Archive for June, 2012

A hopeful universalism?

June 30, 2012

When I read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, from which critics unfairly inferred that he was a universalist, I said on this blog and to others that this book wasn’t written for me. It was written for people who lean in a fundamentalist direction on the question of hell—who haven’t allowed themselves to consider the difficult questions that the doctrine raises.

As for me and my tribe, we need a book written from the opposite perspective: We need to be re-convinced that God could actually send someone to hell. We emphasize God’s grace to the point that we easily forget what it is about which God has proven himself gracious—namely, our sin.

With these issues in mind, you might imagine how I responded to the cover of a recent Christian Century magazine. (Note: the article hides behind the subscription firewall, but you can purchase the individual article.) I groaned. Here we go: as if the typical reader of the Christian Century needs more reason to doubt the doctrine of hell.

But the story itself—as opposed to the cover—wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was quite good! The author of the cover story, Paul Dafydd Jones, nails my tribe perfectly when he describes mainline Protestant reaction to Bell’s book:

On the other side [of the theological spectrum], little more than a bored, smug shrug emanated from mainstream academics and mainline Protestants—so bored it hardly amounted to a shrug, so smug it implied that those still opposing universalism were no more than reactionary Neanderthals. This (non)reaction barely registered, but that’s all the more telling. In certain circles, universalism is no longer the preserve of theological radicals. It’s gone mainstream.

The author reviews a few books on the subject of hell, including Erasing Hell, a critical response to Bell’s book by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. He liked it more than you might think. He writes that it’s a “respectful critique of different kinds of universalism, some decent exegetical work and a laudable resolve to connect faith and social justice.”

I haven’t read the Chan and Sprinkle book. (I read another response to the Bell book, this one written by Christianity Today editor Mark Galli called God Wins, as I’ve mentioned before.) But I’m completely sympathetic with this critique from Jones, who, in discussing surprising parallels he finds between Chan and Sprinkle and Karl Barth, writes:

Chan and Sprinkle’s commitment to thinking with Barth doesn’t go far enough… A good example of this comes late in the book, when the authors write that “Jesus satisfied the wrath of God . . . the same wrath that ultimately will be satisfied, either in hell or on the cross” (my emphasis). Why the either/or? Primarily because Chan and Sprinkle balk at one of Barth’s most profound intuitions: that Christ’s death is the death of sin as such; that, by way of the cross, God rejects and overcomes all wrongdoing. On this reckoning, the cross is a decisive articulation of God’s wrath—a decisive no against sin that ensures that the positive yes of grace sweeps slowly but surely and savingly toward each and every one of us. Indeed, isn’t this what Paul meant when he wrote that “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:21–22)?

In other words, if God’s wrath were only satisfied through Christ for those who place their faith in him—and all the leftover wrath, if you will, were satisfied through those in hell—then we’re back to Calvinism, with its vision of limited atonement: Christ died only for the elect, not for all humanity. No, I’m with Jones: if you go for penal substitution, go for it all the way. As he says later:

The next step is to say plainly that Christ’s engagement with sin—an engagement that encompasses Christ’s life, death and resurrection—is such that sin has no future. I don’t want to suggest here that sin is no longer part of human life. It clearly is, and the world in which we live often shows signs of getting worse, not better. My point is this: in light of Christ’s person and work, sin no longer sets the terms for our relationship with God and God’s relationship with us. On the cross, specifically, Christ draws the full weight of human sinfulness—past, present and future—upon himself, rendering himself the one in whom all sin is overcome.

I preached a couple of years ago that, because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, the problem in the God-human relationship now resides only on the human side. Through the cross, God has taken care of the problem on God’s side—namely, the barrier of sin. I’m still, in other words, with C.S. Lewis’s camp: ultimately, hell is God’s giving human beings want they most desire, and that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. (See “Hell,” from Lewis’s profoundly good Problem of Pain.)

I hope this doesn’t sound like some kind of squishy near-universalism on my part. I believe people’s sinful choices on this side of death have eternal consequences. A person’s active cooperation with sin in this life can cause them, as Jesus warned, to commit the unpardonable sin. As my man Wesley preached, if a person continually fails to respond to God’s grace, he or she may lose the ability to respond entirely, at which point what can only follow is hell. As Lewis would say, this amounts to God’s giving people what they want.

