Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review of God's Wisdom in Proverbs, by Dan Phillips

GWIPI know that I have been posting chapter reviews of The World-Tilting Gospel, but when I received this book, also by Dan Phillips (who blogs here and here) I started reading it and could not put it down.  It has greatly impacted my life and I plan to go through it with my family soon.  My wife is probably tired of hearing me go on and on about what I have read from it every day and how challenged I have been by really examining my life in light of the truth of wisdom from Proverbs.  So without further ado, let me get to my review and tell you what I have found as I have read and digested what Dan has written in this book.

Obviously, this book is a study of Proverbs.  It is not a verse by verse study, but rather a study of the authorship, structure, language, and major themes of Proverbs.  He has done a great deal of research (as evidenced by his footnotes and bibliography) and puts it all to great use.  He doesn't lean on these resources excessively and makes a point to show where he agrees and disagrees with them on various points.  In fact, one of the main things I appreciate is how Dan goes back to the Biblical basis and pulls from the context of the various verses in order to defend his position instead of merely leaning upon the work of others.  He also masterfully employs many word pictures to bring to mind manifestations of both wisdom and folly and the different concepts that Solomon presents to the reader in Proverbs.

Speaking of Solomon, Dan makes a point to establish the authorship of Solomon for all of Proverbs, except for the last two chapters (where each chapter states the original source for itself).  He also provides us with background information about Solomon and the source of his wisdom, which is important to keep in mind since Proverbs is a book about wisdom. 

He then takes the time to explain the structure of the book (a seemingly difficult task) and to develop some of the intricacies of Hebrew poetry.  Here we gain some valuable insight into how we need to look at the Proverbs and read them.  I had never been exposed to any teaching about Hebrew poetry, so I have found this particularly helpful for my own study in the book of Proverbs.  Dan also makes the important point that "Proverbs by design lays out pointed observations, meant to be memorized and pondered, not always intended to be applied 'across the board' to every situation without qualification."  He also explains the major types of proverbs, which will help you in examining the proverbs and how each line builds upon the other.

So now that Dan has detailed the structure of Hebrew poetry for us and shown us some examples of the types of proverbs, he takes us through Proverbs 1:2-6 to show us what the self-claimed purpose of the book of wisdom is.  It is at this point where Dan really starts to break down the Hebrew language and gets us to examine exactly why and how we should be reading Proverbs.  He lists out the benefits and shows how the text goes beyond us just learning what is wise and foolish, but moving into practicing it.  His development of this point is crucial to how we grow in the fear of Yahweh.  He also shows how Proverbs clearly shows that believers of all levels of maturity can gain from the reading and application of Proverbs.  So no matter who you are, you should continually be looking to this book of wisdom for guidance and spiritual growth.

We are then taken to the bedrock of the book of Proverbs, and really the Christian life...Proverbs 1:7 - "The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; Wisdom and discipline, dense people belittle." (this is Dan's translation, which he calls the DJP)  Dan goes to great length to explain what exactly the fear of Yahweh is and isn't so that we aren't confused by some of the misconceptions out there.  He also makes sure to let us know that "'fear of Yahweh' is where we must start, if we are ever to hope to gain wisdom and understanding" and that "The idea is more that of a foundation".  We don't just start and leave it behind, but we build upon it continually. 

After developing what the fear of Yahweh is, Dan shows us what the fear of Yahweh brings, as explained in the book of Proverbs.  These types of sections really make this an invaluable resource because Dan takes the time to search Proverbs and show the verses where we are shown what the fear of Yahweh brings to us.  And he follows that up by searching Proverbs to show us different verses showing what the opposites of the fear of Yahweh are.  So not only do we know what we need to look for, but we know what to avoid!

Dan then takes some time to explain just how it is we are to seek and to find the treasure of wisdom.  There is much here that we all need to pay attention to so that we don't miss out on wisdom.  He also delves into how it is that we are supposed to relate to God.  There is a good bit of explanation of what exactly it means to trust God and this is an area that is key for Christianity in our day and age.  I say that because it seems there are many misconceptions of what this means and how it really works.  Dan does a great job here of showing us the truth.

