Tagged: Bible

Humble Hermeneutics

His [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
2 Peter 3:16

We’re given a good reason to avoid reducing Scripture to pithy little (universal) principles (that I keep seeing on Facebook, more than anywhere else). The way it happens, is that people read a Scripture, quote it, then draw out a principle from it. And it’s done so confidently, so ‘as-a-matter-of-fact’ -ly. That, I think, is dangerous.

Peter, in this epistle, notes the difficulty in properly interpreting Paul’s letters. The basis of his warning is, Scripture + ignorance = distortion and destruction.

I can hear listeners say, “well I guess we can’t read Scripture then.” You think that way simply because you, like every human, (including myself), have a tendency towards extremism; like a pendulum swinging from right to left. In other words, we are either too confident in our interpretation of Scripture, or, give up the hope for better interpretation.

I like what Paul tells Timothy in his second epistle: “Think over (or reflect) what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in all these things” (2 Timothy 2:7). Something similar is said by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).  Two things I note from these passages. First, is the need for work. Hard (intellectual) work is underrated in some  denominations. It is treated as an optional add-on; the proverbial third plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet: have some if you can fit it in. It is ironic and quite sad that the average Christian (and I’m speaking in my North American context) is progressively getting less thoughtful in a context that is progressively more resourceful with regards to Bible study. Thinking well and thinking hard needs to be emphasized for all ages again – the Church must rediscover the riches of Catechesis, and that sola scriptura always meant, ‘now you can read/study the Bible for yourself’ – a very prominent theme during the Protestant Reformation! Secondly, God is the Engineer in this whole process. He creates, he sustains, he brings growth, he multiplies. He is the One who gets the glory.

The answer, I think, is the need for humility.

It doesn’t mean that we do not attempt to interpret Scripture, but quite the contrary. We work hard, we attempt, and we maintain an attitude that is willing to be wrong, willing to jump in and make a mistake – because lets face it, we all make mistakes in all areas of life. This won’t apply to all things biblical hermeneutics, but it does provide a framework by which one can explore the treasures of Scripture. With learning, humility, and discernment (that is of course, empowered through communion with the Resurrected Lord), one can learn to hear Scripture, and hear the Lord speaking through it.

Lord, help us come humbly to your word, knowing that it bears witness to You, not a principle, but a person who is part of a grand story: the story of salvation, of rescue, of love and grace and beauty, a beauty that has been revealed, is being revealed and has yet to be revealed in its fulness. We are created and you are Creator: all glory is yours.

Amen.

Cruciform Life: Faith, Hope, Love

I grew up hearing the language of “inviting Jesus into your heart.”

It is very cute, and I’m sure Jesus appreciates it, but it’s not exactly biblical.

What we see most commonly in Scripture is not that we invite Jesus into our hearts, but that HE invites us into his story. The language of being “in Christ” is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament (appearing an approximate 83 times in the Pauline Epistles alone), pointing us to the reality that Christian humans (I think I prefer being identified as such, since I am primarily a human, then a Christian), enter into the story of Christ; a story marked by the cross and the resurrection, and resulting in a new life.

Conformity to Christ crucified, which one authors calls ‘cruciformity’ (‘cruciform’ literally means ‘shape of the cross’), is an ongoing reality in the life of the believer, beginning at the first moment of faith, expressed in baptism, and continues on throughout life. About baptism, Paul writes,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Romans 6:3-4.

So what does the cruciform life look like? It’s characterized by faith, hope, and love. Faith is fidelity and loyalty to God, patterned after Jesus’ life of faithful obedience. Hope is the confidence of God’s future glorification in the life of the believer despite present suffering and tribulation. Love, patterned after the cross, is the costly covenant fidelity toward others within the ekklēsia; also taking the shape of cruciformity.

This life is only possible through the empowering of the Spirit; which enables fidelity to God by connecting believers to the cross and thereby creating individual and corporate newness.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

1 Cor. 5:17

This points us to an even grander story: the story of God’s plan for New Creation. God promised, through Isaiah that God would one day re-create creation: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; cf. 66:22). For Paul, this has already begun in the resurrection of Christ, but will only finish in the future. The community who is “in Christ” (Romans 8:1) has the “first fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23), and exists and lives as result of and anticipation for the New Creation (8:23-25).

Like an author who loves his story so much that he will include himself in it, God enters into his story as the Rescuer – inviting us, and our story, to join his, into the cruciform life of faith, hope, and love, looking to the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth.

Amen.

Psalm 1 & 2: The Already and Not Yet of Blessing, Worship, & Hope

I love the Psalms. Here’s a reason why:

Structured like the Pentateuch (on purpose), it is 5 books into one. We’re given a doxology to mark out the end of one book and the beginning of the next (24, 72, 89, 106). The individual books were particular collections (i.e. “From Korah”), and eventually put together into one.

The Psalms, in the format that we have them, were probably not completed until Israel’s post-exilic period. They represent many centuries of Israelite worship.

We shouldn’t encounter them as a loose collection but as a book. They aren’t randomly scattered, but it seems clear that in the compilation, there is a consciousness of what is going on.

Psalm 1 is a great case study.

What’s is curious about this psalm is that it is not a prayer but a blessing; a blessing for those who go on the right way in contrast with those who do not. The reader is greeted not as a worshiper but as a journeyer, an individual not as a group. Private mediation on the law is commended. It implicitly provides an important point of entry for the whole book; inviting the reader into blessing by lawful mediation, guiding the reader on how they are to read.

Chapter 2 seems to be read in continuity with chapter 1.

Chapter 2 is kingly. As mentioned, what is interesting about the whole book, this anthology was only put together after the exile, yet there were no kings in Israel at that time. This raises the obvious question, why include psalms in an anthology closely tied to the king when there is no king? Here’s why: language of Kingship in the prophets often point to the eternal kingdom established by God’s Messiah. Conclusion: Psalm 2, and the other “royal” psalms are understood to refer to a king to come, and in that way they become messianic texts. In fact, Qumran writings interpret them as such.

Eschatological hope becomes the context for worship.

Psalm 1 outlines 2 ways for individuals and psalm 2 outlines 2 ways for nations. This is about messianic future and righteous government, with a here and now dimension while holding in tension the future hope; the already and not yet.

The Psalms provide a place of identification with the post-exilic people of Israel. We, like them, are in a state of tension, experiencing our own Exodus journey, and like them we can proclaim in hope that “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).

He is faithful.

The Blessings of the Kingdom

There are countless interpretations of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

One wonders, was Matthew being a legalist with regards to these teachings? Commonly, it is suggested that Matthew is warding off legalism with respects to the dominant Pharisaic presence, while at the same time, warning against an antinomianism common to those who “live by faith” (but not by works).

This seems to be a common struggle for many Christians, particularly Evangelicals. That is, the struggle of “faith” vs “religion/works,” as it is commonly referred to. Most often, Christians agree that it begins with faith and the works will follow. This is good, but not enough.

The beatitudes, (i.e “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” etc etc) don’t seem to fit in very cleanly with the above mentioned perspective. There is something missing. What is important to note about these sayings of Jesus, is that they are not describing the “way things are now” but rather

“they are annoucing a new state of affairs, a new reality which is in the process of bursting into the world. They are declaring that something that wasnt’ previously the case is now going to be; that the life of heaven, which had seemed so distant and unreal, is in the process of coming true on earth” (NT Wright, After You Believe, 105).

Now that Jesus is here, God’s kingdom of blessing is coming, a kingdom of renewal of creation, mercy, justice, peace, and love. And as the Kingdom arrives, the qualities of humility, meekness, purity and so on will shine through most powerfully.

So, his teaching is not a “rewards based” retribution theology, (ie behave this way and you will be rewarded), nor is it a “now that you believe in me, this is how you must behave.” Rather, Jesus is saying that God’s new world, God’s plan to bring restoration to the world – a plan beautifully exposed in Isaiah 11 – is coming to birth in Jesus.

These qualities become a reality as we anticipate the coming Kingdom – the New Creation.

