B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Soul Care and The Problem of Evil

The Banality of the Banality of Evil by Banksy. Oil on canvas, 2013.

Come join me for an evening discussing “Soul Care and The Problem of Evil” with other members of the Institute for Christian Psychology. Cheers!

Scripture Spectacles as Biblical Bifocals

John Calvin famously referred to Scripture as “spectacles” through which we are able to properly interpret all of creation (Institutes I.vi.1; cf. Gen 1-11: The Reformation Commentary on Scripture, p. 13). I’d like to briefly consider and extend this metaphor to make a point about some of the VanTilian underpinnings of the biblical/nouthetic counseling movement in order to propose a more faithfully biblical and faithfully VanTilian alternative.

"Safety Glasses"[Note: For those with “eyes to see,” in this post I’m essentially attempting to be more VanTilian than Van Til (which to some will seem only slightly less offensive than trying to be holier than Jesus—everyone else will have no idea what I’m talking about). I would argue that when Jay Adams developed his nouthetic approach to counseling he correctly understood Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic use of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture—however, Van Til’s doctrine is broader than his apologetic, I’d argue. Instead of developing an approach to counseling from the broad scope of Van Til’s theology and epistemology, Adams derived his approach to counseling from Van Til’s unique approach to apologetics—a much narrower foundation by the very nature of the case. As a result, it would seem more appropriate to call Adams’ approach “apologetic counseling,” rather than biblical counseling. It seems like a much better handle, since I’m not sure that Adams ever published a single major work on counseling without thoroughly criticizing every other approach to Christian soul care as sub-biblical at best. His approach to the actual task of counseling could also be fairly summarized as a very theologically-driven approach to an often confrontational sort of quasi-CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)–effectively, an extremely narrow subclass of a very limited therapeutic modality. I would argue that a counseling approach which is founded on Van Til’s theology and epistemology (rather than merely his apologetic), provides the surest footing for a more scientific and more biblical approach to soul care—Christian psychology. But enough of this stuff for those with “eyes to see.” For the rest of us, let’s get back to the spectacles.]

In context, Calvin describes the fallen sinner’s perspective on all of creation as something akin to that of old men whose vision is so poor that, when given a book they can barely tell what it is, much less read the text. But Scripture acts as spectacles, granting a clear understanding of ourselves, our situation, and God, as well as the interrelationships among the three. I’d like to extend the metaphor to recognize that the spectacles of Scripture are also necessary in order to see the spectacles themselves clearly—Scripture is its own best interpreter. So, if we look at our own reflection in a mirror (creation) while wearing the spectacles we can see the spectacles clearly, where without them we would not. General revelation is the context for special revelation.

When we closely inspect the spectacles, we see that they are, in fact, bifocals. They provide great clarity on things both “near” and “far” when looking through the correct portion of the spectacles—”near” things being the subjects which Scripture most directly, explicitly addresses (i.e., creation, fall, redemption, restoration, wisdom, ethics, theology, etc.) and the “far” things being subjects with which it deals more peripherally or only by way of implication derived by “good and necessary consequence” (i.e., linguistics, science, math, economics, medicine, etc.). Scripture is truly sufficient for all things, but not for everything in the same way

Biblical counselors have tended to narrow the purview of their Scripture spectacles to look at everything through the merely “near-sighted” part of the bifocals, focusing upon special revelation and saving grace to the unfortunate neglect of general revelation and common grace, areas which involve reading through the far-sighted corrections of our biblical bifocals. Integrationist counselors, on the other hand, have often looked at both near and far objects through the “far-sighted” portion of the bifocals, misreading Scripture in light of presuppositions which contradict its own teaching. This leaves each in the unfortunate position of having a distorted, blurry view of one or the other aspect of divine revelation.

Christian psychology attempts to make proper use of these biblical bifocals, effectively seeing and interpreting all of creation and our Creator in light of the totality of His self-revelation. Through exegetical research and empirical research we come to see spectacles, mirror, and our own image more clearly, as God sees them.

Disputing a Doubtful Translation: Full Article

Disputing a Doubtful Translation: Full Article

Union with Christ in the New Testament: A Provocative Exegesis of Matthew 25:31-46

[Caveat lector: Necessarily, this post will be an overly brief and superficial treatment of the immense subjects under discussion. As always, questions and comments are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged.]

The Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) has been a matter for drawing swords and shedding ink (at least) ever since the days of the Reformation. Witness a Baptist preacher and an Anglican bishop crossing quills over the matter just a few years ago (helpful summary here). My two cents: Piper had the loudest volume and Wright the largest volume – pick which volume you prefer.

The unfortunate fallout from these centuries of justification debates is that sola fide has become the functional center of certain streams of thought within the broadly Reformed tradition, leading some to see it as the central point of Pauline theology as well. It is not. Union with Christ is. Fortunately, this error of emphasis is being corrected in many recent volumes and conferences. Justification is grounded in union with Christ.