Again, speaking to my tribe, many of whom don’t want to imagine that God would endorse or approve of hell, Jones nicely points out the logical necessity of it: If God is not going to force himself on us—and you can’t coerce love, after all—then God will respect our wishes.

It follows, too, that while damnation is difficult to imagine, it cannot be ruled out. God will not bully us into the kingdom; God waits, patiently, for us to receive and embrace God’s grace. And that allows the possibility—an absurd, baffling, but conceivable possibility—that some will forever resist God’s gracious advance.

Universalists who fail to appreciate this point aren’t so different from Calvinists: God, they would say, simply runs roughshod over human free will and saves everyone, regardless.

I respect any hopeful universalist who, like Jones, correctly grasps the fundamental problem of human sin.

While we mustn’t ever lose sight of God’s grace, we are obliged also to acknowledge the gravity of sin. We cannot suppose that God’s love is permissive, that God overlooks or condones our myriad failings. Just as sin matters in human life, sin matters to God. It is an abrogation of the covenant. It is the very reason that God’s saving grace passes through the horror of Calvary. And since the Bible posits some connection between sin and postmortem existence, theologians should take note. In so doing, one faces a truth that Calvin, Luther and others never let slip from view. No one deserves to be saved, given a refusal of right relationship with God. That God favors anyone bespeaks a love of unimaginable intensity and power.

Don’t misunderstand: Bell might be a universalist, although there’s no way of knowing from this book alone. As many others have said, Bell doesn’t say anything about heaven or hell that hasn’t been said—better, I would argue—by great thinkers like C.S. Lewis. More than anything else, I fault Bell for often writing as if great Christian thinkers throughout two millennia of Church history haven’t asked (and answered) these same questions or objections.

“The greatest living embodiment of the Gospel”

June 28, 2012

Eloquent as always, the long-dead Archbishop Cranmer blogs the following about Queen Elizabeth II, setting my Anglophile heart aflutter.

Indeed, His Grace is increasingly persuaded that the Queen is the greatest living embodiment of the Gospel of Christ of any world leader; the very incarnation of patience, kindness, grace and forgiveness. In Northern Ireland she is quite literally a bringer of peace, sowing love where there is hatred, and pardon where there is injury. She instils faith where there is doubt, and hope where there is despair. She shines light where there is darkness, and brings joy where there is sadness.

Politicians rarely achieve the spiritual objectives of St Francis’. They might quote them, talk about them, debate them, or make manifesto pledges to fulfil them. But the Queen just gets on with it, and lives them.

Sermon 06-24-12: “Sunday School Heroes, Part 4: Jonah”

June 28, 2012

In this sermon, we look at the badly flawed Bible hero Jonah. We often stand in judgment of him—because, after all, none of us has ever heard a “word from the Lord” and then resisted doing what God wanted us to do, right? No, Jonah is a lot like us. And almost in spite of himself, through God’s sovereign power, Jonah succeeds in his mission to save sinners who don’t know God. That should give us hope as we go about our mission!

Sermon Text: Jonah 1-2

The following is my original manuscript.

I conducted a funeral last week for a man named Bob. I didn’t know him personally, but Bob was one of the bravest men I’ve ever known people who’ve known—if you know what I mean. Bob was a career army officer who fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for heroism. Once he ran through a hail of bullets to save the life of an injured soldier. He received a couple of Purple Hearts.

Bob: One of the bravest men I’ve ever known people who’ve known.

Bob was an Airborne pathfinder, which means that he was the first one to parachute behind enemy lines. His job was to do reconnaissance, to gather intelligence on the enemy, and to use flares to illuminate enemy targets so that our guys would know where to drop the bombs. I asked another Army veteran a dumb question about this. I said, “How can you light up enemy targets without giving yourself away to the enemy?” He said, “You can’t. Once you lit up the target, you got the heck out of there as fast as possible!”

