Monday, December 22, 2008

Hermeneutics Quiz

I found a quiz last night through Expository Thoughts site.

Click here to take the quiz.

Then, if you would, come back and leave me your result on the comment section.

(I scored as a "Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents view," though I must confess I didn't like the way a number of the questions were worded. With multiple choice, you are often left to choose an answer that doesn't really express it like you would, but comes the closest. Felt like that happened a lot.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Prayer for an Expositor

James McDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel announced he has prostate cancer. On his blog, he wrote:

So that’s it! I have cancer and I can diagnose the theology as well as any oncologist can diagnose the pathology. But here’s the great part. I truly believe those things. I am not especially anxious, I am not struggling with God’s goodness or asking a lot of penetrating ‘why’s?’ I am more aware of my pending mortality and the brevity of this life by eternal standards.
You can read the whole article here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cursory Cultural Comment

The recent brouhaha created by Newsweek's cover article has me breaking my typical rule for this blog (sort of) and commenting on a contemporary issue.

Some initial thoughts:

    1. It's Newsweek. Did we really expect quality exegesis from Newsweek magazine? (Perhaps from her sister publication, The Snohomish County Daily Herald, but not from Newsweek.)
    2. When many prominent leaders who profess to be evangelical can't decide what Scripture says about homosexuality, why should we act shocked when the secular media follows suit?
However, my agenda is not merely to ask a couple of questions. Undoubtably, many pastors will feel obligated to address this issue from their pulpits, which caused me to notice something else:
    Just this week, when I mentioned to another pastor that our church would be studying Leviticus next, his response was simply, "Why?"
To many, Leviticus appears to be one of the least relevant Books of the Bible. However, when Lisa Miller chose to do some sloppy exegesis from Leviticus to buttress her unbiblical claims, some would see that as a stroke of fortune. Leviticus just became relevant!

However, this misses the point entirely. Incidents like this do not make Leviticus relevant, Leviticus always has been and is relevant! Articles like this should remind pastors that their people need to know how to handle the Book of Leviticus properly for it is the very Word of God. After all, the book literally begins, "And the Lord called... To neglect Biblical text is to neglect God's own revelation about Himself.

Therefore, we'll be walking through Leviticus this winter, not because I'm looking for the latest trend to make our pulpit hip. We won't even be looking at Leviticus as a reaction to the Newsweek article. We'll be walking through Leviticus because as we study the text, God will be revealing Himself to us and pointing to the sacrifice of His Son for my sins on the cross. Nothing is more relevant than that.

But that's not why I chose to write this article.

The real issue here that makes this article germane is:
    Without employing a "Jesus Hermeneutic" the church can offer absolutely no solution.
Many will respond to Miller's article with Biblical texts. Some will point to the wrath of God being poured out in Romans 1 against such sin. Others will target people toward the created order. (Can't tell you how many times I've already heard the glib "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" comment.) Still others will point to the command to be "fruitful and multiply" and ask how homosexual conduct can accomplish this task.

But all of these tactics will prove inadequate and empty. Unbelievers can easily remind the church that God isn't pleased by high divorce rates. Issues of created order and procreation fall on deaf ears to a world advocating evolution, feminism and overpopulation. Sermon series about marriage or tips for people to learn how to peaceably live around one another will not meet the task. Simply declaring that a Christian marriage is a permanent marriage does not call the world to defend the institution of marriage.

No, the Christian must see that marriage is less about a husband and wife and more about Christ and the Church.
FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.--Ephesians 5:31-32
Pastors need to call their people beyond rules and policies. Practical advice and tips will not allow people to see the true glory of marriage. More importantly, simply calling for people to support legislative action is not the same as calling people to repentance and faith. Without preaching Christ, and marriage's purpose of displaying the love of Christ for His church and the church's submission to her Groom, we will simply scratch the surface instead of digging to the root.

Strangely, some will claim a "Jesus Hermeneutic" neglects the whole counsel of Scripture. Yet, the preacher who takes John 5 seriously will find himself preaching from any of the 66 books of the Bible, not just the one that seems most trendy for the moment.

Others claim preaching with a "Jesus Hermeneutic" will neglect application. But for the preacher who sees the glory of preaching Christ from every text, he knows this application goes beyond petitions and picketing, and applies straight to the heart.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Evangelista Contra Mundum?

Dan Phillips writes an excellent article regarding our position in relationship to the world.

Must read.

He, like me, also does not think the name Athanasius would be a total disaster for a child!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving & the Jesus Hermeneutic

Taking a slight diversion for the holiday season, consider the following parable:

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. "When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' And {so} they went. "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. "And about the eleventh {hour} he went out and found others standing {around;} and he *said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day long?' "They *said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He *said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.' "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last {group} to the first.' "When those {hired} about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. "When those {hired} first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. "When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked {only} one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.' "But he answered and said to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 'Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?' "So the last shall be first, and the first last."--Matthew 20:1-16
Details to note:

Laborers = Gospel Work--The two other passages where Matthew uses "laborers."
Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."--Matthew 9:37-38

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: "Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. "And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.--Matthew 10:5-10
These two usages of "laborer" coupled with the immediately preceding context (Peter asking what reward he will receive for his devotion to ministry) suggests that the laborers in this parable resemble those who are doing the work of proclaiming the gospel.

All received an equal wage--While this point seems very obvious as we consider the workers from the third hour to the eleventh, it is important to remember the original workers were also paid. This parable does not end with weeping and gnashing of teeth or strict judgment. The landowner does not require their wage back from them. In the same way, those who choose not to celebrate the gospel daily or seek Christ for the joy as well as their salvation are not necessarily unsaved, they simply miss a great joy from ministry. Jesus even calls the grumbling worker "Friend," showing His grace and love.

Settled on a price--With the first group, the landowner "agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day." This says more about the attitude of the workers than it does the landowner. Ultimately, these men are standing in the square looking for work. The landowner knows what he's willing to pay for a day. He is the one who is truly in control. If he doesn't like what the workers are demanding, he could simply walk away. The landowner will not leave this negotiation paying more than he was willing, but the workers may have to receive less than they hoped. Nevertheless the workers believe they have agreed upon the price.

No negotiation from others--Just three hours later, the landowner simply says, "Whatever is right, I will give you." However, that was enough for the workers. Such "idle standing" doesn't pay the bills or feed the family. Once the landowner appears, the workers are quick to follow, simply with the promise that he would treat them right. He does the same for those waiting six and nine hours. Finally, there is a group who have waited all day and been looked over. With this group, the landowner does not even speak of payment, but tells them to get out into his field. Clearly, they trust that he will do something, for the immediately go into the field and begin working. Whether the humbling result of being looked over in the first hour, or the desperation of needing some sort of wage, these workers are in not position to negotiate. They are offered an opportunity and jumped at it.

Generosity yields jealousy?--Ironically, those who negotiated their price are the ones who are disappointed. The landowner gives them exactly what they asked for. However, the problem is revealed by the landowner's generosity. Their wage is not what bothers them, it is what he dares to give the other workers that gets them upset. The landowner appears to be aware of their attitude, for he tells the foreman to pay the workers in reverse. He wants the first hour workers to see him generously pay the eleventh hour workers.

