Thursday, October 29, 2009

REVIEW: The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus

Deffinbaugh, Robert L (Bob). The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus: Part 1 (John 17:1-5), 2004.

Available: http://bible.org/seriespage/high-priestly-prayer-jesus-part-i-john-171-5.

Reviewed by Christopher L. Sanchez, MBA, Seminary Student.

Focusing on the first five verses of what many refer to as “The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus”, Deffinbaugh begins a commentary series on John 17. These first five verses focus on the relationship between Jesus and his Father ultimately pointing to God’s Glory. Deffinbaugh uses eight observations (as he calls them) to illustrate his position concluding that every action of the Christian should serve the sole purpose of bringing Glory to God.

Deffinbaugh employs many passages of Scripture is illustrate his points giving the reader a great deal to consider. The conversational nature of Jesus’ prayer to the Father points Christians of our day toward the intimate relationship that Christ enjoyed with the Father and we too may enjoy. The second and third points are interesting where Deffinbaugh points out the link between Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and the Upper Room discourse earlier in John and the author’s own linking of our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The importance of prayer is strongly reinforced and supported a great deal of Scripture.

After spending a great deal of time on his first three points, Deffinbaugh moves more quickly through the next four observations then again slowing to expound on his notion that the glorification Jesus has requested is accomplished by means of the cross of Calvary. Here the author uses more than ten Scripture references in support of this point explaining that through the entire process, God’s plan was unfolding according to His plan in His time.

Deffinbaugh concludes by pointing out the lessons to be found in the various prayers of Jesus and this prayer in particular. The principle lesson being the Glory of God and that the purpose of history is for God’s Glory. Prayer need not be lengthy though there is certainly nothing wrong with long prayers. Deffinbaugh reminds us that even Jesus’ more lengthy times of prayer as recorded in Scripture are rather brief.

Deffinbaugh uses a great deal of Scripture to illustrate each of the points he makes in this article. So much so that the seminarian who invested the time to thoroughly unpack each point further was surely edified by the study. Deffinbaugh demonstrates his many years as a minister of the Gospel and teacher by clearly laying out each well-supported point and challenging his readers to dig deep into God’s word. An admitted fan of word studies, I do believe that Deffinbaugh could have rounded out his observations by including a more thorough study of the word Glory as used in the Hebrew and Greek. While such a study could certainly have been equal in length to the article itself, it need not be to further assist the reader in more clearly understanding how Jesus meant it and how the Jews of the day would have understood Jesus’ words. Still, Deffinbaugh’s easy to follow writing style is a joy and is certainly profitable for his readers understanding of the first five verses of John 17. It is my sincere desire to read more of Deffinbaugh’s work posted on Bible.org.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Wish List for America

This is from a discussion I have been having with a friend on Facebook and I thought I would share it here as well.

1) I want much smaller government, much lower taxes, and a lot less intrusion by politicians into my life and the lives of my friends and family. Leave us alone...we can take care of ourselves!

2) I want parity in our laws and a common sense approach to governing that is lacking today.

3) I want to see career politicians replaced with people who care more about their communities than their careers (TERM LIMITS!!!). George Washington could have been king...instead he served two terms and went home. There is a great lesson to be learned from him!

4) I want this country I love to live within it's means and stop borrowing money from foreign governments to finance social programs and wars we simply cannot afford (we could do a lot of this anyway if we weren't paying so much money out in interest on our debt!).

5) I want people to take responsibility for themselves and do something to improve their lot in life.

6) I want EVERYONE in this great country to have the opportunity, IF they are willing to work hard for it, to improve their lot in life (see number 5).

Your comments are certainly welcome!

Chris

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bible Translations

Many will not accept anything other than the KJV...though I would ask which one (1611 or 1769)? William Tyndale completed the first English translation of the NT using Greek manuscripts and the Pentateuch in 1530. King Henry VIII did not approve of Tyndale's Bible translation so he commissioned what became known as the Great Bible which incorporated much of Tyndale's work with a gentleman named Myles Coverdale translating the missing books using primarily the Latin Vulgate (which included the Apocrypha) and some German texts.

The second authorized English translation is known as the Bishops Bible in 1568. This Bible underwent substantial revision in 1572 and became the basis for the 1611 Authorized King James Version. By the 18th century, there were so many misprints in circulation that the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge undertook a substantial revision with the goal of a standardized text. The Oxford version became the dominate version published in1769. It is this 1769 Oxford translation that most of us own today.