I shared a story at the funeral, which will stick with me forever. Once, when Bob was in Vietnam, he and two other soldiers were setting up an ambush for 20 Viet Cong. Bob and the other two were lying in their respective positions—silently watching the enemy, waiting to strike. Suddenly, Bob sees a man-eating Bengal tiger coming toward him! A tiger—as if war weren’t dangerous enough without the threat of being eaten by a tiger! Bob was tempted to fire his weapon and high-tail it out of there. But doing so would have put his fellow soldiers’ lives in danger. He refused to do that. He would rather be mauled by a tiger than to put the lives of other men in jeopardy! So he lay there motionless, sweating it out, as the tiger sniffed him and wandered away. Good kitty!  Read the rest of this entry »

Debating the Sinner’s Prayer

June 27, 2012

If the Sinner’s Prayer is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

I would expect the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church—who has not an evangelical bone in her body—to be opposed to the Sinner’s Prayer, but Southern Baptists, too? Didn’t every Billy Graham Crusade end with people inviting Jesus into their hearts by praying the Sinner’s Prayer? Isn’t it at the heart of the altar call? Didn’t Baptists practically invent it?

No worries. Baptists still believe in the Sinner’s Prayer, even though, according to this Christianity Today article, they did debate it at their recent convention. I appreciated the magazine’s wink to the audience at the beginning of the article:

The vote wasn’t taken with every head bowed and every eye closed, but delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting today supported the “Sinner’s Prayer” after considerable debate.

One prominent critic of the prayer, megachurch Baptist pastor David Platt, said:

“I’m convinced that many people in our churches are simply missing the life of Christ, and a lot of it has to do with what we’ve sold them as the gospel, i.e. pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life,” Platt said. “Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase, ‘accept Jesus into your heart’ or ‘invite Christ into your life’? It’s not the gospel we see being preached, it’s modern evangelism built on sinking sand. And it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls.”

You might expect me—a Methodist—to shake my fist and say, “Yeah! You tell ’em, David Platt!” But Platt has a couple of strikes against him in my book: he is both a Calvinist and, worse, a University of Georgia graduate.

I’m kidding, of course. Neither of those unfortunate facts disqualify his argument. But I’m not kidding when I say that I like the Sinner’s Prayer. No, it’s not explicitly in the Bible, but it accords well with the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 10:9-13:

Because if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame. There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved.

Besides, how else are we supposed to get started on our journey of Christian faith? Sure, if we grow up in church, the church might offer a period of formal instruction leading to a public profession of faith, as we do in the United Methodist Church during confirmation. But what about everyone else?

If the Holy Spirit moves a person to repentance and Christian faith, what are we—the church—supposed to do? Tell them, “O.K. Sign up for this class, and next year, assuming you take all the required courses, we’ll let you become a Christian and be baptized”? Or do we let them get started right away by praying with them—and assuring them that, if they sincerely prayed that prayer, they will be saved? I’m way too Protestant to believe the former.

Among its virtues, the Sinner’s Prayer rightly emphasizes that being a Christian is, among many other things, a conscious decision that we make. It’s not a decision that we make apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and it’s not a one-time event. But it starts with a decision.

So, for people who are ready to become Christians, I say pray the prayer first, be baptized if necessary, and then start the classes next week.

Contrary to Platt’s words above, the Sinner’s Prayer isn’t superstitious, because we don’t believe that praying a prayer saves us. God’s grace saves us through faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised that people pray the Sinner’s Prayer and fall away from the faith. Abandoning the faith happens in churches high and low, denominational and non-denominational, Protestant and Catholic, Western and Eastern. If the church is “selling the gospel short,” as one critic in the article claimed, it’s not because they either are or aren’t praying the Sinner’s Prayer; it’s because they’re failing to emphasize that making a decision to follow Christ is only the beginning of Christian faith. It isn’t the goal.

Persisting in the faith until the end is hard, as Jesus warns throughout the gospels.

The wrath of Fiona Apple fans

June 25, 2012

My one-star review of Fiona Apple’s critically acclaimed new album garnered an unusual amount of interest from fellow Apple fans.