Nearly 2000 years later, and it's still easy to find the same responses. I've spoken with many pastors who believe God is giving them a raw deal with the sheep they have. They are sure they deserve better and are going to tell God all about it. Laymen have expressed their doubt that God loves them because their career or health is failing. Members of churches complaining about disciplines they should apply. We can all be tempted to think we've made a deal with God, then get upset when it seems someone else got a better deal.
For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?--1 Corinthians 4:7

This Thanksgiving season, take an opportunity to remember that you did not negotiate with God. You were in no position of power or rank with God. He needed nothing from you. You were standing there idly and He called you to His field and agreed to treat you better than you deserve. We should not see injustice when we see the Lord treat someone else well, but it should serve as a reminder to us that nothing we have received has been earned by us.

Quite frankly, I don't know of anyway to establish this kind of gratitude in your life than to read the Scriptures with the desire to engage Christ. Self serving moralistic application will either leave you feeling like a failure or result in apparent success and an attitude of entitlement. Simply reading the Word as historical narratives will leave one feeling disconnected, either looking down on former generations or envying the form of revelation they received. However, an attitude that goes to Scripture to see the story of redemption played out with Jesus Christ as our Divine Rescuer...not that creates a true heart of gratitude. A heart that not only thanks God daily for the salvation He has provided for us, but also is thrilled to see Him continually saving sinners.

And for those of us who have embraced this perspective. We should also turn all praise and glory to Jesus Christ for revealing this beauty to us. We did not discover it, but rather, He made it known to us.

Happy (is the man who's life is filled with) Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hermeneutics: Jesus Maybe, but Can Others?

As we've been tracing through the beginning process of hermeneutics, I hope I have laid out a case that a Biblical sermon must be a Christ centered sermon. As I begin to make my case for this, it was my desire to show Jesus believed the Bible should be approached with Him in view. He also taught this form to his disciples. Jesus both modeled and taught that the Old Testament Scriptures were about Him.

Of course, when we appealed to His authority over the Scriptures, so may push back against that. "Well sure," they may say, "Jesus could teach about Him from the Old Testament because He is perfect and flawless. Certainly with my ignorance and sin, I should not think that I can do likewise. It's best to leave that method to Jesus and cling to some other hermeneutic."

While Jesus may have pointed to Himself from the Old Testament, do we really have a right to? Perhaps we'll mess things up. Is there any indication that the apostles and church fathers employed a Jesus hermeneutic?


Acts 2--As Peter preaches the first sermon of the church, notice how he handles the Scriptures. Peter quotes from Joel, Psalms and 2 Samuel 7:12, seeing each of those in reference to God's working through Christ on the earth. He does not flinch to take passages--like the Psalms--which Jesus taught the disciples were about HIm, but blends that with other passages which we do not have a written account that Jesus taught him how to read these passages. It seems that at the inception of the church, Peter was not afraid to employ a Jesus hermeneutic.

Acts 7--Stephen's sermon is an interesting one to follow. In some ways, we may wonder why Stephen was tracing through the Jewish history to a bunch of men who knew these details. He was not filibustering...simply trying to preach long enough that his persecutors will tire and leave him alone. No, Stephen is rehearsing the Jewish history with one purpose--to show that the nation's history was such that it pointed the nation in a direction to reject Christ. The entire point of all of the history is to point--like Jesus--to the fact that these men who claim to love Moses do not even listen to Moses, nor love God. This is most visible in the fact that they crucified God's Son.

Acts 13--Paul preaches a sermon very similar to Stephen's. Though this sermon is preached to Jews who know the Law and history, Paul still finds it necessary to preach these things to them. In this sermon, Paul clearly refers to Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3, Psalm 16:10, Habakkuk 1:5 and Isaiah 49:6. Each of these passages he reads in light of the Risen Savior on our behalf.

Epistles of Paul--Paul does this numerous times in his epistles as well. According to Paul, Adam was a type of Christ (Romans 5:12-17). It is not just that Jesus came to reverse the actions of Adam, but that Adam was also intended to typify Jesus. In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul does the amazing where he teaches that Sarah/Isaac and Hagar/Ishmael teach truths about the gospel. Freedom is found in the promise, slavery is in the works of man. Paul sees the very real story of Ishamael and Hagar as teaching principles that point us directly to the gospel. Even when we read Ephesians 5:22-33 carefully, we see that marriage was designed to point people to Jesus Christ. Paul's language here illustrates that he is not adapting some new teaching, or changing the referent of an illustration. By the divine working of the Holy Spirit as Paul pens these words, he is saying to us that the original intent of these accounts were for us to see Jesus more clearly.

Hebrews 7--The author of Hebrews points us to the life of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:17-20). Though we know very little about the priest/king, the author of Hebrews reminds us that it was God's intent to direct us toward Jesus Christ from this passage. Who is our Great High Priest and King of Kings? Is it not Jesus Christ. We even see that if Abraham tithed to this priest/king certainly the children are also under his authority. Who is the Priest/King who reigns over Abraham and all his children? Is it not Jesus Christ.

These are just a handful of passages and examples. Take a look at the list of Old Testament passages that Matthew very clearly points to applying to Jesus Christ, in their original form. This is not simply Matthew saying, "Oh wow. We could say the same thing about Jesus." This is Matthew triumphantly declaring, "__________________ had to happen so the prophecy would be fulfilled..." Here are some of the passages Matthew illumines are about Jesus (corresponding verse in Matthew in parenthesis):

Numbers 27:17 (9:36)
2 Samuel 5:2 (2:6)
2 Chronicles 18:16 (9:36)
Isaiah 6:9 (13:14)
Isaiah 40:3 (3:3)
Isaiah 53:4 (8:17)
Hosea 11:1 (2:15)
Zechariah 11:13 (27:9)
Psalm 78:2 (13:15)
Isaiah 9:1-2 (4:15-16)
Isaiah 42:1-4 (12:18)
Jeremiah 31:15 (2:18)
Micah 5:2-4 (2:6)
Malachi 3:1 (11:10)

These are just a few, and all the gospels do this. Even Mark, who begins with the account of John the Baptist does so to show that Malachi and Isaiah are fulfilled by the work of John the Baptist because he was the forerunner to Christ. They find their completion not because of the ministry of John, but ultimately because of the work of Jesus Christ!!!

The truth of the matter is, if you examine every book of the New Testament you will see the only way an Old Testament reference makes any sense is if you read it through a Jesus Hermeneutic. The New Testament authors reveal that every passage finds it's original intent in pointing to Christ.

Still you may be thinking, "Yes Jesus did it. Yes, his disciples did it. But when we read about this in the Scriptures, God was "moving those authors" as they were writing. Their hermeneutic was carried uniquely by the Holy Spirit as they recorded the word of God. I'm not to do that too, am I?...stay tuned.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The "Jesus Hermeneutic": Exhibit A

John 5 seems to pretty clearly lay out that the Scriptures are about Jesus. Jesus encounters men who diligently study the Word, but their hermeneutic was off. They didn't see Jesus in the Text and therefore they actually doubted Moses, for Jesus was his intention. This text alone should cause us to note that any hermeneutic that doesn't see Christ as the ultimate intention is a faulty hermeneutic. However, some will ask:

Is it wise to adjust the entire way you read the Bible from just one text? Couldn't you be missing the mark if one small dialogue reshapes the way you read the rest of the Book?

