Review of Bremer’s The Puritan Experiment.

Bremer’s book The Puritan Experiment was one born out of a desire to present recent scholarship on a somewhat enigmatic movement that desired to bring reform to the Church of England from within. Impacting “tens of thousands of Englishmen and Americans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (1), Puritanism served to meet the spiritual needs of those who desired to live out more fully the effects of the Protestant Reformation. At the heart of the movement lie the desire to break free from Monarchial influence and control over how they lived out their faith. Puritanism was a critical voice in response to “the intractability of the establishment and to alterations in the official stance of the church (15). Heavily rooted in Calvinism and as the progenitors of “Federal Theology,” what drew so many to the movement at the time was its emphasis on the desire to address inadequacies in the church and the fact that there were needs the Puritans spoke to more than the Bishops (24). It provided a Psychological certitude that helped many to adapt to changing times and circumstances (27). 

As the struggle for reform in the church continued the desire for separation developed because hope of reforming the church was abandoned (29). The Separatists among the Puritans were then emboldened and voiced the continued compromise with the Church of England was against the will of God and formed their own congregations in defiance of Monarchial authority and the laws of England (29). In time, the Separatists and Puritans felt they could not long stay in England for fear of judgment (38) and in stages, they began to go abroad to seek places to live their lives as they saw fit.  A group of Puritans left the New World upon the Mayflower in 1620 and formed a living community in the New World.  While puritanism was generally a transatlantic movement, not all Puritans left England exasperated by the Church of England or in fear of judgment. The reasons for leaving for the New World were varied. Some saw themselves fleeing to the wilderness (43) whole others saw the chance to form a community that would be “a City on a Hill,” while others simply wanted to pursue religious freedom. 

Once in the New World, the Puritan experiment began. Riddled with separatists ideals from the beginning, they struggle to maintain unity. While in Plymouth, some groups broke off and in time Massachusetts became the center of the “City on a Hill” experiment (55ff). Because the desire for purity in life and worship was the bedrock of Puritan theology, the leadership came down hard on any who rebelled or went against the ideals of Puritan ideology. For example, in Salem, those found to differ from the orthodox majority were prompted to live somewhere else. If that was resisted they faced trial. Thomas Morton was sent back to England (56). The ultimate plan was to create a model society and it was expected that all would support that goal.  In time, the Puritans spread throughout the Northeast and by the time of Johnathan Edwards though Puritan ideals were embedded in society the movement had become influenced by the enlightenment and evangelicalism (225ff). Even so their ideals have long remained and remained deeply embedded in American society. On the whole, Bremer’s work is a valuable and thoroughgoing project that offers extensive and deep insight into the Puritans.  

Review of Sweeny’s The American Evangelical Story.

In his interesting book, The American Evangelical Story, Sweeny chronicles the formation and development of Evangelicalism in the United States. Evangelicalism in the US has been in flux, and defining the movement presents challenges. At the heart of it, however, is the reality that Evangelicalism is a movement of people (24) born out of the Protestant Reformation (24) who are committed to orthodoxy (24) and are “gospel people” (17).

Beginning with events in the eighteenth century Sweeny relates how the revivals of the time lead to the growth of evangelicalism in America beginning mostly in the New England area. In the days leading to the Great Awakening, Sweeney notes “the Protestant world had been divided in both its worship and its witness by various ethnic and cultural boundaries” (27). He offers that early Protestantism came with an “eighteenth-century twist” (28). In a time when Protestantism was collapsing under its own divisions, the Great Awakening brought about unity and cooperation among Evangelicals. “In a work of amazing grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, untold numbers of Protestant leaders began to join hands across these boundaries and to collaborate in the work of gospel ministry” (29). Through the work of Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, and the influence of the Moravians, this collaborative effort led essentially to a “transatlantic Great Awakening” (36).  

As with all things, the more things change the more they stay the same. Changes that came with the Great Awakening involved the development of new denominations and “revival era realignments” (55). Along with the realignments came the “disestablishment and the rise of Evangelical movements” (61). What this means is some churches split and others were newly formed and or re-formed in an effort to pursue the evangelical mission. In alignment with the free market nature of the US, churches also had a free market environment where various pastors and or evangelical leaders with entrepreneurial skills who helped move things forward as the old ways of Christendom and doing church were collapsing (61-62). 

