Book Review – Generosity (Michael Wakely)

Generosity is one of those qualities we’d all like to have, but aren’t overly keen on developing as we know it will cost us. In this short book Michael Wakely, gives a Biblical overview of the subect of generosity. He starts with the character of God himself, a who created us that we might be able to enjoy him. He then moves on to consider the process of sanctification. If we are to become more like God, then we are to become more generous. Generosity is not just a mark of spiritual maturity, but human dignity.

The main thrust of the rest of the book is devoted to encouraging us and helping us to be generous with our finances. This includes making wise ‘lifestyle choices’ that enable us to give, and considering where our ambition lies. He takes a couple of opportunites to criticise the “prosperity gospel” that idealises luxurious lifestyles for Christians and is often manipulative in its methods of fundraising. There is a chapter on “extra mile living” considering the teaching in the sermon on the mount, and a good chapter on making excuses, using the church in Corinth as an example.

After establishing the need for generosity, the final chapters fill in some very practical details on how to go about it. This includes the values we need, principles of how to give, and the discernment of who to give to. He highlights the poor, the local church, and Christian mission / charity work as the three primary areas requiring our generosity.

Throughout the book there are helpful anecdotes and illustrations, but this is a book that bases its message on Scripture, and each chapter draws on Bible references to establish its main points.

Overall I would say this is an excellent book on a subject rarely written about, and is presented in a way that is challenging without being emotionally manipulative. It is full of practical advice, and its style and length means that it is accessible to a wide range of readership. Of course, with books like this, it is one thing to agree with the message, and quite another to put it into practise. In his bibliography at the end, Wakely says:

Giving is something that all Christians should be doing by regular habit, rather than becoming a subject of study. We should beware making ourselves experts on the theology of giving, without at least becoming a stumbling practitioner.

postscript: I’ve actually met the author of this book once, and he paid for my dinner, which was generous of him. (It was at his daughter’s wedding, who is a good friend of my wife)

Book Review – EBC Matthew (D A Carson)

Despite being written back in 1984 and being part of a series that generally is not considered an “in depth” level of commentaries, Don Carson’s volume on Matthew still consistently finds its way to the top of most evangelical lists of recommended commentaries on the first gospel. It is, in fact, considerably more detailed than the EBC Mark and Luke volumes, and deliberately so, as it was intended to deal in more detail with issues of harmonization of the gospels.

It can be bought separately, rather unnecessarily bound in two volumes, or it can be bought much more cheaply as part of a large hardback edition including the Mark and Luke commentaries. There is a revised version of Expositor’s Bible Commentary currently in the process of being published. Rumour has it that Don Carson will be updating Matthew for the new series, which if true will doubtless reinforce its status as one of the best evangelical commentaries on Matthew available.

It is amazing how much Carson fits in. He is ready to jump in to almost any argument concerning the historicity, exegesis, theology or contemporary application of a passage. He manages this mainly due to his ability to write in a very concise fashion, enumerating his opponents’ views succinctly, before despatching his own verdict with the minimum of fuss.

The introduction is fairly comprehensive, and includes a discussion of the “synoptic problem”. He tentatively accepts a two source hypothesis and Matthean authorship. The commentary itself includes the NIV text, and sections are introduced with anything from a single paragraph to a long discussion of different interpretations. The comments are then based on one or two verses at a time. Greek and Hebrew terms are always transliterated and translated, but he assumes that readers are familiar with terms such as apodosis and chiasm.

Carson clearly loves the gospel of Matthew. Almost every section is introduced as being special or unique in some way. His great concern with New Testament usage of the Old also surfaces in many places. He has a special interest in the word “fulfil” (pleroo), in particular how it is that Jesus can be said to fulfil the entire Old Testament Scriptures.

