suitor. Why is this? I don’t know exactly, although I have my theories.

And maybe this is a sorry thing to do, but I’m going to try to take these theories and put out the Blog List, that numbered list of ways you’re supposed to be able to apply my husband’s personality traits into your own life and find the perfect mate.

I already said it was a sorry thing to do. Okay, here goes:

4 ways my husband is bad at dating and good at being married

              1. He was bad at dating because he wasn’t good at chatting up chicks. He’s good at marriage because he has learned to chat up exactly one chick.

This isn’t a matter of ‘I know I can keep him, and I trust him because he’s not a womanizer.’ It’s more a matter of 'I literally didn't know how much fun my husband could be until I married him.'

It’s extremely exciting to realize that all the charming one-liners I yearned for when he was first taking me out are showing up—now, years after the wedding. So why is this? Is it because I’ve learned his humor and he’s learned mine? Or because he somehow figured out the ‘charming one-liner’ thing in order to please me?

Consider this possibility: maybe he simply didn’t perform well under the pressure of the wooing process.

It strikes me as likely that there are a lot of very good men out there who simply do not perform well under the pressure of the date (or the court, or whatever you want to call it). This makes them bad at dating you while you’re single—but doesn’t necessarily rule them out of being good at dating you while you’re married.

In Justin’s case, this is exactly how it worked out. And let me tell you, there’s something really special about giving up on this (really unnecessary) form of charm, marrying a person, and then having it hit you on the back end.

What are those things that it takes to make a good first impression as a dater? These sorts of momentary skills: suave movement, clever quips, affected nonchalance and a winsome way of telling your life story. They are nice skills—although in the end, they have little to do with the skills required in a marriage.

Why do chicks dig this? I don’t know; we simply do.

The problem with this is that often the kind of guy who possesses these skills in excess has gotten them with practice… too much practice.

The flippant ease that some men give off with every woman they meet was never something Justin could give off. He was awkward, for months of our time together. Serious, or cautious, or preoccupied, jerky in his movements and strangely earnest in his compliments.

And then, marriage. The safety and security of a prize already won. He was more charming, at ease, clever, and flippant when he took me out last Saturday than in the entire eighteen months of our courtship… combined. The version of him that I meet with inside the four walls of our little apartment is my favorite version. He's hilarious.

How nice is that? I resolutely marry someone, thinking I’ll never see casual-funny guy, and he shows up and starts taking me out and pushing me into the bedroom after about six months of marriage. Seems like the right time for him to show up, if you ask me.

               2. He was bad at dating because dating is all about holding off on spiritual intimacy. He is good at marriage because spiritual intimacy is something he fosters very well.

It is very difficult to know exactly what a person’s private spiritual life is like without marrying them. You can ask questions about it (‘How’s your quiet time going?’ ‘What are you struggling with?’), and you can pick up clues from their exterior life (you’d better, or deciding who to marry will be like blindfolding yourself and jumping into a haystack to find a needle).

There were all sorts of clues for me to pick up on before we were married—the classic hints about honesty, integrity, commitment to faith, evangelism, relationship with friend and family, etc. These hints helped me to make a decision. They just didn’t always help me to be excited about it.

But in the end, how could I have known—really known—that he was going to pray with me so faithfully? That his office door would shut each morning, and that I would hear whispered prayers behind it? That he would be reading the Bible privately, that he would be so regularly sharing passages of other books he was reading?

That he would betray a deep and trembling love for Christ—betray it by tears, laughter, and silence at telling times? That he would betray his motives so clearly—with such joy when he sees sin defeated in my life, such pain when I sin against God in ways that don’t affect or inconvenience him at all? That he would be so quick to repent when his sin is shown to him? That he would so fervently defend truth and hate lies? That he would practice such thankfulness—for all God’s gifts—regularly exclaiming that I am the best among them?

I couldn’t have known these things. I could only guess at them. This is what I meant when I reasoned with myself that he was ‘a good decision’. I knew, from the exterior evidence, that he was a man of character—not the sort of charming, influential person I’d intended for myself, but a man who was generally to be trusted not to abandon his faith or his family.

But marriage was certainly necessary for me to witness what I witness now. I couldn’t have known these things before, because my witnessing them has only been made possible by the intimacy of marriage. 

                3. He was bad at dating because all the fun physical stuff wasn’t available as a form of communication. He’s good at marriage because he’s good at communicating on intimate terms… verbally and physically.

Dating, for the Christian, is a time of excitement and newness, of questions, flutterings, and dreams. But it’s also a time of self-denial, and stilted forms of expression.

I think you know what I mean. You want to show each other love… in all sorts of ways. And you can’t. You want to coo to each other and swear undying affection, but you try to spend your time talking about important things and getting to know each other. You want to touch, but you refrain. You wait.

Marriage, on the other hand, is a time of open Biblical encouragement. ‘Don’t deprive one another’, remember—delight each other with words, with touch, with caresses and assurances of the mindless, circular, illogical, repetitive kind that love provokes.

My husband (and I) are most comfortable in this world of uncomplicated ‘yes’ and ‘as long as we both shall live’. Much more comfortable than in the world of dating, a world of ‘no’s, ‘wait’s, and ‘maybe’s.

