Book Review: Karen Jobes’ “John through OT Eyes.”

It is with thanks to Kregel that I have the chance to offer a review of Karen H. Jobes latest work, John through Old Testament Eyes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2021).

Jobes (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor Emerita of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College and Graduate School. She is the author of several books and commentaries including Discovering the Septuagint and the award-winning 1, 2, and 3 John in Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series.

This commentary is good!! Some may think it is “meh” but that is because they may be missing the key aspect. It is important to know at the outset that this is not an exegetical commentary that works on the finer points of the biblical text or even exegeting the biblical words (there is some discussion of biblical words and their meaning but with the connection to the OT allusion and not for strict exegetical purposes). This commentary is “focused on reading the New Testament books through Old Testament eyes, and that goal shapes the content of this commentary” (14). Jobes’ comments on the text then, focus not on exegetical matters but on the connections to Old Testament passages that John himself either made direct references to or alluded to in the text of the Gospel. Thus, Jobes “focuses on the fourth Gospel as it relates to the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism and will only briefly (if at all) address issues typically found in exegetical commentaries” (14).

The purpose of this approach is to “reveal the history, rituals, images, metaphors, and symbols from the Old testament that give meaning to the Gospel of John’s teaching about Jesus – his nature and identity, his message and mission – and about those who believe in him” (back cover). John is as much a historical account of Christ’s life, but it is also done with theological interpretation. John recounts a historical event such as “Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross in Jerusalem,” but then provides evidence to interpret the significance of the historical event theologically as in “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross in Jerusalem, for our sins” (23). In this way the commentary seeks to go a little deeper into the text helping the reader understand the theological message of the Fourth Gospel’s account of Christ.

As an example, at the outset of the Gospel, John writes: In the beginning was the word… Jobes notes the direct connection to Genesis 1 and the creation narrative. This connection does several things but above all it ties Jesus to the creation event and demonstrates that Jesus was with God in the beginning because Jesus is God. So, the historical reality of the creation event is interpreted theologically to express that Jesus and God are one and the same and have been from before the beginning of the world.

Another example in John 2 with reference to the stone water jars (2:6). These jars were to be used for Jewish cleansing rituals and they were empty? Why is this? The interpretation of this reveals the emptiness of the rituals and their insufficiency to save or accomplish what the ritual is intended for. But also, Jobes reveals that jars fill of wine parallel that Old Testament truth that the abundance of wine represented God’s blessing and was symbolic of the promise of the messianic age implying shalom and well being for all (59).

Perhaps another example less obvious is in John 10 with reference to Jesus as the Shepherd. Verses 28-29 mention the that no one can be snatched out of Jesus’ hand or the father’s hand. Jobes says this suggests that there is but one divine had that protects. The reference to the sheep listening to his voice echos Psalm 95 and in the LXX where the reader is warned “if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (181). Those who don’t listen are compared to those who tested God in the wilderness in Ps 94 repeating their ancestors’ unbelief.

Some features of the commentary are excursus passages that explain what the structure of the text mean and a “going deeper” excursus. Each of this seeks to explain the theological significance of the text for the message of the fourth gospel and how it ties into the theme of “that you might believe…”

This commentary will be a great supplement to a good exegetical commentary on John and will help the pastor and or Bible teacher get at the historical context of the Fourth Gospel and to interpret the meaning theologically for application today. Jobes is a top notch scholar and her scholarship shines in this commentary.

Book review: 40 Questions about Biblical Theology

It is with thanks to Kregel Academic for the opportunity to do this review. The 40 Questions series has proven to be valuable on a number of levels and I think they do a good job overall with this one on Biblical Theology.


