Category: General

calendar January 2, 2016

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Jesus as Descendant of Adam, Son of God: Luke’s Genealogy as an Introduction to the Wilderness Temptation

Luke 3 records the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism, and the voice from heaven. With respect to Jesus’ early years, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all follow the same basic order of events: birth, baptism, voice from heaven, and then wilderness temptation.

But Luke uniquely offers us Jesus’ genealogy between the baptism and the temptation. This is a curious placement for a genealogy, and at first pass it might seem to interrupt the flow of Luke’s narrative. We might expect Luke to place the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel (such as we find in Matthew), or perhaps at the end of Luke chapter 1, right before Jesus’ birth. Yet Luke strategically places it here, just prior to the wilderness temptation.

The key to understanding the placement of the genealogy is found within the genealogy itself. Unlike Luke, Matthew’s gospel is written to the Jewish community. As such, Matthew’s genealogy (presumably following Joseph’s line) links Jesus to King David, the greatest of the Jewish Kings, and then to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. And there Matthew’s genealogy stops. But Luke’s gospel is written to a non-Jewish audience, and his genealogy does not focus on Jesus’ relation to Abraham. Instead, Luke (presumably following Mary’s line) traces Jesus all the way back to Adam, and then ultimately to God.

Matthew’s genealogy presents Jesus as the second David, a son of Abraham. Luke’s genealogy presents Jesus as the second Adam, a son of God.

And thus Luke offers us the genealogy — linking Jesus to Adam, and ultimately to God — as a means of introducing Jesus’ wilderness temptation. It is Jesus — the decedent of Adam and the Son of God —  who will overthrow the Devil. With the placement and nature of his genealogy, Luke intends us to see Jesus’ wilderness temptation as a recapitulation of Adam’s garden temptation.

Where the first Adam failed, the Second Adam would succeed.

(This doesn’t take away from the strong allusions to Israel that we see in Jesus’ wilderness temptation (i.e., the wilderness, the 40 days, the matter of bread, Jesus’ responses all drawn from Deut 6-8, etc.). Jesus recapitulates both Adam and Israel — both are called sons of God in the Old Testament. So the typology works in both directions. A good reminder that we can’t get so focused on the Jewishness of Christ that we forget he is first a son of humanity. [The Bible begins in Gen 1, not Gen 12]. Nor get so focused on the humanity of Christ that we forget he is a Jew.)

calendar December 16, 2015

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Adoring Jesus in the Chaos

There just might be a useful sermon illustration here. Yes, it’s a Christmas post, not an Advent post; I’m only doing this to drive Matthew Mason nuts.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi highlights an aspect of Matthew’s text that other artists — and some exegetes — have missed: 2.1—12 has not only a foreground but also a background. In da Vinci’s painting, behind the magi and Jesus and Mary there are buildings in ruin and horsemen at joust.

adoration of the magi

The meaning is manifest. The world into which the Messiah comes is in chaos and decay; things need to be righted. This is also an element in Matthew’s story. When Jesus is born, Jerusalem, instead of being overjoyed, is troubled at the news. And there is upon Israel’s throne a wicked and illegitimate ruler. And innocent blood is about to be shed (cf. 2.13–23). In brief, the world is ill. Is it any wonder that the first word of Jesus’ public proclamation is, ‘Repent!’ (4.17)?

From Davies and Allison, Matthew 1-7 (ICC), p. 254.

calendar December 7, 2015

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Mark 6-8 and the Beauty and Utility of Scripture as Literature

            Parallel Structure of Mark 6:31-8:30

(from W. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark [NICNT; Eerdmans, 1974], 269)

6:31-44                       Feeding the Multitude                                8:1-9

6:45-56                       Crossing of the Sea and Landing               8:10

7:1-23                          Conflict with the Pharisees                        8:11-13

7:24-30                       Conversation about Bread                          8:14-21

7:31-36                        Healing                                                          8:22-26

7:37                              Confession of Faith in the Messiah           8:27-30


           Two Stories in Parallel in Mark 8:22-30

8:22                                         the setting                                         8:27

8:23-24                                   “partial sight”                                   8:27-28

8:25                                         “sight”                                                8:29

8:26                                         “Don’t tell anybody!”                        8:30

As a kicker, Mark concludes the next section (8:31 through the end of chapter 10) with yet another healing of a blind man who understands that Jesus is the Son of David (“partial sight”?), then launches readers into the great final week of drama in Jerusalem as Jesus shows the world the sort of King he is (“sight”?).

