Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jesus Hermeneutic: He is the Goal

I've been working through some of the objections to preaching/studying with a Jesus Hermeneutic. (You can read the posts by clicking hermeneutics). Today's objections is:

Does this hermeneutic keep and/or win lost people?

Win or keep people to whom? This is what we must ask. The church has been distracted by other pursuits. She has started thinking there are multiple things to win lost people to, and multiple ways to do it. We are convinced that winning people simply involves keeping them coming to our church. Winning is not defined by conversion, but by the person appreciating the church, liking our sermons or coming back next week. The contemporary thought is, As long as they keep coming, maybe we have a shot at reaching them someday. In our minds, we fear preaching the gospel too boldly, for what if it offends and they don't come back. We deceive ourselves into thinking if they keep coming back, they have a better chance of coming to Christ, even though one way we keep them coming back is by preaching a vague, non-offensive gospel. If we can just win them to our church, maybe some day we can win them to Jesus too. But we are not to win people to something, we are to win people to Someone! Consider:
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in {our} speech, and {are} not like Moses, {who} used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, {there} is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.--2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6
There are some very basic principles that can be seen from just a quick glance at this text.
    All people have a veil over their eyes. A veil which the god of this world has placed over their eyes.
    The veil can only be removed by Christ.
    Therefore, if our message is not received, it is rejected by those who are perishing
    We should not distort the Word of God or play games to try to trick people into the kingdom of God.
    We should preach Christ.
    The glory of God is known when a person sees Jesus Christ as Lord!
According to this text, it should be obvious, the only way to win people to Jesus (and have Him keep them) is to preach Christ.

However, what I have found most inquisitors really mean is: Will this method keep people coming to our church and bring new people in? Ultimately, whether the pastor wants to admit it or not, this becomes an issue of attendance and pragmatism. We'd be well served to remember your ministry does not save anyone. It is God who speaks Light into our hearts. The won/lose issue is not up to you, nor will you be held responsible for it.

If you want to see people won to Christ, preach Christ. They will not come to Him any other way. But if they do not come to Christ, you keep preaching Christ. Otherwise, you're changing your message for people who will reject it anyway.

Don't confuse a full building with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Preach Christ!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jesus Hermeneutic: Now Taking Applications

Though I did not originally intend to do so, I think I may tackle the objections in reverse order. Therefore, the question addressed in this post is:

Does this mean the Scriptures have no practical application?

Many people fear that a "Jesus Hermeneutic" ends in head knowledge. The person is called to learn some facts, or see a passage in a "new light" and nothing more. The fear is that application and accountability will be lost as the only calling on the believer is to sit in the congregation and call out "amen." Isn't it knowledge that puffs up?

But I would argue that what we typically call application is more properly labeled action. We may not be calling a person to apply the text to their soul, but simply telling them new ways to behave. Ironically, we are born with a sin nature that rebels against authority, yet simultaneously cries out, "Just tell me what to do!" Sinclair Ferguson jokes about the time his daughter told him how to get people to take more notes when he preaches. She explained that every time he says "here are three (or four or five) things you need to do," people scramble for their pens/pencils. This is the orientation of the natural man, and many pastors simply feed it as they rattle off life tips for "seekers" who may be in the room.

I would offer that approaching (and meditating) on the text from a Jesus Hermeneutic is proper application, and will lead to God honoring actions. The Scriptures are full of examples. Paul called us to renew our minds (elsewhere, renew the spirit of your mind) as the application for a gospel centered life. In contrast to legalism and exterior action, he calls us to set our mind on things above, where Christ is. The author of Hebrews calls the church to fix our eyes on Jesus as the proper application of his preaching. These are only a few examples of many, and in each case proper application of doctrine is to change the way we think and approach our Savior. This does not mean that action is not called for, in each of these passages specific action then follows. But the authors were quick to understand that action without focusing on Christ is not proper application.

A Jesus hermeneutic is not anti-application. In fact, it promotes proper application.

When using a Jesus Hermeneutic, application is...

Christ exalting

As the person aims to apply the text, their standard is not Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Paul or John the Baptist. We quit calling our people to be sinful, fallen [insert Old/New Testament character here], and instead point them to our Savior. We seek to imitate Him.

sanctification focused
The focus is not simply behavior modification. The focus is heart transformation. A person is not called to simply learn some new habits or direct their attitude elsewhere, but is actually called to be transformed to the image of Christ.

Holy Spirit driven
Such "results" cannot come by sheer willpower or determination. This must be the work of the Holy Spirit on our behalf. We call our people to something higher than just "try harder." We call them to submit (and delight) in the Spirit's work in their lives.

cross dependent
Perhaps one reason this hermeneutic is resisted is that it is quite unhelpful to the non-believer. If the focus is Christ, the goal is sanctification and the power is the Holy Spirit, then the non-believer is 0-3 in these categories. (However, shouldn't our number one priority for any non-believer be their submission to the gospel?) But for the believer, the cross is our only means to righteousness and place of refuge when we do fail.

self-righteousness killing
One cannot simultaneously look at Christ and consider himself righteous. We will be humbled to see any righteousness we have has been imputed to us by Him. Secondarily, we will not be able to take credit for our own success (thinking we are more determined/disciplined/driven than others), but will understand that this is merely His work upon us.

boaster silencing
Therefore, praise and glory goes to Christ and not myself. (Isn't worship our highest application anyway?) I didn't start the work. I am not carrying on the work. I am not even the one who will complete the work. I must conclude, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).

The question is not, Can a Jesus Hermeneutic compel people to action? Instead, we should ask, Is it possible to achieve application with any other hermeneutic?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Preaching as Prayer

As we draw near the Inauguration, filled with public prayers, it's important for a pastor to remember his calling. (This post is not intended to ask, "should you?" if given the opportunity to pray. You can go to pyromaniacs to see different takes on whether a pastor should pray at the inauguration and how he should pray.)

He has been called as a minister of the gospel. Would he pass on an opportunity to present the gospel in a public setting?

Now, some will protest, in this setting a pastor is not called to preach, but to pray. He shouldn't turn his praying into preaching.

So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. "I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me."--John 11:41-42
Jesus shows that there is nothing insincere about praying to God while being totally conscious of your listening audience and praying for their benefit. We should learn from this model and do likewise.

I doubt I'll ever talk to someone who receives the fame required to pray at a presidential inauguration. However, pastors regularly get asked to pray for meetings, graduations or various ceremonies.

If you are a pastor, and you receive the opportunity to pray publicly, please do not shy away from your gospel calling and be bold for Christ.

If your not a pastor, please encourage your pastor to be bold. If you hear that he has an opportunity to pray publicly, pray for him and encourage him that you will celebrate the gospel we love being proclaimed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

From the Mouths of Babes

Certainly I'm biased, and surely she's tainted from being my daughter...

But this week I was straightening my desk [slightly] and found a Sunday School sheet from my daughter's [6 yrs] class.

On one side:

He knows what I like: a picture of games, a picture of a soccer ball, a picture of skates, a picture of friends, a picture of a jump rope and a picture of painting.

Below is written: chrch [church]

But written on the other side was more exciting to me:

God knows what I don't like: picture of spiders, picture of broccoli, and written: spinich, carit's (carrots) and disaplin (discipline).

Not only is it an endearing little sheet from my daughter, but I think it's pretty profound too. Not only does she think of tangible things she doesn't like, but she's also thinking beyond that. God knows she doesn't like discipline.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.--Hebrews 12:11
Please pastor, don't underestimate what your congregation can handle...especially children.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jesus Hermeneutic: Dispensensical?

As I expressed in my last article, many of the objections to a Jesus Hermeneutic come in the way of questions. Ironically, one of the most foundational questions that gets asked is one I originally neglected. While this was not intentional, I do believe it was beneficial, for it allowed Darby to bring it out in the comments:

WARNING: The road you're going down, if traveled consistently, might lead you to some traditionally non-dispensational destinations. Oops! Did I say that out loud?
Now Darby is a good brother (and I feel I know him well enough to draw out his comment here on the site without his concern), and he has a peripheral perspective of the Fellowship our church is in. (Though never a member of a GBC, he did look at planting a church in the FGBC at one point.) His observance brings out two thoughts:

Biblically speaking, is it bad to not be dispensational?

Brought out by other comments made is also the issue, "What in the world is dispensationalism?" Boys and girls, that is the one hundred dollar question. I'd describe it this way:

If you emphasize the distinction between Israel and the Church more than I do, then you are dispensational. If you emphasize the distinction between Israel and the Church less than I do, then I am dispensational.

I am not saying I am actually the litmus, I am saying I perceive myself as the litmus...and you perceive yourself as that as well. To put it at it's most basic level, the discussion of dispensationalism hinges completely on the level of distinction you make between Israel and the Church. And everyone makes a distinction (yes, even lawyers who live in Stillwater).

Even if we say something is the same, we acknowledge (to a degree) that it isn't. The process of comparison/contrast must require at least two entities. Allow me to illustrate.

I don't know why, but some time ago, I discovered it brought me great joy to tease/harass our music pastor's wife with a packaged form of joke. For instance, she will come over and notice a shirt on our youngest son (who is closest in age to hers). She will then announce to me and Charity, "Oh, my son has that same shirt." I will retort with something to the effect of, "It can't be the same shirt or you are accusing me of being a thief." (I readily admit that no one reading this will laugh and few in the room ever find this humorous. I would simply remind you that I am a pastor and we are not expected to be funny. I laugh at my own jokes. No one else does. I'm cool with that.) You see, the point is, it can't be the exact same shirt or my kid is wearing their shirt...or we've discovered some weird garment communism sort of thing. By acknowledging that they have the same shirt, they are actually saying they have a completely different shirt than ours that is identical to ours.

When we speak of Israel and the Church, even the person who wants to proclaim they are 100% identical is claiming they are not the same thing. They have to, there is no way around it with the statement. The only way to avoid it would be to say one or the other just flat out does not exist. (And this cannot be done while being Biblical.) All that to say, dispensationalism is not an argument about Israel and the Church being separate entities, it is an issue of degree that is up for debate. I think the Spirit of God prophesied through Caiaphas to say it best:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish." Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.--John 11:49-52
There is a nation. There is also one children of God who are scattered abroad. You must acknowledge there are both. The degree of unity/disunity they have is then up for debate. And since that becomes a graduated scale, the determination of who is dispensational is also graduated. Personally, I do not consider myself dispensational. However, you may read (or talk to me) and determine that you think I am. It's a system, not a doctrine, therefore I do believe the label is expendable.

This is not some post-modern gobbley-gook that wants to label everything with labels as bad. The term can be useful in places, but the definition just seems to vary with every person. Furthermore, it is a system that is used to describe doctrines that are held to. Any system is more like a dot to dot picture. When we begin to connect the dots, sometimes we're filling in spaces where the Scripture doesn't speak. We must be willing to see that those spaces do not bring the same authority. (Anyone who has drawn out a dot to dot picture with your child can see that the picture often looks best when straight lines are not always employed between the dots. We know where the dots are, and there is a reasonable room for curvature between dots to better illustrate the picture. This does not mean the person can willy-nilly go wherever they want between the dots and maintain the integrity of the picture, but it does mean their is some subjectivity as to how we get from dot to dot.) Unfortunately, systems often make the lines between the dots objective. To adhere to a system requires unity in areas where Scripture does not speak. Often, this creates tension because the line drawn ceases to line up well with the dot intended as it's end. For this reason, I am very willing to throw away the system adherence (dispensationalism) for a greater focus on a doctrinal perspective (premillennialism, for example).

Which brings me to point two:

Darby could be right. This may actually get me in trouble with my Fellowship

I hope this is not the case, but their certainly seems to be a perception that denying dispensationalism is a Fellowship denying offense. To be fair, no one within the Fellowship has threatened to remove my credentials when I state I do not own a dispensationalist membership card (though I have seen some show heightened skepticism about my doctrine upon this realization). However, many from outside the Fellowship have the perspective that to deny dispensationalism is to deny our Statement of Faith.

I shared breakfast with a wonderful pastor from the Dayton area one day. I had attended a seminar with him and was blessed to hear him employing what I have been calling a "Jesus Hermeneutic." As we both exalted in Christ as to the beauty of seeing our Savior on every page of the book, I looked to him and asked, "Why wouldn't every pastor delight in seeing this?" His smile faded. He rather soberly informed me that while he was thrilled to hear my love for Christ on every page, he felt I needed to know that it will probably cost me my ordination at some point. His point was that dispensationalism does not jive with this hermeneutic and his impression was that one must be dispensational to remain Grace Brethren.

A more telling illustration comes from my first time at T4G. The first year of the conference, the room was insanely packed. Though they would take a break between sessions, the chairs were so tight that there really wasn't anywhere to go. I stood up and attempted to stretch and then sought to meet some of the fellow men around me. One guy turned around and saw my name tag:

Danny Wright
Teaching Pastor
Greenville Grace Brethren Church

His first words, "Oh, you're Grace Brethren. Well, I'm not a dispensationalist."

There are more than a few "oddities" of our Fellowship that I believe are actually displays of Biblically fidelity. We wash feet at communion, which most churches do not. We trine immerse, again which most do not. However, he did not choose to illustrate either of those differences. He instead chose to address a system label which is not found anywhere in our Statement of Faith. Why would that be?

Perhaps it is unfair. Perhaps within the Fellowship there is not a great deal of concern as to who are dispensational and who are not. But it certainly seems that those on the outside believe we are clutching to dispensationalism and would refuse to let go.

It grieves my heart if there are those who will not employ a "Jesus Hermeneutic" (which is clearly articulated in Scripture) because they refuse to let go of a system (which is a secondary explanation of how some men understand Scripture.)

Perhaps I am dispensational. If someone were to sit down and listen to my eschatology and show me how that can be objectively labeled as dispensational, fine.

But I will refuse to abandon a God given hermeneutic to maintain a man created title.

I pray that you feel the same.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Jesus Hermeneutic and Us

Though I've taken a bit of a break from blogging lately, I have not completed (nor will I ever) my thoughts regarding a Jesus Hermeneutic. (To read what I mean by this, simply click the label hermeneutics to the right.) A quick review of those posts will hopefully show that Jesus expected the Bible (New and Old Testament) to be read with Him central, that He modeled this approach to the disciples, and that they then modeled it for us. The next question becomes...

Do we then have the authority/ability/commissioning/task to do this as well?

This is where the rubber meets the road. To date, I've seen two ways to answer the question.

To the direct-short-straight-to-the-point-type person, I answer:


When Jesus rebuked Pharisees for missing Him in the Old Testament...
When Jesus then taught the disciples to understand the point of the Old Testament is Christ...
When the preaching in the Book of Acts models this hermeneutic...
When the authors of the gospel employ this hermeneutic in regard to prophecies...
When the authors of the epistles likewise employ this hermeneutic...

...it should be enough to simply say, "Yes!"

However, there are usually objections that come, typically in the way of questions. Attempting to answer these questions then becomes a slightly more detailed way to show people, "Yes, we have the authority/ability/commissioning/task to employ this hermeneutic as well." I hope to next work my way through the typical questions I have heard. Some of the questions are:

    Haven't we been called to preach the whole counsel of Scripture? Sounds like all you want to talk about is Jesus and the gospel.
    Isn't the most faithful approach to the text (specifically Old Testament) to share it as the original audience understood it?
    What about God and the Holy Spirit? Don't they get jealous of all the talk being about Jesus?
    Aren't we to give meat? If you just speak on Jesus and the gospel, isn't that just dispensing milk?
    I give an altar call every week, yet you seem to be saying something different. How is preaching Christ and the gospel every week different than giving an altar call?
    Can't Jesus be central in my ministry without me seeing the need to talk about Him in every sermon?
    Does this hermeneutic keep and/or win lost people?
    Does this mean the Scriptures have no practical application?
    Doesn't such a hermeneutic conflict with dispensationalism?
I'm not sure in what order we'll handle these questions (multiple questions may be answered in singular posts as well), but like Ben Roethlisberger on Nick Harper, it may not be pretty, but I plan to tackle them.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Accountability Time

Just this morning, I began the privilege of preaching through the book of Leviticus. As an added personal discipline (both for my review and yours), I've begun to write a recap/summary of the message. You can find it over at my Commentary Blog. The post is simply labeled Leviticus 1:1.

You can also find all other resources (Children's Church curriculum, Small Groups questions, Family Devotionals and sermon audio mp3's) at Grace Resources.

Check them out and let me know what you think!