Sunday, October 02, 2022

Studying Jesus - Some Resources


(Jerusalem street)

One of my PhD qualifying exams was in Ancient Christology. Christology is still, for me, an area I study in. This is my first love: knowing Jesus, and making Jesus known. 

Here are books and websites I recommend for studying Jesus, with a few annotations. 

This list could be miles long! These are some I recommend. If you read these, you'll be well on your way in studying Christ and thinking Christologically. You will, increasingly, be able to separate the real from the false.


Gustav Aulen

Ruth Haley Barton

Richard Bauckham

Michael Brown

Greg Boyd

Greg Boyd & Paul Eddy
James Charlesworth
William Lane Craig
Paul Eddy and James Beilby

Craig Evans

Craig Evans and N.T. Wright
Gordon Fee

Gordon Fee and Cherith Nordling Fee
Simon Gathercole, Robert Stewart, N. T. Wright

Larry Hurtado and Chris Keith

Craig Keener
J. N. D. Kelly

George Ladd

Michael McClymond

Scot McKnight
Richard Norris and William Rusch

Eugene Peterson

Stephen Porter, Gary Moon, J. P. Moreland

Stephen Prothero
Fleming Rutledge
Klyne Snodgrass

Lee Strobel

Rankin Wilbourne 

Dallas Willard 

Ben Witherington

N.T. Wright (No one, except Craig Keener, is writing more about Jesus than Wright is.)


When the following New Testament scholars write a commentary, it's going to be worth reading.
  • Richard Bauckham
  • Craig Blomberg
  • D.A. Carson
  • Craig Evans
  • Gordon Fee
  • R.T. France
  • David Garland
  • Joel Green
  • Richard Hays
  • Craig Keener
  • Andreas Kostenberger
  • Scot McKnight
  • Douglas Moo
  • Klyne Snodgrass
  • Ben Witherington
  • N.T. Wright - especially see Wright's "For Everyone" series.


Friday, September 30, 2022

Reveal Yourself

Holly Collins recorded my song "Reveal Yourself." Linda and I sing backup vocals, and I do the guitar work.

This song is from the book of Amos.

He who forms the mountains,
    who creates the wind,
    and who reveals his thoughts to mankind,
who turns dawn to darkness,
    and treads on the heights of the earth
    the Lord God Almighty is his name.

Amos 4:13

(John Piippo)

He who forms the mountains
And creates the wind
Reveals His thoughts to man
Delivers us from sin

Who turns dawn to darkness
Walks high places of the earth
Holy is His name
His essence is unsearched

Reveal Yourself
Reveal Yourself
Come and show us what You've got
Things that are, things that are not
Yourself to me
Greater revelation
Greater revelation of Your glory

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Distinguishing Between Love and Desire

Monroe County

Dallas Willard, in Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge, writes: 

"Love means will-to-good, willing the benefit of what or who is loved. We may say we love chocolate cake, but we don't. Rather, we want to eat it. That is desire, not love. In our culture we have a great problem distinguishing between love and desire, but it is essential that we do so." (K 810-18)

I've met with persons who interpret their sexual desire for their significant other as love. They view their partner as a treat to be consumed, like a piece of chocolate cake. 

Willard writes: "Agape love, perhaps the greatest contribution of Christ to human civilization, wills the good of whatever it is directed upon. It does not wish to consume it." (Ib.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart?

(Trees in my backyard)

The plagues God sent upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians were not merely for punishment, but also for redemption. God was trying to save Pharaoh and the Egyptians.

On first glance, it doesn't appear that way, given Exodus 10:20, which reads, "the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart." It appears Pharaoh didn't have a chance to repent.

But John Sanders points out that "the Hebrew word for "hardening" means "to strengthen," so hardening does not render a person unable to repent. This is easily seen by the fact that God hardens the hearts of Pharaoh's servants (Ex 10:1), yet they understand what God is doing and implore their master to release the Israelites (10:7)." (Sanders, What About Those Who Have Never Heard?: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized, Kindle Locations 239-240)

God uses conditional language with Pharaoh, which implies Pharaoh has a choice. For example, Exodus 8:2: "If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs." The conditional word "if" makes no sense if Pharaoh was rendered incapable of making a choice.

