Priorities or Priority | Greg McKeown

Greg McKeownThe word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. … Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality.

—Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 16.

From Pentecost to Patmos | Craig L. Blomberg

The cover of Blomberg's From Pentecost to PatmosWhen I returned to Seminary in the fall of 1999, my first professor assigned Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey. I was hooked. Blomberg pulled me into the world of the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with his knack for explaining details without needless complexity.

That book on the Gospels evolved from a set of lecture notes Blomberg used to teach undergraduate and graduate students. In 2006, Blomberg’s lecture notes on the rest of the New Testament received similar treatment resulting in From Pentecost to Patmos. The two volumes together take you through the entire New Testament.

Some features of the classroom lectures make their way into the book. There are a scattering of very helpful charts for understanding key ideas. Also, each section ends with a series of thoughtful questions to help students process the material more thoroughly.

Blomberg’s approach to the New Testament is thoroughly conservative. In the introduction to each book he always affirms traditional authorship, although dissenting views are surveyed.

The best quality of this book is Blomberg’s respect for the biblical text itself. He dedicates the bulk of his writing to bringing out the structure and content of the text.

I spend most of my time, … surveying the actual structure and contents of each book, the main points in each section, the distinctive exegetical cruxes, and several key items for contemporary application. (3)

From Pentecost to Patmos is a textbook for seminarians. However, any thoughtful Christian would benefit greatly from reading Blomberg’s book alongside the New Testament during morning devotions.

Disclaimer: B&H Academic provided me a review copy of this text free of charge.

—Craig L. Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts Through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006).)

Dataclysm | Christian Rudder

The cover of Rudder's DataclysmOKCupid is an online dating site with 12 year track record (and counting). The site was launched by a group of friends including Christian Rudder, who is now the leader of the website’s analytics team. Translation: he has access to massive amounts of data.

Dating websites collect data in various forms. You can look at what people say in response to specific questions, but you can also see how people behave. Rudder, a self-confessed math nerd, wrote many algorithms to explore this data and bring people’s behaviour to light en masse. He tells the story of this data through well designed graphs and charts.

Here are some of the (politically incorrect) things I’ve learned:

  • Men are far more generous than women when rating the attractiveness of the opposite sex.
  • Women find men around their age to be the most attractive while men of any age find twenty year olds to be the most attractive.
  • People prefer partners from their own race with one exception: every race prefers to date white people.
  • A list of frequently used terms broken down by race shows that white people are basically indie-rock lumberjacks.
  • Straight men and women along with gay women talk about their sexuality while gay men focus on culture (e.g. “anything on bravo” (181)).

Are you appalled? Remember, this is not what we say we are or what we aspire to be. This is what big data analysis demonstrates we are, whether it sounds right or not.

Dataclysm is a fascinating look at human relationships that no survey could ever tell. It’s truly “Who We Are When We Think No One’s Looking.”

—Christian Ridder, Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2014).

God as Subject | Abraham J. Heschel

Abraham J. HeschelGod is never an “it,” but is constantly given as a personal spirit, manifesting Himself as subject even in the act of thought addressed to Him. Those who objectify Him falsify Him. Those who surrender to Him are approached by Him.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 622.

The Shadow of the Almighty | Ben Witherington III & Laura M. Ice

The cover of Witherington & Ice's The Shadow of the AlmightyThe Trinity—one God in three persons—is a challenge to understand. To make matters worse, scripture contains no explicit theology of the Trinity. It does, however, speak often of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This type of biblical language is what Witherington III and Ice study in The Shadow of the Almighty.

The authors argue that “Father” language for God is not prevalent in the Old Testament. God desired to be a Father to Israel, but Israel was unfaithful. It is only when Jesus became incarnate that God was spoken of as Father. He is the unique father of Jesus (who called him my Father). The church, having received adoption into the family of God, now calls God our Father.

The Shadow of the Almighty is a helpful survey of Father, Son, and Spirit language in scripture. The authors help to make a complex topic more accessible.

—Ben Witherington III and Laura M. Ice, The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son, and Spirit in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

The Prophets | Abraham J. Heschel

The cover of Heschel's The ProphetsThe Hebrew prophets are fascinating. They were an important part of Israel’s life, yet they often spoke of their rulers in very unflattering terms. When national life turned sour, the prophets were there to interpret geopolitical events from God’s perspective.

History to us is the record of human experience; to the prophet it is a record of God’s experience. (219)

In other words:

Prophecy, then, may be described as exegesis of existence from a divine perspective. (xxvii)

Abraham Heschel’s lengthy study on the prophets is poetic and insightful. The first half of the book is a survey of the various prophets and the main themes that consumed them. If you have ever struggled with reading the prophets, these chapters are a goldmine of information and inspiration.

The second half of the book is concerned with the prophets themselves. How is it that humans can speak for God? The answer centres on Heschel’s idea of God’s pathos. For Heschel, the Holy One of Israel, Maker of heaven and earth, is utterly transcendent. God never reveals himself to humans. Instead, he reveals his pathos.

The pathos of God is his heart of God for man, which takes on various forms such as “love and anger, grief and joy, mercy and wrath” (618). This is what the prophet engages when he or she encounters God. From the perspective of a prophet:

God’s presence is my first thought; His unity and transcendence, my second; His concern and involvement (justice and compassion), my third. (619)

Prophets are so in touch with God, they are able to sympathize with God’s pathos. Matters which may seem small to humans such as imbalanced scales take on cosmic importance when viewed through God’s justice.

The prophets are so moved by their encounters with God that they can seem unhinged to the rest of the world. Unlike the diviners of other contemporary cultures, however, they are not mad. The Hebrew prophets did not lose themselves in some sort of mystical absorption into the divine. Prophets (like Habakkuk, for example) can engage God in dialogue. They bring their own lives into the prophetic process.

I need to challenge Heschel on one point. He insists that the prophets never encounter the transcendent God. Instead, they encounter God-towards-man, or God’s pathos. “Revelation means, not that God makes Himself known, but that He makes His will known” (620). From a Christian perspective, the miracle of the incarnation is precisely that God has made Himself known in Jesus. In a very real sense, Jesus is the pathos of God made flesh.

Heschel’s comprehensive study of the Hebrew Prophets deserves continued engagement today.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).