In contrast, the Kingdom of God is central to the theology of Christ in the Gospels. So Paul’s theology centers on Union with Christ and Christ’s theology centers on the Kingdom of God. I would like to suggest that these two theological centers converge in Matthew 25:31-46, “The Final Judgment.” Jesus’ doctrine of the Kingdom culminates most clearly in this passage, while Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ is clearly present in seed form, as we shall see.

If I am correct in my interpretation, then there will be relevant implications from my exegesis for discussions regarding the relationship between Pauline and Jacobean doctrines of justification, the relationship between justification and sanctification, and the role of love in the judgment of God (among many others).

Here is the text in Greek and English:

31Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσειἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ: 32καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺςἀπ’ ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, 33καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκδεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων. 34τότε ἐρεῖ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱεὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆςκόσμου: 35ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶσυνηγάγετέ με, 36γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶἤλθατε πρός με. 37τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντακαὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν; 38πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, γυμνὸν καὶπεριεβάλομεν; 39πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; 40καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶνἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 41Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοιεἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ: 42ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με, 43ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶοὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με. 44τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶλέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα διψῶντα ξένον γυμνὸν ἀσθενῆ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐδιηκονήσαμέν σοι; 45τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶτούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 46καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲδίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now, I am far from an expert in the history of the interpretation of this passage; however, it might be useful to think of modern commentators as tending to fall into one of two broad categories when interpreting the passage: liberal and conservative. Oversimplifying the matter somewhat for brevity’s sake, we can say that liberal theologians have tended to emphasize the social justice matters which Christ emphasizes in the passage: good works of love are what will matter at the final judgment. Care for the poor is at the heart of the gospel (cf. liberation theology). This has some similarities with some Roman Catholic interpretations of the passage as implying that meritorious works can earn salvation, (cf. Robert Bellarmine). Further, many would point out that there is nothing at all mentioned about justification by faith.

Oversimplifying again, conservatives have responded to this passage by limiting its scope to those within the church, because Jesus refers to “the least” as his “brothers” in vs. 40 – meaning that good works performed for those in the household of faith will be what matters at the final judgment, not broader social justice issues. Protestants have responded that these good works are the product of faith and not the basis for salvation. Love is the fruit of faith, so while the final judgment will be according to works, those works must be grounded in faith in Christ or they are just self-righteousness (cf. John Calvin in response to Bellarmine).

I tend to agree with both sides when they disagree with each other and disagree with both when they agree with themselves. In other words, I think they’re both wrong.

Exegetical Notes

These are the final words of the final pericope in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel. It is fitting that its subject should be the final judgment. This passage is the poetic and dramatic climax of the teachings of Christ in the first Gospel.

The setting and events depicted in the passage are conventional of judgment scenes in Jewish literature, strongly echoing Daniel 7 (among others). The King sits upon a judgment throne; angels are present; people are gathered, separated into two groups and the righteous are rewarded while the wicked are punished. There are twin conversations which correspond with the two groups and their respective judgments.

The structural significance of the sentence conjunctions in this passage have been entirely overlooked by commentators. (For more on this matter generally, see Stephanie Black, Sentence Conjunctions in the Gospel of Matthew.) There is an introductory Οταν (“When”) followed by the twin conversations, which use three τότε (“then”) and a concluding καὶ (“and”) sentence. The paragraph structure is (1) introductory paragraph, (2) dialogue with the righteous, (3) dialogue with the wicked, and (4) conclusion. It looks like this:

(1) Οταν (“when”)…
(2) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

καὶ (“and”)…

(3) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

(4) καὶ (“and”)…

The conjunctions above first serve the obvious grammatical purpose of conjoining two clauses. There is also an obvious parallelism in the structuring of the two dialogues. However, once we consider the structure of the discourse from above the sentence level (in a discourse analysis) we can see beyond the twin mistakes made in the stereotypical liberal/conservative, Catholic/Protestant interpretations mentioned above.

Filling in the text further:

(1) When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…
(2) Then  the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

(3) Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

(4) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Structurally and poetically, the climactic central point of the text is found in the shocking identification of the King with “the least” in vs. 40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” It is the identification of the King with “the least” which is central to this passage, not the good works or lack of good works among those being judged. Both the liberal/conservative and Catholic/Protestant readings hang on two different sides of the same error by reading the text as though the distinguishing characteristics are in those being judged, rather than in the Judge’s shocking self-identification with “the least.”

As mentioned above, these are the final words of Christ in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel and shortly after proclaiming them, the King will be hungry and no one will feed him, thirsty and he will have only vinegar to drink, a stranger unwelcome among his own people, stripped naked to be beaten, sickened by blood loss and infection, and he will be alone in prison until his crucifixion, at which time he will even be forsaken by the Father so that “the least” would never be forsaken by Him. The shadow of the cross looms large upon this final discourse before the crucifixion, just as the love displayed there will be magnified at the final judgment.

Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ simply makes explicit the subtle doctrinal realities already woven into the the narrative-discourse fabric of the Gospels. The final judgment will be based upon the love we show to the King, who identifies himself with us, becoming “the least” in order to save “the least.” For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

(For a sermon I preached recently on this text, click here.)

Executive Summary of The Noetic Effects of Sin by Stephen K. Moroney


The Greek Text of James’ Epistle with Dale C. Allison, Jr. (1:2-4)

Continuing a series working slowly through the Greek text of James’ Epistle alongside Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s International Critical Commentary. It will not be an exhaustive series, but will include quotes, notes, and anything else I consider of interest as I work through the two texts, paying special attention to any points of intertextuality raised, as this is a personal research interest. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for providing a review copy of Allison’s text for this series.

2Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε, ἀδελφοί μου, ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις,

3γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν:

4 δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω, ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι, ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι.

2Consider it utmost joy, my brothers, when you fall into various tribulations, 3knowing that this means of testing your faith works patient endurance; 4and let patient endurance have in you its perfected work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Allison begins with a helpful section on the history of interpretation and reception of this text. He notes efforts to reconcile apparent contradictions between this passage and the Lord’s prayer (“rejoice in tribulation” vs. “lead us not into tribulation), this passage and Paul (cf. Rom 5:3-4, where Paul states that tribuation (θλῖψις) produces perseverance (ὑπομονὴν) and perseverance fosters character (δοκιμήν) – whereas James states that tribulation (πειρασμοῖς) produces character (δοκίμιον) which fosters perseverance (ὑπομονὴν), and eventual perfection (τέλειον)). This passage also played a role in the Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification (which contradicts 3:2 in its indictment of all). Some have used this passage as an exhortation to comfortable Christians, while others have consoled those in trial with these words. Notably, few have considered the ethical issues surrounding an exhortation to rejoice in suffering. Some might consider these to be cruel words to victims of abuse or injustice or it may engender a fatalistic “count it all joy” attitude toward the oppressed. These are interesting considerations for contemporary preachers.


(v. 2-4) James foregoes any further greeting or introduction and rolls directly into an unexpected imperative – rejoice in trials. This is an uncommon structure, although Galatians also begins similarly. He gives a complex justification for this exhortation in the rhetorical form of a gradatio or “climax,” building through a lengthy series of catchwords in 1:1-6. There is significant shared vocabulary and progression with Rom 5:3-4, which suggests either dependence between the texts or a common source/tradition. The passage may be closer to 1 Pet 1:6-7. Unlike Paul and Peter, however, James does not link this imperative to a Christological theme at all. The “trials/tribulations” here are likely non-specific historically and refer to the general afflictions of the audience.

(v. 2) James calls for the most counter-intuitive, unnatural response possible to trials and suffering: joy. In all of extant ancient Greek literature, only here in this instance is χαρά the object of ἡγέομαι, “as though James is commanding one to think an emotion.” (144) While the distinction can be maintained between God as “tester” and the devil as “tempter,” it is not always easy to distinguish between the two experientially (cf. 1:12-15, Book of Job, Testament of Job, Gen 50:20, Mt 4/Lk 4, Jesus led by Spirit into wilderness to be tempted by devil). πειρασμοῖς likely has eschatological significance here, possibly referring to the tribulation anticipated before Christ’s return (cf. Rev 3:10, Jas 5:8).

(v. 3) Allison translates the unusual δοκίμιον as “means of testing,” referring to a similar use in LXX Pr 27:1. This is the first of sixteen occurrences of πίστις (faith) in the epistle. While πίστις would seem to be “mere assent” or “credence” in 2:14-26, the term does not appear to carry that connotation consistently across James’ idiolect (cf. 1:3, 2:5, 5:15). Here is a use of πίστις which is consistent with Paul’s use, as “a comprehensive term for right religion.” (151) ὑπομονήν appears again near the end of the epistle (5:11), referring to Job’s endurance. ὑπομονήν is not passive resignation, but “being bravely patient with suffering until it dissipates.” (152)

