Tolle Lege: “Even Better Than Eden” AND “The City of God and the Goal of Creation”

As long as I can remember, Genesis has been my favorite book in the Bible.  I love starting each home-school year off with “In the beginning God…”  No matter what we’re studying, that’s where we start.  That’s where the foundation for each subject is laid.  Science, history, math, language arts—it all must build on that solid rock of scripture if it is to maintain any integrity within the Christian faith.  And yet, so often Genesis is left out of the building of the most important subject of all, theology.    

This past year I have fallen in love with Genesis even more.  Once your eyes are opened to the glories of Christ as revealed on every page of scripture it’s impossible to look away.  The book of Genesis from its very first words, sets the stage for the cosmic drama of redemption designed to put on display to all rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, the manifold wisdom of God (Eph.3:10).  Two books that I have read recently highlight major redemptive themes found in the book of Genesis and trace them throughout Scripture toward their ultimate consummation realized in Jesus Christ and the kingdom in which He reigns.  

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In “Even Better Than Eden”, (Crossway, 2018). Nancy Guthrie traces the themes of Wilderness, the Tree, God’s Image, Clothing, the Bridegroom, Sabbath, Offspring, Dwelling Place, and the City from the Garden of Eden through the Old Testament and into the New Kingdom established by Christ.  She argues that even though Eden was unsullied, it was incomplete.  “From the very beginning Eden was not meant to be static; it was headed somewhere (12).”  That somewhere is what both the Old and New Testament saints were looking forward to.

“You and I were meant to enjoy an environment, a sense of purpose and satisfaction, and an intimacy with God and each other that is even better than Adam and Eve enjoyed in Eden.  Eden had the seeds of the new creation, but all those seeds will burst into glorious bloom in the new heaven and the new earth.  When we enter the new Eden, our Sabbath rest, the final temple, the New Jerusalem, we’ll begin to experience all that God has intended for his people all along (159).”

The second book I read picks up on just one of those themes, the City, and fleshes it out in extraordinary detail.  T. Desmond Alexander is the author of “The City of God and the Goal of Creation” (Crossway, 2018).  This book is extremely helpful in understanding Jerusalem as the Temple-City, the Holy Mountain City, AND the Royal City as well as its archetype city, Babylon.  But the book really gets exciting in its last two chapters where it delves into the future City of God, the New Jerusalem.  Alexander argues that against the background of pre-fall Eden to post-fall Babel and beyond, 

“The biblical story recounts how God takes the initiative to redeem people from the grip of the Evil One, gradually establishing his kingdom on the earth… The Old Testament story of Israel’s redemption from slavery in Egypt begins a process that climaxes with God coming to dwell on Mount Zion.  This process provides a paradigm for understanding divine salvation, as God takes the initiative to create a holy temple-city.  The events that lead to the construction of the temple in Jerusalem illustrate something of what entails salvation and how it is achieved.  These events also anticipate a greater salvation that will come through a future Davidic king (164).” 

That may sound just a bit heady but Alexander follows through with a beautiful application on the very next page.

“For those who are united to Jesus Christ, eternal life begins here and now, as does citizenship of the city that will one day be created by God on a renewed earth.  Jesus challenges his followers to look forward in faith, to pray and work for the spread of God’s rule here and now (165).”

He concludes, 

“Jesus Christ calls his followers to be kingdom builders here and now, but they are to do this with the confident assurance that Christ will return to address every injustice as universal judge, vindicating and punishing as appropriate.  Only then with the defeat of evil will God establish New Jerusalem on a renewed earth (165).”

Tolle Lege: “The Prayers of Jesus” by Mark Jones

My husband and I both lost our mothers within the past couple years.  They were praying women.  And they were daughters of praying women.  Their home-going left an intercessory void in our extended families that I have been struggling to fill.  Mark Jones’s book, “The Prayers of Jesus (Crossway, 2019),” couldn’t have come at a better time.  I picked it up hoping for an exposition on the what, when, and wheres of Jesus’ prayers, a how-to-manual for bowed head and bended knee.  Jones delivered on none of that.  

What he DOES deliver is so much more valuable than a treatise on how or even why we should pray.  This book is all about the who.  Jones invites the reader to view The Prayers of Jesus as a portal into the divine and human nature of our Lord.  It is a deeply Christological confession of the One who made it possible for us TO pray.  If you want to get to know Christ, the man, the Messiah, and the eternal Mediator of a better covenant, what better place to tune your ears than into His most intimate conversations, the Son’s own words to God the Father?

I turned to page one wanting to know how to pray better.  I finished the book loving Christ more for how He made it possible for me to pray at all.  I wanted to know exactly what Jesus prayed about so that I could pray for the same things.  Instead I’m praising God that EVERYTHING Jesus prayed for has and will be eternally fulfilled through His own person and for His own glory!  I came to this book with a long list of people to pray for and left in utter gratitude that Jesus, the perfect High Priest is interceding for me, now and forever!  

This last theme runs throughout the book but Jones does an especially beautiful job in chapter 13 fleshing out the details of Christ’s intercessory work on our behalf.  He gets a little help from a few other theologians (D.A. Carson and John Owen among them), in this section worth quoting here.  Referring to the two aspects of Christ’s priesthood, sacrifice and intercession, Stephen Charnock said, “The oblation provides the intercession, and the intercession could not be without the oblation (115).”  These two aspects are joined together in Thomas Manton’s comparison with the Old Testament high priest’s yearly entrance into the Holy of Holy’s bearing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel upon himself. “So Christ is entered on behalf of us all, bearing the particular memorial of every saint graven on his heart (116).”  Jones continues, “In heaven, our Lord applies the benefits of his life and death to the church that he purchased with his blood (116).” 

In John 17:9-10 Jesus prays for all those who bring him glory. After describing what the marks of those whom Christ prays for will be, Jones makes this observation:

“Christ possesses a natural glory as very God of very God.   He also possesses a peculiar glory as the God-man, the visible image of the invisible God.  But besides those two glories, he possesses a third glory:  the glory that comes to him from his bride.  This depends not upon us (part of his creation), in the final analysis.  The glory certainly comes to him through us because he prayed for us to bring glory to him (117)… God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit —all one God—will make sure that the church glorifies Christ (118).”

Wow!  If I am Christ’s it is only to bring Him glory.  And if I bring Him glory it is only because Christ’s sacrifice and intercession make it possible.  I am Christ’s and He is glorified in me BECAUSE He prayed and continues to pray that it will be so!

Jones concludes with these words and I will as well,

“The King of glory prayed on his way to glory, where he ever lives to pray for the saints.   We can be so thankful for the prayer life of Jesus.  There is no hope without it, but every hope because of it (203).”

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Even though I was provided with a free copy of this book from the publisher, I am not required to write a favorable review.

Tolle Lege: Interpreting Eden by Vern Poythress

My first exposure to Vern Poythress was through the “Help Me Teach the Bible” podcast with Nancy Guthrie.  Afterward I immediately purchased 3 of his books, “Redeeming Sociology,”  Philosophy, Science and the Sovereignty of God” and “Christian Interpretations of Genesis.”  Step 2 was to download every audio file of his I could find, mainly through the Westminster Seminary archives.  Step 3 was to regularly haunt the website he keeps with John Frame, where I discovered I could access many of his older books for free, including the ones I had already purchased.  Live and learn. 

A humbler, more versatile scholar I have seldom encountered.  The latter attribute one could expect from a pile of degrees including a Bachelor of Science from California Institute of Technology, a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard, an M.Litt. from Cambridge, a Th.D from University of Stellenbosch, and a couple more from Westminster Theological Seminary where Poythress has been teaching for 40 years.  But the humility this learned man exudes must come the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Himself.  I also suspect there were seeds of this attribute planted during his upbringing on the family’s farm outside Fresno, California, a place I know well, having lived there myself while studying Philosophy at Fresno State University where Poythress taught math long before I was born.

Poythress’s latest book, Interpreting Eden  (Crossway, 2019), and NOT available for free on his website, couldn’t have come at a better time for me as the ladies Bible Study I am involved in is currently going through the book of Genesis.  That said, this isn’t at all a commentary on or supplement to any study of the first book of the Bible.  Nor is it some fresh, new interpretation of the creation account.  Rather, it is an in-depth analysis of the various interpretations already at play, the presuppositions on which they are based, their strengths, weaknesses, and the interpretive strategies they each bring to the text.  

Poythress starts big. His first chapter is entitled, “God.” After examining the various substitutes interpreters of creation have set up in His place from Pantheism, to philosophical materialism, to mechanistic scientism, he points out that “when we begin seriously to take God into account, it changes some important hermeneutical principles for interpreting Genesis 1-3.  In fact it changes every hermeneutical principle under the sun (45).”  Poythress spends several chapters thoroughly fleshing out the ramifications of our presuppositions on the creation account.  Even Christian interpretations fall prey to bad presuppositions.  Of course, these days, Poythress points out, “the word Christian can be used very loosely (47).”  Kind of like Poythress’s description of his own book as a “guide.”  Clearly, “guide” is being used very loosely.  I would say, this book is to “guide,” what “tsunami” is to ones baptism into the subject of interpretations on Genesis.

Thankfully, about half-way through the book, Poythress throws the drowning reader a life-preserver in the form of a three-page summary of the hermeneutical principles he has applied to the creation account thus far (131).  I say linger long over that summery and then once you’ve caught your breath you’re ready for the next wave, “Part 2, Exegetical Concerns.”  In this section Poythress builds on the premise that “God’s present-day governance provides a key framework for interpretation, because God knows that readers’ familiarity with his providential governance of nature offers the natural starting point for understanding Genesis 1 (137).” Poythress applies the term providence to “God’s rule in the present world, subsequent to the completion of his creative acts at the end of the sixth day” of creation.”   This he contrasts with the term creation which he uses to “designate the acts of God during the six days of Genesis 1 (139).” Unfortunately, I think Poythress builds too heavily on this distinction and subsequent correlations.  

Part 3 devotes a lot of time to . . . time, to which he gives due diligence, given its current centrality to modern debates over interpretations of Genesis 1.  He then ends with a helpful examination of “Factuality and Literalism” which also serves to tie a lot of loose ends together.  After such a tidal wave of material, I feel Poythress’s conclusion ends with a trickle.  Even though I agree with his summation, it lacked the force that seemed so present throughout the rest of the book.  He concludes this way,

“God really did create the world in six days.  He really did create Adam and Eve as human beings, made in the image of God—two individuals whose actions and fall into sin have affected the whole human race.  We can be confident about these things, not only because Genesis 1-3 sets them forth, but because they are confirmed by later biblical reflections based on Genesis 1-3.  But we do well to respect the sparseness fo the account in Genesis and to remain tentative at some points as to how we think theses truths are to be connected with modern scientific claims (289).”

This book would be of extreme value for two kinds of people.  The first are those who have never given the creation account of Genesis a serious thought but are willing to finally come to terms with the reality of this historical narrative and its universal implications.  The second are those who have already given Genesis more than the usual amount of serious consideration and are already so set in their interpretation as to need a good shaking up.  In other words, this book is NOT for the faint of heart.  If really hard questions about your preconceptions and possible biases might cause you to lose confidence in the authentic exalted divine authority of either the God of the Bible or whatever substitute you’re setting up in His place, then maybe this book isn’t for you.

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Although I was provided with a free copy of this book from the publisher, I am under no obligation to give it a favorable review.