The biggest bummer of last week for me was listening to confessional singer-songwriter Fiona Apple’s new album, The Idler Wheel… etc(The title is very long.) Her previous album, Extraordinary Machine, released seven years earlier, is simply one of my all-time favorites. Naturally, my hopes for the new one were high.

I confess that when I saw her wearing—I kid you not—a squid on her head in the new video, I started to worry. Then I saw her on Jimmy Fallon, where Apple—who admitted in the past to struggling with an eating disorder—looked gaunt, skinnier at 34 than she was at 27. Then I read recent interviews, which included descriptions of bizarre personal behavior and her saying that she had obsessive-compulsive disorder. Then I saw the album cover, which includes what I imagine is a really ugly self-portrait. Is this how feels about herself?

Who knows what she’s going for here?

Of course, all this could be a carefully crafted public image—although to what end is anyone’s guess. Maybe it has no bearing on the “real” Fiona Apple, to which fans like me have no access. I totally get all that. And I tried to put all of it out of my mind when I listened to the new album.

When I did listen to it, however, it didn’t alleviate my fears about her mental health. As I wrote in my Amazon review of the album,

The new album is relentlessly bleak to the point of being nihilistic. There’s not a funny or light moment on the whole record, as far as I can hear. I keep reading from the critics that she’s “finally grown up” on this album—as if there’s something more realistic or honest about what she’s feeling now than before. I don’t see it. I’m a grown-up with several more years under my belt than her, and her experience of life is very different from mine or anyone else I know. Life can be incredibly painful, but it’s still good–not to mention filled with beauty, love, and friendship. And when life is bad, isn’t it the case that we often bear some (not all, but some) of the responsibility? It seems like a fully mature human being would have the wisdom to see this–and be able to laugh at herself a little bit.

At the end of the review, as an aside, I said, “It’s hard to enjoy a singer-songwriter whose health and well-being I can’t help but worry about!” And I do worry. As at least one commenter on my review pointed out, I should mind my own business, and what does it matter anyway? If it’s great art, it’s great art. Apple’s mental health has nothing to do with it.

As if he had to tell me! If only he knew how much I love the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, who has struggled publicly with mental health issues for four decades, reflected most conspicuously in the Smile project, which I love… Or Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recorded in 1967, shortly before the band’s brilliant but troubled lead singer and songwriter, Syd Barrett, was fired from the band for his mental instability. (The band carried on without him and later wrote a song-suite called “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” about him.)

The point is, I can enjoy art made by crazy people. Whether or not Fiona Apple is crazy isn’t the primary reason that Idler Wheel is one of the ugliest, most unpleasant things I’ve ever heard. Still, there are real human beings underneath this music that we love. Basic human compassion should come into play at some point. I can only hope that Apple has people in her life—family and true friends—who can love and care for her. Not to be all pastor-ish, but I could even pray for that, couldn’t I?

As I indicated in my review, I can’t abide critics saying, as many have, that this album represents the work of someone who is finally grown-up, who has put childish things behind her, and now has real insight into the way the world works. What they’re saying, among other things, is that the kind of deep pessimism expressed by Apple on the album is more “realistic” than Pollyannas like me who go for old-fashioned things like faith, hope, and love. Spare me!

As a reminder of the Fiona Apple whose music I fell in love with, I’ll leave you with this song, “Red Red Red,” from her 2005 album, Extraordinary Machine. As you can see, she was hardly writing about kittens and unicorns back then, but, unlike on the new album, she was artfully crafting sustained metaphors like the following. Please note: sad does not equal bleak and depressing.

I don’t understand about
Diamonds and why men buy them
What’s so impressive about a diamond
Except the mining?
And it’s dangerous work
Trying to get to you too
And I think, if I didn’t have to
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill myself doing it
Maybe I wouldn’t think so much of you

If God has no wrath, he’s neither good nor just

June 23, 2012

Just as yours truly has re-embraced his latent evangelicalism over the past few years, including that doctrine, penal substitution, that my fellow Mainliners never want to talk about (never mind that all their reforming forebears—Luther, Calvin, Wesley, et al.—took it for granted), I sense that many of my fellow evangelicals are reconsidering it, as well.

C’mon, guys! I just got here!

