Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

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Trueman on Andy Stanley and People With Hard Lives

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I reviewed that dreadful book by Charles Stanley’s son recently, Andy Stanley. You know: people want to be happy, so just make them happy from the pulpit. Well Andy Stanley pastors a church of 100,000 people or something ridiculous, where presumably he’s well-insulated from people who are unhappy. But I’ve got people in my congregation who have hard lives. And I would be lying to them on a Sunday if I was to say to them, “You know, trust God, and your life’s going to get better, and you’re going to get happy.”

I can’t say to the person who is eighty, and they’re chopping bits of him away, slowly but surely, because he’s got gangrene in his foot, “Just believe, and you’ll be fine. Your foot will grow back.” No! I can’t do that for a person. What can I give him? I can give him the theology of the cross. I can say, “You know, the logic of the cross is that we enter paradise, ultimately, through suffering. In order to reach paradise you’ve got to die and be resurrected, and that’s horrible and painful, but it faces us all at some point.”

The logic of the cross is this: Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. The second thief was the one guy that day who didn’t say, “Come down off the cross, and prove you’re the King of the Jews.” He effectively said, “Lord, I know you’re going to die, and through that you’re going to come into your kingdom. And when you get there, remember me.”

Being a theologian of the cross gives you something to say to real people who are suffering. To that person who is poor, and they don’t have many qualifications, and they’re living in bad housing, and they’re never going to live in anything but bad housing, what hope do you give that person? You give them the hope of the resurrection. Andy Stanley has nothing to say to those people. I don’t care if he pastors a church of a million people: he’s got nothing to say to them.

Via Andrew Wilson at Think Theology. The review he’s referring to can be found here.


Written by Josh Philpot

May 4, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Book Reviews, Culture

Westerholm on Justification

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I recently read Stephen Westerholm’s new book, “Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.” It is only 100 pages and easy to digest. Westerholm assesses all of the data in the New Testament on justification/righteousness and settles on the traditional view of justification by faith (as articulated by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et al.), even in spite of recent challenges from N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn. In fact, I came away from the book with the thought that Westerholm is simply arguing for the plain sense of the relevant passages about the doctrine of justification. There is no need for revisionist interpretations. His final paragraph is very helpful: 

“[The traditional view of justification by faith] cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in the face of pending divine judgment?); or that it wrongly casts first-century Jews as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of course they did, but without Paul’s need to distinguish grace from works); or that ‘righteousness’ means ‘membership in the covenant’ (never did, never will) and the expression ‘works of the law’ refers to the boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the ‘righteous’ deeds required by the law as its path to righteousness). Modern scholars are correct in noting that Paul first focused on language of justification in response to the question whether Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. They are right to emphasize the social implications of Paul’s doctrine of justification (what it meant ‘on the ground’) in his own day, and are free to draw out its social implications for our own. But the doctrine of justification means that God declares sinners righteous, apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in Jesus Christ. Those so made righteous represent the new humanity, the people of God’s new creation (rom 5:17-19).”

Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Tom Schreiner on the Differences between Biblical and Systematic Theology

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In the new issue of Themelios, Tom Schreiner writes a response to Gerald Bray’s critique of his biblical theology, “The King in His Beauty.” In the first few paragraphs he offers a clear and helpful overview for how biblical and systematic theology differ but complement one another. He also lambasts Bray for totally misunderstanding his book. I was at the panel discussion at ETS last November where Bray’s review was presented, so I’m glad to see Schreiner’s rejoinder here. Many of the attendees at that presentation were likewise confused with Bray’s response. In Schreiner’s own words, 

The fundamental problem with Bray’s review is that he misunderstands both my book and biblical theology. He seems to think that I am trying to write a systematic theology, for he emphasizes that biblical theology is only a prolegomenon to a systematic theology. Here’s the rub: I agree! Systematic theology is a culminating discipline that includes exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and philosophy. Bray critiques me as if I were attempting to write a culminating work, a systematic theology, and by doing so he veers off course from the outset of his review. I agree with Bray that Christian theology reaches its apex in systematics. I didn’t think anyone would read my book as if I were trying to compose an alternative to a systematic theology.