The content of the commentary is well suited to Biblical expositors, who will want to grapple not only with the meaning of the text as Matthew intended it, but also to deal with the diverse issues that congregations will be interested in – historical (e.g. ‘discrepancies’ with other gospels), theological (e.g. do we still need to obey the law) and practical (e.g. can you remarry after divorce). He does this in a way that treats the Biblical text as the Word of God, but he is careful not to resort to contrived harmonisations, or pious but tenuous interpretations.

Throughout the commentary he shows willingness to interact with the views of other commentators (especially Hill on Matthew and Lane on Mark), often resulting in a long list of possible options. This has the effect of making the commentary somewhat uneven in coverage as the comments on some sections are only a paragraph, while on others a number of pages.

I’ll just single out two passages for particular comment. As might be expected, the Sermon on the Mount is given an excellent treatment, as Carson has written on this separately elsewhere. In the ‘Olivet Discourse’, he surveys the wide variety of interpretations, casting doubt on both Dispensational understandings and France’s idea that the fall of Jerusalem and the “coming of the Son of Man” are the same event (I would expect that the forthcoming revision will also interact with N T Wright on this point as well, and also with 21:20-22 on the mountain that is thrown into the sea). He ends up proposing that Jesus used the discourse to introduce a concept of a delay between the destruction of the temple and the Parousia, contrary to what his disciples were expecting.

In summary, any serious evangelical student and teacher of the Bible will greatly benefit from having this commentary as part of their library. It is especially useful in providing clarity on difficult passages. I haven’t read the Mark and Luke commentaries in the same volume yet, but the price is worth it for the Matthew commentary alone. Zondervan seem to be working backwards at a rate of two volumes a year in their revision of the series, so if you can wait until 2008 there may well be an even better volume available.

Convergence

Sam Storm’s recent book Convergence sadly still isn’t available in the UK, but he recently gave three seminars on the subject at Bethlehem Baptist Church, while he was visiting as one of their preachers during John Piper’s sabbatical.

The seminars (and sermons) can be downloaded here and I highly recommend them. The first seminar highlights a number of biblical passages that emphasise both the “Word and Spirit” together. In the second seminar he does a good job of analysing the polarised approaches of “Word” and “Spirit” oriented churches. The final seminar is devoted to a question and answer session.

As you probably know from the title of my blog, I have a passion to see churches grow in both faithfulness to the Word and fullness of the Spirit. People like Sam Storms are vital in modelling how this can be done, and encouraging “convergence” from churches whose emphases are so different that they can hardly imagine what they could possibly learn from those at the other side of the spectrum.

Recommend Books on Church

On my ridiculously long “books I want to read” list, there are a growing number on the subject of the church.

Obviously, as a good member of a New Frontiers church, I hope to read Christ’s Radiant Church by John Hosier, and What on Earth is the Church For, by David Devenish. On top of that, I’ve heard recommendations of books such as Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris and The Gospel Driven Church by Ian Stackhouse.

Then there’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, a book title that grabbed my attention, because by my calculations there are eight people called Mark in the church I belong to, so just one more needed for us to be healthy. And there’s Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church (glad I didn’t sign the pledge to do his 40 days of purpose – I only got to day 2). Snyder’s Community of the King and Clowney’s The Church also look like they might be worth a read.

And then I have a feeling that I could do with reading something about this whole emerging church business. Do I read Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church to get a critique of it from someone I respect, or MacLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy to hear it direct from the horse’s mouth? Would Kimball’s The Emerging Church be a better choice? Perhaps I would be better off reading someone who seems to be both emerging and reformed evangelical friendly – Mark Driscoll’s book Radical Reformission.

So my dear blog readers, what’s the best book you’ve read on the church? Which of the above are worth my while, and which are a waste of time? Answers in the comments below please…

Gospel of Judas

I had the chance to watch the National Geographic’s Gospel of Judas documentary this evening, thanks to a friend recording it for me. It was interesting, and as could have been predicted, frustrating at the same time as it was used as a platform for knocking the historicity of the biblical gospels at every point, while presenting the Gospel of Judas as a much more worthy candidate for our belief.

