Bags of Bran


Burroughs on Simplifying Your Life
December 14, 2016, 3:57 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia

Jeremiah Burroughs may not be the master of organization, but he illustrates his points beautifully. In his little volume The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, he makes this call to disengage and simplify our lives:

Do not be greedy of taking in a great deal of the world, for if a man goes among thorns, when he may take a simpler way, he has no reason to complain that he is pricked with them. You go among thorns — is it your way? Must you of necessity go among them? The it is another matter. But if you voluntarily choose that way, when you may go another, then you have no cause to complain. If men and women will thrust themselves on things of the world which they do not need, then no wonder that they are pricked, and meet with what disturbs them. For such is the nature of all things here in this world, that everything has some prick or other in it.

Well said.



From Beowulf
November 8, 2016, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia

Interesting passage from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, lines 170-188:

These were hard times, heart-breaking
for the prince of the Shieldings; powerful counsellors,
the highest in the land, would lend advice,
plotting how best the bold defenders
might resist and beat off sudden attacks.
Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge
of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and High King of the World
was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he
who in times of trouble has to thrust his soul
in the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help;
he has nowhere to turn. But blessed is he
who after death can approach the Lord
and find friendship in the Father’s embrace.



Commendable Perspectives
December 28, 2015, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Bibliophilia, Destined to get me in trouble

As you loyal readers (both of you) know, I haven’t written much lately, whether on this site or any other. The reason is that I have discovered that many of the things I would say are very often better said by other people, and my greatest service to you would be to direct you to them. When John the Baptist instructed his followers to follow Jesus instead, he was doing them the greater service than if he had merely tried to poach Jesus’ sermons and pass them off as his own.

With that in mind, I commend to you Tom Chantry’s blog, chantrynotes. He writes from a Reformed Baptist perspective, and as a Baptist myself, I find his critiques and observations especially apt. As I always say, I never give an unqualified endorsement; but Chantry usually does a good job.

In particular, I commend this particular article, where the author rightly points out that John Piper’s evident lack of stability and consistency is symptomatic of an utter lack of discernment. He has no ability to tell the moral worth of anything beyond the theological categories yucky and yummy. Chantry has it right.



The Combat Shelf: James
September 2, 2015, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia, Biography

I am going to be finished preaching through the book of James as of this coming Sunday, Lord willing. I found it to be a somewhat difficult book in places, and in other places, highly intuitive. It was helpful to keep in mind the early date and the occasion as I went through the book. It is easy, in a book that strikes some commentators as having no coherence, to lose the thread that stitches the book together, but remembering that James was pre-Pauline and written to a Jewish-minded diaspora helped significantly.

If you’re planning a trip through James, I hope I can help you by pointing out a few things that surprised me: First, I sometimes underestimated how tough James’ Greek can be. Some spots are really difficult. Second, it would be very easy to atomize the text. Some like to call James “the Proverbs of the New Testament,” and that is a dangerous tendency. I had to work out the connections among the passages: they are available. Third, I ended up preaching some very long and some very short passages. Normally, I’m a 3-6 verse guy, but some texts needed more biblical support. Others could not bear dissection.

What books were helpful to me?

Very Good Commentaries:

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James, Anchor Bible. This study was very sensible, conservative (!), and not overly concerned to provide the definitive answer to either Luther or the Tübingen School. His translation notes will aid the student of Greek without bogging him down.

Sophie Laws, The Letter of James, Black’s Harper’s New Testament Commentary. Another sensible study. More terse than Johnson, but a persuasive interpretation throughout, with adequate discussion of alternatives. Frequent, helpful reminders of the thread of James’ letter.

R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James. I did not often defer to Lenski’s idiosyncratic interpretations, but I often read them to catch some of the spirit of the writer. Lenski had a knack for shining a light into the penumbra of a text that helps me to be a more careful reader.

Decent Commentaries:

Craig Blomberg, James, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Blomberg was usually helpful on technical matters. His interpretation often whifs slightly of NPR sensibilities. It is one thing to comment on the needs of the poor when James comments on the needs of the poor; it is another thing to salt your discussion with loaded words such as “oppression” and “justice,” as though such words have not changed their meaning over nearly two millennia.

