Giveaway Winner – John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven

Johnson, John, under open heavenLast week I celebrated the beginning of the new school year with a book giveaway: John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel, 2017). This is a book which reflects good scholarship, but is written for a popular audience and would make a great addition to a pastor’s library. I reviewed this book when it was published, where I commented:

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion.

There were only twelve entries this time, so I sorted them at random and picked a number at The winner is:

Steve Williams

Steve’s “favourite pericope is John 9:23 to 9:38.” The spelling of “favorite” makes me think I will be shipping this book some distance, so get in touch with me soon at and I will drop in the in the mail as soon as I can. Thanks to everyone for participating.

This is an exceptionally good semester for me, should I do one more giveaway?

Book Giveaway – John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven

Johnson, John, under open heavenOnce again, to celebrate the end of the summer and beginning of the new academic year, I am giving away a few books. In this case, it is another book I purchase and then discovered I already had it on the shelf. This week I have an extra copy of John E. Johnson, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel (Kregel, 2017). This is a book which reflects good scholarship, but is written for a popular audience and would make a great addition to a pastor’s library. I reviewed this book when it was published, where I commented:

The thirteen chapters of the book read like sermons, with introductory illustrations drawn from pop culture or personal experience, and chapter sections with alliterative headings. He even cites Bob Dylan, which is always a plus. Since the book is written on a conversational level, it would work well in a small group environment or as personal devotional reading. Johnson has included a few questions at the end of each chapter to prompt discussion.

To have a chance at winning these books, leave a comment with your name and favorite chapter / pericope in John’s Gospel 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 September 7, 2018 (one week from now). Good Luck!

Book Giveaway Winner! – The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, edited by Bauckham and Mosser

Bauckham, Gospel of JohnToday is the day I pick a winner for The Gospel of John and Christian Theology, edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser (Eerdmans, 2008). There were 51 comments (after I deleted my comments and some duplicates). This was one of the highest number of entries I have seen for a book giveaway, and several of the usual suspects did not enter.

I randomized the names then pasted them into a spreadsheet, generated a random number at And the winner is…..

Kevin Boyle

Congrats to Kevin! Please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will drop the book in the mail ASAP. Thanks to everyone who commented, look for the next “Back to School” book giveaway later this afternoon.



Book Review: Craig D. Allert, Early Christian Readings of Genesis One

Allert, Craig D. Early Christian Readings of Genesis One: Patristic Exegesis and Literal Interpretation. BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 338 pp. Pb. $36.99   Link to IVP Academic  

Craig Allert is a professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia and an expert on early Christianity and the development of Christian doctrine. His 2002 monograph Revelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 64; Leiden: E.J. Brill) discussed how the second century writer Justin understood Scripture.

Craig Allert book on Genesis One, Church FathersThis new book is the fourth in the BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity series published by IVP Academic. Allert addresses the use and abuse of early church writers to support certain views of Genesis 1. The main purpose of the book is to correct common misconceptions about what the church fathers meant by literal interpretation and “creation out of nothing.” Throughout the book Allert draws on material produced by Answers in Genesis (AiG), Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and Creation Ministries International (CMI). Some of this material appears in popular formats, including blog posts. These organizations generally reject any higher critical approaches to exegesis and “appropriate the church fathers as advocates of a nascent creation science position” (107).

After a preliminary chapter outlining what he means by the church fathers, Allert offers several examples of “how not to read the fathers.” He provides several examples of popular writers on the issue of creation who claim the church fathers read Genesis one as referring to literal days, usually alongside the claim the Church considered the days in Genesis 1 to be literal, 24-hour days until the Enlightenment, Darwinism, and theological liberalism. For Allert, there are several problems with the use of the fathers by most Creationists. First, they proof-text and overgeneralize. For example, Creationists cite Basil as an example of young-earth creationism in the church fathers, then assume he represents the whole of the “church fathers” (without citing any other examples). Second, among conservative Christianity, there is a general lack of knowledge about the church fathers so it is almost impossible to quote them with any helpful context. As a result, writers who claim Basil was a literal six-day creationist are pulling proof-texts out of context and not taking into consideration everything else Basil said about reading Genesis 1.

In the third chapter of the book Allert discusses what the “literal interpretation” meant in Patristic exegesis. There is a popular misconception that a Patristic writer was either literal or allegorical (or spiritual) in their exegesis of Scripture. But as Allert demonstrates, the situation is more complicated than this strict dichotomy. Patristic writers often took notice of the plain meaning of a text, but then went on to create spiritual readings in order to challenge their listeners.

The main test case Allert uses in the book is Basil of Caesarea (329-379), specifically his book Hexameron (“six days”). Written around 370, the book is a series of sermons delivered during Lent on Genesis 1. The ninth sermon in the book is often cited by creationists as proof Basil interpreted the days of Genesis 1 as six literal days. But as Allert argues in this book, Basil is not attacking allegorical readings of Scripture, but “excessive allegorization” by the Manicheans (197). On closer examination, Basil uses the same method of reading Scripture as Origen (a church father usually vilified for his allegorical method!)

In the following two chapters of the book Allert examines two doctrines often cited as foundational by creationists; creation out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) and the literal day in Genesis 1. Creation out of nothing has been challenged as a theology not drawn from the Old Testament but rather constructed to respond to the eternal universe in Greek philosophy. For the literalness of the six days, Allert examines several oft-quoted church fathers and finds some support for reading the days as literal, 24-hour days. But there is nothing in Basil (for example) which indicates he thought Genesis 1 was giving a scientific (literal) description of creation (246).

Throughout the book Allert deals with the nature of creation and time. As the church accepted creation out of nothing as doctrine, Christian theologians and philosophers began to ask what God was doing before he created the universe. A possible answer to this question is my favorite line in this book: “he was getting hell ready for people who inquisitively peer into deep matters” (269). Allert examines Augustine’s view of time and eternity more closely in chapter seven. Most Christians have a sense “God is outside of time,” although likely drawn from C. S. Lewis rather than Augustine. Augustine argued God is eternal and created the world “with time” (273), and the days of creation are no more literal than God’s “rest” on the seventh day. Augustine cited John 5:17, “my father is working until now” as evidence God’s rest on the seventh day is not a literal time of rest (278). For Augustine, creation did not happen in “a time measured way” (287).

I have several comments about Allert’s book. First, I am convinced an allegorical method is not good exegesis when the text under examination is clearly not an allegory. For example, obviously Jotham’s fable in Judges 9 is some kind of an allegory, and there are figurative elements of Jesus’s parables, especially the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Allert addresses this concern with an anecdote from John MacArthur who looked back on an early sermon he wrote as a “horrible” example of allegorizing a text (p. 108). I have to agree with MacArthur, that sort of exegesis is bad. Of course this opens up the question to what an ancient writer was trying to do with a text, but that is a topic for another book.

Second, Allert proves his case the ancient church fathers were not proto-creationists and current creationists ought to stop misinterpreting them. Selective citations in order to proof-text one’s view is dangerous, since there is plenty in Basil or Augustine which would not at all be acceptable to a modern conservative creation. But there is nothing in this book (or the church fathers) which anticipates other responses to Darwinism, such as progressive creationism (old earth creationism) or theistic evolution. Ancient writers read Genesis within their own worldview, a worldview which did not contend with modern science.

Third, Allert is correct to raise awareness the real problem is the nature of time and eternity. His discussion of Augustine’s view is important, but more theological and philosophical work needs to be done on God’s nature and his relationship with this universe. That creationists who hold to literal days in Genesis 1 do not worry too much about this issue is evident from the lack of citation of creationists in chapters 5-7 in this book.

This book is a necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion of Genesis 1. Allert corrects some serious misconceptions and offers a more contextual reading of Basil, Augustine and others who commented on Genesis 1 in antiquity.


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


Book Review: Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2018. 296 pp. Pb. $24.99   Link to Kregel

Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in several books published by Kregel: To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (2008), The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 (2012), The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel (2014), and Messiah in the Passover (2016).

Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, Israel, the Church, and the Middle EastIn the introduction to this new volume of thirteen essays, the editors point out the relationship between the Church and Israel has been a source of passionate debate for much of church history. They refer here to a historic “replacement theology” in which it is proposed the Church replaced Israel as God’s people, implying Israel has no future restoration apart from the church. Old Testament promises of restoration were more or less spiritualized as descriptions of the present church; Israel as a people had no future hopes. The development of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century was in part a response this theology. The earliest dispensationalists drew a strong contrast between the Church and Israel, resulting in the belief Israel would be restored as God’s people in the future and therefore the Old Testament prophecies of a messianic kingdom must be taken seriously.

