On Academic Credentials and Self-Policing

When I read this article at The Aquila Report, I’m sad to say that I wasn’t shocked. As a matter of fact the first thing I did was send a Facebook message to a friend with whom I attended seminary and asked, “Didn’t you and I talk about this a few years ago?”

For at least four years, I have had gnawing questions about Ravi Zacharias’ academic credentials. It seems that my private doubts were shared by another man, whom I’ve never met nor contacted in any way, and that he has taken his concerns public.

As things stand now, there are a number of accusations that are being leveled at Ravi Zacharias; all of these, however, can be reduced to two over-arching categories. Today I want to look at the first category, which I’ll call résumé padding, for lack of a better term. From a procedure standpoint, I’ll offer a summary statement of the accusation which will be followed by my own observations.

Continue reading “On Academic Credentials and Self-Policing”


A Tribute to Dr. Morton H. Smith (1923–2017)

The Reverend Doctor Morton Howison Smith is dead.

Word reached me of his death last night; I was saddened by the news, though I was not surprised by it. Dr. Smith had recently suffered a stroke, which in turn lead to the discovery of a brain tumor. Due to his advanced age, it was decided to forego treatment of the tumor.

He was, in my opinion, a giant of a man.

Continue reading “A Tribute to Dr. Morton H. Smith (1923–2017)”

Virtue Ethics, the Billy Graham Rule, and Mike Pence: A Response to Karen Swallow Prior

In the past week there has been much ado about Mike Pence and the “Billy Graham Rule.” The criticisms aimed at the Vice President for refusing to dine alone with a woman other than his wife have been all over the map; from accusations of “old-school sexism” to claiming that Pence’s refusal is “rape culture at work,” it’s been a rough go of things for Vice President Pence. The most recent article that I’ve seen is from Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and it is to that article that I wish to respond.

What sets Dr. Prior’s article apart from the others—apart from the fact that it is entirely lacking the hysterical tone found (in varying degrees) in the articles I’ve linked to above—is that hers addresses the issue from the standpoint of virtue ethics. In this Dr. Prior is to be commended; she seeks to address the controversy at its most crucial point: What are the ethics of Vice President Pence’s decision, and is there a better way than the method he has chosen? The question that her article raises is worth considering and considering closely.

Continue reading “Virtue Ethics, the Billy Graham Rule, and Mike Pence: A Response to Karen Swallow Prior”

The Grammar of Mark’s Gospel (Introduction)

Greek Manuscript Beginning today I’ll be starting a series of posts that will function as something of a grammatical guide to the Gospel of Mark. I have a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that I will be examined on Mark by the candidates and credentials committee of my presbytery at some ill-defined point in the future.

The Gospel of Mark has a well-established reputation for being relatively simple to read in Greek; speaking only for myself, I’m not sure that this reputation is deserved. It certainly lacks some of the linguistic polish and stylistic niceties that one finds in, say, Hebrews (an example that’s on the other end of the New Testament’s literary spectrum); Mark’s use of Greek is certainly more plain—often bordering on rough—when compared to John or Luke, yet his message comes through quite clearly.

My goal is (obviously, I should think) not to produce anything like a commentary on Mark’s gospel. Such an attempt is better left to those who are far more qualified than I am. Instead, I hope to produce what will be (at absolute best) a grammatical guide to Mark’s gospel. It is only fair to admit upfront that I will be very dependent on a number of sources in doing so (e.g., Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics), however, the grammatical comments are mine, and mine alone; Dr. Wallace and the others upon whom I will depend shouldn’t be held responsible for my decisions—decisions which may very well be erroneous, but which are made in a good-faith effort to better understand Mark’s grammar for the purposes of exegesis and exposition.

I sincerely hope that the material I post will be helpful to someone other than myself. If so, I’m grateful. We’ll start tomorrow with Mark 1:1–11.

