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Teaching Through Titus

Study-of-Titus-2-884x497
I recently taught a 3 part series through the letter to Titus at FBC Jackson, TN, and the audio of each session is available here.

Value of Greek in Preaching, Pastor Nathan Joyce

Nathan Joyce, Union alum and pastor of Heartland Worship Center in Paducah, Kentucky, recently recorded this brief video on the value of Greek for preaching and pastoral ministry for my first year Greek class. In just about 90 seconds he makes the point so well, so I wanted to share it here as well.

He makes the important point that knowing Greek isn’t simply about examining specific words but getting deeper into the flow of the text. I also appreciate the pastoral heart evident in his comments. Greek isn’t about impressing or building the pastor up. It is all about being able to communicate more faithfully to the people you have been called to shepherd, as Nathan puts it, “the people I love so dearly.”  If Greek is just another academic tool, it won’t mean a whole lot. But, as a useful tool in the hand of a faithful shepherd, enabling to more faithfully and carefully tend, feed, care for and defend his flock- in that case this is a powerful thing indeed.

Thank you, Nathan, for your example.

Prayer of Thanks for the Life of Howard Marshall

I was richly blessed attending the service of thanksgiving for the life of Howard Marshall last weekend in Aberdeen. The service was rich, profound and moving. I may write more about it in days to come, but here I want to share a portion of the prayer given by Professor Andrew Walls. Walls has for some time been a member of Crown Terrace Methodist in Aberdeen, where the service was held and where Howard had been a member for over 60 years (CT once referred to Walls as “the most important person you don’t know”). Prof. Walls thanked God for the gospel, the church, teachers and preachers given to the church, and then specifically, as one of those teachers, Howard Marshall. I include here his words which followed. His description of Howard is fitting and provides an example to emulate.

 

“a scholar who diligently sought heavenly wisdom and the truth as it is in Jesus

a teacher who cared deeply for those he taught and was ever at their service

a writer whose work has illuminated scripture for many all over the world

a preacher who called us to righteousness and always pointed to Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life

a Christian leader who was content to be the servant of Christ’s people

a dear friend whose warmth and care brought cheer and encouragement and succor time and time again.

As we gratefully remember his life, his work, his example, we thank you that you gave him to us. …

We humbly ask for the continuance of his work and his witness through his writings, through those of us who learned from him and through all of us who were touched by his life and his words and his example.”

Go Set a Watchman

Go_Set_a_WatchmanMy first completed book of the year is Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Despite all the criticism of the book, I thought it was superb. They say it was a draft. May I be so blessed as to write such drafts! If Lee announced she had a forthcoming volume of scrap stories about Jean Louise’s childhood, I would pre-order it today (or at least I’d start looking for a sale!). I love the way she writes, and the childhood stories are a favorite part of her books for me. So, even if such a collection had no great moral tale, I’d enjoy reading it.

I haven’t closely followed all the discussion about Go Set a Watchman, but from the general talk, I had heard two main complaints: 1) as a draft it needed further editing and 2) disappointment with Atticus who now appears as a racist. I found neither criticism compelling.

On the editing, just about any work could be further edited. Fine. But this is a compelling story as it stands. To Kill a Mockingbird was masterpiece and the foreshadowing and parallelism was brilliant. I did not see the same in this book, but that is no real criticism. There are some dangling story lines that I’d like to see completed (What will she do with Hank? Personally, I like him!), but that is not uncommon in novels. The main point of the story is resolved, and that is what is required (more on that below).

Then, it seems the main complaint is that our hero Atticus is tarnished. This response is understandable at one level, because it is a testimony to the power of the previous book. It seems most readers had a similar experience to me in being completely taken with Atticus. He is the exemplary father, the strong, quiet, faithful man. So, any disappointment with such a hero is bound to go hard. But, that is the point of Go Set a Watchman. I wonder if those who complain about the book caught its point. This book, unlike its predecessor, is not a morality tale on race. It is primarily a coming of age tale. The racial tension in Maycomb is not central. Instead the central point is the need for Jean Louise to become her own person- still respecting and loving her father, to see he is only a man and to stand on her own two feet. This is an important point in life. Mockingbird stoked my desires to be a good father. Watchman reminded me to give my children, particularly my sons who are beginning to set out on their own, the opportunity to move out from under my shadow. I long to be a faithful, strong example for them, but not for them to be lost in my shadow, thoughtlessly imitating me. I want them to own their faith and stand on their own two feet. That is what Watchman is about.

