Book Review: J. D. Payne, Apostolic Church Planting

Payne, J. D. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015.  Link to IVP

Apostolic Church Planting is a follow-up to Payne’s Discovering Church Planting (InterVarsity, 2009). At one-quarter of the length of his earlier work, Apostolic Church Planting is intended to answer some questions which in the years since the larger book was published. Payne has a website with church planting and missions resources.

apostolic-church-plantingSince there is no command to plant churches in the New Testament, Payne begins with a brief chapter defending the practice of church planting as part of an evangelical ecclesiology. He does not advocate planting churches by siphoning off some experienced church members and creating an “instant church.” Rather, he wants to plant churches which are the result of evangelism and discipleship. By making this the priority, Payne believes his model of church planting is obedient to the Great Commission.

Using Barnabas as a model (ch. 3), Payne describes the ideal team member who will evangelize in a community and begin to disciple those who accept Christ. From this group of growing believers, the planting team should identify and appoint elders and pastors for that local community (outlined in ch. 5 and 6). Payne identifies a series of roles in a newly planted church: learner, explorer, evangelist, teacher, developer, and mentor/partner (ch. 6). Since the team is making disciples rather than planting a church, the goal is to move newly saved people through these discipleship levels and eventually move the mentor/partner out into a new community to begin the process again (see the chart on page 78).

With respect to methods, Payne explains church planting methods ought to be biblical, reproducible, ethical, avoiding paternalism (especially important in a cross-cultural context), and manifest Christ-sustained abilities (ch. 8). He offers a chapter encouraging church planting in “hard soil,” or places which seem resistant to the Gospel, balancing a communities need and receptivity (94). This is an encouraging sentiment given that most church plants succeed in the affluent suburbs or in inner-cities with support from affluent churches in the suburbs.

He concludes the book with a chapter on spiritual guidelines and ethical guidelines for church planting (chs. 11-12). Some of these guidelines concern the relationship of the team and their support, but most (even the ethical guidelines) are based on team members who are growing spiritual and committed to creating disciples.

Throughout the book Payne uses a “question and answer” model to deal with potential objections (or obvious questions). Each chapter ends with brief summaries and a short bibliography will help readers to find additional resources for church planting (including three additional books by J. D. Payne).

Conclusion. Payne is a pastor of multiplication at The Church at Brooks Hill, Birmingham, Alabama and has been involved in evangelism and missions within a Southern Baptist context. I am not a church planter, so I will not comment too much on his methods. I do balk at the title since it implies the early church planted churches using the method in this book. This is not the case at all! We really have no access to how the Twelve planted churches; in fact, we do not really know that they did “plant churches” in the modern sense of the word. In some cases Paul entered a Jewish synagogue, preached the Gospel and caused a riot which resulted in a “synagogue split.” Paul then developed believers who left the synagogue into a church. I doubt any church planters would use the method Paul used in Thessalonica or Corinth as an ideal method. Perhaps I am being overly academic, but as helpful as Payne’s book is, I think calling it “apostolic” is a bit of a stretch.

The book offers both spiritual and rational advice and encouragement for what sorts of things need to be in place for a church to grow once it is planted. Payne breaks with some of the more corporate methods used by mega-churches which turn church plants into franchises, or “satellites” orbiting a central church (and usually a central personality by broadcasting sermons in real time from the superstar preacher). Payne’s book is right to focus on making disciples and raising up leaders from within the community God has gathered together.


NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Giveaway – New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, Vol. 10

NewDocs 10

This is the second book I am giving away in celebration of One Million Hits at Reading Acts as well as the end of the spring semester.

I have an extra copy of the latest volume of the New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, edited by S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison, with E. J. Bridge (Eerdmans, 2012). I reviewed it when it came out a year ago and have found all ten volumes to be valuable resources. This volume has about 100 pages of cumulative index for volumes 6-10 as well as 175 pages of newly published inscriptions and papyri.

For those unaware of the New Documents series, it began under the editorship of G. H. R. Horsley in 1981. E. A. Judge was a contributor to that first volume and now serves as the director of the project. He wrote the preface to the first volume explaining the rationale for the series. Since the publication of Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East (1908) and Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament illustrated by the Papyri (1930), there has been a flood of new published papyri documents and inscriptions, many which are important to historians of early Christianity as well as interpreters of the New Testament. The New Document series proposed to survey newly published material and collate that material into a single printed volume as a “fresh digest of the ancient evidence.”

As I concluded in my previous review of the book, virtually every section of New Documents Volume 10 is worthy of attention.  The entries make for fascinating reading and they all contribute to our understanding of the world of the New Testament and early Christianity. I highly recommend this volume to students and scholars. Every serious library should own all ten volumes of this important series.

The book is new but has a remainder mark and a partially removed sticker on the cover. To have a chance at winning this book, leave a comment with your name (and anything else you need to say, think of this as a chance for catharsis). I will select on comment at random and announce the winner on May 3, 2016.

Book Giveaway Winner! – Samuel Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method

Samuel-AdamsI have made a slight dent in the huge pile of papers I still need to grade before the end of the semester, but the time has come to announce the winner of my extra copy of Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarstiy, 2015).

There were 20 people signed up (I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. gave me a number between 1-20, and the winner is…..


Congrats to Pastor Jimmy, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) or a DM on twitter (@Plong42) with your mailing address and I will pop these in the mail ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you. I am still in a spring cleaning mood, so I will post another giveaway tomorrow.


Book Review: Bo H. Lim and Daniel Castelo, Hosea (THOTC)

Lim, Bo H. and Daniel Castelo. Hosea. Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 260 pp. Pb; $25.   Link to Eerdmans

Unlike other commentaries in the Two Horizons series, Lim and Castelo place their theological essays in the context of the commentary itself. Other contributions to the Two Horizons Commentary followed the commentary section with a series of essays on the theology of the book. In this commentary, Bo Lim writes an introduction to theological exegesis (chapter 2) as well as the commentary on text of Hosea. Daniel Castelo contributes an introduction to theological interpretation of Hosea and four essays on theological topics emerging from the book.

lim-hoseaCastelo’s opening chapter to the book is a primer on Theological Interpretation especially as it pertains to Hosea. He observes that defining what is meant by “theological interpretation” is difficult. How is interpretation theological? From the older systematic vs. biblical theology perspective, the answer might have been “interpretation is not theological.” For example, Castelo argues it is legitimate to search the Hebrew Bible for the Trinity, even though the idea of a Trinity is a later theological construct built on the New Testament. Theological interpretation is a kind of “search for Christ” in the Hebrew Bible requiring a “spiritual reading” which employs “allegory, typology, figuration, and the like” (17), but a spiritual reading which is guided by the Holy Spirit (19). Castelo suggests a three-fold structure for Hosea which recognizes the context of Hosea but points to larger, canonical, salvation history issues. His “rebellion, judgment, return/hope” triad is common in the prophets, as is Hosea’s emphasis on the collective sin of Israel (23).

Although I continue to be suspicious of theological interpretation, Bo Lim’s introduction to theological exegesis provides some relief. The Hebrew Bible is indeed canonical scripture for the church (27) and Hosea is part of the story of salvation history played out over the whole canon. Canonical placement is important, Hosea is to be read and re-read intertextually as part of the book of the Twelve. For Lim, the collection of twelve books was intended to be read as a theodicy responding to the fall of Samarian and Jerusalem. The book reached its final form in the postexilic period and now serves as an introduction to the Book of the Twelve (34).