My answers would be: a) clear passages are supposed to define more difficult passages, and they don't get much clearer than this one, b) oh, we're just getting started...there is plenty more proof from Jesus. Getting ahead of ourselves, let me just state that this hermeneutic is employed by the New Testament authors (we'll let that marinate for a few posts), but Jesus also exhibited this hermeneutic regularly.

Before we get to "Exhibit A" allow me to offer some evidence from the Book of John. (I"ll have to ask The Esquire if there is such a thing as "pre-exhibit evidence.")

Jesus states that Moses and the serpent pointed to Him (John 3:13-14).

Jesus states that the manna pointed to Him (John 6:26-58).

Jesus states that living waters points to Him (John 7:38).

Jesus states that Psalm 41:9 was about Him (John 13:18).

Jesus states that Psalm 35:19; 69:4 is about Him (John 15:25).

Now, consider these references are only from John and do not take into account clear Old Testament titles Jesus applied to Himself (Son of Man, Good Shepherd, Light, I AM, Resurrection and Life, the Vine) nor is it counting the Scriptures John reads in light of Jesus throughout the book of John. In fact, many of these references can slip right by us. But just because we could easily miss them does not mean they aren't profound. Don't forget, the teachers of the Law were missing Jesus in the Old Testament and He found that pretty condemning.

Perhaps the reason we don't see Christ often enough in the Old Testament is because we don't see Him enough in the New Testament too. (But I digress.)

So let's take a look at "Exhibit A":

Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.--Luke 24:44-47

Wouldn't it be great if Jesus would just "open our minds to understand the Scriptures? Imagine sitting in the "Jesus Rabbinic School" where He taught you how to read the Bible. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Well, guess what? He did! Reread the above text and understand this is your opportunity too. You can allow Jesus to open your mind and sit under His teaching on hermeneutics!

Some things to note:

    1. This is not simply post-resurrection revelation.
Just to get all the overly chronologized expressions out of the way, this is not something Jesus began to teach after the resurrection. This is not new teaching to the disciples. He's been telling them "while I was still with you." The only difference now is that it is not going in one ear and out the other. Jesus is going to open their minds so they can comprehend what He's been telling them all along.

    2. "The Scriptures" are the Old Testament.
Kind of a "duh thing" here, but it is important to remember that Jesus is referring to the Old Testament when when it says Scriptures. This is further confirmed by stating Law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms. This was understood to be another way of stating "the whole OT."

    3. Are written about Me.
Just a point of note, He does not state, "All things which were written should now be understood as applying to Me." He states, "all things which are written about Me." This means He is not teaching us a new hermeneutic, but is teaching us authorial intent. "Are written" is such a great construction (as opposed to "Was written"). It states that it was written about Him, but proper application is still about Him. This is not Jesus handing out secret decoder rings for the Old Testament. This is Jesus removing a veil so they can see accurately what the Text has always said.

    4. The Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day.
Jesus doesn't care what Second Temple Period Rabbis may think about the Messiah, He explains to His disciples that the Old Testament teaches that the Messiah must die and rise three days later. The historical truths of what must happen were recorded in the Old Testament. This is not revisionist history. This is prophecy in its true form. The Old Testament declared long before that these things must take place.

    5. Repentance for forgiveness of sins...
The Old Testament does not merely proclaim events that will happen, it also tells us why. From the Old Testament we can learn that Jesus will lay down His life for the sake of our sins and that this can only be received through repentance and faith. We see not only the historic details of the gospel, but also how these details can be appropriated to our lives. Repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins is not a New Testament concept. It is not a reworking of the text. It is what the Old Testament declared.

    6. Proclaimed in His name to all the nations.
The message of salvation cannot be segregated from the person of Christ. They are to proclaim "in His name." This also reminds us that "Gentile Evangelism" or the commission of the Church is not adaptation or Jesus adjusting the plan. This is Jesus laying out that the Old Testament has prophesied to the coming of the Holy Spirit to allow men to speak in the name of Jesus for the sake of proclaiming His name among the nations. Sadly, the church often appeals to world mission from a New Testament perspective only, when Jesus is teaching that any New Testament text about reaching the nations is simply application of what the Old Testament has already stated!

Is that the way your read the Old Testament? If not, you have a different hermeneutic than Jesus. You also have a different hermeneutic than the one He taught. You're not missing a "cool new way to read the Bible," you are missing the true, original way the Bible was meant to be read.

Seeing that the entire Bible is about Jesus is not merely looking for occasional obscure prophetic points about Jesus. Reading the Bible through a Jesus Hermeneutic means you see the gospel story, the message of Jesus fulfilling our redemption through His work on the cross on our behalf and our joyful participation in proclaiming that message around the world as on the pages of the Old Testament.

[Thinking: Sure, He can do that because He is Jesus. If you were the perfect, holy Son of God, you could read the Bible without any fear of making an error too. Jesus was alive when the original authors were writing the document. But Jesus doesn't mean for others to employ that hermeneutic, right? I mean, it's one thing for Jesus to explain the original meaning of some passages, but it's not like He set others loose to do the same thing. Did He?

I'm glad you asked. That's where we're headed next.]

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hermeneutics: From People to Person

As I mentioned before, the discussion of hermeneutics can often get clouded by systems, camps and institutions. Discussions can easily spiral from "How should we understand this text?" to "What is consistent with each group's position?"

This becomes equally confusing, for within each camp, institution or school, there run a number of different paths. As we try to clear up this mess, we often begin appealing to different scholars. We attempt to narrow down our understanding or disciplines by finding a person we most commonly try to model. Such divisions can have a very negative effect on the church and the cause of Christ.

However, every man who is called to Christ is also called into the Body of Christ. Therefore, he is not an island--left to determine his own personal meaning or simply listen for the voice within. Every man (whether pastor or not) should have teachers, mentors and preachers who have influenced them.

So, the question becomes, who should ultimately shape our hermeneutics?

There are countless people who have the opportunity to help shape the way we read Scripture. Through their teaching, ministry or simple example, they speak volumes to us and greatly impact our life. Consciously or not, these people have helped shape us and therefore shape the way we read the Word. However, when you try to communicate that hermeneutic to someone else, you discover something. Can I appeal to any authority?

You can reference a man's education and degrees. However, many esteemed theological institutions are filled with skeptics and heretics. Education does not guarantee they are right. You can appeal to their moral character. However, we all battle against the flesh (therefore, my sin nature diminishes that authority) and even "apparent external righteousness" isn't necessarily an indicator (for you can find many in cults who have great external morality to them). You cannot even appeal to changes made in your own life, for this simply is pragmatism and leaves the listener the option to appeal to their own changes and results.

However, if you could say you received your hermeneutic from a Perfect All-Knowing Teacher, that would carry some authority, right? Especially if He is telling you how to read it because He wrote it!

We certainly can discuss pastors, teachers, educators and faithful men who have greatly influenced our learning and whom we admire. That can be a positive, encouraging and God honoring endeavor. However, before we discuss all the people who have influenced our hermeneutic, we better first make sure we go to the person of Christ and understand He has all authority to tell us how to read our Bible.

"And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the {one and} only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"--John 5:37-47

In this brief exchange, Jesus makes a couple things crystal clear:
    The Bible is about Him.
Within this short text, Jesus states some obvious things. He has testified of Me (v37). This is not only a reference to John the Baptist (v 32-36) but that all the prophets have testified of Him. It is these [the Scriptures] that testify about Me (v39). Jesus states that the Word of God--which these men were reading--testifies of Jesus. God is choosing to glorify His Son through the written Word. If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me (v46). Specifically, Jesus is saying that Genesis-Deuteronomy (and sections of Psalms) testify of Jesus.
    These men reject Christ in the Scriptures for spiritual, not educational reasons.
While Jesus has no problem saying the Scriptures are about Him, He explains the resistance to this view is not academic. The problem goes beyond their rabbinic school or mentor. The problem is their heart. They do not have His Word abiding in them (v38). This is a steep charge, for many of these men would have the Pentateuch memorized, let alone the rest of the Old Testament. Jesus makes this deduction because they do not believe Him whom He sent (v38). These men clearly don't recognize God's Word when they see it, for He is standing right in front of them and they choose not to believe Him. They are unwilling to come to Him (v40). This is not just an issue of difficult teaching or a new paradigm. This is an issue of the will. Why wouldn't they want to come to Jesus? You do not have the love of God within yourselves (v42). These men may search the Scriptures, but it is not out of a deep love for God, but some other motive. They reject Jesus because they do not really love God. But what do they love? You receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the {one and} only God (v44). They prefer their teaching system, one in which people will "ooh and ah" their findings and give them reverence and respect. They study and teach for the sake of their own fame, not God's. And while they have set their hope in Moses, they do not believe his writings (vv45 & 47). Jesus says their hermeneutic is so flawed that they don't actually believe the words they are reading. Their hermeneutic forces them to distort the Word so badly that they actually deny what Moses said.

These results are not the speculation of a school or camp. This is not merely a way to read your Bible. When the King of Kings and Lord of Lords tells you how to read the Word (His Word) we should take notice.

Any discussion of hermeneutics must start at this point. Does the person see that all of the Old Testament is written to testify of Christ? And if you run into a person who denies the premise, it doesn't matter what scholar, church growth expert or theological institution has said otherwise, a rejection of Christ in all of the Old Testament is a rejection of the original intent of the text, as well as a rejection of the Author.

How we read the Bible is first and foremost and issue of submission. Are we willing to read it the way Jesus says we should?

[And if you're asking, But how do we know this is what He meant. Aren't you allowing one dialogue to determine the whole of Scripture? Do we have any way of knowing this is what Jesus had in mind?, then please patiently wait as I attempt to unfold that this is not the hermeneutic of one obscure text.]

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Doing a Complete 360

Perhaps you've heard it too. I've especially heard this statement in regard to sports. An athlete speaks of his personal (or team) turnaround and credits it to "doing a complete 360." While I totally get the intention of the speaker, the statement is rather funny.

If you do a "complete 360" you end up just where you were before.

Often, repentance is simply spoken of as a "180" or a "U-turn," but genuine repentance is more than that.

As Luther reminds us in his very first of the 95 Thesis:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Genuine repentance is a turn from self to Our Savior, it is not merely a turn from "Self Plan A" to "Self Plan B." Such forms of "repentance" are not making a "180" but instead, are a "360". We start and end at the same place: self.

One of the largest churches in America recently claimed to repent. But their new initiative shows a 360. They are still caught up in their plans, their research and their solutions.

Barna is famous for this as well. One perspective is touted, materials are marketed and pastors are trained to think in a "new paradigm." Yet, eventually results are not as drastic as originally anticipated, or the movement becomes stale and worn out and must be replaced. Time to regroup, reassess, repackage and call it repenting. But the truth is, the movement was not from self to Savior, but from self plan to new self plan.

This post from a friend prepares us for the regrouping, restrategizing and the replenishing of resources for a Christian political agenda. Who knows, the language of repentance may even be invoked. However, the above post (and this one) reminds us that deeper repentance is necessary. It's one thing to shift from Plan A to Plan B. It's another thing to shift from man's plans to God's.

True repentance cannot blame the failure on a changing culture or exterior circumstances. True repentance can't be defined as a "tweaked strategy" or the result of more complete research. True repentance can't be a slight misreading of information or tainted research. In the end, true repentance cannot put the blame on anyone or anything else.

True repentance requires that I say, "I was wrong and God is right. It was sinful for me to desire to do it my way, rather than God's way." It is such an abandonment of my ways that I'm left to turn nowhere but to God.

But this kind of repentance is not popular. It's seen as harsh, confining and demeaning. It betrays our quest for self-esteem. However, Paul reminded Timothy that repentance is a beautiful thing:
The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses {and escape} from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.--2 Timothy 2:24-26
Repentance is:
    1. Not to be demanded for arguments sake, but for restoration.
    2. A gracious gift, granted by God.
    3. Is essential to arriving at the knowledge of the truth.
    4. Is liberating from Satan's schemes.
May God grant us His favor, allowing us to do much more than a "360." May He allow each of us to turn from self and to Him.

And may we as pastors realize that calling our people to repentance (and humbling displaying it ourselves) is such a beautiful gift.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last Installment

Today, I completed our last bulletin insert for our church, regarding the electoral process:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breaking Out of the Spiral

A nearby pastor who has great concern about my hermeneutic and ministry, decided he would help me by sending the following quote from a book:

While we must recognize the christological thrust of Scripture as a whole, we should interpret individual passages thus only if the text warrants it. We should never read more into a text than it allows. Nonchristological passages are part of the broader thrust of Scripture as it prepared for Christ but are not christocentric in themselves. Do not impose your theological system upon the text. As stated throughout this book, one's theological system is an essential and valid component of the hermeneutical tool chest. Without a basic system of thinking a reader could not make sense out of any text let alone one as difficult as a prophetic passage. Yet at the same time a system that has become rigid can lead the interpreter to thrust the text in a direction it does not wish to go and thereby can seriously hamper the search for truth.
Now, there are a couple of reasons I supply you with the quote. A) This quote was a greater catalyst in my thinking than this "helpful pastor" will ever know. B) This is the only exposure I have to the author's views. Honestly, I may misrepresent what the author intended by this quote, for this is all I've seen. I wanted to be fair and let you see it too. C) That said, it also means I have no clue what "camp" the author would put himself into. I'm glad for this. For I desire that this series simply be based upon light the Word of God sheds and not on postures formulated by different schools or disciplines of competing theological camps. D) I don't even know if this quote is accurate. The emailer may have inadvertently made errors or may have purposefully misrepresented the author. He may have typed it spot on (including punctuation, spelling and grammar). I have no idea.

Yet, after reading the quote many times, there are a couple of areas that are of concern to me.

Can the sum of the parts be less than the whole? It does not seem possible to at one point say the Bible as a whole has a Christological thrust while at the same time claiming individual passages do not. In fact, if you are saying a passage is preparing for Christ, how does that not mean it's thrust is Christ? It seems to me, you've either got to conclude that the whole of Scripture (and thus the individual parts which make up the whole) all point to Christ, or they don't. (Now, they can vary on how they point to Christ, but this does not seem to be the point the author is making.)

Why are we suddenly talking about theological systems? A hermeneutic and a theological system are not the same thing. My theological system is not a tool I use to determine how I read the Bible, but instead, it is the result of how I read the Bible. Therefore, in a discussion about hermeneutics, we find ourselves deflecting the conversation to systems and advocates, scholars and classical works. How'd we get there? I don't disagree when the author says we should not impose our theological system on the text, but I also don't think I should impose my love of enchiladas on the text either. And to me, they both are about as equally relevant in the course of this quote.