Here are a few reasons why I enjoy this sort of material:

Reading with the literary grain produces so much more appreciation for Scripture and so much more pleasure than some of the alternatives. I remember rolling my eyes at sterile academic treatments of these passages: the arid terrain of “messianic secret” theories that (mercifully) seem to have run their course in the past two decades; or the idea that Mark inherited these stories from dubious sources and naively repeated two versions of the same event. Conservative approaches to texts can have their pitfalls, too; raise your hand if you’ve participated in the well-meaning (but ultimately puzzling and often boring) activity of viewing Mark merely as a window onto real historical events and not an authoritative portrait that interprets those events.

Secondly, Mark also encourages multiple dives into the text and reading the earlier parts of the text in light of the later parts. It won’t do simply to read it through once or twice; you have to learn to follow the threads backwards and forwards.

Mark engages our imagination for application, giving readers a melodic theme on which they can improvise their own message as the ancient Word jumps the gap and engages modern readers. And an imaginative presentation is very likely, I think, to produce an imaginative response.

But while Mark inspires our imagination and improvisation, he also controls them. He instructs our interpretation by assuming his rightful role of authorial director. Students often have difficulty figuring out how to preach biblical narrative. No such problem here, as Mark does the hard work of drawing connections for you. Your outline for Sunday is practically written out for you. (Not really, but hyperbole is biblical.)

calendar December 4, 2015

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Instruction about the Inclination

My aim here is to launch a handful of posts on some of the prominent literary patterns in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus [warns] his disciples against being infected by the same evil impulse that has hardened the hearts of his enemies, the Pharisees and the Herodians.

That’s Joel Marcus (Mark 1-8 [in the Anchor Bible commentary series]; I’ll be citing pages 510-11), writing on Mark 8:14-21 and reflecting back on a section of Mark 7 that Marcus sees mirrored here in chapter 8:

Dispute with Pharisees                        7:1-15           8:10-12

Segregation with disciples                    7:17                 8:13

Statement about Evil Inclination         7:21-23           8:25

Marcus gives us the normal higher critical explanation: Mark’s community is being challenged by the Pharisees, and they’ll learn to ward off the dark accusations of “evil inclination” by seeing their accusers as those who really and truly possess this inclination. But Marcus goes one crucial step beyond:

The disciples need special instruction about the Inclination, then, partly because Mark’s community is being challenged about it. But it is also being challenged by it; the insidious influence of the Inclination is not only “out there,” among the Pharisees, but also “in here,” within the elect community itself.

Marcus notes (and we’ll see this in additional post or two) that Mark’s focus on the Twelve and the problems of discipleship only increase as we enter chapters 8-10.

As Solzhenitsyn discovered, lying in rotting straw in a Soviet gulag with other political prisoners:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

…. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Now that is sound teaching for a particularly contentious American political season; but even more, it’s an essential perspective for Christian discipleship. Jesus seems to be particularly good at “instruction about the inclination”; if instruction in that inclination is not the task of his under-shepherds (pastor-theologians), I don’t know what is.

calendar November 14, 2015

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Four Pastor Theologian Items

1) The CPT Conference was everything we hoped it would be. Nearly 250 participants. Great plenary addresses; great break out papers; fantastic worship; great conversations around the fireplaces. The videos from the plenary sessions (Leithart, Jamie Smith, Vanhoozer, Wilson, Hiestand) is being finalized and will be released soon. Stay tuned.

2) Todd Wilson (CPT Co-founder) spoke at Liberty University (along with Vanhoozer) on the subject of the pastor theologian. You can catch Todd’s address here.

3)Here’s a thoughtful review by David Shaw of The Pastor Theologian (Hiestand and Wilson) and The Pastor as Public Theologian (Vanhoozer and Stachan) noting the similarities/differences in our respective books. Shaw begins with, “Despite the similar titles; despite the dedication of Vanhoozer and Strachan’s book to Hiestand and Wilson; despite the chapter Hiestand contributes to Vanhoozer and Strachan’s book; and despite the anecdotes and quotes common to both, these books are buses headed in slightly different directions.” And he helpfully concludes by commenting on how the two books, though unique, work in tandem, “In conclusion, there are two invaluable insights championed by these books: the pastorate is a theological calling and theology is an ecclesial enterprise. The current cultural climate makes those insights all the more urgent and calls for imagination on the part of churches and pastors alike. Happily, there is much fuel for imagination here.”