With respect to theological exegesis, Lim follows Michael Bakhtin’s suggestion that texts operate on a dialogical level. Rather than breaking Hosea into monological units (which he observes results in an incoherent book), Lim wants to read the final form of Hosea in dialogue with the rest of the canon of Scripture as well as its reception by God’s people (36). It is a mistake to read Hosea’s ethical and theological vision solely in the context of the eighth century B.C. Lim therefore calls attention to the way Hosea has been read as anticipating the “Day of the Lord” after the Babylonian exile and in the New Testament (citing Acts 3:18 and 1 Peter 1:10-12). In addition to the clear parallels between Hosea and Amos, Hosea’s theme of return to the land is found throughout the Book of the Twelve and his marriage metaphor frames the collection (Mal 3:1).

The body of the commentary is broken into ten units, all written by Lim. He moves through larger sections, commenting on key vocabulary but does not attempt to comment on every phrase. He interacts with secondary literature throughout the commentary, although Lim is more concerned with interpretation than some of the more difficult problems of Hosea’s text. Hebrew occasionally appears in the body of the commentary accompanied by transliteration. Lim’s discussion of the marriage metaphor the first three chapters of the book is excellent, balancing parallel material from Assyria with modern accusations of misogyny and violence.

For the most part, Lim’s theological exegesis is identical to a typical commentary, although he occasionally begins a paragraph with “at the canonical level…” His comments on Hosea 6:1-6 demonstrates his dialogical method. By reading 6:4-6 as the Lord’s response to 6:1-3, the Lord’s displeasure with sacrifice evokes the lack of both knowledge and loyalty in Israel (134). He then draw the implication to confessional orthodoxy: sincerity is not enough, sola orthodoxa, sola veritas will not do (135). This looks like good exegesis which takes into account both literary and cultural context and draws significant application to contemporary issues.

With respect to Hosea’s children, Lim observes sees the “not my people” becoming “my people” as an anticipation of the inclusion of the Gentiles (citing Rom 9:25-27 and Eph 2:12). This is an example of interpreting a text across the canon and (perhaps) taking into consideration how Hosea was received by later Christian interpreters. However, that God’s people would be expanded to include the Gentiles is not at all the point of the eighth century B.C. prophet. Neither a canonical reading of Hosea within the Book of the Twelve nor Jewish reception of this text during the exile or in the post-exilic period would interpret the Gentiles as the “not my people” in Hosea.

In “Marriage, Sexuality, and Covenant Faithfulness in Hosea,” Castelo discusses the problem of the marriage metaphor in Hosea. It is the dominant metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel, but there is something disturbing in the books description of Israel as an unfaithful wife and prostitute. One problem according to Castelo is contemporary images of marriage and unfaithfulness. Attempting to draw out theological and practical implications, Castelo suggests Hosea’s sexual imagery “beckons readers to become re-enchanted with sexuality as something holy, interpersonal and mysterious” (193). By drawing analogies to contemporary marriage therapy, Castelo misses the important point the text of Hosea actually makes: Israel has been unfaithful and will go into exile for a period, yet me restored to her original virginity in the future when God woos her back from the wilderness (2:14-15). That textual meaning can be read across the canon by observing Jesus’ own use of the marriage metaphor in the Synoptic Gospels (see my own Jesus the Bridegroom). The marriage metaphor in Hosea could have been a solid example if intertextual canonical theological interpretation, but this is not exploited in this essay.

One criticism of these theological essays. They occasionally seem to stray far from the context of Hosea. In his comments on “Knowing and Speaking of YHWH in the Dynamic the Covenant Bond,” Castelo discusses the interrelationship between Christian metaphysics and Christian speech. Over ten pages he discusses theism, the nature of the Creator, and how that Creator communicates. He concludes the section by comparing Psalm 88 and John Donne’s “Batter My Heart.” But there is nothing in these pages connecting these (interesting) theological musings to the text of Hosea. Perhaps this is a result of my biblical-theology mind trying to read systematic theology, but this sort of thing is too common in the practice of “theological interpretation of Scripture.”