Forthcoming Reviews

I am juggling reading several books at the moment, all of which I will be reviewing in the next two weeks. Here’s what you can look forward to coming up at Reformed Reviews:

  • Executing the Rosenburgs: Death and Diplomacy in a Cold War World. By Lori Clune. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 280pp. ISBN 9780190265885 $29.95 (hardcover).
  • Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization. By Os Guinness. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2016. 224pp. ISBN 9780830844654 $20.00 (hardcover).
  • Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate. By Michelle Lee-Barnewall. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic & Brazos Press, 2016. 240pp. ISBN 9780801039577 $22.99 (paper).
  • So Pastor, What’s Your Point? By Dennis J. Prutow. Philadelphia: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2010. 418pp. ISBN 9780981553054. Price Unknown (hardback).

This last work, So Pastor, What’s Your Point? will be the subject of a two-part review that I hope pastors and seminarians will find helpful and that I’m really looking forward to posting!

Review of Christian Theistic Evidences, by Cornelius Van Til

Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences. Edited by K. Scott Oliphant. 2nd edition. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2016. 288pp. ISBN 9781596389236 $19.99 (paper).

I have posted before about the importance of Van Til’s Christian Theistic Evidencesso I’ll not belabor all of the things I’ve already said. Allow me, however, to offer this in the spirit of a review of this work.

Van Til (as I’ve mentioned) is a difficult author for most to read; however excellent one might find his lectures (and they are excellent, indeed) his writing lacks that pungency and humor that characterized his lectures. Thus he has had a number of men step forward as his interpreters to a more popular audience; chief among them are John Frame and the late Greg Bahnsen. Sadly, it seems that Bahnsen often overlooked the intensely theological nature of Van Til’s apologetic (presenting it in more traditional philosophical categories), and Frame dismisses some of his mentors most cogent insights. Thankfully, Van Til has a current interpreter that combines the best of Bahnsen’s philosophical acumen with a thorough grasp of the theological underpinnings of Van Til’s thought. That man is Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Dr. Oliphint has taken it upon himself to see many of Van Til’s works re-typset and reprinted, and has added extraordinarily helpful explanatory notes to the new editions of classic works of Van Tillian presuppositionalism. This title is no different, and deserves to be on the shelf of any Christian interested in defending their faith in a way that doesn’t give up any supposedly “neutral” ground to the unbeliever.

Buy this book!

Death of an Icon

I can’t remember the first time I heard Merle Haggard; it was unquestionably at a very young age, as the Hag was one of my grandfather’s favorite artists (along with Hank Williams, Sr. and Johnny Cash). Haggard was one of those old-time country singers and songwriters that didn’t have to look far for the inspiration to his working-class ruminations on life. Born into crushing poverty, his mother turned him over to the authorities as incorrigible when he was just eleven-years-old. He spent most of the next few years in and out of reform school and jail, until his luck ran out in 1957 when he tried to rob a joint and got caught. He was sentenced to two years in San Quentin, which turned out to be a double stroke of providence. The time he spend in San Quentin lead to two of his best songs: “Sing Me Back Home,” which was penned after a conversation with a fellow convict through and airvent, and “Mama Tried,” a reflection on his father’s death. The other stroke of providence was Johnny Cash’s 1958 concert at San Quentin. From that point on, he was star bound.

Along with Buck Owens, he would pioneer the hard-edged Bakersfield sound that was a slap in the face to Nashville’s countrypolitan movement, and go on to have 38 number 1 singles in his career. George Jones once called Merle Haggard, “my favorite country music singer.”

Country music lost an icon today, and we’re all a little poorer for it.

Grabbed By the Throat

I guess it would have been mid-2003 when I wandered into Manifest Discs in Charlotte (which might be the best record store in the South) and discovered the Drive-By Truckers. To this day I have no idea what sort of baked mental process led the sales associate from Little Feat to Wilco to DBT, but I’m grateful for it no matter how it came about. I wound up buying a copy of Southern Rock Opera and what was then their latest album, Decoration Day. Not long after I got word that DBT was going to be playing a show at the Visulite Theater and I got tickets for my best friend; as I recall, it cost $20 or $25 a head, and the show started at 8:30 p.m. We got treated to one of the most epic rock and roll shows I’ve ever seen; Marsh and I left at 1 or 2 a.m. and the Truckers were still playing. We got right at six hours of music for $50 total.

