Game of Thrones, Christians, & A Plea For Humility

There have been many posts from the Christian blogosphere lately, dealing with whether or not Christians should watch Game of Thrones. Like Kevin DeYoung,

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I have not watched the show myself. Some would argue that this fact alone disqualifies me from offering any perspective.

While I think such a stance is rather illogical, this post isn’t really aimed at answering whether or not you should watch Game of Thrones (those posts have already been written and I think they’re very helpful). Instead, Continue reading

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A Gut Check For My Brother-Pastors

ariana-prestes-6923From time to time, regardless of one’s vocational roles or responsibilities, it is good to stop and examine why we do what we do. This especially holds true for those of us who have been called to the task of pastoral ministry.

I’m calling this article a gut check because that’s exactly Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Conclusion

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Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background. You can find previous posts in this series here.

It’s rather embarrassing to admit that I’m just now finishing this series after beginning it in November. And I’m not just now finishing it because of the wealth of material I’ve been producing. My last post in this series was December 8th. But, alas, I have finally gotten around to finishing what I’ve started.

This post will be pretty straightforward. I’m simply going to provide a list of books which I think are very helpful for someone who is ready to dive deeper in to the New Testament’s historical-cultural context. I have listed these from easiest to hardest, so the order below is by design. I hope that you will find these helpful!

One final reminder before we get to the list: rejoice in the fact that our faith is rooted in actual history. Some believers I have met bemoan the fact that we need this type of context in order to understand certain passages of the Bible. Don’t. It is superbly glorious that the events and situations recorded in the New Testament happened in real time and space. In actual, documentable history. We do not have a God who operates only in the theoretical or speculative realm. We have a God who stepped out of heaven and invaded human history to make Himself known. The gospels record this invasion and the epistles record how we are now to live in light of it.

Okay, with that reminder in place, let’s get to our list.

1. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, ed. by Craig Keener & John Walton
This work is an absolute gem. If you’re looking for a study Bible, I strongly urge you to consider this one. Rather than dictating to you what a given verse may mean, this Bible provides you, the reader, with the necessary background information for you to actually engage with the text and discern its meaning.

2. Zondervan Atlas Of The Bible
There are many great bible atlases available. The reason I like this one is because of the amazing graphics used in developing the maps. Rather than just the having the topical maps we’re use to seeing, where everything looks flat, this atlas is filled with maps which view the terrain at an angle, helping you to see notable changes in topography, such as mountain ranges and valleys.

3. New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Ed.
This book is exhaustive in its treatment of terms, plot motifs, customs, and historical contexts found within the pages of Scripture. For example, how did the Pharisees develop as a group during the Intertestamental period? After all, the word “Pharisee” occurs nowhere in the Old Testament. Buy this book and find out.

4. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, ed. by Clinton Arnold
This set is great for really entering into the world of the first century. I particularly appreciate the fact that it is replete with references to Jewish works written during the Second Temple Period.

5. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Another great background commentary, written by one of my favorite scholars, Dr. Craig Keener.

6. The Greco-Roman World Of The New Testament Era: Exploring The Background of Early Christianity
This book (and the two which follow) is not in any way a commentary. Rather, it reads more like a general history of the New Testament period, with particular emphasis on its Greco-Roman background (hence, the title). It also explores different facets of ancient life, such as what it was like to live in a city in the Roman Empire versus the country, how the ancients viewed gender roles, how they viewed a cosmos which, to them, teemed with supernatural entities.

7. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament
I really enjoyed this one and I think you’ll find its content both enjoyable and very accessible. In my view, the most important context for understanding the New Testament is its Jewish context (over against its Greco-Roman context) and this book will guide you into that world.

8. Backgrounds Of Early Christianity, 3rd Ed.
Weighing in at 620 pages, this book is definitely the heftiest of the last three. This book is chock-full of information regarding the New Testament’s Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds. I really enjoyed his chapter dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, As enjoyable as this book is, I would recommend starting with the previous two before trying to tackle this one.


Well, that officially wraps this series up. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and, more importantly, I hope it has encouraged you to read the Bible in light of its historical-cultural contexts.

What Does It Mean To Be A Church Member?

rmd-c6gaiv0-clem-onojeghuoI belong to the Southern Baptist Convention and so do approximately 16 million others throughout the United States. Yet despite such a number, the average weekly attendance in Southern Baptist churches all across America is less than 6 million. What this means is that on any given Sunday, there are more than 10 million Southern Baptists who are not at church (and unfortunately, I do not think Southern Baptists are alone in such attendance trends).

Now there have been tons of articles and books examining the probable reasons as to why this is the case (with inflated membership rolls being chief among them). But I would like to boil it down to one essential reason which seems to lie behind all others: Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Pt. 3

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Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background, but aren’t sure where to start. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here, respectively.

As we venture in to week 3 of New Testament backgrounds, I want us to get a feel for what Rome’s expansion policies were like and what this meant for the various people who were placed under their power. Then, in the last part of the post, we’ll especially spend some time focusing in on how this took shape in Judea, Galilee, Samaria, etc. All the places where Jesus carried out His ministry and the region where the church was born. Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Pt. 2

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Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background, but aren’t sure where to start. Part 1 of this series can be found here.

Last week I introduced this series by giving you a broad timeline of the New Testament’s historical context (356 B.C.-A.D. 313) and the three main people groups who formed the bulk of the cultural matrix of the first century: Romans, Greeks, and Jews.

Now this week, I want us to take a stroll through Continue reading

New Testament Backgrounds For The Beginner: Intro

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Editor’s Note: This series is designed for those who would like to learn more about the historical and cultural background in which the New Testament was written, but aren’t sure where to start.

We know that the Bible was written in real time and space and that it records events that happened in real time and space. Unlike some other religions, Christians fully and unashamedly embrace the fact that the Bible has a historical-cultural context.

But unfortunately, many Christians remain frustratingly unaware as to what that historical-cultural context is. Continue reading

What I’ve Learned My First Two Years In Pastoral Ministry

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In the fall of 2012 my wife and I loaded up a U-Haul and left Livingston, Alabama for Kansas City, Missouri. The previous May we had both decided to continue our schooling at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I began pursuing a Masters of Divinity and Candace started working on her Master of Arts in Counseling.

When we first arrived, I remember feeling so excited that Continue reading

What Do I Do After I’ve Heard A “Good” Sermon?

383432237_54044fc2d1Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of a four part series on preaching from the layman’s perspective. To check out previous articles, click here.

1. Express your gratitude to the Lord.
Be thankful that you have a pastor who cares deeply about preaching and teaching God’s Word in a way that honors Continue reading

What Do I Do After I’ve Heard A “Bad” Sermon?

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Editor’s Note: This is part 3 in a 4 part series on preaching from the layman’s perspective. Previous articles in this series include How Do I Know When I’ve Heard A Bad Sermon? and How Do I Know When I’ve Heard A Good Sermon?

Ok, let me start off by apologizing for just now getting part 3 out. We have been in the process of relocating our staff offices at church and so blogging has been placed on the back burner lately. But I’m glad to finally have a little time to discuss what you should do after you’ve heard a bad sermon. And I would like to begin by placing these kinds of sermons on a continuum Continue reading