Nor is it evident that Bray understands what biblical theology is in distinction from systematics, or perhaps he believes there isn’t any place for biblical theology, because he doesn’t commend it in his review. We need both systematic and biblical theology, for in the latter the story of scripture is rehearsed, the narrative of scripture is unfolded for the reader. Such attention to the historical outworking of God’s plan (the establishment of his kingdom!) ensures that we are reading the scriptures contextually and canonically. For instance, Bray doesn’t devote much attention to the historical unfolding of God’s revelation in his book. But it is clear in reading the NT that the Mosaic covenant was an interim covenant, that it was meant to be in force for a limited period of time. We learn from this that it is imperative to read scripture epochally. We don’t offer sacrifices or wear clothes with only one kind of fabric since such regulations are part of the Sinai covenant, and we aren’t under that covenant since the new covenant has arrived in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, systematic theologians need biblical theology, for otherwise they may make claims that violate the intention and purpose of the texts cited. Biblical theology as a mediating discipline supports systematics. Systematics may stray from the scriptures in constructing doctrines, and biblical theology serves systematics by tying us to the biblical text and by ensuring that we interpret the scriptures in its epochal framework. The structures and themes unpacked in biblical theology undergird (or should undergird) the work of systematic theologians. Biblical theology, like systematics, plays a vital role in our understanding of the scriptures. Let’s take one example of what concerns Bray. He complains that I don’t unpack the Trinity, but he misconstrues my book and biblical theology. The Trinity is central to Christian theology, and any systematic theology that doesn’t make the Trinity prominent is woefully deficient. But I didn’t write a systematic theology, nor am I claiming that the work of biblical theology is a culminating discipline. Still, biblical theology provides the raw materials for the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all divine, while also emphasizing that the scriptures teach that there is only one God.

You can read Schreiner’s review of Bray’s “God is Love” here. The contrast between the two reviews is startling.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

The “Voice” of Moses in Deuteronomy

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In his new collection of essays, The Gospel according to Moses: Theological and Ethical Reflections on the Book of Deuteronomy (Cascade, 2012), Dan Block has a helpful chart delineating the “voices” in Deuteronomy, which I’m providing below. The content comes from a previously published article, “Recovering the Voice of Moses: The Genesis of Deuteronomy,” JETS 44 (2001): 385-408. Based on internal and external evidence, Block argues that three particular voices are clear: (1) Yahweh’s voice, (2) Moses’ voice, and (3) the narrator’s voice.

  1. Yahweh’s Voice in Deuteronomy—31:14b, 16b-21, 23b; 32:49-52; 34:4b
  2. Moses’ Voice in Deuteronomy
    1. Moses’ Lone Voice—1:6-4:40; 4:44-26:19; 28:1-69 [Eng 29:1]; 27:11-26; 29:1 [Eng 2]-30:20; 32:1-43, 46b-47; 33:2-29
    2. Moses’ Accompanied Voice—27:1-8, 9-10
  3. The Narrator’s Voice in Deuteronomy—1:1-5; 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:9, 11, 13b-14; 4:41-43, 44-5:1a; 10:6-9; 27:1a, 9a, 11; 28:68 [Eng 29:1]; 29:1 [Eng 29:2]; 31:1-2a, 7a, 9-10a, 14a, 14c-16a, 22-23a, 24-25, 30; 32:44-46a, 48; 33:1-2a; 34:5-12

Block holds the traditional view that Moses is the author/speaker (the main “voice”) of the majority of the book of Deuteronomy, and I think his article is convincing on this point and helpful, especially as I read through the biblical book. Block has also published a companion volume prior to this one, How I Love Your Torah, O Lord!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy (Cascade, 2011). Both volumes are great to have in my personal library, and I look forward to his forthcoming commentary on Deuteronomy in the NIVAC series, which is slated to be released in August 2012.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Counterfeit Gospels—Trevin Wax

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A couple of months ago I put my name into this site, and then I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this short review. I was please to see that the book I received was by Trevin Wax, Counterfeit Gospels (Moody, 2011). I’ve always enjoyed Trevin’s blog, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with him a couple of times. He’s a great guy and I’m thankful for the work he is doing for the church at Lifeway.

