Prosopological Exegesis: Four Reasons Not to Buy This Modern Approach to Scripture

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Yesterday, I explained in four points what Prosopological Exegesis (PE) was and is. Today, I offer a point-by-point examination.

This excerpt comes from the following from “Reading the Psalms with the Church: A Critical Evaluation of Prosopological Exegesis in Light of Church History” SBJT 25.3 (2021): 87–91. The larger article engages various approaches to the Psalms, and compares older modern versions of Psalm studies to the new approach found in PE. Suffice it to say, I am concerned with what PE offers. And here are four reasons why:

  1. PE’s use of Greco-Roman literary tools and dramatic practices are anachronistic, and should not be used for interpreting Scripture.
  2. PE’s rejection of Enlightenment typology misses the way Scripture employs typology; we need to go back and evaluate what true biblical typology is and is not.
  3. PE’s defense of orthodox doctrine comes at the expense of biblical unity, an interpretive practice that will ultimately undercut orthodoxy.
  4. PE’s interpretation of Hebrews is mistaken; we need to evaluate how Scripture interprets Scripture.

Here is the full text, explaining each point in detail.

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Unmasking Prosopological Exegesis: Defining a New (and Improved?) Way to Read Scripture

rosary and face mask on top of a bible

Prosopological exegesis.

Have you heard of it? If not, that’s alright, I suspect this technique for reading Scripture will run its course in the next decade and be replaced by another interpretive fad in the 2030s. In the mean time, however, this way of (mis)reading Scripture will find its way into articles, book, commentaries, and pulpits. And for that reason, students of the Word and especially teachers who rely on the scholarship of others (read: all of us), should be( a)ware of this approach to reading the Bible Christologically. 

To those who have been stuck in hermeneutical circles that deny typology and the need to read Scripture canonically, prosopological exegesis (PE) may sound like a great gain, as the voices of God are “unmasked” in certain parts of the Old Testament. But as Peter GentryJim Hamilton, and Jim Dernell have each argued, this ostensibly Christ-centered approach to the Old Testament misreads God’s Word. Instead of following OT texts and types until they come to their full revelation in the New Testament, as God the Father, Son, and Spirit are revealed as the one God in three persons, PE takes a shortcut to the persons of the Trinity. For this reason, it is a “naughty” way to read Scripture, as Michael Carlino argues in his new piece at Christ Over All:Give Diamonds, Not Coal: Why Prosopological Exegesis is Not the Gift You Are Looking For.”

Tomorrow, I will share my own concerns with prosopological exegesis. But today, I will offer an explanation of what PE is. What follows, then, is part of my Southern Baptist Journal of Theological article, “Reading the Psalms with the Church: A Critical Evaluation of Prosopological Exegesis in Light of Church History.” You can find this SBJT article here, along with another article that gives a constructive proposal for reading the Psalms. In both articles, I show why PE is not a reliable method to reading Scripture, and what follows is the start of that argument—namely, defining what prosopological exegesis is.

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Reading for Scripture Saturation: (Re)Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

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How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

A few years ago, I introduced a reading plan focused on Scripture saturation more than Scripture box-checking. As a new year begins, I return to that reading plan for myself and for others who might be interested in focusing on one (or two or three) books in a month, instead a daily selection of Bible readings.

As we all know, or should know, the Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). So we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means an ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the new year.

And today I offer a reflection on why a reading plan dedicated to saturating in Scripture may be a help for those who need to slow down and meditate on God’s Word. Or, for others, why a plan that encourages reading larger sections of Scripture might help Bible readers see more clearly the full message of the Bible.

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Last Things First: Four More Ways Christ’s Birth Fulfills An End Times Prophecy

The Adoration of the MagiPicking up where I left off yesterday, I want to continue showing how the end-times prophecy of Isaiah 60 is fulfilled in the birth of Christ. From Isaiah 60:1–6, I highlighted three ways that Christ’s birth fulfilled the promises of (1) light, (2) joy, and (3) treasures brought to the temple. Today, I will pick up four more promises that are fulfilled in Christ’s birth.

