Review: Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch

IVPWe often and unconsciously read our contemporary understanding of words and ideas into the Pentateuch. Who is to blame? The past is a foreign territory. Ancient Near Eastern cognitive environment of the patriarchal period overwhelmingly finds its location outside our contemporary mindset.

Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (2002), edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, provides immensely wealth of information in  form of comprehensively finely written articles to familiarize us with this foreign territory. This dictionary creates a solid bridge between our modern worldview and that of the patriarchal period of ancient Near Eastern. It assembled leading Old Testament scholars, such as Peter Enns, Richard S. Hess, John H. Walton, John E. Hartley and Victor H. Matthews, just to mention the few, whose articles drag the past into the present. This dictionary will help you start reading the Pentateuch for what its worth.

This monumental work plays well as a referential tool to biblical scholars, graduates, clergy and laypersons who are interested in understanding Old Testament’s literature and form criticism, background information, archaeology, ancient Near Eastern worldviews, and so on, mostly in relationship to the first five books. Like any dictionary, this resource is not meant to be read from cover to cover. It’s meant to be used as a referential goldmine to guide you into the unfamiliar territories of the Pentateuch.

Few of my personal favorite articles are E. C. Lucas’ Cosmology and J. H. Walton’s Creation. These two articles helped me comprehend the cognitive understanding of ancient Near Eastern cosmogony. Swimming in our contemporary salty and bloody waters of confusing ideas concerning the opening chapters of Genesis, exploring how ancient Near Eastern Jews would have understood the creation story of Genesis 1-3 is quite refreshing. Continue reading

Wilhelmus Brakel: The Christian’s Reasonable Service

Reasonable Service

The supreme object of God’s servants’ desire and delight is living a life in accordance to the will of God. In order to do so, God’s servants must know God. Systematical knowledge of God and practical application of that knowledge in ordinary Christians’ lives is the heart of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s (1635-1711), one of the less known but most eloquent Reformed minister and theologian, masterwork The Christian’s Reasonable Service.

This masterwork is 17th century’s Didache. Brakel unloaded unmatched practical and systematic theology that would not only lead its readers to delight in God but also to personally apply the biblical truth acquired in their daily conducts.

Brakel is a minister first and a theologian second. He is James first and Paul (in Romans) second. He wrote this tremendously edifying work to lay churchmen and women first and scholars second. Echoing the practicality of the epistle of James, Brakel provided a biblical insight on how ordinary Christians ought to practically conduct themselves in their communities.

The Christian’s Reasonable Service’s contents and the style it was written makes it easy for an ordinary Christians, with only basic Bible knowledge, to understand the core doctrines of Christianity. Repeatedly Brakel introduces each doctrine with short definition and exposition packed with biblical passages’ support. He then raised and addressed possible misunderstanding. Last Brakel provided ways in which Christians can apply that particular doctrine in their daily walk with God and people around them.

Brakel’s masterwork is divided into four volumes. Volume one includes proper theology, anthropology, and Christology. Volume two includes ecclesiology and soteriology.  Soteriology covered the whole volume three and half of volume four.  The other half of this volume four includes eschatology and appendix, which touched some of the issues in ecclesiology that were not covered in volume two.

Logos Bible Software’s features enables you to take Brakel’s systematic and practical theology a step further.  The ability to read cited Bible passages, to view the timeline(see here), and to share notes with other readers is revolutionary.

Thank you Logos Bible Software for a review copy of Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, given to me for the purposes of review.

Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology


The Bible, according to Reformed theologian and apologist Cornelius Van Til, is an absolute authoritative revelation source to which the whole interpretation of life ought to be based. Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology (1979) merged God-centered Reformed theology with presuppositional apologetic methodology.

In this work Van Til attempted to present what Scripture reveal about God in an organized and unified way. He aimed to explain that the ultimate source of truth and intrinsic value is not found in human beings but in God alone. Van Til combated all other philosophies that seeks to attain true self-knowledge and value in human beings.

Following John Calvin’s understanding that  “man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God”(Calvin Inst. 1.1.2) Van Til argued that the knowledge of God as revealed in Scripture is the only standard by which all other conviction should not only be measured but also be based.

This masterwork will help Christians bring different parts of Scriptures into relation to each other forming one unified portrait of God’s nature and His works. It will also help them to be able to give an apologia of the hope that is in them and at the same time be able to confront and challenge nonbelievers’ presuppositions.