The beginning part in particular built on the idea that the church had suppressed the truth and now the Gospel of Judas would save the day and set the record straight. You can read the gospel of Judas if you like for yourself on the National Geographic’s Lost Gospel site. It’s worth a read, just so you can get a feel for quite how different it is to the New Testament gospels.

I’ll mention just a few things that irritated me about their presentation.

First, the assertion that in the gospel of John, the latest gospel, Judas is portrayed as an evil monster, while in the gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel, Judas is positively saintly by comparison, and not even mentioned as the traiter in the last supper scene. Judas therefore is said to have been progressively vilified over the years. And the tired old assertion that the gospels are thoroughly anti-Semitic was trotted out again.

It sounds impressive enough until you actually read the gospels for yourself. To be sure Mark doesn’t mention Judas much, but he’s a baddie on every occasion, and is identified as the betrayer immediately before the Last Supper scene (Mark 14:10,11), making it painfully obvious who Jesus is talking about when he says “one of you will betray me” (Mark 14:18). John does mention him a bit more, telling us that Judas was the treasurer and was embezelling funds. He also says that it was Satan who inspired Judas to do what he did, but this is balanced with the fact that John emphasises the sovereign plan of God behind the betrayal as well.

Second, the presentation of Irenaeus’ rejection of the gospel of Judas as heresy was odd. You can easily read the reasons he gives for rejecting it online, but the ones the program gave were quite different. They said that he had arbitrarily decided that there should be four gospels simply because there were four corners of the earth, and also that he didn’t like the idea of Judas being a goodie. They made out that the gnostics were these wonderful ‘enlightened’ people, and the church was just angry that they couldn’t control them, so announced that they were heretical.

Third, they made it sound as though the fact that other gospels existed apart from the four biblical ones, was a major revelation, a fact previously hushed up by the church. And also that the church had desparately tried to cover up the contents of these gospels. In fact, the opening of Luke’s gospel readily admits to the existance of many other gospel records, and both New Testament books and early church fathers not only acknowledge the existance of heretical teachings, but show remarkable willingness to give a synopsis of what those teachings were.

Finally, when they eventually let Craig Evans say that he felt the gospel didn’t shed any light on the historical Jesus or Judas, they then cut straight to Elaine Pagels refuting him with the argument “but how does he know?”. Of course, we never got to hear his response to that. If you’re interested in what that response would have been, people such as Scot McKnight, Mark Roberts, and Ben Witherington can explain it far better than I could.

I could add more, but that’s enough for now. Suffice to say that National Geographic probably payed a decent price to have the rights to the Gospel of Judas, and they needed to make it’s contents sound as epoch-making as possible, to help them recoup their outlay in book, DVD and t-shirt sales. Expect Judas the Hero movie to come to your screens soon.

Biblical Commentators

Over the past year or so I have collected a lot of links to the faculty or homepages of various writers of commentaries. These often contain information on what projects that person is currently working on. Of course, the ultimate resource for who’s working on what is Jeremy Pierce’s incredibly comprehensive list of forthcoming commentaries. But these links are worth checking once in a while for the latest news.

They are mainly evangelical commentators on the New Testament. I have included their personal homepages and faculty pages where I could find one. If neither was available, I have tried to find a link that gives a brief synopsis of who they are. There are a few I’ve listed who I haven’t yet found a suitable link for, which I may update in the future.