4) And finally, I’ve been asked by Zondervan to pass along the news that The Pastor Theologian e-book will be 20% off, Nov 17-24. Consider the news passed.

calendar October 12, 2015

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CPT Conference, Registration Ending Soon

CPT Conference
November 2-4, 2015
Registration Ending Soon!

What, exactly, is a pastor theologian?  What contributions can pastors make to theology? Can pastors meaningfully and effectively produce theological scholarship? What is an “ecclesial theologian” and how is he or she different than an academic theologian? The 2015 CPT Conference will explore these and related questions, with a view to resourcing current and emerging conceptions of the pastor theologian.

This first year’s theme is The Pastor Theologian: Identity and Possibilities. The conference will be held in Oak Park (near Chicago), Nov 2-4.  It is open to the public and will feature key note addresses from James K. A. Smith (Calvin College), Kevin Vanhoozer (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Peter Leithart (Theopolis Institute), plus addresses from myself and my fellow CPT co-founder Todd Wilson.

Beyond the plenary addresses, we will have breakout paper discussions led by Phil Ryken, David Dockery, Laurie Norris, Eric Redmond, Amy Peeler, Mickey Klink, and more. Worship will be led by Caleb Widmer and the Chicago Liturgists. We anticipate having 200-300 pastors, students, professors, and lay leaders join us.

Registration ends Oct 31. If you haven’t yet registered, now is the time to do so. You can register online here. And students, be sure to check out the 50% student discount.

Check out the promotional video below, and the conference website for more information. Hope to see you in November!

CPT Conference Overview from Center for Pastor Theologians on Vimeo.

calendar September 5, 2015

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Pastor Scholars…Not Likely?

Mark Jones just posted an essay over at Reformation 21 entitled “Pastor Scholars…Not Likely“. In the essay Jones calls into question the viability of combining scholarship and pastoral ministry. He writes,

…I’m afraid to say, apart from exceptional circumstances, I just don’t believe both can be done well. It was a rarity in the Early Modern Period. You usually did one or the other, but not both. And today, there’s a reason the greatest scholars of Puritanism, for example, are not pastors. You might want to dabble, here and there, but dabbling might prove to be rather frustrating or, worse, rather dangerous!

When you read the work of people like Irena Backus, Richard Muller, Anthony Milton, John Coffey, and Cornelius Elleboogius, you start to understand how being a full-time pastor can’t possibly allow for the type of quality that consistently comes from the pens of the aforementioned scholars.

We pastors can be happy being generalists, knowing a little about a lot. But knowing a lot about a little (the scholar) and a little about a lot (the pastor) seems a difficult, if not impossible, task to keep up year after year.

At first glance this might seem to run against the core mission of the CPT. But Jones goes on to helpfully distinguishes between the work of a scholar and the work of a theologian.

However, I didn’t say that I don’t believe in the pastor-theologian. Now that’s entirely different issue, in my opinion, which I’d like to turn to in the future. (One thinks of Sinclair Ferguson as a good example). After all, I firmly believe that the best theologians have usually had significant pastoral experience.

In the early days of the CPT we intentionally stopped using the term “pastor-scholar”, opting instead for “pastor theologian”. And we went this direction for precisely the reason Mark details above. There is a need for generalists, and a need for specialists; but only a few savants can do both well. The work of modern scholarship requires a level of focused attention in a narrow field that is near impossible to achieve unless one is able to devote full time hours to said task. Pastors, by the very nature of our vocation, are generalists. And while we can (and should) give ourselves to study, we simply cannot (and should not) spend as many hours in research as would a high level academic scholar.

But as Jones points out, the combination of “pastor” and “theologian” is a different and more achievable union. The church needs theologians who are learned generalists, and who can bring this learning to bear on the theological and ministerial issues facing the church today.  At least some pastors can and should do this sort of theological work.

calendar September 5, 2015

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Free Conference Admission for Ten Student Volunteers

Hey students — Are you interested in free admission to the Nov 2-4 CPT Conference?

We’re giving away ten free tickets to students who are willing to help with the logistical details of the Conference. Mainly, we need help with set up and tear down, as well as general hospitality and crowd control for guests.

