Tag Archives: Zondervan

Was the Reformation a Mistake?

Today we celebrate (mourn, think about, reflect upon, take your pick) the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With this momentous event upon us, 517yithbnpl-_sx326_bo1204203200_numerous people have turned their attention to the various historical and contemporary implications of the Reformation. You can see this in the number of books, articles, and blogs that have been devoted to treating either the background of the Reformation, Reformers, and Protestant-Catholic relations.

Among those books these stick out to me as being really interesting:

Biblical Authority after Babel – Vanhoozer 

The End of Protestantism – Peter Leithart

Reformation Theology – Matthew Barrett

The Five Solas Series – Various Authors 

But there is another book that recently caught my eye. A book that was written by a Roman Catholic theologian whom a lot of protestants really like: Matthew Levering (Professor at Mundelein Seminary). Levering, just published a book with one of the foremost evangelical publishers, Zondervan. It’s titled Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbliblical. If that doesn’t catch your eye then maybe the fact that it includes a Protestant response by Kevin Vanhoozer will!

Enough about the background of the book. What is this Roman Catholic theologian’s answer? Was the Reformation a mistake? According to Levering – Yes and No.

No, because the Reformation has reminded the Church of things that have been neglected by Roman Catholics, namely, love for Scripture, the authority of God’s word, salvation by God’s grace, gospel, preaching, Bible study, and personal faith and relationship with Christ. (16) Levering is grateful for these thigns. However, in another sense, he does in fact believe the Reformation was a mistake. How was it a mistake? Well he says, the Reformation was built on a mistaken assumption that Catholic views of Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, Justification, etc. are unbliblical. In light of this he attempts to show that Catholic doctrine is in fact not unbliblical (note he doesn’t say biblical, rather he says not unbiblical).

In order to make his case, he argues that catholic doctrine is based upon biblically warranted modes of reasoning about biblically revealed realities. (21) Essentially this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a way of thinking about the bible and its truths in a communal and liturgical way. Or to put it in a slightly different way,

The reasoning prescribed by the Bible for interpreting biblical texts is hierarchically and liturgically contextualized, in the sense that the Spirit communicates the word of Christ to the people of God who are gathered for worship by “the apostles and elders,” and by those like Timothy whom the apostles (whose testimony to the gospel of Christ remains uniquely authoritative) appointed as their successors. (24)

To put it more plainly, when we think about doctrine, we must come to the text of Scripture and read it through the lens of tradition. Tradition tells us what the text means and what the text is about. To read Scripture outside of this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a wrongheaded way of reading the text.

Given his definition of biblically warranted modes of reasoning, he proceeds to treat the scriptural background of numerous Roman catholic doctrines, including Scripture, Mary, the seven sacraments, justification, purgatory, saints and the papacy. The result is essentially him saying “well, scripture doesn’t exactly teach purgagatory or the papacy, etc.; but through the mode of reasoning we apply to the text, the doctrines are not unbiblical.”

If protestants are not convinced by his conclusions, according to Levering himself, that is okay! He isn’t trying to convince them to accept Catholic doctrine. Rather he simply wants to show them that Catholics aren’t unbiblical in their thinking. I will leave it to you, the reader of this blog, to pick up the book and decide whether you are convinced by him.

However, I do want to throw in my two cents…

Not being unbiblical is not enough. We aim to say what scripture explicitly and implicitly teaches, nothing more and nothing less.


Tradition is not a second source of revelation – it is a helpful external guide.

Both of these are at least in part two of principles we reflect upon on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Anyone who holds to these principles simply won’t be able to buy into Levering’s account, and thus won’t be able to say that Levering’s account of a “not unbiblical” account of Roman Catholic doctrine is adequate.

All in all, despite this criticism, I do have to commend Levering for writing this book. At the very least, it will dispel caricatures that some protestants have about Roman Catholics, namely that they simply make stuff up as they go or that they don’t care about the Bible. That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile result.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.


Every Word Biblical Commentary Volume is on Sale for Just $9.99!

Right now, each Word Biblical Commentary is just $9.99!

For a brief time all WBC volumes are on sale at Logos, Accordance, Olive Tree, and WORDsearch. You’ll save an average of 70% off the original price!

Just act fast, because this sale ends soon. Here are the deals:

Browse at Logos

Browse at Accordance

Browse at Olive Tree

Browse at WORDsearch

WBC has more #1-rated volumes than any other commentary series (source: BestCommentaries.com, view the top commentaries). These essential resources feature top-rated scholarship by Richard J. Bauckham, William D. Mounce, Gordon J. Wenham, John E. Goldingay, Richard N. Longenecker, and many others.

Word Biblical Commentary delivers the best in biblical scholarship, featuring an international team of over 50 top scholars. These are the leading scholars of our day who share a commitment to Scripture as divine revelation.

The WBC series emphasizes a thorough understanding of textual, linguistic, structural, and theological evidence – equipping you with judicious and balanced insight into the meanings of the biblical text.