Anticipation is a funny thing. When playing soccer, if I anticipate the ball coming towards me, the power of that anticipation will result in bodily movement; I will run towards the ball. Similarly, anticipation of the New Creation will result in new behaviour; transformation of Character. That happens as we follow Jesus.

There’s this interesting Greek word, telos. It connotes a sense of completion, goal, and fulfilment. A full word study may not be appurtenant here, but often, the word is mentioned in the context of the biblical vision for the New Creation, and to top that off, it is in view and anticipation of the telos that a Christ-like character is being formed. 1 Corinthians 15 is a great example of this, as well as the entire book of Revelation. Also, 1 Peter 4:7, which says:

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

There are many more directives throughout the New Testament that we can look at.

One author summarizes the big idea beautifully:

“When [the New Testament writers] present us with a vision for the future, they refuse to move from the present to the future. They move from the future to the present. They are captivated above all by a conviction about what God will finally do – the panorama unveiled in Revelation 21 and 22 – a future when God will dwell with his people in the new Jerusalem, a future promised by and guaranteed in the raising of Jesus from the dead. And in the light of this ultimate hope, they dare to claim that this future can start now. They tell us that their lives are being breathed into by the breath of God, being reenergized by God’s Spirit, that they are already enjoying the life of the future.” (David Taylor, editor of “For the Beauty of the Church”).

Jesus tells his hearers, “Be perfect (teleios) because your heavenly father is perfect (teleios)” (Mt. 5:48). Teleios, is usually translated as “whole, complete, perfect.” Essentially, he’s saying, that you are people of the goal – people of genuine humanness.

The Blessing of the Kingdom is in light of the New Creation – And that is happening here and now because of Jesus. We are living in the “already and not yet” – we live in view of the “not yet” and we live it out “already.”

 

Jesus, Culture, and Faith

In a class I’m taking called “theology of culture”, we’re looking at the Christian ethic as it relates to culture. How should a practicing Christian engage with culture?

I can’t go into detail about the course at this moment but the point I would like to make is that this question IS important. If we are to take seriously the call to be “in the world, but not of the world” we MUST not rush to conclusions as to what that may or may not look like. Christian thinkers have, through the centuries, employed varying interpretive lenses in order to live out this calling faithfully. We all have them: interpretive lenses. Those lenses are shaped by our very culture, which intensifies the need to THINK through these issues.

The 5 typologies given by Richard Niebuhr in his “Christ and Culture” are astoundingly important:

Christ Against Culture
Christ the Transformer of Culture
Christ in Paradox with Culture
Christ in Above Culture
Christ of Culture

Again, I can’t go into detailed description for each typology here, but what stood out to me was that each typology is to some degree and in certain contexts, a viable option. No thinking Christian could simply place themselves in strictly one of these categories for every cultural confrontation. Essentially, they are contextual categories. What I mean is, with every confrontation with culture, discernment needs to take place. Maybe on monday I’ll fall under the first typology, but on thursday I’ll fall under the third one.

With that in mind, discernment and wisdom, biblically speaking (and practically), are employable when one is in a state of dependance on God: Faith.

We must believe that God has and will continue to provide us with enough (not all) answers in order for us to discernibly and thoughtfully live according to his will and his glory.

By faith we can trust that God will “fill [us] with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding…in order that [we] may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light”

Colossians 1:9-13

N.T. Wright – Justification

It is unfortunate that most have pigeon-holed N.T. Wright into being a theologian with “liberal tendencies.” Many have categorized him as unbiblical in his “New Perspective” approach that at first glance seems to undermine classical Protestant Theology. “Justification by faith” has become the end all of Protestantism, more specifically for Reformed Theology, and Wright’s approach is not to discard it completely, but to understand in the grand framework of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The implications regarding our definition of justification is enormous, and Wright is simply using the New Perspective as a means to show that Paul’s use of “justification by faith” has way more implications than simply securing ones destination to heaven. Paul’s use of Abraham throughout his epistles, namely Galatians, and Romans, aren’t merely examples or illustrations of faith, but rather provide a framework in which we understand what faith and salvation really is.