When Jesus addressed those who had studied Scripture, He did not say their system was the problem. Instead, He exposed that their hermeneutic was flawed. For instance, consider the Sadducees who deny the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:23-33). Now, while Matthew and Jesus both point out that their theological system is flawed, it is interesting that Jesus does not base His rebuke upon this. He could have played their silly little game (for their hypothetical situation was supposed to expose the "foolishness" of the resurrection). Instead, He exposes their faulty hermeneutic. By not reading Exodus 3:6 carefully, the Sadducees miss that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must be living, for God claims He IS their God. Sure, the Sadducees had a faulty theological system, but this was due to the fact that their hermeneutic was off.

In my opinion, the author of the above quote makes a typical but critical error. In the midst of discussing hermeneutics, he bogs the discussion down by introducing theological systems (even if it is to urge caution with them). If we truly believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, then the Scriptures inform our systems, not the other way around. So, how do we determine the way we read the Scriptures?

If our answer to that question is to appeal to a system, we have once again usurped the authority of Scripture. No longer is the Word that which binds the heart and conscience of the believer, but a theological system sits on the throne. The Word would become governed by the lens we read it through. (This becomes the spiral postmodernists swirl down until the Bible can make no sense nor bear any real authority.) No, if Scripture is the real authority, then we have to allow it to tell us how to read itself.

That's right. No systems. No exterior scholarship. No camps or schools developed by church fathers. So, if the whole of Scripture is to point to Christ, we should come to that conclusion because the Word of God says so. And if that means the parts of Scripture must also all point to Christ, then we should come to that conclusion because the Word of God says so.

So. What does the Word say?

I'm glad you asked...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Reformation Day!

On this day, 491 years ago, Martin Luther hung his 95 thesis on the door of Castle Church. While the Reformation had been brewing for quite some time, this is typically the day that marks this time of spiritual renewal.

In years past (2006 & 2007), I have released a series of posts regarding the Reformation.

Traditionally, the printing press is considered one of the factors that led toward the Reformation. After all, as the Bible became more available to people, naturally reformation would come. However, I do not think that is as much a factor as how people began reading their Bibles. It was nothing new for Luther to be able to read the Scriptures in a monastery or seminary. What made a real difference was the way he read them.

As I prepare for a trip to the Dominican Republic, hermeneutics have been on my mind. I have the amazing opportunity to meet with young preachers in the Dominican and speak to them about preaching and ministry. More important than anything else is the way they will read their Bible. It will effect their own walk, and it will effect their ministry (1 Timothy 4:16).

The discussion of hermeneutics often gets clouded when you start speaking of camps. Similar to the political campaigns, people start making ridiculous claims or distort the other camps perspective in an attempt to defend their own. Pretty soon, the argument becomes philosophical and we're no longer talking Scripture but talking around Scripture.

If hermeneutics are so important, wouldn't it make sense if God told us how to read His Word? In the next few posts (notice, I did not promise when they are coming, just that they are), I hope to walk through a couple passages which not only teach us Truth, but teach us how to understand that Truth.

For God did not just display His grace to us by giving us specific revelation, He also displayed His grace by telling us how to understand it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Real Prosperity Preaching

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.--3 John 2
    1. Would you be happy if someone prayed that your physical health would match your spiritual health?
    2. Would you be happy if someone prayed your financial health would match your spiritual health?

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Election Inserts

These are our last two inserts as we seek for our congregation to be conformed to the image of Christ as they work through the electoral process. (We'll do one concluding specific insert as to praying for officials who one races.)

Again, if you want them, swipe them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Preaching During the Election

How does a pastor deal with the "elephant in the middle of the room?" When every news agency and media outlet is screaming "election...election...election!" how do we navigate through it?

Personally, I think we offer our people a breath of fresh air and a bit of stability by continuing to work through the text, (surprise, surprise) not to mention that which actually can sanctify. In my opinion, this is complete silliness and a complete distraction from our gospel calling. I've also received pledges from other pastors which I'm supposed to sign. Apart from the complete waste that internet petitions/pledges are (several of the signees are clearly atheistic, mocking the church with their signatures with silly names for churches which clearly do not exist), there is also no center in the gospel (a fellow pastor in my fellowship's signature is immediately followed by an LDS "elder"). These things should serve as a reminder that a November election focus is barking up the wrong tree.

However, we don't have to ignore the election either. But instead of hitching our wagon to a particular candidate or issue, could we consider our real job? How could we shepherd our flock in such a way that they conform to the image of Christ as they navigate this election? As a church, we have approached this goal with the following bulletin inserts, which have led to some great follow up discussion. (Feel free to "steal" them, if you think it would benefit.)

We plan to do two more posts in preparation of the election and one in review, encouraging the Body to pray for the specific candidates who win.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Still Here, Sort of...

My blogging has certainly slowed down lately. If you read this blog, you've probably noticed posts are quite infrequent and have switched to short questions/thoughts as opposed to articles. There are a few reasons...

1. Time (lack of). No matter how I've tried to justify it, blogging ultimately fits more in the category of hobby than ministry (though the two can overlap). Therefore, as ministry opportunities abound, it seems best to let the blog lay low for a time while I seek to serve others in the moments God has provided.

2. Talent (lack of). There are several articles in the "pre-written" stage, however, they need a lot of refinement to be clear and attempt at concise. This can be the most time consuming phase, which drives back to point one.

3. Tired. I'm tired of meeting with other pastors only to find they are more enamored with their strategies and plans than with the work of Christ. I'm tired of hearing them treat a gospel confession simply as a "heresy fence" instead of it being the overflow of their heart. I'm tired of pastors who try to convince me they are being more faithful to the text by intentionally not bringing the person and work of Christ into their sermon. I'm tired of looking at my own track record and realizing the way I have dealt with these conversations in the past lacked the grace and humility needed to produce the symphony of God's infinite mercy and merely came across as a noisy gong. Therefore, I'm working the word through my own heart and these current situations before I write about it, which brings me back to point 2 (which brings me back to point 1).

It may be a while before I post an article, but until then, I'll try to direct you to somethings I have found truly helpful.

If John Piper picks a peck of people's ponderings, how many ponderings can Pastor Piper peck? Well, I don't know. But Desiring God has added a resource called Ask Pastor John. Click here to see the list of questions Pastor Piper has answered. You can either podcast this feature or sort through the questions and download the three-to-four minute answer one at a time.

If the world has nasty sayings about assumptions, why do we believers still do it? Through Professor Matt Harmon's blog, I read this wonderful article on Assumed Evangelicalism. The article not only nails the overall condition of the American church, but also seems to nail the responses given when this issue is addressed. A must read (especially for shepherds of Mackian decent).

Listen to this sermon twice! I wouldn't recommend listening to The Tongue, the Bridle, and the Blessing: An Exposition of James 3:1-12 (by Sinclair Ferguson). I'd recommend listening to it twice. Once to allow the Spirit of God to convict you about your use of the tongue. Whether you struggle to speak or struggle to remain silent, Ferguson will lay out for you God's standard and desire for our tongue and our failure to accomplish it on our own...drawing you to the blood of Christ for Him to sanctify this "great boaster." The second time to study the beauty of Ferguson's sermon. It is a brilliant example of how the gospel drives a passage and leads a person to repentance and standing in the glory of Christ. A great example of a gospel driven sermon finding application in all of our life.