In the last three chapters of the book, Dan moves into the application of Proverbs with regards to our relationships with others.  The first regards godly relationships in general and contains a lot of good thoughts for all of us to keep in mind as we look for close friends.  The second deals with godly marriage and I can't imagine any married person who would not be greatly challenged (in a great way) by this chapter.  And the last chapter covers godly parenting...once again, who does not need to improve in this area?  He is faithful to Scripture in each of these chapters and I have found myself examining how I can improve in each of these areas since reading through them.  In fact, by the grace of God, I have seen improvement and have been encouraged to increase in wisdom by acting upon the teaching of Scripture that Dan has developed here.  These three chapters alone would make this a must-buy for any Christian!

Dan tops it off by explaining that Proverbs should point to the fact that we have all fallen short and that we all must count on Christ's perfect work.  I am glad that he brought it back around to the Gospel because both unbelievers and believers alike need to keep this in mind.  What a wonderful Savior we have and how thankful I am every day that He chose to save a sinner like me.

From there, we move into the appendices, where Dan takes on a few topics from the text in a bit more depth.  The first one covers the authorship of Proverbs.  I never knew that there were so many people who argued that there were other authors of the first 29 chapters of Proverbs, but Dan lays out the arguments and the commentators who put them forth for us to see.  Then he goes to quick work in refuting them.  I must say that he left me quite unimpressed with the arguments against Solomon's authorship.

In the second appendix, Dan breaks down the usage and meaning of the key words from Proverbs.  Dan does a great job of bringing out the true meaning from the original Hebrew text and breaking  it down to the level where a layman can easily follow.  He says that this appendix is mainly for the student of Hebrew, but I've never studied it and I found this section quite helpful and informative.

He moves from there to the meaning of Proverbs 22:6 and I would highly recommend that everybody read this appendix and take it to heart.  I must say that I feel that the English translations get this one wrong and I am quite thankful that Dan has taken the time to set the record straight.

And he finishes the book with the last appendix on teaching and preaching through the book of Proverbs.  I hope that many a pastor/teacher read this and decide to teach through the book.  It is certainly not covered in most churches and I would say that is to our detriment.  I have personally seen a much more determined effort in my own life since I have read this book and really gotten more depth from my study of Proverbs.  My hope and prayer is that many will read this book and see the same in their own lives.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chapter 3 of The World-Tilting Gospel, by Dan Phillips

So now that Dan has shown us how Adam sinned and died spiritually, we need to look at how this affects us in the here and now.  After all, that was his sin...it isn't ours, right?  Dan points out how Scripture shows that in Genesis 5:3, we see that Adam had a son "in his own likeness, after his image."  In reading further, we can see the difference between Adam's image after the fall (Dan also shows how this term is not nearly strong enough) and God's image (remember that God created Adam in His image).  We also see that following down that line throughout early history (early meaning we look at Genesis 4), things got progressively worse.

This brings us to Dan's discussion of the meaning of sin.  He has shown some of its effects (a lot of death for sure - and Dan went through defining death in the last chapter), but we need to get a grasp on what sin itself is.  I think he does a great job of showing us that we must define sin by looking at the perfect standard of God in order to get a true meaning.  That means we have to look at God and then ourselves, not others.  He then takes us back to Scripture to answer the question "How far does it go?" with regards to the "natural addiction to lawlessness passed on through his (Adam's) children".  And the picture painted isn't very pretty. 

Dan walks us through the history of the Old Testament to show us that all of mankind is stained with sin.  Sadly, as Dan notes, "It is sometimes said that the notion of 'original sin' or 'total depravity' (i.e., that every part of us is warped by sin) was either invented by the apostle Paul, or was made up later by Christian theologians."  Dan shows how the Bible itself backs up the concepts of original sin and total depravity way back in the Old Testament.  He pulls from much of Old Testament Scripture to show that there is not one single good person...that not one person can say they've cleansed themselves from sin and has a pure heart.  This is seen in the lives of all the people that are thought of as great men of God in the Old Testament.

And then Dan references what I consider the strongest portion of Scripture regarding just how stained by sin all of mankind is...Isaiah 64:6: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."  This verse doesn't talk about our sins, but our righteous deeds.  As Dan points out, "deeds done in religious service are tainted with self-love, self-seeking, self-worship."  He also gets to the depth of our sin by showing the true meaning of "a polluted garment" in the original Hebrew text.  I'm sure many of you know it already, but for those of you who don't, it isn't pretty.  That is another detail I will leave for you to read in the book.