Joseph Mayor, The Epistle of Saint James. Why would I have the audacity to call the venerable Mayor only a “decent” commentary? Simply because, unless one is engaged in academic study of the epistle, Mayor is probably going to be cumbersome. He is brilliant, foundational, and indispensible for deep study: seminarian, nobody is going to question you for having Mayor in your bibliography. But for the needs of a pastor, he can be more than a tad dense. His introductory article on the authorship of James is worth owning the volume, however.

Spiros Zodhiates, The Behavior of Belief: An Exposition of James Based on the Original Greek Text. I started out reading this volume faithfully every week, but then it simply grew tiresome. It is not as though it does not occasionally have a good insight. Zodhiates atomizes the text down to individual phrases and then writes essays about them, and thus, takes your eyes off of the goal. There might be a reason that this book is so rare.

R. V. G. Tasker, James, Tyndale new Testament Commentaries. This little volume was sometimes surprisingly helpful and clear where the other commentaries were perhaps a little foggy and verbose.

Kurt A. Richardson, James, New American Commentary. It came with SLOGOS. It did not harm me.

John Calvin, Catholic Epistles, Calvin’s Commentaries. Calvin was typically helpful from a pastoral perspective, though I differed from him more often in James than I have in other books. Still worth owning the set.

Save Your Money

David Platt, Exalting Jesus in James, Christ-Centered Exposition. Good heavens. Pick a difficult passage in James and watch Platt follow his heart through it, in affected, billowy prose, without substantive argument.

In that light I would like to describe something God has done in my life and family that I would not necessarily prescribe ( or suggest that God prescribes) for others. But I share this part of my own spiritual journey to shed light on how James 1: 19-25 has affected my life personally.

One could spend an afternoon whacking the moles in Platt’s writing, but this lumbering construction is fairly typical of the book. One wonders if he had to add things like this to make a word count.

My only mild regret is that I did not buy Moo’s volume in the Pillar set, which comes highly recommended. I have used Davids (NIGTC) before, but he is in such essential agreement with Dibelius (and I am in such essential disagreement with Dibelius) as to the nature of the epistle that it was not really all that helpful. Plus, Blomberg had plenty of technical material.

Happy studies!



I Like Hymnals, But…
May 29, 2015, 10:34 am
Filed under: Bibliophilia, Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

This morning’s barrage of marketing e-mails included a rather interesting plug for a new hymnal, which, in a kind-hearted gesture, they allow you to peruse full-text. It’s supposed to be a student hymnal, with devotional material and an introduction for each song. That’s nice, I thought, as long as the devotional material is not therapeutic self-affirmation at Christ’s expense. In genuine praise, I must say that only about 10% of the songs were written by the editors of the volume (in this case, [EDIT: NOT GETTY/TOWNEND, BUT BARBARA AND DAVID LEEMAN, who are somehow affiliated with] Getty/Townend), which is in my estimation a mark of modesty compared to some other hymnals I’ve seen.

Something isn’t quite right, however: it is a hymnal of only 115 songs, so in a church setting, it could really only function as a supplement; and even in a chapel setting it would probably be barely sufficient. One could hope that its limited scope would be reflected in its price.

I would have swallered my chaw at the price of $40, but alas, I chaw not; and then I saw that the list price was actually $52, at which I nearly went out and bought some chaw to swaller. Fifty-two dollars for one hundred fifteen songs!

I could turn around in this very chair and count a score of hymnals on my combat shelf  for which I paid around a dollar at thrift stores and bookstores. And they have treasure in them, not just favorites. I am not saying that the Gettys et al. should not get paid what they are worth (although I might esteem that differently than the market at large), but who is actually going to buy a $52 songbook for his children?!



Reformations Need Reformers
January 2, 2015, 11:42 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia, Destined to get me in trouble

We (inclusive) could use a few.

I refer you to the two ire-provoking articles. If you’d like, you can come back and read what happened when I became provoked. Or you can go and do something productive about it. I trust your judgment.

Popular Scholarship, they know about popular…

And…

Salvation by Grace

We’re ripe for reformation for lots of reasons, but one (among many) is the low level of popular scholarship that gets published. What makes it worse is the predictable list of established men who are willing to lend their own marketable credibility to slovenly, derivative works; and whatever their motivation might be, it’s not helpful. We’ve got ourselves a hot-footed stampede of nascent Ph.D.’s who wish, more than anything, to become conference-circuit gurus, and they’re writing books by the conference-circuit tablefull. This is not a recipe for good theology, but for repetitive, reductionist, populist theology. How new ideas could make their way into such an insular matrix is matter for more serious minds to explore.