(v. 4) James is envisioning the outcome of a process of enduring suffering to the point of a producing a perfect work. Suffering is not virtuous in itself, but endurance is. τέλειον (perfect) is a term freighted with significance, both ancient and contemporary. In the LXX, τέλειος most commonly refers to “unblemished” sacrifices or “undivided” hearts (cf. Dt 18:13). This is not likely a reference to sinlessness (contra Wesley), rather to “wholeness” (as contrasted with double-mindedness, 1:7-8). “James demands perfection, but he is no perfectionist.” (155) 1:5 links τέλειος with “wisdom” (σοφίας). “James 1.2-4 envisages a series and so a process. With this in mind, one recalls Phil 3:12-16, where Paul calls himself ‘perfect’ (v. 15) and yet declares that he has not yet obtained ‘perfection’ (v. 12), for that consists precisely in moving ever forward (v. 14).” (157) The virtues most prominent in James should be allowed to inform our understanding of τέλειος, namely peaceable, meek, willing to yield, full of mercy and good works, and bereft of partiality and hypocrisy (3:17-18). ὁλόκληροι is a near synonym of τέλειος, a common association. The verse concludes ambiguously ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι, leaving one to ask “not lacking in what?” The perfection discussed above is something “for which one strives in the present [but] will be realized at the end.” (160)


Given the Jacobean theme of endurance under trial, I wonder to what degree the Book of Job (or Testament of Job?) would serve as an intertext for James – given that 5:11 is the only explicit mention of Job in the whole NT. Ah, my kingdom for some Bible software…

The Greek Text of James’ Epistle with Dale C. Allison, Jr. (1:1)

I’m going to begin (and hope one day to conclude) a series working slowly through the Greek text of James’ Epistle alongside Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s International Critical Commentary. It will not be an exhaustive series, but will include quotes, notes, and anything else I consider of interest as I work through the two texts, paying special attention to any points of intertextuality raised, as this is a personal research interest. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for providing a review copy of Allison’s text for this series.

Foregoing comment on the introductory background section of Allison’s commentary, we begin with 1:1, Salutation and Address.

Ἰάκωβος θεοῦ καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοῦλος ταῖς δώδεκα φυλαῖς ταῖς
ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ χαίρειν.

(James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes that are in the diaspora: Greetings.)

Allison agrees with the “common opinion” (114) of critical scholarship that the epistle is pseudepigraphal, noting that it was most common among pre-modern interpreters to attribute the letter’s authorship to James “the Just,” the brother of Jesus.

He takes the letter to be addressed to Jews, whether Christian or not – a minority report in contemporary and historical scholarship. Possibly, his audience includes Christian and unconverted Jews; Manton compares James’ epistle to the Sermon on the Mount, wherein Christ teaches his disciples directly, but allows the large crowds to overhear.

It’s interesting to note the clash between James’ introduction of himself as a δοῦλος (slave) of the Lord Jesus and Jesus’ own teaching to his disciples in John 15:15: “No longer do I call you slaves (δούλους).” If one accepts the author as the brother of Christ, then this introduction strongly illustrates the economics of the kingdom of heaven, where the way up is down and the first shall be last. Rather than claiming authority from natural fraternity, James prefers to address his audience as a humble slave – emulating Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve (Mt 20:28). The structure of the greeting could be hinting at James’ knowledge of Paul, conflating a traditional Jewish title (δοῦλος θεοῦ) with the Pauline δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, though this far from establishes such a link.

Most interestingly, Allison highlights the faintest possibility of an echo of Isa 49:5-6 (LXX) in 1:1, as the texts share common references to Ἰάκωβος, δοῦλος, κυρίου, φυλαῖς, and διασπορᾷ. The connection is tenuous, based merely upon a shared lexicon (Beale/Carson make no mention of the allusion in their Commentary on the NT Use of the OT), but could be worth further consideration, nonetheless.

Given that ἐν τῇ διασπορᾷ (in the dispersion) addresses all the Jews within a given geographically dispersed locale (Allison maintains the metaphorical/typological reading of δώδεκα φυλαῖς [twelve tribes] as a reference to the church is tenuous at best, for linguistic reasons, i.e. a letter addressed to “the Jews” is most likely intended for “the Jews”), and James’ eschatological situatedness at the end of the Jewish age (the old covenant era), “it may be that James presents itself as… an attempt to encourage and stir up the dispersed tribes to repent in preparation for the approaching day of judgment. Such a reading coheres with the possible allusion to LXX Isa 49.5-6, for that passage envisages the eschatological restoration of the entire Jewish people.” (133)

G.K. Beale in his Handbook on NT Use of the OT gives a nine-step method for interpreting NT quotes from or allusions to the OT. Regarding allusions, he states: “The telltale key to discerning an allusion is that of recognizing an incomparable or unique parallel in wording , syntax, concept, or cluster of motifs in the same order or structure… it remains possible that fewer than three words or even an idea may be an allusion.” (31)

Given these rather broad parameters, a thorough consideration of 1:1 as an allusion to Isa 49:5-6 would then involve:

1. Identify the OT reference. [Is it a quotation or allusion? If it is an allusion it must fit the criteria above.]
2. Analyze the broad NT context where the OT reference occurs.
3. Analyze the OT context both broadly and immediately, especially interpreting the paragraph in which the quotation or allusion occurs.
4. Survey the use of the OT text in early and late Judaism that might be of relevance to the NT appropriation of the OT text.
5. Compare the texts: NT, LXX, MT, and targums, early Jewish citations (DSS, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, etc.)
6. Analyze the author’s textual use of the OT.
7. Analyze the author’s interpretive use of the OT.
8. Analyze the author’s theological use of the OT.
9. Analyze the author’s rhetorical use of the OT.