Conclusion. As Castelo observes, Hosea is a difficult book because “many of its features do not fit easily alongside contemporary sensibilities and though forms” (227). This discomfort finds its way into the commentary at several points, especially in the theological essays. These essays are oriented toward the marriage metaphor than anything. Lim’s commentary on the text of Hosea is excellent and draws on cultural and canonical context to interpret and apply the text judiciously. Castelo’s theological essays are challenging, although less connected to the text than expected. Nevertheless this Two Horizons commentary is a useful contribution to the study of a difficult prophetic book.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: C. Marvin Pate, 40 Questions about the Historical Jesus

Pate, C. Marvin. 40 Questions about the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2015. Pb. 407 pp., $23.99.   Link to Kregel

Historical Jesus studies have fallen on hard times in the last few years. In the mid-1990s there was a flurry of publications responding to the machinations of the Jesus Seminar. These responses were often called a “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus since they evoked the memory of Albert Schweitzer’s Quest for the Historical Jesus. Sometimes these responses were conservative, but many in the academy were uncomfortable with the minimalist Jesus produced by the Jesus Seminar.

Pate-Historical-JesusBut this torrent of monographs and articles as slowed recently. One factor is the demise of criteria of authenticity announced by Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne. In fact, most scholars who attempt to do historical Jesus work today find themselves defending their method as much as employing it in their study of the Gospels. A second factor may be the rise of Theological Interpretation of Scripture (see a basic introduction, see Daniel J. Treier or Stephen Fowl). By using this approach to the Gospels, historical questions are less important (or completely unimportant) since the focus is at the canonical level rather than the historical level.

Usually historical Jesus studies focus on what we can know about Jesus by using historical methods exclusively. This can be a skeptical approach, doubting everything until proven authentic. The result is often the claim the Gospel writers have created sayings and placed them in Jesus’ mouth in order to advance a theological statement about what they believed about Jesus. Other historical Jesus studies focus on the cultural and social background in order to place Jesus in a proper context.

This is the context for a book like 40 Questions about the Historical Jesus. Pate is solidly conservative, never describing any statement or event in the life of Jesus as non-historical or created by the Evangelists. In fact, I would describe the bulk of the forty questions as background studies for the Synoptic Gospels rather than historical Jesus studies. He is interested in answering historical questions about Jesus from the cultural of the Second Temple period rather than answering questions of how to prove a saying or event as authentic.

The first section of the book begins with a justification for the study of historical Jesus. For Pate, historical Jesus studies support the reliability of the four Gospels in response to the skepticism of historical criticism of Gabler or Reimarus or conspiracy theories made popular by the Da Vinci Code. He argues the Gospels present an accurate picture of Jesus despite the skepticism nineteenth century protestant liberalism, Bultmann, or the Jesus Seminar.

Pate answers several questions in this section on the history of the “quest for the historical Jesus” and the current state of the question. This section includes six chapters on our sources for studying historical Jesus, including the Old Testament, apocryphal gospels, oral tradition and archaeology. Not surprisingly, Pate rejects apocryphal gospels as potential sources for the study of historical Jesus, stating clearly that the “New Testament is our sole authority” for a proper view of Jesus (95). He is also skeptical of the arguments against the reliability of Oral Tradition, although he restricts his comments to classical Form Criticism and does not discuss recent work on oral tradition from James Dunn or Francis Watson.

Section two of the book deals with Jesus’ birth and childhood. Three chapters are devoted to the virgin birth, which I find strange in a book about the historical Jesus. Usually scholars doing historical Jesus work will overlook the virgin birth since it cannot be verified historically, or dismiss it entirely as theologically motivated. Three questions concern Jesus’ family and childhood, another area usually omitted from historical Jesus studies since there is nothing which can be verified. The final question concerns the languages Jesus may have spoken (Aramaic, with some Hebrew, Greek and Latin, but he taught in Aramaic).

In the third section of the book Pate covers the life and teaching of Jesus. This is often the heart of historical Jesus studies. He begins with a short overview of why there are four accounts of Jesus life (Question 20). Typically this is the point where a historical Jesus study would survey the Synoptic Problem and offer an opinion on Markan priority and the (non)existence of a source document like Q, but Pate does not cover these issues except in passing.

Several of the questions in this section concern the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (baptism, temptations, the Twelve), and two concern miracles, including the transfiguration. Once again, some of the material in these sections is not typically within the domain of historical Jesus studies, such as the identity and fate of each of the Twelve Apostles or the meaning of the Transfiguration. That the Transfiguration happened can be a historical question, but the meaning is a theological question. Pate does briefly comment on Bultmann’s claim the event is a misplaced resurrection account (246), but (rightly) dismisses the suggestion.

I think more could have been made of the historical value of Jesus’ miracles, especially since they are routinely rejected in classic historical Jesus studies as creations of the evangelists. He uses two pages for a chart of Jesus’ miracles in each of the Synoptic Gospels; this space ought  to have been used to more fully develop the meaning of miracles in the Second Temple period (which is covered briefly) and to expand on the short sentence claiming miracles were part of Jewish Messianic expectations. A messiah who did not do miracles would have been more anachronistic than the Gospel’s presentation of Jesus as a miracle worker. This criticism is more aimed at the style of the book (forty short answers); Pate is constrained by the format of the book and cannot cover everything which might be important (in my opinion).

Questions 28-32 ask about the main message of the four Synoptic Gospels. The content of these chapters is very good and nothing is radical or unexpected. However, the study of the historical Jesus usually does not concern itself with the theology of the evangelists but rather the words and deeds of Jesus. Question 27 and 32 (the focus of Jesus’ teaching and the Olivet Discourse) are perhaps the best in the section since they do indeed focus on the teaching of the historical Jesus. Pate rightly focuses on the Kingdom of God in these two chapters and he spends significant space comparing and contrasting consistent, realized and inaugurated eschatology before concluding some sort of already/not yet approach best explains the data.

The final section of the book concerns the death and resurrection of Jesus. The events surrounding the crucifixion are one of the more profitable areas of historical Jesus research since the events are narrated in all four Gospels as well as external sources. History and geography can be used to confirm the general flow of the story of the Gospels. Several of the questions in this section are historically plausible (the Triumphal entry, Temple action, crucifixion), although Pate includes a chapter on why Jesus died (question 36). This is not on the crucifixion as a historical event, but on the theological concept of substitutionary atonement. Remarkably he include the Pauline and General epistles, which seems odd for a book on the historical Jesus.

Only two questions are devoted to the resurrection the ascension, events conservative readers will affirm as historical, although many historical Jesus scholars hesitate to comment on the resurrection and routinely ignore the ascension as a theological statement rather than historical reality.

Conclusion. This book achieves the goal of studying Jesus through a historical, albeit conservative lens. For the most part I agree with Pate and much of the book resonates with my own approach to Jesus when I teach a college level Synoptic Gospels class. However, I have some reservations based on the use of the phrase “historical Jesus” title of the book. Pate seems to assume the Gospels are historically reliable early in the book and then develops what the Gospels say about Jesus rather than arguing for the authenticity sayings or deeds of Jesus. Perhaps it would have been better to entitle the book 40 Questions about Jesus and the Gospels since the questions are not always the domain of typical historical Jesus studies.

I think a chapter on parables should have been included since the parables are usually the bedrock of Jesus’ teaching in historical Jesus studies, even in less-than-conservative circles. Pate uses parables in his chapter on the Kingdom of God, but the focus is on what the parables say about the kingdom, not whether they are verifiably the words of Jesus.

Since there are forty questions in less than 400 pages of text, the chapters are necessarily short. I found the chapter on archaeology frustratingly short, but that is the nature of this kind of book. Some chapters have helpful charts or bullet-points to cover details quickly. Pate frequently includes lengthy block quotes as part of his response to questions, perhaps too often. Each chapter concludes with several questions for reflection, so the book could be used in a college classroom or Bible study. Pate provides footnotes pointing to additional resources for the serious student who is interested in going deeper into the issues presented in the book.


NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Giveaway – Samuel Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method


Samuel-AdamsI have a huge pile of papers to grade before the end of the semester, so I have decided to do a little spring cleaning in my office instead of dispatch my responsibilities.

I have an extra copy of Samuel V. Adams, The Reality of God and Historical Method: Apocalyptic Theology in Conversation with N. T. Wright (New Explorations in Theology; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarstiy, 2015).

Alan J. Torrance (University of St. Andrews) says “Adams draws on the immense strengths in Wright’s program while offering critical yet constructive theological engagement of a kind that significantly advances the discussion of his work. As such it is an outstanding theological introduction to what Wright is seeking to accomplish that should also inspire and challenge biblical scholars and theologians to examine the interface between their work and the essential affirmations of the Christian faith. Not only should this book prove invaluable to academics and students alike, but its lucidity and eloquence should also make it accessible to a wider audience. Highly recommended!”

This is the first book in a new monograph series from IVP Academic which hopes to publish the work of younger scholars in systematic, historical philosophical and practical theology.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment mentioning  Or just leave your name so I can contact you if you win. I will randomize the names from the comments and select one winner at random.

I will announce the winner picked at random on Monday, April 25.

What Do the Seven Thunders Say in Revelation 10:3-4?

The Mighty Angel stands in his place and speaks.  The speech is described as the roar of a lion, and he is answered by the “seven thunders.” This description is significant for several reasons. It is the only place in Revelation where an angelic messenger speaks, but the words are not recorded.  Why is the shout described in this way, and not recorded?

First, thunder is a stock metaphor for divine speech. In the Hebrew Bible, the voice of God is often described in terms of thunderous noise (2 Sam 22:14/Psalm 18:3; Job 37:2-5). It is possible thunderous speech is related to the description of the Lord as the “lion of Judah” (Amos 1:2, 3:8). Occasionally angels have voices like thunder, such as 3 Baruch 11:4, and in The Odyssey, Zeus speaks like thunder.

3 Baruch 11:4 And while we were waiting, there was a noise from the highest heaven like triple thunder. And I Baruch said, “Lord, what is this noise?” And he said to me, “Michael is descending to accept the prayers of men.”

So he spoke in prayer, and Zeus the counsellor heard him. Straightway he thundered from gleaming Olympus, from on high from out the clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. (The Odyssey, 20.100-104).

Why are there “seven thunders?” Psalm 29:3-9 has a seven fold description of the voice of God as thunder (although the word “voice” is not repeated seven times.)  There is a rabbinic tradition that the voice of God was heard as seen thunders on Mt. Sinai (Exod. Rab. 28:6).

As John prepared to write the content of the words spoken by the thunders, a “voice from heaven” prevents him. John is told to “seal up the vision” and not write it down. The source of the voice is not identified and it is common in Revelation for John to hear an unidentified voice from heaven. Given the background texts where a divine voice sounds like thunder, perhaps this is the voice of God prohibiting John from writing what the thunders said.


The way the command is given is odd: he is told to seal up the vision (which would imply keeping it a secret), but also not to write anything down.  If he had not written the words, what is the point of also sealing the scroll?  There is a tradition in Jewish apocalyptic of a person being given revelation but forbidden to share it. David Aune suggested this ensures that prophet alone knows the information, making him “wiser” than his readers.  It was a mark of authenticity to hold back a little revelation from the readers, if you gave it all then perhaps there were skeptics.

So what did the seven thunders say? Obviously we cannot know since it is still a secret, but John may have been given another series of judgments like the seals, trumpets, and bowls. He was told not to record this series for some reason. Caird suggested the reason John is told not to record the content of the visions is that God “cancelled” the judgments out of his grace and mercy (Revelation, 126-127). This would mean there were four sets of seven judgments, one set was set aside, perhaps an allusion to the four sets of curses in Leviticus 26:14-46.