Justin almost instantly learned how to communicate in these new and fascinating ways—he learned quickly and well, as soon as the vows had sealed us. But these verbal and physical skills, so palpable now, aren’t anything I could have really predicted when we were dating.

Dating is just no fun, that’s all.

                4. He wasn’t good at dating because he was so grateful all the time. He is good at marriage because he is so grateful all the time.

A girl just doesn’t really want to always know her boyfriend thinks he’s THAT lucky to have her. And if he thinks that, she wants him not to make it so apparent. Not in that doggish, slavish way
Justin was grateful in this unappealing way when we dated—I sometimes wanted to tell him “if you think it’s so unbelievable that I like you, don't you know I’m bound to wonder: IS it unbelievable?”

This is not right, really—it’s a fallen value system that ranks people on scales and treats dating like haggling in a bazaar. But so it is. Women are more likely to think this way than not. Men who know how to play the game tend to make sure they don’t immediately open with the attitude of “I am SO LUCKY TO HAVE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?”

Did Justin say those things? Out loud, no. But he helped me to feed my own ranking system, because—I suppose—of his fear of man. I knew that he was almost desperate to keep things going, and it made me extremely… cool. Indecisive.

This attitude of his has been amended (this actually began before we were married, when he drew up some boundaries against my careless attitude, but that's another story).

In marriage, gratefulness (of a different stripe) is a welcome trait to a woman. This is the kind that Justin is practicing now. He is still a consistently grateful man. But the gratefulness is less like the gratefulness of a dog, and more like the gratefulness of a king who looks at his queen as if she was just saying ‘yes’ to him for the first time.

He still seems to regard me as a good fortune, as an exotic visitor, as a surprising gift. But he has also proven that his love for me is still subservient to another love and another loyalty. His attitude isn’t presumptive and it’s not slavish. He acts like a man who wakes up every morning believing that he is fortunate.

This is why I say that maybe God and I are the only ones who understand how much I got when I got Justin for a husband, and how little it’s deserved—because Justin still seems to think that he’s the lucky one.  

This attitude of gratefulness infuses great sweetness and comfort into a marriage—but not, really, into a first date.


Am I going to pretend that this little list is necessarily a good one to guide your mate-picking? Nope. I really haven’t gotten that far in my theories. 

It’s really just that I’m two years into my marriage, and grateful as a dog.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review of Graeme Goldsworthy's According to Plan

by Justin Dillehay

Do you regularly preach or teach God's Word, perhaps in a Sunday School class? Are you a new Christian who wants to get your bearings when it comes to reading the Old Testament? Or are you simply a normal Christian who wants to understand the Bible better?

If so, then Graeme Goldsworthy's book According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible is written just for you. What follows is a summary of the book, followed by my own personal thoughts. If this review moves you toward reading the book for yourself, then it will have done its job. If not, I hope it can serve as a helpful summary in its own right.


In his book According to Plan (hereafter AtoP), Graeme Goldsworthy gives us an introduction to the discipline of biblical theology (that disciple which helps us understand how the Bible fits together as one unfolding story of redemption). The book contains four parts, entitled Biblical Theology—Why?...How?...What?...and Where? These four parts collectively contain twenty-seven chapters, the bulk of which (8-25) are contained in Part 3—Biblical Theology—What?   

Part 1: Biblical Theology--Why? (Chapter 1)
Here he explains why it is necessary for Christians to have a working knowledge of biblical theology. All Christians believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, but we often still disagree about its meaning. How can we hope to resolve our differences? We all encounter problem passages that seem to contradict other texts. How do we reconcile them? How do we tell Bible stories, particularly those in the Old Testament (OT), to children? Are they intended mainly as moral lessons, entertaining tales, or something else? What about Old Testament laws? How do we decide which ones—if any—still apply to us as Christians in the New Testament? 

While Goldsworthy doesn’t pretend that biblical theology is the magic bullet for answering all of these questions, he does believe that, by giving us a bird’s eye view of the whole Bible, it will help us answer them more effectively.

Part 2: Biblical Theology--How? (Chapters 2-7) 
Part 2 deals with the question “Is it possible to know God?” and if so, how and where do we obtain that knowledge? He begins by arguing that we can know God because God knows us and has revealed himself to us in Scripture. Furthermore, since 'theology' is simply what we think about God, all Christians are theologians. We all engage in theology, either poorly or skillfully. Different ways of ‘doing theology’ include systematic, historical, pastoral, biblical, and exegetical theology. 

He then deals with the issue of epistemology (how we know what we know). He outlines three epistemological views: atheistic humanism, theistic humanism, and Christian theism. Biblical theology, to be done properly, must be done upon the presupposition of Christian theism. We must strive to be consistent with this presupposition, though our remaining sin will no doubt affect our thinking to some degree. 

