Now where’s that Fall ’53 Sears Catalog?
I am very pleased to announce the release on Amazon of a study guide written my dear Aunt Barbara: Reading Scripture Together: A Comparative Bible and Qur’an Study Guide. Barb has been studying Islam (and the Bible), and working with InterVarsity and coaching college writing and teaching ESL and dialoguing with students for decades. Now she has finally brought all this experience together in this study guide, which is designed for you and your Muslim friend or neighbor to sit down together and delve into the Bible and Qur’an side-by-side, and develop a dialogue that can lead to the truth.
I think this bit from the Introduction sets a unique tone:
[Genuine dialogue] is not an agreement that all paths up the spiritual mountain to God are equal and equally valid. This pluralism, while commonly expressed on campuses and in the media and passing for dialogue today, is an insult to people of faith who believe that their religion is true, and that others which differ from it are therefore not true, or at least not completely true.
Neither is an “I’m right; you’re wrong,” closed-minded, tit-for-tat exchange a genuine dialogue. While dialogue partners may well believe they are correct, they maintain a deep respect for the other person.
There are 7 studies in the guide, each containing a bible passage and a qur’an passsage. (The whole can be tackled in either 7 or 14 sessions.) Each text is followed by discussion questions, and then by a Challenge, and Dialogues to Witness. In the studies, the biblical and qur’anic parts are well-balanced, as well as in the Witnesses. (Indeed, giving equal time to Christian and Muslim ‘witnesses’ will give everybody something to resonate with, and something to squirm at…) The biblical and qur’anic quotes that describe the seven studies are:
- “God heard the boy crying” and “We covenanted with Abraham and Isma’il”
- “This is my name forever” and “In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful”
- “Who do you think you are?” and “O Jesus, son of Mary, recount…”
- “His father saw him and was filled with compassion” and “Those who obey Allah and his messenger will be admitted to gardens”
- “And they crucified him” and “But they killed him not, nor crucified him”
- “You have known the holy scriptures” and “To you we sent the scripture in truth”
- “Seek first his kingdom” and “Fight for the cause of Allah…but do not be aggressive”
After the 7 studies, there are three sections of resources. The most important is the first, the Leader’s Notes, which give depth and background that will be helpful. It is in the Leader’s Notes that it is most apparent that the whole study guide is a resource for Christians witnessing to Muslims. After the Leader’s Notes, there are References, and then an Annotated bibliography for what to study after a dialogue has been established through these studies.
I hope you will consider buying a copy; it’s a novel way to learn about Islam, in a context that keeps the Bible also in view. Or buy two copies, one for you and one for a Muslim friend or neighbor who might be willing to go through it with you. Or hey, see if your church wants to buy 10 or 20 and have a 7 – or 14-week group study!
A bit of information about the cover and visual design, which was my contribution added to Barbara’s many years of work on this project. On the left, tinted blue, is an excerpt from John 1, plainly reading “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.” And lower down, “The Word became flesh.” On the right, tinted in green (a traditionally Qur’anic color), Muslims should recognize the text of Surah 1 by the sweeping, decorative script of the first word; the visible part of the first line begins “In the name of Allah…”, which is kind of the “In the beginning…” of the Qur’an. Note that, since Arabic reads leftwards, both texts begin on their respective edges of the page, and “meet in the middle” — at least visually come together. Also, the line separating the two fades from black to nothing. These visual cues are not meant to indicate any oneness between the Bible and Qur’an, but rather the opening of dialogue as these studies open both side-by-side and let them each speak.
Inside, the Bible-left/Qur’an-right theme is maintained. Each study has, not quite a “title” in the traditional sense, but a snippet from the bible and qur’an studies inside. Sometimes the bible passage is presented first, sometimes the qur’an, but always the biblical passage is flush-left, and the qur’an flush-right. And the running page headers are, instead of the traditional book title on the left and chapter title on the left, the current bible and qur’an snippets on the left and right, respectively.
The entire book was laid out in LaTeX using the KOMA-script scrbook package (just like my previous publishing project). Soon, there will also be an eBook version released, in the Kindle store, and perhaps also an .epub version on iTunes.
This week, question 5:
What else did God create?
God created all things by his powerful Word, and all his creation was very good; everything flourished under his loving rule.
The verse is fitting, Gen 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Commentary by Bullinger is mostly anti Deism. The video by R. Kent Hughes (sorry, no lookalike joke, he didn’t look like anybody to me) brings a nice Christological focus. Prayer by Richard Baxter.
This week, question 4:
How and why did God create us?
God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.
The accompanying verse is of course Gen 1:27. Commentary by John Charles Ryle (never heard of him); video by Larry David; prayer by Jonathan Edwards.
On first blush, this question seems redundant with NCC1 (God owns/created you, so live for his glory rather than your own), which is kind of a waste of space when restricting to only 52 questions and having to leave out some important material. It would have been better if the “How” part of the question were to include more than just “male and female”, but also “in knowledge, holiness, and righteousness,” i.e. unfallen, rather than spending 16 words on the redundant second sentence of the answer. See also upcoming Q14, where the pre-fall state is given rather short shrift.
This week, question 3:
How many persons are there in God?
There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
The accompanying verse is the benediction in 2 Cor 13:14 “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Probably good not to lean on the Johannine Comma. I’ll throw the Great Commission in there as well.
Commentary by Richard Baxter, prayer by Heinrich Bullinger, and the guy on the video doesn’t look familiar to me, but he’s Young, and he looks kinda restless. The video is really a pretty good overview of the Trinity, but I’ll be supplementing also with this video (which my boys already know and love).
The assigned reading, pp 3-11, was fascinating — and I had the extra benefit of all the underlining and margin notes made by my dad, since he loaned me his copy.
The audio recording focused on the distinction between liberal, rationalistic “Biblical Theology” as it was already known in Vos’ time through the work of J. P. Gabler, and the orthodox “Biblical Theology” that Vos boldly (and I think most would say, successfully) set out to reclaim. Gabler’s version is focused on the history of what Jewish people thought, with no reference to any objective reality or revelation behind that thought. Here Vos brilliantly diagnoses in rationalism antipathy not only towards the past, but also the future:
[Rationalism] has by preference asserted itself in the field of religion even more than in that of pure philosophy. This is because in religion the sinful mind of man comes most directly face to face with the claims of an independent, superior authority. Closely looked at, its protest against tradition is a protest against God as the source of tradition, and its whole mode of treatment of Biblical Theology aims not at honouring history as the form of tradition, but at discrediting history and tradition. Further, rationalism is defective, ethically considered, in that it shows a tendency towards glorification of its own present (that is, at bottom, of itself) over against the future no less than the past. It reveals a strong sense of having arrived at the acme of development. The glamour of unsurpassability in which rationalism usually sees itself is not calculated to make it expect much from God in the future. In this attitude, the religious fault of self-sufficiency stands out even more pronouncedly than in the attitude towards the past. (p. 10)
“Glamour of unsurpassability” — that’s a phrase I gotta remember to use!
Another section earlier in the reading that was not touched on much is the dissection of Exegetical Theology into four disciplines:
(a) the study of actual content of Holy Scripture;
(b) the inquiry into the origin of the several Biblical writings, including the identity of of the writers, the time and occasion of composition, dependence on possible sources, etc. …
(c) the putting of the question of how these several writings came to be collected into the unity of a Bible or book…
(d) the study of the actual self-disclosures of God in time and space which lie back of even the first commital to writing of any Biblical document, and which for a long time continued to run alongside of the inscripturation of revealed material; this last-name procedure is called the study of Biblical Theology.
The order in which the four steps are here named is, of course, the order in which they present themselves successively to the investigating of man. When looking at the process from the point of view of the divine activity, the order requires to be reversed, the sequence being
(a) the divine self-revelation;
(b) the committal to writing of the revelation-product;
(c) the gathering of the several writings thus produced into the unity of a collection;
(d) the production and guidance of the study of the content of the Biblical writings.
It’s an interesting inversion there. Also, the notion of studying those things “which lie back of even the first commital to writing of any Biblical document,” in one sense seems scary (are we trying to go beyond scripture? To understand what scripture does not reveal?); but it also kind of makes sense. Scripture is not just words; there’s real stuff behind it, real history, and that’s what we want to get at.
Lots of interesting stuff in this section also (perhaps the most important stuff!) about how Revelation and Redemption are progressive and organic, and develop in tandem — and how Revelation ceased together with the “central, objective” elements of Redemption, although there are still “personal, subjective” elements of Redemption that continue to occur (individually within all of us Redeemed).
Can’t wait until the next installment is posted. I don’t know how far the reading assignment will go, maybe the rest of chapter 1? Maybe it will be posted here before the episode is released?
OK, on to question 2:
What is God?
God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.
While last week‘s question was based on Heidelberg, this one is Westminster, it’s got bits of CC1-3 and SC4,7-9 in it. In particular, we retain SC4’s trio of “eternal, infinite, and unchangeable”, but SC4’s septet has been scrambled some, and holiness and being were swapped for power and glory; I suppose two p’s and two g’s aids memorization, but otherwise I’m not sure I see the point of changing the original list of qualities that many would have already memorized.
Video by Don Carson (lacking the John Waters mustache I’ve seen on him before) will surely be good. The prayer, which focuses on sovereignty, is by John Wesley!
I believe, O sovereign Goodness, 0 mighty Wisdom, that thou dost sweetly order and govern all things, even the most minute, even the most noxious, to thy glory, and the good of those that love thee. I believe, O Father of the families of heaven and earth, that thou so disposest all events, as may best magnify thy goodness to all thy children, especially those whose eyes wait upon thee.
Sounds pretty Calvinist to me!