The first part of this book is dedicated to a grand introduction, engaging with the “justification” on the basis of history, tradition, and of course the Bible. The second part of the book focuses on the exegesis of Scripture, as he goes through various Pauline epistles, bringing them into light through his exposition framed by the Abrahamic covenant.

Without giving away too many details in this book I will say a few things. Wright defines words like “righteousness” and “justification,” and does so with historical and literal context in mind. These words have familial and communitarian implications and essentially provide a greater Ecclesiology, Christology, and Missiology.  For Wright, the righteousness of God is not explicitly (though perhaps implicitly) a moral virtue, but specifically refers to his covenant faithfulness made with Abraham. This is made clear throughout Wright’s exposition of the book of Romans. Our ‘righteousness’ has to do with our covenant membership and behaviour. The marker then for those who are part of this covenant community is — like abraham — faith, not “works of Torah.” The problem is, that since the late medieval period, the church has ‘de-judaized’ the gospel, and has assumed that the problem with Judaism, and specifically 1st century judaism was legalism; essentially, that Jews from the 1st century were trying to earn their salvation. This is precisely wrong.

The 1st century Jews were quite aware that they were already a part of this covenant family, and the works of the law were a “marker” that intensified their separation from their gentile neighbours. For them, they were “justified by the works of torah” – in other works, they were counted as part of the covenant family and the works of torah was evidence of that fact. There is no such idea that 1st century judaism is attempting to earn salvation, it was already given by God through Abraham.

It was an ethnic elitism that had become problematic for the famous Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Legalism was not the problem. God’s purpose of the Torah was not to intensify some kind of ethnic elitism but to provoke the surrounding nations to become part of the family of God, always intended since God’s covenant with Abraham. They were to be a “light unto the nations,” so that through Abraham, “many nations would be blessed” (Gen. 15). For this reason, Jesus reminds them that they are “a light unto the nations” and a “city set on a hill,” yet unfortunately, they failed miserably.

With this in mind, (and much more if you read the book for yourself), Wright points out that being “justified” by faith, has more implications than merely assuring the believer that he will one day go to heaven. So, if you’re wondering what those implications are, read the book. I highly recommend it.

 

Criticism of A Separate “Rapture”

The following is an excerpt from http://www.theopedia.com/Rapture, Text licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The doctrine of the rapture as an event separate from the general resurrection is a fairly recent doctrinal development within the scope of the Church’s historic body of belief.  Prior to 1830, most of the ‘rapture texts’ were regarded as referring to the General Resurrection. This was especially the case with the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage which was primarily regarded as referring to the resurrection rather than a rapture.

Virtually no prominent theologians held to this theory before Darby‘s influence in the 1840’s.  For example, none of the great reformers, e.g. Luther or Calvin, believed in a “Secret Rapture” theory. Nor did the ancient church fathers such as John ChrysostomJustin MartyrIrenaeus,Hippolytus expressly assert the theory of the pre-tribulation rapture, with the possible exception that The Shepherd of Hermas, 1.4.2 speaks of not going through the Tribulation.

Some Reformed theologians are still favorable of using the term “rapture” but insist on making a very clear distinction between rapture as a synonym for resurrection and what Dispensationalists propose by the term, namely an escape from a yet-future tribulation period. John Stott calls this idea “escapism” in his book Issues Facing Christians Today (2006, 4th ed.). He goes on to write that the Dispensational concept of a “secret rapture”  is one of the most destructive doctrines gripping the Evangelical Church today. According to Stott, it thwarts planning, hinders social involvement, and gives Christians a gloomy outlook for the future.

Other texts used by proponents of a separate rapture, such as Matthew 24:40 – Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left., when taken in context (especially Christ’s statement in Matthew 24:34) are seen by some Preterists as predictions of the Roman catapult bombardment of Jerusalem during the 42 month siege of Jerusalem from late 66-70 AD, not to a rapture. While Dispensationalists claim that the predictions in Matthew 24 are yet-future, centering on a secret-rapture, critics maintain that an exegesis of this passage reveals that this is at best unlikely, if not biblically and historically impossible (cf. The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible by Andrew Corbett).

The Kingdom in Mark: 3 Predictions and 3 Misunderstandings

If you read the Bible, and more specifically if you read the Gospel’s you’ll notice that the disciples of Jesus had a hard time understanding certain things. Mark gives us an interesting picture regarding their complete misunderstanding of the kingdom. Even though to them it had “been given the secrets of the kingdom” (Mark 4:11), Jesus asked them various times, “do you not yet perceive or understand/ are you hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you net hear?” (Mark 8:17-18, cf. 4:13; 7:18; 6:52). What had been given to them was Christ himself, but what they seemed to fail to understand was the implications of the kingdom of God. Their expectations of what was to happen represent the same expectations of all of Israel; that God would eventually send a Messiah who would militaristically and politically take charge of Israel and be in command. For Israel, the comming Messiah meant political power and authority given back to the people of God.

I think Mark chooses many ways to show this, but I want to highlight one. Jesus predicts his death and suffering three times, in 8:31-38, in 9:30-32 and in 10:32-34. Now the interesting thing that Mark does is that he juxtaposes the disciples misunderstanding right next to the predictions. First with the transfiguration, Jesus’ clothes become radiant on the mountain (sounds familiar, think Exodus?), and Elijah and Moses show up, and suddenly Peter says “it is good that we are here.” Of course these words should be seen in light of the next part. In 9:34, after the second prediction of the suffering Messiah (literally right after), it says that “they (disciples) argued about who was the greatest.” And then lastly, following Jesus’ 3rd prediction, James and John have the brilliant request: “grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory” (10:37).

We see more of this happening later on as Judas betrays Jesus for money (14:10-11), Peter denies ever knowing Him (14:66), and none of them eventually stay with Him, but they all “fled” (14:50).

The people of Israel misunderstand the plan of God. They expected to be freed from Roman bondage by sword. In fact, that will explain why Jesus will constantly tell those whom he healed NOT to tell anyone. If the people thought of him as the Messiah, they would quickly begin to riot against Roman rule. Similarly, the disciples, the closest ones, completely misunderstood the meaning of the Kingdom.

Here’s the big idea. Mark is writing to Christians who like us would read the gospels and identified themselves as being disciples. Mark is warning against presuppositions that come from our own pride and smugness, and our own self-assurance. The people of Israel had an expectation that was completely off, so did the disciples. I think what Mark may be saying is that wether or not we may think we are “insiders” we may miss the point of discipleship, equating it with worldly status rather than obedient service.

Searching for Truth

My journey is like Moses who went on the mountain in Exodus 24 in search for God. Or at least my convictions tell me that it should be. He was in search of true theology, while his people waiting for him decided they’d come up with their own theology. One that served creation rather than creator. It came by their impatience and desire to worship.

Moses went up the mountain, was there for a long time, and sought God. My prayer is that my theology would also be formed through prayer. There are many books and commentaries and denominations that interpret biblical theology differently, giving us various “religions” under one theology.

My belief is that there are strengths and weaknesses in every denomination. This places me on a search for truth. Others may be in a place where they too are searching for correct theology, and maybe some believe they have found it. Wherever you are, I pray that you wouldn’t be defined by your denomination, whether Reformed or Pentecostal, or something else, but you would be defined by prayer, not prayer itself, but the result of prayer. In order for this to happen we must be passionate about truth. Truth that doesn’t waiver. Truth that may sometimes offend. Truth that may be hard to swallow.

Moses went up the mountain, Jesus went to a desolate place, and we too ought to seek divine truth in momentous occasions of faith: prayer fueled by our desire for unrelenting truth.

Don’t Waste Your Life

Anyone and everyone should read this book. It will motivate you, inspire you, and convict you… From the moment you begin to read these pages you get a sense of John Piper’s feelings towards life in general. You’ll begin to catch his approach, that every moment of our lives is accounted for, and when it comes down to it… what is the purpose of it all?

I encourage everyone to pick up this book… It’s had a huge influence on me and I believe it can truly be an encouragement to you…

 


Other Classics from John Piper can be found here….

Matteo’s Favorite’s