For example, what if a professor had to power to harden your heart so you could not, and would not, complete your assignments. It would make no sense for the professor to say, "If you don't complete your assignments, you'll fail this course." It would make sense if you could choose to turn in your work.

Sanders concludes,

"Evidently the divine strengthening of Pharaoh did not override Pharaoh's decision-making powers. The plagues were for redemptive and not merely retributive purposes. Truly God has never delighted in the death of the wicked. Punishment came to the Egyptians, but not before God did all he could to bring redemption into the situation." (Ib., Kindle Locations 241-243)

Monday, September 26, 2022

Scientism - A Circular Abyss of Dark Unthinkingness

(Lady bug, in my house)

J. P. Moreland's book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology is intelligent, funny, and pro-science, but not scientistic. The distinction is important.

"Scientism is the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality." (Moreland, Kindle Locations 271-272)

Have you ever had someone say to you, "I don't believe in religion any more. I believe that science explains everything." If so, you met a scientistic person, caught in a circular abyss of dark unthinkingness.

In my Logic classes I teach, among many other things, the nature of self-refuting statements. Examples are:

"There is no such thing as truth."

"All sentences are exactly three words long."

"I do not exist."

"This sentence is false."

Another is: "True knowledge is found only in science." This sentence is "self-referentially incoherent, meaning that it refutes or defeats itself." (Ib., K653)

J.P. says that not only is strong scientism false, but it is necessarily self-refuting. Scientism states, "Only what is testable by science can be true." 

The scientistic thinker may believe that "one day, science will prove that only what is testable by science can be true." But because this statement is necessarily self-refuting, "no further scientific discoveries could make the statement true." (Ib.)

J.P. writes:

"The irony is that strong scientism is a philosophical statement, expressing an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science, like “water is H2O” or “cats are mammals.” Strong scientism is a philosophical assertion that claims that philosophical assertions are neither true nor can be known; only scientific assertions can be true and known. 

Christians, therefore, should not be intellectually intimidated when they hear very smart people with advanced degrees sitting in positions of authority say things that are self-refuting." (Ib., Kindle Locations 702-706)

Freedom From Two Illusions

(Teaching in Eldoret, Kenya)

When I was teaching in Eldoret, Kenya, I told the Kenyan and Ugandan pastors that the #1 thing they need to do is stay connected with God. Abide in Christ. Dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Send roots to the river of God. Live, 24/7, in the fortress of God. 
That's what you need to do. That's what your people need you to do. Because what they need is not you, but God. They need "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Dwell in God's presence, and he will free you of the illusion of your indispensability. 

I told these pastors that they are not needed by God. God is able to accomplish his purposes with or without them. Yes, God loves them and wants to use them. And God will, if they trust in him and abide in him.

We can't change other people. Only God can do that. I told the pastors: "Today you can let go of your striving to change other people."

Some told me how novel and freeing this was. I added, "But God can change you."

The change happens as we live connected to God. You cannot consistently nurture the "in Christ" relationship and remain unchanged. And, as you make God your Shepherd (in practice, not theory; viz., trust in him), he "restores your soul." So, you don't have to "work on your own self." Just step into God's presence, stay there, and the Restorer of Souls will strip away all that has covered over your soul to get to the original "in God's image," the psuche, which is you.

The changes God works in you will not be just for you, but for others. This is called influence. W
hat God works in you can, and will, influence other people, by God's Spirit.

Be free of two illusions:

  1. The illusion of your indispensability
  2. The illusion that you can change people
Focus on abiding in Christ. As he speaks, obey. This is the place of all authentic spiritual formation.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

When "Freedom" Goes Berserk (Freedom Is Not Anarchic)

(Free-range squirrel, on my back porch)
At Redeemer we love the word "freedom." I love this word! Jesus said, in John 8:32, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The truth will set you free... from what? The answer is: from either oppressive rule, or no rule at all. Both are forms of bondage.