You’d never guess it (pfft), but I’m not really a man of letters myself. I and others like me need to lean on men of letters to do our jobs well. When the men of letters all seem to be doing tricks for treats, seminary students, pastors, and lay folk (who laudably desire to improve themselves) are lulled into thinking  Zeitgeist thoughts after them. And people like me, not wanting to join all that Zeitgeist, tend to use older works or works from different traditions where derivation is not so much celebrated. That’s one reason, for example, I use Markus Barth when studying Ephesians; and probably one reason (besides contractual obligations) why some guys don’t. Not that it necessarily makes me a better preacher: I only hope that listening to different voices will keep me from becoming a windsock.

I commend to you a survey the lives of the major Reformers: they were educated men from a day when a good portion of your education would have been writing a commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences. Now, that may have been a good exercise, but it tended to narrow one’s speculations considerably!

So, how did the Reformers find their way clear of the labyrinth of medieval scholasticism? Read some of their works, such as Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and anything you can find by Zwingli. Ten pages from each author will probably suffice to demonstrate that these men were sailing before a different wind than most of our contemporary scholars. They were educated in the company schools, but were not company men.



Another lesson from Philippians: some books are better than others
November 17, 2014, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Bible, Bibliophilia, Personal Adventures | Tags: ,

My Philippians Combat Shelf would include the following volumes:

Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998).  Bockmuehl was sensitive to the larger discussion, but was primarily driven by the flow of Paul’s thoughts. Of all the commentaries I consulted, I looked forward to Bockmuehl’s perspective because he seemed, of all the authors, to have the best grasp of the mind of Paul. Needless to say, he was regularly a sane and trustworthy guide through difficult passages.

Moises Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2005). Silva was routinely full of good sense. He often helped me with structure and exegetical decisions, which he lays out with great clarity. When you disagree with Silva, you know exactly why. Highly recommended.

Fred Craddock, Philippians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985). Don’t let the slender size of this volume, or the fact that it lives in the Interpretation series (a friend called it the “liberal Ironside commentary set”) dissuade you from the clarity that is Craddock. He blazes an often frustratingly narrow trail through the text, sometimes through the weeds and into the ditch. But his clarity and insightful reading of the text, uncluttered with ponderous research, was refreshing.

Lightfoot. Nobody needs me to defend the use of Lightfoot. His tome is an embodiment of painstaking research and thus inefficient for time-crunched prep, but necessary reading nonetheless. His discussion of the Praetorian Guard is unparalleled. Nothing comes off as half-baked in this volume.

Other helpful volumes include:

H.G.C. Moule, Philippian Studies. This is good supplementary reading, but less often helpful than I imagined it would be.

Ralph Martin, Philippians, IVP. Martin was occasionally a voice in the wilderness. Worth owning, and probably affordable.

Calvin. Calvin needs an updated translation to make his rich insights a little less blocky. Very sensible and pastoral though, as one would expect from Calvin.

Lenski. He’s quirky and ornery, but often brilliant. Sometimes his quirkiness and orneriness were good for my sermons. Lenski is often blustery in the absence of firm evidence (aren’t we all?), and not exactly well-researched, but nevertheless, I found myself consulting him week by week.

Don’t waste your money:

Frank Thielman, NIV Application Commentary. I liked Thielman’s NT Theology. I thought I’d like this volume, but I found it to be derivative and often a bit shallow in the first chapter and a half or so that I consulted it. The applications themselves reminded me of a sermon on evangelism delivered by someone who never ever interacts with actual people outside the evangelical ghetto.

Ironside. I honor Ironside as a man, but his exegetical insights remind me of somebody playing with Duplo blocks. This is one of the first “commentaries” I ever bought, so I was hopeful to be able to use some insight or another, but I felt that his judgments were birthed more from his own blandly orthodox impressions than from Paul’s.




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Like sawdust, but edible.

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I have spoken the truth coldly; who cares for the truth? To be useful, one must be charming, and my pen has lost that art.

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Planting churches with the Baptist Confession in one hand and Tolkien in the other

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Plucking fruit from the grove of biblical and theological studies

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Music in the service of the church

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Promoting true conservative Christianity

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