So now that Dan has demonstrated that the Old Testament teaches of our depravity, he moves on to the New Testament.  Before even getting into the epistles, Dan reminds us that Jesus Himself affirmed the truthfulness and authority of the Old Testament.  Jesus says that we must repent and Dan shows that this indicates "a change of mind so fundamental, so root-to-branch, that the life changes as a consequence."  He then lays out the following as what is not "the premise of such a command":
  • Jesus wouldn't say this if we were right with God
  • Jesus wouldn't say this if we were OK and just needed to do more or do better
  • Jesus wouldn't say this if we just needed to fix a thing or two
Dan's humor shines a bit here and once again, I have left the details for you to read for yourself.  I have also left out the fundamental premise that Dan lays out for us.  Which I say is what every sinner must come to grips with before being saved.  I'm not saying they have to say the exact same words, but that the thought he describes will resonate with a person upon being quickened...or even upon rejection of the truth because somebody just doesn't want to deal with the implications of that thought.  Dan lays out part of those implications from the very words of Jesus regarding how man is defiled.

So now that we have seen how nasty and sinful we are, how do we deal with that?  Dan moves on to show us that "Jesus gives two extreme prescriptions, for what we need in the face of His teaching."  The first of which is "the cross".  There are many wrong ideas of what this involves, but Dan does a good job of explaining what it really means to carry our cross daily.  The second prescription is "new birth".  Dan also does a good job of explaining this from Scripture so that we have a good understanding of what it means to be born again.

We are then taken from the words of Jesus to the words of Peter.  And we shouldn't be surprised that Peter, like Jesus, said the people needed to repent.  This was his message at Pentecost, and it was also what he affirms in 1 Peter.  Dan also demonstrates that "Paul also confirmed and developed the teaching of Jesus".  He takes us to Romans, where Paul demonstrates that we are all guilty, that there is no good person seeking after God, and "sin came to hold us all in its vice-like grip".  Dan then takes us through Paul's comparison between Jesus and Adam and shows that Paul shows that Jesus is "head of a new subset of humanity" and "what He did affects all of those whom He represents."  He also lays out Paul's description of man's condition from Ephesians 2 and gives us some humorous concepts of what Paul does not say about us...concepts that (sadly) many seem to hold as being true.  He also goes through his own personal dealings with the "illusory" thoughts that he had about death and relates that to how many Christians have illusory thoughts about the concept of their spiritual state.  Again, he inserts a bit of humor to really give us an idea of how out of line we are with reality before salvation.  And he shows how Paul is in line with the same ideas that we saw in the Old Testament with regards to the sinful state of man.

So Dan has laid out the bad news for us.  He summarizes by laying out a few bullet points showing how "we have seen ourselves as God sees us".  He walks us through a summary of these first three chapters, which make up Part One of the book, and tells us that "We must deal with the fact: The Gospel is offensive to human pride.  If what we preach as "Gospel" is not offensive, we're doing it wrong."  This is important to keep in mind because, as Dan states, "the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel that offends."  He ends the chapter, and Part One, by saying "It is time we understood that offensive, saving Gospel."  And he does so in Part Two (Chapters 4-6).

Before closing out this chapter review, I want to say that I can not understate how well Dan uses word pictures and humor in this book.  He really brings to life the thoughts and concepts that he is trying to explain from the Bible.  And it is so readable that I can't think of anybody who would not be able to read through it easily.  I can't overstate how sorely this book is needed in the post-Christian culture today...I hope that it finds its way into many, many hands. 

Thanks for writing this book, Dan...I know that God is working through your efforts to spread the "offensive, saving Gospel".

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chapter 2 of The World-Tilting Gospel, by Dan Phillips

So now that we've seen some examples of bad or incorrect worldviews, Dan takes us back to the very beginning in Chapter 2.  "To assemble a worldview based on God's truth rather than the world's lies or our hearts' self-serving deceptions, we must begin at the beginning - as in, 'In the beginning.'"  We see that the first three chapters of Scripture "convey an intense concentration of foundational revelation that is breathtaking in its depth and scope.  It is here that we first encounter the truth of God, His nature, His word, His creation, and His plan for all the ages."  Sounds like pretty important stuff, huh?  I can't stress how important this is to understanding the truth of Who God is and who we are.  So many people have done damage to proper theology by not looking at Genesis 1-3 as being literal history and trying to say it is allegory.  As Dan states, if we get these verses "fundamentally wrong...we get everything else wrong." (emphasis mine)  He sets out to hit these three highlights from these three chapters:
  1. Man's preparation
  2. Man's probation
  3. Man's prostration
First, we have to understand why it is that God put us here.  As we read through the first chapter of Genesis, we see God building upon His creation day by day and the days have parallels that the text of this book works through.  Dan brings out the details of these parallels in order to work up to the "crowning act of creation", and then shows the importance of the creation of man in God's image.  We also see that God tells Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it...God gives them dominion over all of the life on the earth as well.  And God has prepared man to follow God's command...all they have to do is obey.

That brings us to man's probation.  We've seen what God has told man to do - "Multiply, subdue, chow down."  And he could eat from any tree in the garden except for one.  Dan paints a picture of how good this fruit must have been because there were none of the after-effects of sin...no chemicals, no rotting, and I'm thinking that they were no throw-aways.  As for the one tree not to be eaten from, there have been many speculations as to what this tree was and Dan lays waste to a couple of popular ones.  Regardless of what the fruit itself was, it is true that eating of this tree is rebellion and "the tree represented autonomy, the illusion of self-rule."  The point is made that we will never really know what would have happened if Adam and Eve (and all of us) had chosen to listen to God.

And who do they (and we) decide to listen to instead?  The serpent!  We all know the conversation here, but Dan draws out a point from the original language that English just doesn't show us.  I'd tell you, but I want you to read the book and find out for yourself.  Needless to say, the Serpent knew the weak spot to go after and didn't face much resistance in his efforts.  Satan says God wasn't telling the truth and that man could be like God if they ate from the tree.  Dan makes a good point of how people tell this lie today in the following ways:
  • You aren't realizing your potential
  • You aren't fully actualized
  • You aren't authentic
  • You aren't having your best life now
  • You are trapped by legalistic myths about God
  • You should fulfill your destiny
Any of this sound familiar?  This is one of the reasons that I am glad Dan wrote this book...he takes on all of these types of sentiments and takes them back to their origin.  Too many people are unwilling to take a strong enough stand against the false teachers in the world today and so many are being led astray.  And they are facing the same punishment that God told Adam and Eve they would face for eating from the forbidden tree - eternal death.  Dan also takes the time to deal with the objections that it is not fair for God to mete out this punishment to us when we didn't choose Adam and Eve to represent us and we didn't get the chance to make the decision.  And I can't think of a better argument than he puts forth here.  So we see that man has disobeyed God and now is facing the punishment that God had already promised.

So man is supposed to die, right?  Then why are Adam and Eve still breathing?  What gives?  Well, it all depends on what is meant by dying.  The Bible speaks of both spiritual and physical life and death.  Dan pulls from Scripture and adds more depth to the definitions and helps us to see that Adam and Even did dies the moment they ate that fruit, but it just isn't the same picture of death that most of us have.  When you look at the spiritual ramifications, it is pretty grim.  Look at how Adam reacted when God appears in the garden...he hides from God...which is quite silly when you really think about it - you can't be hidden from God.  This is Adam's Creator, with Whom he had enjoyed fellowship and from Whom he received dominion over the rest of the world.  Also, Dan shows that offending God has become acceptable in the eyes of man and then lists the following implications (but in much better detail):
  • God no longer rules man
  • God's glory is not central, but self-preservation
  • Man's perception of God is inadequate
  • Man is evasive about sin
  • Adam blames God
So we see how man reacted...and then we see God's reaction in His response.  Amazingly, He shows grace and promises that He "will send a second Man, a las Adam, to win out where they so miserably failed."  God also lays out the curses on man and the earth for this sin and Adam and Eve are left to deal with the consequences, which we still face today. 

So we now see the wonder of creation and "have learned what the world does not know: what it means to be human."  We can also see how everything went wrong and how far man fell in that short instant of time.  So what about us?  How does this all affect us thousands of years later.  As Dan suggests, "Read on."