What struck me the first time I listened to Decoration Day was the singing and songwriting of the newest and youngest member of the band, Jason Isbell. With Isbell in the band, DBT went on one hell of a run, pumping out some of the best deep-fried southern-style rock and roll I’ve ever heard. Then, in an exit that was carefully stage managed, Isbell left the band in 2007. His marriage to the bass player was over, he was drinking so much that his dad was resigned to getting a phone call that his son had died on the road, and the band was done with him. He went solo and started his own band (the 400 Unit), and got sober a couple of years ago, and has gone on a hell of a tear himself; Southeastern (2013) and Something More than Free (2015) have gone a long way towards cementing him in the public consciousness as the best songwriter to come along in a very, very long time.

But the title track to Decoration Day was the first Isbell song that I heard; in it the songwriting skill that’s become so celebrated in the last few years was already on full display. “Decoration Day” was one of those tunes that grabs you by the throat and practically screams, “Listen to me! I have important things to say!” So here’s your dose of a young Isbell singing about his family’s involvement (Hollan Hill was his maternal great-uncle) in an Alabama feud.


Review of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus, by L. Michael Morales

Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. By L. Michael Morales. New Studies in Biblical Theology 37. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2015. 347pp. ISBN 9780830826384 $27.00 (paperback)

Every once in a long while, a book comes along that changes the way your read and approach Scripture. One such book is Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. Building on the hermeneutical tradition of Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, Richard Gaffin, and G. K. Beale, this biblico-theological examination of Leviticus seeks to set before the pastor-scholar and studious layperson a proper understanding of the centrality of Leviticus within the structure of the Pentateuch.[1] Morales’ book is comprised of a prologue and eight chapters that argue for understanding Leviticus to be the throbbing heart, not just of the Pentateuch, but of the entire Old Testament.

Morales begin the Prologue with an examination of a seemingly odd passage found in Num. 8:1-4 focusing on Aaron’s high priestly duty to tend the lampstands in the tabernacle:

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to Aaron and tell him, ‘When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps are to give light in front of the lampstand.’” And Aaron did so; he set up the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the Lord commanded Moses. This is how the lampstand was made: It was beaten work in gold; from its shaft to its flowers it was beaten work. According to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.[2]

Following Gordon Wenham, Morales notes that the emphasis of the text falls on “Aaron’s duty to direct the menorah’s seven lampstands forward, ensuring they give light in front of the lampstand” (15).[3] This strange passage makes sense only once you understand what was “in front of the lampstand”: the twelve loaves of showbread, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a powerful illustration of the goal of Leviticus: “…the light of the lampstand represents the life-giving presence of God, his blessed glory…Aaron’s role of regularly arranging the lamps so that they shone upon the loaves summarizes the role and function of the priesthood to mediate God’s blessings to his people” (17). This encapsulates the telos of creation as well as the ultimate goal of redemption, namely, “Life with God in the house of God” (ibid.). In Morales’ view, all of the OT, and Leviticus especially, can be summed up as the God-given answer to the repeated question of Ps. 15:1 and 24:3: “Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may go up to his holy dwelling place?”

Before answering this question, Morales’ begins by placing Leviticus within the theological structure of the Pentateuch in chapter one. Herein the theme of Morales’ work is plainly explained: “The primary theme and theology of Leviticus (and of the Pentateuch as a whole) is YHWH’s opening a way for humanity to dwell in the divine Presence” (23). This chapter is a sustained argument in favor of viewing Leviticus as the narrative center of the Pentateuch, with Lev. 16 and the Day of Atonement as its dramatic climax. Morales effectively describes all of the movement leading up to Leviticus as a sacred journey to the abode of YHWH.

