My 5 Favorite Books of 2019

It’s become an annual tradition for me and many others to write a post like this. There are a few reasons why I continue to compile this list. First, I love reading and I love to share what I’m reading. Second, I’m also always encouraged by others’ thoughts and their lists often help me pick out a few last books for my Christmas wish list. Third, I get a lot of books from publishers, and while I don’t review or share books I don’t end up liking, I’m always willing to recommend a good book if it is, in fact, good. Fourth, I’m regularly asked by folks what books I’m reading or “what’s a good book to read for X topic?” I think this is primarily because I sometimes share book photos on Facebook.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are my five favorite books that I read in 2019. Check out my 2015 list and 2016 list at my old Patheos blog, and my 2017 list and 2018 list posted here at Biblical Reasoning.

Works on the Spirit by Athanasius the Great and Didymus the Blind

I intentionally read several primary texts every year, always with at least a couple of patristic-era works included. This year I read this one for the first time. While Basil the Great’s On the Holy Spirit is a must-read classic, this work shows in particular the development of Athanasius’s Trinitarian theology as he defends the divinity of the Holy Spirit after Nicaea, while also revealing some of the distinctions in language between Athanasius and Basil. If you want an excellent introduction to patristic exegesis, definitely pick up Craig Carter’s latest, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Judging by the title, you might not want your boss to be aware that you’re reading this. But this isn’t a book about anarchy or revolution or antiauthoritarianism — it’s a book about nurturing creativity and elevating good ideas, using examples from business, sports, parenting, and more. This book helped me to feel more at-home in my own personality, as well as helped me better understand my peers.

Introducing Evangelical Theology by Daniel J. Treier

Perhaps the most underrated evangelical theologian publishing right now, Treier has written a fantastic introduction to theology that is built around the structure of the Nicene Creed. The first part of the book, which surveys the Creed as method, the Ten Commandments as moral formation, and the Lord’s Prayer as spiritual formation is worth the price of the book by itself. I hope to use this as a textbook sometime in the near future. I interviewed Dan at ETS for Church Grammar, so lookout for his return to the podcast soon.

The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations edited by Michael W. Holmes

At the urging of my Doktorvater, I read through this slowly over the last year. These writings reflect a sort of bridge between the New Testament writings and some of our earliest church fathers, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian. My particular favorite is the collection of Ignatius’s letters.

Matthew, Disciple and Scribe: The First Gospel and Its Portrait of Jesus by Patrick Schreiner

Among the biblical studies books I read this year, Schreiner’s had me the most interested in returning to its pages (with an honorable mention to Carmen Joy Imes’s Bearing God’s Name). In short, Schreiner is a clear writer who tells a compelling story (with robust biblical-theological insights) about Matthew’s role in writing his Gospel for the sake of advancing the story of Jesus.

Heath Thomas on the Old Testament as Christian Scripture

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Heath Thomas of Oklahoma Baptist University. We discuss becoming a scholar (1:30), the OT as Christian Scripture (4:03), developing a Christian worldview (20:05), his renowned hair (26:53), and more. Buy Heath’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Matthew Emerson on the Biblical Canon, Hermeneutics, and Auburn Football

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Emerson of Oklahoma Baptist University. We discuss developing interests in scholarship (2:40), the importance of the biblical canon’s order and shape (9:55), theological method and allegory (18:00), how Jesus influences and clarifies OT exegesis (31:35), Trinitarian theology and method (33:35), renewing Baptist theology (44:33), the legitimacy of Auburn’s football championships (49:40), and more. Buy Matt’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.


Old Testament Echoes of Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is like the story of Joseph in prison in the book of Genesis: what Jesus’s brothers and the Gentile authorities meant for evil, God meant for good.

Holy Saturday is like the crossing of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus: Jesus goes before his people through the waters of death, leading them out of bondage and into new life.

Holy Saturday is like the scapegoat in the book of Leviticus: having made atonement for sin at the cross, Jesus also goes outside the camp and into the darkness of Sheol for us and before us.

Holy Saturday is like the the wilderness wanderings in Numbers: like the Spirit led Israel through the trackless wilderness, so Jesus leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.

Holy Saturday is like Deuteronomy: as Israel looked backward at the Exodus and forward to the Conquest, so the descent reminds us of what Jesus has already done to defeat God’s enemies at the cross and looks forward to his final victory in the resurrection.

Holy Saturday is like the Conquest in the book of Joshua: Jesus drives out the giants in the land of the dead, Death and Hades, so that they can no longer tempt and test God’s people.

Holy Saturday is like the book of Judges: Jesus breaks the teeth of our oppressors so that his people have rest, not for 40 or 80 years, but for eternity.

Holy Saturday is like the story of the Ark in the temple of Dagon in Samuel: having been taken by the enemy into the stronghold of the enemy, Jesus destroys the strongman and liberates his people from oppression.

Holy Saturday is like Elijah on Mt. Carmel in Kings: Jesus goes to the throne of the enemy and, through seemingly foolish means, shows that Death has no power; only YHWH-in-the-flesh does.

Holy Saturday is the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:2: “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”

Holy Saturday begins the reversal of the judgment of decreation in Jeremiah 4:23: Jesus enters into the chaotic waters of the void of death and thereby changes it, breaking open its gates and bringing light and life to those who waited for him.

Holy Saturday is like the wheels of fire in Ezekiel: Jesus goes before and with his people into the exile of death, thus reminding them that he and they will return one day to the land of the living.

Holy Saturday is like Jonah’s sojourn in the belly of the fish in the middle of the Book of the Twelve: Israel and the nations are saved through the death, burial, and resurrection of a Hebrew prophet.

Holy Saturday is like the movement from Psalm 22 to Psalm 23: the wise king who has suffered on behalf of his people has lost his life (“nephesh”) and now walks in the valley of the shadow of death, but soon the God of the living will restore his soul (“nephesh”).

Holy Saturday is like God’s speech in Job 41:1-2: Jesus has drawn out the Leviathan, Death, with the fishhook of his humanity, pressing down his tongue with the cord of his perfectly righteous life, putting a rope in his nose with his atoning death, piercing his jaw with his divinity.

Holy Saturday is like the Wise Royal Son in Proverbs: he enters Lady Folly’s house but does not eat her meal. He follows her steps to Sheol but only to bring his people out with him.

Holy Saturday is like the book of Ruth: Jesus, the kinsman redeemer, enters into the famine and darkness of the exile of death and rescues his bride from it, restoring her to the land of the living.

Holy Saturday is like the marriage procession in the Song of Solomon: Jesus comes out of the wilderness of death like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense (3:6), to marry his Bride, the Church.

Holy Saturday is like Ecclesiastes: life is fleeting and death is certain, even for the Son of God…but in dying he has defeated and destroyed Death forever, so fear the LORD and keep his commandments.

Holy Saturday is like Lamentations: the saints who have cried in the valley of the shadow of death, “How long, O Lord?” now see their Redeemer and hope in his impending resurrection, a sign of their own.

Holy Saturday is like the book of Esther: Jesus is not seen or mentioned in the midst of what seem like entirely hopeless circumstances, but he’s still at work for our good.

Holy Saturday is like Daniel in the lion’s den: sealed in the place of darkness and in the presence of all God’s enemies, Jesus is nevertheless in the presence of YHWH and claims victory over those who would seek to destroy him.

Holy Saturday is like the migrations in Ezra-Nehemiah: before God’s people enter their promised rest, Jesus has to lead them from bondage to freedom by crossing through the waters of death in the New Exodus.

Holy Saturday is like the end of Chronicles: Christ’s decree, “It is finished,” has been made, but we wait for the reality of the rebuilt Temple and the restored king in his impending resurrection from the dead.

“I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” -Rev. 1:18

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so may we await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psychoanalyzing Biblical Authors

At an ETS meeting a few years ago, I asked a presenter (and friend) whether he thought John the Seer intentionally wrote Revelation to an ideal reader or to what extent John meant to communicate certain things. I asked that question because it’s a common question I receive when discussing my own research on John’s theology. He gave a helpful answer, but the summary (rightly) was, “I’m not sure.” That’s often my answer, as well, but I was hoping he would give me some kind of uncharted insight that I could cite later. Alas.

Relatedly, I was recently lecturing at a university on the development of Trinitarian language from the NT to Nicaea and a student asked me afterward, “Do you think the OT writers would have had a pre-existing concept of the Trinity?” Though I answered the question the best I could, my initial comment was, “We need to be careful not to try to psychoanalyze biblical authors.” This is a good general rule for both my question at ETS and the student’s question of me.

That said, we can suggest or hypothesize about particular authors’ intentions or thought processes because we have the final form of their texts in front of us. Along with the text itself, what we know of the historical or cultural conditions in which it was written can help us make relatively informed conclusions about the author’s underlying intentions or influences — so long as we use those tools with care and caution.

For example, in my dissertation, I’ve made the following statement about John’s incipient Trinitarianism:

John’s apocalypse contains a view of the Trinity—that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal in substance and yet distinct in personhood—that is incipient; that is, John’s explanation of the relationship between the persons was developing rather than fully or systematically established. This developing understanding of the persons means that John’s Trinitarianism is not tidy or terminologically precise; therefore, the explicitness of his descriptions will vary from passage to passage. Like other NT writers working from early Christian kerygma—particularly the Christological interpretation of the OT, patterns of devotion, and religious experience—he uses language and concepts familiar to himself and his audience to describe the apparent multiplicity of persons within the identity of Israel’s one God. . . .

While at some level we cannot interrogate John’s mental apparatus in order to understand all of his intentions and presuppositions, we have the final form of Revelation’s text through which we can ascertain judgments about his theological project. For example, John clearly constructs Revelation as a cohesive and unified letter with an epilogue and prologue and, as we will see, his method for applying concepts and allusions varies but is not haphazard. . . .

Regardless of whether it’s John or another biblical author, we should be careful not to psychoanalyze him, most obviously because he is not here to defend himself against our false conclusions. However, we should not allow this caution to scare us from saying anything definitive about the purpose, method, or theological project of an author. Indeed, Christian scholars acknowledge that each text is written by a human author, of course, but also by a Divine Author who is working behind the scenes in ways the human author cannot see. In turn, we as modern readers have the Holy Spirit and a biblical canon that offer us the ability to pay attention to patterns within both individual books and the overarching biblical storyline that may not be obvious on an historical-critical Petri dish.

I suspect that many biblical scholars are so paralyzed by my first question above that they cannot appreciate this tension.


Matthew Bates on Ancient Exegesis, Faith Alone, and 7 Kids

This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Bates of Quincy University. We discuss crazy birth stories (2:20), becoming a scholar (5:00), the apostles’ and early church fathers’ hermeneutics (10:50), expanding on the definition of “faith alone” (18:45), favorite fiction novels (32:00), and more. Buy Matt’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

Thomas Schreiner on Pauline Debates, Parenting, and Being a Hipster

Our debut episode is a conversation with Dr. Tom Schreiner of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We discuss parenting (3:50), becoming a scholar (6:30), the development of Pauline scholarship over the past 30 years (8:30), favorite books on Revelation (29:40), what complementarians get right and wrong (35:40), and more. Buy Tom’s books.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.

*** This podcast is designed to discuss all sorts of topics from various points of view. Therefore, guests’ views do not always reflect the views of the host, his church, or his institution.

Introducing: Church Grammar

In this short introduction we discuss the purpose and hopes for the Church Grammar podcast, and look forward to some forthcoming guests and topics.

Church Grammar is presented by B&H Academic and the Christian Standard Bible. Intro music: Purple Dinosaur by nobigdyl.


Are Evangelicals Too Soft on Modern-Day Heterodoxy?

Andy Stanley’s Marcion-like (or maybe hyper-dispensational?) view of the OT has resurfaced and the outcry has already been well worn. This is nothing new for Stanley—it has been a trend of his for years (and years). However, I don’t want to address him specifically here. The defense of his teachings from some corners of evangelicalism is more intriguing to me.

Some of the initial reactions on social media and blogs focused on the supposed lack of engagement from Stanley’s critics. Statements like, “If you’d just listen to the whole sermon, you may not disagree as much as you think” and, “Everyone who speaks publicly as much as Stanley is liable to slip up or be imprecise at times” ran amuck. Neither of these defenses holds much water. Indeed, many of us have been paying attention to Stanley for years, and we know that (1) this is certainly consistent with his theology of Scripture and the OT; and (2) he is one of the most precise and gifted communicators on the planet, so while he’s entitled to some imprecision or slip-ups, he has been very clear and articulate on this over the years (as we just noted).

Again, innumerable responses have already been written about why his view is Marcion-like and foreign to the writers of the NT. Collectively, these all say it better than I could. But the underlying theological assumptions that lead people to defend Stanley on this subject are problematic.

These assumptions lead to the minimization of the theology itself. Many folks rushed to his defense, arguing that Stanley is merely trying to reach a new generation of non-believers who are put off by the “angry God of the OT.” Others, similarly, argue that his view of the OT is simply a matter of preference—his view is one perspective of many, and thus some theological fundamentalists just need to take a chill pill. Here’s why both are problematic.

1. Reaching lost people is viewed as the primary goal of Christianity.

There is no doubt that evangelism is an important call for Christians. Indeed, the last thing Jesus said to his disciples before he ascended to the Father’s right hand is “go and make disciples of all nations.” Stanley’s remarks are defended on the basis that he’s just trying to get people to darken the doors of the church so they can hear the gospel message and be surrounded by believers. Great Commission!

First, this shortchanges the Great Commission, because Jesus also told them to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” and to baptize them in the name of the triune God. His commission was one of not only making disciples but also maturing them in the content of his teachings. The core teaching of the OT was the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4—teach your children God’s commandments from generation to generation. This was very much a doctrinal statement. Jesus consistently pointed back to the OT’s commands while explicating and fulfilling (not destroying or minimizing) their meanings doctrinally. Paul carried this on in several places, including his charge to Timothy to “guard the good deposit” (1 Tim. 1:13-14), which was certainly a statement about preserving right theology.

Second, this view teaches people that Scripture is not sufficient for salvation and sanctification. Stanley can claim the inspiration of Scripture all day, but if he thinks the Bible needs defending or even editing (his statement about “unhitching” the NT from the OT gives this impression), then he denies its sufficiency. Reaching lost people with a half-Bible and teaching them to ignore significant portions doesn’t build confidence in God’s Word, and it represents a posture on Stanley’s part that the whole of Scripture really isn’t fully sufficient to give someone “wisdom for salvation” and “training in righteousness” (1 Tim. 3:15). Of course, “Scripture” to the NT writers was primarily the OT.

So while helping people move from spiritual darkness to spiritual light is a core component of biblical Christianity, the old saying “what you win them with is what you win them to” is especially relevant here. The 20th-century megachurch mentality of filling seats has already proven to produce loads of false converts, and this mentality is part of the reason why. When they’re given milk but never move onto solid food, they remain (almost literally) spiritual babies who never grow up to determine for themselves good and bad theology (Eph. 4:14; Heb. 5:12-6:1).

2. Heterodoxy is overlooked as mere preference.

Matt Emerson has rightly pointed out that we can’t judge all theological error based on its consistency with Nicaea. Yet church culture has been infiltrated by the larger culture around it, buying into a version of universal truth where everyone has a right to their theological opinion and no one has the right to judge another’s hermeneutic.

While I’m thrilled that many Christians see early creeds and confessions as important doctrinal parameters (we need more of that actually!), it becomes as solid as theological Jell-O when we assume that a few lines from the creeds encompass the entirety of orthodoxy and theological correctness. We then allow heterodoxy to run rampant in the church, excusing any theological statement or biblical position as a matter of “agree to disagree” simply because it doesn’t violate the literal wording of a particular creed.

Of course, the early church themselves wouldn’t have done this. The creeds were in some ways bare minimum requirements for orthodoxy, but they were also in response to certain major currents of heresy in the church. The sexual revolution and hermeneutical sloppiness of the past 100 years (both of which Stanley has overlooked or directly advanced) would’ve almost certainly produced councils had they been significant movements in that era. But we know, of course, that these views are modern novelties.

While I could make the case that Stanley’s view on the OT is an affront to proper interpretation of creedal language, it is heterodoxy at best and therefore still falls well below the standards of both traditional orthodoxy and scriptural warrant.

I’m not sure how a fractured Protestantism handles these issues in any official manner, but it’s high time we believe and advance a thicker orthodoxy that’s creedally informed, but more importantly scripturally coherent.

God’s Kingdom from Genesis to Revelation

41BrepIX6yL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The biblical definition of “kingdom” has long been debated. A classic evangelical view taught to me in grad school was George Eldon Ladd’s: the kingdom is God’s sovereign rule. Others have pushed a more social kingdom, arguing that God’s kingdom exists anywhere that social justice is being practiced. Of course, both of these definitions represent two extreme poles.

In his new book, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, Patrick Schreiner sets out to give us a more holistic understanding of God’s kingdom. In a twist on Graeme Goldsworthy’s classic definition, Schreiner defines the kingdom as “the King’s power over the King’s people in the King’s place” (18). In just 143 pages, Schreiner clearly and meticulously defends this definition from Genesis to Revelation. Don’t take my word for it; read the book.

Perhaps the best summary of the kingdom story comes near the end of his chapter on Revelation:

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil seemed to send the kingdom plan on a downward spiral, but it was through the tree of the cross that the kingdom was fulfilled. Now the tree of life [in Rev. 21] consummates the kingdom story started so long ago. The dragon is slain; the Lamb has won; the people are free; they are home. (130)