Pagan Influence on Easter?

The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Easter (Jesus of Nazareth’s Resurrection)

You may not get any chocolate bunnies this Easter, but you’re bound to stumble across an article or meme suggesting that the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead is just a reincarnation of some pagan myth. Whether it’s Ishtar, Osiris, or Attis, these claims are tantalizing but devoid of scholarly content–much like the sugar rush of the chocolate bunny, with its deficit of actual nourishment. [Read the rest at Intellectual Takeout]

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Christmas & the Imago Dei

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, tells us that God made humanity in the image and likeness of God. This is narrated in Genesis 1:26-28. Throughout history, scholars and theologians have debated what this means. At LAMP Seminary RDU, we’re currently reading Anthony Hoekema’s Created In the Image of God, which is a wonderful treatment of this sometimes controversial and confusing concept.

Hoekema

Hoekema (1913-1988) was long-time professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, and was a theologian in the Dutch Reformed tradition. But, this book is not a dry and dusty tome of big theology words. Although there is some meaty content, Hoekema always brings his Biblical and theological insights to bear on the realities of practical life. He consistently surprises in showing how relevant the doctrine of the imago dei is. Our last “Mission Monday” post considered the inadequacy of the phrase “give a hand up, not a hand out,” with help from Professor Soong-Chan Rah. To build a solid theology of helping others, we need to understand the doctrine of the imago dei. And yes, this is related to Christmas. Hang with me until the end!

Continue reading “Christmas & the Imago Dei”

A “Hand Across,” not a “Handout”

Welcome to “Mission Monday”! These posts will flesh out and explore various aspects of LAMP Seminary RDU’s distinctive emphases and vision. This season of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas gives us another opportunity to consider issues of poverty, injustice, and how to best use the resources God has given us. In the swirl of Black Friday (right after we stop and “give thanks” for all that we have, we scurry out to get more!), Cyber Monday, and now “Giving Tuesday,” many voices clamor for our monetary allegiance. Pictures of starving children appear in our inbox, we fill shoe-boxes with school supplies and toys, and perhaps serve a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless. It seems that in our annual economic stampede to acquire more and give gifts to others, we also feel to pull bless those who have so little. This is a good and noble desire. God commands it, and promises to bless it (Proverbs 19:17-“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”) It reflects God’s nature, as the God who gives his gifts with outlandish liberality and generosity.

But, whenever we give (whether it be our time or our money), we can unintentionally reinforce negative patterns of dependency, paternalism, or even our selfish pride. We’ve all heard the slogan that we want to give a “hand up,” not a “hand out.” I’ve used it myself, repeatedly. However, Soong Chan-Rah challenges this way of thinking and speaking.

Continue reading “A “Hand Across,” not a “Handout””

“The Cross & the Prodigal”

 

cross and prodigal

At Cary Christian School, I occasionally try to summarize the findings of New Testament scholars in a way that shows the relevance for studying Biblical Greek.  Kenneth Bailey has done ground-breaking work in what he calls “Middle Eastern” Biblical interpretation. He argues that we need to read the Bible through Middle Eastern eyes if we are to truly understand it. His reading of the familiar story of the “Prodigal Son” in Luke 15 is especially helpful as we discuss the Bible with our Muslim friends.

Here’s the power-point presentation.  But, don’t stop there–get the book for yourself!

Fathers, We Need to Step Into our Role

Father_Hunger

Doug Wilson’s new book, Father Hunger, packs a large punch.  I feel two strange sensations at the same time–I feel like someone just hit me in stomach and knocked the wind out of me, and I also feel someone’s strong hand on my shoulder, preventing me from falling over completely.  After 9 years of fatherhood and four kids later, I’ve made my share of mistakes.  I’m glad I got this book now, rather than when I am 50.  By the grace of God, I hope its wisdom can motivate me to do more, and rely more on the grace of God.  I’ll be posting some highlights for a while …

“The role of a father as a provider and protector is not an arbitrary assignment given to an arbitrarily selected group, regardless of any other consideration.  Here is the mandate given to Adam (Gen. 2:15)–God wants men both to work and to protect.  Work has to do with nurture and cultivation, while protection refers to a man’s duty to be a fortress for his family.  We find a working definition of masculinity in the first few pages of the Bible.

When men take their responsibilities to nurture and cultivate, and to protect and guard the fruit of that nurture and cultivation, they are doing something that resonates with their foundational, creational nature.  When they walk away from these responsibilities, in a very real sense they are–don’t miss this–walking away from their assigned masculine identity” (8-9).

A Theology of Luke and Acts – Review

A Theology of Luke and Acts: God's Promised Program, Realized for All Nations (Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series)

Darrell Bock’s new volume on Luke-Acts caps over 30 years of his academic work. As part of a series of survey/commentaries devoted to Biblical Theology, Bock shows how Luke and Acts both take up Old Testament themes, showing their culmination in the person and work of Jesus Christ and in the life of New Testament Church. Bock shows how the mission of Jesus continues in the Church, and how the predominance of the Holy Spirit in Acts shows the Trinitarian development of the Old Testament story. I found Bock’s book to be an ideal balance of scholarship and practical application. Bock has obviously done his homework, and the bibliographies and footnotes give the interested reader plenty of material to work through. But, this is not a dense commentary–Bock keeps returning to points of application and relevance to the Christian life, always keeping the focus on Jesus Christ.

For the purposes of the Zondervan blog tour, I focused on Ch. 17, “Women, The Poor, and the Social Dimensions in Luke-Acts.” Other scholars have noted Luke’s focus on women in his gospel, which is all the more interesting, given the lower status they occupied in the ancient world. Bock notes the prominence of women in Luke, without venturing into liberal feminism. Bock shows how Jesus affirmed the dignity of women repeatedly, and how Luke stresses this. Most interesting is that all the Gospels present women as the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. This is striking when we read the Jewish sources that prohibited women from bearing witness in court cases (except in exceptional circumstances). If the gospel writers were trying to convince a hostile audience that a condemned and crucified man was the Messiah, surely they could have modified the story for better PR?

Bock also highlights Luke’s attention on the poor in Luke-Acts. Again, Bock shows how Luke charts a middle path between liberation theology, and neglect of the poor. Luke shows how Jesus fulfills OT expectations of God’s care for the poor, without turning mercy ministry into a political revolutionary manifesto. While there is much more to be said here (I’m thinking of some of John Howard Yoder’s insights), Bock shows how Luke offers a different nuance from Matthew in this regard: “This is why Jesus issues a beatitude for the poor in Luke 6:20. It is clear from the woes that follow that this use of ‘the poor’ is not merely or exclusively spiritual. This is not Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit.’ There is a social dimension to this group as the woes to the rich that follow in Luke 6:24-26 are not to the ‘rich in spirit’ but to the materially wealthy” (pg. 355). So, Luke seems to stress the social implications of Jesus’ preaching and actions more than the other gospel writers.

In summary, Bock’s volume is an excellent resource for scholars, pastors, seminary students, and motivated readers.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

Your Church is Too Safe – Review

Your Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-DownYour Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down by Mark Buchanan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mark Buchanan is fast becoming one of my favorite Christian authors.  His book, Spiritual Rhythm, was spiritual and pastoral prose of the highest order. Buchanan is clearly a gifted writer–honest, God-soaked and reveling in life, even in the dirt and filth of humanity.  But, Mark Buchanan knows a secret and he’s letting everyone in on it–the local Church is God’s plan for redeeming this dirty world!  This is the burden of his latest book, Your Church Is Too Safe. He urges us to come out of  our “Christian ghettos” and to assault the powers of darkness.  Buchanan is brutally honest about his struggles, his church’s struggles, and the weakness of so many churches. However, these pages also shine with stories of love, forgiveness, and transformation … vignettes of a marvelous drama unfolding in Pastor Mark’s church. Other churches are getting it as well, and are beginning to live dangerously. Read this book at your own risk! If you let the Biblical and practical wisdom of this book penetrate your defenses, you might find your life (and hopefully your church) turned upside down … which means it will actually be right-side up.

View all my reviews

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.  You might question that, given how positive my reviews of recent Zondervan books have been.  Oh well.  Zondervan has just been publishing some remarkable books!  Kuddos to them.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)