Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

A Long List of Favorite Books from 2017

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IMG 2142I do not keep track of how many books I read each year, but I estimate it to be around 60, give or take. I’m always working through two or three at the same time, coupled with audiobooks for driving and exercise.

Most of these books were not published in 2017, but ones that I read or finished this year. I work at a church full-time, which means I have plenty of space to read and write daily. I also teach Old Testament at Houston Baptist University adjunctly, and since my area of study is the Old Testament, I read and re-read many books on that topic.

Tolle lege!

Top Ten Biblical Studies Books of 2017

1. Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (Michael Morales) I saw several friends post this as a favorite in 2016, but judging from the reviews, I couldn’t actually tell if they had read the full book or just skimmed the pages. I read it this year. It’s in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson, and I wrote a review for the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies. It’s a great book. We should be chided for our neglect of mastering a Pentateuchal book like Leviticus, not least of all reading it. Overstatements aside, one would be wrong to understate the potential of Morales’ book in reinvigorating scholars and pastors to examine its content closely. Morales’ fresh approach to Leviticus is welcome, and I cannot think of a better book on the theology of Leviticus that this one. I highly recommend it.

2. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Tim Keller) This is sort of like a prequel to Keller’s The Reason for God. It’s a stirring read. Keller is a master at making difficult concepts easier to grasp, and also at getting non-believers and skeptics to think through their underlying assumptions before dismissing the claims of the Bible altogether. His rhetorical skill coupled with beautiful storytelling often caused me to stop and re-read entire chapters.

3. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Stephen Wellum) Wellum is my go-to scholar for thinking through Christology. I was glad to see this book arrive last year, and it doesn’t disappoint.

4. Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum) I skimmed this book when it was released a few years ago because I had Gentry and Wellum several times during my M.Div. and was familiar with the argument in the book. But I decided to read it during the summer. They argue that the biblical covenants are the theological framework of the Bible and summarize its message progressively through time. This point has huge implications for biblical theology, and it’s worth consideration.

5. The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan (Alan J. Thompson) Like Morales’ book, this one is another in the NSBT series, and a pleasant surprise. Thompson argues that scholars and commentators are too general in saying that the work of the Holy Spirit is the driving force in the book of Acts. Rather, the acts of the risen Lord Jesus is the main thrust of the apostles’ message. In other words, Jesus’ acts continue after his ascension in the growth of the church by the Spirit. Excellent book!

6. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Stephen Dempster) Another re-read for me, now for the third time. I know many do not agree, but I consider this book the best Old Testament theology today. Certainly another may surpass it down the road, but for now, nothing is better in my opinion. Out of all the books on this list, I would recommend reading this one first.

7. How to Understand and Apply the Old Testament (Jason DeRouchie) and New Testament (Andy Naselli) I skimmed these two textbooks, which are great for hermeneutics and exegesis. DeRouchie is more wordy than Naselli, but both authors have provided excellent resources for pastors and students. For me, these books have replaced Old Testament Exegesis (Stuart) and New Testament Exegesis (Fee).

8. Exodus (T. Desmond Alexander) I wrote my dissertation on Exodus, and so I try to keep up with new resources on Exodus as they are published. Alexander is a strong evangelical scholar in Old Testament studies (see his excellent, From Paradise to Promised Land), and this volume does not disappoint in an otherwise disappointing commentary series (Apollos Old Testament Commentary—I have not enjoyed other volumes I’ve reviewed in this series). I’ve been slowly making my way through it. It’s not technical but still exegetical. Source are in-line with the text instead of footnotes, and there are transliterations instead of Hebrew/Greek. I don’t prefer these details in a commentary, but at 764 pages, I’m glad to see another major evangelical book on Exodus with a strong view on the veracity of the events depicted therein.

9. The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology: Three Creedal Expressions (Mark Boda) I wrote a review of this book for TGC. It’s short, and a helpful way forward in thinking through key expressions that give shape to the theological message of the Old Testament.

10. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Craig Bartholomew) Last year, HBU changed the format of the class I teach, and so a new textbook was needed that would give the students a whole Bible overview. Thus, I had to read this book in prep, and now all of my students have to read it as well. I like how Bartholomew pictures the story of the Bible in six “acts”, like a modern drama with a beginning, plot, setting, rising tension, climax, and resolution.

Here are a few other academic titles that I also enjoyed reading this year:

11. The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Richard Hess)

12. Isaiah Old and New: Exegesis, Intertextuality, and Hermeneutics (Ben Witherington III)

13. The King As Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms (Jamie Grant)

14. Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (G.K. Beale)

Top Ten Non-Fiction and Fiction Books of 2017

1. The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Robert Caro, 4 vols) A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner where Albert Mohler and Jason Allen were talking biographies. I mentioned how much I liked William Manchester’s Churchill biography, and they both commented that the only other biography that compares is Robert Caro’s books on Lyndon Johnson. Having very little knowledge of Johnson but now living in Johnson’s home state, I decided to pick up these four volumes and read them over the summer. They are a fascinating study on power (political or otherwise) and the choices/compromises a person is willing to make in order to achieve their ambition. Johnson grew up dirt poor in central TX, and yet rose to be President of the United States. That alone is a tale worth telling. Caro is a master at telling it.

2. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur: 1880–1964 (William Manchester) The book is a biography of General Douglas MacArthur, a true “caesar” in his own context in the Pacific theater during and after WWII. This is also another great story of WWI and WWII, if that is of interest, and told by Manchester, who wrote perhaps my favorite biography on Winston Churchill.

3. The Russian Revolution: A New History (Sean McMeekin) I have always been interested in the fall of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of Lenin and Bolsheviks. When I was a classical pianist, I used to play a lot of Russian composers like Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and I still enjoy listening to these works in my office. This new history was on Albert Mohler’s summer reading list, and so I devoured it in a few short days. The seeds behind the American-Russian divide are traced to this period of revolution in the early 20th century, and many of the ramifications of these events are still being felt today. I’ve already recommended this book to several people.

4. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport) In sum, the hypothesis behind Deep Work is that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive. This is an easy read and really fascinating.

5. The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance (Ben Sasse) A very non-political book by the estimable senator from Nebraska. I felt like I was reading a parenting manual, and with two kids in the second grade, I found Sasses advice very helpful. This is a really diagnosis with what is wrong with a lot of our cultural habits, and a good remedy for how to move forward. I took copious notes while reading this book.

6. The Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson, 10 vols) My brother is a sci-fi and fantasy book geek, and he recommended this to me some time ago. It’s very long—10 volumes!—and took me almost six months to finish (along with other reading). But it’s a great fantasy tale. Fair warning: the book is tough to begin because the backstory comes gradually instead of chronologically. Even so, I couldn’t put it down, and I’m now reading through it again.

7. The Dark Tower Series (Stephen King, 7 vols) Before this year, I had never read a novel by Stephen King, although I did read this memoir On Writing several years ago (Which is also excellent, by the way. Here is a collection of good quotes from that book.) I have two friends who kept telling me to read the Dark Tower series, so I started and finished it this summer. It’s a long tale loosely based on the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning. King is not for everyone, and I can understand why, and also understand why my parents were wise to keep his books out of my hands during my adolescence. Reading the books now, I found them a riveting tale of human nature and quest for truth in the world. I enjoy King’s storytelling and writing style, even if the sometimes graphic content is not to my taste. I often think that a novel’s real merit is in how real or unreal the dialogue is between characters. King’s contribution is that he a master at writing dialogue.

8. The Stand (Stephen King) Having read The Dark Tower, I decided to go through a few other Stephen King books. The Stand is perhaps King’s most popular novel that is not a major motion picture like The Shining or Carrie or IT. The Stand is a dystopian novel about humans trying to band together in the wake of an apocalypse, and the book is simply that—a tale about survival. But like the Dark Tower, King is a masterful storyteller. It’s very long, but worth reading, and not nearly as graphic as The Dark Tower.

9. Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life (Steve Martin) Get the audiobook. Steve Martin narrates his bio as a standup comedian trying to make a living, and he tells his jokes (and songs!) with the same voices he did when it was his profession, which he quit at the height of his success. Really fun read.

10. Oathbringer (Brandon Sanderson) This is the third book in The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson. I read the other two books in 2016. Oathbringer is fantasy novel where an off-world society is based on the prejudice of light eyes vs. dark eyes, and where knights and warriors have ancient swords called shard blades and armor called shard plate. The characters are real enough to keep me interested in how the tale is unfolding, although the dialogue feels stilted at times. Even still, I think the story is a lot of fun, and Sanderson always builds up to a major climax at the end, one that’s usually worth the wait.

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Written by Josh Philpot

December 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Pushing Back a Little on Andrew Wilson’s Worship Rant

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Andrew Wilson has a post up today at Think Theology in which he rants against some of the worship music going around churches these days. Good points all around, and I generally agree with him. I would like to concur on some of his points and push back on some others:

1. Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs. Wilson say that songs with “I love you” or “you are more beautiful than ever” statements to God that can simultaneously be said to one’s spouse are out of place in worship. I agree with this point wholeheartedly. In my experience as a worship leader and as one who evaluates new songs about every week, I think this type of language has a lot to do with the age group writing our contemporary worship songs. Most of them are very young, and in our worship culture we tend to prefer that young, beautiful people lead us from the stage rather than seasoned, older pastors. And so the ones leading every week are also the ones more prone to author new songs for the congregation. The songs are marketed by agencies who want to put young, beautiful people on album covers and in concerts and in interviews, and thus the songs they have written become mainstream. The problem isn’t really with young, beautiful people as much as it is with personal experience: most of these songwriters have very little experience as a Christian from which to draw when they write songs. They struggle to empathize or even communicate what they feel. And a bigger point is that most do not know how to express love to/for God in a biblical way because they’re not trained in the Bible. And so their worship songs sound a lot like Carly Rae Jepsen’s pop songs: cliche-driven and devoid of meaning. The result is “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. This does not meant that there isn’t a gem from time to time that is written by a young, beautiful person. I can think of several. But it’s rare. (As an aside I might also ask: doesn’t the modern, contemporary gathering itself—with its lights and its youth and its ambiance—give way to this sort of songwriting that emphasizes boyfriend-Jesus songs and that lacks theological depth?)

2. Random lists of superlatives. Wilson says that listing superlatives about God (you are so glorious, wonderful, powerful, etc.) brings about a flat sense of diminishing returns to those of us who are singing. But isn’t this what the psalms do over and over? Isn’t this what Moses sang in Exodus 15? How many times do the psalms say that God is “my fortress” or “refuge” or “rock” or “salvation”, or that he is “glorious” and “mighty”? Several times, I would say.  I don’t think Wilson can stress this point because the testimony of the Bible over several millennia gives us people who continue to pray and sing superlatives about God. Songwriters should write songs in the stream of the biblical songwriters and authors. As a worship leader, I have no problem choosing songs that stress these aspects of God’s character because God stresses these aspects of his character. 

3. Lack of Trinitarianism. Wilson argues that our modern worship songs lack praise of all three persons of the Trinity. They are functionally binitarian or unitarian. But this point assumes that these songs are sung out of context. You could argue that the Book of Psalms are unitarian in that they primarily offer praise/lament to God the Father. But the context of Scripture demands that a greater meaning should be applied to the psalms. Similarly, in the context of a church service—where the people of God, redeemed by God in Christ, are joining together in the power of the Spirit to glorify God—the songs are thicker in meaning due to that context. When we praise “God” we likely mean “Father and Son through Holy Spirit.” The context demands more, just as the context of the Old Testament can be understood now only in light of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and of his sending of the Holy Spirit for the mission of the church. 