Sex! This is not just an attempt to boost hits on my blog, it's a reference to Darby Livingston's recent article. Darby tackles a specific area of tension in the intimacy of bride and groom and seeks to call people to consider the gospel in this area. Again, excellent theology is applied to show that all things (including the bedroom) exist to glorify God by exalting His Son.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Drawing Lines

If you collaborate, cooperate and partner with other ministries for the furthering of the gospel, what you expect of their attitude toward the gospel?

Clearly, denial should mean no cooperation.

But what about "simple affirmation?"

Is it demanding too much from other ministries that they not merely agree with the gospel (when asked), but share a like passion? While they may desire you assume their adherence to the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised to life, isn't it more beneficial to find a partner ministry that places the message out front and center?

Is this too critical a stance?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ask Yourself...

Taking a break from current discussions and just considering some of the options we see around us, ask yourself the following:

1. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through our emotions?

2. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through our impulses?

3. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through man's ingenuity and ideas?

4. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through fantastic experiences?

5. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through our moralist efforts?

6. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through our self-generated discipline and techniques?

7. Is God the Holy Spirit sending a confused message if He chooses not to work through the faithful preaching of Jesus Christ, as seen in His Word?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Summer Break

I'm starting to realize, one of the marks of being a good expositor is that he will take a break from other things (like blogging) to be able to focus on exposition. So I'm kind of cheating and just pointing toward some links.

The Pastor's Soul

The attitude that some pastors have about their sheep can often cause me to have to readjust my attitude. Often they grumble, complain and whine about the hand they've been dealt. Then, they struggle to figure out why people aren't real excited to follow their leadership.

Now, I've been told that I shouldn't even comment on this subject because I have it far too easy. I have an amazing church! And while I must agree (the beauty of the people far exceeds anything their teaching pastor provides) and confess that I don't deserve a church like Greenville Grace, let alone shepherd there, I must disagree that it is all about circumstances.

Granted, my feet haven't really been put to the fire on loving difficult people, I think the issue really is theological.

Check out these audio links:

Sustaining A Pastor's Soul

The Pastor and His Joy (the "how to" of the above).

Really, these are beneficial for all, minister or not. Again, the key to Christ exalting ministry is keeping our eyes on the gospel.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Sequential Exposition?

This blog (named for the latin of "sequential exposition") has existed for 174 days and yet I have not really made my case for "Why sequential exposition should be the preferred method of exposition." One reason I have not done this is that manufacturing the argument intimidates me some. Much like my room rarely but occasionally (mom and dad usually dropped the hammer before then) would get so messy in my adolescence, that when I finally decided (read: was ordered) to clean it, the most difficult part was standing in the room figuring out where to start.

Quite frankly, there's many ways to skin this cat.

But since I actually consider cat skinning a public service, I will give this an initial introductory attempt, and then seek to build on it from here.

1. I had considered laying out all the advantages to sequential exposition, but I've already started that process. It can be read here and I hope to continue to add to it. (If some of the pastors I have requested from ever check out this blog...yes, I'm still waiting for your list!)

2. I also considered an autobiographical series explaining how I have been transformed from arrogant, self-absorbed, glory stealing story teller to one who delights in the power not being mine but God's. I have come to understand what "preach the Word," "not coming with cleverness of speech," and "having nothing to boast in, save the cross" truly mean, and lectio continua has been an essential element in that development. Not only has the congregation benefited from lectio continua, but a specific member of the congregation (read: me, the preacher) has benefited the most. This series may come down the road, but not at this point.

3. If lectio continua (sequential exposition) is all about letting the Word speak, how can you advocate this form above others when the Scriptures do not do that? I'm summarizing a series of questions asked, but it also must (I would hope) become the question that every faithful preacher asks. If my methodology comes from a source outside the Scriptures, do I then make that source in authority to the Scriptures? Therefore, we must ask the question, do the Scriptures give any examples or commandments that tell us we should be doing lectio continua?

Just some "quick hit thoughts"

1. I think there are Biblical examples. Nehemiah 8 is a glorious example. Ezra stands up and reads from the book of the law. The Levites "explained the law" (8:7) and were "translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading" (8:8). Clearly, Ezra is reading through the text, for it isn't until the second day that the people come to Leviticus 23. In that context then, we realize that Nehemiah 9 is not merely a retelling of the history of Israel, but is the response of the people after walking through the Word of God. Clearly, Ezra (as one who had "set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel--Ezra 7:10) was not just teaching what he knew, but had instructed the teachers to work through the Law. For some time later (Nehemiah 13:1-3) they come to Deuteronomy 23. It seems that Ezra embraced lectio continua and encouraged the teachers to do likewise. However, this is just one example (of many, I believe...including the example of our Savior) but examples could be simply descriptive, not it doesn't quite make the case.

2. I believe Paul solemnly charged Timothy to do it. When I read 2 Timothy 4:1-5 the most simple reading leads me to lectio continua. Paul does not tell him to "preach portions of the Word" or "back your beliefs with the Word." He does not even tell Timothy to "preach the portion of the Word that you think people need on that particular week." In fact, his exhortation toward "in season and out" I believe speaks to more than just a commitment to always preaching the Word, but also speaks to a commitment to a particular text, even if our human wisdom leads us to believe it may not be "relevant" right now. Of course, I am willing to admit this is based upon debatable exegesis (to which this small paragraph does not give justice) so this argument could be ignored as well.

3. But ultimately, I don't believe I have to make such a case.

While I believe I can show examples of lectio continua from the Scriptures and though I do believe that is the nature of Paul's command to Timothy, I do not believe the Scriptures had to state "Preach thou verseth by verseth" nor that I must show how Galatians is actually an exposition of 2 Samuel (it's not, by the way) to make my case for lectio continua. Ultimately, I think the argument that I must prove examples and exhortations from Scripture to make it permissible (or even to be favored) is slightly flawed thinking. Here are a few reasons (again, I attempt to keep them brief) why I would make such a claim:

This is a different era. This is not a statement of covenants or dispensations, but merely an acknowledgment of Hebrews. The author states:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.--Hebrews 1:1-4
"Now wait," one may protest, "that only makes a distinction between the periods of preincarnate Christ and incarnate Christ!" First, I merely list that reference to establish that distinctions should be made, but would turn to the second chapter to show another:
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
One cannot help but notice the us and them language employed in this passage. Clearly, there is not just a distinction between Old and New Testament guys but between us and Apostles. Therefore, if an Apostle had authority and revelation to speak (or write) to a church body without walking through a particular text, I should not simply assume I have equal authority to do so.

It betrays the purpose of Scripture. In one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Jesus explains the purpose of the Word of God:
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life."--John 5:39-40
If I seek to turn the Bible into a "how to" preaching manual, I miss the intention of the Scripture. Even in the above example from Nehemiah 8, the lesson is not just to obey the Lord by observing the Feast of Booths, but that feast was to direct the people to the God who will "tabernacle" among them (John 1:14). Therefore, Paul does not explain what he means (or his method) toward preaching the whole counsel of God's Word to the Ephesians during his 3.5 year ministry (Acts 20:27). Since Luke's agenda (nor the Holy Spirits) was not to explain how Paul did this, but merely that he did, we must be careful to assume we have all the evidence before us to know how he did do it.

It betrays the logic of literature. Frankly, an appeal for a verse by verse exposition of the text in favor of lectio continua makes the case itself. (Confusing sentence, I know, but hang with me.) An appeal for lectio continua from a text makes the case for lectio continua.

If I pulled one word from fifteen separate verses to construct a sentence stating we should do lectio continua, I would be distorting the text. Similarly, if I produced one sentence from five different texts to produce a paragraph that seemed to support lectio continua, I would be accused (rightly so) of distorting/ignoring context. Why? Because we understand the nature of literature. It is written with sequential thought. The "Therefore" of Romans 12:1 loses its purpose if I ignore all preceding texts. This applies to all literature, not just to Scripture. I would not receive a letter from my wife (or even an email) and determine where I felt like starting...I would start at the beginning. Likewise, a student does not receive a book in English class and begin reading wherever he/she feels, but starts at the beginning of the book. Even in a work that is a compilation (which may therefore allow for various starting places), we begin at a chapter beginning or at the beginning of the article. (Even this blog, for instance. You may have become bored and skipped portions of this article...if you are still even reading to this point...but if something becomes confusing, you will naturally go back and read that which you skipped...knowing I may be building on a previous argument.)

Now Scripture is certainly more than just literature, but it is also most certainly not less. God chose to reveal Himself in written form, and therefore has even ordained the basic laws to literature as part of His means of communication. That's why He starts His revelation at the beginning with "In the beginning..."

Again, I am not advocating that any sermon which is not sequential exposition is not glorifying to God or useful to the saints. (In the comment section of my previous article, I lay out that I do not always use sequential exposition.) Certainly, for an occasional preacher, or a regular preacher in a unique environment, anything he preaches is without surrounding context. However, I simply do not understand why a regular preacher of the text believes he is being faithful to the text when he continually preaches whatever topic or text he feels he should, rather than walking through a book of the Bible as the author (human and Divine) intended it be read. I do not believe I need chapter and verse to make this assertion, for I believe it is an understood conclusion when God chose to have men record His revelation in written form.

This was not intended to close the argument, but could be seen as my opening statements. In short, I've sought to cut the feline into fillets, perhaps in future posts I'll seek to deep fry some of these thoughts.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Steadfast Trust in the Word of the Lord

But the man of God said to the king, " If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. "For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.'" So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.--1 Kings 13:8-10

Though we know very little about the man of God, if the story ended here, we'd have a pretty impressive situation. He boldly preaches to Jeroboam, stands there as he threatens him, and sticks to his guns even after the king seems to repent. God has told him to get out of Israel and get back to Judah. Certainly, he seems convinced of the Word of the Lord.

However, an older prophet hears of his encounter and runs to intercept him. He invites the prophet to to come to his house and dine with him. At first, the prophet stands his ground, explaining the word he received from the Lord. However, the older prophet assures him that an angel also spoke to him, and told him to bring the man of God home with him. 1 Kings 13:18 tells us, "But he lied to him." Trusting the older prophet, the man of God relents, and heads to his home for food and water.

The result is shocking:

and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, "Thus says the LORD, 'Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, "Eat no bread and drink no water"; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.'"--1 Kings 13:21-22

This time, the old prophet does speak the word of the Lord. When the man of God left, he was attacked and killed by a lion. The old prophet goes and retrieves the body and buries him in his own grave.

So the lying prophet receives no punishment. He admires the man of God, for he even requests that his sons bury him in the same grave, once he has died. But the Scriptures do not record for us when that happened. We see no sign of this old prophet being punished for deceiving the man of God.

But the man of God, who stood boldly before the king, refused to stay with the king when he appeared to repent, and yet was fooled by the lie of another prophet? He is killed by a lion. Showing how this was the judgment of God, the lion did not even eat his body, or kill the donkey he had ridden. But he wasn't killed for believing another prophet. He was killed for doubting the Word of the Lord he had received.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:5-8

It would be so easy to throw stones at this man of God, if not for my own need for spiritual Dramamine. Lately, I began to question my ability to preach. However, this was not concern over my qualifications, study habits or delivery. I began to question the process of exposition. Are all the nay-sayers correct that it simply doesn't work today? (Yes, though the blog is titled lectiocontinua in honor of a passion of mine, I began to wonder if my zeal wasn't placed in the wrong area.)

I have received skepticism from other pastors regarding the "relevance" of exposition. Recently, I had begun to deal with some murmurs within our congregation regarding the effectiveness of exposition. Now, on my vacation, I sat in my cabin assessing three messages I had spoken to fifth, sixth and seventh graders. As I sat there, I was convinced that I was failing. These kids needed more than exposition. What I was given them simply wasn't working.

God would have been perfectly justified to maul me with a lion at that point. (Though in central Wisconsin, a giant mosquito may have been more appropriate.) It would have been an act of grace. He could have simply taken this waffler home.

However, he began to do something else. First, since I have taken Dr. Keith's preacher's challenge, I started my Wednesday morning with this chapter in 1 Kings. Next, I preached a message from Ephesians 1 to the students (on the glory of God's grace). Shortly after the session (and lunch) I then entered into a meeting with all the camp counselors. I waited through a lot of administrative discussion and detail before the man in charge opened the floor to discuss the sessions. There was a brief silence (which felt like years to me, I was just sure no one wanted to speak for they had nothing to say), and then a couple counselors spoke up. There words were gracious and kind. Then others began to speak. The counselors became energized as they began to discuss the conversations they were having with young people. Their compliments were not the "great illustrations," "you're really funny," "my kids liked the story about..." type comments. These were comments about how the kids were engaged, growing and getting it.

And at that point it hit me, "I am that double-minded man." Exposition of Scripture is not a method. It is not simply a way that some men like to preach. I have not fallen into this method simply because it saves time (though I don't waste time wondering "What do I preach next?" I would suggest steady exposition, particularly sequential exposition requires more study time) or because it fits my lack of creativity. The Lord reminded me that I have come to be an expositor for theological reasons. It is the Word of the Lord, I should not doubt it.

I sat there amazed. God had granted me a grace He was not required to give. My motivation for preaching should not be results or affirmation from anyone other than the Lord. The power is not in me, but in His Word. I preached the rest of the week with joy. I returned home renewed to my commitment to exposition. I even found myself longing for a chance to show a nay-sayer that this is a theological issue not methodological. I longed for the chance to help them see the power of the Word of God.

I am sure I will continue to doubt my abilities as a preacher. But I pray to God that He does not allow me to again doubt the power of His Word plainly spoken. He has given me sixty-six books of His wisdom. I should not doubt them.

And most of all, I am thankful for the One who did not believe the lies, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23), remaining steadfast all the way to the cross to ensure my salvation!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Bible (you choose) Makes a Difference

While I write, edit, rewrite, edit.... my next post, I thought I would post a link to a pastoral article I wrote our church to try to explain why I prefer (and thus our church uses) the NASB.

Understanding the NIV-NASB Thingy

While I do think an essential part of Biblically faithful preaching is using a Biblically faithful translation. Personally, I do think it is a great aide to a pastor if he preaches from a word-for-word translation, rather than a dynamic equivalence.

And how amazing that we have so many choices in that area! Truly a grace from God!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Lot of Judgmental Preaching

This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.--Genesis 19:9

Many advisors suggest that pastors emulate the qualities of other careers. Successful pastoring is found by becoming more of a CEO...motivational list could go on and on.