40 Questions about Biblical Theology by authors Jason S. De Rouchie, Oren R. Martin, and Andrew David Naselli is a work that seeks to “answer the most important and difficult questions about biblical theology to guide readers in their own study and practice” (back cover). This is accomplished by the selection of 40 questions one might come up with (or had not thought to ask) to learn more about the discipline of biblical theology; such questions as What is Biblical Theology? How does biblical theology compare to other ways of doing theology? What is the importance of continuity and discontinuity in biblical theology? What is the place of typology in biblical theology? etc. This book is not really meant to be an in-depth manual but more of a primer on the topic. Kregel has another book that is much more in-depth and would serve that purpose. It is their book Invitation to Biblical Theology.

The authors cite three different ways of doing biblical theology: analyze the message, trace a theme, tell the story (Question 10). So chapters (questions) are provided that touch on the different ways of doing biblical theology. Hence, the book is broken down into 5 parts: Defining Biblical Theology. (what is it?); Exploring Method in Biblical Theology (how is it done?); the next two parts illustrate Biblical Theology (showing examples of tracing themes and use of earlier Scripture in later Scripture): and then Applying Biblical Theology (how it can help the church and the believer). They cover many of the questions well and provide plenty of footnote material for the reader to follow up further in future study. There is a Scripture Index as well which is a “must have” for these kinds of resources.

My analysis/response:

I felt the book was fine and done well. There were some things I felt I would like to respond to in this review as I think they are pertinent to the conversation. I cannot write a response to all 40 Questions obviously so I would like to address a few things I noticed here and there in the book.

In the initial question, “What do we mean by Biblical Theology?” Andrew David Naselli notes the five types of biblical theology in Klink, III, and Lockett’s book Understanding Biblical Theology. They are Biblical theology as: (1) historical description (Barr); (2) history of redemption (Carson); (3) worldview story (Wright); (4) canonical approach (Childs), and (5) theological construction (Watson). Naselli states in a footnote (p19 n3) they are “not convinced” Klink, III and Lockett do well in their presenting the five types of biblical theology. Naselli goes further to say BT types 1 and 5 are not actually biblical theology and then asserts that the approach to biblical theology advocated in the book blends types 2, 3, and 4 (p.19).

He writes, “Redemptive History is a worldview story, and we analyze that story by studying the literary features of the unified canon” (p.19). (this left me feeling concerned they may not quite understand how a canonical approach to Biblical Theology works – I am still learning myself). He then puts forth their definition of biblical theology that reflects the blended approach. He offers short and a long definition:

The shorter version is “Biblical theology studies how the whole Bible progresses and climaxes in Christ” (p.20).

The longer version is “Biblical theology is a way of analyzing and synthesizing the Bible that makes organic, salvation historical connections with the whole canon on its own terms, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments progress, integrate, and climax in Christ” (p.20).

Naselli then goes on to explain each of the parts of the longer definition of Biblical theology: “organic,” “salvation historical,” “on its own terms,” etc. He says “When we refer to biblical theology, we mean whole-Bible biblical theology” (23). The assertion is that biblical theology always seeks to look at themes and topics in light of the whole Bible and that parts will always be analyzed, on their own terms, and then synthesized into the whole in an organic, salvation historical fashion. It seems the definition of biblical theology provided is really describing the method of Biblical theology as the history of redemption moreso than what biblical theology is on the whole which is really a form of biblical theological interpretation. It can be descriptive and it can be prescriptive depending on the topic or theme. As James Mead says in his book on Biblical theology, the attempt to define biblical theology can be difficult because sometimes the terms are ambiguous and not always clear and can be disputed. So this is an interesting definition of biblical theology that I think might actually be a method instead of a definition. I could be wrong.

I have read Kink III, and Lockett, I have read Mead, I have read Barr, I have read David Peterson’s book One Bible Two Testaments. So when reading this chapter (question #1) my concern was that in discounting the Klink, III and Lockett book and their presentation of distinct types of Biblical Theology, it felt a bit like the old “no true Scotsman” approach to defining things. The authors of 40 Questions about Biblical Theology have a clear preference for the type of biblical theology as the history of redemption which in blending the types as they do, is dismissive of the self claims of the other types of Biblical theology.