Chapters 4 and 5 are crucial chapters. In them, Goldsworthy introduces the idea that Jesus Christ is the center of biblical theology. 
Paul says that all things were created in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ (Col. 1:16). This signifies that the meaning of the universe is found in the gospel. God created all things with a view to their redemption in Christ. The gospel is God’s forethought, his blueprint to creation, not a mere afterthought because of sin (49).       
Jesus makes it clear on numerous occasions that the Old Testament testified about him (John 5:39-40; Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). Christ and the gospel are the fulfillment of all the messianic hopes and prophecies of the OT. Therefore, “the one problem we have in the interpretation of the Bible is the failure to interpret the texts by the definitive event of the gospel.” (50) 

In other words,  Christ fulfilled the OT, not simply by following an already complete and perfectly clear OT revelation--rather, Christ himself was the final revelation that completed and explained all previous revelation. Practically speaking, this means that as Christians reading the Bible we must allow the New Testament to interpret the Old, and not the other way around (54-55). We must not simply read the OT prophecies autonomously--assuming that we can understand them clearly without regard to the NT fulfillment in Christ. 

This means that when we think of how Christ fulfilled the OT, we must avoid both literalism and allegory. Literalism assumes that history is “self-evident” and doesn't need God's revelation to interpret it. Thus it says that the fulfillment must match the historical promise exactly (i.e. literally). Allegory discards history as unimportant, and thus leaves nothing historical to be fulfilled. The biblical alternative to literalism and allegory is typology. Typology allows the clearer NT fulfillment in Christ to interpret the true meaning of the OT promises as they were originally given and progressively clarified. 

Goldsworthy again stresses the necessity of beginning and ending with Christ, and announces that the central themes he will be tracing Part III will be the covenant and the new creation.     

Part 3: Biblical Theology--What?” (Chapters 8-25)
This is the “heart of the book” (10). In these chapters, Goldsworthy traces the themes of covenant and new creation through the biblical storyline, showing how they are fulfilled in Christ. As promised, he begins by explaining the gospel; it is God’s way of saving sinners in manner consistent with his holiness and justice. It is rooted in the OT, and has the person and work of Jesus as its centerpiece.

Having begun with the gospel, he then goes back to Genesis (the order is important). There we learn that God created and sustains all things by his word, making man in his image to rule the earth under his authority. In the garden, we also see the pattern of the kingdom of God being set for all of Scripture as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule” (a delightful phrase that every Christian would do well to memorize). This peaceful state is short-lived, however, as Adam and Eve rebel against God’s rule by obeying the serpent (later revealed as Satan). 

Thus the fall establishes the need for redemption by Christ. In God’s curse on the serpent, we hear the first hints of the gospel (Gen. 3:16). God’s response to the fall also establishes his commitment to his creation.

Goldsworthy seems to view Genesis 4-11 mainly as preliminary revelation leading up to Abraham. Nevertheless, it is not without its contribution to biblical theology. In those early chapters, we see the doctrine of election by grace in seed form, as God divides mankind into two groups and establishes a line of people for himself through Seth then Shem and finally Abraham, distinguishing them from Cain’s line. And there we first encounter the idea of covenant in the wake of the flood, with God promising to preserve the earth.

It is with Abraham, however, that Goldsworthy see the first main stage of redemptive revelation commencing. The first stage of redemptive revelation will be the history of Israel from Abraham through David and Solomon and the second will be the prophetic promises of a future kingdom (197-198).

The history of Israel from Abraham to Solomon shows the pattern of redemption. It begins with God’s gracious election of Abraham, and his promises to him. Abraham’s descendents will “possess the [promised] land, be God’s special people, and be the instrument of God’s blessing for all nations” (128). 

Paradoxically, shortly after Abraham’s death we see God maneuvering his people out of the Promised Land and into Egypt, where they eventually become captives. This captivity is also a necessary part of the pattern of redemption. It must be plain that God’s people are by nature captives to sin like everyone else, and that only God can deliver them. In the Exodus, we see this pattern of redemption, as God’s people enter his place by his saving work, complete with a bloody sacrifice (Passover) and the destruction of their enemies (Red Sea). 

At Mt. Sinai, a further pattern is set. Only after choosing and redeeming his people by his grace does he regulate them by his Law. From the tabernacle God’s people would learn that they could only approach him through a mediator and through a sacrifice of blood. Israel’s chronic covenant-breaking postpones the entrance into the land, but cannot forever hinder it. In bringing Israel into the land, God demonstrates his plan to work miraculously (Jericho falls flat) and yet through human beings (Joshua). This is seen as God subsequently works through judges to deliver his rebellious people, but even more so when God fulfills his long-held plan to rule Israel through a godly king (Deut. 17:14-20). 

David becomes an important type for the Messiah as he rules God’s people. God’s covenant with him is very important, as God promises to establish David’s throne forever. “All the hopes of Israel now focus on the prophecies of Nathan to David” (167). 

When Solomon builds the temple, Israel reaches its high point. God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule is seen more clearly than ever. But like Eden, it doesn’t last. After Solomon’s death, Israel divides into two kingdoms, and begins a steady decline into idolatry and covenant-breaking that culminates in a second captivity and calls forth a new breed of prophets (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.). 

