Category Archives: Reading

Book review: Going Deeper with New Testament Greek

 

Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016).

by Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merkle and Robert Plummer

Genre: Biblical Reference / Language Study

Size: 550 pages.

What’s the big idea: The book aims to “stir in you a passion, and to provide you with the necessary tools, to ‘go deeper’ in your pursuit of your master of NT Greek” (p.1).

There’s a quip in New Testament Greek circles that, for every 9 Greek lecturers, there are 10 Greek grammars. The most recent contribution to the scene is Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament (B&H Academic, 2016). I first heard about this volume through Rob Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek videos, and thought it would be a good complement ahead of my second year of learning biblical Greek.

Easy to read? Surprisingly enough, yes. It’s certainly more readable than Daniel Wallace’s grammar (as excellent as it is). I think part of the charm of Deeper Greek is that it’s organised in a way that blends the traditional grammar with other helpful content (like a Swiss Army knife). Each chapter ends with practice exercises, a vocab list and tables summarising the content just covered. I came away enjoying, rather than enduring each chapter I read.

What I appreciated? Several things.

  • I loved how every chapter features a short introduction where the author takes an example from the Bible to illustrate the practical relevance of the content to follow. For example, Chapter 2 on The Genitive Case begins with a translation issue in the Bible: should Luke 2:14 read “Peace on earth, good will towards men” (KJV) or “Peace on earth to those whom his favour rests” (NIV)? Lo and behold, it all hangs on whether there’s a genitive noun, and I’m hooked into going deeper into the rest of the chapter. Contrast this with Wallace, who writes assuming that you’re motivated to plow through 33 types of genitives without being convinced of its usefulness.
  • I found the first chapter on the history of Greek and textual criticism very helpful to kick things off and bolster my confidence that in 99.9% of cases, we have in our Bibles God’s authoritative Word preserved for us.
  • There’s a very interesting and informative chapter on verbal aspect, an area of debate among NT Greek scholars today.
  • The last chapter gives practical tips to keep up your Greek. You really feel like the three authors are encouraging you to keep studying and mastering Greek.
  • The book contains charts summarising each chapter. These are fantastic and would be worth the price of the book alone, though seems like you can purchase them separately.

What I would have liked to see:

  • Section numbers. The lack of them throughout the textbook. It made it more difficult to find specific concepts more easily and to cite them.
  • Less derivative content. Some chapters on noun cases seemed to lean on Wallace quite heavily, where it would have been nice to see the authors just present their own study of NT grammar and syntax
  • An answer key for the Practice Exercises would have been helpful for students.

Who I’d recommend it to: Any Greek student with a year of Greek behind their belt, or a pastor who’s “apostasised” from their Greek in seminary and wants to get back on the saddle. If you’re a whizz at Greek and love getting into the details, the thoroughness of Wallace’s grammar might be more suitable.

Verdict: This book will help you to understand the language of the New Testament better, and to become excited about studying God’s Word more deeply.

More info:

  • Deeper Greek website – coming soon, a website that will hopefully dive into some of the topics covered in this textbook. A video discussion on verbal aspect would be very helpful.

(I’m grateful to B&H Academic who provided a review copy of this textbook, which has not influenced my opinion of the book.)

Interview: Dr Janson Condren talks about bible translations and the original meaning of Genesis 3:16b

Why do Bible translations get updated? How and why might a translation change over history? What’s the best way to translate a difficult phrase? Given the plethora of English translations available today, the differences between them can be confusing and sometimes contested among Christians.

In 2017, Dr Janson Condren, Senior Lecturer of OT at Sydney Missionary & Bible College, published his research into the original meaning of Genesis 3:16b – a verse which underwent a controversial translation change in the 2016 edition of the ESV translation. It was the lead article of the September 2017 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. [1]

Originally from Ohio, USA, Janson received his M.Div. and Th.M from Baptist Bible Seminary in Pennsylvania (1996, 1998), and his Ph.D. in Theological Studies (Old Testament emphasis) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago (2005).

I had the privilege of studying under Janson last year, and what he shared on this topic during a lecture piqued my interest. I caught up with him recently for an interview.

(Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)


1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a child of God and a follower of Jesus. I was raised in a Baptist church and a Christian home from a very young age. I remember sitting in Year 3 Sunday School and a visiting missionary explaining what she did, and thinking: “I guess I’m going to be a missionary.” When I finally went to Bible College, I was encouraged to think more about theological education, as most mission fields ask to be given tools to understand and teach the Bible. At the same, I was getting excited about the nitty-gritty aspects of academics and biblical interpretation. I was overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know, and what I hadn’t been taught in church – especially from the Old Testament.