Essentially it was dismissing James Barr who was a leading figure in restoring the discipline of biblical theology. Biblical Theology can be descriptive and prescriptive so really Biblical theology as historical description is not an invalid form of doing biblical theology. Additionally, since it involves theological interpretation there is that element of theological construction so even Biblical theology as theological construction can be a valid way to do BT. I failed to see how doing Biblical theology as theological construction was not properly biblical theology. The issue is, attempts at categorization always find exceptions and may or may not fit the box they get put in. BT can be a bit fluid. Furthermore, terms like “organic” and “on its own terms” don’t always fit what actually happens when doing Biblical theology. It is not always smooth, or easy or only a whole Bible analysis. Plenty of work has been done on the parts without always integrating it into the whole. There is certainly value in doing whole Bible biblical theology but this is not to the negation of other ways.

One other aspect I wanted to respond to was the emphasis on the issue of finding Christ in the Old Testament. The authors of 40 Questions about Biblical Theology place great emphasis on the Old Testament as Christocentric- that every passage of the Old Testament will find its fulfillment in Christ. This is implied in their shorter definition. It is the focus of Question 3 “How does Biblical Theology help us see Christ in the Old Testament?” Arguing for “a multi-form approach” because “Jesus fulfills the OT in various ways,” “we should celebrate Christ when we read the Old Testament (p.42). This is certainly true but I think caution is needed to think every OT passage will find a connection to Christ. Instead, I side with Christopher Wright (Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, etc) and others that a Christotelic view is a better way of doing Biblical Theology. If we want to do “proper” Biblical theology per the direction of this book, engaging the text “on its own terms,” we will realize that not every passage will be about Jesus or even have a direct connection. Instead, Christotelic Biblical theology truly allows one to analyze the text in its literary and historical context on its own terms. It must be known that not all of the Old Testament passages often referred to as “Messianic” directly point to Jesus. For example, the burning bush in Exodus was a theophany not necessarily a Christophany. Moses had come directly into the presence of YHWH. Later in the New Testament, we may see a connection to Christ but in its own historical context, it was an encounter with YHWH.

My personal reflection

I think it is a good and useful book but one will need to be aware it is also from a strongly reformed (Calvinistic) and Baptistic point of view (the authors all went to Baptist seminaries) and reading of and doing Biblical Theology – especially as it related to the approach of Biblical Theology as redemptive history or salvation history. I think the book will be valuable to the average pastor though because not enough pastors are doing Biblical theology and with the emphasis on themes there are plenty of ideas for teaching and preaching. I appreciated the opportunity to read and review the book.

on the Atlanta shootings and the “problem” of porn in the Christian church

The Atlanta shooter was said to “love God and guns.” It turns out he loved pornography too. Apparently, he suffered “sexual anguish,” aka: guilt and shame because of his “addiction.”

What that guy did was wrong. It was misogynistic, hateful, and it terrorized the Asian community in Atlanta. His stated reasons for why he did what he did is also complex. He said he was “sexually addicted.” The idea of the possibility of being “addicted” to sex is highly debated. On the one hand, it is a natural normal biological activity, seen as a physiological “need.” Yet, on the other, one can control the desire for sex.

This is a complex issue in the Evangelical church. Should one who views pornography as a way to manage his sexual desire which is normal and even healthy, feel guilty for doing so? Well, sin has a tendency to do that. It causes one to feel guilt and shame. It comes from the devil and or own self hatred for doing what we know is wrong. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – the condemnation one feels is not from God, but from the devil who wishes to separate us from God. God desires that we see what we did was wrong, repent of that action, and turn to him for help.