These widely acclaimed commentaries will help you build deeper theological understanding from a solid base of biblical scholarship.

If you know someone who would like this sale, please share this post with them.

(HT: Zondervan Academic Blog)

Preaching in a T.G.I.F. World

TGIF! We live in a TGIF world – what Leonard Sweet calls the “Twitter” – “Google” – “Instagram” – “Facebook” world. People do not only consume these forms of social media (the Google empire really is a form of social media), people are altered by these forms of media, and this alteration affects peoples habits and thought patterns. One of the drawbacks of this TGIF culture, according to Sweet, is that the straightforward 3 point – expository sermon which teaches some major principle, no longer works. Sweet’s point might be a bit to strong however he is certainly right in pointing out that the TGIF culture demands a change in communication strategy.

Giving Blood is Sweet’s call to the church to take a fresh look at how we preach to a post-modern culture. It’s a call to adapt what he calls “semiotic” and “EPIC” preaching.

Semiotic Preaching

What is semiotic preaching? Quite simply it is “the art of exegeting not the words or principles, but the images, metaphors, and stories (narraphors) of Scripture.”

Here is what Sweet says:

Semiotic preaching is a new form of biblical preaching, but what is being exegeted are age-old stories and images, or what we might call “narraphors” – narrative metaphor.

Semiotic preaching builds on the tradition of “preaching as storytelling.”

Narraphoric preaching breaks down resistance, enters the unconscious quickly and causes the participant to fall into the lap, or trap, of truth. Narraphors get us thinking about something we may not want to think about. They force us to look at life in new ways and they outwit our reasoned defenses.

EPIC Preaching

EPIC is an acronym which stands for “Experiential” – “Participatory” – “Image-Rich” – “Connective.” Preaching to post-moderns must not simply be about getting them to understand God, but to experience God. Preaching to post-moderns must move them from being passive recipients to active agents who initiate and make change. Preaching to post-moderns must be image-rich, preachers must take up the poet’s tools – image and imagination, rhyme and rhythm, simile, metaphor, and story. Preaching to post-moderns must be connective, invite people to connect with each other so they can better connect with Christ’s healing power and life-giving presence.

The Book

What is unique about Sweet’s book weaves these two “newer” principles of preaching into the traditional topics discussed in most preaching books: preparation, information gathering, nervousness, writers block, dealing with criticism, sermon construction, etc.

The most helpful parts of the book were his “Interactive” and his “Lab Practicum” sections. The interactive sections leads readers into exercises that will help make them better preachers and better observers of our TGIF culture. The exercises include everything from watching Youtube to reading a section of Eat, Pray, Love to listening to Three Doors Down. The Lab Practicums help shape preacher’s skills in particular areas of preaching.

Although I believe that Sweet over-exaggerates the extent that TGIF has permeated our culture; his suggestions regarding EPIC preaching should be readily adopted by any and all preachers.

Thinking Through Paul

Good textbooks are hard to find. When I am looking for a textbook, I am looking for a book that is well balanced. It engages in critical discussion yet it is also thoroughly evangelical. Also I like it when textbooks move beyond mere rehearsal of recycled ideas or summary statements. I want a textbook that will help students think through complex issues. In this case of finding a textbook on Pauline literature I want a textbook that will help us think through Paul and begin to think like Paul. Bruce Longenecker & Todd Still have written book that does those two things.

When Longenecker and Still titled their textbook Thinking though Paul, they tried to capture a range of possible meanings within that short phrase. 1- think about Paul, and 2- thinking in a Pauline manner.

Why have we chosen to entitle this book Thinking Through Paul? Because it signals two perspectives that characterize its chapters. First “thinking though Paul” will involve thinking about Paul, sorting through his letters and considering what he was saying in them. From this vantage point, Paul is the object to be studied, to be “thought through,” to be explored. But at times a second sense of the phrase will predominate, in which “thinking through Paul” will involve “thinking in a Pauline manner,” seeing things from his perspective, thinking along his thought patterns. (13)

In this book Longenecker and Still emphasize the challenging, exciting, devotional aspect of thinking through Paul. For them there is a profound life changing aspect of thinking through Paul. And all of this is in a textbook!

The textbook covers all of Paul’s letters. Each chapter addresses:

1-Historical issues

2-Key passages in each letter

3-Flow of thought through the letter

Final section of the textbook moves to the synthesizing task of putting Paul’s theology together. As a teacher/student this was the most interesting aspect of the book. Also it was the most important part of the book for of reviewing its functionality as a textbook, primarily because it let me answer the question, “What are the presuppositions & the big picture narrative the authors are working with?”

Theology – Apocalyptic or Covenant?

