Support E-Letter for Malaysia

Family and Friends,

The decision to move to Wake Forest and attend Southeastern was a difficult one. We chose to come here largely because of the seminary’s focus on the Great Commission. Kelsey and I both realized we needed the Lord to work on our hearts in this area specifically. Thus, I am encouraged to inform you that I will be going to Malaysia May 16th-28th. This will be my first international mission trip and I am very excited!

I would like to ask that you please be in prayer for me as I go. It is my genuine concern that I would be able to love the people I meet and bring the gospel to them. However, I am also praying that the Lord will do a work in me. I hope I come back with more love for those who don’t know Christ and a stronger desire to get the gospel to them.

As I am sure you are aware, international trips of this nature can be expensive. Primarily, I am in great need of your prayers as I go. However, if you are able- I will be greatly blessed by your support. Unfortunately, because of my late sign up I have limited time to raise the rest of the funds. Any help you can give will be much appreciated. Above all, pray that God is glorified as we go to Malaysia.

If you would like to bless me in giving you can do so at http://www.sebts.edu/cgcs/mission-trips

Simply clink on the right-side box “Give to Missions.” Once you do so, enter that you heard about the SE Asia trip from me. Thanks 🙂

In Christ,

Nathaniel R. Martin

Dr. Bob: A Biographical Sketch of the Life and Work of A.T. Robertson

robertson_2

The Young Man

Archibald Thomas Robertson was born to John and Ella Robertson on November 6th, 1863 in Chatham, Virginia.[1] He would only spend twelve years of his childhood there, but having a deep sense of place would always consider himself a “Virginian.”[2] His family was as one might expect for the antebellum South. Like most rural families at the time the Robertson’s operated a plantation and their way of life was dependent upon such business. However, as Robertson was coming of age he saw the transition of the South right before his eyes. Recalling the state of the South after Emancipation Robertson lamented, “As I came to notice life about me I found myself in a home of beauty and sadness. My earliest memories of my Father are associated with financial struggle.”[3] Many of the slaves would go on their way and who could blame them? However, many of the older men and women stayed always maintaining a good relationship with the family. With terms of endearment Robertson spoke of his post-emancipation caretaker, “I had my Negro Mammy who was kind and good to me.”[4] The reality of the reconstruction period after the Civil War was financial hardship for many Southern families. So, on September 1st, 1875 John Robertson would move his entire family to Statesville, North Carolina.[5]

North Carolina would be the permanent residence of everyone in the Robertson family, except for young Archibald who would later set off for Louisville, KY. It was in North Carolina where Robertson attended Boone Preparatory School which laid the foundation that would eventually lead to him Wake Forest College.[6] In the midst of much turmoil and change came a ray of light just a year later. In a church meeting in the Spring of 1876 A.T. Robertson “felt a change of heart,” joined his church and was baptized.[7] Shortly after this many began to persuade Robertson to take up preaching. Robertson wrote of his pastor, “Brother Boone nearly scared me to death by asking if I did not think of preaching.”[8] This was reminiscent of a gentler encounter that the young Robertson had with an Episcopalian Bishop who after laying hands on the boy’s head said, “God bless you, my boy, and make a preacher out of you.”[9] It would seem that from early on Robertson had planted in him seeds of what would soon become his passion. It would be at Wake Forest College[10] where that seed would begin to sprout.

The Budding Scholar

            Robertson arrived in Wake Forest on his sixteenth birthday with two dollars in his pocket. He had borrowed money from a friend for the train ticket-a whole ten dollars.[11] Not only did Robertson arrive poor, but he also arrived two months late, but was able to catch up with hard work.[12] Unfortunately, Robertson also suffered from a speech impediment. However, this was later resolved when he was taught a breathing technique by a local doctor.[13] Robertson’s work ethic is evident in his performance. While at Work Forest College Robertson never averaged less than a 95. He excelled in Greek and Latin while also being the coeditor of a nationally recognized collegiate paper, The Wake Forest Student.[14] Although Robertson excelled in Greek he failed to win the Greek Medal, the award given to the student with the highest average. It was this failure that would motivate Robertson to become the prestigious New Testament scholar he is remembered to be.[15] Although he would be offered a professorship at Wake Forest, Robertson longed for more. The place for more was in Louisville at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Discovered: Influenced Student and Professor

            Robertson arrived in Louisville to attend Southern Seminary in 1885.[16] Immediately he came under the influence of one of the Seminaries’ founders. Sampey says that Robertson “fell under the spell of John A. Broadus.”[17] The relationship between Broadus and Robertson cannot be overstated.[18] Not only did Robertson marry Broadus’ daughter Ella, but David Dockery claims that Broadus took pride in mentoring the up and comer, “Broadus himself thought of Robertson as his greatest discovery and modeled for the young professor two disciplines for which Robertson later became famous: New Testament Interpretation and preaching.”[19] In fact, A.T. Robertson’s first published work would be the Life and Letters of John A. Broadus. In the preface Robertson wrote of Broadus, “It is not an exaggeration to say that he was the pride of American Baptists and his influence is undying among us.”[20]