Yet also, on the one hand, sexuality (and desire) is normal and natural and how God made us. God made the man and the woman, in Genesis 1-3, for one another, and he said it was good. Yet, on the other hand, the Bible consistently urges people to “flee (and or avoid) sexual immorality” and condemns such activity such that at the end of the book of Revelation, the sexually immoral are listed among those not allowed into the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:15; See also, Rom 13;13; 1 Cor 6:18; 10:18; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3). Christians are explicitly admonished to flee and to avoid sexual immorality.

For many, pornography (and its twin sin “m” which basically has to be done to get release from the viewing of porn, hence why it is a twin sin) is a vice. It encourages, demonstrates the practice of sexual immorality. “Porn” is seen in the Greek word “porneia” (πορνεία) which is the word most often translated as “sexual immorality,” which is simply the act of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse such as through prostitution, unchastity, fornication (or even in the act of adultery), which is having sex with someone not your husband or your wife on an intentionally consistent basis with no regard for what is right or for the other, or for whatever consequence may arise from such activity. Those who engage in it are “πόρνοι” (pornoi – sexually immoral persons; c.f., Rev 22:15). It is an act of dehumanization. Note, sexual intercourse within marriage is not dehumanizing but rather is good, and beautiful, and meant to be enjoyed in married life. It is when it is done outside that context with consistency and regularity and with disregard. This action demonstrates hostility to God and to what is right, which is why also it is so closely tied to idolatry.

I would venture that the person who views porn often and regularly is acting in defiance to God and what is right. this person should reconsider their actions. If they are a Christian, they need realize their defiance and reconsider their commitment to Christ.

What the difference is, is this – the occasional “sin” will not separate one from God or cause one to lose one’s soul to hell. What is worrisome is the ongoing consistent act of defiance against God to do what the self wants with no regard for God, or for what is right – or for the other. This is what will separate one from God. This is what will put one in danger of eternal separation from God and his goodness, his light, his life.

What the Atlanta shooter did was wrong. He should have sought help when he decided to shoot and kill the women he did. He has to take responsibility for his own actions. He cannot blame it on his supposed “addiction.” He worried he would lose his soul to hell and he went too far as to shoot and kill 8 people, 6 of whom where Asian women to try to rid his temptation. Now he will spend the rest of his life in jail as a consequence. It is too bad he did not reach out for help before committing this atrocity.

Perhaps the conversation around sexuality in the church needs to change. Too often the responsibility for men’s moral failures are put on the women (how they dress and or act) (note nothing is ever said about men tempting women and how men should change to make it easier for women). Adam blamed Eve for his own sin. This needs to stop. It must be remembered that each person, in the midst of temptation or the the act is “dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:145-15).

At the same time, the church tends to talk about sex like it is dirty, bad, and immoral, creating a culture of “eww” and “that’s gross,” so that, when couples do marry, sex is way too weird for them – and guys (and women too) who have “porn brain” (you can look it up, it is real thing) risk being dissatisfied due to the false intimacy they experienced viewing porn and then are not able to appreciate or experience intimacy and love that comes through the marriage relationship. So the conversations need to change. How the topic is discussed needs to change, and probably instead of in a hushed tone in quiet places, it needs to be talked about openly in a way that is not weird but is healthy and life giving.

on 1 Timothy 2:11-15

Regarding 1 Timothy 2:11-15 …. (these are my own thoughts trying as able to just stick with the text)

The focus of Paul’s letter to Timothy is in chapter 1:3-7 –

“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain persons not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”

Here Paul tells Timothy to:
1) command certain persons not to teach false doctrines any longer; (there was a false teacher among them) (v3)
2) to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies and that (v 4)
3)Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk (v6)
4) they want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about (v7)note in v 20 he calls out two men in particular who have shipwrecked their faithWhy is this important? because
5) Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work (v4).
6) he urges everyone to pray (2:1) and live quiet lives (2:2)

Why? Because there is one God and one mediator – Jesus Christ (2:5).

7) he repeats the exhortation to pray in 2:8 – don’t be angry, stop quarreling; dress modestly (in keeping with his exhortation for the men to live quiet lives (2:2)) learn in quietness (2:11).

