Review of The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition, and Interpretation, by John H. Sailhamer

The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation. By John Sailhamer. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009. 632pp. ISBN 9780830838677 $45.00 (paper).

After nearly thirty-five years of teaching, in 2009 John H. Sailhamer offered his magnum opus to the world: The Meaning of the Pentateuch. Sailhamer is a respected Old Testament scholar, who has taught at a number of well-regarded evangelical seminaries, such as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society (2000). He is also the author of a number of influential Old Testament studies, such as The Pentateuch as Narrative.[1]

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Review of The Truth About New Calvinism by Paul M. Dohse.

The Truth about New Calvinism: Its History, Doctrine, and Character. 2nd edition. By Paul M. Dohse, Sr. Xenia, Ohio: TANC Publishing, 2011. 146 pp. ASIN B005U5K9W4 $14.95 (spiral).

Beginning with the dawn of the new millennium, a theological movement commonly referred to as new Calvinism began to grow and gather momentum; eventually its popularity would be noted by Christianity Today in 2006,[1] and Time magazine would call it one of the “Ten Ideas Changing the World Right Now” in 2009.[2] It is this resurgent Calvinism that is scrutinized in The Truth About New Calvinism, by Paul M. Dohse, Sr. In the estimation of Mr. Dohse, the new Calvinism has had a “tsunami-like impact” and could “totally rewrite orthodox Christianity” (7). In The Truth about New Calvinism, the author sets out to examine the new movement in three stages (which correspond to the three sections of the book): historically, doctrinally, and, finally, an assessment of its character.

Continue reading “Review of The Truth About New Calvinism by Paul M. Dohse.”

Breaking My Own Rules

While I’m waiting for a response from the author’s organization, I should inform you that I’ll be publishing a review of a work before the end of the week that breaks my own rules. Because I wanted to ensure that I’ve accurately represented the author’s position, this review is about 500 words longer than I would normally recommend. Thus I have a 2,300 word review in the pipeline for this week, and  if you have any interest at all in “new Calvinism” or Reformed theology in general, you’re going to want to swing by and read it.

Dr. Cornelius Van Til: or, How You Can Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Presuppositionalism

Van Til monochromeYesterday I offered some suggestions that were meant to help narrow Van Til’s prodigious catalog down to something managable for those who desire an introduction to Van Til’s thought directly from his own works, rather than via one of his better known students, such as Bahnsen, Frame, or Oliphint. One can obviously find there way into Van Til’s thought via any of the published works of those three men, but from a pedagogical point of view, doing so produces a host of complications. For instance, how accurately have Bahnsen, Frame, or Oliphint represented Van Til’s thought? By becoming acquainted with Van Til via one of his students, an unnecessary layer is added to the process; better to follow the Reformation cry of ad fontes and imbibe the draught of presuppositionalism directly from the source, at least in my opinion.

As promised, today I want to return to the books I recommended yesterday and explain why I recommended those volumes in particular, and why I recommend reading them in the order I provided.

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Dr. Cornelius Van Til: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Presuppositionalism

Van-TilNo one should have to discover Cornelius Van Til and the presuppositional method of apologetics the way I did. In 2010, the first major paper I ever had to produce for seminary was for Dr. Anees Zaka’s class on Islam. Included in his syllabus was the statement that the paper “must be written from a presuppositional perspective, as advocated by Dr. Cornelius Van Til.” To which I (mentally) said, “Do what?” I had never even heard of Cornelius Van Til, much less the somewhat controversial method of apologetics he advocated.

Needless to say, this meant I was facing a steep learning curve.

After buying every single volume written by Van Til that was available in the seminary bookstore, devouring them all and probably only understanding maybe a third of what I had read, I thought, “I wish there were someone around that I could ask about what I’m reading.” I hadn’t had any apologetics classes yet, and the other students I talked with seemed just as bewildered as I was.

Continue reading “Dr. Cornelius Van Til: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Presuppositionalism”

Morales Review (An Update)

I had intended to have my review of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? posted by this past Saturday; but after writing (and editing and rewriting) I decided to submit it to the Puritan Reformed Journal for publication. Therefore, I’ll be holding off on posting it here until I hear from PRJ as to whether or not they’ve accepted my review for publication.

In the meantime, I am in the process of writing a review of two volumes that are helpful in understanding Morales’ method in Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord; both are written by John H. Sailhamer, and the first of these two review should be posted by the end of this week.

Review of Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges by George M. Schwab

George M. Schwab, Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges. The Gospel According to the Old Testament. Phillipsburg, N.J: P&R Publishing Co, 2011. xxi+242pp. ISBN 9781596382107 $12.00 (paper).

With nothing more to go on than their published works, it is easy to come to the conclusion that most academic theologians have no desire for the books to be read outside of a handful of other professors in their field. The writing is abstruse (at best) and supporting material is often referenced in works locked away in German or some other language that the average reader can’t access. This seems to be especially true of works on the Old Testament, though there are a few exceptions. A notable one is Right in Their Own Eyes: The Gospel According to Judges, by George M. Schwab. This volume is an addition to Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing’s “The Gospel in the Old Testament” series, which seeks to promote a Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Old Testament.

