Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review of "Doctrine": Revelation

God disciplines those he loves; so sometimes I rip apart my favorite authors. I'm experiencing that this week. And here's my real dilemma: I don't hate this chapter of Doctrine. In fact, I'm finding it readily accessible and usable for group study. I'm ripping apart this chapter, not because it is useless or unclear, but because it could so obviously have been much, much better. On pure content alone, I would say this is the best practical chapter on the Bible that I've ever read out of a Systematic Theology text; but when I look at the verbosity and ill-organized layout of the subject matter, and the dry writing (the authors decided not to use humor or many personal stories), I'm left suggesting Paul Little's Know What You Believe--which, as a bonus, comes in pocket size.

Content: A Good Introduction to Biblical Revelation
(1) Fantastic introduction about the human need for communication, and the joy of having that desire met through reading Scripture. (2) Mark and Gerry outline the ways that God communicates with humanity, detailing the different methods of general and special revelation that God uses to show us who He is. (3) Third, Mark outlines what the Bible is, going by the numbers: 66 books, 3 languages, written or 3 continents by 40 authors, best selling book of all time, etc. He also gives a quick history of where the chapter divisions came from. (4) Asking "How is Jesus the Hero of the Old Testament?", the different methods in which the Old Testament speaks of Jesus are highlighted, and the reader is warned about what happens if morals are made the focus of Biblical reading rather than Jesus. (5) The writers break down, and explain, the term verbal plenary inspiration. (6 & 7) Looking at the early church, Driscoll describes how we got the canon that we have and what led to the exclusion of other books from the Bible. (8 and 9) Comprising the apologetics section of the chapter, we are told about what scripture says about itself; what to do with apparent contradictions; how Jesus viewed the Old Testament; how the Bible stacks up with extra-Biblical archaeological evidence; and how we can trust that the Word of God has been handed down faithfully. (10 and 11) In a section called "Why Is Scripture Authoritative", Mark reiterates the principles of Sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture and compares them to Catholic and Eastern Orthodox views of authoritative revelation. (12) Looking at why there are different translations of the Bible in English, the authors give us a rundown of various translation philosophies and close their section by recommending the ESV. (13 and 14) In a section about how to interpret Scripture, we are given a fourfold process: ask what scripture says, then what it means, then what are the timeless principles, then ask how you should respond. In the very final section, we are given some suggestions about what our response could look like.

Negatives: Section Divisions, Footnotes, Organization
Sometimes, when you are writing a serious critique of a book, you notice things you otherwise wouldn't. For me there have been an infuriating parade of little things that have caught my attention: sections that could be much shorter; places where footnotes would have been pretty helpful; examples of seriously bad organization... and I feel kind of bad for saying so. Most of these problems are small, but taken together, they add up. Let me explain in a few paragraphs.

1. Section Divisions: Where the chapter was divided into different parts, I felt like whiting out the division headings and scrawling in my own. As you might be able to tell from my outline, many of the material in different sections of this chapter should have been condensed and combined. Putting parts 6+7, 8+9, 10+11, and 13+14 together would have made for a much shorter, more coherent chapter on Scripture. Or it could have made space for more detailed information.

2. Footnotes: For some reason, and I feel like this is going to be a recurring problem, Driscoll and Breshears only seem to include footnotes for modern authors. When it comes to Church Fathers like Augustine, Tertullian, and Athanasius, important early church councils, historical events, archaeological finds, or anything else outside of the scope of recent literary works, the citation just isn't there. In many books less important than a Systematic Theology, the footnotes are considered an important part of the overall work--but not here. Which is confusing, given how often Driscoll talks about the amount of footnotes in the books that he loves. The rest of us like footnotes, too! Just saying. It's something to look at for the 2nd edition.

3. It Goes On: This is crazy for a book (a Systematic Theology no less!) that clocks in at less than 450 pages, but certain parts of this chapter go unreasonably long. The opening section spends 5 paragraphs on what is really 1 or 2 paragraphs of actual material; the authors opine for 10 paragraphs (!) on what should have been a 2 paragraph explanation of special and general revelation; all of the sections that I recommended combining could have shed a lot of material if the editors had done so; etc. The examples of this are numerous and make for a pretty arduous trek through this literary wasteland. I feel like, because Mark decided to get rid of his humour in writing this book, he has gotten overly verbose in his efforts to strike emotional cords and to explain everything satisfactorily. It doesn't work.

4. Organization. While I could just be talking about chapter sub-divisions that never needed to be, I can't stop at just that. The material itself is organized the way that it is because Driscoll doesn't preach with notes. There, I said it. He has always been able to follow his topics down the rabbit hole to their multiple logical conclusions because he preaches for an hour and has no real content restraints. But it makes for terrible book writing in this case. (Actually, an oppressive manuscript deadline and Mark's reported intestinal ulcer could have done it, too.) Just a quick example: a paragraph on modern prophecy is not included in the section on special revelation, but is stapled on (almost as an afterthought) at the end of the section "Can Scripture Be Written Today?"

Positives: Apologetics, Study Tips, Made for Group Study
Despite the negatives in the technical aspects of the book, Doctrine is still excellent as far as a book intended for group study goes. It was written for people in classes and community groups, and I feel that it will do pretty well in both settings. In this chapter, there were a few especially good things that I noticed: (1) Personal stories were told for the readers' benefit, like Gerry's experience with seeming Bible contradictions and how his faith was vindicated by further archaeological evidence; (2) It defends the Bible with a large Apologetics section, which no other Systematic Theology that I've seen has ever had; (3) There are great sections on general revelation, special revelation, and modern prophetic revelation, and despite the issues I mentioned above, these sections are still pretty sweet; (4) The sections on how to pick a Bible and how to study it are super helpful, and aren't something usually found in theology texts; (5) The focus is practical right from the beginning; the authors start and end the chapter by nailing the "why does this matter?" question.

Memorable Quotes
"A few decades ago, I (Gerry) also had questions about Jericho. According to the best archaeological reports, it was uninhabited from about 1600 BC to 1200 BC. The Bible says the walls came tumbling down about 1440 BC. That would be hard if the city was already destroyed. But as excavations were done in a different part of the ancient site, a thick layer of ash containing grain was discovered. Dating by three different methods showed a burn date of (try to guess before you look!)--1440 BC."

"For anyone to have a saving knowledge of God requires that, in addition to general revelation, they also must receive and believe special revelation. This is because while general revelation is good and true, it is not sufficient for someone to know that God became a man and died on the cross in our place for our sins."

Outline of Chapter Two
  • Our Longing for Communication
  • How Does God Reveal Himself?
  • What Are the Scriptures?
  • How Is Jesus the Hero of the Bible?
  • Who Wrote the Bible?
  • What Is the Canon of Scripture?
  • Why Were Some Books Not Accepted?
  • Does Scripture Contain Errors/Contradictions?
  • Can I Trust the Bible Is God's Word?
  • Can Scripture Be Written Today?
  • Is the Bible Sufficient?
  • Why Are There Different Translations?
  • How Can We Best Interpret Scripture?
  • How Does Revelation Affect Our Lives?

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