2. How long have you worked at SMBC and what do you teach?

We’ve just finished up 12 years. I teach Hebrew, and a whole range of Old Testament books – the Prophets, the Writings, the Pentateuch.

3. Earlier this year you published a journal article detailing your research into Genesis 3:16b. How long did you spend on this project?

I had study leave from college (in Semester 2 of 2016), so had several months to work on this.

4. What motivated you to spend half a year studying half a verse?

It was right in the time that the ESV 2016 translation update was issued, and they changed the wording of Gen 3:16b from: “Your desire will be for your husband” to “Your desire will be contrary to your husband” – a very abrupt change making it mean the opposite of what it had meant. Right after that, they issued a public statement saying that the ESV was now to be frozen for all time, never to be adjusted again (Ed: the decision was later reversed). That perked my own interest: that a translation committee would cease to improve their translation, especially when new research and discoveries are coming out on a regular basis. It was a surprising move on top of a surprising change.

5. In the abstract of your article, you mention that an adversarial view of Gen 3:16 (i.e. a desire for the wife to contend with her husband for leadership) is “seriously misguided”. Could you share why?

Firstly – it’s a very recent interpretation. The ESV is following the NLT and the NET translations. All of them are building on a trend in interpretation since the mid-1970s when Susan T. Foh put forward this view. Now it’s not always the case that a new interpretation is wrong, but it needs to be adopted very carefully. As I scratched beneath the surface, what I found was before the 1970s, there was no precedent for understanding the woman’s desire as adversarial. The idea that the woman’s desire is contrary to her husband seems to be a completely new idea in the history of interpretation.

6. Let’s walk through some of the other points in your article, arguing against the adversarial view. First you examined how Gen 4:7, which the adversarial reading of Gen 3:16 relies on, has some major interpretive difficulties. Can you explain more?

In Gen 4:7, sin is personified as “crouching at the door”, and its desire is for Cain, and it’s not affectionate there. The same word for desire (Heb. tešūqâ) is used there, as in Gen 3:16. The grammar and syntax of the two texts is strikingly similar. So there’s good reason to relate the texts together.

But to say the adversarial desire in Gen 4:7 is reason for seeing the woman’s desire as adversarial against her husband, like sin’s desire against Cain, runs into serious difficulties. That’s because the interpretation of Gen 4:7 itself is highly debated throughout history.

7. In what ways?

For example, Matthew Henry sees the word sin not to mean a “door demon”, crouching at the door, but to mean a sin offering. There’s no adversarial desire there.

Also, where it says “its desire is for you”, the pronoun “its” is masculine, whereas the noun “sin” is feminine. In Hebrew, those are supposed to agree in gender. So many would say “its desire” is not sin’s desire, but a masculine noun in context, such as Abel.

So I would question whether we can base this brand new view of Gen 3:16 on Gen 4:7, a text around which there’s all this debate.

8. Next you conducted a detailed survey of the translation and interpretation of the key word (Heb. tešūqâ) throughout history. From reading early translations such as the Septuagint, early Church and Jewish writings, and the use of the term in writings outside the Bible, what did you find?

The vast majority of all translations and interpretations of this term – in Gen 3:16, 4:7 and in Song of Songs 7:10 – do not read it as “desire” at all, but rather as something more like “return”. All the way back to the Septuagint (200 BC), in Jewish sources like the Book of Jubilees, through the first several hundred years after Christ, it’s understood to mean “return”. It’s only from 300-400 AD that the interpretation “desire” starts showing up in Jewish sources. In Christian texts, the interpretation “desire” doesn’t show up until the 1500’s.

But that’s not the most striking thing. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the word appears in texts unrelated to Gen 3:16 or other passages where the term is used. So that provides an objective test case, outside the Bible, for what the meaning of this word is. And there’s good evidence there that it means “return” as well. For instance, in a lament poem about humanity’s insignificance (Ed: 1QS 11:21-22), the word has been translated as: “Your desire is for dust”. But considering the context, it would make more sense not as “desiring for dust” but “returning to dust”.

9. So if the original meaning is indeed “return”, then how exactly should we understand Gen 3:16b?

My initial guess is that it would have to do with a return towards the wife’s original relationship with the husband, an effort to recapture the original intimacy that God created the man and the woman to have in the Garden. The intimacy was lost because of the Fall, but there’s a deep need to return to it, and the woman wants to recapture that. I don’t think it’s primarily a sexual movement towards her husband, although that would be included. It’s the farthest away from an adversarial movement against her husband.