The key lesson from the exile and the new prophetic message is that the redemptive events of the past (the exodus, the Promised Land) are only shadows of the future reality of salvation (184). The prophets predict a new David, a suffering servant, and a second exodus. When this exodus occurs, however, the people return to the land to experience disappointment, as the new temple and kingdom are but a pale shadow of what is promised. Thus the OT ends without resolution. God’s people still await the fulfillment of his promises.

Enter Jesus.

When Jesus finally comes, he fulfills all the OT promises and types by his birth, life, death, and resurrection. He is the true God, the true people of God, and the new creation for us. He is the true prophet, priest, king, and wise man. 

He brings the kingdom of God, but surprisingly, he only remains on earth for a short time. The new creation begins in Christ himself, but it does not end there. After his ascension, he sends the Holy Spirit to apply that regeneration to his people, thereby beginning the new creation in us (2 Cor. 5:17). The Spirit does this by uniting us with Christ, such that all that Christ has done is credited to us. Thus the new creation has begun both in Christ and in those who are in Christ. 

In this way, the new age has invaded the old. Yet paradoxically, the old age continues to coexist with the new, with both “overlapping.” The new creation has not yet extended to the entire cosmos, nor are we as Christians completely free from sin. This overlap of the ages results in conflict between Christians and the present age. The universal regeneration will occur with the second coming of Christ, which will bring with it new bodies (for us), new heavens, and new earth.

Part 4: Biblical Theology-Where?” (chapters 26-27) 
This final section contains two brief chapters, which apply the methodology of biblical theology to the practical issues of personal guidance (whom to marry? etc.) and life after death, respectively.


The strengths of AtoP are legion. 

First, brevity. At 244 pages (many of which are largely taken up by charts), the entire book is brisk reading. Its brevity should keep it from being too daunting for the beginner. [Though for an even briefer--and in my opinion, even better--primer on biblical theology, see Vaughan Roberts's God's Big Picture.]

Second, clarity. Goldsworthy usually avoids technical jargon, but when he does use it, he always explains it well. Furthermore, the layout of the book makes it ideal both for beginners and for a continual reference. Every chapter begins with a helpful introduction and every chapter in Part III also ends with a summary that connects the chapter with the theme of new creation (188). Moreover, the book is packed with useful charts that help etch the central ideas in your memory.

But perhaps AtoP's greatest strength is its clear presentation of how all Scripture points to Christ in one unified story. As Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture, we know that in some sense the Old Testament testifies to Jesus, because Jesus tells us so (John 5:39). But how it testifies to him, beyond the obvious Messianic references quoted in the New Testament, may not always be clear to us. 

This is where AtoP proves invaluable. Goldsworthy helps us move beyond individual Messianic verses and see the bigger picture of how the entire OT storyline points to Christ again and again. This is something we need to be be taught repeatedly. Because despite constantly hearing preachers vaguely say “The Old Testament is all about Jesus!” it is still easy to default toward reading the OT as a collection of unrelated stories. And toward that end, AtoP pushes us to ask questions like “Why did the OT writer include this event?”, “Why did God ordain and arrange history this way?”, and "How does this OT story function as a pattern for what comes later?"

In this regard, one of the most helpful chapters to me personally was the chapter on the exodus (Chapter 13: The Pattern of Redemption). It was instructive and encouraging to be reminded that Israel's captivity in Egypt was no accident. Indeed, God had specifically prophesied to Abraham that his descendants would be captives in a foreign land for 400 years, and that he would bring them back at the right time (Gen. 15:13-14). 

Furthermore, this captivity was necessary because “some graphic and unmistakable experience of redemption from an alien power” was needed to illustrate how human beings enter into God’s kingdom. In a post-fall world, all of us are born in captivity to sin. To enter God's kingdom, we must be born againand that new birth requires God to rescue us from the kingdom of darkness by defeating our enemies and covering our sin. This is just what we see illustrated in the exodus. 

So, my overall assessment of the book is extremely positive. I would recommend the book to anyone without hesitation. I should mention, however, a couple of weaknesses. These are both relatively minor points. But they still bear mentioning.

First, while the book does a wonderful job of being Christ-centered, it seems to do so at the expense of neglecting the whole trinity. Now make no mistake; Goldsworthy believes in the trinity (82), and he discusses the Holy Spirit in his treatment of the new creation (chapters 23-24). But on the whole, neither the Father nor the Spirit seem to get much airtime. I suspect that this neglect of the trinity stems more from the nature of biblical theology as a discipline than from a willful neglect on Goldsworthy's part. Simply put, the trinity is a doctrine more naturally arrived at through systematic theology than biblical theology. This should serve as a gentle reminder to continually supplement a healthy biblical theology with a robust systematic theology. Carl Trueman, in an article mildly critical of Goldsworthy, said it this way: “Christianity is Trinitarian at its very core, and it is my suspicion that biblical theology on its own is inadequate to protect and defend that core. We need ontology as well as economy if we are to do justice to the Bible’s teaching on who God is and what he has done.”

