Author Archives: Andy Cheung

Book Recommendation – Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning by Wayne Grudem.

I’ve been waiting for this volume for some time because there are few books on Christians ethics that I would immediately recommend. As a Christian and teacher of Theology, I’ve long wanted an easy-to-read but technically in-depth guide that covers a broad range of relevant, contemporary issues delivered in well-written, easy to understand language and which, most importantly, is biblical faithful. That set of requirements is met comfortably by Wayne Grudem’s latest work on Christian ethics. It is simply the best book of its type that you can buy.

Many will be familiar with Dr Grudem’s Sytematic Theology. One of its best features is the clarity of language. For whatever reason, writers on systematics haven’t always exhibited the greatest skill in writing but Grudem’s work is a class apart in this aspect. The same easy-to-read style is found in Christian Ethics and, as with Systematic Theology, the clarity is coupled with precision and accuracy in the use of terms and definitions. That’s not easy to accomplish. Often, less skilled writers (including me) will sacrifice readability for accuracy. On the other hand, one can easily make the mistake of avoiding technicalities to the extent that vagueness and imprecision clouds the truth. It’s rare to find a writer who can match readability with accuracy and in this, Grudem is one of the most gifted.

Another similarity this book has with Systematic Theology is the organisation of chapters into specific units, each covering a particular topic. Therefore, one doesn’t need to read it front-to-back for it can be used as a reference book as well. Topics covered are exhaustive, as can be seen from the contents page provided by the publisher here. But by way of example, and in no particular order, here are some questions that Grudem deals with on various ethical topics:

Is it ever right to lie? Is it wrong to work on Sundays? How can husbands have a leadership role in marriage if men and women are equal in value before God? What is the right relationship between church and state? Does the Bible support monarchies, or does it favor some sort of democracy? Is it ever right for the government to put a criminal to death? Is it right for nations to have nuclear weapons? Is it right for a Christian to own a gun? What about abortion in the case of rape or to save the life of the mother? Should the law allow doctors to perform euthanasia when a patient requests it? What should we think about sleep, vaccinations, organic foods, tattoos, and circumcision? Is it wrong for a couple to live together prior to marriage Why is viewing pornography wrong? If a divorce is granted for biblically legitimate reasons, is remarriage always allowed? How should we evaluate the claims of certain people that they are “transgender”? Is all monetary inequality morally wrong? How much of our income should we give to the Lord’s work? Does the Bible teach us that it is always wrong to charge interest on a loan? 

Grudem’s theology is best described as reformed evangelical and Christians from that perspective, or from conservative viewpoints generally, will find much in agreement with this book. It takes courage to discuss some of the matters contained, but Grudem is willing to tackle difficult topics head-on and is respectful and courteous in assessing opposing views. I certainly found his arguments consistently persuasive and academically rigorous.

One downside to the book is the noticeably US-centric material. For example, the chapter on drugs and alcohol begins with a lengthy introduction giving statistics on alcohol abuse, all of which are from the US. So we learn that 10% of US children live with a parent with alcohol problems; that in 2014, 31% of US driving fatalities were linked to alcohol; and that 88,000 people a year die from alchohol-related deaths in the US

Similarly, the chapter on divorce and remarriage offers more American statistics: in 2014 there were 813,862 divorces and that the number of US couples getting married has fallen from 10.6 marriages per 1000 people in the 1980s to 6.8 marriages per 1000 people in 2009-2012. Elsewhere, we learn that in 2013, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that the total cost of raising a child from birth to high school graduation was $245,340. Such statistics won’t resonate as much for readers in another countries and cultures. (As an aside, given this is an academic book touching on social sciences, the data is somewhat outdated for a 2018 publication.

But these are minor quibbles. The rest of this worthy tome is biblically faithful, well-written, and both a joy and a challenge to read. This will be useful for bible college or seminary students taking introductory classes in Christian ethics, but it’s also well suited for Christians interested in how to think about living lives that reflect the ethical values of the Bible.

Dr Andy Cheung teaches Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School.