I would also push back on the notion of praise to the Holy Spirit. I understand the need for holistic worship, but where does praise to/for/of the Holy Spirit take place in the New Testament? Anywhere? Is this the example we have from the apostles, to offer praise to the Holy Spirit? No one ever addresses the Holy Spirit in prayer, or bows down to the Holy Spirit, or ever serves the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Holy Spirit is never the object of worship in the Bible. Philippians 3:3 states that we “worship by/in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.” And yet I understand the tension here, that Father, Son, and Spirit are all equally divine in one essence and so should be worshiped equally. This is theological deduction, but is that deduction warranted in the New Testament? The New Testament is adamant that we worship in the Spirit, through the Spirit, and by the Spirit, but it knows nothing of worship “of the Spirit” (see also Block, “For the Glory of God” on this point). 

So I don’t think the element of Trinitarianism is missing in modern worship songs, if by that we mean addressing or worshiping the Holy Spirit. What is missing in my opinion is accurately describing the Triune God in our our liturgies, the prayers, introductions, confessions, etc., or especially in the arc of the service. Worship leaders would be wise to make their leading more theological and trinitarian, yet without the worship of the Spirit. 

4. Assuming shared experience. Wilson seems to imply that we shouldn’t sing certain songs that assume that everyone singing those songs have had the same experience, a “come to Jesus” moment, as it were. Wilson says “this cultivates an unhelpful sense of inferiority or exclusion amongst a group of people.” I disagree. This gets to ecclesiology, but in my view the worship service is a gathering of believers, and thus the first-person narratives in some of our hymns (Amazing Grace, When I Survey, And Can it Be, etc.) have rich meaning in a corporate setting because we’re repeating the gospel to one another. The shared experience of worship—and in particular singing—is what Paul encourages us to do in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. We “sing to one another” and “make melody in our heart” because we have and assume a shared experience. Even if my experience is not in line with “I awoke, the dungeon flamed with light,” I resonate with that experience because it expresses what happened in my soul when I was redeemed. Additionally, I can glory in the cross of Christ by turning to my brother or sister and hearing her sing of that experience even if I don’t share it exactly how he/she does. Contrary to Wilson’s point, I think in singing some of these songs and in hearing the testimonies of God’s people actually helps unify the church instead of cultivating exclusion. So perhaps we should ask, what do we actually gain from hearing/singing dramatic binary stories? Do we actually gain something from reading or singing David’s account of his repentance in Psalm 51? What about the desperate longing for God that David writes about in Psalm 63? Is that intended to be only about David and for David? I don’t think so. Worship leaders and/or songwriters aren’t asking their congregations to sing lies. I hope that what they are doing is writing under the influence of biblical songwriters like David. Isn’t that what they should do?  

Wilson’s post is good, I would just disagree on some of the things he stresses. His overall point, however, is well-said: worship leaders must think hard about what they write and about what they lead people to say or sing. It’s not a frivolous affair, something to toss off like it has no importance. The worship gathering is a display of God’s glory. So we should give due diligence in our preparation/songwriting/song-choosing so that the glory of God in Christ through the work of the Spirit is our aim and the end result. 

 

Written by Josh Philpot

October 7, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Theology, Worship

What We Get Wrong about Worship | RELEVANT Magazine

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My friend Matt Damico (Worship Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church) has a good post at Relevant Magazine on the misconception that Christian worship should be private: 

Occasionally, someone asks me for a worship song recommendation, or I need someone to listen to a song for some reason. When that happens, I do what any good person does: go to YouTube. I can find a song, grab the link, send it off, and nobody has to buy or download anything. It’s great.

Even though I look for a simple, basic video to pass along, I inevitably run across multiple videos for songs full of stock Christian images, like a slideshow set to music. These videos make a couple things clear: first, some people have too much time on their hands. Second, wrong ideas about worship are all over the place.

These wrong ideas come out in the all-too-common pictures of someone standing alone in a field, or on a mountain, or in an empty church, with their hands held high. You’ve seen these pictures, and not just on YouTube. The Christian bookstore or blog nearest you surely features similar shots. The implication in these images is that true worship, our most sincere moments with God, come when we’re alone.