4. Gentiles Have Been Received By Christ

In Isaiah 60:6 the LORD says kings will come to Zion bringing gifts. Now, in verse 7, we find the promise that those gifts “will beautify my beautiful house.” This “house” is a reference God’s holy temple, the place where God dwelt on earth. But incredibly, this house, its altar and inner sanctuary, were off limits–especially to Gentiles. And yet here, in Isaiah 60 we find the invitation for Gentile kings to “come up with acceptance on my altar.” The inclusion of “acceptance” is remarkable.

Under the old covenant, Gentiles were ritually and religiously unclean. In Ezekiel 44:6–9, Israel received the harshest condemnation because they permitted Gentiles to come near to God’s house. But now, Isaiah 60 says these foreign kings will be acceptable. How is this possible? The answer goes back to the international scope of the Servant’s work (Isa. 49:6–7).

While God chose Israel to be his covenant people in the Old Testament, the goal was always bigger. God would redeem a people from all nations, a theme that runs throughout Isaiah, and goes back to Abraham himself (see Gen. 12:1–3). In Isaiah 60, we now see the nations coming to Zion, bringing gifts (vv. 6–9), and building up the city of God. Listen to verse 10, “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.”

Incredibly, when God exiled the people of Israel to Babylon and the nations, he in turn made a way for the nations to begin coming to Zion to find salvation in Israel’s king. In Zechariah 8:23, the post-exilic prophet puts it like this, “In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” Indeed, in God’s unfathomable wisdom, he would turn Israel’s exile into a pathway of salvation for the nations. And in Isaiah 60:6–16 we find the nations coming to Israel bringing gifts and finding a place to reside near God.

In the New Testament, this emigration towards Zion is seen in the way the Magi come to Jerusalem to worship the king of the Jews. Most likely, these men of the East came to Jerusalem in response to the knowledge they received from exiled Jews. Daniel is a likely candidate for this kind of knowledge, but it could be others too. For our purposes, it is clear that Isaiah 60’s vision of the nations coming to Zion anticipates the arrival of the Magi. Or to turn it around, Matthew includes their pilgrimage to Zion (to Jesus, not just Jerusalem) to show how Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled.

On this point, we can go even further. These Gentile kings did not merely come to Bethlehem, they were welcomed into the Jewish living space Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. As Matthew 2:11 begins, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother.” Let us not miss the significance of this moment. These unclean Gentiles are received into the presence of the Israel’s king because of their worshipful faith. This too reinforces the fact that Isaiah 60 is being fulfilled in the way Gentile kings are received the King of the Jews. Continue reading

The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

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The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

When Jesus died and rose again, rocks cracked open, tombs emptied, and creation shook. As Matthew reports it, there was an earthquake associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. And that earthquake not only shook creation, it also raised the dead. As Matthew 27:52 says,

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,  and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

While this resurrection of the holy ones is mysterious, it shows the power of God to change the world  and to change a life. Death is not the final word to God, because God has the power to put death to death. And in Christ’s resurrection, this what he did and is still doing to those who he raises to life today (see Eph. 2:5)

Not surprisingly, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it also sent shockwaves into the world. First, it touched the lives of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, as well as those who saw Lazarus raised. Then quickly, news of Lazarus resurrection went viral. Just as God intended, Lazarus’s illness did not result in death  but in the glory of God (John 11:1–6).

Indeed, as God’s glory spread like a light over Jerusalem, it began shake the city. Jesus’s light began to give illumine believers and expose unbelievers. Just like the rest of Jesus’s ministry in John, news of this resurrection served to separate light from darkness and faith from unbelief. More exactly, Jesus’s seventh sign served as the climactic event that would lead to his death. Indeed, Lazarus’s resurrection had such a powerful effect  that everyone in Jerusalem was forced to take a side—Will you trust Jesus? Or will you reject him?

In fact, that’s the whole point of John’s Gospel and the point of the passage before us (John 11:45–12:11)—namely, to give us an unshakably faith by way of Christ’s resurrection shockwaves. Or to put it the other way round, the shockwaves of the resurrection produce unshakable faith.

Consider how this works: when we come to John 11:45 we are immediately confronted with the effects of Lazarus new life. In John 11:1–16 we have the set up for the resurrection of Lazarus. In John 11:17–44  we have the resurrection itself. And now in in John 11:45–12:11, we have the shockwaves of the resurrection.

