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...