Using Logos Bible Software to reading Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology, Van Til’s apologetic theology is taken to the next level. Logos Bible Software enables you to easily read Bible passages in your favorite Bible version and explore in depth most of the original sources¹ cited in this Van Til’s work.

Thank you Logos Bible Software for a review copy of Cornelius Van Til’s An Introduction To Systematic Theology, given to me for the purposes of review.

[1] This is possible only if you own that particular resource in your Logos Bible library. You often can buy a missing resource at Logos Products. You can add  The Works of Cornelius Van Til (40 vols.) in your Logos Bible Software library.

Book Review: Jesus The Messiah

 Jesus The Messiah

“Classical exposition of messiahship” is my four words review of Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock and Gordon H. Johnston’s 528-paged Kregel Publications coup d’état work,  Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King (2012)

Answering who Jesus, the Messiah is, Johnston broke dawn by trace messianic trajectories from the Old Testament, Bateman captured the anticipations of this messianic figure and Bock took captive the twilight of coming messiah, leaving no stone unturned.

Jesus the Messiah is divided into three parts. In part one, Johnston went in a great detail through the Old Testament tracing the royal dynasty of the Israel King. Part two, Bateman pick up the expectation of the of this Israel eschatological King. Part three, Bock contended how Jesus is the Israel eschatological King.

In addition, Johnston delves into Proto-Evangelion (The promise in Genesis 3:15) in appendix. Johnston exposited Genesis 3:15, as he answered what the author of Genesis intended his original audience to understand. Although he agree that Genesis 3:1 has messianic potential, Johnston argued: “The conscious object of the faith of ancient Israel was not the expectation of the coming “head-crusher,” but Yahweh alone as their Deliverer and Lord”(p. 460)

The authors’ main aim,

[I]s […] to help those who fail to see any connection between promise in the First Testament and fulfillment in the Second Testament about messiah, as well as to nudge others to consider moving beyond the notion that all First Testament readings about “messiah” were fixed and only spoke directly about Jesus.(p. 35)

Colored charts, maps, graphs, figures et cetera made Jesus the Messiah not only informative but humdinger. I will recommend this work to those who are fascinated by the character of Christ Jesus. It is a heavy book, but worth reading and turning to again and again when needed.

Thank you Laura Bartlett at Kregel Academic & Ministry for proving me with a free PDF copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Concise Atheists’ Books Review: Monton + Sheiman

GlassesIn December-January, I finally read Brandley Monton’s and Bruce Sheiman’s works. It is encouraging, in midst of angry books of new atheists, to read Monton and Sheiman as they bring in light, instead of heat, in the ongoing debate on the place of science and religion.

Bruce SheimanBruce Sheiman, in a 256 pages-Alpha published book,  An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off with Religion(2009), went head on against the popular myth of new atheism movement that religion is evil and at war with science, and thus should be erased, to show that humanity is better off with religious beliefs.

As an atheist, Sheiman contend not for the existence of God but for the belief in God. He wrote, “I want to believe this[that God exists, humans are made in Imago Dei etc] but, alas, I cannot. Thus, even though I cannot believe in God, I still feel the need for God.”(ix)

Religion, particularly Christianity, contended Sheiman, offers a transcendent moral values and duties, human rights, altruism, mental healthy, happiness and longer life, and gave birth to science.

There is much to agree with Sheiman, as a Christian theist, and little to disagree e.g. he makes couples of classical errors e.g. confusing epistemology with ontology as he went through researches that showed both believers and nonbeliever grasp same moral values and duties, tagging Intelligent Design as Creationism and seem to hold a belief that the universe somehow was impregnated with life, thus we can find meaning and values from this notion.

Bradley MontonBradley Monton’s, who dearly remind me of Alvin Plantinga in the manner he addresses issues, 177 paged-Broadview Press book: Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design(2009) worked out a possibly better definition of Intelligent Design(ID) and succeed in refuting popular rejections and objections gunned towards it.

He, as an atheist philosopher, is challenged by teleological argument for existence of God(TAG) and he is less certain of his atheism as he find this argument some what plausible but not having enough evidence to make him stop being an atheist. He wrote,

“I think that there is some evidence for an intelligent designer, and in fact, I think that there is some evidence that that intelligent designer is God. The arguments I’ll consider in Chapter 3 make me less certain of my atheism than I would be had I never heard the arguments. The evidence isn’t enough to make me stop being an atheist, though”.(p.39)

Monton is a good example of a clear thinking gentlemen who is after truth no matter the cost. This is a brilliant book, both to show that popular objections against TAG and the rejection of ID as science are unwarranted.