So, if you object to Atticus’s handling of the racial tensions in Maycomb, so be it. Make a good argument and stay by it as he encouraged his daughter to do. This reminds us as well how complicated such issues are at the time they arise. Living well through them is much different from assessing them from the cool, convenient distance of history. Good men wrestled with the issues of their day and none handled them perfectly. Let us wrestle carefully then today.

And, good fathers teach, train and provide examples. Then, they prod their children out of their nest to try their own wings. Such prodding can be painful, but good parents will embrace the difficulty for the joy set before them.

Remembering Those Who Taught Me

2015 was marked by the death of three teachers who have had significant impact on my life. First, on June 10, Dr. Louise Bentley died. Dr. Bentley taught me Arts in Western Civilization and has ever since been a model to me for what a teacher ought to be- love of the subject matter, love of students, high standards, and love of the Lord. She regularly said, “I never gave a grade in my life. Every grade in my class was earned.” My tribute to her was posted earlier.

Then on June 15th Elisabeth Elliot died. I never met her, though my wife did. Nonetheless, through her books she had a particular shaping influence on me. Her books Shadow of the Almighty and Passion and Purity were among the most significant shaping influences on my life in my college days. Discussion of her writings was central in my early discussions with the beautiful young woman who would become my wife. We continued to get every Elisabeth Elliot book we could find and to read them. Tammie (who would later become my wife) gave me Jim Elliot’s journals as a gift. Mark of a Man and Let Me Be a Woman were important books for Tammie and me.

Lastly, in December, Howard Marshall, my doctoral supervisor, passed away. I have commented on this earlier here and posted a tribute here. Howard was a wonderful example of scholarship and faith, excellence and humility, academics and church life. The number of PhD students he supervised as well as the number of books and articles he wrote are astounding.

The passing of these three key teachers of mine- two whom I knew personally and one from afar- has caused me to reflect on many things. One, I have been richly blessed to have had so many wonderful teachers (even beyond these three). What a gift. Second, reflecting on their lives and their impact causes me to reflect on my life, and how I should apply what I have appreciated in them. As they taught me, challenged me, helped me and provided an example for me, may I do similarly for those coming behind me. Let me be diligent, never satisfied with mediocrity in myself or others, humble, helpful, gracious, God-glorifying, church-rooted like them. In God’s plan truth in general and THE Truth, in particular, are handed down from one generation to the next. Third, life is shorter than we ever really think. Let me number my days that I might receive a heart of wisdom.

Best Reads of 2015

Each year I keep a list of the books I read all the way through, typically with brief notes, as a way of tracking my thoughts and a way to look back on each year and see some of what influenced me. So, in this post I have drawn from that list some of the best books I read this year with slightly edited versions of the notes I jotted down after reading them.

Though it was difficult, I selected a Top 10 from the books I read this year. These 10 aren’t listed in a particular order and they made this list for various reasons ranging from sheer enjoyment to level of impact on me. Following the Top 10 are some more books from my reading this year (in no particular order).

 