I was skeptical about Counterfeit Gospels at first, mainly because so many books on the gospel have been printed recently and I didn’t think that we needed another. But I really enjoyed this one in particular. Trevin’s writing style is engaging and personal. Many of his stories and illustrations I can relate to, which kept me reading. The book is broken up into three parts: (1) Story, (2) Announcement, and (3) Community. These three parts form the backbone of the biblical gospel. There is a story that culminates in Jesus (his life, death, and resurrection), an announcement that all people should repent and believe, and a community that gospel believers should be a part of—the church. Trevin frequently refers to this as a three-legged stool: the gospel story provides the context for the gospel announcement, which then births the gospel community. The best way to do evangelism, Trevin says, is to emphasize all three.

Within each part Trevin highlights two “counterfeits” that subvert the gospel. For part 1 there is the therapeutic and judgmentless gospels, each offering a counterfeit story/announcement/community. In part 2 Trevin mentions the moralistic and quietistic gospel counterfeits, and in part 3 the activist and churchless counterfeits. I won’t explain them here, but Trevin provides a helpful chart on pg. 210. All of the counterfeits are false gospels that ensnare the church. Thus the purpose of the book is to articulate the true gospel and to show how attempts to change it ultimately fall flat.

The implications of the gospel are far-reaching, so the church must get it right. Every generation will need to understand the biblical gospel and apply it to appropriate contexts. Trevin Wax has given us a great little aid for doing that in this generation, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read Counterfeit Gospels and recommend it to others.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Gospel

Unbroken—Laura Hillendbrand

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This is a fantastic book about Louie Zamperini, a WWII vet who survived a plane crash, 47 days adrift at sea in a life raft, and then nearly three years of hard labor and torture at the hands of the Japanese. He’s eventually rescued after the atom bomb ends the war. The story takes so many unexpected turns it’s almost unbelievable. And the best part is that after the war Zamperini comes to grips with his own sinfulness and despair and somehow finds his way to a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles. There he puts his faith in Christ and is forever changed.

When this book was released I kept avoiding it because I knew I would get sucked in and be distracted from seminary reading. But I’m glad that I finally read it. I would encourage anyone interested in WWII history to pick it up.

Written by Josh Philpot

June 15, 2012 at 3:27 am

Posted in Book Reviews, Books

God’s Wisdom in Proverbs—Dan Phillips

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Intro: I read most major works on the book of Proverbs for my doctoral coursework. So I try to make myself aware of new material on Proverbs. Kress Biblical Resources recently released a new book by Dan Phillips entitled, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs. Phillips is a pastor and blogger (see here). I first heard of him via his contributions to the Pyromaniacs blog. His writing is engaging and often humorous. It’s unique in the sense that I almost get the feeling that I’m conversing with him as I read. There is a give-and-take feel that is enjoyable. This new book is no different in style, although it is particularly rich theologically and pastorally, which is a refreshing take on a book that many take to be full or moralistic maxims.

Summary: The main thrust of God’s Wisdom in Proverbs is that the biblical book is not primarily about wisdom in general, but wisdom rooted in the revelation of God’s word; i.e., a wisdom that is defined as the skill for living in the fear of Yahweh. The first two chapters deal with interpretative issues, authorship, and design. Then Phillips spends a great deal defining “the fear of Yahweh” and “wisdom” in both the context of Proverbs and God’s unfolding revelation. These early chapters are focused on the sections of Proverbs that are most familiar: 1:1-7, 2:1-5, and 3:1-12. Then Phillips has three lengthy chapters on big topics in Proverbs like godly relationships, marriage, and child-training. The book ends with four appendices that provide further material—FAQ’s, as it were—on common mistakes and questions that Proverbs addresses, as well as some suggestions for teaching or preaching from the book. As someone who has thought a lot about how best to preach from Proverbs, I found this section particularly helpful.