Second, I am uneasy with Goldsworthy's emphasis on OT characters as types of Christ, to the near exclusion of their use as moral examples. This is mostly a matter of emphasis. Goldsworthy doesn't completely deny that OT characters function as moral examples for us; he simply says that moral example is not their primary significance (132). This may true--but then again, it may not. In any case, we need to beware of becoming one-sided in our use of biblical theological insights, particularly in preaching. The New Testament clearly holds up OT characters as moral examples for us (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-14; Hebrews 11; James 5:10-11, 16-18; Luke 17:32), and not simply as types of Christ. Yet I have known more than one preacher gripped by biblical theology learned from Goldsworthy, Greidanus, and others dismiss this practice as “moralism.” And while I don't blame Goldsworthy for the abuse of his writings, I can see how his emphasis could give rise to such abuse. For a healthy and balanced corrective, see Bobby Jamieson's review of Jason Hood's Imitating God in Christ. 

But these are both minor issues with the book. On the whole, I overwhelmingly recommend According to Plan. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

D.A. Carson on how our love should mirror God's love

by Justin Dillehay

How does God's love serve as a model for our love as Christians? That is what D.A. Carson seeks to explain in the closing lines of his book Love in Hard Places

In these paragraphs, Carson notes that God's love is not a simple thing. It can't be reduced to a sound bite (e.g. "God loves unconditionally," etc.). Instead it comes in several different flavors or ways of loving: 1) God loves his Son 2) God loves all people 3) God loves his covenant people.

And each of these 'ways of loving' is slightly different. God's love for his Son is entirely merited, while his love for all people as sinners is decidedly unmerited. Furthermore, the way God loves his covenant people is also gracious, special, and selective, and does not extend to all people. But even with regard to his covenant people, there is a kind of love that is conditional upon obedience to him (e.g. John 14:21-23; 15:9-10; Jude 21).

For a more on this topic, see Carson's helpful little book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God

But here at the end of his companion volume, Love in Hard Places, Carson explains how these diverse flavors of God's love should be reflected in the lives of his people.
Despite the differences, however, the parallels [between God's love and our love] are striking. 
1) God’s intra-Trinitarian love is to be mirrored in the peculiar love that binds Christian to Christian. Moreover, the love of the Father for the Son is the standard by which he loves the world and the fundamental motive behind the Father’s commitment that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father, while the Son’s love for the Father issues in perfect obedience to him, even to death on the cross. Thus God’s intra-Trinitarian love spills out into redemption. 
2) God’s evenhanded, non-distinguishing, providential love for the world tells us something of the way we should love our enemies, for God sends his sun and rain upon the just and the unjust. God’s yearning love to see men and women saved is repeated in us: the God who loved the world now commands us to preach the gospel to every creature, driven by the same love to implore a dying world, “Be reconciled to God.”
3) God’s sovereign love for the elect is reflected not only in Christian love within the community of faith, but also in Christian marriages: as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, so the Christian husband is to love his wife and give himself for her—and that, too, is a restrictive and selective love, even as it is sacrificial and seeks the other’s good. Moreover, God’s love for his people never allows them to forget that when he set his love on them, they were enemies (e.g., Rom. 5:8-11), for we are all by nature “objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).
4) And if in some contexts God’s love is made conditional on obedience, in some contexts ours is too: as we rear our children, exercise discipline in the church, deal with evil in a fallen and broken world.
Indeed, just as the Bible’s diverse ways of talking about God’s love cannot responsibly be deployed to eradicate other things of which the Bible speaks—God’s wrath, his judgment, his jealousy, his perfect holiness, his justice—so the Bible’s diverse ways of talking about the Christian’s love cannot responsibly be deployed to eradicate or domesticate the fullness and complexity of what the Bible says about our dealings with sin, injustice, war, brokenness, and judgment in this
life and in the life to come.
In this world, despite all the pleasure and healing it brings, Christian love will always be a matter of loving in hard places. But none of it is as hard as what God himself did: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom. 5:8, 10).
One day the hard places will be gone. But the love will remain, unalloyed, immensely rich, reflecting in small but glorious ways the immeasurable love we have received."
-D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (194-195; the numbering and bold print are mine)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

3 ways not to use Greek in Bible study

by Justin Dillehay

Bible students love to talk about 'the original Greek.' Preachers, too. Some preachers seem to want to work Greek into their sermons as often as they can.

And of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to know something about the language that God gave us the New Testament in. But there are also dangers involved, since most Christians either don't know Greek at all, or (which is almost the same thing) know only enough to look up individual Greek words. Just imagine how badly a foreign speaker could butcher English if all he could do was look up individual English words.

The path is littered with what D.A. Carson has called "exegetical fallacies" (a book I was forced to read three times while in school). This brief article is my effort to condense a couple of Carson's lessons, in order to help us learn how not to use Greek in Bible study.  

1. Usage Trumps Etymology: Avoiding the Root Fallacy

When I was a homeschooling high schooler, I took a course called 'Etymology.' Etymology deals with the 'roots' of words--where a word originally came from way back in the foggy mists of time. It's a valuable area to study, and nothing I'm about to say in this article is meant to suggest otherwise.

Nevertheless, a problem arises when people mistakenly think that a word's etymology tells them "what it really means."