Modern American evangelicalism has embraced modern Israel, although this may be a result of conservative politics more than the remnants of dispensationalism. In some political circles it is fashionable to be critical of the modern state of Israel and in some theological circles it is equally fashionable to dismiss support for modern Israel and wild-eyed dispensational fantasies like the Left Behind sort. Glaser and Bock think there is a “significant lack of objective academic responses to books by Christian authors critical of Israel and Christian Zionism.” This collection of essays in an attempt to provide some balance between those who defend Israel and those who have legitimate concerns for the concerns of Palestinians.

The first two parts of the book cover biblical and theological foundations. Each of the authors in these two sections of the book are well-known evangelical scholars associated with major evangelical seminaries. First, Richard E. Averbeck discusses “Israel, the Jewish People, and God’s Covenants.” This essay introduces the reader to the idea of biblical covenants and suggests one of the best ways to understand the overarching story of redemption in Scripture is “to follow the historically progressive sequence of God’s redemptive covenants from the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants” (30). Based on his analysis of the Abrahamic covenant, Averbeck believes the land promises made to Abraham are irrevocable.

Second, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. focuses on a prophecy concerning Egypt in Isaiah 19. At first this seems tangential to the purpose of this collection, but as Kaiser points out, in the history of the church this chapter has been treated in a symbolic or allegorical way, so that Egypt “stands for” idolatry of the Roman church. But reading Isaiah 19 with non-symbolic hermeneutic leads Kaiser to see the chapter as God painting a picture of “the days leading up to the millennium, a time when three deadlocked nations will be changed by God’s grace and be included in the Gentile harvest of the nations” (Rom 11:26).

Third, Mark Yarbrough outlines “Israel and the Story of the Bible,” beginning with a brief survey of recent suggestions for an overarching plot for the Bible. The most successful, Yarbrough suggests, is the metaphor of a four act play: creation, fall, redemption and restoration. The problem with such a high-level view of the story of the Bible is “we are not supposed to stay where it leaves us” (50). The details of the story matter, and the details, for Yarbrough, include the language of covenants, the promise of an earthly messiah, two messianic advents, a clear offer of a kingdom by the Jewish messiah Jesus, and as yet unfulfilled promises to Israel concerning land, worship and a messianic era.

Michael Rydelnik picks up on the issue of unfulfilled land promises and argues the New Testament is consistent with the Old and reaffirms the idea God gave the land of Israel to the people of Israel forever (82). Rydelnik examines several sayings of Jesus which imply a future restoration to the land, a future temple and a future kingdom ruled by the messiah. He deals with two difficult Pauline passages, Galatians 3:16 and Romans 4:13 which could be read as universalizing the promises of the Old Testament to the church, but concludes neither text is talking about the land promises.

Craig Blaising develops “A Theology of Israel and the Church,” beginning with a clear description of how of supersessionism and traditional dispensationalism understand Israel and the Church. Blaising attempts to chart a course between these two views which he calls Redemption Kingdom Theology (RKT, formerly known as progressive dispensationalism). Like traditional dispensationalism, RKT rejects the idea the church has replaced Israel, but does not see “the church as separate from the ethnic peoples of Israel and the Gentiles in the plan of God” (89). Since the Gentiles in the Old Testament were never excluded from the eschatological kingdom, the church is not excluded from the promises to Israel. In order to support this thesis, Blaising argues the “Kingdom of God has been progressively revealed in canonical theology” (90).

Mitch Glaser’s essay warns against “The Dangers of Supersessionism.” He begins by defining “Christian Zionism” (see for example Gerald McDermott and the other work by the editors of this volume) against “anti-Christian Zionism” (Stephen Sizer and Gary Burge, for example). The “anti-” in Glaser’s description seems a rather polemic way of describing those who universalize Israel’s land promises. Glaser argues “anti-Christian Zionism” follow Palestinian evangelicals who are both politically pro-Palestine and theologically supersessionist (108). He sees a statement like the Kairos Palestine Document as politically motivated and creates an environment which destroys the possibility of unity between evangelical Palestinians and Messianic Jews. No dialogue is possible when one side is only described as the victim, while the other side is an aggressor in need of restraint (115).

In the final essay in the second part of the collection, Michael Vlach examines “Israel and the Land in the Writings of the Church.” Vlach often contributes articles on the historic roots of dispensationalism and in this essay he argues restoration of the kingdom to Israel was the view of the earliest church but the church largely abandoned this after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 and the failed messianic revolt in A.D. 135. During the Patristic Era these events were viewed as divine judgments on the Jewish people. The bulk of the article traces a thin thread of restorationism present in the church until the rise of evangelism of the Jews in the eighteenth century and the rise of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century.

The first two of the three essays in the third part of the book deal with two lesser known movements. First, Erez Soref discusses the history of Messianic Jewish Movement in modern Israel. Soref is the president of One for Israel, a non-profit organization based in Neyanya, Israel. Although there are challenges to the Messianic Jews in modern Israel, Soref sees the movement as growing, there are approximately 300 messianic Jewish congregations in Israel today. Tom Doyle looks at the modern Palestinian Church within Israel. Doyle is the Middle East director of e3 Partners and is a licensed guide for the State of Israel. He points out there have been Arab believers since Pentecost (Act 2:11, but Doyle misses the point since these were likely ethnic Jews living in Roman Arabia rather than ethic Arabs). Yet his point stands, there has been a presence of Christians among the people of the Middle East since the earliest days of the church, including Jews, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, etc. His article details how Bethlehem Bible College trains Palestinians to do ministry in the West Bank and includes a short interview with Jack Sara, president of BBC, a Palestinian Christian, and a Christian pastor in the Gaza Strip.

Third, Darrell Bock examines a biblical foundation for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs using Luke’s “two-stage program” (promise/fulfillment, already/not yet). He develops these in Luke-Acts and suggests the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles is a “not yet” expectation for the future. This requires a short survey of several texts in Isaiah which look forward to the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, but also a close examination of the key text for this entire collection of essays, Romans 9-11. As applied to the “tangled mess” of the Middle East, Bock thinks the already/not yet aspect of reconciliation means modern Israel does not have carte blanche to do whatever they like under the guise of self-defense (183). Israel is still responsible for basic human rights in the region.

Finally, in part four of the book, three essays examine current challenges to peace in Israel. First, Mark L. Bailey answers the question, “Should Christians Support the Modern State of Israel?” For some modern evangelicals, the answer is a firm and patriotic “yes,” while those outside of conservative evangelicalism the answer is “of course not!” Bailey acknowledges there are inadequate reasons to support Israel (to jump-start Armageddon or bring material prosperity to America, for example). He believes a proper biblical view would lead to a genuine love of Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab alike (201).

Second, Craig Parshall examines the legal challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Parshall is a constitutional lawyer serving as Special Counsel to the American Center for Law and Justice. His focus in this article is on the status of the modern state of Israel under international law. He concludes there is overwhelming evidence that Israel is a legitimate nation, and “deserves more respect than they international critics have afforded it” (215).

The final essay in the collection asks “Is It Sinful to Divide the Land of Israel?” Messianic Jewish apologist Mike Brown responds that support of a two-state solution is not a sin, although the two-state solution is a short term solution since when Jesus returns, the land will be Israel’s alone (226).

The book includes several appendices. First, data from the 2017 Lifeway Survey of evangelical attitudes toward Israel. Second, the editors included a statement from the Alliance for Peace of Jerusalem (website is down as of July 2018), including a purpose statement and several affirmations and denials. Darrell Bock concludes the book with a short summary of the book. The volume concludes with an eleven page bibliography, Scripture and subject indices.

Conclusion. Like other recent books edited by Glaser and Bock, Israel, the Church, and the Middle East offers a perspective on the current state of Israel which is positive and premillennial. The church has not replaced Israel as God’s people so the eschatological promise of the Old Testament should be taken seriously. The articles reflect a moderate dispensational viewpoint without the lurid predictions which have come to characterize dispensationalism for many readers.

Surprisingly, the book lacks dialogue. The contributors are all “Christian Zionists” to use Glaser’s term, and to a certain respect, these are the “usual suspects” for this particular topic. Although a few contributors are living in Israel working with Messianic Jewish ministries, only Tom Doyle represents a Christian Palestinian voice. The book could have been improved by seeking out contributions from individuals from a genuinely under-represented community, Christians, Arab Christians.

Nevertheless, this collection of essays is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of the nature of biblical Israel, the Church and their relationship with the modern state of Israel.



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