Daniel Akin – Faculty
David Aune – Faculty
Paul Barnett Facultyhome page
Richard Bauckham – Faculty
Greg Beale – FacultyBio
Michael Bird – Blog
Daniel Block – Faculty
Craig Blomberg – FacultyBlog
Darrell Bock – Faculty
Markus Bockmuehl – Home Page
F F Bruce – Bio
Gary Burge – Faculty
Don Carson – Faculty
Peter Davids – Home Page
Andrew Dearman – Faculty
James Edwards – FacultyFaculty Page 2
Craig Evans – Home Page
Gordon Fee – Faculty
R T France – couldn’t find a link
David deSilva – Home Page
David Garland – Faculty
Don Garlington – Faculty
Gene Green – Faculty
Joel Green – Faculty
Timothy George – Faculty
George Guthrie – home pageCVFaculty
Scott Hafemann – Faculty
Donald Hagner – Faculty
Murray Harris – Faculty
Peter Head – Faculty
Paul House – Faculty
Robert Hubbard – Faculty
Karen Jobes – Faculty
Luke Timothy Johnson – Faculty
Craig Keener – Faculty - Home Page
Reggie Kidd – FacultyHome PageFaculty page 2
William Klein – Faculty
Andreas Kostenberger – Home Page
Colin Kruse – Faculty
William Lane – Bio
Walter Liefeld – Faculty
Richard Longenecker – Bio
Tremper Longman – Faculty
I H Marshall – Faculty
Ralph Martin (couldn’t find a link)
Gordon McConville – Faculty
Scot McKnight – Home PageFaculty
Douglas Moo – FacultyHome Page
Leon Morris (couldn’t find a link)
Robert Mounce (couldn’t find a link)
William Mounce – Home Page
John Nolland – Faculty
Peter O’Brien – Faculty
Grant Osborne – Faculty
David Pao – Faculty
David Peterson – Faculty
Stanley Porter – Faculty
Iain Provan – Faculty
J Ramsay Michaels (couldn’t find a link)
Brian Rosner – Faculty
Thomas Schreiner – Faculty
Mark Seifrid – Faculty
Moises Silva – Bio
Stephen Smalley (couldn’t find a link)
Klyne Snodgrass – Faculty
Robert Stein (couldn’t find a link)
Douglas Stuart – Faculty
Frank Thielman – Faculty
Philip Towner – Bio
Bruce Waltke – Faculty
Rikk Watts – Faculty
Barry Webb – Faculty
Gordon Wenham – Faculty
Jeffrey Weima – Faculty
Ben Witherington – Blog
N T Wright – (Unofficial) Home Page
Robert Yarbrough – Faculty

Biblical Prayer Topics

In John Piper’s excellent book, “Let the Nations be Glad”, he provides a list of Biblical prayer topics. I have found these very helpful as pointers for my own prayer life, and I typed it up a while ago so I could print it out and refer to it. If you find your prayers tend to get stuck in a rut and are lacking in a bigger kingdom perspective, then I recommend you try making use of this list:

Call on God…

To exalt his name in the world (Matt 6:9)
To extend his kingdom in the world (Matt 6:10)
That the Gospel would run and triumph (1 Thess 3:1)
For the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13; Eph 3:19)
To vindicate his people in their cause (Luke 18:7)
To save unbelievers (Rom 10:1)
To direct the use of the sword (Eph 6:17-18)
For boldness in proclamation (Eph 6:18-19, Acts 4:29)
For signs and wonders (Acts 4:30; James 5:17-18)
For healing of wounded comrades (James 5:14-15)
For the healing of unbelievers (Acts 28:8)
For the casting out of demons (Mark 9:29)
For miraculous deliverances (Acts 12:5,12; 16:25-26)
For the raising of the dead (Acts 9:40)
To supply his troops with necessities (Matt 6:11)
For strategic wisdom (James 1:5)
To establish leadership in the outposts (Acts 14:23)
To send out reinforcements (Matt 9:38, Acts 13:2-3)
For the success of other missionaries (Rom 15:30-31)
For unity and harmony in the ranks (John 17:20-21)
For the encouragement of togetherness (1 Thess 3:10)
For a mind of discernment (Phil 1:9-10)
For a knowledge of his will (Col 1:9)
To know him better (Col 1:10; Eph 1:17)
For power to comprehend the love of Christ (Eph 3:14,18)
For a deeper sense of assured hope (Eph 1:16,18)
For strength and endurance (Col 1:11, Eph 3:16)
For a deeper sense of God’s power within (Eph 1:16,19)
That our faith not be destroyed (Luke 22:32; 21:36)
For greater faith (Mark 9:24; Eph 3:17)
That we might not fall into temptation (Matt 6:13; Matt 26:41)
That he would complete our resolves (2 Thess 1:11)
That we would do good works (Col 1:10)
For the forgiveness of our sins (Matt 6:12)
For protection from the evil one (Matt 6:13)