Question – what is the center of the Paul’s letters? Justification, reconciliation, Jesus is Lord, being in Christ, Jewish/Gentile relations? The truth is that its really hard to say – it is probably better to talk about Paul’s central narrative. These two narratives have often been spelled out as covenant & apocalyptic. The authors attempt to avoid the approach that divorces the two. Very simply their position is…

The God of Israel has created a good creation that is currently under the influence of cosmic forces that run contrary to the ways of the creator God. These forces include the powers of Sin and Death, who have conscripted the human race (as evidenced in Adam) in their efforts to denude God of his creation. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has acted to redeem his good creation from the clutches of those powers. Being “in Christ” and living within the story of Jesus, Jesus-followers are participants in that process of divine triumph, whose lives are continually to be transformed by the Spirit as miniature advertisements and embodiments of the eschatological rectification of the whole created order, to the glory of God. (302)

Theology – Christology

Is the incarnation of Christ present in Paul’s theology, what does it mean for Paul to say that Christ is pre-existent? Some argue that Paul doesn’t have an explicitly high Christology (Like John). Longenecker & Still argue “Paul evidences moments of extremely high Christology.” (305) They demonstrate how Paul’s implicit Trinitarian theology draws Christ into Jewish Monotheism. On a related note, the authors also emphasize Paul’s familiarity with the Jesus Tradition, though they acknowledge that Paul’s knowledge would have come second-hand. They show how Paul’s theology is infused with the content of this tradition.

Theology – Faith In or Faith Of?

They make a convincing argument for reading pistis christou as “faithfulness of Christ.” Their argument is convincing because it helps make sense of Romans 1:17 which is notoriously hard to translate (by faith from first to last?). They argue that the “faithfulness of Christ” gives us a triangle of faithfulness/faith:

  •  God’s pistis or faithfulness (as in Romans 3:3)
  • Jesus’ pistis or faitfulness (as in Rom 3:22,25-26)
  • The pistis or faith of Christians (as in Rom 4)

Concluding Thoughts

Longenecker & Still’s work helps us see Paul the missionary/theologian as a letter writer who is skilled in moving from the macro-narrative of the gospel (according to them, the cosmic triumph of God through Jesus Christ) to the micro-narrative of believer’s lives. This is a fantastic textbook – it includes great illustrations, interesting side-bars, fun diagrams, and fantastic discussion questions at the end of each chapter. My only qualm with it is the paper. That might sound like nitpicking, but as I highlighted and took notes on pages I found that everything I was writing tended to smudge, that really stinks for students who like to take notes in their textbooks. Also, the high-gloss paper creates a lot of glare when you read it under bright lights. If you choose to ignore these small deficiencies and you use this book for a class you will definitely have a textbook that helps your students think through Paul in challenging ways.

Note: I received a copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley & Zondervan in exchange for an impartial review.

On the Vices and Virtues of Analytic Theology

Oliver Crisp describes some of the vices and virtues of analytic theology:

In many ways, analytic theology is a return to more classical analytical sensibilities that have governed Christian theology for much of its history in scholasticism, as well as the work of key thinkers from St. Augustine and St. Anselm of Canterbury to Jonathan Edwards. Yet it is not just this; there is a real concern to engage in wider theological and religious discussion, and to foster dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths, as can be seen in the recent symposium on Yoram Hazonys work in the Journal of Analytic Theology.

There is also the beginnings of an awareness of the limits of analytic theology, and of worries it must take more seriously if it is to continue to flourish. These include concerns about ontotheology (roughly, the notion that the god of analytic theology is an idol), criticisms from feminist theology, the place of metaphor and tropes in religious language, and the relationship to other theological methodologies as well as allied disciplines such as biblical studies. There is much work to be done. But the fact that analytic theology has already made such headway indicates that it is meeting a theological need, and making a significant constructive contribution to twenty-first-century Christian theology.

You can read the rest of the article on Zondervan’s Koinonia Blog.

Book Giveaway! J.D. Greear’s “Jesus Continued…”

Thanks to the nice folks over at Zondervan I have a copy of Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside of You is Better than Jesus Beside You. Instead of letting the extra copy collect dust on my bookshelf I figured it would be better served in the hands of one lucky winner. So, we are going to have a giveaway! How do you enter you ask? All you need to do to enter your name into the drawing is leave a comment telling me you did the following things—the more you do, the more chances you have of winning J.D. Greear’s excellent new book:

  1. Comment on this post and share how Mike’s book will benefit your personal growth in Christ.
  2. Follow me on Twitter (leave a comment saying you did)
  3. Share this giveaway on Facebook and Twitter (leave a comment saying you did)
  4. Like Zondervan Academic’s Facebook page (leave a comment saying you did)
  5. Like the Soma at Rocky Peak page on Facebook (leave a comment saying you did)
  6. Follow @Soma_RP on instagram – trust me its awesome!

While you are at, you should watch this video about the book

In a few weeks I will close the giveaway and pick the winner.

Because I am poor, I must limit this to USA and possibly Canada (unless you live in the middle of nowhere Canada – which is pretty much everywhere in Canada).

Thinking about Becoming a Theologian? Resist the Temptation!

Fred Sanders, a theologian who has mastered the art of social media, offers some advice for people who want to become academic theologians. He encourages us to pick a major doctrine to specialize in and resist the temptation to specialize in some obscure doctrine…

Also – know your primary sources & learn some languages!