The New King James Version is certainly not without critics but it largely uses the same Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts as the 1611 KJV. The decision to use those textual sources excludes discoveries that have been made since the 1611 translation was completed. Still, the decision to limit the source material to the same manuscripts as the 1611 KJV is interesting and deserving of discussion.


Contemporary scholars have taken advantage of the additional manuscript discoveries that were unavailable to Tyndale and those who followed him. In my personal and seminary studies, I use a number of translations. I have also become a fan of word studies. Computer software allows us to dig into the original languages and see how various versions translate a particular word. I do this to gain a fuller understanding than that allowed from any single translation. Scholars can and often do disagree on things. Biblical translation is no exception.

Despite what some may believe, the original Biblical documents have not survived from antiquity to today. Even 500 years ago, scholars worked from copies of copies. Fortunately for us, there are over 5000 manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts available today (far more than all other ancient writings combined!) that we can compare. The texts are incredibly consistent!

While there are some highly questionable translations on the market today, we can certainly be confident the the KJV and NKJV are both faithful translations of the surviving manuscripts. I also use the ESV and NASB often in my study. While the 1769 Oxford KJV is my preferred Bible, I own and use other translations and have been edified from their use.

The best thing I ever did for my Bible study was purchase a wonderful software package that allows me to accomplish so much in a very short period of time.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Book Review - God In The Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Broken Dreams by David F. Wells

Introduction

I am almost embarrassed to admit that this review is my first exposure to the work of such a distinguished author and scholar. It would appear that a broadening of my reading selections is certainly in order! While others may be quite familiar with the author and his previous work, I approach this review as one newly exposed to Dr. Wells’ work and such harsh criticism of evangelicalism. That such criticism existed in 1994 and even earlier, however, comes as no surprise.

God in the Wasteland: the Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams is Dr. David F. Wells’[1] sequel to 1993’s No Place for Truth and is the second in a four book series. Like the first book in the series, God in the Wasteland is a stinging indictment of the decline of evangelicalism. Wells contends that this is caused primarily by the widespread adoption of modernism in Western culture. In his book, Wells clearly defines modernism and explains how Western consumerism has altered modern culture leaving God weightless in the lives of so-called believers who are instead focused on the culture rather than theology. In short, what evangelicals have become are self-centered consumers of religion freed from the constraints of antiquated doctrine. Offering a solution to the conflict between Christ and culture, Wells suggests a good old-fashioned return to Biblical doctrine.

God in the Wasteland Summarized

Dr. Wells opens the book with a 28 page prologue in which he expresses a highly unfavorable view of what he terms a “world cliché culture” where the process of modernization is driven by capitalism, technology, urbanization, and modern telecommunications.[2] As a result, modernity, now global, must necessarily be thin culturally reducing life to mere clichés. Wells accuses modern society of being diluted ethically leaving moderns shallow and empty. With the rise of modernization, Wells states, “we may now have everything, but none of it means anything anymore.”[3] Wells goes on to briefly make the case that both conservatives and liberals have been pursuing a form of civil religion where evangelicals derive their “power” from their culture rather than from their theology.[4]

In the closing paragraphs of his prologue, Wells states very clearly that the central theme of his book is the relationship between Christ and culture. The reason, according to Wells’, that evangelicalism is in decline is modernity or, in Biblical terms, the worldliness of Our Times. Modernism is viewed by evangelical churches as one of many issues facing the church that deserve some consideration from time to time instead of recognizing modernism as the issue facing the church today. The problem in our churches lies not in our technique or poor organization or music that is out of date. Rather, contends Wells, the issue at the heart of the problem is that God’s truth is too distant and His gospel is too easy.[5] Acknowledging that the answers he proposes in this work are incomplete, Wells makes the case that his book is a first step that starts in the right place – with God!

Wells spends the next 150 pages, or a full two-thirds of his book, discussing in detail modernity, its negative impact on the church, and a shift towards the managerial and therapeutic tendencies that modern evangelical churches are by and large adopting.[6] This has given rise to megachurches and what Wells quite unfavorably refers to as the “religious economy” where church growth has become big business which proposes the use of modern techniques found in business and marketing to achieve artificial growth goals. It is during this large section of the book that Wells uses an unfamiliar phrase: “the weightlessness of God”.[7] Wells explains his intended meaning being God no longer weighs on our culture in any meaningful way.