Chapters Two and Three examine Genesis and Exodus, with each book placed in relation to Leviticus, and their respective themes explained as a longing for Eden (Genesis) and a return to Eden (Exodus). Morales argues that the Genesis narrative reveals Adam as a high priest figure who was created to dwell in God’s house, and that the narrative subsequent to the Fall demonstrates humanity experiencing an ever-deepening exile from the presence of God. Exodus reveals how Israel is redeemed through the waters (Ex. 1:1-15:21), and brought to the mountain of God (Ex. 15:22-24:18), for worship. Chapter Three closes with an extended discussion of the role of the tabernacle in the life of Israel (Ex. 25-40) showing how the tabernacle functions as the cultic mountain of God (95-100), a return to Eden (101–102), and as the heart of the covenant between God and his people, Israel (103-107).[4]

Chapters Four, Five, and Six focus more narrowly on the book of Leviticus proper, dividing the book into three parts, with the first (109-143) dealing with Leviticus 1-10 describing Israel’s approach to the tabernacle, the house of God, the second (145-184) focused on cleansing the house of God in Leviticus 17-27, and the final section examines how the tabernacle function not only as a “dwelling-place” but also as a “tent of meeting,” the house of God where Israel could meet with God (195-207).

Chapter Seven provides and examination of how the theology of Leviticus, with the cultus at its center, is expanded and explained in the rest of Scripture. This chapter gives an overview of how Numbers and Deuteronomy fit into the pattern which Morales has already described. Herein we see Zion as the Edenic mountain of God as YHWH’s chosen dwelling place. Finally, in chapter eight moves us from Zion in Israel, the earthly house of God, to the true Zion—that is, the heavenly Zion—of which the earthly house of God was merely a copy.

Dr. Michael Morales is a professor of biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Taylors, SC. He holds the Master of Divinity (with awards in Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, church history, Christianity and culture, and pastoral promise) from Knox Theological Seminary, and the Doctor of Philosophy from Trinity College, University of Bristol, where he studied under Gordon J. Wenham. He has previously published The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus.

Morales’ contribution to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is a masterwork of titanic proportions. Here we have a work marked by patient, painstaking exegesis that is a model of biblical fidelity. One of the most commendable features of the work are those places where Morales provides his understanding of disputed passages without being overly dogmatic, yet providing a solid case for his position (e.g., 56). Here we have an excellent example of gracious, Christian disagreement that never becomes rancorous. This work is also highly admirable for its strongly experiential nature. There are moments herein that practically compel the reader to fall on their face in worship (e.g. 21-22, 304-306). The prose is lucid and punchy, with even difficult topics handled with great clarity.

My only note of disappointment is that in his discussion of Noah and the Noahic covenant, Morales doesn’t provide any guidance for navigating the dispute over whether there is one covenant made with Noah or two; the inclusion of such a discussion, even in a footnote, would have been highly beneficial.[5] Nevertheless, this is a very minor flaw that doesn’t begin to outweigh the overwhelming benefits of reading this volume, which compares favorably with The Temple and the Church’s Mission, by G. K. Beale.

What begins as a work focused on the biblical theology of Leviticus, by its end has become a book that takes the entirety of Scripture within its sweep, and helps the reader understand how the theology of Leviticus ties all of Scripture together. With its publication, Morales has shown himself to be an erudite scholar, and perhaps the best young exegete of his generation. This work is highly recommended.

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh ; Carlisle, Pa: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975); The Pauline Eschatology (1953; reprint, Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Publishing, 1994); Herman N. Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1962); Richard B. Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1987); G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, New Studies in Biblical Theology 17 (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004).

[2] While Dr. Morales provides his own translations throughout the work, for this review, I will be using the New English Translation, as it is the closest to the translations given by Dr. Morales.

[3] Cf. Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (1981; reprint, Downers’ Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 106–107.

[4] Much of the material in chapters two and three is a summary of the material found in L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus, Biblical Tools and Studies 15 (Leuven: Peeters, 2013).

[5] Cf. David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2010), 80 n. 2.