Schwab’s work is divided into three sections. The first consists of matters of date of composition, style, and authorial agenda/purpose. Schwab argues for an early date for the rule of the judges (3-4) and reconciles the chronological difficulties related to their rule by contending that some ruled simultaneously (6). Because the order of the judges does not appear to be organized chronologically, Schwab posits geographical arrangement governing the order of presentation (8-9). Schwab also presents his case for the theology of the book as whole, which is composed of two elements. First, Schwab sees the book of Judges as something of a sermon on Deuteronomy (24-26), especially with its themes of covenant faithfulness to YHWH. Second, Schwab argues that the book is a sustained apologetic for the Davidic monarch, rather than Saul’s monarchy (22-23).

The second part of the books focuses on the cycle of judges, with each major judge given their own chapter, while the minor judges are grouped together and dealt with in a chapter of their own. Chapter six breaks this pattern as the author engages in an extended excursus on the question of “holy war” and the interpretive problem Israel’s military engagements present to the modern reader (63-64, 67-70). The final segment of the book handles the twin conclusion of Judges. These two accounts are examined in light of their view of the tribe of Levi and their ideological support of David as covenant-keeping king.

There are a number of commendable feature to Schwab’s work. Each chapter concludes with a section designed “For Further Reflection” that is particularly helpful especially for students or study groups. I rarely find these types of features well done, but this is certainly an exception. Second, though it is amply clear that this book is written from a strongly intellectual standpoint, it is written in a very clear and understandable style that provides easy reading for the nonacademic and average layperson. There are places where Schwab is interacting with important academic articles and scholarly monographs (e.g., 69), but none of this material is presented in an abstruse fashion. This leaves the reader receiving strong scholarship in a format that is quite understandable. Third, I have rarely read a work such as this—that is, by a respected academic—that brought out the incredibly humorous nature of several of the narratives in Judges so well. Schwab does an outstanding job showing just how hysterical both the Eglon/Ehud narrative (55) and the Sisnera story (85) truly are. This feature alone should provide for some very lively preaching!

Perhaps the finest aspect of the book is the inclusion in each chapter of section titled “Toward the Eschaton.” Each of these sections are full of application and situate each Judge in the larger redemptive scope of Scripture, often with references to the New Testament. One of the finest qualities of these sections is that Schwab doesn’t read Judges with rose colored glasses; instead, he presents each of the judges as they are: severely flawed individuals used by God despite these flaws. While this list does not exhaust the commendable qualities of Schwab’s work, it does give some idea of the usefulness of his book.

Dr. George M. Schwab is Professor of Old Testament at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, SC, and received his Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1999. It is precisely because of his current position and where he received his own theological education that makes it so difficult to offer any critical remarks on Right in Their Own Eyes. In spite of the excellent features above, this work isn’t without defects. The author uses alliteration in each of the subheadings within each chapter, felicitously on some occasions (“Judging Jabin,” 77), but on others, this distracts from the work, rather than enhancing it (“Gideon’s Gidgee,” 121). Alliteration is a recognized method of aiding memorization, but here it leaves the reader wondering what exactly a gidgee is. While this is truly only a minor grievance, there are two other problems I noted in reading Right in Their Own Eyes that present greater and far more troubling deficiencies.

On occasion—though certainly not often—Schwab employs a very odd exegesis that borders on allegorical. An excellent example of this is in the opening pages of the work, which starts the book on a rather strange note. When discussing Samson’s slaying of the lion, he writes,

The word translated ‘carcass’ in verse 8 is found in this form elsewhere only in Proverbs and in prophecy—speaking of the fall of the nations or the wicked…and once (Ezek. 32), the fallen nation is called a lion of nations. The word nations in Ezekiel is goyim, which sounds like the rare word in verse 9, glossed the ‘body’ or ‘carcass’ of the lion.

Thus he concludes, “The dead lion is described in language that evokes the wicked, the nations destined for judgment” (xvi). The word play seems forced at this point, and the appeal to Ezekiel leaves you with the impression that Ezekiel is the key to understanding this passage—an oddity indeed, given the differences in date between Judges and Ezekiel. One wonders how the original audience of Judges could have understood this passage without Ezekiel at hand for reference.

More troubling is Schwab’s discussion of the use of “round numbers,” which he closes by writing, “…what if the ancient audience were fare more tolerant of numberical inexactitude than we are? How wildly off can an inerrant figure be?” (13, emphasis mine) Coupled with his wholly unnecessary jabs at “literalist pastors” (67), this final question takes on a more ominous tone. If an attentive reader were to combine these statements, he or she wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask if Dr. Schwab has an axe to grind with inerrantists, and whether he believes in biblical inerrancy. These statements certainly raise such questions, but the author never answers them.

Despite the commendable aspects of the book which have already been mentioned, the author’s nearly allegorical exegesis, unnecessary polemical shots at “literalists,” and unanswered questions regarding the inerrancy of the text left such a lingering effect on this reader that it cast a pall over the whole work. While it is an excellent little book in many ways, I am only able to recommend it hesitantly and with some grave concerns.

Some Forthcoming Reviews

God willing, I hope to have one more review published by the end of this week:

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

As of this post, I have about 850 words of the usual 1500 written; with proofreading and editing, the Morales review ought to be ready to be published by Friday or Saturday at the latest.

I also have a few works in the hopper that I hope to get reviews written for in the near future. They are:

  • Kline, Meredith G. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2006. 418pp. ISBN 9781597525640 $40.00 (paper)
  • ———. Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy; Studies and Commentary. 1963; reprint, Eugene, Or.:Wipf &Stock, 2012. 149pp. ISBN 9781610976985 $17.00 (paper)

That’s all for now, but keep checking in here, or follow me on Twitter for more updates.