Read the rest here: What We Get Wrong about Worship | RELEVANT Magazine

Written by Josh Philpot

August 13, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Worship

The Pastor-Theologian

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Recently I joined the Third Fellowship of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and I’m preparing for and looking forward to my first symposium with CPT this August. To get an idea of what CPT is all about, Justin Taylor posted four brief video clips of Kevin Vanhoozer—Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the co-author of a forthcoming book—The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision—speaking to CPT about the concept:

Why Are Pastor-Theologians Necessary?

What’s the Harm if Pastors are Not Theologians?

What Led to the Separation of Pastors and Theologians?

What Might Happen If the Church Had More Pastor Theologians?

Written by Josh Philpot

June 24, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Behind the Bow Tie: A profile of Dr. Robert Plummer

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Here is a nice video profile of my former hermeneutics professor, Dr. Robert Plummer, a New Testament professor at Southern Seminary. I loved going to class with Dr. Plummer. He is friendly, engaging, and well-loved on the seminary campus. His hermeneutical approach is outlined in a book released by Kregel a few years ago, “40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible.” It’s an excellent book and I commend it to you. In addition he hosts a website called “Daily Dose of Greek” in which someone can learn how to read the Greek NT from the ground up. I watch Dr. Plummer’s Greek video updates every day, which is a great way to keep my Greek fresh.

Written by Josh Philpot

May 30, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama King

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Over at Christian Today, Wesley Hill has a fascinating bio of theologian Kevin Vanhoozer that is worth your time: 

Formerly a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, now a longtime research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, Vanhoozer is one of the biggest names in academic theology. The author of six books and the editor of at least a dozen more, his sessions at the annual American Academy of Religion and Evangelical Theological Society meetings are always overflowing.

But in and through all the groundbreaking research and years of teaching, Vanhoozer views himself principally as one who practices the “care of words.”

“Theology is a bridging exercise,” he says. “We’re always trying to reach people.” The way Vanhoozer does it is by looking for the playful, visionary, creative angle from which to speak and write.

Read the rest here: Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama King | Christianity Today

Written by Josh Philpot

May 28, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Richard Hays on Gospel-Shaped Hermeneutics

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Last weekend I attended a lecture by Richard B. Hays at the Lanier Theological Library. I read Hays’ new book, “Reading Backwards,” last year and it’s excellent. This lecture was an overview of that book. The library usually posts their lectures for free here, but this most recent one is not up yet. The central thesis or aim of the lecture of the view that the Gospels teach us how to read the OT, and—at the same time—the OT teaches us how to read the Gospels. Or, as Hays reiterates over again, we learn to read the OT by reading backwards, and—at the same time—we learn how to read the Gospels by reading forwards from the OT. In the lecture, Hays offered Seven Proposals for Gospel-Shaped Hermeneutics: 

  1. A Gospel-shaped hermeneutic actually requires us to “read backwards,” and the meaning of the narrative of the OT can only be understood in retrospect. Hays was careful to point out that this hermeneutic does not require the view that the OT authors knew the full implications of their words. 
  2. Scripture must be interpreted in light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. 
  3. The diverse use of OT texts in the Gospels summon us to read their narratives creatively and not rigidly. 
  4. In the view of the Gospel writers, Israel’s scripture told the true story of the world, and thus we must give care attention to the large, narrative arc of the Bible. 
  5. Reading Israel’s story in retrospect (i.e. in light of Jesus) is not a negation of Israel’s history but a transfiguration and continuation of that history. 
  6. The diverse references and allusions to the OT are “metaleptic” (metalepsis), which Hays explains as the literary phenomenon that occurs when an author cites or alludes to a text in such a way as to bring the entire context of the citation into view. 
  7. The more deeply we probe the Jewish and OT world of the Gospel writers, the more we come to see that they understand Jesus to be the embodiment of Israel’s God. 

Hays did mention at one point that although he uses the term “figural” instead of “typological” he means essentially the same thing. He said that he avoids the term “type” so as not to add to the debate between typological and allegorical readings of the Bible. 

Written by Josh Philpot

May 26, 2015 at 11:49 am