As verses 45–46 indicate, these shockwaves do one of two things—they either produce faith or hostility. Notice the contrast here: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”

Already in John, we have seen this kind of separation. Jesus does something—e.g., he heals the sick or he feeds the 5,000—and people must make a decision. Will you believe on him, or not? And now, Jesus is at it again. Only now he has raised someone from the dead and has performed his seventh sign within ear shot of Jerusalem.

On Sunday this is what I preached, as I showed from John 11:45–12:11 how Christ’s power to raise the dead gives us a firm foundation on which to build our faith. You can listen to the sermon here. And you can see a bit more on the passage here.

As we remember the resurrection power of Christ, may we have confidence in him to secure us and save us even from all the deadly threats that surround us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Christ Over All: A New Website and a Personal Update

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If you have followed by blog for any length of time you know that my posting is somewhat irregular. As a pastor first, not a journalist, my  priority is preaching and teaching at my local church. After that, a couple times a year, I go and teach theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. And then after that I do some writing for various ministries, journals, and book publishers. Long story short, my blog is the overflow of the work I’m doing elsewhere, and I hope that it blesses and builds up those who read it.

I do not say it enough, but I am deeply thankful for the folks who have through the years reached out and interacted with things I’ve written. And Lord willing, I will continue to post biblical, theological, and culture-engaging content for the sake of the church, things that will bless you when you come and read them.

That said, over the last month or so I have not posted very much. And the reason for that is because I, with a handful of other pastors and theologians, have begun a new project called Christ Over AllSome of you may know about it, but for the others who do not, I’m pointing to it today. If you go to the homepage of Christ Over All, this is what you will find:

Christ Over All is a fellowship of pastor-theologians dedicated to helping the church see Christ as Lord and everything else under his feet.

Indeed, this is our vision and our prayer. Over the last year, our team of eight and then nine brothers in Christ talked, and prayed, and strategized for ways we could serve the church with a website that engaged many of the challenges of our current culture, but that did so by slower meditations on Scripture and longer articles applying biblical theology to our complex world. Over the last month, we have outlined this vision. And you can read some of the posts here. You can also listen to our new podcast.

Next month, we begin in earnest to bring solid content to the internet, as we dust off the book by Francis Schaeffer called A Christian Manifesto. Over the course of October, we will engage each chapter and also hit some key features of Schaeffer’s life and writing. I say all that to say, come spend a month with Christ Over All learning from Francis Schaeffer and his engagement with culture, government, and other public spaces. In the months after that, we will hit other relevant subjects that, Lord willing, builds up the church.

Additionally, if you want to stay in touch with Christ Over All, go sign up for our newsletter. If you have appreciated the content of Via Emmaus, I think you will enjoy the work of Christ Over All even more.

For me personally, I will keep writing in both spaces. I will probably let most of my biblical reflections take up residence here. And I will publish more of my cultural engagement pieces at Christ Over All. I’m sure there will be some crossover too, but this is how I will aim my writing.

All in all, I share this brief update to encourage you to check out the new website and to stay tuned here as I will be picking up a rhythm of writing again soon. Additionally, stay tuned for a renewal of the Via Emmaus podcast, which will read many of the articles and also have some new content too.

Again, I give thanks to God for the many friends who have read my blog. Your feedback and questions are always encouraging. I pray that it will continue to use my writing to build up your faith, as we see Christ from all the Scriptures in order to make disciples of all the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Why the Lord’s Supper Requires Baptism: A Typological Approach

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Who can take the Lord’s Supper is a question of no little dispute among those who call themselves Baptist (yes, this is a Baptist blogpost). In my estimation, the best answer to the question of baptism and Lord’s Supper goes something like this:

Those who have undergone believer’s baptism (the initiation rite of the new covenant) are permitted to eat at the Lord’s Supper (the continuing rite of the new covenant).

In what follows, I will offer a biblical typology to explain why baptism should precede Lord’s Supper. Rising from the Old Testament, these symbols of the new covenant do not arise de novo from Jesus or apostles. Rather, as we appreciate the Old Testament pattern of water-crossing that leads to feasting in God’s presence, we will see why baptism must precede the Lord’s Supper.