Now he makes a shift to the singular:

8) there’s this woman, I do not permit her to teach or “αὐθεντεῖν” (don’t let her assume a stance of independent authority – or be domineering) (2:12) (Is she one of the ones in 1:7? She wants to be a teacher of the law, but she does not know what she is talking about?? She was teaching the false story of the fall…) In verse 11 he said women should learn.

She must be quiet….. (2:12)

It is imperative to get false teachers out of the church and not allow them to have a voice….

Nothing to see here about women not being able to teach or lead in the church…. the imperative is guarding against false teaching and usurping domineering type people… (men do it too).

“Is God really everywhere?”

A student asked in a DQ forum:

Don’t have to answer this in class but if you could respond in the private forum that’d be great. Is God really everywhere at once? Or is this just a misconception that I have from what I was told when I was younger?

The IA responded via private message:

It is true. We teach that God is omniscient (all-knowing, or infinitely knowing), omnipresent (all-present or infinitely present), omnipotent (all-powerful or infinitely powerful), and omnibenevolent (all loving or infinitely good). One good example of this from the Bible is in Psalm 139 where the Psalmist asks in verse 7, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” He then proceeds to say he can go to the far side of the sea and God is there; he can go to the depths of the earth and God is there – everywhere he goes, God is there. God is always present everywhere with us in all of creation because he is transcendent above it, so he is able to be everywhere in all of creation. The Psalmist then declares: “even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” This vital truth is both scary and comforting at the same time. You cannot run or hide from God. He is always everywhere present, and yet we can know because of this, he will always be with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will ever be with us to guide us and hold us near to him.


QOTD: on Loving God and Loving others

Dorotheus of Gaza, a sixth century desert abbot, asks us to imagine a circle with God in the center and us and our neighbors around the rim. When we and our neighbors move closer to each other, the circle gets smaller so that we also move closer to God. And when we move closer to God, we move closer to our neighbors. Thus love for God and love for neighbor naturally go together. As Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-40).So before asking how we can perceive our neighbors, we will ask how we can perceive God. If we see something of God,, we will be able to recognize his image in our neighbors.

-From Nonna Harrison’s book God’s Many Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 49.

A reflection of Shultz’s Reforming Theological Anthropology

These are responses to questions listed on the discussion board for Evangelical Seminary’s course CT902: The Formation of the Human Person.

Question 1In your reading of Shults, what did you learn or notice anew about ‘relationality’? How would you characterize your overall response to using relationality as a framework for exploring the richness of what it means to be human?

The concept of theological anthropology is new to me as is the concept of relationality.  I had not engaged this issue before.  Some parts of the book were new, others were not new but I had not read them in light of relationality,  I thought Shultzs use of Kegan and Loeder was interesting because I engage their work somewhat in my chaplain residency and had awareness of the need to self differentiate and how that would affect one’s understanding of life experiences such as being admitted to the hospital.  But really how successful one is in working through relationality will depend on which “fiduciary structure” one is in. It will affect how open you are to others and to learning and growing, even having that “transforming moment.” Changing relation can be a scary thing and without good support and or fiduciary “structure,” that can be deconstructive, not re-constructive.  Clearly Shultz, despite his own deconstruction is not wanting to deconstruct his reader’s understanding of relationality but to help transform it. I suppose there was some transformation in the reading process. However, it seems for that to take place at a deep level one needs to stay in it for a time. I do admit my overall response to the book was a mix of cautious and somewhat ambivalent. I don’t think this is because I am in the traditionalist fiduciary structure per se but maybe it is. I will have to consider it further.  

Question 2Employing the framework Shultzs describes in chapter three (the dialectic between theological and psychological experiences of fear), what have you found strengthens or inhibits your own transformational learning in your doctoral work/research? How might those insights inform your preparation for teaching/presenting later in this course?

I am okay with the dialogue between theology and psychology as I feel they are very closely related. As I stated already it was interesting he used Kegan’s work to talk about how people will move forward in understanding relationality. He speaks of repression and fear as if they are blockers for growth and change, even transforming change. I think that is true that they are factors.  The growth and transformation often happen slowly and unnoticeably, until it is noticeable.  Fear can play a role in how fast that change happens.  Too much and not enough can be real issues.  

As to my own experience in this program, if there has been transformational growth it is not super obvious to me right now,  It has been stressful in my personal life with managing work and family, and kids. I think I have given in too much to the psychological fear of succeeding in this program. Will I pass the comp? WIll the dissertation even make sense. I feel my work hasn’t been the best that it can be and often I know it could be better and that upsets me and that hinders the growing experience a bit. Even though my learning environment has always been warm and supportive and encouraging, and I really do like the track focus, I almost literally physically and emotionally burned out at the end of the last term (which is what our ‘Rule of Life’ project was supposed to help us prevent – help us set rhythms in place to avoid burn out). I think I will be fine from here on out, but I do need to be more careful in this final term. I will need stoutness of heart and the courage I mentioned to have confidence and put that into the presentation and not let my fears and anxieties overrule me in the coming weeks. 

Question 3As you engaged with Shults’s proposals for reforming theological anthropology in Part III, which of them did you find most challenging, and why? How did you respond at first, and how has that response deepened or shifted for you as you continued to process the challenge? 

Here is where I am at with this – it felt like the first two parts were the long-winded way of saying, how you think of sin, and human nature and, the imago dei is wrong.  Here is a better way to look at it.  I see the value of mixing theology and modern views to discern what it is we believe, but as a biblical track student, I did recoil slightly at a few places,  I know that Shultz has since become an atheist and I felt this section show the path for how that may have happened for him. Even so, while there are modern concerns to consider in such a topic as human nature and sin, the Bible remains our final rule for faith life and practice.  I will need to consider his definition further as he says that “sinning has to be understood in the context of its relation to the general human longing for goodness” (ch 9 kindle). Lots of people long for goodness and it’s not found in God. For others it is. Yet, it seems, maybe I see it differently than he does, but in my view while humans were made good in the beginning, they became sinful. The sin lies in disobedience, and perhaps in terms of relationality, it was changing one’s relation in the wrong direction, away from God instead of towards him. 

My issue with what Shultz had presented then was, that if I disagreed with his conclusions did that mean I am not in the right fiduciary structure to be able to receive what he has to say? if I think he is wrong, is that my fear or epistemic anxiety speaking? These were some of my challenges with the book.  In the end, he had some really good things to say, and some good theological assertions I liked and thought were well worded. It’s too bad he walked away from the goodness of God.

Is God affected by our Prayers? An Open view.

by Terence E. Fretheim (2012)

When asked about their prayers, many people say that God has three answers available: Yes, No, and Wait (or some variation thereof). I invite you to consider an additional response: God has determined to answer prayers in a positive way, but God’s will to do so is being successfully resisted. This resistance may come from within ourselves (e.g., our arrogance), but it may also come from powerful factors at work in the context about which we are praying.

Some people speak with too much confidence regarding the effectiveness of prayer. I pray for a parking place, and lo! one appears around the next corner. Or, the efficacy of prayers is related to the depth of one’s faith. Really? Do you suppose that the apostle Paul did not have enough faith, and that was why his prayer to remove the thorn in his flesh failed?

Among believers, a remarkably limited sense regarding the efficacy of prayer is common. Sometimes, prayer is nothing more than a meditation that centers us or quiets us down, like a good nap! Others will extend the point: Prayer has an effect on the relationship between the one praying and God; the relationship is, say, made more mature. But all too often, change is thought to occur only on the human side of the relationship. Yet, the Bible claims that God is also affected by prayers offered. Many biblical texts claim that prayers do have an effect upon God and do shape the future (e.g., Exod 32:7-14; 2 Kings 20:1-7; Luke 18:1-8). God will take the human expression of concern with utmost seriousness, not least because God values the relationship and honors it. Somehow, the power of God is made more available in a situation because we have prayed.In such considerations, much depends on one’s image of God. For some believers, God cannot be affected by our words and God certainly cannot be persuaded by what we say. God will do what God will do — regardless of what people have to say. At the same time, prayer is sometimes so conceived that God always gets God’s way. God’s will always gets done! Or, does it?

Consider several factors. Our relationship with God is not mechanical in nature, as if our prayers triggered in God some already programmed responses. One must insist on the living, dynamic character of the relationship. Responses within any relationship — with human beings or with God — are never programmed or predictable, even between those who know each other very well. And this is even more the case in that God is God and we are not. Another factor to be taken into account is the pervasiveness of sin and evil that can get in the way of God’s responses to our prayers. For example, we pray for healing, and healing is not forthcoming. When that happens, we may end up blaming God for not answering our prayers. We so often make God the “heavy” in these matters.

In fact, however, it may have been the medicine we were (not) taking or a member of the medical community who blew it.Sometimes when we pray, we may think: all that is at work in this situation is our prayer and God. But a multitude of other factors are present in any given moment of prayer. Some of those factors may be so resistant to God’s will, that God’s will does not get done. The accumulated effects of sinfulness may be so powerful that even God’s options are limited (in view of promises made, to which God will be faithful). And God’s heart is the first heart to break, and God’s tears the first to flow. An analogy may be suggested: human sinfulness has occasioned numerous instances of the misuse of the environment. Some of that misuse (e.g., pesticides) has caused cancer in human beings and devastated animal populations. Human beings may be forgiven by God for their sin, but the effects of their sinfulness will continue to wreak havoc beyond the act of forgiveness.

We confess that in response to prayer God is at work in these effects, struggling to bring about positive results in and through human (and other) agents. It is not a question as to whether God wills good in the situation. The issue is God’s relational commitments that may entail self-limiting ways of responding to evil and its effects in the world. Anti-God factors may be powerfully present and shape the future in negative ways, even for God.To conclude, prayer is a God-given way for God’s people to make a situation more open for God, to give God more room to work, knowing that God always has our best interests at heart. Prayers do shape the future in ways different from what would have been the case had no prayers been uttered. At the same time, the people of God are not in the hands of an iron fate or a predetermined order of things. God’s will may be successfully resisted or God may be open to taking new directions in view of new times and places. Yet, never changing will be God’s steadfast love for all, God’s saving will for everyone, and God’s faithfulness to promises made.

– Terence E. Fretheim (1936-2020) taught Old Testament theology at Luther Seminary (St. Paul MN) for 45 years.

QOTD: Robert P. Menzies

From the pen of Pentecostal scholar and theologian Robert Menzies:

Pentecostals, today, likewise affirm that every Christian has been called and promised the power [of the Spirit] needed to become bold, Spirit-inspired witnesses for Jesus. The Church is nothing less than a community of end-time prophets … The Church, in “these last days,” Luke declares, is to be a community of prophets — prophets who are called to take the message of “salvation … to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

Read more here….

Terry Fretheim and the Renewal of Creation Theology


One of my favorite Old Testament scholars, Terence Fretheim, died yesterday (November 16, 2020).

Terry was both a wonderful person and a brilliant biblical scholar. He excelled both in detailed exegesis of the Old Testament and in his reflections on the theological and ethical meaning of of this ancient text.

The first book of his that I read was The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (1984), which was a short but profound study of how God is affected by us. Although the book focuses on the Old Testament, it helpfully laid the foundation for understanding the coherence of both Testaments, since the same God who allowed himself to be affected by humanity at the flood (God’s heart was grieved by human evil) and by Israel’s unfaithfulness (see the prophet Jeremiah), ultimately became incarnate and went to the cross for our sake.

I found some similarity…

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