With this entrepreneurial spirit and the onset of the Second Great Awakening (late 1700’s), Evangelicalism launched into world evangelization (Ch 4). As the church pursued missions that gave impetus to cross the color line and find ways preach the gospel to all nations even within the Nation. Evangelicals sought to overcome racism within themselves and the movement. Through this effort came the rise of the Black church (116ff), and the advent of the Pentecostal movement as a subset of American Evangelicalism. The Pentecostal and Charismatic movement helped renew calls to holiness and a deeper life in Christ (133ff). In the end, Fundamentalism has come to be seen as the bookends of the movement providing the substructure in the fight for Evangelicalism’s survival (157, 165ff).  

In closing, The American Evangelical Story continues on! Despite many “centrifugal forces” (181) putting pressure on the movement, particularly globalization, Evangelicalism maintains a “strong centripetal faith” (183) that keeps it and will keep it together as it moves forward into the future.” 

the church in the wilderness

church-rural-church

This image reflects well the current state of the Church in a global pandemic. The current wilderness the church is in (between the time before the pandemic lead to global “stay at home” orders that prevent Christians from physically meeting right now and what lies ahead) feels foreboding and worrisome to many. While many churches moved into the google world, many more remained in the Gutenberg world. The pandemic has thrust the church into a place of liminality. The old way of doing church is gone. Simultaneously loathing and embracing technology, the entire church has been thrust into the brave new world of GOOGLE™ whether it wanted to or not. Between the old and the new, it does not know what lies ahead. Within a place of liminality, although in the google world, many try to do church in the old ways by digital means (meeting on Zoom or having “Drive-in” church). Church leaders are forced to navigate this liminal space of ‘Ethics and Religion in the Age of Social Media.’ Technology is not a god but a tool and a means to function in a google world. Pushing back against the “DIY Spirituality” of Silicon Valley, the church seeks to embrace technology as a means to pursue Christian community and resist individuality. While many struggle to process information judiciously, the church knows it must inform wisely. The Church is in the world not of it. It speaks to it and lives within it, prophetically critiquing the unquestioned “Core Tenets of Silicon Valley’s Moral Catechism.” The church knows technology cannot cure society’s ills. Only God can do that. In this wilderness time, will the church despair or will it embrace the liminal space of the present wilderness and look forward to the future God has for her?

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Photo credit: From this article: https://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/community/23203-why-rural-churches-matter-more-than-some-think

 Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2012), 3. 

 Healey, Kevin, and Robert Woods Jr. Ethics and Religion in the Age of Social Media: Digital Proverbs for Responsible Citizens (New York, NY: Routledge, 2020). 

QOTD: John J. Collins.

Really good article here from John J. Collins: “That the Strong Might Not Oppress the Weak: The Old Testament Vision.”

Throughout the ancient world, justice was understood to entail the protection of the poor and vulnerable from those who would exploit them. Neither biblical law nor the prophets demanded equal distribution of resources, or sought to abolish all distinction between rich and poor. It is assumed that “there will never cease to be people in need on the earth” (Deut 15:11). The problem for the prophets was that the poor were deprived of the necessities of life and degraded to a subhuman condition. The rich “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:7). There is always a question as to what the threshold is, what should be deemed sufficient for the poor. But the examples cited by Amos and the other prophets seem clear enough. If people have to sell themselves into slavery to cover their debts, or get food to eat, that is surely unacceptable. ” -John J. Collins.

Good stuff!

a response to routledge and boda

Discuss an aspect of Old Testament theology as presented in Routledge or Boda and its significance for your developing dissertation idea. In your post,  include a brief overview of the topic as it is presented in Routledge or Boda, and then discuss points of significance for your own thinking on the topic.


An aspect of OT theology that is of significance for my developing dissertation idea was expressed primarily and most directly in Boda. My developing idea centers around the wilderness motif and how the wilderness was not just punishment for rebellion but also a means of forming Israel into a God’s people. In one way or another, each of Boda’s three creeds speak to the idea that the wilderness experience as formational and means of shaping Israel’s identity as a people.  In the narrative creed, where “God acts,” God led Israel out of Egypt and to Mt Sinai and then through their wilderness journey to the Promised Land.  He provided water (Ex 15), mana, and quail (Ex 16). He led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, etc.  The character creed, that speaks to God’s redemptive character, shows God was simultaneously gentle with Israel and yet judged them. [EDIT] Routledge talks about the role of suffering in the book of Job (255ff) and notes the concept of disciplinary suffering that, while it may not apply to Job, it could apply to Israel in their wilderness experience.  In conjunction with the Character creed, we can see that though God is a God of mercy and grace, he is also a God who may use suffering as punishment, also uses it to discipline and instruct (256). in a wilderness experience (a way of suffering), one can wonder, where is God?  Why is this happening? Routlege’s discussion of the hiddenness of God, trusting in his inscrutability and ultimate purposes can potentially give depth in understanding the wilderness motif. The relational creed will need more work but the fact of the Sinai covenant is a relational act, that God wanted to be in  relationship with Israel. The points of significance lie in the idea that “wilderness” is an aspect of formation and discipleship as his people continue to follow Christ and be led by his Spirit.

a response to Niehaus’ Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology and Hoffmeier’s Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?