I will give a fuller chapter by chapter review of each book in near future. Have you read one or both books? Let me know your thoughts.

More of Nagel’s Review Of Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Nagel's ReviewRichard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, a book that attempted to expose logical faultiness of religion and its’ cause of much suffering in the world, is the most read atheistic literature in our times. In this series of articles, I explored different prominent atheists and agnostics’ reviews of The God Delusion.

This article is a follow up of my second  atheists’ reviewer, an American philosopher Thomas Nagel, whose review, “The Fear Of Religion”, appeared in The Republic on October 23rd 2006, page 25-29. If you have not read the first part, Nagel’s Review Of Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I will dearly recommend you to do so before reading this closing remark of Nagel’s review of Dawkins’ popular book, The God Delusion.

Nagel’s Third Alternative: No to God Hypothesis And No to Physical Naturalism

The tension between “Dawkins’s physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point[of what best explain the origin of life] is physical, extensional, and purposeless or mental, intentional, and purposive” correctly observed Nagel. Both views, according to him, fail to explain the grand explanation. “ The God hypothesis does not explain the existence of God, and naturalistic physicalism does not explain the laws of physics”.

Adding my own remark, I believe Nagel here missed or failed to understand the aim of  design argument, the God hypothesis, which does not step forward to explain the existence of God. The argument from design simply attempt to argue for the existence of a designer. The grand explaining for the existence or the nature of this designer is a totally different matter.

Nagel offered the Aristotelian view as another possible possibility. He expounded that “there are teleological principles in nature that are explained neither by intentional design nor by purposeless physical causation— principles that therefore provide an independent end point of explanation for the existence and form of living things.”

The positive part of Dawkins’s argument, commented Nagel, is that “Darwin’s theory of natural selection offered a way of accounting, [which is not a result of design nor hopelessly improbable chance], for the exquisite functional organization of organisms through physical causation”.  The Complexity that arises, which gives an appearance of design without design, can be radically reduced by the theory of heritable variation and natural selection “purely on the basis of a combination of physical causes operating over billions of years”.

Even though most this story’s detail can never be recovered and that there are also  evolutionists’ internal issues on how the process works, “[t]here are also skeptics about whether such a process is capable, even over billions of years, of generating the complexity of life as it is.” The direct analogy to Dawkins’ “Who made God?” explained Nagel, is that,

The theory of evolution through heritable variation and natural selection reduces the improbability of organizational complexity by breaking the process down into a very long series of small steps, each of which is not all that improbable. But each of the steps involves a mutation in a carrier of genetic information—an enormously complex molecule capable both of self- replication and of generating out of surrounding matter a functioning organism that can house it. The molecule is moreover capable sometimes of surviving a slight mutation in its structure to generate a slightly different organism that can also survive. Without such a replicating system there could not be heritable variation, and without heritable variation there could not be natural selection favoring those organisms, and their underlying genes, that are best adapted to the environment.

Darwinian explanation hangs on the prior existence “of genetic material” with have outstanding properties, which preconditioned the possibility of evolution. Nagel explained that “since the existence of this material or something like it is a precondition of the possibility of evolution, evolutionary theory cannot explain its existence.” He went on,

We are therefore faced with a problem analogous to that which Dawkins thinks faces the argument from design: we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back one step: how did such a thing come into existence?

According to Nagel, an  obvious difference between Darwinian explanation to that of God hypothesis is that only the former is observable. “But the problem that originally prompted the argument from design” explained Nagel, is “—the over whelming improbability of such a thing coming into existence by chance, simply through the purposeless laws of physics— remains just as real for this case. Yet this time we cannot replace chance with natural selection.”

In The God Delusion, Dawkins response was “pure hand-waving” at this difficult by claiming it was a one-time event and that given billions of planets in the universe that may permit life, it is likely that a DNA could be formed. Nagel expounded,

Dawkins is not a chemist or a physicist. Neither am I, but general expositions of research on the origin of life indicate that no one has a theory that would support anything remotely near such a high probability as one in a billion billion. Naturally there is speculation about possible non-biological chemical precursors of DNA or RNA. But at this point the origin of life remains, in light of what is known about the huge size, the extreme specificity, and the exquisite functional precision of the genetic material, a mystery—an event that could not have occurred by chance and to which no significant probability can be assigned on the basis of what we know of the laws of physics and chemistry.