I am unwilling

I recently looked up all the times when Jesus started a sentence with “I am”. There are of course a lot of famous ones, but a large number of less well known instances too.

One that grabbed my attention was in Matthew 15:32, at the feeding of the 4000:

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

Above and beyond the implications for that crowd’s physical hunger on that particular day, the phrase “I am unwilling to send them away hungry” speaks of Jesus’ ongoing heart towards any who come to him aware of a profound spiritual hunger in their lives. He is unwilling to send them away hungry too. As he said after a similar miracle feeding the 5000, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). This should give us confidence as we approach him in prayer, hungry for more of him in our lives. He wants to satisfy that hunger as we spiritually feed on him.

Hungry I come to you, for I know you satisfy
I am empty, but I know your love does not run dry

But as well as speaking to me of Jesus’ openhanded attitude to all who come to him, it also challenged me about my own life as a follower of Jesus. Do I send people away hungry?

This could be answered at all sorts of levels – spiritual, emotional, physical. We of course are called literally to feed the hungry (e.g. Isa 58:7,10; Matt 25:41-43; James 2:15,16). Are their people in our church’s hungry for friendship, help and encouragement that we could help and yet we don’t make time for? And spiritually speaking, do we have unsaved friends who are hungry for something more in their lives, yet our cowardice prevents us from offering them the bread of life? Let us learn to have the same heart of compassion for needy people that Jesus did, and be unwilling ourselves to send anyone away hungry.

Song – Opposition and Joy

I’ve recently finished a remix of “Opposition and Joy”, a song by my friend Ali McLachlan, which is about the twin themes of opposition and joy that ran through the life of Paul. He draws particularly from 2 Cor 4.

You can stream or download the new version from Soundclick.

There were a few reasons I decided to do a remix. First off, my mixing skills have been slowly improving, and I wanted opportunity to practise some of the new techniques I was learning about. Opposition and Joy is also one of my favourite songs by Ali, and I felt that my original recording was fairly mediocre. On top of that, I’m visiting him soon, so I’m hoping to be able to take with me 3 or 4 remixes of his songs that do a bit more justice to his singing and songwriting ability than my original versions did.

Most of the remixing was done in 20-30 minute sessions during my lunch hours at work. This meant I didn’t have access to instruments or keyboards, so I had to focus almost exclusively on fixing timing issues and working on the overall sound of the mix.

Original Recording

The lyrics and music were written by my friend Ali, although bizarrely he seems to view me as
having co-written the music. All I did was listen to him singing it to me and worked out a chord progression.

It was recorded very quickly back in 2000 using Cakewalk Pro Audio 9. He sang into my Senheisser Evolution e845 dynamic mic with a pair of my wife’s tights stretched over a wire coat-hanger as a pop-shield. We had a click track and some very basic quantised piano chords for him to sing over, but at that stage we hadn’t worked out that there were some bars of 3/8 every now and then (its in 6/8).

The backing instruments were added after vocals. The P200 piano was the main backing instrument. A nice cello soundfont provided the bass in the introduction and in two later verses. A bass soundfont was used in preference to an bass guitar, mainly because lacking a compressor and the know-how to use EQ, my el-cheapo bass guitar was just not cutting through the mix. Drums were programmed in using my (new) JV-1010. There were some electric guitar power chords to beef things up during the bridge, and finally a guitar solo. Virtually no effects were used in the original version apart from those built in to the synths and amp sims I used.