Part A) In his work Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, Jeffrey Niehaus explores a “shared theological structure of ideas” (p. 30; a symphony of parallels) that he identifies as existing in the ancient Near East but finding its true form in Scripture. In our discussion time together, we will discuss his approach and argument. In preparation, we would like you to respond to one of the following questions. Your response should be approximately 150-200 words.

  • Provide a brief overview of the theological structure that Niehaus identifies in the ancient Near East and Scripture, and a fuller discussion on one aspect of the common structure. In your discussion of the parallel, briefly summarize his claims and provide your own analysis and thoughts.
  • How does Niehaus’s analysis of the shared theological structure inform or engage with what you have been studying in Oswalt or Walton? In other words, how do you understand his work to be engaging with these other scholars’ analyses. Are there points of alignment or disagreement?
  • What question(s) does Niehaus’s work raise for you, and what are some of your initial thoughts on your question?

Part B) In the edited volume Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, a number of Evangelical scholars explore important issues in biblical studies. Prior to our discussion time, we would like you to provide a brief write-up on one of the assigned chapters. You may choose to do your post on any of the assigned chapters. In your post include: (1) a brief overview of the question or issue under discussion in the chapter, (2) a summary outlining key points of the author’s response, and (3) a few of your own takeaways from the chapter. Your response should be approximately 150-200 words.

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Part A) the theological structure that Niehaus puts forth is this: “A god who works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom.” (loc 217-18 Kindle (God ways in ch 1) “The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people.  The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them. This can mean the founding of a city (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location. The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it.” Finally, hs says, “The royal kingdom is understood to be an act of divine creation or re-creation.” Niehaus goes on to say that this is the process we see in the Bible – that in the OT God wages war a prophet such as Moses against Pharoah and the gods of Egypt to liberate Israel and establish them as his people by Covenant and then places a temple (tabernacle) among them and so on (loc 229 kindle “God’s ways”)) – In the NT God wages war by way of the Son the prophet to liberate his people and establish a new covenant. So God is the good and wise suzerain (loc 236) He sees it as the theological backbone of the whole Bible.  It’s argued that the suzerain-vassal treaties were used to set up God as King over all the creation by way of covenant – first with Israel then, with all humanity through Christ. I think Neihaus may on to something and yet I found his approach different than what I saw in Oswalt and Walton. I am not quite sure how to explain it but his stresses were different.

Part B) (1) Many historical-critical authors do not believe the Exodus happened. In chapter 4, Hoffmeier demonstrates how a historical exodus is essential for theology (99). Hoffmeier notes that a distinguishing element of doing biblical theology is the historical element (99). Often, biblical theology focuses on the “history of redemption” and that in the sense that the Bible expresses historical realities, even if to highlight theological truths about God and his acts of redemption. The issue here is when there is seeming lack of archeological evidence for biblical claims and or events, how can we know if they really happened? Critical biblical scholars tend to cite a lack of evidence as a reason to say events in the Bible are not historically real. (2) Hoffmeier cites the work of William Albright, who asserted “In biblical faith, everything depends on whether the central events actually occurred.” (101).  Alright notes that very little has survived the ancient past due to issues of aging, or decay, or things like moisture, natural disasters as well as human impact.  Hence Wright feels too much burden of proof has been placed on archeology to confirm biblical events (101). (3) One thing that stood out to me, that I found helpful was Hoffmeier’s discussion of how writings can be evidence. He cites a case where a German colleague was willing to accept writings claiming that Thutmose III invaded Cannan despite archeological evidence and yet the same disregarded the Bible as evidence for a historical Exodus. Hoffmeier stated clearly that if scholars gave Thutmose III’s written claims benefit of the doubt, then the same should be done with the Exodus narratives thus showing the BIble can be an appropriate source of historical events (110).

Reponse to Oswalt’s The Bible among the Myths

a) What does Oswalt present as unique to Scripture in comparison with the broader cognitive environment of the ancient Near East? And what are one or two of the key implications?