Book recommendation: Redeeming Money by Paul David Tripp

Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts by Paul David Tripp

Over the past week, I’ve enjoyed and reflected upon Paul David Tripp’s recently published book, Redeeming Money: How God Reveals and Reorients Our Hearts. This is a book I’m happy to recommend and I hope that it reaches a wider audience.

Redeeming Money is a book for Christians about how to understand money in a Biblical context. It’s not a book about finance, so there’s nothing about how to invest wisely or how to budget appropriately. But this book is still practical albeit in a somewhat different way: the author teaches us how to think about money in way that reflects what Scripture teaches. As the author notes, Jesus talked about money a lot. How then, should Christians understand God’s intentions for our use of it?

Particularly noteworthy in this book is Tripp’s approach of looking at the bigger picture of human nature and God’s work of redemption. This is not simply a discussion on the parts of the Bible that discuss money (of which there are plenty, e.g. 1 Timothy 6:10). Instead, Tripp takes both a wider and deeper approach. For example, he begins by setting out the premise that understanding money requires thinking properly about one’s identity:

You can’t understand money if you don’t understand who you are, and money is one of the principal ways you demonstrate who you think you are. There is no better indicator of the identity you have
assigned to yourself than the way you use money. Why does one person proudly throw money around? Why does another person use her money to buy all the cultural markers of success? Why is
that neighbor of yours so proudly vocal about his charity? Why has yet another person never been able to stay out of debt? Why does that couple quietly give away such a big portion of their income? Why is your friend so gripped with money fears? Why does she struggle with envy and embarrassment whenever she is around her wealthy friends? Why does he try to hide the fact that he grew up in poverty? Why did Jesus talk about this topic more than any other? Why is money such a big deal? Why are some of us never satisfied, even though we have so much money, and why are some of us content with so little? The answer to all these questions is identity.

And from there, Trip begins a most helpful Bible study on how God wants us to see ourselves, how we so often fall short, and how God redeems us. This becomes the pattern of the book: that the way we think about money isn’t to be treated in isolation, as if money is a special category of its own, quite apart from the rest of life’s concerns. Rather, the way we think about our needs and desires, and our willingness to seek after Christ and follow his example, affects all aspects of our lives, including how we handle money. In short, financial matters always concern the heart. Focus on getting your heart right and you have the right basis to proceed.

From that essential platform, Tripp deals sensitively on matters that will be helpful to many. There are useful sections on debt and generosity, and on greed and envy. There is encouragement and advice for those with little money and those with plenty. There is a refreshing honesty in the author’s own personal examples of temptation and struggle. All of this is presented with careful and accurate exposition of Scripture, which is characteristic of the author.

I am a fan of Paul Tripp’s writings and this work, as with so many of his writings, provides both a profound understanding of human nature as well as thoroughly reliable exposition of Scripture. It would be hard to imagine any Christian who would not gain from this book. This is indeed a book to be treasured, for it points us towards Jesus while teaching us to use money for his glory. Spend your money wisely and buy this book.

Note: This book would be very helpful for individual use but would also be suitable in church small groups. There are questions at the end of each of the ten chapters for review and reflection, along with associated Bible passages for further study.

Dr Andy Cheung teaches Biblical Studies and Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School.

Book Review: Galatians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) by Douglas Moo

Moo, Douglas J. (2013). Galatians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Reviewed by Dr Andy Cheung
[Douglas Moo is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School.]

This is a commentary long awaited by many Biblical scholars and students, partly because of Douglas Moo’s reputation, and partly because Galatians is not well served with technical, conservative commentaries. It does not disappoint and that in itself is part of the expectation with a Moo commentary; that not only will it be well written, judicious in exegesis, and reasonable in conclusions, but also of consistently high quality. There’s an evenness in Moo’s work stretching back several decades and it is perhaps unsurprising that this commentary fulfils expectations of excellence. For many, this will be the new ‘go to’ commentary on Galatians.
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A History of Twentieth Century Translation Theory and Its Application to Bible Translation

I just had an article published in the Journal of Translation titled “A History of Twentieth Century Translation Theory and Its Application to Bible Translation”. It discusses theoretical developments in translation theory while advocating a perspective I support called ‘functionalism’ which, in short, argues that translations must be designed to fit particular needs. The logical end to this is that because there are multiple needs, there must be multiple ‘correct’ ways of translating the Bible. The one ‘best Bible’ translation doesn’t exist. The one ‘right’ way to translate doesn’t exist either. Sometimes you’ll need a literal translation, other times you’ll need an idiomatic translation, and both are ‘right’ in their particular situation.

