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Monthly Archives: July 2009

THoR = The History of Rome :: Mike Duncan

Mike has put together an amazingly entertaining History of Rome podcast series with all the historical detail you could want. I’ve listened to over half the episodes already each morning as I get dressed, each night as I am going to bed, and in my car on the road. It’s very addictive.

Although this video link below is not a trailer for the podcast, it can wet your appetite.

Learn About The Roman Empire

::::::::::::: HT: The History of Rome


Book Review: Seeing With New Eyes by David Powlison

Since I posted a book review on Jay Adams’ book Competent to Counsel entitled Psychology is the Devil: A Critique of Jay Adams’ Counseling Paradigm, it has been the most viewed post here at  T h e o • p h i l g u e.  On the one hand, I think the Biblical Counseling Movement has great potential and certainly beats compromised approaches to counseling that do not take the Christian Worldview seriously enough.  On the other hand, I also think that many who associate themselves with the BCM are plagued with a spirit of anti-science, and that sometimes those who are not a part of their movement interpret and apply the Bible in a way that is more biblically informed and scientifically aware.  Although not associated closely with BCM or the integrationist approach, Eric Johnson has presented by far the most balanced and sophisticated approach that anchors itself in a biblical worldview without bashing science and psychology.  I have learned, however, after reading more literature from the BCM, that not everybody thinks as dogmatically as Jay Adams (who endorses very negative and unfair critiques of Eric Johnson’s work).  Case in point: David Powlison and Paul David Tripp.  Although closely associated with the Biblical Counseling Movement, these authors are much more helpful in their application of biblical truth and much less polemic in their tone.  Below is a book review of David Powlison’s book Seeing With New Eyes.  I offer praise as well as critique.    

Powlison, David.  Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.  Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2003.  274 pp.  $10.49.

Seeing with New Eyes


Positive Summary

One of Powlison’s greatest advantages in his approach to biblical counseling is his desire to be somewhat systematic and comprehensive as opposed to merely pragmatic (3).  This project includes presuppositional candor and consistency.  He rightly perceives all counseling models as virtual pastoral care that ultimately seeks to diagnose and cure (3).  Because of this paradigmatic sensitivity and cultural familiarity, our author cleverly understands that although secular counseling models may have great insights into human nature and provide half decent advice, ultimately, because they fail to put God in the equation at all (much less at the center) they are paradigmatically hostile to the Christian worldview (4).  Such epistemic alertness has been the strength of the biblical counseling movement and is the foundational insight of this book. 

More important than systematic attempts to understand accurately is the author’s more ultimate goal of feeling appropriately.  Powlison is jealous not to sound “overly cognitive,” but emphasizes that the end goal is to “feel God’s feelings, love God’s loves, hate God’s hates, desire God’s desires” (10).  It is made very clear that our author’s rigorous method for dealing with the concepts of counseling is rigorous only because “seeing clearly, we can love well” (12).  The principle of getting “personal” in the application of biblical truth is part of the very fabric of every chapter (11, 37). 

Powlison’s motivational theory influences how he addresses every problem in counseling scenarios.  This applies not only to his belief that “we can be fundamentally rewired” but also his supreme insight into the biblical picture of human nature (147).  We all worship something because God designed us for worship; thus, every ethical problem is rooted somehow in our failure to have God-centered desires (147, 149).  The author also operates under the assumption that desires for good things such as family, friends and human love become sinful snares of idolatry when they are not subordinate to our desire to please God (151).        


Negative Critique

Our author has a “Christifying” modus operandi hermeneutical scheme worth noting, which scheme I am inclined to be skeptical about (26, 28).  He believes that the New Testament “alters” the Old Testament for pragmatic purposes (23, 25).  Paul uses the Old Testament pragmatically, not exegetically.  Even passages which do not originally have messianic overtones should now be understood primarily in terms of what they say about Christ (23-24).  I am skeptical concerning this hermeneutical approach because it seems to violate the theory of authorial intent, and so far, I have not seen a more comprehensive and sophisticated theory of inspiration than the Chicago Statement which works through the implications of authorial intent for the doctrine of inspiration.  I am afraid that Powlison, as something of a neo-Adams, has not developed a robust and clear hermeneutic for the BCM that does justice to the issues that inevitably arise in a uniquely Christian discipline of practical theology.  If Scripture is the foundation for counseling, consistency in hermeneutical precision is indispensible, yet Powlison’s theory of hermeneutics seems to betray the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy at the point of authorial intent.

Another question Powlison’s admonitions raise is this: “Is the style of Scripture inspired as well as the meaning which the style embodies?”  This question should be raised since Powlison asserts that not only “may” we communicate biblical truth in the way Paul did, but we “must do so” (29).  I would agree that we might take some cues from some of the various styles of communication found in the biblical authors, but Powlison seems to define fidelity to the meaning of the biblical text with fidelity the genre or style of the biblical authors.  Although Powlison attempts to state his understanding more modestly in his disclaiming section, his more modest summary of the argument does not live up to the bold claims which precede it (30). 

Furthermore, a similar mistake seems to be made when Powlison admonishes his readers to reinterpret their experiences in biblical categories.  In context, he really has in mind that we should think and speak of the human experience primarily in biblical language (152), yet he seems to violate his own principle by calling desires for things which are inherently good “lusts” (151).  We might ask, “When Paul uses the phrase ‘lusts of the flesh,’ does he have in mind things which are inherently good?”  Perhaps such a case could be made, but Powlison makes no such case.  Rather, he seems to be unconsciously taking the liberty to bend the language of the biblical text to better communicate a mature biblical category of idolatry (150).  Does fidelity to biblical meaning and truth necessarily entail using the exact biblical language, or is the meaning capable of being spoken in different words than those in our English Bible translations?  Since Powlison’s call to think in biblical categories winds up including the use of biblical language, although inconsistently, he seems confused about the nature of this distinction, which is an important one for defining “fidelity” to the Christian worldview.  How one understands the answer to these questions will have a major effect on whether one’s counseling model seeks to synthesize the insights of secular sciences with the lenses of biblical categories of meaning or reject these insights as “unbiblical” just because they do not go by the biblical labels.



I was challenged to appreciate the BCM more through reading Powlison’s views.  His views are more mature than those of Jay Adams.  Therefore, my sympathy with the movement has grown as a result of reading this book.  Although, in the footsteps of Adams, Powlison multiplies false dichotomy upon false dichotomy, his false dichotomies are less frequent and less dramatic.  Moreover, they are attended with a deeper level of insight that is more faithful to the biblical teachings than Adams’ analysis.                   

::: Scenario Experiment for Baptists: Infant Baptism and Church Membership :::

A Question For Baptists :: How would you counsel a young married couple who 1) want to join your church but have only been baptized as infants in a Presbyterian church and who 2) do not think they need to be baptized at your church since they were baptized as infants in the Presbyterian church?

:: One Possible Distinctly Baptist Approach to this Scenario :: 

First, as a preliminary point, I would make sure this couple—let’s call them the Robertson’s—understood why the church practices baptism in the first place: because Christ commanded it (Mt 28:19-20).  After this, the first thing I would want to establish at length is the meaning of baptism.  The reason I would start here is because unless one first understands the meaning of baptism, it is harder to discern the importance of doing it one way or the other or administering it to only certain people and excluding others.  In other words, the answer to the question of the proper subjects of baptism (and also mode) flows logically and naturally from a discussion of the meaning of baptism itself.  My chief text in this endeavor would be Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:11-12 where the emphasis is on dying with Christ and being raised to new life.[1] After reading through these texts, I would hope to conclude to the Robertson’s satisfaction that baptism symbolizes chiefly one’s death to sin (or the death of the “old man”) and new life in Christ (or “the new man”). 

Furthermore, in accordance with the way the apostles appeared to understand the role of baptism, it is the initiation right or “way of entry” into the Christian church.  I would walk them through the earliest examples of Christian baptisms carried out by the apostles in accordance with the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20—Acts 2:37; 8:12-17, 35-38; 9:18 cf. 22:16; 10:44-48; 16:13-15, 30-34; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:14-16.  My objective would be to show that in each case, the pattern is basically the same: people hear the gospel, believe, and are baptized as a way of making public confession of their faith in Christ and entering the fellowship of the church. 

Certain passages, however, might demand special attention, for they are often understood to give early accounts of infant baptism (Acts 16:13-15, 30-34; 18:8).  In the case of Lydia, it is said that she “and her household” were baptized (Acts 16:15).  Here I would say something like this:

Now, it is possible that Lydia had children, perhaps even infants.  Yet it would be speculative—especially in light of the meaning of baptism and the pattern we see in the book of Acts where faith and repentance precede baptism—to conclude that since Lydia’s household might have had infants, we should understand that she in fact did have infants and that they were baptized.  The text nowhere mentions that Lydia’s household included infants, although one might suppose it hypothetically possible.  Furthermore, the narratives in Acts are abbreviated, and when we compare this account with the account found in Acts 18:8 (“Crispus … believed in the Lord with all his household”), one should understand this account to imply that the gospel message was also proclaimed in the hearing of Lydia’s household and they believed and so were baptized. 

The only other case where the “household” language is used in connection with baptism is Acts 16:30-34.  Here, however, the condensed nature of the narrative is even more apparent: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-34).  Without understanding the text to have implied that the apostle Paul also preached the gospel to Cornelius’ household, we would be forced to conclude that Cornelius’ household—both adults and infants—were saved through Cornelius’ faith.  Not even Protestants who hold to infant baptism believe such a thing as this is possible.  Therefore, to read these texts as though they were early accounts of “household” baptisms—including infants—is to misunderstand the elliptical nature of narrative flow of the book of Acts.

Next I would explain the Catholic position—along with the teaching of Martin Luther—that baptism actually effects salvation in those to whom it is administered, pointing out that such a view of the sacrament of baptism runs counter to the narrative pattern in the book of Acts.  Finally, I would explain the Protestant (non-Lutheran) understanding of the meaning of infant baptism by way of analogy to circumcision in the Old Testament. 

“First,” I would say, “although circumcision was a sign of the Old Covenant and baptism is a sign in the New Covenant, it does not follow—and is nowhere explicitly taught in scripture—that therefore, all the details about the one apply to the other (such as the proper subjects of the sign of the covenant).”  At this point I would point to the discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  I would take the Robertson’s to Jeremiah 31:31-33

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.  “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

“Second,” I would say, “one of the major differences between the two covenants (Old and New) is that all the members of the New Covenant are those whose sins have been forgiven and whose hearts have been changed (‘I will put My law within them’).” 

I would close my polemical tirade by capitalizing once again on the meaning of baptism.  “Finally,” I would say, “as we have seen already from Paul’s epistles and from the Acts narratives, baptism does not signify death to sin and new life in general, but the death and new life of the individual being baptized.”  I would conclude, hopefully to their satisfaction, that infant baptism, while certainly done in good faith by those who administer it or have it administered to their infants, is nonetheless misguided; it is not in accord with the biblical notions of the meaning of baptism and misunderstands the condensed nature of the Acts narratives and the “household” language.

On the basis of such argumentation, I would encourage them to be immersed as believers while discouraging them from thinking about it as a “rebaptism,” since their first baptism—though done in good faith by their parents—was not a legitimate baptism.  I would try to make it sound like a grand idea: “You will have the opportunity to be baptized for the first time!”  If they would be unconvinced and refuse to be baptized, however, I would probably take the matter to the elders for discussion and council.             


[1] Although baptism may also symbolizes the forgiveness of sins based on Acts 22:16, I am inclined to interpret this (and Titus 3:5) as both actually associating baptism with regeneration rather than forgiveness.

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