Such a thorough analysis is far beyond the scope of my intent in this brief blog post, but may be a task I would return to at a later date (Jacobean condition). However, I would briefly highlight that Isa 49:5-6 is within a commonly referenced section of Isaiah (cf. quote in Acts 13:47, allusion in Lk 2:32, Acts 1:8) and James incorporates several clearer intertextual links to Isaiah throughout his epistle (1:15, 2:6-8, 3:6, 5:1).

If such an allusion could be established, what would be its significance? As quoted above, the eschatological significance of James’ epistle would be immediately present to his audience. Further, this might potentially imply the significance of his letter for the Gentiles whom he does not address explicitly, but who are mentioned in Isa 49:6c: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” We might even see in this allusion a cryptic reference to James’ (in Greek Jacob’s) own testimony as one who rejected Christ until after his resurrection, but now serves as his slave, gathering Israel to the Lord: “And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength” (Isa 49:5). These are merely suggestions for consideration and should be taken with a grain of salt, as I’ve not even begun anything like the exegetical spadework necessary to establish either of them.

Finally, χαίρειν (greetings) creates a paranomasic “catchword association” with χαρὰν (joy), transitioning to 1:2 using a common linguistic device found throughout the epistle. This is an important device, frequently overlooked because it is often forgotten that the early epistles were commonly read aloud within the congregations. Morphology directly corresponds to phonology.

The Noah Movie: An Apologia

Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah has stirred up quite the storm of strong criticism and counter-criticism from various evangelical Christian reviewers. As one Gospel Coalition reviewer astutely noted, “Not surprisingly, many Christians have been harshly critical because the film is insufficiently faithful to the biblical source. And also not surprisingly, many others have over-praised the film, I think, more as a counter-reaction to the responses of their fellow Christians than to anything they found on the screen.”

I will attempt to “walk between the raindrops,” so to speak, in this brief review.

There are a host of easy targets for criticism in the film, such as the anachrony of including Tubal-Cain or the insertion of the half-baked-yet-somehow-overcooked fallen angels (the “Watchers”) or the producers’ environmentalistic emphasis. However, the strongest criticisms have been reserved for the portrayal of Noah himself. As Al Mohler put it in his review, “Aronofsky introduces Noah as a kind and caring family man, but his divine assignment turns the movie’s Noah into a sociopathic monster. At this point the movie veers into a radical distortion of the biblical account. Noah is now depicted as a madman ready to murder his own grandchildren in order to end humanity and rid creation of the human threat… This not only misses the point of the Genesis narrative, it corrupts it. Aronofsky is telling a truly fascinating story in these segments of the film, but it is not the story of Noah as found in the Bible. Totally missing from the movie is the understanding that God is simultaneously judging and saving, ready to make a covenant with Noah that will turn the biblical narrative toward Abraham and the founding of Israel.”

I have nothing but respect for Dr. Mohler and while I completely agree with him that this portrayal of Noah is a distortion of biblical history, I also must disagree with his final assessment. The understanding that God is simultaneously judging and saving is not “totally missing” from the film – it just appears that Dr. Mohler is totally missing the point of this particular depiction of Noah.

Despite their love and care for life of all kinds, Noah recognizes that he and his family have the same nature and commit the same sins as the people whom God will destroy in the flood. If God is destroying all sinners, why should Noah and his family be spared? At a superficial level, Noah’s anti-natalism is a logical conclusion from the premises of his particular stripe of environmentalism. People harm and ruin creation (including each other), so the only way to save creation is to destroy all people.

But, at a more significant level of the story, the filmmakers are producing a theodicy. God destroyed the world, killing (nearly) everyone because they are sinners and we are amused by the special effects. Noah vows to kill his grandchildren because they are sinners and we become sickened and call him a “sociopathic monster.” But Noah’s opposition to human life mimics God’s opposition to human life – it’s anthropomorphism.

At the climax of the film, Noah stands with his knife hovering over his newborn grandchildren, ready to kill them. The dramatic tension builds – everybody familiar with the story knows this wasn’t in the Bible, so nobody knows what this fictional Noah will do. And he relents. He throws the knife into the ark and the babies live. When asked later why he chose not to kill the children, Noah responds, “When I looked down at them, all I had in my heart was love.” God’s electing love is the ultimate reason that his wrath was not poured out upon Noah and his family – depicted vividly, if imperfectly, by Noah’s mercy.

The filmmakers’ repeated emphasis on the lineages of Seth and Cain (the seed of the woman and the serpent, respectively [Genesis 3:15]) sets the table for this revelation of God’s electing love as the basis for mingling mercy with wrath – He looked down on his children and had nothing but love in his heart. The use of theological anthropomorphism is always a risky decision. God frequently used anthropormorphic language in his self-revelation in Scripture – and it is frequently misunderstood by interpreters. I suspect that many reviewers of Aronofsky’s Noah have misunderstood his use of anthropormorphism as well. I think once one recognizes this literary device at work in the film it helps to redeem what would otherwise be a confusing and troubling addition to the narrative of Noah and the flood.

Book Review: Putting the Truth to Work by Daniel M. Doriani

Doriani, Daniel M. Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application. Phillipsburg, P & R Publishing, 2001.


Putting the Truth to Work is a helpful book which presents practical approaches and theoretical methods for developing faithful biblical applications in sermon preparation and delivery. The author provides an introduction to hermeneutics with an eye toward developing sermon applications. Once the groundwork has been laid, he then develops distinct plans for applying unique genres of Scripture in a Christocentric fashion.

Dr. Daniel M. Doriani was a professor of New Testament, Dean of the Faculty, and Vice President of Academics at Covenant Theological Seminary in Missouri from 1991 to 2003. He transitioned into the senior pastor role at Central Presbyterian Church (PCA), a 1700-member church in Clayton, Missouri. Last year, he returned to Covenant Theological Seminary as Vice President of Strategic Academic Projects and professor of theology. He has authored many books on a variety of subjects, including hermeneutics, homiletics, and some New Testament commentaries.


“If a teacher’s ultimate crime is to propound heresy, the penultimate crime is to make biblical truth sound boring” (121). This book is strong medicine for an epidemic of boring preaching. Putting the Truth to Work is written in two sections, divided by a brief interlude. The first section of the book focuses on the nature, sources, and methods of discerning biblical applications. The second section gives plans for applying narrative, doctrinal, and ethical texts, considers issues with applying these texts Christocentrically, and concludes with a method for selecting a sermon text.

The initial chapter dialectically considers three proposed theories for interpretation and application. The thesis is the traditional view that exegesis precedes application in a two-step process, so that application rests upon exegesis. The antithesis theory proposes to erase the distinction between meaning and application, since “Scripture itself links interpretation with relevance” (20). On this view, exegesis is inextricably linked to application, such that meaning is application. Finally, the author proposes a synthesis of these two theories as “a permeable barrier between exegesis and application” (22). This “fuzzy boundary” maintains the primacy of exegesis in the applicative task, but also acknowledges the interdependent relationship between meaning and application. The author then argues that a theory of application is both necessary and desirable, and that a consideration of the communicative context is also essential to the nature of sermon application.

The second chapter develops a God-centered theology of application, using Scripture’s own use of Scripture, particularly Jesus’ use of Scripture in the Gospels, as an exemplar. Jesus’ example gives us insight into the proper use and the misuse of the Bible in application. Christ demonstrates what Paul later asserts in 2 Tim 3:16-17, that all Scripture is profitable.

The following chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the role of the interpreter in the interpretive and applicative tasks. The author outlines a general model for application which displays the various interrelations between the text, the interpreter, and the audience. Doriani then examines the different perspectives on reading a text, the relationship between knowledge and action, and the hermeneutical spiral—all within a discussion of the courage, character, and credibility necessary to faithful biblical application. This chapter is simply brilliant.

The fourth chapter discusses the seven biblical sources of application: rules, ideals, doctrine, redemptive acts in narrative, exemplary acts in narrative, biblical images or symbols, and, finally, songs and prayers. The author highlights that this list is not co-extensive with the genres of literature found in Scripture, though there is significant overlap. A rubric is also provided for discerning twenty-eight options for the relevance of a text.

Then the next chapter gives four aspects of application for consideration. These are four categories of questions which should be highlighted for the audience in the development of applications. The preacher should consider questions about duty, character, goals, and discernment for the audience. These four categories of questions combined with the seven sources from the previous chapter form the rubric of twenty-eight relevant applications for a given text. The tendency of many evangelical preachers is to ask duty-related questions, to the detriment or disuse of character, goal, and discernment-related questions. The author suggests “going beyond law” (98) is crucial to faithful biblical application.

The final chapter of the first section further considers the use of the four categories from the preceding chapter. The author considers the misuse and the proper use of each of the categories of questions, and also provides a two-page critique of utilitarianism in preaching.

After an interlude which briefly reminds the reader about the importance of proper interpretation and understanding contexts (biblical and homiletical), the second section of the book begins with a plan for applying narrative texts. The types of narrative (drama, reports, speech stories) are surveyed and the components of dramatic analysis are rehearsed. The remainder of the chapter gives specific examples of narrative analysis from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and Acts. The following chapter gives six theses to correct certain misbegotten theories on interpreting and applying narrative texts.

Chapter nine gives a plan for the application of doctrinal passages by proposing “a check list for preachers” (225-6) and surveying several case studies in doctrinal sermon application.

The next chapter presents a plan for applying ethical texts. Biblical law can be applied identically, analogously, and typologically (241). Seven questions for “harder cases” are considered and then applied to two test cases from the Mosaic law. The subsequent chapter considers issues faced in applying ethical texts. The author suggests that the three uses of the law and the tripartite view of OT law are useful pedagogical and interpretive tools for the preacher, with some noteworthy caveats.
The twelfth chapter provides a review of the preceding chapters inasmuch as they were pertinent to a consideration of Christocentric preaching. The author presents Christocentric application as a way of bridging redemptive-historical and needs-sensitive preaching. The final chapter of the book concludes with general principles for sermon text selection.

Critical Evaluation

In evaluating Putting the Truth to Work two strengths and one weakness will be surveyed and discussed, respectively. This evaluation will be followed by some concluding remarks which discuss the usefulness of this book.


This book will provide many readers with valuable insights for developing biblically-faithful sermon applications. Two strengths of this book are: the “how-to” chapters in the book (7, 9, 10, 12) give useful questions, case studies, and action steps for improving sermon application, and the third chapter weaves together the intellect and character of the interpreter in a brilliant, biblically holistic fashion.

The “how-to” chapters in the book give useful questions, case studies, and action steps for improving sermon application. In the preface, the author highlights the “how-to” chapters as the “capstone” of the book, because they review the theoretical chapters while exemplifying how to compellingly present Christ to the audience (9). These chapters are the result of over two decades of academic ministry and nearly a decade-and-a-half of pastoral preaching ministry. It is difficult to overstate the significance of these chapters for a young, inexperienced preacher like this reviewer.

For example, Chapters Ten and Eleven function together as a strong corrective for moralistic/legalistic preaching, for merely redemptive-historical application, as well as the often oversimplified relationship between law and grace. One on side are preachers who struggle to find applications which are anything more than an injunction to “do better,” and on the other side are preachers who struggle to present applications which are anything more than an encouragement to “believe more.”

Doriani tells the former, “Not all Christians who want to obey know how to do it,” and the latter, “…however, sophisticated we are, there is a time to tell people what to do.” He continues, “If a theologian thinks people need metaphors and not mandates, he ought to get out more often” (263-4). These two chapters contain principles which can help set pastors free to preach the gospel as spiritually transformative in specific ways.

The third chapter weaves together the intellect and character of the interpreter in a brilliant, biblically holistic fashion. The third chapter of the book highlights several major theoretical issues in hermeneutics by considering the character and virtue needed to rightly resolve these issues and faithfully apply those resolutions. Many readers will find the practical chapters of the second section of the book to be worth their weight in gold; however, this theoretical chapter would be worth the price of the book, even if its cost was its weight in gold!

Theoretical texts on hermeneutics will often discuss the distinctions between a critical, dialogical, and submissive view of reading Scripture or present a particular perspective on the nature of the hermeneutical spiral. Homiletical texts will often discuss the importance of the biblical qualifications of eldership or the role of a preacher’s character in ministry. Doriani manages to weave theory and virtue together in a holistic manner that demonstrates how fluidly he is able to move between the ivory tower of academics and the concrete jungle of pastoral ministry. Readers will benefit greatly from his insights.


Despite providing a host of insights on the nature and task of biblical application, this book also had some weaknesses. One weakness in this book was the inclusion of a critical analysis of Christopher Wright’s view of biblical law.

The inclusion of a critical analysis of Christopher Wright’s view of biblical law. As the author is concluding his evaluation of the relative merits and demerits of the classical tripartite view of the OT law as moral, civil, and ceremonial, he takes an aside to briefly discuss Christopher J. H. Wright’s five-part view of the OT law (273-5).

Wright seeks to situate his taxonomy of OT law (civil, family, cultic, criminal, and charitable) within its redemptive-historical epoch (creation, fall, redemption, new creation) in order to emphasize the unity of divine revelation while putting a finer point on the distinctions between various biblical laws. While this gives an interesting scholarly brief on a way of potentially improving upon the classical tripartite division of the OT law, there is very little payoff for the reader with regard to the thesis of the book and chapter—namely, the application of ethical texts.
The point of the analysis is that “all laws retain some form of authority,” (275) but this point is almost lost in the tangential discussion of Wright’s view after the lengthy pedagogical and apologetic discussion of the tripartite view. In the opinion of this reviewer, the point could be made more clearly and directly by foregoing the analysis of Wright’s view. Admittedly, this is a relatively minor editorial criticism.