Top 10

  1. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara Tuchman- Amazing in its scope and breadth as well as verve and nuance. Very helpful for getting a feel of the 14th century. It is easy to see the roots of the Reformation as well as the French revolution. It is true that “Dark Ages” is an unfair descriptor of the Middle Ages, but this account shows clearly the decay of the church at this time and the need for the Reformation.
  2. No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy- What a powerful story! Begins quickly with adventure and intrigue, and then the profound reflection begins. Deals significantly with the degeneration of our culture asking deep questions about what matters in life, questions about the value of war, importance of manners, how to hold a culture together.I have not seen the movie, but apparently it is significantly different from the book, missing, from what I can tell, the depth of the book. The sheriff can serve as a picture of pastoral ministry as he feels his responsibility to guard and care for his people.
  3. Soaring Higher: Itinerary of a Fifty Year Flight of Faith, Phil Eyster- I have long hoped Phil would write down these stories I have heard him tell for years. These are powerful, humorous, stirring, challenging stories. (See previous post)
  4. That Your Faith May Not Fail: Peter’s Sermon, Selah Helms- This is a powerful account of the labor and faith of a dear family caring for their severely injured son/brother. The Helms are dear friends and reading this account led me to weep and to long for God more. (See my previous post which includes the blurb I wrote for the book).
  5. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, Tom Reiss- Fascinating read. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite novels, but I had never heard this story before this book came out. The account of the French Revolution from this angle alone was interesting. The author is particularly interested in the place of race in the French Revolution, following the biracial father of Alexandre Dumas. I knew nothing of the emancipation program pursued by the revolutionary government and the reversal of these policies by Napoleon.
  6. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee- So good! I had never read this one before, but did so with my boys for school. It is a powerful story, engaging, wonderfully written. It would have been well worth reading if it only contained the humorous stories of Scout’s childhood in Alabama in 1930’s! Add to that the profound ethical deliberations, the portrait of courage, and the dealing with race relations and this is a truly great novel. It repays much contemplation as the author uses parallelism and foreshadowing in profound ways.I’m currently half way through the sequel, Go Set a Watchman and am loving it as well- despite all the criticism. Lee is a superb writer.
  7. Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield- Powerful. About so much more than homosexuality. Powerful portrayal of deep repentance. Challenged me to deeper attention to God and willingness to change, respond. Challenged me with the example of the pastor who reached out to her. Challenged me with the portrait of her family now- intentionality, outreach, faith
  8. Odyssey, Homer- I really enjoyed re-reading this with my boys. Many good points on courage, perseverance, faithfulness (though a double standard on this between men and women!). Fun observations on Greek. Striking contrasts with the Bible- esp. concerning the gods. Here you need the gods’ help but you also must beware lest they trick or seduce you. They are capricious. What a reminder of how good it is to know the true God is faithful and just! Penelope is a striking picture of Christ’s bride, the Church, awaiting the return of her Groom who has been gone a long time. She waits faithfully remaining true to him even though there are many suitors seeking to steal her affections (2 Cor 11:1-4). She gets close to giving up hope, yet she remains faithful. There are even statements of faith that the husband will return and judge those who have been wasting his house- “there will be blood.”
  9. The Histories, Herodotus- This work, often considered the first work of proper history is ripe with lessons for today. It has dull parts where lists of basic data are given, but also many amazing stories from man-eating ants, to flying snakes to the war between the Greeks and Persians. I hope to write a full post on observations from this book soon.
  10. Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton- Very good, rich & deep. Set in South Africa, I knew this novel dealt with racism but I was struck by how carefully nuanced and deeply Christian it is. Paton avoided easy answers and opportunities to place sweeping blame on any one group. Good portrait of a pastor as well- struggling faithful man. Honest.

 

Other Good Reads of the Year:

  1.  A Third Testament: A Modern Pilgrim Explores the Spiritual Wanderings of Augustine, Blake, Pascal, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and Dostoevsky, Malcolm Muggeridge- Muggeridge is a fascinating writer- if you like Chesterton, you’ll like Muggeridge. And, this are great vignettes on key Christians from various walks of life.
  2. Is God anti-gay? And other questions about Homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction, Sam Allberry- An excellent, concise treatment if this issue from a faithful man who knows this struggle.
  3. Othello, Shakespeare- A tale of the tragedy and power of jealousy. Painful in its portrayal of the power of slander and wicked connivance.
  4. The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, A Conan Doyle- I enjoyed returning to these stories which I enjoyed as a child. The audio version linked here is really well done.
  5. The Temple, George Herbert (In his Complete English Poems, linked)- I have long enjoyed Herbert’s shorter poems, and enjoyed the chance to read this collection with my sons. Profound.
  6. Here I Stand, Roland Bainton- Another re-read with my sons. Bainton writes history well so this reads like a good story. A great place to begin on Luther.
  7. Tartuffe, Moliere- Read this play with my sons for school, & I really enjoyed it!- much better than Romeo & Juliet (see below, under disappointments). Great point (on hypocrisy) and great use of words (even in translation!). Many memorable lines.
  8. The Man who Was Greenmantle: A Biography of Aubrey Herbert, Margaret Fitzherbert- I was very interested in this because I enjoyed the novels of John Buchan (including Greenmantle)so much. This was a fascinating read. It was a bit slow in places, but great story of an amazing life and insight into the different world which was pre-WWI Europe. (See previous post)
  9. Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes- Another classic read with my boys. There were slow parts but a lot of humor and good reflection on motivation.
  10. Frederick the Wise, Sam Wellman- Fascinating information on the German prince who was Martin Luther’s protector (See previous post)
  11. 150 Questions about the Psalter, Bradley Johnston- Very helpful book in catechism form on the interpretation and use of the Psalms
  12. A. T. Robertson: A Biography, Everett Gill- Good, easy read. Hagiographic at times, but I’m really glad someone took down all this so soon after Robertson’s death. And I’m amazed there’s never been another biography
  13. A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, Gary Burge- good, though the title is odd since the story covers more than a week. Nice way to learn some background information on the New Testament.
  14. The Inside of the Cup, Winston Churchill- Not that Winston Churchill, but the American novelist. This book was the bestselling book in the US in 1913. Slow in parts, I found the story compelling overall. It chronicles a pastor’s struggle with orthodox faith in the light of human suffering. The novel argues for tossing away orthodoxy, but you can see the errors that lead to this.
  15. Prayer, Tim Keller – Very good, drawing from the best of writings on prayer over the centuries. Very helpful.
  16. Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), Scott Hahn- nice explication of the key texts and theology of Christmas. Even though his Catholic perspective leads him to places where I strongly disagree, this is a very helpful book.(See previous post)

 

Not so Good:

  1. Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare- I don’t think this is as good as Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello. I don’t like Romeo or Juliet as characters.
  2. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka- Really odd. I’m not sure what is all that compelling or interesting about the story. I suppose if you felt like you were a burden to your family because of some oddity the story might resonate. To me it just seemed weird, never drew me in and left me saying, “So what?”

Joy to the World, by Scott Hahn

joy to the world hahn Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does), Scott Hahn
(Image, 2014), hb. 175 pp.

I really enjoyed this book where Scott Hahn expounds key texts related to the Christmas story. Hahn writes for a popular audience and provides clear exposition. Of course, in places his Catholic take on things (e.g., perpetual virginity of Mary) leads to places where I have serious disagreement, but overall this is an engaging and helpful book.

Hahn argues for the importance of the idea of family in the Christmas story and the entire flow of Scripture- “There is a family dimension to all the saving mysteries” (7). Specifically related to Christmas, Hahn writes:

“The Christmas story has an unconventional hero- not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family” (8).
“When God came to save us, he made salvation inseparable from family life, manifest in family life” (9).

In contrast, “The evil king Herod is clearly anti-family, anti-child- murdering Bethlehem’s offspring, devouring them” (9).

Hahn is at his best connecting biblical texts, showing parallels to the OT story, historical background data and providing salient comments from authors in the ancient church. He argues throughout the ongoing impact of the Christmas event. “What happened in Bethlehem didn’t stay in Bethlehem. It changed the world. It changed history. It changed the very structure of the cosmos” (91).

I think he is right also in his closing call to evangelism through joy.

“We evangelize when we … enjoy celebrating the feasts- when we have ourselves a merry little Christmas, and invite others to share it. That’s the best way to evangelize friends, family, coworkers, and everybody else. Why? Because the world offers countless pleasures, but no lasting joys. What Jesus Christ gives is joy, even in the midst of hardship and sorrow- even amid persecution, flight, and exile” (166).

Amen.

Mary Didn’t Know

Stained glass depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby JesusThere have been a flood of memes and other comments this year mocking the popular song, “Mary Did You Know?” “Yes, Mary knew!”, they proclaim, typically pointing to Luke 1 where Gabriel tells her that the child born to her “will be called holy- the Son of God.” I don’t feel the need to defend every pop Christmas song, but I think, in this case, the song deserves more careful consideration.