The diligent work ethic so evident in his college days carried over to his time at Southern Seminary. Robertson’s language skills allowed him to take Senior Greek, textual criticism, and patristic Greek his first two years even though they were normally reserved for the seminarians final year.[21] He also met weekly with John Sampey for one hour to read the Septuagint.[22] Eventually his hard work and relationship with Broadus opened the opportunity for Robertson to become Broadus’ assistant in Greek and Homiletics.[23]

The young boy prophesied to be a “preacher” would have his life marked as an academic shortly after becoming Broadus’ assistant. In October 1888 Robertson began his professorship at Southern Seminary, a position he would hold literally until the day he died.[24] The first year of Robertson’s professorship he had the rare privilege of living in the home of James P. Boyce. Living alongside the seminaries first president no doubt blessed Robertson, but it was short lived as Boyce died before the year was up.[25] His place as an academician was further realized when after attempting to be seminary professor and pastor of New Castle Baptist Church, Robertson realized he didn’t poses the stamina to be faithful to both.[26] He would go on to resign from the pastorate. It was this decision that permanently cements Robertson’s fate- although he would not pastor a church, he would train those who would.

It would be a mistake to assume that because Robertson stepped down from the pulpit it means he could only teach rather than preach. Robertson was a mighty expositor and well sought after. Gill wrote of Robertson, “…his scholarship only increased his ability as a preacher. It gave body and lasting worth to his preaching.”[27] Although it is perhaps a grave overstatement when Gill says, “there was no preacher like him among all his contemporaries” it is true nonetheless that Robertson was anything but a dry academic. Robertson was not only becoming know for this preaching but soon as a world-renown scholar as Gregory Wills notes,

During the final twenty years of his career, Robertson became quite popular as a lecturer, speaking at Northfield’s Summer Bible Conferences many times. Such Fundamentalists as A.C. Dixon, William B. Riley, Curtis Lee Laws, J.C. Masse, Len Boughton, C.I. Scofield, W.H. Griffith –Thomas, J. Gresham Machen, and B.B. Warfield sought him out for counsel, articles, and lectures.[28]

In the classroom Robertson was loved even though he expected quality work from his students. Using the recitation method, students would have to recite their particular assignments. Had they failed to complete the assignment they were expected to turn in a note so that Robertson would not call on them. On the occasion that a student failed to turn in their note Robertson showed little grace. A student called to recite who was unprepared would simply get a zero. Gill offers an account of one student who said of Robertson, “he felt called of God to take the strut and conceit out of young preachers.”[29] Robertson had little patience for those who didn’t study. Robertson lamented to his wife, “The new students hate me for the first few weeks. But, after they make up their mind to study, and learn to do it, they begin to love me.”[30] For all of Robertson’s students he eventually would be known as “Dr. Bob.”

As a faculty member Robertson would also prove to be a leader within then Southern Baptist Convention and abroad. Within the convention Robertson is remembered for being a supporter of controversial seminary president William H. Whitsitt. Whitsitt is known for arguing against the traditional landmark position concerning Baptist origins.[31] For many in the Southern Baptist Convention Whitsitt was not merely practicing academia, but challenging Baptist orthodoxy.[32] There were many supporters of Whitsitt who campaigned in support to keep him on faculty. Leading the campaign was William E. Hatcher who recruited Robertson to be his “party whip.”[33] As will be seen in greater detail later Robertson thought scholars should be able to pursue academic interest. Furthermore, his support of Whitsitt was out of great concern for the seminary. In correspondence with faculty member Edwin Dargan Robertson said if it were only about Whitsitt, “I could be willing to see him go for the sake of the seminary.”[34] Robertson was convinced that Thomas Eaton, the man calling for Whitsitt’s resignation, would become president if Whitsitt resigned and put his won landmark stamp on Southern.[35] Regardless of ones convictions concerning the controversy it shows that Robertson was committed to academic freedom and the heritage of the seminary. His support of Whitsitt also furthered the respect his faculty peers had for him. E.Y. Mullins who followed Whitsitt as president wrote Robertson to thank him for defending his predecessor, “You expressed what I had felt so strongly that I cannot refrain from dropping a line to say so.”[36]

The leadership exhibited by Robertson was also evident abroad. As an editor of the Baptist Argus Robertson wrote an article titled Why Not A World’s Baptist Congress?[37] A year later in 1905 Baptists around the world met in London for what became the Baptist World Alliance. It was an instant success. Gill describes the meeting this way, “It really was an epochal event in the life of the Baptist movement in the world.”[38] The Baptist World Alliance would exist for years with enthusiastic participation. Although there were many others involved, the meeting may not have occurred if it were not for Robertson’s 1904 article in the Baptist Argus.