However, there is one he is to avoid at all costs.


I was told once by a man, "I don't mind if you say the church disagrees with another religion. I don't even mind you saying that you believe the church is right. I just don't think you should say the church believes others are wrong." This kind of statement reveals the tone of today. It's ok if a preacher proclaims truth, but he should do it in a say that doesn't violate another person's opinion. Stacks of books today claim the non-christian is avoiding the church because it is far too judgmental. After all, the central verse in Scripture is Matthew 7:1, right?

How dare you, Lot!

Lot draws the ire of the men from Sodom. This man, an outsider, had the audacity to treat them like they were doing wrong. The men of Sodom were offended, and were prepared to treat Lot worse than his visitors. Who did Lot think he was?

Lot, the outsider.--When Abraham and Lot split up, Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom (13:12). The immediate context (13:13) tells us that Sodom was already "exceedingly wicked and sinning against the Lord." Despite the climate of the city, we are told that Lot eventually moved into Sodom (14:12). But how long had Lot lived in Sodom before the city was destroyed?

We can work backwards a little to see for sure. Just before Sodom is destroyed, Abraham is informed that his wife will have Isaac in a year (18:10). This would place Abraham at 99 years old (21:5). Abram had Ismael at age 86 (16:16). Abram lived in Canaan for 10 years before Hagar conceived Ishmael (16:3). By the battle against Chedorlaomer (more below), Lot is living in Sodom and it appears Abram is still childless. Therefore, depending on when you place the reference to living in Canaan (12:5 or 13:12), Lot has at least lived in Sodom for 13 years and could possibly have lived there up to 23 years. Had he just arrived and immediately started preaching?

Not only were the people of Sodom wicked and sinning against the Lord, their rebellion also spread to government. When the people rebelled against Chedorlaomer and his allies, Sodom started a fight they could not finish. As the kings routed Sodom, they took all their goods and food supply (14:11). Lot was helpless to stop the fight, as he and his possessions were carried away as well. At this point, Sodom could have simply been left devastated except that Abram came to the defense of his nephew. As Abram and his 318 men defeated the kings, he returned Lot, the goods, the supplies and captives. Then, when the king of Sodom offered for Abram to keep the supplies for returning the people, Abram refused. He did not want the king of Sodom to believe he contributed to Abram's wealth (14:23). Therefore, through Lot's relation to Abram, Sodom received their people and supplies back freely. Had he been a total freeloader, not benefiting their society?

Lot the influence. When Abraham pleads for the righteous citizens of Sodom, he "works" God down to the number of ten. For merely ten righteous persons, the Lord was willing to spare the entire community (18:32). Certainly, Lot qualifies as one of the righteous (2 Peter 2:7). Therefore, the city only needed nine other righteous persons to be spared. Lot had a wife, two daughters and two son-in-laws-to-be. Therefore, if he had persuaded his own family to righteousness, only four other righteous people would have been needed. Of course, his son-in-laws were certainly not righteous (19:14), nor was his wife (19:26) and his daughters actions suggest question (19:32). While Lot may have been oppressed and tormented by the sin in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7-8), relief certainly did not come through bringing others to righteousness.

Of course, results are not up to Lot. Perhaps he did preach and seek to influence others. Perhaps he regularly called people to consider the Lord's righteousness. We do not find evidence that he did, however a lack of converts does not mean a lack of his preaching. However, we can at least see that the antagonism Paul faced for changing Ephesus (Acts 19:26-27), would not be due Lot. Had he "ruined" their city, creating lots of changes?

All of these things factor into Lot's "history" with the people of Sodom. Gaining that context, let's consider his actions that created the great offense:

His hospitality--Approaching these men, he urged them strongly to stay the night in his place. He took them in, washed their feet, prepared a feast and provided them lodging. While Lot may have just been showing hospitality, he certainly was aware of the evil that could befall these angels. However, in his plea we do not see him describe the wickedness of Sodom or speak ill of the people. If anything, it appears Lot is quick moving, attempting to keep the guests from even seeing the depravity of the city. He did not present the people in a bad light.

His refusal--Perhaps this was for discretion (to keep from pleading with the citizens before his guests) or perhaps it was to protect his guests, but Lot slips out the door and shuts it behind him. As he speaks to the citizens, he certainly does not consider himself a superior. "Please" can be rendered, "I beg you," placing himself in a subordinate position. He even seeks commonality, calling them "brothers." He begs them to reconsider their evil intentions. Certainly, the term "wicked" may have been the offense. Lot did the unthinkable by suggesting that the rape of male guests by the male citizens of Sodom would be a wicked thing.

His proposal--It really is unfathomable. Perhaps Lot panicked. Perhaps the word "wicked" just hung out there for a second and he could see the disapproval from the men of Sodom. Whatever the reason, Lot next suggests a "compromise." To prevent the men from acting wickedly against his guests, he was willing to offer up his daughters. The statement, "do whatever you like" makes one sick to the stomach. (By the way, where is the protest from the son-in-laws-to-be at this point?) Understanding that some may consider his plea too judgmental, Lot offers a repulsive compromise to the men. He does not call for them to repent of their sexual urges, he simply asks them to redirect them. In fact, by offering his daughters, he seems to tolerate fornication, and by reasoning that he wants to be a good host, he even avoids condemning their homosexuality.

In the end, it certainly appears that Lot has not treated the citizens in a judgmental way.

Their response

(Warning: Understatement Ahead) The people were not pleased. They claim offense at Lot's stance. Has this outsider (resident for over a decade, whose uncle rescued the town) positioned himself as judge? Though vague in his warning, the men still take it as Lot thinking he is better than them. Though offered a compromise, they are not interested in directing their lusts elsewhere, but instead decide to abuse the guests and Lot. Even when the angels rescue Lot and blind the men, they do not turn away, but continue to grope around blindly for the door. In fact, they wear themselves out trying to get in!

So how do we escape being seen as judgmental?

Bottom line: We don't. It's amazing how people have developed techniques over the years which they believe will keep people from being offended...

Don't preach right away. Take your time and get to know a person first. You must first develop a relationship before people will care to listen. (Didn't seem to help Lot.)

Before you preach, you must first meet a person's needs. Whether food, water, shelter, or even cheaper gas, you must first create advantage for them so that they will listen. (Didn't seem to help Lot's case.)

Don't speak with imperatives, simply suggest. (Image their rage if Lot hadn't said please!)

Speak as one of the people. (With "brothers" like Sodom's citizens, who needs enemies?)

Don't speak directly to a sin, but keep it vague. (Again, didn't seem to help.)

Offer incremental, attainable goals. (Imagine Lot's first conversation with his daughters after they found out they were the "alternative.")

Perception is not reality

Certainly, a pastor should not be judgmental. A proper understanding of Scripture attributes all righteousness to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). That righteousness is only credited to us through faith (Romans 4:5). And even that faith is actually a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are not superior. We have nothing to boast in but Christ!

But this does not mean a preacher will be immune to the accusation. If one is faithful with the gospel, the message will offend. And if the message offends, people will take it out on the messenger. Certainly, we do not want to act in a way that makes us the offense, but if a person find the message judgmental, there is very little we can do about it.

Lot didn't try a tactic or two to avoid offense, he tried all of them. The message wasn't more palatable. The results weren't greater. It made a mess of his family. And he was still accused of being judgmental.