Yes, Mary was told that her son would be the Son of God. She undoubtedly understood the angel’s point that her son would be the Messiah. But, how did she understand these words “Son of God” and “Messiah”? If she was like the best of her contemporaries, she did not grasp the fullness of these truths prior to the resurrection. Peter and John believed Jesus was the Messiah, but they did not grasp all this meant. The Messiah was not expected to be divine, and “Son of God” could be understood in the first century in terms much lower than “Eternal Second Person of the Godhead.” By all accounts Mary believed what she was told, but she would only come to understand the fullness of what she was told in time, especially after the Resurrection.

We must bear in mind Mark 3 as well. Verse 21 tells us that after Jesus called his twelve apostles and launched his public ministry, “his family … went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”  His “family” here is then described as his mother and brothers in verse 31. Mary, apparently, did not understand all that Jesus was doing. This is not surprising. Jewish Messianic expectation was diverse and did not grasp all that Jesus eventually did. They saw in a glass darkly. Mary, even with what she was told, even as she stored up these things in her heart and pondered on them, was surprised- even as we all are! This is part of the wonder of Christmas, that God colored outside our lines, blew away even our wildest expectations and did something grander than our wildest imaginations. He did not merely send a new David- a mighty, yet fallen leader; instead He came himself to walk among us.

So, no, Mary did not know that her baby boy would walk on water, give sight to a blind man, calm a storm with his hand. She knew he would save his people but it doesn’t seem that she knew the full significance of this. She knew he was the “Son of God,” but without full awareness of what this meant, I don’t think she knew that as she kissed him, she kissed the face of God. She didn’t know the sleeping child she was holding was in fact the great I Am. She did not yet fully grasp his role as heaven’s perfect Lamb.

So, we do right to think carefully about the songs that come along, but we need not be unnecessarily critical. We ought to let this song remind us of the wonder of the Incarnation that surpassed all those before us could have asked or thought. Gobsmacked awe is the appropriate response to the Incarnation.

Merry Christmas to you all as we worship in wonder and awe at the incarnate Deity.

Professor Howard Marshall

IHM christmas letterAs has now been widely reported, I Howard Marshall, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Aberdeen University, passed away this weekend.

I had the privilege of studying with Howard doing my doctoral work from 1998-2001. Howard was always clear that no one studied “under” him but “with” him. He corrected my use of prepositions early on. He also insisted that he be called, simply, Howard. In the biographical sketch of Howard which I wrote for his most recent festschrift, I related the humorous manner in which he finally convinced me- against my Southern upbringing- to adopt this practice.

In correspondence over the weekend, my friend J Hering, related a story which illustrates the experience of many who studied in Aberdeen, whether directly with Howard or not. For his research J needed a 40-50 year old unpublished German thesis which he had not been able to locate through the major libraries. J relates:

“When Prof. Marshall one day asked me how my research was coming along, I related to him that I had stalled, due to the unavailability of this single thesis. He just smiled. He had a copy in his personal library. Incredible. I soon learned that there were very few German NT works that he had not read.”

J went on to reflect on Howard’s love for us- “He really looked out for us.” Howard was not J’s supervisor, but he took an interest in helping all of us.

IHM fss presentationThe Gospel Coalition posted tributes to Howard from myself and from Darrell Bock.

Howard’s voluminous writing is often commented on. Here is the bibliography from the festschrift with some updates:
I H Marshall Bibliography
Here are four other tributes which I found and appreciated:

Mark Goodacre: http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2015/12/i-howard-marshall-1934-2015.html

Michael Bird: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2015/12/i-howard-marshall-1934-2015/

Stan Porter: http://domainthirtythree.com/2015/12/12/a-brief-tribute-to-i-howard-marshall/

Chuck Bumgardner: https://cbumgardner.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/i-howard-marshall/

Mark Goodacre’s post includes this Youtube clip of a young Marshall defending historicity of Jesus’s teaching in New Testament- vintage Howard.

Carl Trueman’s interview of Howard in Themelios in 2000 (cited in my tribute) shows much of the heart of the man: https://t.co/ck32zmEK2l

 

CREATOR OF THE STARS OF NIGHT

For this first week of Advent, my poem of the week is this wonderful 7th century hymn that I have only recently come across. I hope you enjoy it as I have.

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless victim all divine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread
To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might, and glory be
From age to age eternally.

-          Unknown author, 7th Century (Conditor alme siderum); translated from Latin to English by John M. Neale in the Hymnal Noted, 1852