If I understood Oswalt correctly, there are a couple of things Oswalt puts forth that makes the Bible unique.  The Bible is not a myth, and it is history. In arguing that the Bible is not a myth, Oswalt devotes much time to talking about worldviews. He contrasts the worldview of the ancients with the worldview of the Bible.  In the world of the ancients, continuity was the norm – that a thing could be so and not so at the same time, a more pantheistic view. Myth drove the sense of meaning and purpose for this worldview. It was regardless if it was true or not, it was the story put forth as giving meaning to their lives. Oswalt asserts the Bible is not a myth because it does not contain elements of myth because it does not hold to continuity in its worldview. In fact, “the Bible adamantly resists the principle of continuity” (80-81). By “resistant to continuity,” Oswalt means that God NOT part of the creation. Instead, God is transcendent and differentiated from the world/created order. “God is radically other” (81).  Oswalt argues for transcendence as the underlying principle of the Bible, and because of this, so is ethics. These are foundational to the monotheistic religion of Israel.  As the transcendent one, God is able to be apart from the creation and thereby put forth standards and expectations in a clear way (e.g., the Covenant). In a mythical context, there are no clear cut ethics though largely based on societal standards.  In the text of the Bible, ethics flow out of God’s covenant relationship with Israel and not potentially arbitrary societal standards.  Ethics are rooted then in Covenant and not society (86-87).

In arguing the historical aspect, it really is an extension of the section on myth.  Oswalt sees the issue of history as an extension of the idea that the Bible is not a myth.  For the mythical world of the ancients, myth gave meaning to life but was not considered history.  In fact, there was not history writing “per se” in the ANE (122).  Instead, what mattered was not the past but, “”now” and its continuation in the most comfortable, pleasurable, and secure manner possible” (122).  The goal was peace and order in society.  The Bible, in contrast, values people as individuals and values the notion that there are standards outside oneself by which one may be judged (125). The Bible values relationships, so, therefore, history is important because it highlights these relationships.  It also knows God can not be mocked and so the historical nature of the Bible tells things from God’s point of view and not man’s.  This is what makes the Bible unique in the ANE world; it is not a myth and it engages history.

c) Discuss briefly some of your initial thoughts on the significance of comparative studies for biblical theology? In your discussion address, one or two of the potential benefits or pitfalls of comparative studies as explained by Oswalt and Walton?

First I want to say, I really enjoyed reading Walton and gaining a better sense of the various aspects of the ANE world. I have not done enough reading in ANE material. He helped me to make a lot of connections in the Bible I hadn’t understood before, or had not thought about. This leads into the question of the value of comparative studies as it relates to biblical theology. Both Oswalt and Walton go to great lengths to show what sets the Bible apart from all the other literature in the ANE.

One key commonality between Oswalt and Walton’s books’ that show the value of comparative studies, is the notion of Ethics.  In the ANE world there were no ethics per se but responsibility to the community (Walton, 116; Oswalt, 87ff.). One had to live and act in accordance with societal standards.  Peace and order were the mandates and all were to act accordingly.  Morality was not a notion the ANE considered. They did not do or not do a thing because of morals, but because of responsibility to the community,  It was fear-based, fear of the gods, fear of disrupting order. The Bible stood in contrast because its worldview held that God is separate and that there were standards apart from oneself by which one can be judged.  In a society that seems to be confused about ethics and morality, the use of comparative studies can work with biblical theology in giving direction to a lost and dying world about where real meaning purpose lie, and the notion of ethics and morality. This, in turn, can contribute to the good of the social order that all want.

Review of Laniak’s Shepherd’s after my Own Heart (NSBT)

Laniak, Timothy S. Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible. New Studies in Biblical Theology, Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2006.

The major emphasis of this work is to explore pastoral leadership dynamics in light of the shepherd motif from the perspective of biblical theology. The notion of shepherds as leaders comes primarily from the Old Testament prophets and specifically from Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Other prophets utilize the concept but it is strongest in these two.  In Jeremiah 3:15 God tells him, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah realized that the nation of Israel had been misled, abused, and abandoned by self-serving shepherd leaders (and not just their Kings but also their priests and their prophets) (22). God is acting accordingly in that he unseated these self-serving shepherds and seeks to give Israel true shepherd leaders and ultimately “the” Shepherd leader who will lead them into the New Covenant.

One takeaway point for me is that in relation to my potential dissertation topic, just how much the wilderness motif flows through the whole of the Biblical corpus. Laniak states “Shepherd leaders in the Old Testament are understood as a part of the wilderness drama of God’s people. Jeremiah, like Isaiah and Ezekiel, finds in the ancient Sinai desert as a symbolic setting for the divine Shepherd’s work of provision, protection, and guidance. To the exiled community those prophetic voices predict a second exodus in their exilic wilderness, a new covenant, a renewed community” (22-23). So the point here is that though the “wilderness tradition” is found from Exodus 16 to around Numbers 20, you find mentions of the wilderness throughout Scripture from Abraham to Moses and Israel, to David, to the prophets, and into the New Testament. John the Revelator ventures into the wilderness via the Spirit in Rev 17.