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The Biblical Scholar and His Works

            It would be impossible to faithfully summarize the lifework of A.T. Robertson in the space of this paper. For that reason, a broad survey will be offered of his work with special attention given to his most important and influential.[39] Out of the 40 volumes penned by Robertson Gill suggests that they can be placed into four categories: Grammars, Expositions, History, and Character Studies.[40]

Robertson often published studies on various characters in Scripture such as Jesus, Paul, Peter and John.[41] He also wrote several expositions, some of which took form as commentaries or lectures on Scripture.[42] Other works focused on the history of the gospels and the world of the New Testament.[43] Robertson’s works were well accepted and certainly helped to promote Robertson as a beloved scholar. However, it was his work as a Greek grammarian that ensured it.

Robertson’s most famous work is by far A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research. Originally Dr. Broadus approached his protégé about revising Winer’s grammar, but after 100 pages Robertson quickly learned that a revision was not possible.[44] An up to date grammar was needed. However, the project almost never reached print. The thorough and complete nature of the details combined with the technology available at the time made the publication very expensive. Due to corrections made by Robertson and the technical nature of the work the typeset had to be changed several times.[45] To help pay for it Robertson took out the full amount of his insurance policy, but even that was not enough to publish the book. Verging on bankruptcy Robertson wished he could sink the whole thing to the bottom of the Atlantic. Fortunately for Robertson E.Y. Mullins and George W. Norton began an endowment fund for the project.[46] That was enough to have the book published and it was made available in 1914. The Grammar was an immediate success receiving positive reviews from world-renowned scholars such as E.J. Goodspeed and James Denney.[47]

Constructing a “theology” of A.T. Robertson proves to be very difficult, if not outright impossible. Robertson saw himself as a biblical scholar and dealt with the text thoroughly. However, he hardly ever offered elaborate theological conclusion based on his exegesis. One need to only read his famous Word Pictures to note this.[48] Commenting on this method of scholarship David Dockery notes,

Their commitment to exegetical theology, however, was simultaneously a strength and a weakness. They upheld the authority of Scripture, but both were cautious at best in developing a systematic approach to theology. This approach advanced biblical theology but failed to advance a coherent Baptist theology.[49]

The lack of a coherent theology from Robertson has lead to some debate concerning some of his beliefs- in particular, Robertson’s position concerning the nature of Scripture. In an essay by Edgar McKnight it is suggested that Robertson was the “evangelical middle” focusing on the Bibles authority rather than its inspiration and inerrant nature.[50] However, in an earlier work Russ Bush and Tom Nettles survey an array of the Robertson corpus to show that he not only viewed the Bible as authoritative, but as inspired and inerrant.[51] Due to the amount Robertson’s works cited in comparison to McKnight it seems best to side with Bush and Nettles, but Robertson has not made it easy for readers to discern.

What readers can be sure of is that Robertson valued academic freedom and was hesitant to dismiss critical and liberal scholarship without good reason. Wills says that Robertson “valued the scholarship of the liberals and was disturbed by reactionary and ill-informed criticisms of many fundamentalists, but his convictions on most points aligned with the fundamentalists.”[52] Robertson had wonderful relationships with scholars all around the world from various theological backgrounds.[53] So, although Robertson was certainly theologically conservative his friendships and academic skills drove him to use the best of what critical scholarship had to offer while not endorsing all of their conclusions.

Above all Robertson was dedicated to Southern Seminary and its Baptist heritage. There is little doubt that Robertson held to the “Baptist distinctives.” In fact, it is reported that Robertson once said, “Give a man an open Bible, and open mind, a conscience in good working order, and he will have a hard time to keep from being a Baptist.”[54]

The Legacy

            A.T. Robertson was a faithful teacher, preacher, and denominational leader. Although he came be remembered for many things and in many ways there is little doubt he will be most remembered as the greatest scholar in the history of Southern Seminary. Wills writes, “Robertson was the most widely recognized and accomplished scholar in the Seminary’s history.”[55] This is certainly true, but David Dockery goes further by suggesting that Robertson is “the greatest scholar in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.”[56]

It has already been noted that Robertson impressed established scholars around the world, but perhaps what speaks to Robertson’s legacy the most are those who looked to Robertson and learned from him. In a letter addressed to Robertson a young man thanks him for writing and helping him find a particular resource. The young man ends the letter with, “…I am 19; a junior at Lebanon College, Annville, Pa.; and that I like Greek immensely- I hope to be a N.T. Greek Prof. Respectfully, Bruce M. Metzger.”[57] Of course, Metzger went on to be one of the most prestigious textual critics at Princeton Theological Seminary. Little did Robertson know that the young man he helped would soon become a scholar with his own respective legacy.