The Remix

Arrangement – This song actually has not only four verses but three separate choruses and a bridge, not to mention the guitar solo. This meant that the original track was a rather lengthy 5 minutes 45, which is OK considering that it is a good song, but still perhaps a bit on the long side. There was not much scope for removing material, but there were two chorus repeats (one before the bridge and one at the end) that could be removed without too much damage to the overall flow of the song.

Piano – I made use of my P200 sfz file played through the Cakewalk Dimension soft-synth. There weren’t any glaring errors, but the timing was a bit sloppy in places, and so I made use of the “nudge” feature of Sonar to improve timing without making it sound mechanical and quantised. I applied some EQ to the piano to balance out the overall frequency response of the mix and stop it competing with the bass instruments so much.

Bass – I originally kept the bass as MIDI, and used a Dimension bass patch. The timing was dreadful and there were some glaring wrong notes, but these were not so apparent in the original mix because it was mixed so low. I fixed the timing errors, and removed the bass-line altogether while the cellos were playing. However, the new MIDI bass line still didn’t quite cut it, so one evening I quickly recorded a new bass line using my Yamaha bass.

Drums – The drums made use of the ns_kit7 free, routed through multiple instances of Dimension using a drum map. I made various improvements to the velocities and patterns, hopefully resulting in a more authentic sounding drum track. The original only had a few patterns that were repeated throughout. I didn’t have time to redo it entirely, but did add some new fills and variations in places. Using multiple instances of Dimension also allowed different compression and EQ on different kit parts as well as a better volume balance between them.

Vocals – Ali is a great vocalist to work with, as he gives it his all every time, and has great pitch and timing. There was one word that had clipped on recording, one phrase slightly early, and one phrase slightly late, but apart from that all that was needed was some compression, EQ and reverb. I added a few delays to key phrases in the last chorus. I await to see whether Ali likes that, or thinks it sounds tacky.

Guitars – There are only two short sections of guitar on this track. I re-recorded the power chords in the bridge as their rhythm didn’t quite match the drums. I used my V-Amp 2 for the amp sound, and probably over-did the distortion, so needed some drastic EQing to get things back into shape. I used blue-tack to damp the unused strings during recording. The guitar solo was left untouched. Its not my greatest guitar solo ever, but I’ve heard it so many times now it feels like it belongs with the song.

Cello – The cello sounds were left as on the original. If I had a more realistic cello sample I would have used it, but the one I had wasn’t bad.

Mastering – Again the Sonitus Multi-band compressor worked well for me, evening out the piano and guitar sounds a bit more. The only problem is that the verses now don’t seem quite as quiet compared to the choruses.

Lyrics

They say that I’ve turned traitor.
They said I’d be dead within a year.
They said I’d never succeed in my quest,
And they tried to intimidate me with fear.

We proclaim him, Christ crucified.
We proclaim him, Christ given for sin.
We proclaim him, Christ risen in glory.
Peace with the Father found only in him.

It’s true that I’ve been beaten,
And worked till my strength is all gone.
But I realise now as I sit in these chains,
They can take a man down but the gospel goes on.

We’re pressured, but we are not crushed.
Persecuted, but never alone.
We’re frustrated, but never despairing.
We’re jars of clay for Christ’s treasure to show.

This gospel’s bearing fruit in all the earth.
This gospel’s turned the world upside down.
Empires fall, their rulers shaken;
The earth is rocked to its foundation;
Cause this mighty Christ has taken our sins away.

They’ve resisted my gospel all over.
They’ve dogged my every step.
They’ve tried to ruin the work of God,
And they come to me like a thorn in the flesh.

They’ve shouted me down in the courtyards.
They’ve stoned me and left me for dead.
They’ve tried to poison the comforts I’ve had
And they’ve criticised all that I ever said

He’s returning, the conquering King.
He’s returning to redeem all he made.
When Christ leads his triumphal procession,
I’m overjoyed I’ll be in the parade.