Anyway, here’s the LINK (free registration required to view the paper online) and the abstract:

This article studies the development of twentieth century translation theory. This was a period during which significant theoretical contributions were made in both secular and Bible translation circles. These contributions have had a profound impact on the practice of translation throughout the twentieth century and since. The individuals who contributed to the present state of translation theory worked in both secular and Bible translation circles and this article examines contributions from both. A select history of theoretical developments, focusing on the most important ideas relevant to Bible translation work is given in order to examine the impact of such theories in the practice of Bible translation. These include the philosophical approaches of the early twentieth century; the linguistic era of the 1950s and 1960s; the rise of functionalism and descriptive translation studies; and, finally, the emergence of postcolonial and related foreignising approaches.

Andy Cheung, “A History of Twentieth Century Translation Theory and Its Application to Bible Translation”, Journal of Translation 9:1 (Apr 2013) 1-15. [Link]

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Dr Andy Cheung is Academic Dean at King’s Evangelical Divinity School.

Fight the disjunction between ‘critical’ and ‘devotional’ reading of the Bible.

Here’s an excellent piece of advice from D. A. Carson. It comes from the excellent book The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor, available here free as a pdf download.

Fight with every fiber of your being the common disjunction between “objective study” of Scripture and “devotional reading” of Scripture, between “critical reading” of the Bible and “devotional reading” of the Bible. The place where this tension first becomes a problem is usually at seminary. Students enter with the habit of reading the Bible “devotionally” (as they see it). They enjoy reading the Bible, they feel warm and reverent as they do so, they encounter God through its pages, some have memorized many verses and some chapters, and so forth. Seminary soon teaches them the rudiments of Greek and Hebrew, principles of exegesis, hermeneutical reflection, something about textual variants, distinctions grounded in different literary genres, and more. In consequence, students learn to read the Bible “critically” or “objectively” for their assignments but still want to read the Bible “devotionally” in their quiet times.

Every year a handful of students end up at the door of assorted lecturers and professors asking how to handle this tension. They find themselves trying to have their devotions,
only to be harassed by intruding thoughts about textual variants. How should one keep such polarized forms of reading the Bible apart? This polarization, this disjunction, kept unchecked, may then characterize or even harass the biblical scholar for the rest of his or her life. That scholar may try to write a commentary on, say, Galatians, where at least part of the aim is to master the text, while preserving time for daily devotional reading.

My response, forcefully put, is to resist this disjunction, to eschew it, to do everything in your power to destroy it. Scripture remains Scripture, it is still the Word of God before which (as Isaiah reminds us) we are to tremble—the very words we are to revere, treasure, digest, meditate on, and hide in our hearts (minds?), whether we are reading the Bible at 5:30 am at the start of a day, or preparing an assignment for an exegesis class at 10:00 pm. If we try to keep apart these alleged two ways of reading, then we will be irritated and troubled when our “devotions” are interrupted by a sudden stray reflection about a textual variant or the precise force of a Greek genitive; alternatively, we may be taken off guard when we are supposed to be preparing a paper or a sermon and suddenly find ourselves distracted by a glimpse of God’s greatness that is supposed to be reserved for our “devotions.” So when you read “devotionally,” keep your mind engaged; when you read “critically” (i.e., with more diligent and focused study, deploying a panoply of “tools”), never, ever, forget whose Word this is. The aim is never to become a master of the Word, but to be mastered by it. (p. 91)

Book Review: Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter by Richard Longenecker

At 490 pages of fairly dense text, Introducing Romans by Richard Longenecker is more than just an introduction, since it is longer than many commentaries. In this form, it serves a similar purpose to the large introductions now common in the more expansive technical commentaries on biblical books. Indeed, one wonders whether much of this material will be reproduced in Longenecker’s forthcoming Greek commentary on Romans in the New International Greek Testament series. Read more »