If this is the impact Robertson had on those from a distance there is no way to measure the fruit that grew from his countless students who would go on to preach, teach, and lead. It is thus appropriate to close with Dockery’s admonition; “We now have the privilege and responsibility to carry forth this tradition in a faithful way into the twenty-first century, a generation that will handle accurately the Word of God.”[58]

[1] John Sampey, “An Intimate Sketch of Dr. A.T. Robertson,” The Review and Expositor XXXII (January 1935): 3

[2] Everett Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography (New York: Macmillan Company, 1943) xiii

[3] ibid, 14

[4] ibid, 13

[5] ibid, 26

[6]David Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001) 98

[7] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 31

[8] ibid, 31

[9] Sampey, “An Intimate Sketch of Dr. A.T. Robertson,” 3

[10] It is fascinating that today the campus of Wake Forest College is the home of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary one of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination in which Robertson was a leader for many years. Wake Forest College moved Winston-Salem in the 1950’s.

[11] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, 99

[12] ibid, 99 Gill notes a peer of Robertson who claimed that not only did he catch up, but passed other students because of his “meticulous observation and a marvelous memory.”

[13] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography,

[14] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, 99

[15] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 49

[16] Sampey, “An Intimate Sketch of Dr. A.T. Robertson,” 5

[17] Ibid, 5

[18] I have visited the cemetery in Louisville where Robertson is literally buried in the shadow of Broadus’ giant gravestone.

[19] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, 101

[20] A.T. Robertson, The Life and Letters of John A. Broadus (Harrisonburg,VA: Gano Books, 1901) x

[21] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Traditon, 101

[22] Sampey, “An Intimate Sketch of Dr. A.T. Robertson,” 6

[23] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 58

[24] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tadition, 100

[25] Ibid, 101

[26] Ibid, 101

[27] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography

[28] Gregory Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford University Press, 2009) 270

[29] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 111

[30] Ibid, 111

[31] Space does not allow for a thorough discussion of this important controversy in the SBC. Only brief comments about Robertson will be included. For a sufficient discussion of the Whitsitt controversy see Wills, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009, 189-229 Cf. William Mueller, A History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1959) 143-178

[32] Wills, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009, 199

[33] Ibid, 211

[34] Ibid, 220

[35] Ibid, 220

[36] Ibid, 243

[37] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 94

[38] Ibid, 96

[39] For a complete and thorough annotated bibliography see James Powell, “Archibald Thomas Robertson: An Estimation After Fifty Years,” Mid-American Baptist Theological Journal 8, no. 1(Spring 1984): 65-79

[40] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 140

[41] Epochs in the Life of Jesus: study of Development and Struggle in the Messiahs Work (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907); Epochs in the Life of Paul: A Study Development in Paul’s Career (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909); Epochs in the Life of Simon Peter (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933); Epochs in the Life of the Apostle John (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1934)

[42] Paul’s Joy in Christ: Studies in Philippians (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1916); Studies in Mark’s Gospel (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1958); Paul and the Intellectuals: The Epistle to the Colossians (Hodder&Stoughton Limited, 1928)

[43] Luke the Historian in Light of Research (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920) New Testament History: Airplane View (Philadelphia: America Baptist Publishing Society, 1924)

[44] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 161

[45] Wills, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009, 269

[46] Ibid, 269

[47] Wills, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009, 270; Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 172

[48] Word Pictures in the New Testament vol.1-6 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930-1933)

[49] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, 111

[50] Edgar McKnight. A.T. Robertson: The Evangelical Middle is Biblical “High Ground” in The Unfetter Word: Southern Baptist Confront the Authority –Inerrancy Question ed. Robinson B. James (Waco: Word Books Publisher, 1987) 90-103

[51] L. Russ Bush and Tom J. Nettles. Baptist and the Bible (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999) 269-275

[52] Wills, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009, 276

[53] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography, 202-213

[54] Dockery, The Broadus- Robertson Tradition, 110

[55] Wills, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 268

[56] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, 111

[57] Charles Draper, “Letters to A.T. Robertson,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 5, no. 3 (Fall 2001): 89

[58] Dockery, The Broadus-Robertson Tradition, 111

Heaven: A Review (Theology in Community)

Morgan, Christopher and Robert Peterson. Heaven (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2014) 287 pgs. $18.99

 

Introduction

              Heaven is part of an ongoing series of theological monographs called Theology in Community. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson dually edit the series. Morgan is professor of theology and dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. He received his PhD from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He has authored and edited several works primarily concerning the doctrine of Hell. Peterson is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He received his PhD from Drew University and is the author and editor of several works most notably Explorations in Biblical Theology. Together Morgan and Peterson have also edited Suffering and the Goodness of God, The Glory of God, The Deity of Christ, The Kingdom of God, and Fallen all titles in the Theology in Community series.