Nonetheless it happened and this, according to Nagel, is the reason “why the argument from design is still alive, and why scientists who find the conclusion of that argument unacceptable feel there must be a purely physical explanation of why the origin of life is not as physically improbable as it seems.”

Since time cannot replace chance with natural selection, Dawkins, with “a desperate device to avoid the demand for a real explanation”, invoked “the possibility that there are vastly many universes”. Hence giving chance more chances to create life.

Final Remarks: Fear Of Religion + World-flattening Reductionism

As “an outsider to religion”, Nagel believes, unlike Dawkins, that deciding which one, the God hypothesis or Darwinian evolution, offers a best explanation of what we observe is a tough question to put to rest. He suspect there could be other unthought-of solutions than that offered by these two.

A brilliant observation was made by Nagel when he contended that “[t]he fear of religion leads too many scientifically minded atheists to cling to a defensive, world-flattening reductionism.” He went further,

Dawkins, like many of his con- temporaries, is hobbled by the assumption that the only alternative to religion is to insist that the ultimate explanation of everything must lie in particle physics, string theory, or what-ever purely extensional laws govern the elements of which the material world is composed.

The problem in this reductive view,  “the world with all subjective consciousness, sensory appearances, thought, value, purpose, and will left out.” Going against this view, Nagel contended that “ [w]e have more than one form of understanding.” He expounded,

Different forms of understanding are needed for different kinds of subject matter. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal. We have no reason to dismiss moral reasoning, introspection, or conceptual analysis as ways of discovering the truth just because they are not physics.

He also point out that anti-reductionist view also have  “very serious problems about how the mutually irreducible types of truths about the world are related.” It is true that we are physical organism. How do we deal with thoughts, emotions and value, if not mere complicated physical states of organism, asks Nagel. “What is their relation to the brain processes on which they seem to depend? More: if evolution is a purely physical causal process, how can it have brought into existence conscious beings?”

Nagel’s verdict on Dawkins’ famous book could be packed in a single sentence. The God Delusion is “a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument” and contemptuous flippancy when dealing with the classical arguments offered for the existences of God.

Next: Simon Watson: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Atheist Fundamentalism

Disclaimers: I am  terribly biased and unfairly hard on Dawkins’ The God Delusion.  My aim is for us to critically examine Dawkins’ case against the existence of God. Whether we agree or disagree with Dawkins’ conclusions, I believe we ought to wrestle with strength and weakness of his arguments. As far as Nagel is concerned, he found The God Delusion’s case  particularly weak. Dawkins could and I believe can do better.

Nagel’s Review Of Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Nagel's Review

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, a book that attempted to expose logical faultiness of religion and its’ cause of much suffering in the world, is the most read atheistic literature in our times. In this series of articles, I explored different prominent atheists and agnostics’ reviews of The God Delusion.

If you missed my first atheist reviewer, evolutionary geneticist H. Allen Orr, I welcome you to read: Dawkins The Missionary. Second in line of atheists’ reviewers is an American philosopher Thomas Nagel. His review, “The Fear Of Religion”, appeared in The Republic on October 23rd 2006, page 25-29. I explored Nagel’s length review in two parts.

The God Delusion: World-flattening Defensive Reductionism

Thomas Nagel correctly remarked that Richard Dawkins “is the most prominent and accomplished scientific writer of our times”. Dawkins, observed Nagel, view religion as the enemy of science. In The God Delusion, a book that aimed to “both dissuade believers and to embolden atheists”, Dawkins assemble all arsenal to tear down religion.

As a result of Dawkins attacking religion with all the weapons at his disposal, Nagel pronounced The God Delusion as “a very uneven collection of scriptural ridicule, amateur philosophy, historical and contemporary horror stories, anthropological speculations, and cosmological scientific argument”.

Unlike The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Climbing Mount Improbable, Nagel noticed that Dawkins was swimming outside his field, and as a result “The God Delusion lacks the superb instructive lucidity of his books on evolutionary theory […]”

Commenting on the foci of The God Delusion, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, where Dawkins’ gave his central argument of his book, Nagel wrote that “Dawkins sets out with care his position on a question of which the importance cannot be exaggerated: the question of what explains the existence and character of the astounding natural order we can observe in the universe we inhabit”. Two explanations sided by Dawkins, observed Nagel:

On one side is what he calls “the God Hypothesis,” namely that “there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.” On the other side is Dawkins’s alternative view: “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it.” In Dawkins’s view, the ultimate explanation of everything, including evolution, may be found in the laws of physics, which explain the laws of chemistry, which explain the existence and the functioning of the self-replicating molecules that underlie the biological process of genetic mutation and natural selection.

Nagel sighted that the topic of Dawkins’ central case is not institution religion “based on scriptures, miracles, or the personal experience of God’s presence”, but the reflection on natural theology namely the existence and nature of God.

“[W]ith contemptuous flippancy”, explained Nagel, Dawkins shelve away the tradition arguments from existence of God presented by Aquinas and Anselm. Nagel wrote,

I found these attempts at philosophy, along with those in a later chapter on religion and ethics, particularly weak; Dawkins seems to have felt obliged to include them for the sake of completeness.

Nagel rightly detected Dawkins’ true concern is the design argument because it there were the religious belief clashes with atheism. Which view is “most plausible explanation of the observable evidence” is  where the clash is.  Dawkins argued, explained Nagel, “that contemporary science gives us decisive reason to reject the argument from design, and to regard the existence of God as overwhelmingly improbable.”

Nagel expounded the William Paley’s type of argument from design which contends that some organism are irreducibly complex that “could not have come into existence by chance, but must have been created by a designer”. Nagel expounded,

The two inferences seem analogous, but they are very different. First, we know how watches are manufactured, and we can go to a watch factory and see it done. But the inference to creation by God is an inference to something that we have not observed and presumably never could observe. Second, the designer and the manufacturer of a watch are human beings with bodies, using physical tools to mold and put together its parts. The supernatural being whose work is inferred by the argument from design for the existence of God is not supposed to be a physical organism inside the world, but someone who creates or acts on the natural world while not being a part of it.

He explained that the “first difference is not an objection to the argument.” He explained,

Scientific inference to the best explanation of what we can observe often leads to the discovery of things that are themselves unobservable by perception and detectable only by their effects. In this sense, God might be no more and no less observable than an electron or the Big Bang.

The second difference, according to Nagel, is more challenging because the “idea of purposive causation–of design–by a non-physical being on analogy with our understanding of purposive causation by a physical being such as a watchmaker” is unclear.

Nevertheless Nagel reckoned this “need not be fatal to the theistic argument” because “science often concludes that what we observe is to be explained by causes that are not only unobservable, but totally different from anything that has ever been observed, and very difficult to grasp intuitively.”

Nagel commented that a theist holding this argument “could say that the evidence supports an intentional cause, and that it is hardly surprising that God, the bodiless designer, while to some extent describable theoretically and detectable by his effects, is resistant to full intuitive understanding.”

Dawkins offered one positive response, which had third alternative different from chance and design, and negative response, “[a] designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right” to rebut the argument from design.

Nagel believed that Dawkins negative response depends “on a misunderstanding of the conclusion of the argument from design, in its traditional sense as an argument for the existence of God.” He wrote,

If the argument is supposed to show that a supremely adept and intelligent natural being, with a super-body and a super-brain, is responsible for the design and the creation of life on earth, then of course this “explanation” is no advance on the phenomenon to be explained: if the existence of plants, animals, and people requires explanation, then the existence of such a super-being would require explanation for exactly the same reason. But if we consider what that reason is, we will see that it does not apply to the God hypothesis.

“God, whatever he may be, is not a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world” remarked Nagel. Dawkins understanding of God existence namely “ a chance concatenation of atoms is not a possibility for which we must find an alternative, because that is not what anybody means by God”. He clarified,

If the God hypothesis makes sense at all, it offers a different kind of explanation from those of physical science: purpose or intention of a mind without a body, capable nevertheless of creating and forming the entire physical world. The point of the hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.

If I may add my own remark on top of what Nagel pointed out.  Even if we grant the incorrect Dawkins’ notions of “a designed complex” designer, since he confuse the complicity of mind’s ideas with the simplicity of the mind itself, contrary to what Dawkins believe, for design argument to succeed, it defender does not need to offer an explanation of an explanation to know that “this designed complex” designer is a best explanation. As for Nagel, “[a]ll explanation comes to an end somewhere”.

Next: More of Nagel’s Review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion

Disclaimers: I am  terribly biased and unfairly hard on Dawkins’ The God Delusion.   My aim is for us to critically examine Dawkins’ case against the existence of God. Whether we agree or disagree with Dawkins’ conclusions, I believe we ought to wrestle with strength and weakness of his arguments. As far as Nagel is concerned, he found The God Delusion’s case  particularly weak. Dawkins could and I believe can do better.