The latter form of bondage (no rule at all) is called "anarchy." A(n) - arche; literally, "no ruler." Think of nations where governments fall and, for a period of time, there is no rule. When you think "anarchy" think, e.g., of Somalia, or Syria. Who's in charge? Who is leading? When no one leads in a good and loving way, the people suffer. Anarchic situations are physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually brutal.

"Freedom" is essentially related to "rule" or structure. This is a mistake some Jesus-followers, especially young and immature ones, make. If they come from fundamentalist law-oriented families it is not uncommon to see them go berserk with new-found freedom. Or, to flirt with sin, as if they are "free" to do so, oblivious to the fact that sin is precisely the prison house they have been set free from. 

The pendulum swings from oppressive structure to equally oppressive non-structure. 

"I am free to do anything I want!" is the cry of the Christian "anarchist" who is seduced by the lie that freedom is the absence of structure. 

The truth is that freedom is always a function of structure, and there are structures that oppress and structures that liberate. And, there are plenty of religious structures that, in the name of Christ but not the truth of Christ, make people more miserable than when they were imprisoned in their sins. (Note: I am not talking about the kind of liberating anarchism found, e.g., in Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel.)

As a guitar player and instructor I know that any musician who wants to excel and be creative on their instrument must learn technique. Guitar techniques are massively rule-bound and structured. Every guitarist who is worth anything practices patterns and structures and disciplines themselves to do so.

There's no such thing as "structureless freedom." "Structureless freedom" is the logical equivalent of "square circle" or "married bachelor." To live anarchically in this sense is to use one's freedom to choose imprisonment. Any free choice that increases your bondage or addiction or the bondage and addiction of others is evil. Like, e.g., being "free" to indulge your sexual appetites outside of marriage. Put in Jesus' way, it is untruthful.

Choose your structure carefully and live within it. Use your freedom in Christ to dwell in the freedom-bringing structure of his kingdom. Use your freedom to love and build up others and to engage in the prison-breaking, redemptive activity of God. 

The term "Christian anarchist" is an oxymoron, since the true Christian anarchist does place himself or herself under a "rule" and within a structure, that rule and structure being the the Lordship of Christ. True Christian anarchy is not the absence of rule under the pretense of freedom, but the refusal to come under the rule of the kingdoms of this world as if, and with the hope, that our solution is yet another political one. 

As Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” These words have proven especially redemptive to the many Jesus-followers who live in the "Somalias" of this world.

We all live under some rule or reign. 

The day I chose to live in Christ was my prison break, and I have no desire to use my freedom to go back.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Cognitive Limits of Personal Narratives


      (The River Raisin, in Monroe)

(These are some Wittgensteinian aphorisms on the limits of stories that I wrote during my praying time today. Perhaps to be further developed.)

Every person has a unique life story. If the goal is to understand a person, then we must listen to them as they tell their stories, or their sub-stories (stories within their life story). 

Uniqueness has nothing to do with truth. A story might be interesting, but "interesting" does not cause the listener to say, "Aha! That's so interesting. Therefore it is true."

The details of their story might not be accurate. For example, there may be exaggeration.

The hearer of the story must interpret it. (Unless the interpreter is a postmodernist, à la Jacques Derrida. According to Derrida, no one can interpret a text, at least in terms of authorial intention. Which means, Derrida expected no one to interpret his texts, thus proving his point, in a self-contradictory way.)

A story is something we listen to, for the sake of understanding.

A person's story is not something to be "affirmed." For example, if the person is a pedophile. If they applaud pedophilia, we can listen to their story (e.g., if we are a psychologist). We may discover how they came to affirm pedophilia. They may say "true" to this statement: Pedophilia is a moral good. But, hopefully, the psychologist does not affirm the statement Pedophilia is a moral good. That statement is false.

A story may be the bearer of truth, or the bearer of falsity. We may ask, "What is the moral of the story?" But the expression of the moral of the story (in a statement) is extrinsic to the story itself.

Imagine I am sitting in your kitchen. It's just you and me. I pull out an assault rifle. While fondling its trigger, I share my story. Of how I grew to love shooting people with assault rifles. After hearing it, you are probably not going to reply with, "I affirm your story."

Stories, whether factive or fictive, can carry emotional weight and transformative power. Stories can move us, in certain ways. That may be good. But from all this emotion, this does not follow:

1) This story makes me emotional.

2) Therefore, I must affirm it as true.

The emotional weight of a story is not equivalent to the truth of its underlying moral point. A story may point us in a truth-bearing direction. Once that direction is identified, we dismount that horse to use reason (logic) to evaluate the truth or falsity of whatever moral point has been made.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Power of Investing Spiritually in Our Children

(Kitty Hawk, NC)

I have been serving and teaching in children's ministries since the early 70s, when I was a pastor in Joliet, Illinois. This is among the most important things I do as a follower of Jesus. I get to spiritually invest in their lives. It's going to happen again, at Redeemer, this coming Sunday morning.

Philosopher James K. A. Smith writes:

"Spiritual formation in Christ requires a lot of rehabituation precisely because we build up so many disordered habits over a lifetime. This is also why the spiritual formation of children is one of the most significant callings of the body of Christ. Every child raised in the church and in a Christian home has the opportunity to be immersed in kingdom-indexed habit-forming practices from birth. This is why intentionality about the formation of children is itself a gift of the Spirit. It’s also why carelessness and inattention to the deformative power of cultural liturgies can have such long-lasting effects. The “plasticity” of children’s habits and imaginations is an opportunity and a challenge."

(Smith, James K. A.. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Kindle Location 1031. Emphasis mine.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Being In the Will of God


Monroe County Community College

"Hearing God only makes sense in the framework of living in the will of God." (Willard, Hearing God, K125)

But of course. If someone is not living in the will of God, how should they expect to hear from God, except the Spirit telling them "Live in the will of God."

For Willard, "doing the will of God is a different matter than just doing what God wants us to do." (Ib.) It is about being in the will of God; or, being (living) in the heart of God. 

Living in the heart of God includes doing, but is in the first place about being. "Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us." (Kindle Location 135)

It is possible to do all the things that God wants us to do and still not be the kind of person God wants us to be. A religious person, for example, might do all kinds of things without having a heart of love. Willard writes: "An obsession merely with doing all God commands may be the very thing that rules out being the kind of person he wants us to be." (K136)

Love comes first, from which appropriate obedience emerges.

First, live life out of your "in Christ" status. This is the great Pauline imperative. Hearing God's voice is a byproduct of a Christ-abiding life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Pastors Enter Into The Grief of Others


                                                                  (Our grandson Levi.)

I became a youth pastor in 1971. I've been pastoring ever since - for fifty-one years.

A major part of a pastor's job description involves being with grieving people. We are caregivers and comfort bringers to suffering people.

A pastor enters into the grief of others. We have been trained to do this. Many pastors do this with excellence. 

Not a week goes by without one or more grief-stricken people contacting Linda and I for help. In this, we are not exceptional. Every pastor does this.

Here are some of the ways I have done this, over five decades. I present this to you as non-exceptional pastoral ministry. Every pastor who views their calling as a shepherd to others knows about this. Every shepherd-pastor has a list like mine. 

We do funerals. 

We meet and pray with people who have lost loved ones. 

We weep with those who weep.

We comfort parents who have lost children.

We comfort young people whose siblings overdosed and died.

We are with families and friends who have lost someone to suicide.

We respond in the middle of the night to crisis phone calls.

We meet with victims of murder.

We meet with murderers.

We visit people in prison.

We care for the suffering and dying.

We have been with people as they took their last breath.

We spend a portion of our time with the hospitalized.

We counsel adulterers and their survivors.

We rescue marriages and families.

We cry with the victimized.

We help the helpless.

We bring hope to the hopeless.

We have time to talk with hurting people.

We pray with people.

We befriend outcasts.

We agonize over the sufferings of others.

We counsel those grieving their moral failures.

Sometimes we are just there, with grieving people, saying little, or nothing.

We do none of this perfectly.

Every pastor I know does these things, and more.



To Love Deeply Is to Suffer Deeply