God in the Wasteland Critiqued

Clearly, Wells approaches his subject matter from a very conservative theological point of view. As a professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary[8], this comes as no surprise. Wells is also a Council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals[9], an organization focused on changing the focus of the church from the worldliness to Christ. In his very well researched book, Wells seeks nothing short of shocking the evangelical community into the realization that modernity has succeeded in infiltrating their ranks and to point out the painful truth that our own churches have opening embraced this worldliness. Wells attacks the notion of seeking to employ business and marketing solutions for church growth as worldly but reserves his harshest words for George Barna.[10] It is Barna’s reshaping the church to meet the needs of the religious consumer that Wells takes exception to and soundly rejects to assertion that treating the church as a business with a “product” to “sell” is moving the church further away from God’s truth. In his review of Wells’ book, David Johnson uses softer language to describe Barna and Wells’ basic notion that allowing megachurches and so-called church growth specialists to set the agenda for pastoral training.[11] Jurgens Hendricks summarizes Wells view that the success of Barna and of the megachurches has been at the expense of the truth.[12]

As Wells’ book draws to a close, he discusses the coming generation of church leaders that were in seminary at the time of his writing. While seemingly pleased that current seminary students surveyed appeared to have remained solidly conservative compared to a similar survey conducted 10 years prior, Wells expresses concern over the fact that survey respondents seemed to make a distinction between human nature on one hand and human culture on the other.[13]

Wells warns that the church is going to have to learn to detect worldliness and wean itself from it. He goes on to state that the church must become more serious about itself and stop trying to be a supermarket serving the needs of religious consumers. Wells expresses hope that the church can become a counter-cultural force once again but points out that it will be up to the next generation of leaders to make that happen.[14] A great deal is made of the results of two surveys of seminarians taken in 1983 and 1993. Wells draws conclusions based on the data that include: seminarians are nearly as conservative in 1993 as they were in 1983 though they seem to separate theology in view of the world from theology in their own lives.[15] It is interesting that high hopes are placed on the generation to come while openly questioning the beliefs, both personal and theological, that those leaders would one day bring. Wells is much kinder to the seminarians upon whom so much hope is placed than the work of George Barna at that period in time. Contained in this part of Wells’ discussion is data suggesting that nearly half of seminarians surveyed in 1993 believed that the church would polarize producing a split between more liberal and more conservative Christians. Just such a split happened in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1990-91 when a large number of churches formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship[16] which oddly is not mentioned by Wells. Perhaps he visited the topic in a preceding work with which I am unfamiliar. In any event, it directly supports the views expressed by the seminarians surveyed.

In his review of Wells book, John Bolt succinctly summarizes what Wells believes to be the most profound consequence of modernization; the reordering and redefinition of the self.[17] Modern societies’ inclination towards consumerism and the therapeutic mindset is a direct result of this reordering and redefinition. Bolt largely agrees with the positions taken by Wells though suggests that the book does not fully satisfy the demand for it suggested by No Place for Truth? concluding that further sequels are needed.[18] Even Amos Yong, writing from a Pentecostal/Charismatic point of view largely agrees with much of what Wells states in his book.[19] Bolt and Yong are largely favorable towards Wells’ work in their respective reviews. Hendricks and Robert Johnston are a bit more critical of Wells in their respective reviews. Johnston suggests that Wells, while correct to try and move evangelicalism back toward more biblical theology, goes too far in the other direction and has a propensity for overstatement and revulsion for contemporary culture. [20]

Wells’ research is quite extensive and is a wealth of information for pastors and other leaders in churches struggling with this very issue. Issues such as style of music and worship are very much hot-button topics some fifteen years after Wells published his book. Lay leaders may also benefit from reading Wells’ work if for no reason other than getting a very thorough, detailed description of modernity. Even those brothers and sisters outside of evangelical circles can certainly benefit from Wells’ work as evidenced by Amos Yong’s review.

Conclusion

Reading God in the Wasteland left me with mixed feelings of the subject matter. While on the one hand Wells’ articulates a well researched argument, I find myself in some small measure agreeing with Robert Johnston in that perhaps Wells condemnation of contemporary culture is a bit overstated. Modernism certainly exists and likely should be considered more often than many church leaders have in recent years. For Wells’ part, his book certainly achieves everything he set out to while leaving the reader with a desire to pick up the next installment. As a solution, a return to God and His truth is certainly in order but it seems to be a bit oversimplified. Getting back to God’s truth is always good advice in any given set of circumstances. Perhaps this is unpacked a bit further in Wells’ later works. The reader is given some sense that Wells has hope for the future but that hope is seemingly tepid at best. One is also left wondering if Wells’ views have changed since the publication of this work in 1994. An interview from 2006 reveals that Wells is standing more firmly than ever though rather than condemning modernism, postmodernism is his current topic. Wells’ sentiments have, if anything, become more critical of the megachurch and pastors-as-CEO’s; in my humble opinion, rightly so. Wells is certainly right about one thing, the focus should be on God and not on religious consumerism.