Putting the Truth to Work is a book which this reviewer will return to in the future as a resource for developing biblical applications in a variety of creative but faithful ways. This book stands as a testimony to the reality that all Scripture is profitable and applicable. It also functions as a guide for how to discern those applications in practice. Faithful application of this book will result in faithful application of Scripture, to the glory of God.

Disney’s Frozen: A Fatherhood Reflection

Disney's FrozenSo there have been some recent articles written from a Christian perspective criticizing Disney’s movie Frozen. Apparently, “worldview analysis” is just a code word for a list of things in pop culture that Christians should and shouldn’t like. You can listen to a certain song just as long as you frown and shake your head during the relativistic refrain. And warn your children about the boogeyman, Moral Relativism.

Look, moral relativism isn’t an intellectual danger. It’s an experiential one. When a cartoon character sings, “No right, no wrong, no rules for me,” it is painfully obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense that she is making a rule which is either right or wrong. It’s laughably self-refuting. Lamentably, we live in a society where that modicum of common sense is more elusive than a Chupacabra. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s pretty easy to teach my children to see that relativism is self-refuting. Now if I could just teach them to share…

Moral relativism is just the sewage which many of the fish in our society have mistaken for fresh water. All they’ve ever swam in is sewage so they don’t know the difference. Take them out of the sewer and plop them in the river and they may gasp and flop for a bit, but eventually they catch on and swim along with the current. Sins (of all kinds) are the real issue; moral relativism is just the way some sinners convince each other that the stupid things they’re doing are actually intellectually defensible. It’s a defense mechanism against the conscience. It’s a symptom, not a disease. I’m not worried about my kids becoming moral relativists; I’m worried about them becoming unrepentant sinners.

So, that being said, rather than a passing nod to the self-sacrificial love shared between the sister-protagonists in the film and a jeremiad about a relativistic song lyric, I would hope for a more compelling analysis from Christian reviewers. People steeped in the richness and depth of the themes, types, symbols, and narrative of Scripture should be able to draw more value from such a film than even its creators realize is there.

For example, Queen Elsa’s freezing powers are a metaphorical extension of her emotions. There’s a dynamic of fear and love at work in her powers. When she’s afraid, she loses control — when she learns to love, she regains control. Now, my daughter will never build a frozen palace of isolation as a result of living in fear — but that’s exactly what her loneliness may feel like if I don’t teach her how “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

In the movie, the young princesses are playing together and Elsa displays a natural control over her powers (read: emotions). She builds a winter wonderland to share with her sister, Ana, in one room of their castle, but she becomes afraid when her sister moves too quickly and accidentally strikes her sister in the head with an icy blast. Their parents, the king and queen, rush them off to see some magical trolls in the woods who fix Ana’s frozen mind and replace her memories of Elsa’s powers with fun memories of playing in the snow. The troll prophesies over Elsa that her powers (read: emotions) are both beautiful and dangerous, and that she must learn to control them or they could destroy her.

This is a reality that we all face, young ladies especially. Emotions are beautiful and dangerous aspects of human nature. It’s a beautiful emotional response when Ana sacrifices her life for her sister, and Elsa’s fear dangerously isolates her from everyone that she loves. Her father’s response to the troll prophecy is to take measures to teach her how to control her “powers.” In order to protect her, so he thinks, he locks the castle gates, removes most of the staff, isolates the sisters from each other, and Elsa is kept in her room where he teaches her to conceal her powers. “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Teaching little girls to fear and conceal their emotions is a mistake. That’s not love. And it sets them up for failure in every relationship of any kind that they will ever have. Don’t do it, Dads.

Notice that every time Elsa demonstrates some control over her powers she is moving toward someone she loves, and every time she loses control she is moving away. Even when she finally lets her powers free, singing “Let It Go,” she’s not experiencing real freedom. She’s enslaved everyone in her kingdom under a frozen winter wasteland just so that she can finally release her powers. Isolation can feel like freedom for a moment, but the fear and loneliness remain. Only love casts out fear and love is reciprocal, not reflexive. A little girl’s emotions need to be loved, not feared, if she is to learn to love rather than fear. And only a father who has dealt with his own emotions at the cross of Christ will be able to give the love that a beautiful and dangerous little girl’s heart needs.

It’s ironic to note how many Christian reviewers responded out of their fear of relativism, when the point of the film was that love overcomes fear. As a father, I see Frozen as an opportunity to teach my daughters about their emotions and I see a cautionary virtue tale for fathers everywhere (the king also failed to teach his younger daughter to guard her heart, as she “falls in love” with the first prince she meets). However, I’m not interested in wasting the time I have with my children fussing about moral relativism, when I could be teaching them how to love… which I’m going to go do now instead of just writing a blog about it.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” -Frederick Buechner.

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