I was a little confused as I began reading this book because I was expecting something entirely different. The title suggests that the book is a commentary. It is not a commentary. It begins like one (with introductory topics on the front end) and ends like one (with appendices on a few ancillary issues). So my initial comments in the margins of the book are the critical “this-is-not-how-to-write-a-commentary” type. But as I continued to read I was corrected, and then I was more and more refreshed by Phillips’ writing, particularly  in the chapters on marriage and child rearing. Indeed, I think Phillips has written the best thematic study on training children in Proverbs that I have read. No other commentary or book goes into the depth that he does on this topic, which includes a helpful biblical theological perspective. I was greatly encouraged by it and I hope to read that section again with my wife.

A little criticism: I have a few points of critical interaction. First, if someone is interested in delving into the issues surrounding Solomonic authorship I would suggest a few other resources. This is not to say that Phillips’ arguments are invalid, only that he doesn’t deal with all the historical and grammatical evidence against Solomonic authorship (I obviously agree that Solomon wrote the majority of the book). For instance, there is no mention of the Wisdom of Amenemope and how it relates to Proverbs 22:17-24:22, which is a huge issue in the authorship of Proverbs debate. One might think that this discussion has no place in a book like the one Phillips is writing, but since he devotes 11 pages at the beginning of the book to the issue of authorship in addition to an entire appendix (20 more pages), I would say that a big issue like this is worth treating (or at least referencing). He could easily point to Kenneth Kitchen’s article, “Proverbs and Wisdom Books in the Ancient Near East” (TB, 1977) or even Waltke’s section in his commentary to refute the critical view that says the Proverbs were adapted from Egyptian wisdom literature (which is patently false).

Second, the bibliography is a little dated, too, and Phillips missed a few excellent works like Steinmann’s commentary in the Concordia series (2009). That commentary has its own issues, but overall it’s the newest exhaustive commentary on Proverbs from a conservative perspective. Additionally I would have liked to see journal articles in the bibliography, of which there are very few. On the sources that Phillips does include in the bibliography, he adds a few comments so that readers know ahead of time what he thinks about the source. I’m studying with Duane Garrett who wrote a commentary on Proverbs (albeit a short one). On this book Phillips writes, “I would say that 90% of the time I go to Garrett for help with a verse, I come away disappointed.” I would be happy to expound on that point if Phillips ever desires to hear it. 🙂

Third, sometimes the organization of the various chapters is confusing. I would expect that in a book on Proverbs, for instance, the author to treat the material of a specific topic (such as marriage) within the book of Proverbs first before going to other books of the Bible to find material on the same topic. Phillips does this the other way around. In the end the reader arrives at the same point, just only by getting there via different avenues.

Last, Phillips goes a little overboard on word studies. I grant that lexical analysis is needed, especially in Proverbs as every commentator is prone to point out. But I think that Phillips could communicate his points clearly without going into the definitions of so many words. The definitions help, 0f course, but I was more interested in how the words are used in various contexts.

Conclusion: Dan Phillips and I are a like in a few ways. We’re both pastors. We’re both new to the Houston area. He’s bald and I’m balding. And we both love the book of Proverbs. On this last point I’m grateful that he has given us a fresh look at Proverbs with a pastoral perspective. He is a clever and witty writer, and the his points are clear. Although I have a few foibles with the book, it’s infinitely better than Longman’s How to Read Proverbs, and deserves a place on the shelf. I’m glad to have read it and I would certainly recommend it to others. It’s not a seminary-type book and I wouldn’t use it in the classroom at the M.Div. level, but I would in an undergrad setting.

Written by Josh Philpot

May 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm