Archive for the ‘interpreting Scripture’ Category

 Here’s an e-mail I received from a friend about a news service being offered by Ravi Zacharias ministries. Their website and daily podcasts are goldmines.  

RZIM Zacharias Trust and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics are launching a ‘breaking news’ service aimed at providing up to the minute Christian responses to public challenges to the faith. Our speaking team includes John Lennox, Alister McGrath, Ravi Zacharias, Amy Orr-Ewing, Michael Ramsden and Os Guinness. We hope that their responses will benefit you in your conversations with others.

A good example of what we would include is last month’s full-page article written by Oxford Professor John Lennox in The Daily Mail responding to Stephen Hawking’s new book The Grand Design. The article entitled ‘As a scientist I’m certain Stephen Hawking is wrong. You can’t explain the universe without God’ can be viewed at http://www.rzim.eu/stephen-hawking-and-god <http://www.rzim.eu/stephen-hawking-and-god>

I thought you would be interested in this service. If so, all you need to do is go to this link http://www.rzim.eu/breaking-news-signup <http://www.rzim.eu/breaking-news-signup> <http://www.rzim.eu/breaking-news-signup <http://www.rzim.eu/breaking-news-signup> > and register. We only anticipate sending these emails from time to time as challenges arise.


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A little more on Jesus (and us) in the OT.  In his commentary on 1 and 2 Kings (abbreviated in the good study notes in the ESV Study Bible), Iain Provan does a great job of illustrating how OT characters point to Jesus, and also point to us:

Like Solomon, then, both Hezekiah and Josiah function typologically within the whole canon of Scripture, preparing the way for the one who is ultimately to sit upon David’s throne and usher in God’s kingdom.

Like Solomon, however, they can also serve as models for behavior for those called to follow Jesus with their crosses.

They remind us . . . of the necessity of obedience to God’s Word, as it is addresses us in the present through the inspired writings of the past . . . . of the necessity of such obedience even where it goes against the grain of the surrounding culture, and even where it offers no immediate prospect of reward.

They remind us of how the believer should trust and pray in a crisis, even when besieged by a great army of enemies or troubles . . . .

They remind us of the importance of ongoing reform in worship, of the importance of ensuring that God alone is the focus of our attention and that what we do is in complete conformity to God’s will . . . .

Iain Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 284.

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Stephen Dempster is one of my favorite OT scholars.  In his review essay in the latest edition of Themelios, he concludes with this lovely observation, which he makes in light of the way that ancient Near Eastern literature sheds light on Scripture.  (This is IMO not a bad description of our journeys, and God’s intentions for journeying “away” from the world.)

. . . the choice is not between Israel as a member of the ancient near eastern family versus Israel as total stranger. Both are true. When Abram embarked down that dusty Mesopotamian road toward that destination whose location only God knew, he was leaving the family.  But by leaving the family he was going to show the rest of the family how to go truly home.

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[T]he central theme of the Book of Judges is the Canaanization of Israel.  Herein lies the key to the relevance of this ancient composition for North American Christianity, for like the Israelites of the settlement period, we have largely forgotten the covenant Lord . . . . Like the ancient Israelites we too are being squeezed into the mold of the pagan world around us.

Evidence of the “Canaanization” of the church are everywhere: our preoccupation with material prosperity, which turns Christianity into a fertility religion;

our syncretistic and aberrant forms of worship; our refusal to obey the Lord’s call to separation from the world;

our divisiveness and competitiveness; our moral compromises, as a result of which Christians and non-Christians are often indistinguishable; our [male] exploitation and abuse [and neglect] of women and children;

our reluctance to answer the Lord’s call to service, and when we finally go, our propensity to displace “Thy kingdom come” with “my kingdom come”; our eagerness to fight the Lord’s battles with the world’s resources and strategies; our willingness to stand up and defend perpetrators of evil instead of justice.  These and many other lessons will be drawn from the leaves of this fascinating book . . .

He goes on to cite what the book teaches regarding the reality of God’s wrath and power of his grace and the constancy of his plan to build himself a people, a light to the world; “the true hero in the book is God and God alone.”

Daniel Block, Judges and Ruth (NAC), 71-2.

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below is one of the best testimonies i have heard concerning the issues of justice and the people of God. it is the story of elizabeth, a girl who was deceived into a brothel to later be rescued by ijm . you really must take 13 minutes to listen to sharon cohn’s testimony HERE , or at least the last seven minutes of it. this will be one of the best parts of your weekend, and possibly your week. looking for purpose as a follower of Christ? inspiration? encouragement? implications of your faith in a world of suffering and pain? watch this video by clicking here (sorry i couldn’t get the youtube version). enjoy!

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“The gospel is neither irreligion nor religion, but something entirely different altogether.”

This slogan is most commonly associated with Tim Keller, who uses it incisively with nuance and care.

As Keller uses it, the gospel is not religion as construed all over the world (i.e., if I’m good enough, God will accept me).  Neither is the gospel irreligion, the path usually chartered by those who reject religion (i.e., do whatever you want).  The slogan, when used in this way, is really helpful.

But I have also heard it used in such a way as to make Christianity, not “the gospel,” the thing that is neither religion nor irreligion.  Fusing the gospel and Christianity in this way makes for a mess, for the gospel is not the whole of Christianity.  At worst this sloganeering encourages believers to leave off the demands that are implications of the gospel.  At best it gives the impression that Christianity is less concerned about character and conduct than other religions.

“Religion” is something of a dirty word today.  It’s often rejected in favor of the more nebulous term (and less demanding concept), “spirituality.”  Religion is old-fashioned, boring, and constraining; spirituality is new, exploratory, fresh, “outside the lines” and “outside the box.”

But Christians are emphatically called to be religious by Scripture (James 1:26-27).  For years before the early believers’ were called “Christians” and believers in “Christianity,” they were part of a Jewish sect called “The Way” (Acts 9:2, 19:23, 24:14; = “road,” “path,” or “journey”).  The word “way” implies both Jesus’ work as “the way” and the way of life the disciples took up as they followed him as Lord.

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I’m starting a new series tackling slogans used in Christianity.  Some slogans can be very helpful rallying cries; others are a bit more mischievous; others are a mix.

Slogan 1:  “If I am not accused of antinomianism, I’m not preaching the gospel.”  This is one of my least favorite slogans, and I hear it at least several times a year.  (In the first instance, we never measure fidelity by subjective response.)

Just recently Kevin deYoung prescribed this antidote to a radical SBC preacher, David Platt, as he reviewed Platt’s book, RadicalTheir exchange is an interesting blend of concerns well worth reading, as both men have really important points.

At one point deYoung says this:  “I would hope that as David speaks in risky ways in order to challenge us all to shake off nominal Christianity, he would also on occasion speak in such a risky way that he’s charged with antinomianism (Rom. 6:1).”

Really?  Let’s actually look at Romans 6:1 in context.  Not only does it not stick; it’s just a rhetorical question Paul introduces so he can utterly refute it.  Paul gives a great big, fat, “heck no” to the antinomian charge.  His first two words in 6:2, “me genoito” (Greek), are the strongest possible denial in Greek, hard to bring out in English without cussing.

Antinomianism in the sense of a law or command-free life is the exact opposite of what Paul’s religion is about.  The whole point of being united to Christ is that “we might walk in newness of life” (v. 3-4);  “how on earth can you still live in sin?!?” (v.2).  Since death has no rule over Jesus anymore, neither does death have any dominion over you.  So sin shouldn’t reign in believers, either (8-11).  And we must present ourselves as instruments of righteousness as those who were dead but are now, because we are united to the resurrected Christ, alive (12-14).

Is Paul ever charged with antinomianism in the sense that deYoung suggests?  Paul is charged with going law-less when it comes to requirements for Christianity, as circumcision, diet, and calendar.  And he repudiates the idea that we obey to earn or merit our justification.  But he is never charged with slacking off radical requirements for Christian discipleship—imitating Jesus, obedience of at least nine of the ten commandments, etc.  Paul never gets accused of being slack on greed or idolatry or adultery.  Three times in three different letters (for instance), Paul says that sexually immoral people won’t inherit the kingdom.  It’s hard to call that message something that could be confused for antinomianism.

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By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, in reverent fear…”  Hebrews 11

“For we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Knowing the fear of the LORD…” 2 Corinthians 5

2 Cor 5                                                   Heb 11

by faith                                                    by faith

pleased God                                           please him

draw near to God                                 appear before the judgment seat of Christ

he rewards                                             we receive what is due

reverent fear                                         fear of the LORD

Two observations:

(1)  I love the way these passage work to point out the critical nature of faith on the way to reward.  Notice that faith itself is not what pleases God, but what faith does in our lives.  For example, a few chapters later, Hebrews 13:16 tells us that sacrifices of generosity and doing good please God.

In other words, righteous deeds done in the posture of faith in God please him.

(2)  Faith and fear might sound like strange bedfellows, but they are two common ways of talking about a slave’s relationship to a master higher up the org chart of the ancient world.  We trust the king or lord to help us and sustain us; he does what we cannot do.  And we fear him, knowing the threat of judgment and the responsiblity of obedience.

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Idolatry is something of a hot topic right now.  Tim Keller, Greg Beale, and Brian Rosner have recently published good books on the topic and its significance for Christians.  One of the real tragedies is not just what we do as idolaters, but what is done to us through idolatry.  More on that later, but for now, one really thought-provoking quote…

In the Old Testament, the

image-of-God-in-humanity theology says that idolatry is ruled out of court because to locate divine presence and action in another part of creation or in that which we create is to absolve ourselves of our own responsibility to bear divine presence and action.  The idolatrous humanity, like Narcissus, clings to those objects made in its own image [and those of creation] which it believes will affirm its being [and values] and guarantee its security and prosperity.  The true humanity in the biblical vision is one which affirms, gives security to and [multiplies] the life of creation [and now, from the viewpoint of Ephesians and the like, the life of New Creation is affirmed, secured, and multiplied].  The mark of the former is passivity and that of the latter activity.  Any pious resurrection of divine (privilege and) responsibility for the one human Jesus Christ must therefore be mindful of the besetting danger at the root of idolatry:  a self-absolution from the responsibility given to us at creation of bearing divine presence.

Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “God’s Image, His Cosmic Temple and the High Priest:  Towards an Historical and Theological Account of the Incarnation,” in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, eds T. D. Alexander and S. J. Gathercole (Paternoster 2004), 92.

These are provocative words, and my theological conditioning wants to push back a bit.  But this emphasis meshes, at least in part, with our identity as the body of Christ and God’s Temple, the location of his tabernacling presence on earth, and the mission we are given to live that heavenly reality.   CHTFL is responding to “low anthropology” by pointing to the biblical vision for humanity.  I continue to be overwhelmed with the way in which God chooses to use humanity for his purposes, rather than dolphins, chimps, and parrots.  To be sure, we’re earthen vessels.  But there’s treasure there…God’s spirit, New Creation life (Gal 6:14-15, 2 Cor 5:17). 

I’m toying with titling my next Sunday School lesson on Ephesians (4:1-24 is the text), “Cloning Jesus” (compare 4:32-5:2).

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In the last post in this series, I pointed out some of the OT passages that speak of the gospel.

In those passages, “gospeling” is about salvation, but not in “spiritual” terms alone; it’s about victory, enthronement, rule and restoration.  This definition applies not just to earthly kings (2 Samuel 18:27, 31; 1 Kings 1:41 in context; 2 Kings 7:9), but to the King enthroned in Heaven.

Just one more passae makes the point again:  Psalm 68:11 describes women “gospeling” the salvation earned by YHWH, who shatters kings and provides peace, fatherly protection, and the spoils of war for his people Israel.  Paul applies this Psalm and its description of victory and spoils to Jesus, whose victory over his enemies and enthronement brought gifts which he showered on his people (Eph 4:8-10).  The Good News is that God reigns.

In the next post we’ll look at bit at NT definitions of “gospel”.  But first, let’s look at one issue that has come to the surface recently.  Unfortunately, the notion that “Jesus is Lord” is a part of the gospel is actually controversial.

Michael Horton, for instance, is critical of the idea of featuring a gospel proclamation of, “Jesus is Lord”:  “There are many passages in the Bible that teach us that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is not in fact good news.”  A statement like this can be found in interviews with Horton on the web; he particularly goes after N. T. Wright.  Greg Gilbert of IX Marks Ministries recently published a small, readable book on the definition of the gospel. 

“[T]o simply say that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is really not good news at all if we don’t explain how Jesus is not just Lord but also Savior.  Lordship implies the right to judge, and we’ve already seen that God intends to judge evil.  Therefore, to a sinner in rebellion against God and against his Messiah, the proclamation that Jesus has become Lord is terrible news.”  What is the Gospel?, 105.

This is not untrue, but we must be careful not to push Jesus’ lordship to the margins of gospel definition.  Gilbert actually risks doing just that when he titles the section just quoted, “Jesus is Lord Is Not the Gospel.”   There are two problems, as I see it, with that language.

(1)   By saying “Jesus is Lord is not good news” on the basis of Gilbert’s logic that Jesus’s lordship is not universally good news, we run the danger of making our definition of gospel subjective.  God’s gospel is always the gospel, whether I find it to be good news or not. 

Many of the people who heard the good news preached by Isaiah, the Psalmist and the Israelite women, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, and on through church history, did not find it to be good news, either because they rejected it, or because it was too good to be true, or because they were in crummy moods and stuck on their earthly circumstances.  But the good news was of course still good news.

(2)  My hope is that these brothers do not mean that we are to limit “gospel” to a description of salvation apart from Jesus’ lordship.  But some do.  And a phrase like “Jesus is lord is not the gospel” runs the risk of picking and choosing what parts of the gospel you’ll take, and which you’ll leave off. 

We cannot really substitute “Jesus is Lord” with “Jesus is Savior,” “Jesus redeems,” or “Jesus saves.”  Many passages teach that those who reject his lordship in word and deed will prove to have been saying “Jesus saves” in vain.  So even “Jesus saves” is not always good news, in the sense that it is terrible news for those who reject him and his lordship.  But the Gospel is still the Good News.

Picking up on Gilbert’s title (which is just one glitch, I think, in an otherwise helpful book):  in the sense that “Jesus is Lord is not the Gospel” (because it’s not the whole story), “Jesus saves” is not the gospel, either.  But phrasing it that way is unhelpful and misleading!

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