We can see the fallacy of this notion clearly in our native English language. For example, the word "nice" comes from the Latin root 'nescius,' meaning 'ignorant.' But no one but a fool would respond to your calling them 'nice' by saying 'Oh, I see what you really mean! You're saying I'm ignorant! You and your veiled Latin insults!'

No one does this in their native language, but many Christians do this very thing when studying the Bible. They look up Greek words in their Strong's Concordance, find the original Greek root, and conclude that they have found the word's 'real' meaning. This is what Carson calls the 'root fallacy.'

Now don't get me wrong. Roots and etymology are good. They can sometimes give you an interesting back story on why a particular word came to be used to describe a particular thing. They can even help you win the national spelling bee. But they don't tell you the 'real meaning' of a word, because a word's meaning is not determined by its etymology, but by its usage. The question is not 'Where did this word originate?' but 'What did the writer/speaker mean by it?'

If you proposed to your girlfriend and she said "No," but you could somehow prove that "No" came from a Greek word meaning "Yes," it still wouldn't do you any good. “No” means what your girlfriend (and everyone else) means by it, not what it might have meant 1,000 years ago in an ancestor language. The reason no one today would take 'nice' to mean 'ignorant' is that no one today uses 'nice' to mean 'ignorant.' If you want to know what a word means today, you must find out how it's used today. That's what an up-to-date dictionary will tell you.

For Bible students, it's also what a good lexicon will tell you. One of the best tools for the Bible student to have right now is William Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. This volume also contains a helpful piece called "How to Do Word Studies," which will warn you against some of the same pitfalls that I am telling you about.  

2. Scholars are Necessary: Avoiding the Cult of the Amateur 

When it comes to Bible study, many Christians seem to think that knowing Greek is like a magic bullet that will unlock all the secrets of biblical meaning. I once thought this, and then I began taking Greek. The main thing I learned in the first couple of weeks of class was that most of what I thought I knew about Greek was malarky. Turns out that 'agape' and 'philos' weren't really different kinds of love after all, and the gospel wasn't really the 'dynamite' of God. In many ways, Greek was much more mundane than I had thought. It resolved some questions, but also created others.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from studying Greek. In fact, I would encourage as many Christians to learn it as can. But the reality is that most believers don't have the time or the ability. The good news, however, is that God never intended all (or even most) of his people to have to learn Greek in order to understand his word. There is a happy division of labor here. God is merciful--some people become experts in Greek and Hebrew so the rest of us don't have to.

As Robert Plummer recently observed,
Never before in the history of Christianity has there been less need for word studies than today. With the multiplicity of many excellent English Bible translations, readers of the Bible have the fruit of scholars' painstaking research.
And as 19th century Baptist theologian John Dagg put it:
Translations, though made with uninspired human skill, are sufficient for those who have not access to the inspired original. Unlearned men will not be held accountable for a degree of light beyond what is granted to them; and the benevolence of God in making revelation has not endowed all with the gift of interpreting tongues...God has seen it wiser and better to leave the members of Christ to feel the necessity of mutual sympathy and dependence, than to bestow every gift on every individual. He has bestowed the knowledge necessary for the translation of his word on a sufficient number of faithful men to answer the purpose of his benevolence. And the least accurate of the translations with which the common people are favored is full of divine truth and able to make wise to salvation.
If Dagg is right, and I think he is, then the impulse that says "I don't want to be dependent on scholars" may be a latent form of pride. It may be the hand saying to the foot 'I have no need of you.' I'm not trying to turn translators into an infallible high priestly class. I'm simply saying that unless God expects us all to become language scholars, then he must have willed for there to be a division of labor in this area. It won't do to replace the cult of the expert with the cult of the amateur. We're dependent on scholars whether we like it or not.

Pride will chafe at this, and paranoia will invent conspiracy theories. But until we become omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-competent, nothing will change it.

3. Context is King: Avoiding the Overload Fallacy

But humility will see this as welcome news, and will be relieved at God's way of dividing the labor. The sad truth is that many Christians spend too much time looking up Greek words and coming to misguided conclusions because they don't really understand how the language works (they often know just enough to be dangerous). But for those who think they can't understand the Bible at all unless they can read Greek, the good news is that 9 times out of 10 you will gain a better understanding of what a word means simply by reading it in its context.

Here's what I mean by 'reading it in its context:' don't just zero in on one word, read the entire sentence. Then read the entire paragraph. As a teacher once noted in a Sunday school class at my church, "Words shouldn't be read with blinders on." The reason for this is obvious when you think about it. Most words don't have a "literal meaning" at all--rather, they have a range of possible meanings (the technical term is 'semantic range'). That's why a dictionary usually lists several possible options. It's only when a word is used in a context that the precise meaning becomes clear.

The better you know a language, the less time you will spend zeroing in on individual words. Consider the sentence: "Cinderella danced at the ball." The average American can read this sentence and understand it immediately. No fluent English speaker who knows the story of Cinderella is going to see the word "ball" and think, "Hmm. I wonder what 'ball' means. I better look it up." But imagine if a misguided non-English speaker were studying this sentence the way many people study the Bible. He might look up the word 'ball' and think, "Ah! Look at this! This word 'ball' is rich in meaning! It can mean all sorts of things! A round object; a non-strike in baseball; a dance. Boy, this sentence is so much richer when you can read it in the original English!"

But of course, as native speakers, we can immediately see the folly of such a method. Yes, the word 'ball' can mean all those things, but in this sentence it only means one of them. Which means that the other possible meanings are irrelevant at this point. Reading every possible meaning into a particular use of a word is sometimes called the "overload fallacy."

Context usually narrows the possible meanings to one (an exception would be those wonderful things called "puns"). So for example, if you want to know what John means by the word "sin" in 1 John 3:4, instead of zeroing in on the word "sin" and doing a word study of 'hamartia' and trying to find out what 'hamarita' 'really' means based on its root, read the entire sentence: "Sin is lawlessness." Then read the surrounding context: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin."

I'm not saying that Greek word studies are bad, or totally unnecessary (after all, we are not native Greek speakers). But unless you do them properly, they'll simply give you the illusion of knowing something when you really don't. Most of the time you'll do better to simply compare a number of solid translations like the NASB, ESV, NIV, and NLT. After all, the people who translated these Bible versions understand Greek far better than you or I ever will. So don't throw away their expertise. And as you read, pay attention to the context. An ounce of good contextual analysis is worth a pound of poorly done Greek word studies.

So take your English Bibles and read carefully. When you do word studies, avoid the root fallacy, take advantage of scholars' expertise, and remember that context is king. In short, read, reread, and reread again. It's not as flashy a study method, and it probably won't make you feel (or look) as smart, but it'll give you much more accurate results.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Does the Bible Condone Slavery? Abraham Booth, the Slave Trade, and the Wrong Side of History

By Justin Dillehay

Does the Bible condone slavery? In the current heat of the sexual revolution, you will often hear people claim that it does.

The argument runs something like this: "The Bible is being used today to condemn certain sexual orientations just as it was once to used to condone slavery. And just as those who once used the Bible to condone slavery were on the wrong side of history, so also those who now use the Bible to condone homophobia are also on the wrong side of history."

With regard to the argument that 'Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery were on the wrong side of history,' all I can say is 'I agree.' But I agree because the Bible's eschatology (i.e. view of the future) clearly proclaims that in God's eternal kingdom there will be no slavery, since "enslavers" will be excluded from it (1 Tim. 1:10; see also Rev. 18:13). (Interestingly enough, the Bible's eschatology also proclaims that in God's eternal kingdom there will be no marriage (Luke 20:34-26), except for Christ's marriage to his bride (Rev. 19:6-8), which was of course the archetype on which human marriage was based from the beginning (Eph. 5:22-33).)

In short, I agree that Christians who argued for slavery by using the Bible were 'on the wrong side of history." But that's because I hold to the Bible's eschatology, not the sexual revolution's eschatology (which can seem to give no justification for why 'history' is heading toward some sexual utopia aside from the fact that that's where they want it to go).

But that still leaves the sad admission that many Christians in the past did use the Bible to justify slavery. And that still leaves the question, "Were those Christians right to interpret Scripture as they did?" This question is often ignored, or else buried under the postmodern assumption that all interpretations are created equal, or that disagreement about a text's meaning could only stem from obscurity on the part of the text itself (rather than from moral blindness on the part of its readers).

But notice also how I said that many Christians used the Bible to justify slavery, not all Christians. Also frequently overlooked in this discussion is the fact that many Christians opposed slavery, and were in the vanguard of the abolitionist movement. Kevin DeYoung's recent post (here) provides a helpful snapshot of some of the Christians who opposed slavery from very early on.

I'd like to introduce you to an example of a biblical case against the slave trade that DeYoung didn't mention. It comes from the pen of Abraham Booth.

Abraham Booth's Biblical Case Against the Slave Trade

Abraham Booth
Abraham Booth (1734-1806) was an English Baptist pastor. In 1792, he preached and published a sermon against slavery entitled "Commerce in the Human Species, and the Enslaving of Innocent Persons Inimical to the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Christ."

The title says it all.

Booth begins his case from Exodus 21:16 and 1 Tim. 1:9-10, which forbid "man stealing" upon penalty of death. He then proceeds to discuss the Golden Rule and other biblical principles.

Throughout the sermon, Booth responds to all the allegedly biblical justifications for chattel slavery made from both testaments, and concludes: 1) that laws such as Exodus 21:16 and 1 Tim. 1:10 are clearly moral in nature, and are simply a reflection of the natural law (i.e. "the law of nature") that God has written on the heart of all human beings 2) that some laws concerning slavery in the Old Testament belonged to Israel in particular as a civil state and as such expired with the Old Covenant, and therefore do not apply to modern states like Great Britain (see the 1689 Baptist Confession, 19:4) 3) that even if such OT laws did apply to Great Britain, they would still not justify the manner in which the Atlantic slave trade was being carried out 4) that the slave trade stands in clear violation of the Golden Rule and the 2nd great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 5) that the slave trade is a terrible hindrance to the acceptance of the gospel among the nations.

The sermon runs about 35 pages, and can be read online at the Internet Archive here: I hope you'll bookmark it and take time to read it in the future, especially if you find my thumbnail sketch of his points unconvincing.

In the meantime, having given you Booth's bullet points, let me give you some excerpts that I found helpful. I have taken the liberty of breaking up some of Booth's long sentences and dividing his paragraphs to make them more readable.

In this first excerpt, Booth argues both from the natural law and from the Golden Rule. Don't miss his powerful illustration of what the slave trade would look like if it were turned on the British themselves.
Is it lawful for the buy and enslave the Africans? [And] whence did they, rather than those very Africans, acquire that dreadful right? I say dreadful right. For the idea of any individual, or any people, possessing the authority to treat the innocent as thought they were [wickedly] guilty, is hateful, and shocking to reason, to conscience, and to common sense...
Must the right under consideration [then] be inferred from what is called the law of nature? But that is the same in Africa as it is in Europe. Entirely the same all over the globe. According to this law, be the state of the innocent Negro ever so obscure, his poverty ever so great, his manners ever so rude, or his mental capacities ever so contracted, he has an equal claim of personal liberty with any an upon the earth. For the rights of humanity being common to the whole of our species, are the same in every part of the world.
It follows, therefore, that if the lawfulness of purchasing innocent persons...exists among men, it must be a common right, and equally possessed by all nations...It would consequently be quite as...humane for the Africans, laden with produce of their own country, annually to visit our English ports, as we do theirs, and for similar purposes. Yes, they might, with equal power, and with equal out two hundred ships for the port of London, or Bristol, and of Liverpool, ships adapted to the stowage of men, and furnished with a frightful apparatus to render the confinement of Britons completely miserable, as well as perfectly secure. 
When...this man-trading fleet arrived, if cargoes of men, women, and children were not prepared, the officers belonging to each vessel might practice all their arts, to excite a spirit of covetousness and of cruelty in our governors and fellow-subjects; in order that by an armed force, the peaceable inhabitants of whole villages might be captured. That in our courts of justice, innocent persons, for the advantage of their judges, might be convicted. That private individuals might kidnap whomsoever they could, and thought salable. That by all these infamous means the ship might be freighted...with forty-thousand Britons. [And] finally, that all who survive their miserable confinement while on board might be taken to the best market for human species; exposed, in the most indecent manner to public sale; handled and examined like so many head of cattle by their purchasers; consigned over with their unborn posterity to the most abject and cruel slavery, from generation to generation.
And all for--what? Here let humanity blush, let mercy weep, and let justice be roused into indignation: but let not Britons forget that this is a picture, in miniature, of their own behavior toward the Africans.
Using the same kind of arguments that C.S. Lewis would later use in Book 1 of his classic Mere Christianity, Booth also argues that however much men may pretend that slavery is moral, they would instantly recognize its wickedness if they were on the receiving end of it:
In either of these cases...reason and conscience, the common sentiments and feelings of mankind will all unite, if not debauched by avarice or blunted by habit, in approving this law of Jehovah as just: "He that stealeth a man and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death." [Exodus 21:16] Nor is there a man on earth, not even those who are grown hoary [i.e. old and gray] in the trade of man stealing...that would not execrate the character of him to whose power or subtlety he had fallen a victim for similar purposes, and that would pronounce him worthy of death. (189)
Finally, Booth responds to the objection that the New Testament nowhere explicitly condemns slavery, or encourages slaves to revolt. He makes a couple of insightful parallels that I had never thought of before.
It may perhaps be objected, "Personal slavery...though much practiced in apostolic times, is nowhere expressly condemned in the New Testament. Nay, Christian slaves are exhorted to live in peaceable subjection to their own masters." To this it may be replied, "Nor was the sanguinary despotism of Nero expressly condemned; but the disciples of Christ were commanded to behave peaceably under his government. The sports of the gladiator, authorized by the Roman laws, were extremely bloody and wicked; yet they are nowhere expressly condemned by the apostles. Numerous are the species of dishonesty and theft, which are so common among us, and perhaps were so among people in those times. which nevertheless, are not expressly forbidden in the NT."
But as all these things are breaches of moral duty; and as they are all inconsistent with that regard which is due to our neighbor's happiness; it is quite sufficient that they are implicitly and strongly forbidden by general moral principles...Any man of common sense, whose mind is not biased by self-interest, may easily infer from the general principles, commands, and prohibitions of Christianity, that stealing an innocent man must be the worst species of rapine, that buying such a person is justifying the robbery, and that actually enslaving him gives a sanction to those infamous deeds by putting a finishing hand to the work of injustice. Besides, as an express prohibition of slavery might have might have excited a more violent opposition to the Christian cause than almost anything with which it had to conflict...(213-214)
Booth's language is dated, but his arguments are still relevant. His short treatise is just one among many like it. If you were inclined to answer our opening question with a yes, I hope this post has given you pause. And if you are 'almost persuaded' to agree with the argument of this post, then I hope you will go read all 35 pages of Booth's sermon. Better yet, read the Bible with an open heart, and be not almost, but altogether persuaded that those Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery were not only on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of Scripture.