Bruce was kind enough to send a copy of his book Deceiving Winds for review. It has taken me too long to get to this so I apologize to Bruce for that. After having read this book there are several things I think are praise worthy about this book and about Bruce and a couple of things that I think could have used a little tweaking.
First, Bruce has spent a tremendous amount of time studying inscriptions and archaeological evidenced about Roman Asia as background for this book. One of his main points in the book is that the times we live in today are much more like the first century in cities like Ephesus than we may have been taught. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate this and makes a very good case for it through scripture and archaeology. Most of the historical and archaeological background deal with the Artemis and Dionysus cults in Ephesus. He points out things like that culture’s desire for spiritual experience and sensuality and has no trouble making the case that things haven’t really changed all that much. To me, that was the bread and butter of the book. We must never let our own desires trump God’s plan for His church.
Second, you can tell that Bruce really loves God and the church. As far as I can tell he doesn’t have a bone to pick. He isn’t out to get anyone. He is trying to make a difference and is calling on the church to be pure and different from the world. There may be people who disagree with some of his points because they are so entwined with the world that they will have a hard time listening to what Bruce is saying or his interpretations of various scriptures. In the opening chapters he goes to great lengths to show how much God loves his people and how we identify with God as his people. Some really good material in the first four chapters on that.
Third, I appreciate his willingness to tackle some difficult subjects in a transparent search for the truth on these matters, even if that truth is difficult for us to hear. He deals with everything from women’s roles to church leadership and instrumental worship. He goes to great lengths to cite and quote relevant sources and commentaries.
There were a few places in the book that I took issue with. Sometimes historical and archaeological background was the main supporting point Bruce had in his argumentation. In other words, I felt there were places archaeology stood in the place of sound exegesis instead of complementing it. He would hypothesize a potential background for a given verse based on archaeology and then work out his interpretation from there. This means many assumptions had to be made about how Ephesian Christians would have understood things that may or may not be the case. Let me give an example. In chapter six (his chapter on worship based on Eph 5:18-20) he assumes that Paul was in fact condemning instrumental worship because “It is likely that the Ephesian Christians were bringing Dionysus (and/or Cybele) cult-like practices into their assembly…perhaps eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper had seemed the ideal setting for blending Asian cult practices into worship of Jesus.” (p.82). He goes on to say, “The root problem that he writes about in Ephesians 4:17-5:20 is a thirst for the sensual. The use and sound of instruments in Dionysus worship represented an accomplice to the sensational religion. The same was likely true for the Ephesian assembly.” (.94). Those are big assumptions. You can’t do good exegesis through assumptions and historical background alone. To be fair that is not all the exegesis he does but it is his main point that the potential background for Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:19 was based on these practices entering their worship assemblies. We really don’t know that and have to interpret the text as it stands without reading these backgrounds into the text.
Second, so much of his archaeological background work is really good and very interesting. But there are times it is distracting and it feels like he is stretching a point just to fit in an interesting bit of background. For instance, there is a long piece about the potential association in the roots of the word “bee” and “care for” that might shed light on 1 Tim 3:3. He gives about a page of background that doesn’t really seem to connect with the text nor seems to be what Paul was really referring to in 1 Timothy 3. Again, background over exegesis is never as good as background + sound exegesis. Now that is a very small point and hardly worth mentioning but I did get that feeling here and there. Nothing major.
Third, it seems he offers little room for others to use historical and cultural background in their interpretation but allows it for himself all over the book. For instance, in discussing 1 Tim 2:15 he chastises Carroll Osburn for turning to Jewish backgrounds and traditions and not just giving Genesis 1-3 a good look as if scripture wasn’t enough for Osburn (p.136). A few pages later Bruce dives into his own archaeological background about Ephesian culture and childbearing on p.148. It left me wondering if Genesis 1-3 wasn’t enough as he said it should have been with Osburn. Like point two, this wasn’t over the top and this may have been the only time that happened in the whole book so again, nothing major.
Last, he dismisses other scholars conclusions too easily without really digging into the strength of their position. For instance, on pp 104-105 he dismisses Osburn and I. Howard Marshall’s views regarding love-patriarchalism in a few short sentences with little explanation, “The argument is careful and it sounds good to people who are part of an equal rights society. Indeed it may represent the dominant conclusion in the early twenty-first century. However, that does not make it true of Christ. Jesus gave up ‘rights.’ He submitted himself even to death on a cross. He gave himself up for his bride.” If that is the dominant view on Eph 5:21-33 in our world today why not spend a little more space critiquing that view rather than dismissing it so easily.
All in all you can tell Morton is very passionate about this topic and I found the most helpful information being the archaeological backgrounds that were a great reminder to me just how much our culture can interfere with our worship in negative ways. Culture can have a positive impact on worship as well. I think that is an important point to remember. But it is important that we evaluate what we do through the lens of scripture and not just do things solely because we find doing it that way enjoyable.
In a couple of days I am going to do a second post that examines some of his conclusions in the book that will give you more substance than this post.