Sunday, March 8, 2015

Reading Up on (Historical) Reformed Theology

One of my friends asked me if I could give him some recommendations for books on Reformed Theology. Thankfully, he recognized that Reformed Theology is more than just the five points of Dort. Unfortunately, however, Reformed theology is a topic so broad that finding one book to cover the tradition is difficult, if not impossible. However, here are my top recommendations to fit the request.

What Is Reformed Theology?: Understanding the Basics is a valuable book. The problem is that my friend is somewhat familiar with Reformed Theology and certainly familiar with TULIP (however unhelpful I may think that acronym may be). The problem with Sproul's book is that there is only one chapter devoted to Covenant Theology/Federalism, and this chapter is extremely rudimentary, although it does give one a basic understanding as per the subtitle. Nevertheless, I recommend it as an extremely basic introduction to the deep and widely variegated tradition.

The Christ of the Covenants should be required reading. Robertson takes a biblical-theological approach to developing a biblical theology (surprise, surprise) of the covenants. It's somewhat technical (reading level: moderate) but it lays the groundwork for a basic understanding of the biblical covenants upon which the Reformed Tradition has built. Introducing Covenant Theology is less rigorous, far easier to read, but more theological than biblical, per se. It's building (still at an introductory level) upon the foundation that Robertson builds. (As an aside, Horton disagrees with Robertson here and there, but it's nothing that important.) If you had to choose between one or the other, pick Robertson. If you can get both, read both. But Robertson remains far more valuable.

The Binding of God is a phenomenal text in so many ways. Since it's a revised dissertation, it is a highly academic and theological text. Admittedly, it's not an easy read. But I found it so enlightening that it became quite the page-turner. The reason I recommend it here is because Lillback discusses all of the Magisterial Reformers' CTs. Because I'm out of my mind and actually heed the Reformers creed (Ad Fontes!), I think it important to go back to the original sources of the Reformed Tradition. One may find there the purest form of CT, although its later developments are also valuable. This book expects some level of familiarity with CT and the Reformed Tradition, so read up before getting this volume. But definitely get this volume. 

This is the most important book on Reformed Theology because it is Reformed Theology. The Three Forms of Unity (The Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort) is the foundation of Reformed Theology. These are of vital importance. Other Reformed confessions (e.g., WCF, Second Helvetic Confession) are important too, but I think the Three Forms of Unity are the best and most foundational. I also believe that everyone who calls him/herself Reformed must read at least the Three Forms. At least.

These last two books are also super important. The Book of Confessions contains almost every Reformed Confession I could think of. But it doesn't contain all of the Three Forms, which I find odd. Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology really does broaden Reformed Theology. It's important because it really shows the variety of beliefs that can be held even with subscription to the various confessions. It really can be quite surprising. It has too many chapters on Universalism and doesn't discuss the other Magisterial Reformers, but it's good for what it is and Crisp is a very engaging writer. 

Anyway, this is everything I recommend for a pretty deep understanding of Reformed Theology and the Tradition, but after you dip your feet in with these, I hope none of my readers will stop until they've read Bavinck, Kuyper, Barth, Berkouwer, Calvin, Zwingli, Murray, Owen, Edwards, and the plethora of other Reformed theologians who do more than just repeat the same words but actually contribute to a tradition!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Transliterations Are Both Annoying and Stupid

Transliterations. The only people who like them are the people who do not need them. Why, yes! You did read that correctly. Transliterations are stupid and useless. If I'm reading a commentary or an exegesis of some particular passage in the Bible and I see the words "kai hoti apo brephous hiera grammata oidas" (or even one word, such as hos, for that matter), it's going to take me a lot longer to figure out what it was trying to say than if I read "καὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ βρέφους ἱερὰ γράμματα οἶδας" (which, for the record, means "that even from childhood you have known the holy/sacred scriptures"). Transliterations (for me at least) often keep me from making semantic connections that I would normally have made, noticing how a root or a similar letter combination was in some way connected to another word or word-group, which could enhance one’s understanding of the meaning and application of the word itself. An easy example could be the “δικ- words,” but to be sure there are many other examples. This is especially more problematic in Hebrew, but I won’t get much more into that because anyone who knows the languages has probably experienced this as well, unless I’m tragically slow and unique.

Ok, so we get why they’re frustrating for those who know the language and that publishers should always make sure never to use transliterations in academic works, but what’s the problem for those who don’t know the language? Doesn’t it make it easier for the layperson can look up a word in Strong’s or Vine’s? Well, I suppose it probably does help with Strong’s and Vine’s usage, but wouldn’t it just be easier to look at multiple (reliable) translations (considering that you’re probably not a scholar, but the ones who translated those Bibles almost certainly are) to gain an understanding/appreciation of the range of meaning the word used conveys? The answer is an obvious, “YES.” Transliterations are also extremely stupid and foolish because they convince the layperson (often, not always– yet often enough for me to want to write a post about it) that s/he knows all about the Hebrew or Greek Testaments and doesn’t need to consult a pastor, professor, teacher, elder, etc. Once the layperson finds out from Vine’s that there are three words for “love” used in the NT and that these three loves always convey different ideas, who can dissuade them? Vine’s has spoken! When I told several different ladies once that ἀγαπάω/ἀγάπη (agapao/agape) didn’t always mean a self-sacrificing love for someone (cf. Amnon’s “love” for Dinah in 2 Sam 13:15 LXX; the word used there is agape!), they basically told me that (1) I was wrong and (2) I wasn’t learning Greek right. Wow. Moreover, apart from the dangers a little Greek gives the layperson, what’s the point? The person knows how to say the word. Whoop-dee-doo. But they still don’t know the lexicographical, etymological, or sematic significance of the combinations of letters. They just know what it sounds like.

Now, Daniel, let’s be reasonable. Sometimes it’s good for a person to know what a Greek or Hebrew word sounds like. Uh, why? No good reason? Hmmm. Interesting. Why should they care if they don’t know the language anyway? Maybe it’s fun to know for the sake of knowing sometimes. Ok, fine. Go ask your pastor or teacher or professor or someone who knows Greek/Hebrew what the word is and its significance, but you’re never going to get that on your own (unless you teach yourself Greek or Hebrew, and God be with you if you try!). I get, of course, that for publishers it can be difficult to coordinate the letter switches when the text of a manuscript is passing from computer to computer. This is especially annoying for Hebrew since even Microsoft Word can’t seem to get ahold of copy and pasting Hebrew (for the uninitiated, Word goes CRAZY if you try to paste any more than one Hebrew word). But good gravy, people! Publishers are supposed to be good with computers. In any case, transliterations are annoying and I hate them. They are terrible and I wish no one would use them.

My rant is over. Please, do as Christ often said to those whom he forgave, “Go and sin no more… by transliterating these words that my disciples will inscribe later in what will be called the Gospels.” (The disciples never copied the last part out because they didn’t see the relevance at the time. But they probably would have if they were alive today!)

Search This Blog