10. So if you were on the ESV Translation Committee, what would you do with this verse?

More study needs to be put into it before we abruptly change a translation! But I would change it back to an affectionate desire, because the adversarial desire most definitely does not fit with “return”. In the end, my proposal of “return” isn’t strikingly different to what we have in most translations with “desire for”. But where “desire” is usually seen as sexual, “return” helps to make a broader point.

11. As you mentioned earlier, the ESV 2016 translation made the adversarial reading the official one last year. One scholar (Scott Mcknight) alleges that it was a “stealth translation” which was “sneaked into the text of the ESV for ideological reasons.” (Ed: see also Denny Burk’s response) Do you think that’s fair? Does an adversarial view bolster a specific understanding of gender relations?

I’m not sure if I’m well-equipped to answer that. But there are people on both sides of the egalitarian-complementarian debate who have adopted this “adversarial desire” reading. So I’m not sure if it necessarily bolsters one or the other, though it does seem to go hand-in-hand with the complementarian viewpoint.

I don’t know if it’s because the woman’s desire contrary to her husband then needs to be met with an equal and opposite reaction from the husband – “and he shall rule over you”. There’s a tendency in the complementarian camp to want to see this rule as the way it needs to be, or should be. This research certainly detracts from that interpretation.

12. Some of us might only come across this change when we open up our bibles to teach Sunday School or lead a bible study. For those of us who don’t know Hebrew, or all this history of interpretation, should a change like this freak us out? How should we respond as Christians?

I don’t know if it’s need for worry at all – it’s only a need for a greater understanding of the process. God has revealed himself to us through the Scriptures, but in this fallen world we live in, we don’t necessarily have perfect access to that revelation.

For example, my wife can tell me very clearly to do something, and I can easily miss what she said and go off in another direction. That doesn’t mean my wife’s at fault or there’s a huge problem in our relationship! But we have to recognise that we’re not perfect, I’m not perfect. The interpreter is fallen, and we’re taking strides to improve, but we haven’t arrived at perfection this side of heaven.

It’s helpful to understand that we don’t have a perfect translation – it’s an imperfect effort to capture the original Hebrew. We’ve got good scholars working on that, and it’s 99% worked out. But there are these little bits that are still being debated, and this happens to be one of them. This is one of the more extraordinary cases where a translation committee completely flipped the meaning of a verse 180 degrees based on very recent scholarship.

13. All this work certainly testifies to a deep love for knowing the Scriptures better. Any encouragement for us as we read the Old Testament and try to understand it for ourselves?

Hopefully it’s an encouragement to take seriously the details. We might not have perfect knowledge, but the details do matter. Verbal plenary inspiration means every word is God’s intended revelation for us, and it’s worth our time and effort to wrestle with the details.

Yet our inability to completely grasp it should encourage all of us to come on our knees before the text. Bow in humility before sacred writ: God has revealed Himself, but we are unable to completely grasp it ourselves. We have enough – everything we need for life and godliness. But if we kept in mind how much we lacked, it would keep us very humble. So there’s little room for arrogance in these debates, and the heat we generate is unnecessary and moves against the nature of this enterprise.

 

Reference:

[1] Janson Condren, “Toward a Purge of the Battle of the Sexes and ‘Return’ for the Original Meaning of Genesis 3:16b”, JETS 60/2 (2017): 227–45.


Quotes from Semester 1 at Sydney Missionary Bible College, 2017

We’ve just finished our first semester here at Sydney Missionary Bible College, where I’m studying towards a Masters of Divinity.

It’s been exhausting on some fronts – adjusting to life in Australia with a young family, scrambling to build new friendships and relationships, grieving as NZ friends move on with their lives. I don’t think we’ve ever been as sick with colds and flus as this past 6 months.

It’s been enriching on many fronts – drinking from multiple fire hoses gushing with theology, observing examples of godliness, and catching the passion to bring Christ to all the nations – literally. What a special place this is to be prepared for a lifetime of gospel ministry in NZ.

I’ve noted down for posterity what others have said this semester – nuggets of wisdom worth retaining longer than all my ephemeral InstaFaceTweets combined. Most of these were from lectures and chapels; some were from conversations over lunch and dinner with staff and students; a few are quotes from other places. I hope some of them are helpful to you.


Church History: Early Church to 476

“If learning church history doesn’t contribute to your godliness and discipleship, then it hasn’t done its job.” – Stuart Coulton

“The Crusades. Nazi Germany. How could ‘Christians’ do such evil things? They were Christians who failed to critique the values of the world around them.” – S.C.

“We carpet bomb a city to save democracy [Dresden]. Should we kill a man for denying the Trinity [cf. Calvin and Servetus]? Church history gives us provocation and tools to wrestle with these propositions.” – S.C.

“What and where it happened is not as important as why it happened.” – S.C.

“Early Christianity stood out by its holiness. Is our church today known for its quality of life? What difference has Christ made to me?” – S.C.

“You work out what the error is by the way the truth is articulated.” – S.C.

“The difference between an ascetic and and aesthetic comes down to chocolate. The ascetic says no. The aesthetic says, ‘Only Lindt will do.'” – S.C.

“The church sometimes stops at bishops and creeds, but pays lip service to Scripture.” – S.C.

“The church has a need for many things, but what it really needs is good doctrine. We live in a world where pragmatism is the most popular authority. So assume nothing. Go back to Scripture and ask: is this truth biblical?” – S.C.

“Christians in the West treat Revelation in ways that John would be horrified. Does reading Revelation move you to pray for the persecuted church? If not perhaps we’ve missed John’s purpose for the letter.” – Rachel Ciano, Persecution and Apologists

“Fast growth in the early church meant nominal Christians with shallow roots. Christians lived in a time of peace, so were unprepared; many gave themselves up. May it be a lesson to us not to be caught unprepared.” – R.C. on the Edict of 250 AD requiring Christians worship the Roman Emperor.

“‘For the church to be marginalised is not a bad thing. It has better eyes to see from the edges.'” – R.C. paraphrasing Miroslav Volf

“If you’ve found something new that no one has ever thought of before, be careful. People have been thinking about things longer than you.” – R.C.

“One of the greatest things about church history is that you’ll never hero worship anyone. You see their black spots; everyone has feet of clay.” – S.C.

“Don’t write these guys off [early monastics]. Otherwise we’ll have nothing to learn. These monks asked: what does it look like to seriously follow Jesus? Part of me is provoked… How much am I prepared to follow Jesus?” – S.C.

“FF Bruce suggests that the Reformation is all about Augustine’s doctrine of the church colliding with his doctrine of salvation.” – S.C.

“If you find yourself separated from the majority of the church, then show some humility.” – S.C. summarising Augustine’s argument about the church

 

Church History: Middle Ages to Pre-Reformation

“Augustine’s view is that we are dead in our transgressions. Pelagius’s view is that we are not dead in our trangressions. The Bible teaches that you’re a prince [in Christ] and a worm. You’re totally depraved and you’re touched by grace.” – S.C.

“Herulean Oduvacar is the perfect name to drop into a dinner party conversation. He was the first non-Roman to sit on the throne. You think Donald Trump is shocking!” – S.C.

“In the Middle Ages, nobody believed in the separation of church and state. The issue at this time is which side is in charge.” – S.C.

“Don’t defend the Crusades. They are a complete blot on the Christian church.” – S.C.

“We are tempted to promote the cause of Christ using instruments of the world. But Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that it’s ‘not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit.'” – S.C.

“The real outrage with Luther was not that he had beer, but that he got married.” – S.C.

“The priesthood of all believers has politically explosive implications.” – S.C.

“One of the temptations for us is to lack confidence in the power of God’s Word. ‘You need topical. You need something else.’ No – it is the means by which salvation is accomplished.” – S.C.

“Lutheranism today is different to Lutheranism 500 years ago. Calvinism remains influential over the years, perhaps because it left a more systematised doctrine.” – S.C.

“Luther is all about stuffing the ark – ‘get them in’. Calvin wants to transform the ark – ‘sanctify them'”. – R.C., on the difference between Luther and Calvin

“One reason laments have lost their place in today’s worship is that we have a problem with saying ‘God, you did it.’ Withhold nothing from the sovereignty of God.” – R.C.

“Your church building says a lot about your theology.” – R.C. on church architecture

“Most of South America is Roman Catholic because of the Jesuits. While Protestants were infighting, they became a worldwide RCC. Parochialism is the enemy of the gospel. Don’t debate each other at the expense of gospel proclamation.” – R.C. on the Catholic counter-reformation

 

 

Pastoral Theology

“To pray for God to be glorified in your life is a dangerous prayer.” – Stuart Coulton, Pastoral Theology

“Beware the disjunct between the handling of God’s word for others, and practising God’s word for yourself.” – S.C.

“Small talk is addressing the 95% of a person’s life. If you are disinterested in 95% of a person’s life, then continue to hate small talk.” – S.C.

“What God does in you will shape what He does through you.” – S.C.

“[I] didn’t realise how dangerous Stuart’s prayer was until later in the year.” – student in the valley.

 

Biblical Theology

“In my class, the answer is usually Jesus, or context.” – Alan Thompson

“Here’s four approaches to the Bible:
1. Exegesis – what’s in the line?
2. Biblical Theology – what’s the timeline?
3. Systematic Theology – what’s the bottom line?
4. Historical Theology – what’s the church’s line?”

– adapted from A.T. explaining the role of biblical theology

New Testament Greek

“Learning Greek shouldn’t make you proud, but make you humble.” – Janet Riley

“Learning Greek is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. You need to hold on to that word and say: ‘I will not let you go until you bless me!'” – Rob Plummer on dailydoseofgreek.com

 

 

 

Old Testament Foundations

“We’re going to look at some of the greatest literature ever written.” – Kit Barker

“In time you’ll learn to use dictionaries, commentaries and journals. But nothing replaces a careful, repeated reflection of the text. Keep asking: what is God doing with this text then and now?” – K.B.

“The Pentateuch is meant to persuade you to obey – it’s not to be held at arm’s length. It’s meant to shape us, transform us into better men and women than we were.” – Geoff Harper

“Genesis records history, but it also critiques our own hearts. It’s less about what the sun is made of, but why it is there.” – G.H.

“There’s a diversity of views out there [on Genesis 1-2], but we are Christian. It’s very unwise to die on this hill. We need to love people who are different.” – G.H.

“To help us understand the literary artistry in the Tower of Babel story, let’s read The Gruffalo and see if you can spot any artistic devices.” – G.H.

“[In the Joseph story] Judah’s repentance is real. He’s willing to be Benjamin’s substitute, to be a slave so Benjamin can go free. We see the necessity for repentance to precede forgiveness. If we repent, we’ll get reconciliation.” – G.H.

“As Christians we need to be careful not to have an Islamic [i.e. dictated] view of Scripture. It’s OK if divine inspiration is more complex than we thought. We have a God who stands behind it.” – G.H.

“Let me make some bold statements: Leviticus is not just a relic of Israel’s history; it’s your history. It’s not redundant, but essential. You can’t understand Jesus unless you understand what’s in Leviticus: atonement, forgiveness, care for the foreigner, blood, sacrifice, holiness. So study Levicitus to understand Christ better.” – G.H.

“Leviticus is a wonderful evangelistic text. Lots of people are terrified about being unclean before a Holy God. Jesus is the one who makes us clean. Leviticus pushes us to talk about this.” – G.H.

“To remove wrath from the cross is foolishness. What then did he die for? Then there’s no sense in which God demonstrates his love.” – K.B.

“[The wrath of God] is not just an Old Testament problem. In fact, the NT is far more violent — in both the crucifixion [of Jesus] and in the unleashing of God’s fury on all who reject him.” – K.B.

“The more we understand and accept God’s wrath against rebellion, the more we appreciate the love of God and what Christ suffered.” – K.B.

“One generation is all it takes to lose the nation – to be worse than the culture you’re in. So we must pass on the life-giving words to the next generation.” – K.B. on Judges

 

Preaching Class, Principal’s Hour, Student Chapels

“The goal of preaching is not just to make smarter sinners. That’s what’s called dump truck preaching. The goal of preaching is to give God’s Word, to point people to their saviour, and live for his glory.” – Malcolm Gill

“It’s easy to do dump truck preaching. It’s much harder to be simple.” – M.G.

“‘My son’s birthday party’ – could be kids with party hats, or as it turns out, an adult son released from prison. Find out who you’re speaking to!” – M.G. on evaluating your audience

“In preaching you bring a meal out from the kitchen. You don’t take them into the kitchen and show them all the ingredients.” – M.G.

“If you’ve come to bible college, there probably is a Messiah complex about you. But our effectiveness in ministry is solely by God’s grace. The gospel gives us both confidence and humility in gospel ministry.” – Mark Adams, on 1 Cor 15

“Genesis 38 pictures a man in the midst of rebellion, confronted with his deception, then immediately acknowledging this wrongdoing, who becomes a new person. God transforms the hardest of hearts.” – Kit Barker

“People have a right to see in us a radical reflection of Jesus.” – S.C., on Matthew 5

“Jesus had nothing to add to the commandments except one thing: he kept them.” – S.C. quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The Old Testament is the gospel in bud; the New Testament is the gospel in flower.” – S.C. quoting JC Ryle

“As Bob Dylan sang, ‘You’re going to have to serve somebody.’ The question is, who? Who will you give your heart to?” – S.C., Matt 6:19-34

“There is a difference between having strong convictions and lacking respect for others with whom we disagree.” – S.C., on Matt 7:1-6

“One of the dangers of college is that our skillset outstrips our character. So begin with a command like this: don’t judge.” – S.C.

“Some advice for bible college graduates – don’t whine, don’t shine, and don’t recline.” – from an OT lecturer at Moore College

 

Other quotables

“Competence without character in Christian service is not just unattractive, but incredibly dangerous.” – S.C.

“Ministry Matters [hearing from missionaries every week] will help us lift our eyes away from parochialism and our tendency to only look locally.” – S.C.

“Some cultures don’t even have a word for guilt in their language. How do you explain Romans 3 to them?” – Richard Hibbert, on cross-cultural communication

“[Why are we missionaries in an unsafe country?] Safe is relative. You could be in Australia and get hit by a car. Is Christ worthy for West Asians to praise? If so then it is worth being here for the sake of the gospel.” – X+X, missionary family with young children

 

 

Thinking about Christian books I’ve read

“What Christian books have you read?”

That was one of the questions on my application form for bible college (more on that here). I scanned the rest of the form and decided that the two lines provided wouldn’t be enough space.

So one night, I sat down, trawled through my memory, our library catalogue, e-book purchase history, and typed out a 3-page list of books I’ve read (book nerds go here).*

Upon reflecting on the last 13 years of reading Christian books, here are some observations:

  • Lots of books on worship, service planning and music ministry
  • A few authors are recurring favourites: for example, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Vaughan Roberts
  • I’ve only read two books on parenting (either I’m deficient in this area, or parenting isn’t learned in theory but in practice)
  • I’ve read two Rob Bell books (and found both frustrating and concerning)
  • I’ve read three biographies (I’m keen to read more)
  • I haven’t read many books by dead people (I’m keen to read more)
  • I tend to read according to immediate needs and interests rather than looking further ahead
  • For every book I read, there’s another one that I haven’t started. I’m rebuked of my wastefulness, for sucking in literary oxygen from social media feeds instead of the books in front of me.

More importantly, however, reviewing my reading list makes me thankful:

  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to read. What a privilege it is to live in a generation and society where books are freely available.
  • I’m thankful for how certain books have shaped my thinking on important issues: the gospel, marriage, family, worship, music, preaching, and so on. I’ve rarely changed my mind about something over a Facebook discussion. But time and time again, I’ve changed my convictions on something upon reaching the back page of a good book.
  • Finally, I’m thankful that reading books has helped me to love God and neighbour better, by understanding his Word (the Good Book) better.

I know I’m not able to read everything out there (certainly not as much as 500 books a year like Don Carson). But I do want to love God with my heart, soul, strength and mind, as a child who delights in His world and in His Son. And one of the ways I can do that is to read more.

Right – off to read something new.


* This list is just for Christian books – I haven’t made up a list of all the other books that I’ve read.

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”
René Descartes

Who am I? What is my ‘self’?

I_dont_know__Who_Am_I__by_madazulu

In our young adults group on Tuesdays we have been working through the book of Romans. When we were in chapters 6 and 7 there were some great discussions about our true identity as Christians.

In chapter 11 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott explains how a Christian’s identity cannot be recognised accurately without reference to the cross.

Who am I? What is my “self”? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity, because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity, because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me. My true self is what I am by creation, which Christ came to redeem, and by calling. My false self is what I am by the Fall, which Christ came to destroy.

Only when we have discerned which is which within us, shall we know what attitude to adopt towards each. We must be true to our true self and false to our false self. We must be fearless in affirming all that we are by creation, redemption and calling, and ruthless in disowning all that we are by the Fall.

Moreover, the cross of Christ teaches us both attitudes. On the one hand, the cross is the God-given measure of the value of our true self, since Christ loved us and died for us. On the other hand, it is uthe God-given model for the denial of our false self, since we are to nail it to the cross and so put it to death.

Or, more simply, standing before the Cross we see simultaneously our worth and our unworthiness, since we perceive both the greatness of his love in dying and the greatness of our sin in causing him to die.

– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 329-30.