Summary

            When reviewing books of this nature two things must be taken into account. First, the book is part of a larger project that has its own purpose and format. Second, the work is eclectic, being made up of various essays written by different contributors. The purpose of the series is to communicate clear teaching regarding “contemporary theological issues.” (13) Furthermore, the series, although made up of books with various contributors, seeks to communicate “a unified message.” (13) The theological issue which concerns this book is what the Bible teaches about Heaven. The format of the work is simple. First there is a biblical survey of what the Scriptures teach about Heaven. Then based on this biblical survey the remainder of the book addresses major theological and philosophical issues concerning Heaven. Prior to the biblical survey there is an introductory essay into the study of heaven, which includes some frequently asked questions.

Ray Ortlund Jr. begins the biblical survey by analyzing the nature of heaven as taught in the Old Testament. According to Ortlund the Old Testament teaching on heaven can be seen in three ways: episodic references, developed narratives, and symbolic suggestions. (43) Episodic references refer to assuming mentions of the heavens through the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament also develops narratives concerning heaven. Examples include Genesis 28, Exodus 24, 1 Kings 22, Job 1-2, Isaiah 6, and Daniel 7. Lastly, Ortlund suggest that the Old Testament offers symbols that cannot be understood without the New Testament. Symbols such as garden, bride, city, and temple are rightly understood in the New Testament in light of the gospel. Concerning all three of these ways Ortlund states that the Old Testament understands there to be a separation of heaven above and earth below. (61)

Jonathan Pennington addresses the teaching of heaven in the synoptic Gospels and Acts. After providing a count of 161 uses of ouranos he suggests that the word heaven has two primary meanings. First, heaven refers to the “visible, created realm above the earth.” (64) Heaven also refers to the “invisible dwelling place of God and his angels.” (64) By extension the later use can also refer to God himself. As to the terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven” Pennington finds no distinction in meaning. Although, he does highlight that Matthew’s use of “Kingdom of heaven” is emphasized because there is a contrast with the Divine kingdom with the earthly kingdoms (i.e. Roman empire). The phrase “heaven and earth” is then discussed which for Pennington is vital because “heaven” can hold either the divine sense or the created realm sense. An important theological application of this study is that heaven does not refer to a “generic, ethereal, postmortem existence; rather it is used specifically to refer to God himself and the place from which he comes and reveals himself on earth.” (75) Furthermore, Pennington wants the biblical understanding of heaven to be clearly articulated in our worldview in which we “depict the world in such a way that we learn to orient ourselves to what God is doing in the world.” (82)

While addressing heaven in Paul’s letters Stephen Wellum offers a brief summary of biblical theology with special emphasis on heaven in the four-fold narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Allowing this to serve as the foundation Wellum articulates an inaugurated eschatology by stressing the already-not yet tension that he argues is vital to understanding Pauline theology. Thus, the Kingdom of God is not a particular location, but the reign of God that has been inaugurated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The ultimate hope of the “not –yet” for Wellum is not the intermediated state, but the resurrection of the dead in the return of Christ when God will restore all things in the New Heavens and New Earth. However, Wellum suggests that the intermediate state may still be referred to as heaven because that is were Jesus is and when believers die they go to be with Him. (96)

John Laansma continues the survey by discussing what the General Epistles teach about heaven. He allows the unique contribution of each author to speak to what heaven is. Hebrews uses ouranos as both the cosmos and the divine realm of God. James although only using ouranos twice does so to represent both cosmos and the divine realm. In 1 Peter ouranos primarily refers to the divine realm of God as where in 2 Peter it primarily refers the heavenly skies. Although the epistles of John do not use the word ouranos Laansma suggests that heaven is predominantly communicated in the language of eternal life. As for Jude Laansma argues that the book offers a contrast by discussing the angels that fell from heaven. While all unique in their contribution Laansma is sure to emphasize that they are unified in teaching inaugurated eschatology as well as three points: 1.) Heaven is the perfection of hope in Israel’s Scriptures 2.) Their hope is Christological 3.) Their hope is resurrectional and new creational. (135-136)

Wrapping up the biblical studies portion of the book Andreas Köstenberger addresses John’s gospel and Revelation. As for John’s gospel the survey is straightforward. John understands heaven in three ways: the present abode of God, eternal life which is experienced by believers now, and the future eternal abode that is described as Jesus’ “Father’s house.” (139-140) For the fifty uses of ouranos found in Revelation Köstenberger states that in one sense the term refers to the dwelling place of God and in another the present sky/heavens. (145) However, the term is never used to refer to the intermediate state. This leads to a discussion of the New Heavens and New Earth as described in Revelation 21-22. This restorative hope leads to a variety of applications such as warning, comfort, and invitation.

