Chris Tilling – Eerdmans 2018 Advent Calendar (December 12th 2018)

I’ve been writing about this all Advent, so I’m sorry about the redundancy, but I just had to share today’s Eerdmans calendar video.  It is absolutely hilarious!

Each day the Eerdmans calendar reveals a new Advent greeting from an Eerdmans author and today it’s Chris Tilling.  Enjoy!

You can check out the full Advent Calendar info at their blog WEBSITE.

Or you can view the Advent Calendar directly HERE.


Review of Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright | JBTS Online



Review of Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright – Ben Kim

Wright, N.T. Paul: A Biography. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2018, pp 464, $29.99, Hardcover.

N.T. Wright is widely known as one of the most prominent Pauline scholars of today and a retired Anglican bishop. He has gained much attention in the academic field for his view on the new perspective on Paul, which has stirred up much debate among Pauline scholars. One of his most recent works that addresses this issue is Paul and the Faithfulness of God, which was published by Fortress Press in 2013. Currently, the author holds the position of Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

In this book, Wright takes a biographical approach in dealing with Paul’s life and theology. He begins with Paul’s upbringing as a young Jew living in Tarsus, and takes the readers through Paul’s entire life until the final years before his death. In order to help the reader better understand the shaping and substance of Paul’s theology, Wright traces through known aspects of Paul’s missionary journeys while filling in gaps of knowledge with his thoughtful speculations. The author divides his work into three parts: the beginning of Paul’s life, Paul’s missionary journeys, and final years of Paul’s life.

In part one, Wright chronologically takes his readers through the early stages of Paul’s life, including Paul’s conversion experience. He surmises portions of what Paul’s early childhood may have been like by comparing it with what would have been the typical lifestyle of an elite Jewish boy of that time. Though these thoughts are largely Wright’s personal conjectures, Wright does an excellent job in carefully looking at the tradition of the Jews of Paul’s days in order to offer perspective into what might have shaped Paul’s – or then, Saul’s – vicious zeal to persecute followers of the Way. In the telling of Paul’s conversion experience that took place from the road to Damascus, Wright expands on the importance of Paul’s personal experience during his trip to Arabia after encountering the risen Lord – something that is not explicitly explained in the book of Acts. By considering Paul’s potential thoughts on being confronted by Christ and his own conversion, Wright walks the reader through the formation of Paul’s reshaped worldview.

In part two, which makes up the majority of this work, the author deals with Paul’s missionary journeys throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. In this section, Wright meticulously traces through Paul’s visits to each city and town to understand Paul’s new life as an apostle for Jesus Christ. And as he traces through Paul’s visits to these cities, Wright does not fail to give the readers detailed information about religious, socio-economical, and political stances of these cities and towns, thereby helping the reader better understand the situations Paul was dealing with. Wright highlights the mistreatment and suffering that Paul experienced in various cities such as Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Caesarea in order to provide insight into the shaping of Paul’s theology and the reasons behind why and what he wrote in his letters to the early churches. As he did in the previous section, Wright includes several of his personal reflections, and thus, Wright’s own theological view seeps into these chapters. This is especially evident as Wright advocates for the new perspective on Paul, and particularly when he uses dikaiosune with reference to covenant membership (p.147).

In part three, Wright focuses on the last few years of apostle Paul’s life. He mainly explores Paul’s journey to Rome as a prisoner under guard. He also ventures into what might have happened after Paul’s trip to Rome. Did Paul make it to Spain? If so, where did he go after? Although the answers to these questions are pure speculation, Wright does an excellent job in providing plausible explanations of what might have happened after Paul’s trip to Rome. Finally, Wright ends this chapter with an intimate view on Paul by shifting the focus away from Paul being the incredible apostle who triumphantly led this Jesus movement in the 1st century Greco-Roman world, and instead, honing in on the vulnerable man who was in need of mercy and faithfully lived his days in obedience to and for the purposes of God.

Wright’s work is commendable as it allows readers to easily understand where Paul comes from, what shaped his theology, and the apostle’s own thought processes behind each of his letters. But the most praiseworthy and valuable aspect of this book is how Wright offers fresh perspective as he masterfully portrays Paul as a person who struggles with the brokenness of this world and the instability of the human condition. The vulnerability of Paul shown in this book allows the reader to capture a realistic view of Paul, adding depth and enrichment when reading Paul’s writings. As with many biographies, this book includes the author’s own theological biases and speculations. But nonetheless, this book is highly recommended for readers interested in the field of Pauline theology. Wright’s work reads easily, and readers will surely benefit from his thorough understanding of Paul’s life journey.

Ben Kim
New Covenant Fellowship Church, Sterling, VA

Pre-Order The New Testament You Never Knew Video – N.T. Wright & Michael Bird


WrightBirdOnly six weeks until the release of The New Testament You Never Knew Video: Exploring the Context, Purpose, and Meaning of the Story of God.

Filmed on location by N.T. Wright and Mike Bird in Israel, Greece, and Rome!

Sessions include:
1. The Story of the New Testament.
2. The World of Jesus
3. Life and Death of Jesus
4. The Resurrection of Jesus
5. The Apostle Paul
6. The Early Christians
7. The Mission of the Church
8. How the NT Came to Be

Here’s a snippet!

via Pre-Order The New Testament You Never Knew Video | Mike Bird

Win FREE Audible Audiobooks – Eerdmans 2018 Advent Calendar (December 10th)


The folks over at Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co. have put together an Advent calendar for 2018 and are welcoming all of us to join them in celebrating this special Christmas season.

The opening of today’s Eerdmans’s Advent calendar, reveals that ten winners will be chosen to receive a credit to download an Eerdmans Audible audiobook.

Enter to win HERE.

How N.T. Wright Stole Christmas – Peter Leithart


This piece was originally published at the Credenda/Agenda web site in 2009. Being in a Grinchy mood and of a generally Grinchy disposition, I thought it worth re-presenting.

Several years ago, when The Passion of the Christ was making headlines, I realized that N. T. Wright has spoiled every Jesus film. Once you’ve read Wright, you realize that none of the movies get Jesus right. Pharisees and scribes are reduced stock villains with caricatured Jewish features. Pilate has to make an appearance, and Herod, but we are given no sense that first-century Israel was the powder keg that it actually was.

No film ever gives us what Wright says we should be looking for: a “crucifiable” Jesus, a Jesus who does something so provocative to make the Jews murderously hostile. In the movies, Jesus is a hippy peace-child, a delicate flower of a man, a dew-eyed first-century Jewish Gandhi. Why would anyone want to hurt Him? Maybe because He’s so annoyingly precious; but that’s not the story of the gospels.

Just this year, I had another realization. N. T. Wright has spoiled Christmas too.
Wright made me see the fairly radical difference in tone and content between Advent and Christmas hymns. Advent hymns, as you’d expect, are full of longing, and the language of the prophets. Advent hymns are about Israel’s desperations and hope, and specifically hope that the Christ would come in order to keep Yahweh’s promise to restore His people, and through them to restore the nations.

“How lovely shines the Morning Star; the nations see and hail afar, the light in Judah shining. Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race, My Bridegroom and my King of Grace, for Thee my heart is pining.” Comfort, Comfort Ye My people is a virtual paraphrase of Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort ye My people; speak ye peace, thus saith our God; comfort those who sit in darkness, bowed beneath their sorrow’s load; speak ye to Jerusalem, of the peace that waits for them; Tell her that her sin I cover, and her warfare now is over.”

“Wake, awake, for night is flying; the watchmen on the heights are crying; awake Jerusalem at last;midnight hears the welcome voices, and at the thrilling cry rejoices; come forth ye virgins, night is past.” The refrain O Come, O Come Emmanuel tells is all: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Advent hymns are about Israel. They are deeply and thoroughly and thrillingly political. Advent hymns look forward not to heaven but the redemption of Israel and of the nations, the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.

When we turn to Christmas hymns, these themes almost completely drop out. How many Christmas hymns mention Israel? Many refer to Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus, but Jerusalem ?

Christmas hymns focus a great deal of attention on the details of the Christmas story, as is fitting. There are shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph and the baby in a manger, magi from the east. Sometimes the details are inaccurate (we don’t know there were three kings), Jesus did cry when He was a baby. And Christmas seems to elicit some of the worst and most sentimental poetry ever written.

When the Old Testament is mentioned at all, Christmas hymns tend to reach back to Adam. Jesus is the “Second Adam from above” who has come to “efface Adam’s likeness.” Jesus is David’s Son, but how many Christmas hymns mention Abraham? It’s as if the whole history of Israel has not happened. Christmas hymns do not seem to fulfill the longing expressed in Advent hymns, but some other longing.

What did Jesus come to do? Listening to Advent hymns, you’d think He comes to restore Israel, comfort Jerusalem, bring light to the nations, to do some global geo-political restructuring. Listening to Christmas hymns, you’d think He comes to do something quite different. He comes “to free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.” He will “stamp His likeness” in the place of Adam’s. “He hath oped ( oped ?) the heavenly door, and man is blessed forevermore.” “He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” All true enough – but where is Abraham? Where is Israel? Where is exile and the fulfillment of Israel’s longings? It’s as if the whole history of Israel has been bypassed. It’s as if Jesus was born just outside Eden, immediately after Adam’s sin.

Christmas hymns do occasionally have their political themes. We sing of the angels marking the birth of the “newborn King,” Joy to the world is full of the language of rule and re-creation: Let earth receive her king; the Savior reigns; He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love. But they have been largely de-politicized, and their politics is detached from the specific historical circumstances of Israel. The newborn King could be a king from anywhere as far as the Christmas hymns tell it. That the world greets the king of Israel is hard to see.

Biblical Christmas hymns are very, very different. They are explicitly rooted in the history of Abraham, Moses, David, exile, and the longing for return. They are overtly, even uncomfortably, political.

What does Mary sing about? Not about oping heavenly doors. She sings about the Lord’s mercy to those who fear Him, His generosity to the poor and hungry, His hostility to the proud and rich, the help He gives to Israel. She sings about the fulfillment of the Lord’s determined covenant mercy. And she talks about Abraham, for all this is done to fulfill what He “spoke to our Fathers, to Abraham and to His seed forever.”

Zacharias? The Lord comes to accomplish redemption for His people, to raise up a horn of salvation in the house of David – a King, and a king from David’s line, a king who is going to deliver us from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. The coming of Jesus is a sign that the Lord has “remembered His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to Abraham our Father.” Day has dawned, and light has shone in the darkness – but the darkness is specifically Israel’s darkness.

What does Simeon sing about? When he takes the infant Jesus into his arms, he blessed God: “Let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation.” And what is that? Access to heaven? Forgiveness of sins? No: “the light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

The angelic hymn to the shepherds should be understood in that context. Peace on earth is not some lefty pipe dream. It’s the promise of peace for Israel, and therefore peace for the nations.

Now, those sound like our Advent hymns, not our Christmas hymns. And they sound like the kind of Christmas hymns that N. T. Wright might have written. As it turns out, Wright is no Grinch. He didn’t steal Christmas. What he stole was a false Christmas, a de-contextualized and apolitical Christmas. But we shouldn’t have bought that Christmas in the first place, and should have been embarrassed to display it so proudly on the mantle. Good riddance, and Bah humbug.

I suggest a moratorium on new Christmas hymns, until we all learn the Magnificat and the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis so much by heart that they seep out our fingers at the keyboard, until we instinctively sing of Jesus’ birth like Mary, like Zecharias, like Simeon

via How NT Wright Stole Christmas | Peter Leithart

5 Touchstone Books For Spiritual Formation – Casey Tygrett



The following is from Casey Tygrett’s blog.  I found this to be an incredibly insightful and resourceful post on books for spiritual formation that personally touched his life, and might possibly benefit you and me as well.

The title of this post is misleading, because these books – this reading – is very personal. They aren’t universal touchstones, but they are my touchstones. In various seasons, these readings have sustained and influenced me. Most of the language I use today has a root in one of these 5 books. While we tend to outgrow some writing, these books have retained their resonance for me throughout the years.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved

At a time when I was saturated in doctrine, denominational theology, and jargon this book came like a gentle wind. Nouwen, a priest and psychologist, addresses this tidy but powerful book to a friend who is struggling to find resonance in faith.

Instead of cajoling or using guilt, Nouwen simply welcomes his friend to bring himself. Bring the full content of who you are to the one who calls you Beloved, the book beckons. The entire book is summed up in this one simple phrase, and for me I need the reminder that my whole self is called “Beloved.”