ENDNOTES

[1] David F. Wells is professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts. An ordained Congregational minister, he received his Ph. D. from the University of Manchester; Th.M. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School); B.D. (University of London); post-doctoral Research Fellow (Yale Divinity School). Among his many publications are: Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (William B. Eerdmans, 2004); Christian Faith and Practice in the Modern World: Theology from an Evangelical Point of View (Eerdmans, 1998); God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (William B. Eerdmans, 1994); No Place for Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (William B. Eerdmans, 1993); The Person of Christ: A Biblical and Historical Analysis of the Incarnation (Marshall Theological Library: Marshall, Morgan and Scott; Crossway, 1984); co-editor and part author with Mark Nofl, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, and John Woodbridge, Eerdmans Handbook to Christianity in America, (Eerdmans, 1983); The Prophetic Theology of George Tyrrell (American Academy of Religion Studies in Religion, Vol. 22, Scholars Press, 1982); The Search for Salvation (InterVarsity Press, 1978); co-editor with Clark Pinnock, Toward a Theology for the Future (Creation House, 1977); co-editor with John D. Woodbridge, The Evangelicals: What They Believe, Who They Are, How They Are Changing (Abingdon,1975); Revolution in Rome (InterVarsity Press, 1972).

[2] Wells, David F. God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams.
Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U. K. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 7-9.

[3] Ibid, 14.

[4] Ibid, 26.

[5] Ibid, 29-31.

[6] Though the page count of Wells’ book is 285 including the table of contents, preface, appendix, selected bibliography, and index, in calculating the two-thirds figure of the book dedicated to Wells’ discussion of modernity, I have excluded these sections and only included the 224 pages of actual text. This seems logical given the combined length of the other sections mentioned total 61 pages. Including the additional pages, Wells still spends over 50 percent of his book defining modernity and discussing the effects it has had on Western culture beginning in the 19th century.

[7] Ibid, 88-117.

[8] Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary - Prospective Students. 2009.

[9] Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. David Wells - Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 2009.

[10] Wells, David F. God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams.
Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U. K. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 72-76.

[11] Johnson, David H. 1995. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.), 6, no. 2: 86-88.

[12] Hendriks, Jurgens. 1996. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Journal of Theology for Southern Africa no. 96: 99-101

[13] Ibid, 196-201.

[14] Ibid, 226-27.

[15] Ibid, 206-07

[16] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship - Frequently Asked Questions. (2009), http://www.thefellowship.info/About-Us/FAQ (accessed September 30, 2009).

[17] Bolt, John. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." (Theology Today 52, no. 4), 540-44.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Yong, Amos. 1996. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Pneuma 18, no. 2: 239-243.

[20] Johnston, Robert K. 1995. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63, no. 4: 872-875

Bibliography

Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. David Wells - Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 2009. http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086%7CCHID5593 76%7CCIID1952858,00.html (accessed October 1, 2009).

Bolt, John. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams."
Theology Today 52, no. 4 (January 1996): 540. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 3, 2009).

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship - Frequently Asked Questions. 2009. http://www.thefellowship.info/About-Us/FAQ (accessed September 30, 2009).

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary - Prospective Students. 2009. http://www.gcts.edu/prospective_students/david_f_wells (accessed October 1, 2009).

Hendriks, Jurgens. 1996. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Journal of Theology for Southern Africa no. 96: 99-101. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 29, 2009).

Johnson, David H. 1995. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 6, no. 2: 86-88. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009).

Johnston, Robert K. 1995. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 63, no. 4: 872-875. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 1, 2009)

Wells, David F. God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams.
Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U. K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994.

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Eerdmans.com/Interviews. January 2006. http://www.eerdmans.com/Interviews/wellsinterview.htm (accessed October 2, 2009).

Yong, Amos. 1996. "God in the wasteland: the reality of truth in a world of fading dreams." Pneuma 18, no. 2: 239-243. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 28, 2009).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

October is here!

October is here! Most of you are probably already preparing for the holiday season that is just around the corner. I will get a new post written in the coming days but just wanted to let everyone know I am thinking of you and also to share this picture Melisa took the other night at Johnny's Pizza.

Laus Deo!