Once the biblical theology section is finished Robert Peterson discusses the images of heaven in Scripture. Peterson develops heaven and earth, Sabbath rest, the kingdom of God, the presence of God, and the glory of God. For each of these images he traces them throughout the four-fold narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. This is followed by a history of heaven with two major divisions: heaven before Christ and heaven after Christ. The author Gerald Bray places special emphasis on the reformers who according to him restored the biblical view of heaven as the realization of the Kingdom of God. (200)

Stephen Noll addresses the difficult topic of angels. Noll suggests that angels are spiritual beings who have a physical body. They serve as messengers of the Lord and are “limited in both knowledge and location.” (204) Furthermore, Noll notes that angels can be good or fallen angels such as demons. As he traces the biblical theology of angels he discusses texts that concern the “angel of the Lord” and discusses how angels relate to the trinity.

Concluding the theological and philosophical section of the book are two essays. The first by Ajith Fernando talks of heaven and persecuted Christians. The final Essay by David Calhoun addresses the nature of Christian hope as it relates to heaven. Fernando begins with the difficult question of persecution and heavenly reward. He makes a clear distinction between persecution, martyrdom, and suicide bombers. He then speaks of how persecution and martyrdom strengthens Christian missions by reviewing a number of texts. All of these relate to four main truths for Fernando: Evangelism, persecution, the presence of Christ, and the heavenly vision, which aids believers during persecution. (235) Calhoun first discusses how hope is used in popular vernacular. He claims that hope is much more than expecting things to become better. Rather, Christian hope is rooted in the character of God and his promise of a New Heavens and New Earth. For the Christian hope can be made up of both the intermediate state and the restored heavens and earth, but primarily it is to be seen in the later.

Critical Evaluation

            When all things are considered there are only a few aspects of this work that need negative mention. These will be addressed first before moving on to the specific positives this work has to offer. First, although Robert Peterson opens the work with a wonderful introductory essay, his frequently asked questions are poorly placed. Rather than beginning the book it would have made a wonderful appendix to consider after reading the exegesis. As it remains at the beginning the reader can’t help but feel robbed of the journey of reading a theological monograph. Also, the last essay by Calhoun leaves the reader something to be desired. After feasting on the biblical exegesis and theological truths concerning heaven the last essay distracts readers by overloading them with an assortment of quotations from poets and fiction writers concerning the nature of hope. Although these critiques are minor they are unfortunate nonetheless.

Regardless of these picky critiques Heaven is an impressive work of scholarship that will not doubt bless many readers. First, the biblical theological surveys are simply fantastic. Each essay proves to be thoroughly researched and offers serious theological application. All agree that predominantly heaven refers to the abode of God or the skies/heavens. Furthermore, they all emphasize that the ultimate Christian hope is to be found in the New Heavens and New Earth. In refreshing uniformity the authors correct the popular notion of seeing Christian hope as primarily being the intermediate state.

These essays are not simply to be commended on the nature of their exegesis, but also their theological implications. It is encouraging to see Jonathan Pennington speak of how a biblical understanding of heaven should impact a believer’s world-view. (79) Also, Stephen Wellum and Andreas Köstenberger are to be commended for not shying away from speaking of the intermediate state as “heaven.” Wellum writes, “ Even though this intermediate state is never called “heaven” in Scripture, in theology we speak of it as such because we go to be with Christ, who is now there.” (96) This is refreshing in light of the sometimes-pessimistic view of what people in the pew think of when they speak of “heaven”. Correction is needed no doubt, but it is not as bad we one might think.

Any reader will see the exegetical strengths of the book, but the theological discussions will also be helpful. The way in which Robert Peterson incorporates major images of heaven and traces them throughout the grand-narrative of Scripture will aid many readers on how to think about biblical theology. Noll will end up sparing readers much unfortunate conclusions stemming from speculation as he drives readers to think about what the text says concerning angels. Lastly, the book is to be commended for the implications drawn out for the Christian life. Fernando when speaking of persecution says this, “We seem to be letting marketing approaches used in the society silence the voice of Scripture calling people to radical commitment with the promise of heavenly reward.” (232)

Conclusion

As already stated, the goal in reviewing a book of this nature is to see if this particular monograph accomplishes what the series wishes to accomplish. With the series goals in view one must agree that Heaven more than accomplishes its task. The theological issue is clearly recognized and the editors provide a community of experts ranging from all theological convictions and ministry roles. Each contributor offers a scholarly assessment, yet communicates in a way that makes the work available to all readers. Therefore, this work written in theological community will no doubt teach theology that changes the communities that invest in it. Tolle Lege!