To give you an idea of where some evangelical heads are on the topic of penal substitution, follow a couple of blog posts over at Scot McKnight’s excellent Jesus Creed blog. See, for instance, this and that. Regarding the former, I offered this comment on Scot’s blog:

I don’t know Greek, so I feel unqualified to nitpick over the details of a Greek word here and there. But not so fast… I think we’re missing the point by doing so. In some ways—if you’ll indulge me—this debate reminds me of the debate over homosexuality—as if a verse here or there can keep us from seeing the big picture: that God’s intention is that sex is reserved for marriage, which is between a man and woman.

Similarly, the big picture in the debate over penal substitution, in my opinion, is God’s justifiable wrath toward sin, which is an affront to God’s holiness, and that sin deserves punishment. This seems uncontroversial, not because of a Greek word here or there, but the thrust of both Old and New Testaments. But you guys tell me.

Speaking personally, I need God to have done something—objectively—about my problem with sin and guilt. Does the cross expiate? By all means. But how? At least penal substitution, as classically formulated—not its many caricatures—provides a coherent account of how God takes care of my problem with sin. It’s not the whole story, but it’s part of it. I’m a United Methodist pastor whose fellow clergy have mostly abandoned the doctrine and in so doing have left God’s wrath behind. As if, once Jesus came, sin was no longer a big deal to God. Whatever else we say about penal substitution, let’s not say that we don’t deserve punishment and condemnation for sin.

I went back and re-read N.T. Wright’s defense of the doctrine of penal substitution in this excellent essay. Among many other good parts, I’ll leave you with this.

Underneath all this discussion is a deep concern which has emerged again in our own day, notably in the writings of the Yale theologian Miroslav Volf. In his magisterial Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), he demonstrates, with sharp examples from his native Balkans, that it simply won’t do, when faced with radical evil, to say, ‘Oh well, don’t worry, I will love you and forgive you anyway.’ That (as the 1938 Doctrine Report already saw) is not forgiveness; it is belittling the evil that has been done. Genuine forgiveness must first ‘exclude’, argues Volf, before it can ’embrace’; it must name and shame the evil, and find an appropriate way of dealing with it, before reconciliation can happen. Otherwise we are just papering over the cracks. As I said early on, if God does not hate the wickedness that happens in his beautiful world, he is neither a good nor a just God, and chaos is come again. Somehow I sense that Dr John knows this, since he writes movingly of Jesus Christ as God coming down into the midst of the mess and the muddle to be with us and . . . to rescue us – though he never says how this rescue is effected. But again and again I sense in Dr John’s writing the problem which Anselm already identified: you have not yet considered how serious sin is. It isn’t that God happens to have a petulant thing about petty rules. He is the wise and loving creator who cannot abide his creation being despoiled. On the cross he drew the full force not only of that despoiling, but of his own proper, judicial, punitive rejection of it, on to himself. That is what the New Testament says. That is what Jesus himself, I have argued elsewhere, believed was going on. That is what the classic Anglican formularies and liturgy say.

Sermon 06-17-12: “Sunday School Heroes, Part 3: Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego”

June 21, 2012

In this sermon, I talk about finding the courage that we need to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Living the Christian life, after all, isn’t about playing it safe. Sometimes, in order to receive the blessing that God wants to give us, we have to go to the furnace first! The blessing only comes through the trial. The blessing only comes through the hardship. The blessing only comes through the suffering.

Sermon Text: Daniel 3:8-30

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Did you happen to see what Nik Wallenda did on Friday night? He didn’t do all that much. The guy gets on on national TV for simply taking a 30-minute stroll. Big deal! He wasn’t even walking very fast. Of course, the fact that he took a stroll across Niagara Falls on a tightrope might have had something to do with why he was national TV!

I hasten to add that because the ABC network didn’t want someone falling to their death on live TV, they insisted that he wear a safety harness—which he didn’t end up needing, of course. But if you saw how high he was, and how wet and slippery and dark and unbelievably frightening it all was, you just can’t minimize his accomplishment. I couldn’t walk on solid ground if millions of people were watching me on live TV! I’m sure I would trip and fall. And here’s this guy walking on a tightrope across Niagara Falls! Not only that… as he’s doing so, he’s chatting calmly with ABC’s news anchors, saying how blessed he is to have this amazing view of the Falls!