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart

Honestly, I could have chosen any one of Willard’s books for the list but this one is unique. The language of formation that Willard uses is unique and strong, especially when read through the lens of Jesus’ Kingdom invitation to everyone.

In Renovation, Willard captures the importance of the whole person (are you picking up a theme in my writing?) for spiritual transformation. Mind, heart, spirit, and relationships all find their place in the way the Spirit of God transforms us into the character of Christ. While this book is a challenging read, it allows for multiple return visits and new insights every time.

James Bryan Smith, An Arrow Pointing To Heaven

While Smith is far better known for The Apprentice Series, I first encountered him in this loving and inspiring biography of the musician Rich Mullins. Smith’s friendship with Rich (who lived in Smith’s attic at one point) allows him to give a unique perspective on the troubled but spirited singer/songwriter.

Reading this book, I began to see the possibilities in a life of searching for Jesus in simple ways rather than in the fireworks of extravagant experience. Mullins’ life and music have always drawn me deeper into the mystery of God. That drawing grew only more intense after reading Arrow.
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

For a while, I found myself reading through this biography on an annual basis. Merton wrote his story at the age of 33, and it has become a classic in Christian spirituality. Merton details a young life of challenge, brilliance, and loss while at the same time moving towards a commitment to life as a Trappist monk.

In Seven Storey, the centerpiece is the concept of vocation. Fighting through a military draft, health issues, and moral lapses, Merton finally finds peace in the monastic life. At various points in my life, Merton’s narrative has brought me back to what it truly means to be called to something. The calling is not specific to church work, and indeed Merton’s story inspires us to whatever work God has gifted and drawn us to do.

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Sometimes touchstones come later in the journey. I read this work about 4 years ago in a time when I needed clarity around inner conflicts and confusion. This book was an incredibly helpful guide. Rohr’s delicate but precise assessment of what defines spirituality of the “first half” (also called building the container) and what characterizes the “second half” (filling the container) helped to give language to the way I felt my faith changing.

Rohr gives readers the ability to see how the faith that created our foundations, tribes, and language may not sustain us for the next chapter of our maturing journey. I have recommended Falling Upward more times than I can count, and return to it often myself.
What about you – what books have given context, encouragement, or inspiration to your journey of faith? Share in the comments below.

An Exploration of The Lord’s Prayer – Conclusion


An Exploration of The Lord’s Prayer – Blog Series – Part Nine

The Lord’s Prayer is a beloved portion of Scripture in the church and in the individual lives of believers. Its devotional and liturgical use have been a timeless and proven teaching, guide, source of comfort, and consolation to Christians for centuries. Christ’s prayer has been written into multiple song lyrics, poems, books, and other such forms of use.

The Lord’s Prayer is an incredible reminder of the deep communicative relationship that God encourages His children to have with Him, as they participate in the Kingdom of God ushered into this world by Christ Jesus.

N.T. Wright boldly says, “This is the risky, crazy prayer of submission and commission…the prayer of subversion and conversion. It is the way we sign on for the work of the Kingdom. It is the way we retune our instruments, to play God’s oratorio for the world to sing” (Wright 1997, 270).

Throughout this blog series and exploratory survey, this beautiful instruction on prayer increased one’s understanding of the original background and framework, the connection and correlation with one’s own spiritual life, and relationship with God in Christ Jesus.

The individual believer and the church community can use the wonderful words of Matthew 6:5-15 to strengthen, encourage, inspire, and remind that “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10 NRSV).

The Holy God who created the world, who sustains the world, who provides our daily needs, who forgives our sins, is the same God who sent Christ Jesus to restore, reclaim, reconcile, and clothe us in His righteousness; and He wants us to intimately and privately speak with Him and commune with Him in prayer.


Bibliography for this blog series:

Blomberg, Craig. 1992. Matthew. The New American Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishing Group.

Chouinard, Larry. 1997. Matthew. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company.

France, R.T. 1985. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. Interpretation. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.

McKnight, Scot. 2013. Sermon on the Mount. The Story of God Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Mounce, Robert H. 1991. Matthew. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. Matthew. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Wright, N.T. 1997. “Thy Kingdom Come: Living the Lord’s Prayer.” Christian Century. Volume 114. Pages 268-270. Online: ATLA Database.

Wright, N.T. 2004. Matthew For Everyone: Part 1. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.