Embracing Inadequacy: The struggle of loving a grieving spouse

Inadequate is the word that has defined the past four months of my life. This is not merely a sentiment, but has been observable, as each day has passed. My wife had experienced a life-changing event and there was nothing I could do to fix it. The loss of Kelsey’s Dad was unexpected and devastating. My bride felt as though she were broken into pieces. I filled my hands with as much as I could, but no matter how hard I tried there were no words that would put her back together.

This undeniable inadequacy produced a state of hopelessness. I was faced with the reality of watching the one I loved most suffer while I could do nothing but watch. What was I to do? In frustration and pain I reached to a former professor. This is how he responded:

     “I know you feel inadequate. But don’t underestimate the power of a husband who simply acknowledges the pain and groaning of living in a world where death still touches us. Groan with her. And point her to the One who groans alongside her—the Spirit prays with her, Christ prays for her. And Christ is making a world where death is no more.”

 I soon realized that Kelsey never needed me to be enough for this problem. She only needs the God of all comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3) So, what did I do? I embraced my inevitable inadequacy. This was perhaps the most freeing thing I could do. Grief has no quick fixes or easy answers. So you groan together. You weep, scream, embrace, pray, and long for the day when the victory of Christ is realized.

Beloved, it is ok not to know what to say. It is ok not to know what to do. Just be there. Love them, listen to them, and pray with them. The God of all comfort will minister to you both. I pray that those struggling to love their grieving spouses will embrace their inadequacy. God’s grace is sufficient for your loved ones struggle. I pray that you would endure in listening, loving, and praying. You are inadequate for this and that is absolutely ok. Why? -God is glorified as he works through the inadequate. I’ll be inadequate with you.

An interview with Dr. Mark Seifrid

photo:SBTS   Pastors, scholars, and students of Scripture have benefited from the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series for many years. The newest volume on 2 Corinthians is by Mark Seifrid, The Millard and Ernest Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Dr. Seifrid has graciously agreed to a brief interview on the writing of his new commentary. Seifrid has also written a wonderful book on Justification titled Christ, Our Righteousness which I commend to you.

1. Did the Lord encourage you in any particular way as you worked your way through 2 Corinthians? Maybe a new insight that you’re thankful for?

Seifrid: I received not only encouragement, but repeated challenges as I worked through the text of 2 Corinthians. As I explain in the commentary, the question at stake is the form of Christian life in the world. Our growth and progress is more “suffered” in God’s works in us than accomplished by our works. That means first of all, that we are to seek, find, and receive Paul’s words of comfort in this letter. It also means that we are to share that comfort with others in need, not only in words but also in works.

2 Did any passage stick out to you as more challenging to exegete? What made it challenging?

Seifrid: Paul’s account of being led to death in God’s triumphal procession in Christ has long been difficult for interpreters (2 Cor 2:14-17). It called for considerable reflection. I spent a good deal of time on 2 Cor 3:1-18, with Paul’s comparison of the apostolic mission to that of Moses, his paradoxical contrast of the letter and the Spirit, and his reference to the doing away of the “old covenant” in Christ. The passage is of considerable importance for understanding the letter as a whole. There is also considerable exegetical and theological confusion concerning its meaning in the recent literature. In working through the text, I was surprised to find how often I thought the English translations failed to capture the proper sense of the text (the rendering of 10:2 is an especially good example). In exegesis classes I regularly warn students against criticizing the translations from the pulpit. I stand by that warning. Nevertless, it have become increasingly aware of the importantce of a properly trained pastor, who is able to handle the text in the original languages, and thus able to offer a guide to reading the Scriptures to the congregation.

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3. What makes your contribution perhaps unique compared to the works already published on 2 Corinthians?

Seifrid: Others tell me that it is the combination of detailed exegesis and theological reflection. While not forgetting the main exegetical debates, I intentionally concentrated on commenting on the text and not on the commentaries. There is a danger within current interpretation of directing one’s comments to the guild of scholars rather than to the believing community. I tried to avoid that danger.

4. Which commentaries on 2 Corinthians do you recommend other than your own?

Seifrid: That is a difficult question! There are so many good commentaries available to us, it is hard to single out a few without unfairly slighting or neglecting others. The technical commentaries by Thrall (ICC), Harris (NIGNT), and Martin (Word) are obviously worth consulting. I also recommend David Garland’s commentary (NAC) and that of Victor Paul Furnish (AB).

5. What encouragement would you give to New Testament PhD students hoping to teach and publish in the future?

Seifrid: Above all else, listen, listen, and listen again to the Scriptures. That advice applies not only to exegetes, but to also to others, especially systematicians. On the other hand, biblical scholars need to be reminded to read theology, especially historical theology, so that they become aware of the way in which their exegetical “discoveries” fit into the Christian tradition. That is the only way to know what we are saying! Finally, we must make sure that we become familiar with the exegetical and theological debates that are taking place in the larger world of theological scholarship, and not merely within our own circles. Otherwise we run the risk of merely talking to ourselves.