How do you do that? Read the rest of this entry »

Where does this courage come from?

June 21, 2012

This guy gets on national TV for taking a 30-minute stroll! He wasn’t even walking very fast!

You’ll hear more about daredevil Nik Wallenda’s historic tightrope-walk across Niagara Falls if you read or watch my sermon from last week, which I’ll post later today. Here is the complete video from ABC.

Yeah, I know… Scoffers will point out that he had a safety harness—a precondition for ABC’s broadcast of the event. The network didn’t want to risk having a man fall to his death on national TV. Of course Wallenda didn’t end up needing the harness—which he knew going into it. But watch the video: you just can’t take anything away from his accomplishment.

As I said in my sermon, the courage to do something like this comes from faith and prayer. Throughout the crossing, we the viewer eavesdrop on Wallenda’s prayers. Except for when he calmly chatting up the news anchors—never mind that he was 20 stories above Niagara Falls!—or talking to his dad, his safety consultant, he prayed continuously, thanking Jesus and his heavenly Father for opportunity and for “the view” of the Falls that he was enjoying.

Wow! Just… wow. What amazing courage! And I hasten to add, what a powerful witness for Jesus Christ. God’s blessings on you, Nik. You are an inspiration!

“Our more or less persistent efforts not to know God”

June 20, 2012

I promise that my blog is not going to become the Phil Cary Appreciation Society, but let me indulge you once more with something from his Brazos commentary on Jonah. Regarding the first words of the book, “And the word of the LORD came to Jonah,” he writes:

As usual, Scripture has little interest in the experience by which the word speaks to us. But insofar as it is experienced at all, it is experienced as an external word, as something that comes to Jonah, quite other than the thoughts of his own heart and in fact quite unwelcome. There is no quest for God here, no attempt to demonstrate how knowledge of God is possible, and certainly no desire to experience God’s presence in our lives. The story proceeds as if the word of the LORD is unquestionably the most real thing in the world and that the rest of the universe can only catch up with its reality…

The problem of the book is not how we are to know God but how God is to deal with us and our more or less persistent efforts not to know him. Only a fool is capable of not knowing God—of hearing the word of the LORD and not believing it—and the LORD must deal with such fools somehow. From this book we learn how graciously the LORD deals with fools such as us.”[1]

Friends, the man knows how to write!

1. Phillip Cary, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Jonah (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), 29.

For Christians, even the Old Testament is about Christ

June 19, 2012

I just started reading a volume of the new-ish Brazos Theological Commentary. This one is about the Book of Jonah, whose protagonist will be the subject of this Sunday’s sermon. The commentary’s author is Phillip Cary. Nearly every sentence of his Introduction pops—including these words from the second paragraph:

First of all, this is a Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel, which Christians call the Old Testament because it contains the ancient covenant to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.[1]

If, unlike me, you never attended a mainline Protestant seminary, you might miss how shocking these words are. “Like the whole Bible,” this Old Testament book is about Christ. Rest assured, I never heard this sentiment expressed at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. In fact, we mostly didn’t study something called the Old Testament; we studied the Hebrew Bible.

The premise behind calling the Old Testament “the Hebrew Bible” at a Christian seminary is that, while it happens to be included in our Christian Bibles, it doesn’t really belong to us Christians. At best, we are outsiders looking in. While my OT prof was a Christian (Southern Baptist, in fact), he never had us read the Old Testament with an eye toward the ways in which its overarching story is resolved in the New Testament. We read it as if it were its own, separate thing. Making the connections between the two parts of the Bible is something we do (and not very well) in Sunday school, not seminary.

What a refreshing jolt to be reminded, on the very first page of this (mainline) professor’s introduction to his commentary, that—oh, yeah—the Old Testament tells our story. Because that story is all about Jesus Christ.

Of course I wouldn’t expect our Jewish friends to agree. If they did, they would be Christians!

1. Phillip Cary, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Jonah (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008), 17.