The next takeaway point is that the character of a true Shepherd is revealed in the capacity to do the work of provision, protection, and guidance (23). Such capacity requires knowledge and understanding, which Laniak insists requires God’s heart and a sharp godly mind (22). The training grounds for learning these skill sets is found in the wilderness.  Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness shepherding and learning to lead.  David was a shepherd boy in the wilderness who learned leadership in preparation to be King of Israel.  Ultimately, Jesus fills the role of the “good shepherd” in the gospels. (he is also called the “chief shepherd” and the “great shepherd” in the New Testament.

If I offered a point of difference with Laniak it would be regarding his theology of the second exodus. My difference may not be that significant but for Laniak, the second exodus is rooted in wilderness and exilic language. Returning from Babylon to Jerusalem is seen as a second exodus. He notes it is predicted that Jesus will lead in a second exodus but seems to keep it connected to coming out of exile. In my view, the true second exodus took place at the cross where through his work on the cross the people of God are set free from sin and death. It is a spiritual exodus. The first exodus set God’s people free from physical slavery. The second exodus sets God’s people free from slavery to sin (Rom 6).  The difference is that by faith any can become part of God’s people and experience the benefits of the second exodus.  I could have missed it but I did not see the second exodus explained in this way in the book.

God Is Not In Control

Really great post here, Well worth the read. IMO.

According to Christian Scripture, there is a distinction between (1) God’s identity as sovereign king over creation, and (2) the manifestation of God’s sovereign kingship within creation.

God created the world as his temple, his dwelling place, and he created humans as his image-bearers within creation. His rule over the world was to be manifested by humans overseeing the spread of shalom and blessing. God charged humanity to rule over creation, subduing it, bringing about its flourishing and enjoying its rich abundance.

Everyone would clearly see God as sovereign king over creation and the reality that he truly was inhabiting his temple when God’s image-bearers were doing what he told them to do.

Faith Improvised

In anxious times we look to hold onto something certain. We seek guarantees and we want to believe that someone is in control. Christians find themselves saying things like, “God is sovereign and in control of this situation.”

But this is not a faithful representation of how Scripture portrays God’s sovereign kingship. This mindset has some unfortunate consequences. If we grow anxious, we may feel guilty about having a lack of faith that God is in control. Or, we may question God or blame God when bad things do happen.

According to Christian Scripture, there is a distinction between (1) God’s identity as sovereign king over creation, and (2) the manifestation of God’s sovereign kingship within creation.

God created the world as his temple, his dwelling place, and he created humans as his image-bearers within creation. His rule over the world was to be manifested by humans overseeing the spread…

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on “having church.”

“Having church” or “going to church” is less important than “being the church.” The “church” while in a technical sense is a gathering of people [in the first century, (Gk) “ekklesia” (often translated in the Bible as “church”) was a technical term for such gatherings (political, trade guilds, etc)].
Often “going to church” is an expression of “being the church” so I empathize with the concern of many to be able to gather (and what that looks like is usually culturally defined).
At the same time, the church isn’t a building, it is the people. The church is wherever the people of God are (“where any two or three are gathered…”).
Christians can “have church” nearly anywhere. In this present crisis, even globally, the concept and expression of “church” has been disrupted. Shaken (Hebrews 12:27 anyone?). Purified and refined.
Even so (in response to coronavirus), there has been a rush to get online so we can still “have church” (to still assemble together). Online church. Drive-in church. Many continue the normal “Drive by church” ha ha. Some wonder if in this new modality there has bee more preaching of the gospel than ever before? Perhaps. Many do with a pure heart. Others want to be sure to stay in front of people.
To be honest, it has been kind of overwhelming to see so much more live streaming going on. More zooming. More meeting. Some seem too really like it and that is good and well. I have done a couple live videos when I have never done them before. So I cannot talk much. It’s late at night, I opened a new post and this is what came out, lol.
Remember, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (Jn 3:16-17). Jesus came not to condemn but to save it. He came to save humanity from sin and death, from separation from God. He came that humanity might be reconciled to God, and to set things right as they should be. Although that work was completed, it is still being worked out in the world. It is up to the church (the people of God) to engage in that process of living as God’s people to minister that reconciliation between God and humanity.
Blessings,