Thank you Dr. Seifrid for taking the time to share these helpful insights! May God bless your work as you equip students for gospel ministry and as you continue to write. Readers can purchase Mark Seifrid’s commentary from Eerdmans and Amazon.

Lastly, I hope to offer more posts on Seifird’s take on passages in 2 Corinthians in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Photo: Seifried: SBTS, Commentary: Amazon

Highlighter Yellow: What My Father-in-law’s Bible taught me about how to read God’s Word.

I have learned more about loss this week than in any other time in my life. Last week while enjoying NBC’s Thursday night line-up my wife got the call that her Dad, Ron Hines, suddenly passed away. So we did what anyone else would do and rushed home. Unfortunately for us, that included a 10-hour drive from North Carolina to Illinois. Naturally, there were many tears and much pain.

The highlight of this awful week was my wife’s speech at her Dad’s funeral. She dedicated a large section of the speech to findings in his Bible. Ron Hines devoured his Bible. Bright yellow highlighter covered every book, notes thoughtfully written to the side of prominent passages, and many papers of sermon notes. My wife was blessed as she read his notes from this tattered book. Ron read his Bible often, marked it thoroughly, and prayed over what he read.

There is debate on how Christians should treat their bibles. A dear friend of mine (and one of the most godly guys I’ve ever known) from College never wrote in his. He was worried that highlighting too much would defeat the purpose all together. He also thought writing notes would be further self-defeating, “What if you change your mind?” He reasoned. Having a degree in Biblical Studies I have thought about these issues often. How a believer interacts with Scripture is important. Contrary to what some may say, the Bible is unique. However, I must say that seeing my sweet wife look over her fathers marked up Bible gave me a different perspective.

Mark it up. Highlight, underline, and make notes. I am convinced that this not only cultivates a more thoughtful reading of God’s Word, but more than that I am convinced that it is a message to a future generation: The Bible is not meant to merely be read, it is to be devoured. It is the very air a Christian is to breathe. That is what Ron Hines’ Bible says of God’s Word.

I am sure that there will be many who will disagree. You just can’t make yourself take a pen to such a Holy Bible. I hear ya, but let me tell you -My wife wouldn’t trade Ron Hines’ NIV Men’s Devotional Bible for all the money you had to offer. It will testify to her for years that God is good, His Word is true, and that our lives are to be lived for His glory.

Ron was far from a perfect man. He was a sinner. Sometimes obviously so. Thankfully Ron was aware of his sinful nature and found life in a book he marked with yellow highlighter. I can only hope my future children will be lead to love the Bible more by my life and like Ron- my death.

Seminary and Scared: Why I am terrified to be at SEBTS and how you can pray for me.

I am absolutely terrified.

Tomorrow marks my first day as a seminary student at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. I am thrilled of course, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was scared. I am scared because I am about to get exactly what I asked for and it makes me very uncomfortable. Let me explain.

I have always been an introvert. Hand me a cup of coffee, a good book, and I will retreat for hours away from any living human being. This is not exactly a problem, but if not watched carefully can become one. This is especially the case for those who have a desire for gospel ministry. This is not hard to understand. Ministry is first and foremost about God’s glory, but secondly ministry is about loving, interacting, and sharing life with people. This includes getting the gospel to our unbelieving neighbors.

After graduating Boyce College I became aware that I was lacking in persistent evangelism and disciple making. So after two years I applied to Southeastern. I chose to do so because they advertise the institution as a, “Great Commission Seminary” where every classroom is a “Great Commission Classroom.” Consider the seminary’s mission statement:

“Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission.”

In fact, during the first address to incoming students SEBTS President Dr. Danny Akin had the following as one of his points,

9. “Put no limitations on how and where our King might use you. Ask the Lord to give you the ability to truly pray, “Lord, why should I stay?” (Being Faithful To the High Calling of Christ)

Have mercy what have I done.

At Southeastern there is no room for academia for academia’s sake. The Bible is not an end to itself, but a means to love and know Christ. Furthermore, there is no room for those who do not want to be on mission now as they prepare for ministry. These people walk what they talk. 

The introvert in me needs this place. I need brothers to push me to share the gospel, take initiative with my neighbors, and to be open to the possibility that God could send me anywhere. 

So please pray for me. Pray that I would be disciplined in every class. Pray that I would be faithful with my time not ever neglecting to serve my wife with joy. Pray that as I grow in theological knowledge my heart will grow in doxological praise.

Finally, pray that God gives me a burden for my neighbor. That a love would grow in me that can only be expressed in sharing the gospel for the glory of God.

I am terrified and that is a very good thing.