In short, OT “baptisms” are types of the NT baptisms and the Passover is the chief type of the Lord’s Supper. To understand baptism and the Lord’s Supper requires understanding the symbolism of these OT events. But also, because these OT “water crossings” are paired with a meals in God’s presence (e.g., Passover), we see that baptism and Lord’s Supper should also be paired together. This is the basic argument and we will consider it below in four steps, giving primary attention to the way baptism and the Lord’s Supper are informed by the book of Joshua. Continue reading

Why Baptists Do Not Count Infant Baptisms: A Friendly Response to Joe Rigney

vishal-banik-JdMihDkP-vc-unsplashWhen it comes to pastors and theologians who stand strong on the Word, strong against the world, and strong in their wise dealings with complex issues, few compare to Joe Rigney. When it comes to contemporary theologians, therefore, I consider his writing some of the best.

When I visited Minneapolis a number of years ago, I had an enjoyable lunch with him and a few other faculty at Bethlehem College and Seminary. And when he took the reins to lead that school I rejoiced. I am thankful for Joe Rigney and will continue to read his works and point people to his writing.

Yet, for that very reason, when he writes something that not only stands against my theological convictions, but something that confuses some of the sheep in my congregation, it is necessary to reply. In what follows, I will offer a three-point engagement with Joe’s recent piece, “Do Infant Baptisms Count? Reconsidering Open Membership.” To be clear, I am not responding point by point to Joe Rigney, but offering three substantial arguments for rejecting open membership.

While Joe spells his Baptist identity with a lower case B, and I spell mine with a capital B, the point of difference between us is more than grammar. The issues raised by his article range from the local to universal church, from the nature of the new covenant to the membership of new covenant church, and how churches differing on baptism should relate to one another.

These are important matters which have spawned books, pamphlets, and shorter articles. In what follows I won’t offer a comprehensive reply to Joe’s arguments, but I will offer a substantial one. Again, I write this as a friend and admirer of Joe and his labors. But as a pastor and a seminary professor of a school that seeks to affirm the confessionalism of Presbyterians and Baptists, without muddying the waters between them, I offer this rejoinder. Continue reading

How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan to Displace Darkness With Light (A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

john03The Great Reversal: God’s Cosmic Plan
To Displace Darkness With Light
(A Sermon on John 9:1-41)

In the Bible, we find a series of ironic reversals that move the story of salvation from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden City of Zion.

For instance, when Haman was hung on his own gallows, on the very day that this enemy of God sought to destroy the Jews, God reversed the course of events and saved Israel and sentenced Haman to death (see the Book of Esther). This is but one biblical example of a last second, game-winning ironic reversal.

In Scripture, victories over giants (1 Samuel 17), plagues by night (2 Kings 19), deadly fish that become emissaries of salvation (Jonah) become common features of God’s salvation. Accordingly, God’s people begin to trust that God will bring light in moments of darkness. And more, God actually delights to make the dark darker, before bringing such moments of light-giving salvation.

So great is this pattern of salvation, that Mary could praise God for his promise to raise up the humble and knock down the proud, even as she faced a life of hardship of being the the mother of God (see Luke 1:46–56). Steeped in the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus prayed to God like Hannah (1 Samuel 2), and David (Psalm 18), and the prophets (see e.g., Isaiah 60). And not surprisingly, this pattern of ironic reversals culminates in the death and resurrection of her son, Jesus Christ. Killed at the hands of wicked men, it appeared that all  hope was lost. Holy Saturday was a dark day. But on the third day, just as God had long ago promised, Jesus rose from the grave, proving that the dark is not dark to God (Ps. 139:1–6).

Indeed, the promise of light shining in the dark is a theme that runs through the Bible and one that culminates in many ways in John 9. Following God’s pattern for ironic reversals, this chapter shows us how a man born in darkness (i.e., born blind) is brought to the light. Meanwhile, those who lit the torches in the temple and proclaimed to have the light, were, by their unbelief, consigned to darkness. And why the difference? Well, that is what John 9 reveals.

And on Sunday, John 9 is what we considered. Indeed, to those who think they have power and authority to rule by their own wisdom, Jesus teaches us that he will withdraw his light. But to those who walk in darkness crying out for light, God the Son delights to come and save. This is the great reversal that stands at the center of the world. And in this sermon, you can see what Christ’s light has to say to us, in a world seeking salvation by a Great Reset. In truth, we need a Great Reversal. And thankfully that is what Christ has given us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds