Friday, December 01, 2017

Helpful but with some dubious assertions

Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament by David Murray

This book is an accessible summary of the way the Old Testament points to Jesus. Murray notes that there are many connections to draw to Jesus, and attempts to provide a reasonably complete survey of these connections.

Murray is basically correct in his approach. He sees Jesus on every page, though not necessarily, it seems, in every verse. That is, every story can be connected to Jesus even if we have to be careful not to press the analogy in every detail. Murray makes a lot of 1 Peter 1:12 (" It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been reported to you") in arguing that the Old Testament prophets knew about the New Testament era that was coming. The Old Testament "things" is the same as the New Testament "reports".

Murray is spot on at many points. For example, he correctly points out, on the basis of Acts 2:30-31, that in Psalm 16 David was a "believing Christian speaking of Christ as his only hope" (p. 194). I also appreciate Murray's alliteration in arranging his subpoints: his chapter on Jesus and Creation has the headings "The Arrangement of Redemption," "The Arena of Redemption," "The Aim of Redemption," "The Accessories of Redemption," "The Assistants of Redemption," "The Advance of Redemption," "The Analogy of Redemption," "The Advantages of Redemption," "The Apex of Redemption," "The Author of Redemption," and "The Application of Redemption".

There are, however, numerous points at which I disagree with Murray, either because he makes a dubious assertion or because he omits a critical point. I will restrict myself to three examples.

Firstly, Murray tends to see Jesus as doing everything in the Old Testament. For example, he argues that "the Son of God is the usual way God appears to humanity" (p. 76). Yet this has the effect of diminishing the work of the Holy Spirit. If we are going to apportion divine deeds among the different members of the Trinity (and that in itself is fraught with peril), then many Old Testament acts must be seen as the work of the Spirit (e.g. Nehemiah 9:20).

Secondly, in looking at Jesus in the prophetic books, Murray omits the idea that Jesus is the one on whom the judgement falls. He talks about Jesus being the judge of the nations (p. 128) but we can also look at judgement the other way: when Nahum 1:2 says "The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful", we have to remember that this wrath against sin fell on Jesus. This is a glaring omission in what attempts to be a complete catalogue of connections between the Old and New Testaments.

Thirdly, in talking about covenant signs, Murray claims that "the crown on David's head reminded him and all Israel of God's promise of an everlasting king and kingdom" (p. 167). There is, however, no reference to David being crowned until he obtains the crown of the King of Rabbah in 2 Samuel 12:30. David was anointed with oil (2 Samuel 2:4) but the crown is not itself a Davidic symbol. It is used in the Psalms (89:39 and 132:18) to refer to the later monarchy, and perhaps this is where Murray gets the idea.

Thus, Jesus on Every Page is a rather annoying book. It is helpful in many ways, but it could have been so much better. The numerous points of disagreement I had prevent me from recommending it wholeheartedly.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

An intriguing blend of approaches

The Classical Unschooler: Education Without School by Purva Brown

This book presents an approach that blends two major, but seemingly inconsistent, approaches to home schooling: classical education and unschooling.

The classical approach sees home education as progressing through three stages: in the grammar stage (covering approximately grades 1 to 4) the emphasis is on learning facts, often with memorisation; the logic stage (grades 5 to 8) emphasises the connections between these facts; while the rhetoric stage (grades 9 to 12) emphasises the application and expression of the facts. The classical approach often uses history as a backbone, and covers the whole of world history a number of times (e.g. once in each stage).

Unschooling might seem to be the complete opposite to this. It emphasises a lack of "subjects", and focuses on topics that the student is interested in himself. Unschooling places a high value on nature study and field trips.

In this book, and also on her blog,, Purva Brown boldly presents an approach which combines the two. In doing so she has done a great service to the world of homeschooling, and her writings deserve to be more widely known. Classical unschooling manages to take the best of both worlds.

So how does it work? It means giving your children access to lots of books. It means reading lots of stories and getting them reading what they are interested in. It often means eschewing formal bookwork and engaging in creative play. Classical unschooling recognises that in young children memorisation is natural and exciting. It's classical schooling without being a slave to curriculum, and unschooling that is purposeful.

This is a slim volume that has been self-published. It does not even have page numbers. But it is still worth reading, and Purva Brown's audacious approach is definitely worth considering.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Almost persuaded me, but not quite

Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen

This book is a defence of the "Two Kingdoms" view of how Christians are to live in this world and relate to the surrounding culture.

VanDrunen argues against the idea that legitimate cultural activities are redeemed through the gospel. Whereas Al Wolters wrote a very helpful book called Creation Regained, VanDrunen sees his position as being "Re-Creation Gained": "Our cultural activities do not in any sense usher in the new creation. The new creation has been earned and attained once for all by Christ, the last Adam" (p. 28).

VanDrunen does not believe that the creation mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 still applies to Christians today; instead, Jesus has fulfilled Adam's obligations on our behalf (p. 50). Christ "does not restore us to Adam's original task but takes us to where Adam was supposed to arrive" (p. 59).

VanDrunen sees Christians and living in two kingdoms, each ruled by God. The first he calls the "common kingdom", and includes every human being. This is regulated by the covenant with Noah in Genesis 9, but not, for example, by the Ten Commandments. The second he calls the "redemptive kingdom", and is to be identified with the church: "the church is the only institution or community in the present world that can be identified with the kingdom proclaimed by Christ" (p. 101). This is virtually the Roman Catholic view, although VanDrunen later clarifies this by saying that the church is not identical to the kingdom (p. 116). "Identified with" but not "identical to" is, however, a rather subtle distinction.

VanDrunen concedes that "the New Testament does not say explicitly that God still rules the broader cultural life of this world through the Noahic covenant," (p. 118) but suggests that "it does not have to" since it was to be a perpetual covenant: "while earth remains" (Gen 8:22). VanDrunen labours under the disadvantage of being forced to invent terminology: the Bible never refers to the "common kingdom".

In practical terms, this means Christians should not try to "take over" or "take back" politics or education (p. 125). Instead, we should see ourselves as exiles, just like the Israelites in Babylon.

VanDrunen writes very well, and his writing is saturated with Scripture. I appreciate his emphasis on the uniqueness of Christ and his high view of the church. Were it not for some obvious drawbacks, I would have been convinced of his view.

Firstly, VanDrunen virtually ignores the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). There, Jesus instructs his disciples in a way that is reminiscent of God's words in Genesis 1:26-28. Now it's quite clear that VanDrunen doesn't view it as supplementing or expanding the creation mandate, but it's disappointing that he does not deal with the text at all. The clear link between creation mandate and Great Commission is a significant argument against VanDrunen's thesis.

Secondly, in regards to education, VanDrunen argues that theology is the province of the redemptive kingdom, and all other areas of study belong to the common kingdom (p. 174). This does not account, however, for subjects on the borderline, such as church history. Is this something the church can teach, or not? It appears that VanDrunen's distinction between the two kingdoms may be rather artificial.

Individual parts of this book are, however, excellent, and I can endorse many of VanDrunen's conclusions while disagreeing with his thesis. For example, he rightly points out that "the church, acting officially through its deacons, has authority to do only the kind of diaconal work that Christ, speaking in Scripture, authorizes it to do" (p. 157). I can agree with that, precisely because I see a distinction between church and kingdom: there are works of service and cultural activities that constitute kingdom work but not church work. The church should focus on the ministry that Christ has specifically called her to do, but the work of Christians (both individually and in groups) goes far beyond that.

Living in God's Two Kingdoms almost persuaded me, but not quite.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

If Wodehouse had been a modern American Christian

Flags Out Front: A Contrarian's Daydream by Douglas Wilson

This is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. It is funny and engaging all the way through.

It concerns a fictional fundamentalist Bible college in the American South (called Choctaw Valley Bible College), and its mild-mannered president, Dr Tom. One night a prankster switches the flags at the front of the college so that the Christian flag is higher than the American flag (see the cover illustration). Dr Tom decides to let it remain like that, and a controversy ensues.

Flags Out Front is all about what being a faithful Christian looks like in modern America. Wilson makes the point that faithful Christians will have enemies on both the left and the right of politics.

Wilson includes plenty of humorous asides, and has obviously been inspired by P. G. Wodehouse in both his plot and his choice of words. This book has instantly become one of my favourites.