You’re duties will start Monday at 12:00PM, and end Wed at 4:00PM. (And don’t worry, you’ll be able to get to all the sessions!)

If you are interested please contact

And for everyone else–this is the last day of early bird registration!

calendar September 3, 2015

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A Bit on Irenaeus, the Transcendence of God, and the Goodness of Creation

Irenaeus underscores the import of God’s identity as creator by linking this doctrine to his famous ‘rule of truth’. For Irenaeus, the ‘rule of truth’ (or ‘rule of faith’) is the summation of the apostolic deposit—a body of truths that mark the boundaries for what constitutes true Christianity.[1] Each time Irenaeus mentions this foundational body of doctrinal content, he includes a clear and extended statement about God as creator. Arguably, this aspect of the rule is its chief content. He writes,

The rule of truth which we hold, is, that there is one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist. Just as Scripture says: ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them, by the spirit of his mouth’. And again, ‘All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made’. There is no exception or deduction stated; but the Father made all things by him, whether visible or invisible, objects of sense or of intelligence, temporal, on account of a certain character given them, or eternal; and these eternal things he did not make by angels, or by any powers separated from His thought. For God needs none of all these things, but is he who, by His Word and Spirit, makes, and disposes, and governs all things, and commands all things into existence,—He who formed the world (for the world is of all),—He who fashioned man,—He [who] is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, above whom there is no other God, nor initial principle, nor power, nor pleroma,—He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall prove.[2]

Notably Irenaeus insists on God as a creator who creates ex-nihilo.[3] This stands in contrast with Gnostic conceptions of emanation whereby all things are linked together in a united and descending ontological chain of being—from the ‘true Father’ all the way down to the material world (the world being the unflattering hemorrhage of a wayward Aeon).[4] But for Irenaeus, there is a strong ontological divide between creature and creator. In an important way, this allows Irenaeus’ God to draw closer to his creation with more relational intimacy than the ‘true Father’ of the Gnostics. For the Gnostics, the transcendence of God can only be achieved by geography—by positing a vast distance between God and the material world of humanity. Without this vast spatial distance, the Gnostic God loses any sense of transcendence, since all things are ultimately and ontologically sourced in his being. This vast distance between the Gnostic God and his unintended creation inevitably slanders the material world.

But for Irenaeus, the transcendence of God is achieved through the ontological inequality that exists between creator and creature. This allows Irenaeus’ God to draw near to his creation without confusion of being, or compromising his transcendence. This in turn allows for a more generous account of the material world; God, while remaining completely other, dwells close to the world he has made and is the intentional source of it.

We might summarize it thus: for both Irenaeus and the Gnostics, God is the ultimate source of the material world; but only Irenaeus’ God will admit to it.

[1] For other explicit references to the rule in Irenaeus, see Adv. Haer. 3.1.1-2, 3:11.1. In content it overlaps somewhat with the Apostles’ Creed; it does not, however, come to us through Irenaeus in a fixed creedal form. Irenaeus links the rule to baptism in Adv. Haer. 1.9.4, which suggests that it had a catechetical function. For an analysis of Irenaeus’ rule, see Alistair Stewart, ‘The Rule of Truth…Which He Received Through Baptism (Haer. 1.9.4): Catechesis, Ritual, and Exegesis in Irenaeus’s Gaul’, in Paul Foster and Sara Parvis, eds., Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 151-58; also Peter-Ben Smit, ‘The Reception of the Truth at Baptism and the Church as Epistemological Principle in the Work of Irenaeus of Lyons’, Ecclesiology 7 (2011), 354-373.

[2] Adv. Haer. 1.2.1. In Dem. 6, Irenaeus likewise details the substance of the rule, again beginning with God as creator as the first principle. See also Dem. 3, where Irenaeus begins with baptism in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit, with God as creator immediately following.

[3] See also Adv. Haer. 2.10.4., ‘While humans, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to humans, that he himself called into being the substance of his creation, when previously it had no existence’. Here Irenaeus claims for the Christian tradition a doctrine that was still at play among at least some otherwise orthodox Christian thinkers. While non-gnostic Christianity universally affirmed God as creator, at least some early Christian writers seem to suggest an eternal creation. Most notable in this respect is Origen; see his, Per. Arch. 1.4.3. For an affirmation of creation ex-nihilo in Theophilus, see his Ad. Auto. 2.4. For a general assessment of this doctrine in early Christian thought, see Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), 57-96. For an assessment of this doctrine in Irenaeus see Matthew Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 38-49.

[4] The insistence of creation ex-nihilo also served to distinguish Christianity from Greek thought, such as we find in Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s Physics.

calendar August 15, 2015

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New Theopolis Essay on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

The good folks over at Theopolis have published a short essay of mine on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I like Dostoyevsky, but I think he drops the ball at the end of this book. Here’s the intro:

Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot, like his other major works, is a complex evaluation of the human condition—a juxtaposition of the innate goodness and innate evil that resides within every human heart. There is much one can say about The Idiot. I am no specialist of Russian literature, or Dostoyevsky. I enjoy his writing, laborious and confusing as it sometimes is. His insight into human nature, his opened-eyed faith in the midst of life’s moral complexities and doubts, and his articulation of the divine beauty that permeates our sin-scarred world has always captivated me.

So I expected more of the same when I picked up The Idiot. And I was, for the majority of the novel, not disappointed. But the last pages of the novel left me frustrated with Dostoyevsky and his account of Christian compassion. Here, it seems to me, he lets the reader down. And perhaps more tragically, he lets down the hero of his story. Dostoyevsky’s misstep at the end of The Idiot shows us the failure of unrestrained compassion when divorced from the particularly and commitment of love.

You can read the rest of it here.

calendar August 11, 2015

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The CPT Co-Founders on its Mission and Annual Conference

Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, co-founders of the Center for Pastor Theologians, describe the threefold taxonomy of pastor theologians. They also describe their excitement for the upcoming conference, addressing how this conference is a unique “third way,” and how it will tackle a looming question for many: how do you actually pull this off?

calendar August 8, 2015

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The Pastor as Public Theologian

indexI was excited to receive a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan’s new book, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. I’m only 40 or so pages into the book, but it reads great so far. Kevin and Owen have been part of the CPT at various points (Owen as a Fellow and Kevin as a Theological Consultant). So it’s no surprise that we are all singing from the same song sheet.

Kevin and Owen’s book is a complimentary thesis to our book, and makes a compelling case for reinvigorating the pastorate as a theological vocation. From what I can tell thus far, Kevin and Owen focus primarily on the pastor theologian as “local theologian” (i.e., a pastor to deftly and ably services the theological needs of a local parish), whereas our book focuses on the pastor theologian as ecclesial theologian (i.e., a pastor who writes theological and biblical scholarship to other pastors and theologians). So the books work well in tandem together, and don’t merely say the same things (though we do say a lot of the same things!).

The timing of our two books wasn’t planned, but couldn’t be better. I’m hopeful that our books will draft off each other and help to invigorate conversation around the topic of the pastor theologian.

And for those interested, Kevin will be presenting a plenary address at our upcoming CPT Conference, Nov 2-4. Would love to see you there!

calendar August 6, 2015

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Reformed Forum Pastor’s Theology Conference

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to do a podcast with the good folks at Reformed Forum. This is a group of pastors working in the Presbyterian tradition who appreciate and are living out the ecclesial theologian vision. They are hosting a theology conference Oct 16-18 in Grayslake, IL. Looks like a great opportunity, especially for those who live in the area. Below is the relevant information from their site:

Join us for a unique theological learning experience that has been designed to promote face-to-face interaction among attendees and speakers. Reformed Forum has always been about making Reformed theological conversation available and accessible to anyone who is interested. At the 2015 Theology Conference, you will have the opportunity to be an active participant in the discussion for an entire weekend. Attendance is limited to 100 participants, which ensures that each attendee has the opportunity to participate in personal exchanges with our speakers and theological contributors.

Our plenary speakers will be Dr. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Emeritus, at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Dr. Lane G. Tipton, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster.

Our theme is “The Spirit and the Church,” through which we will explore the connection between pneumatology and ecclesiology.

Register today for the 2015 Theology Conference.

calendar July 31, 2015

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New “Christ the Center” Podcast on the Pastor Theologian

The good people at Christ the Center have just released their latest podcast with hosts Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy, and myself as a guest.

We spent an hour talking about the calling of the pastor theologian. Camden and Jim are themselves pastor theologians and asked great questions. It was a really fun time. If the topic is of interest to you, I encourage you to check it out.

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