Christianity 201

November 5, 2020

Is the Bible Still Relevant Today?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. . . .

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; . . .

Philippians 2:19,25 (NRSV)

Have you ever read verses like these and wondered just what it has to do with us? We should not expect Timothy to show up anytime soon, nor is Epaphroditus on his way. So what does it have to do with us then? Is the Bible stuck in a specific time and place? From verses like these, it sure looks like it is speaking to a time and place far from us! Does this mean the Bible is irrelevant to us? How does the Bible work anyway?

Through verses like these we learn what the Bible is not. Many Christians assume that what we have in the Bible is God speaking directly to the writers saying “write this” and they do so obediently. It is as if we expect God just took control of the hands of the writers to jot down what we all need to know without the writer’s mind being involved in the process. That is not what the Bible is. Nor is it what the Bible says about itself:

. . . you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The Bible itself confirms what the Bible is not. It is not God dictated. It is, however, God-breathed.

From verses like those that mention Timothy and Epaphroditus we learn what the Bible is. It is evidence of people responding to real events. It is the evidence of God’s relationship with humanity, and how it works out in the lives of real people. It is evidence of the reality of that relationship. It includes all the twists and turns in that relationship. It includes all the joyful moments, and tragic moments in that relationship. It includes all the drama you will find in any relationship.

The clue is in the words “testament,” as in Old Testament, and New Testament. The Bible is the testament, the testimony as to what our relationship with God has looked like over many centuries. It is the testament of how God related to a specific people he called in order to bless all peoples. It is the testament of how God revealed himself supremely through Jesus and how that revelation of himself played out in the lives of real people.

A key part of that testimony is that God created humanity for a love relationship, a relationship he was committed to despite our rebellion. This was all done out of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV). Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Therefore it makes sense that the Scriptures are “God-breathed.” They were written by people responding to various and specific events and circumstances, but God is in it, ensuring the testimony not be wrong. What is written passes through the minds of the writers, yes, but it also comes from the heart of God.

This means that we can trust that God was involved in the creation of the Bible, from the situations that inspired the various writers, to the actual writing, to the editing that may have happened in some of the writings, to the collecting together of some writings together in volumes (like the Book of Psalms), to the collecting together of all the Scriptures into one collection known as the Bible. This all took a very long time. We can expect that God was in it for the long haul.

To summarize, the Scriptures were not written to us, but they were written, collected and kept for us. The Bible is an accurate testament to God’s relationship with us over many centuries, a relationship that continues on to this day.

Knowing what the Bible isn’t and what it is, how do we read it today?

  • We read the Bible as deep and deepening people. We read it prayerfully and expectantly. We read with a desire to grow deeper in our relationship with God. We read with a desire that the Holy Spirit would be as involved in our reading, as the Holy Spirit was involved in the writing.
  • We read the Bible with a thoughtful reading, with a deep dive. There are things that we instinctively know as we read. For example, as we read the verses from Philippians quoted above, we don’t expect Timothy and Epaphroditus to show up. There are things, however, that we don’t instinctively know. For example, we may not know how slavery worked in ancient times. Indeed some have used the Bible in an awful promotion of slavery because they have not read deeply and understood the context. We also may not know how apocalyptic literature worked in New Testament times, and I could go on.
  • We read the Bible with humility. Because we don’t always have the background knowledge of specific situations, customs, and ways of thinking of the ancient peoples, we may not have the best interpretation of what we read. There are words used in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek that even scholars are unsure of what they mean. It is perfectly normal and appropriate for us to sometimes say “I may not be understanding this correctly.”
  • We read the Bible with confidence. Looking at the Bible from a “secular” perspective, we have the testimony of many people over many years, in various times and places, which all comes together in a remarkably unified testimony to the reality of God. From the perspective of faith, when we trust that God loves us, we can trust that the Scriptures are worthy of our trust. God would not go to great lengths in loving us, namely though Jesus and the cross, and then allow the testimony to be full of error.
  • We read the Bible with an eye open for “training in righteousness” (1st Timothy 3:16 NIV). Since we are in a series on Philippians, I could have preached a sermon on how there are people, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, who are good examples of those who have the mind of Christ. Though there are many lessons to learn we don’t want to always be looking in the Bible only for the “moral of the story,” for lessons on how to live. The Bible is much bigger than that, so . . .
  • We read the Bible with both eyes on the full story, the true story, the love story between God and humanity, the love story which we are invited to live into and become part of.

That Paul intended to send Epaphroditus, and later Timothy, to Philippi might not seem that relevant to us right now. That is a very specific situation that already happened nearly two thousand years ago. The fact, however, that people are separated from God through sin has not changed. The fact that Jesus is Lord and Saviour has not changed. The fact that we are invited into relationship with the Creator of the universe has not changed. The Scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NIV). That also has not changed. Therefore the Bible could not be more relevant to us today!

When we come across very specific and personal details in the Bible, we are reminded that the writings that make up the Bible were not written to us. But they were written for us. They couldn’t be more relevant to us in our day!


The full teaching can be seen as part of Clarke’s church online worship expression from November 1st.

June 3, 2017

The Bible: Additions and Deletions

NIV Revelation 22: 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

Are these concluding words in Revelation 22 intended to refer to that book only, or do they apply to the whole Bible? Or is this expressing an even broader principle?

Jon Rittenbaugh writes:

Though these words were written specifically about the book of Revelation, the principle is significant in light of today’s church. Christ’s concern at the very end is that His people do not deviate from what is written in the book. To remain in His safety, a Christian must be submissive to Him, worshiping Him in every aspect of life, continuing to develop in Christian freedom, not enveloped by an attitude that may prove to be spiritually fatal.

The classic commentary Albert Barnes Notes suggests it only applies to the one book, but somewhat hedges on other application:

The reference here is to the book of Revelation only – for at that time the books that now constitute what we call the Bible were not collected into a single volume. This passage, therefore, should not be adduced as referring to the whole of the sacred Scriptures. Still, the principle is one that is thus applicable; for it is obvious that no one has a right to change any part of a revelation which God makes to man; to presume to add to it, or to take from it, or in any way to modify it. Compare… 2 Timothy 3:16

Almost humorously, John Gill reminds his readers that commentary (i.e. his own) does not constitute an addition, but also speaks of creating other writings which would have equal footing.

To “add” to the things contained in this book, is not to deliver, or write an exposition of it, in a modest manner, with a sincere view to give light into it, agreeably to the analogy of faith; for to expound Scripture, or to preach from it, consistent with it, is not to add unto it, but to give the sense of it; but then may it be said to be added unto, and so this book, when it is wrested and perverted, and a false gloss is put upon it, as the Pharisees did upon the law; and when unwritten traditions are made to be equal to it, or above it, as the same persons made the traditions of the elders, whereby they transgressed the law, and made the word of God of none effect, and so broke through the precept given, Deuteronomy 4:2 as do the Papists in like manner; and when men pretend to visions and revelations, and make them the rule of faith and practice, and to confirm things that are neither in this book, nor in any other part of the word of God; and when men interpolate it, and set up human fictitious writings upon equal authority with it; which shows the authenticity of this book, and of all the whole Scripture, and the perfection of it, whose canon is closed with it: the punishment of such a crime follows…

For some readers here “human fictitious writings” or books with “equal authority” may have suggested to you The Catechism of the Catholic Church. I thought a Catholic response might be in order. On this forum, the points made are:

  • the Protestant Bible subtracts seven books
  • the large number of Protestant denominations suggests varying interpretations (this is a frequent argument raised by Roman Catholics)
  • it applies only to the Book of Revelation
  • the full canon of scripture did not yet exist when this was written
  • the scriptures, as they knew them at that point, were the books of the Hebrew bible.

Note: This issue is also is also particularly sensitive to members of the LDS Church, especially as it applies to The Book of Mormon. Space doesn’t permit us to explore that here.

The fullest and lengthiest commentary I discovered on this was at life-everlasting.net.  The author, David Simon, looked at several different aspects of this verse, for example:

  • What does it mean to have one’s part in the tree of life taken away? This is a part of the verse that is often under-examined. What does this say about the eternal security of the believer?
  • Another overlooked part is the reference to those who “hear” the words. Communication was mostly oral at that time, so today we might interpret this to includes “hears or reads” (though we are increasingly moving back toward more oral transmission).
  • The best example of “adding to” is mentioned here, namely all of the additional “weight” the Pharisees added to the law. The similarity to legalistic groups in contemporary Christianity is striking.
  • What about subtraction? The author says that this is, “more than rubbing out some words. It concerns the denial of the prophecies contained in Revelation, and hence the denial of the authority of this book and the Bible as a whole. Denying the authority of the Book, denies God…” equating this to what is often referred to as “the unforgivable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
  • The author concludes that such activity can be seen as a “sign” of person’s spiritual state: “…persons committing these acts are unsaved… evidence of the unsaved state of a person, whatever he or she says, is that he or she will add or take from Scripture, nullifying the prophecies of God. Such a person cannot be saved, for they will deny the saving grace of God.”

There is much more at that website, and I’ll repeat the link and encourage you to visit.

 

 

November 3, 2016

The Bible’s Proper Place

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine this scenario: The teenagers of our church have grown up into their twenties and have left town to attend colleges and universities elsewhere. Meanwhile society has shifted and governments have changed so that there is now a hostile climate for Christianity. In fact, officials have stormed our church service, rounded us all up and sent us to prison. We learn that we are all to be executed. We also learn that while things are not as bad for our youth away in other towns, things are not good there either. We can send a letter to them. What would you write?

This is not unlike what we have in the book of 2nd Timothy where Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting execution. He has the opportunity to send a letter to a young pastor in Ephesus named Timothy. What does he write?

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2nd Timothy 3:10 – 17 (NRSV)

Let us summarize: “Timothy, you will be surrounded by bad people, but as for you, be good, keeping the scriptures central.” This is just as important a message for us in our day. In fact we can consider how “be good, keeping God’s revelation front and centre” is proper for us as individuals, families, churches, and as a nation.

For individuals – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

When Paul speaks of “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” in verse 15, we may immediately think of salvation in terms of what it means for us when we die. The Scriptures do instruct us on such things as they help us see our need for, and God’s provision of, grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. But salvation is a two-sided coin. On the one side we may think of the destination, eternity with God. On the other we can consider the journey, life with God now. The Scriptures also instruct us for the salvation journey as the Holy Spirit transforms us step by step along the way. This second side of the salvation coin, the journey, is in mind when Paul goes on to say that

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work

So as individuals, be good, keeping God’s revelation central!

For families – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

It is sometimes said that faith is a private and personal thing. This is actually a ridiculous statement for how can it be? As I respond to the call to be good, keeping God’s Word central, how can my family be unaffected? As God transforms individuals, He also transforms the experience of those in relationship with those individuals. There is a direct impact on my family and friends when I seek to be good, keeping the wisdom of the Bible central in things like avoiding drunkenness, alcoholism, gambling, adultery, pornography, and the like. There is also a direct impact when I seek to be good like Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, learning to bear a cross, learning how to love and forgive, and the like. There is a direct impact on my family, friends, and even enemies, when my life evidences the fruit of the Spirit:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit uses scripture to awaken in us a greater desire for such fruit than the kind of fruit Adam and Eve went after. It is good for families, indeed all relationships, to be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

For churches – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

Ask what makes for a good church and you can get a wide variety of responses like good parking, good facility, great speaking, great music, great programming and so on. You can build a great organization without ever cracking open a Bible. However, to form a good people you will need to open the Bible. The Church is not an organization that happens to made up of people, it is a people who happen to get organized. Though not very organized sometimes! To have a great church, we will want to be good, keeping the Bible central.

For our nation – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What makes Canada great? Some people will say that it is our multiculturalism. However, are we really all that multicultural? There are things that appear to be acceptable, or even promoted in some other cultures that we would think barbaric here. Even the most ardent proponent of multiculturalism in Canada has their limits. So we are not as multicultural as we think we are, for there is a sense of Canadian culture, of limits in what is not acceptable. Where do we get this from? Though we are moving away from it, our culture still owes a great debt to Christian ethics. The Bible has given us a good foundation on which to build a nation. We should not be surprised by this as we are told the Bible is useful for “training in righteousness” (verse 16). Consider, for example, how the opening chapters of the Bible teach us about the dignity of every human being. Those who who would push us to become a fully secular state have difficulty accounting for why, objectively, we ought to value every person. This is just one example of many.

I am a secularist in the sense that I do not think a person should ever be compelled to be a Christian to be a Canadian. Nor should a non-believer be forced to pray a believer’s prayer. However, I also see how Biblical values have served our nation well. We are a nation that enjoys a bit of multiculturalism and a bit of secularism. We can appreciate that. But our nation has also been marinating in Christianity for a long time. So as a nation we can appreciate what Paul tells Timothy; be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What Paul knew to be good in a time of crisis is good for all time including our time. Don’t be like the rest when the rest have lost their way. Be good, keeping the Scriptures central, sticking close to Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And remember, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We also have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for when we fall on the journey and need to get back on our feet, dust off our Bibles, and start again.


Follow Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon or on Twitter

March 2, 2016

The Gospel of Luke and History Matters

••• by Clarke Dixon

[click this link to read at Clarke’s sermon blog]

Many people assume that while religion might affect history, history does not affect one’s religion or lack thereof. In other words, religion is all about spiritual concepts and morality quite apart from anything that has happened. It is very often assumed therefore that theology has more to do with philosophy and science than with history. But history is very important in seeking truth, especially “religious truth.”

Take for example the our monotheistic belief in a Creator God. If God exists and is Creator, then we should expect an historical event, however long, namely, creation. Interestingly in laying out a history of our universe science points us to a beginning point, often referred to as the “Big Bang”. The history of there being a beginning fits well with the religious claim of there being a Creator. There are those who do not like the religious conclusions the historical event of a beginning leads to, so suggestions are made that perhaps there might be more than the universe we know of, perhaps a “multiverse” or something like that. Such appeals by scientists to believe “there must be something greater” sound almost religious don’t they?

Another example can be found in the religion of Islam. If the Koran is to be trusted as what God wants to say to us and Islam is to be held to be true, then revelations to Muhammad by God must be historical events. If that is what happened, then we should all become Muslims. On the other hand if what really happened is that Muhammad was making it up, or suffering from some sort of delusions, then no one should be a Muslim. Religious truth depends on what really happened in history.

The same kind of thing can be said of Christianity. If we are to believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior, then the events of history ought to support the beliefs of our religion. If Jesus did not die and rise from the dead, then I ought to be more a fan of Jesus than a follower, as one writer put it.

The interesting thing about the Gospel of Luke is that it begins with an appeal to history:

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

Notice the words that are connected with history, like “events,” “eyewitnesses,” “investigating everything carefully from the first,” and “orderly account.” The writer here is looking to help encourage the reader, Theopholis, to “know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Notice that he is not looking to do so through an appeal to ideas, or concepts, or philosophy, or a discussion on how to live a good life. The appeal is to events, things that have actually happened.

How does the writer know what has happened? While the Gospel writer does not identify himself, the earliest records of such things all point to the writer being Luke whom Paul called “the beloved Physician” in Colossians 4:14. This Luke was very often a companion of Paul and would have had plenty of time and opportunity to rub shoulders with the eyewitnesses of the events described in the Gospel. Though too long a discussion for today, there has been no good reason to doubt the early records on the authorship of Luke. Therefore, while those of us who are Christians believe Luke is inspired by God in the first place and therefore to be trusted, even those who do not believe have good reason to stop and consider what Luke has to say. Far too many people don’t give the Gospels fair consideration out of a belief they were written too late to be of benefit in sorting out history. But history itself points to their value in knowing what the eyewitnesses had to say.

So what does Luke say has happened? I am condensing things very much, but if we were to read Luke straight through from beginning to end we would find that Jesus’ birth was unique to say the least, being born of a virgin. Jesus’ teaching was also unique and had a very keen appeal to justice and equality. In his teaching Jesus also pointed to his own unique nature, to the point of being considered blasphemous. He was continually an annoyance to the religious leaders. He was continually a sought after person by the average person for he performed miracles while still being very down to earth about it. He taught in parables and had much to say about the Kingdom of God and how people should act in that kingdom. He eventually annoyed the religious leaders to the point that they engineered his death at the hands of the Romans. But he rose from the dead, appeared to the disciples, showed them how he fulfilled the Hebrew scriptures, and he said:

46 Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Even Jesus here is appealing to accurate history: “you are witnesses of these things.”

What has happened in history should affect how we make history; it should affect our response to God. The things that have happened ought to affect our religion and religious views. We see this happening with the disciples as we read the final words of the Gospel:

52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:52-53)

The Gospel concludes with the idea that all the events Luke had carefully investigated and recorded led and will lead people who know about them to worship Jesus and to an experience of joyful celebration before God.

Luke teaches us to not begin with the question “what religion should I believe or practice?” Rather we begin with the question, “has God done anything that we should know about?” Does history record anything for us to consider? Yes, Luke along with the other Gospel writers have recorded some very important history for us. From Luke’s careful recording of history we learn, not so much what religion to practice, but that God is real, and God’s love through Jesus Christ is real. What will the history of your life reveal about your love for Him?


Click back to previous Wednesdays for Clarke’s overviews of Mark and Matthew

All scriptures: NRSV

October 17, 2015

The Humanity of Scripture

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.
– Jeremiah 23:16
(context important; see next verse citation)

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
– 2 Peter 1:20-21

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.
 -Acts 4:20

Today we return to the blog of Jeff K. Clarke. You’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source, and then, choose a category from the bar at the top and read some other articles.

Learning to Embrace the Humanity of the Bible

Understanding the Bible as an Example of God Using the Finitude of Human Language as Symbols of Communication

Many Christians hold to a doctrine of scripture that sees only the divine side of the documents, while significantly downplaying the human dimension. Others believe they were divinely dictated, leaving the writers to simply record what they were verbally given. However, I believe the latter view dehumanizes the bible. It doesn’t take seriously the cultural, linguistic, and historical situations present at the time, as well as the specific circumstances each writer addressed.

But what about the writers? After all, do we not refer to many of the works in the New Testament as letters and epistles, written by people like Paul, Peter, and James? These are real people, writing to real churches, addressing real situations, in real time.

With this in mind, these sacred writings are essentially human documents. And, while God has chosen to uniquely witness through them, he has done so through human language, identifying with us through every stage of the theo-drama. In essence, God breathes upon the words and witnesses through them, making them reliable witnesses that point us towards God.

The Error of Error-Free Arguments

A significant problem with maintaining a completely one-sided, divinely written bible, is that any notion of error, however minor, is quickly dismissed. The inconsistencies are either explained away or labelled as yet another example of a liberal reading of scripture.

cropped-bible-5.jpgAs a reactionary move, many also attempt to argue that the original manuscripts are error-free. However, the fact that we do not possess any of those original manuscripts makes the point difficult to argue. How can you make a claim about original manuscripts when those documents don’t even exist? It’s almost as if the argument is one the system requires in an a priori sense, rather than one that exists after careful analysis and thoughtful reflection.

Arguments in favor of a wholly divine document seem to exist because people are afraid the bible will lose all credibility and become untrustworthy without it. I disagree. If anything, they will be viewed with even less suspicion because we will no longer be afraid to treat them for what they are – human documents.

The central message will retain its faithfulness and trustworthiness, but we will not be threatened every time we encounter a discrepancy, which usually has to do with geography, science and a time-based cultural idea (the ancients believed, for instance, that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth).

A Profitability View of Scripture

I once heard Clark Pinnock outline what he termed a plenary profitability doctrine of scripture. In this model, the scriptures faithfully serve the purpose for which they were written, are profitable toward those ends, and will never lead us astray.

Pinnock argued that the bible is first and foremost a collection of human writings that God speaks through by accommodating himself to the language, customs and cultures of the day. That is, he used what was at his disposal.

Similar to the incarnation, on which Christ took upon himself the totality of what it meant to be human, so in scripture, God incarnates by taking on the humanness of the writers and the situations they experienced at the time.

These are not timeless documents, removed from the world of real life, but time-driven and time-determined pieces of literature. God led the writers along as wind moves along a sailboat, not in the sense of control, but enablement and inspiration.

The documents are real, down to earth, living witnesses to God’s ongoing care and relationship with humanity. They are testaments to the ever-presentness of God’s life and our lives coming together. These are not some secretly coded, multilayered, cosmic writings, but living stories of God’s loving interaction with creation.

Scripture, therefore, is not a depository of propositional truth statements to be mined, but a witness to God’s gracious and redemptive activity.

Scripture as an Example of God Using Human Words as Symbols

Scripture is story, a redemptive story, that seeks to draw people in and invite them to become apart of what God is doing in the world.

Scripture is an example of God using the finitude of human words as symbols of communication. Human language can never fully capture or convey all that God is, for the finite could never grasp the infinite in its totality. But, through human language, God testifies, works and acts to invite people into his action-story. Human words become a vehicle for divine witness.

However, such a view doesn’t mean that the book is perfect. No, what it does mean is that God accommodates to human words, ideas and cultural/historical situations as a means to communicate his role in the cosmic, redemptive drama. God comes to dwell with us through human language, in spite of its inadequacies.

God speaks through and enlivens human words. It becomes a living and loving word precisely because of this. He works through the human language of story, metaphor, symbol and poetry. Even the historical accounts, wrapped as they are in cultural nuance, become vehicles of grace.

God works through the imperfections of human language, and redeems it. He doesn’t feel the need to make corrections, but maintains the humanness of the documents to showcase his own beauty; a treasure in a clay pot.

God took the author’s words seriously, including their flaws, and uses it in a unique way to reach out to the world. We need to allow scripture to be free of our right-brain grip of certitude and learn the art of embracing the openness and ambiguity of the story and its characters.

If God isn’t afraid of the human ambiguity in scripture, why should we? We’ve been given what we need to know to make us wise for salvation; filled as it is with parable, paradox and punctuations of uncertainty.

Learning to Appreciate the Humanity of the Bible

We can, however, be certain that God will lovingly and faithfully witness through the uncertainty of these human writings. We need not fear imperfection, but learn to embrace the perfect One within it – Jesus, the Living Word of God. We need to learn how to read scripture as it is, while embracing the depth of the Lord’s witness through it.

When we learn to appreciate the humanity of the bible, we will be in a better position to listen to the divine voice that speaks through it. In order to understand what a passage means, we first have to understand what it meant. Then and only then will we be able to listen for the divine voice through the vehicle of human words.

This is the bible.

June 17, 2015

Deliver Us From Deception

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (Gen 3:1 NRSV)

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” (Luke 11:4b MSG)

and forgive us our sins, for we forgive anyone who owes anything to us; and keep us clear of temptation  (Luke 11:4b Phillips)

YouthGroup

This week’s Wednesday column by Clarke Dixon tied into a youth emphasis at his church this past weekend — which makes it timely after yesterday’s devotional here — but I feel the four principles listed could apply to all of us. Click the link to read at source.

Deliver Them From Evil: Prayers for Our Youth

Since Sunday was “Day of Prayer for Youth Sunday” we can look to making our prayers for youth more specific than a simple “bless ‘em Lord.” The Lord’s prayer in it’s entirety is a great prayer to pray over our youth, but consider especially: “deliver us from evil.” A better translation would be “deliver us from the evil one.” What does the evil one do? We do not need to read too far in our Bibles to find out. The very first thing we find him doing is asking Eve, “did God really say . . .?”  (Genesis 3:1). He sought to deceive, to sabotage Eve’s relationship with God. And he will be whispering in the ears of our youth, “Did God really say? Is that really true?” Perhaps not as a serpent in a tree, but through media, social media, friends, enemies, and yes, in schools, colleges, and universities. This is a key reason youth have been falling away from the Christian faith as they grow into adulthood. It is not staid music, or boring sermons so much as the deceptions of the evil one.

Here are four prayers for our youth reflecting four key areas where the evil one seeks to deceive. (I thank J. Warner Wallace for pointing me in the direction of these four categories in a recent podcast):

1. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Is it really true for everyone?”

Our youth will hear things like “it is true for you, but it is not true for me.” Or put another way, “there is no absolute truth.” There is a very relativistic way of looking at things these days. Let me correct that, there is a very relativistic way of looking at religion these days. This is something we rarely do elsewhere in life. Under normal circumstances the freezing point of water is zero degrees Celsius. But suppose I should say “that’s true for you, but for me it is minus fifteen degrees Celsius.” Being a motorcyclist in Canada how I wish that were true! But if I were to head out in minus fourteen weather, I think you would be quick to point out that I might encounter ice. The point is that truth is real and really important. We depend upon things being true every day. But when it comes to spiritual realities people do not want to commit, and so they pretend truth is not real. That Jesus is Lord is either true for everyone whether they believe it or not, or it is not true for anyone. To quote C.S. Lewis: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Lord, may our youth know the nature of truth. 

2. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really know anything beyond what science teaches?

Here is a common thought: “Science is the only way to know anything.” But is that true? Science works by studying what is, and so that in itself limits its knowledge. I think it was John Lennox who used the analogy of a car, so I’ll use that too, though I’ll not say it as well as Dr. Lennox. Suppose you were to give my Mitsubishi Lancer to a group of scientists to study. They might eventually be able to explain how the whole thing works, and they may point out that it works without the need for engineers or factory workers. But you and I know that engineers and factory workers were essential for the very presence of this car. As you study nature you will not find God under the ground pushing up daisies. Yet the daisies would not exist without Him. What the scientists cannot tell you by studying the car itself is anything substantial about the history of the car, the manufacturer, or the people involved in the development of the car and the company. They might come to some knowledge about how that particular car was put together but for anything beyond that you need a historian who will work with other sources of truth. The scientists may make take a stab at the history by an inference that somewhere along the line there was a Mr. Mitsubishi involved in the development of the car. While inferring a founder would be correct it would still be very lacking in truth as there was no Mr. Mitsubishi, it is a Japanese word meaning “three diamonds.” The historian knows this. The scientists cannot tell the historians what to believe about everything. And neither can the scientists tell the theologians what to believe about everything. Their scope of study is too limited. Lord, may our youth enjoy both science and theology.

3. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Can you really trust the Bible?”

All too often people say things like “the Bible has changed so much from the original it cannot be trusted, therefore you can have no assurance that anything in Christianity is correct.” There are two perspectives on this. First there is the perspective of faith. If God is going to reveal Himself we can trust that He will also ensure that the record of His revelation will be accurate and trustworthy. God was not just involved in the original inspiration of the works we know as the Bible, but the editing, collecting, and preservation. Second, there is the secular perspective provided by something called textual criticism. Any work you read from before the invention of printing press has hand written texts in libraries and collections that scholars work with to best determine what the author originally wrote. More often than not the originals themselves have been destroyed or lost, and the copies always have some inconsistencies between them. Sometimes the earliest copy we have of an ancient text was written hundreds of years later than the original. Sometimes scholars have very few texts to work with. Yet no one reads Herodotus or Aristotle and thinks “this is unreliable to the point of being useless.” The amazing thing is that with the New Testament we have thousands of texts to work with and some of them are dated quite close to the original writing. The evidence that the texts are reliable is overwhelming. Lord, may our youth have confidence in the Bible.

4. Deliver our youth from the deception of the evil one when he whispers “Did Jesus even exist, never mind rise from the dead?”

Here is another common deception “you can’t prove that anything Christians say about Jesus is true.” On his existence, if you deny that, then practically everything you think you know about ancient history ought also to be denied. Some people are happy enough with that, but very very few serious historians will take that route. As for the resurrection of Jesus, if you come to the Bible with a belief already in place that miracles can never happen, that a dead man could never rise from the dead, then of course no evidence will be sufficient for you. You will be left, however, with a group of documents we collectively call the New Testament, with no real understanding of how they came to be, or how or why the writers came to write them. The existence of so many divergent theories about Jesus is evidence that scholarship is at a loss for explanation. However, if the door is open even a crack to the existence of a miracle working God, then the resurrection of Jesus becomes the simplest explanation as to why the writers of the New Testament wrote what they did. All the things written, all the things believed, and all the lives changed and laid down in service of Jesus, it all comes together and just makes sense. The evidence we have leads to the resurrection as the simplest and best explanation. Lord, may our youth know that Jesus lives . . . and loves.


Image: Youth Alive, Pottsdown New Life Assembly of God, Pottsdown, Pennsylvania

May 24, 2014

Responding to Modern-Day Sadducees

Today’s article is taken from a new blog I discovered through the Fellowship of Christian Bloggers. It’s called History for the Christian Faith, and is a companion blog to Science for the Christian Faith.  Rick Habecker is a former TV crime reporter who became a private investigator.

There’s no key verse today, but instead allusions to many, many verses you will recognize. This information is very practical, and I hope you will allow these principles to become part of you so that you can respond to the modern-day Sadducees that we inevitably encounter.  While the text appears below as always, you’re encouraged to click the title to read at source.

Modern Sadducees & Taking the Holy Bible Literally

Even 2000 years ago there were those who declared portions of God’s law shouldn’t be taken literally.  They were the counterparts to today’s Liberal Protestants.  Who were they?  Why they were the infamous Sadducees!

They ran things in the Temple.  They were the money changers, wealthy and corrupt.  They outwardly hated the Romans but secretly cut deals with them.  They had a low view of the Hebrew Bible accepting only the parts of it they watered down.  They questioned or rejected the writings of the prophets.  They had a secret admiration for Greek philosophy.  In short they were the rationalist, liberal theologians of their day.  They didn’t believe in miracles, the virgin birth, the Christ’s resurrection, nor in angels, the Holy Spirit, or Hell.

Like the Sadducees modern day Liberal Protestants, or Pseudo Christians, teach that the bible is filled with myths.  They deny the infallibility of scripture and in effect undercut the authority of the Gospel they say they believe. They reject that Hell is eternal, or that non-believers will go there.  They promote universalism believing there are many ways to paradise which leads to things like abortion and homosexuality.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, despised and condemned them then as He will do to all like them now.  Don’t be caught dead siding or following anyone who calls or implies that God is a liar or believing their answer to the question: “Should we take the Holy Bible literally?”

Below are a few of the dominate criticisms to the word of God with all responses from Dr. Curt D. Daniel, pastor of Faith Bible Church, of Springfield, Illinois, faithbibleonline.net

“The Bible contains many errors. It is neither infallible nor inerrant.” But: Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth” (John 17:17) and “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  The Bible testifies of its own essential truth. “The sum of Thy Word is truth” (Psa. 119:160). “Thou art God and Thy Words are truth” (2 Sam. 7:28).  It is the Word of “God who cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2).  Every Word of God is pure (Psa. 12:6), and “Thy Word is very pure” (Psa. 119:140).  It is “the Word of truth” (Psa. 119:43; 2 Cor. 6:7; 2 Tim. 2:15).  “Thy Word is true from the beginning”, that is, from eternity (Psa. 119:160).   It is purer than refined gold (Psa. 18:30, 19:8, 10; 2 Sam. 22:31).  God says of His Bible, “These words are faithful and true” (Rev. 21:5).  It is infallible and inerrant in all areas, earthly as well as spiritual (John 3:12). To deny the inherent truth and inerrancy of Scripture is to call God a liar (I John 5:12). Those who do are the liars.

“The Bible contradicts itself.” But: Truth never contradicts truth. There are many paradoxes and mysteries in Scripture (e.g., Mark 8:35; John 11:25-26), but not a single contradiction, either in doctrine, history or principle. God is a God of order, not confusion (I Cor. 14:33). Contradiction is confusion. Liberals are in mental confusion because they contradict Scripture and imagine contradictions in the Bible.

“The Bible contains myths, sagas, legends and fairy tales.  We need to de-mythologize the Bible”. But Christianity would be the true religion even if all of its teachings were non-historical myths.” But: This is the very heart of Liberalism, what Gordon Clark exposed as “doctrine without facts.” Scripture itself warns against myths (I Tim. 1:4, 4:7; Tit. 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:16). Scripture contains no myths or other such lore. It is all historically true. If it were not, then we would be hopelessly lost in our sins (I Cor. 15). Liberalism is the real mythology and we need to remove it from us.

“The Bible is a collection of old campfire stories told by old Jewish nomads,- retold and reshaped for centuries until someone wrote them down in a form vaguely resembling the original story.” But: The Bible nowhere teaches such nonsense. It is a total fabrication and romantic skepticism. The idea of “campfire stories” is that of myths and legends. Scripture also warns against “old wives’ tales” (I Tim. 4:7) – the gender equivalent of old men’s campfire stories. Instead, God spoke through dreams, visions and even angels (Heb. 1:1-2), not through the superstitious ramblings of desert nomads. By contrast, Liberal theories closely resemble those tall tales.

The use of the Bible as the final authority is bibliolatry (book-worship).” But: All theories are to be tested by Scripture and Scripture alone (I Thess. 5:21). The Bereans were commended for this (Acts 17:11).  Jesus Himself appealed to the Bible as the final authority of truth (Matt 4, 22:29; John 10:35).  There is no higher authority than God.  Since Scripture is the Word of God, it alone is the highest authority to which we can appeal. “Thus saith the Lord” and “It is written” settle a matter.  The Bible is no “paper pope”, as Liberals scoff.  It is the Word of God.

“The Bible contains the Word of God, but is not the Word of God itself.” But: This is not taught in the Bible.  The Bible says that it is the Word of God, not merely contains it.  A cup can contain coffee without being coffee.  The very nature of Scripture is that it is the very Word of God, not the word of Man (cf. I Thess. 2:13).

“The Bible becomes the Word of God when we believe it.” But: Scripture does not say that it “becomes” the Word of God.  It is already the Word of God whether anyone believes in it or not.  We merely need faith and illumination to believe what it already is (cf. Rom. 10:17; Eph. 1:17-18).  But our faith cannot make it what it is not already by nature.

“The Bible bears witness to the Word of God, but is not the Word of God itself.” But: This too is not what Scripture says about itself.  The Bible is God’s Word!  Liberals often say that God’s “saving acts in history” are alone the Word-of God, to which the Bible witnesses.  It is correct that in these special acts and miracles, God communicates to Man. But they are not verbal communication. Scripture alone is the verbal Word of God and takes precedence even over miracles (Luke 16:31).

“Jesus, not the Bible, is the Word of God.” But: It is not a matter of either/or but both/and: Jesus is the personal, incarnate Word of God (John 1:1, 14; Rev. 19:13).  But Jesus Himself also referred to the Bible as the Word of God (Matt. 4:4; John 10:35, 17:17). Jesus testified to Scripture, and in turn Scripture testifies to Jesus (Luke 24:44, 46; Acts 10:43; John 5:46).  Liberals would reject both testimonies.

“The Bible is ‘a Word of God’ together with preaching.” But: Only the inspired preaching of the prophets and apostles could ever be considered ‘a Word of God’ comparable to Scripture, and even then they based their preaching on special divine revelation. We do not receive this direct divine revelation any more (cf. Heb. 1:1-2), and so our preaching is qualitatively different from Scripture. It is used by God only insofar as it is faithful to the message of Scripture. Liberal preaching is not even that.

April 19, 2013

Six Days Shalt Thou Labor

Exodus 20:9 (NIV)

Six days you shall labor and do all your work

I couldn’t help but notice this passage a few weeks ago. As I read it, I thought about the number of families that are faced with massive household consumer debt, and wondered if perhaps this offers a solution. Even if one of the income earners in a house picked up something on Saturday, that could mean an extra 20% income, provided such jobs were available.

But the note in my NIV Study Bible was somewhat dismissive, saying something to this effect, ‘A shorter work week in an a modern industrialized culture is not in view here.’

Furthermore, we focus on the distraction of the six-day work week here at our peril, because our entire attention in this commandment should be devoted to the practical and spiritual implications of the concept of cessation from labor for the purposes of sabbath rest (i.e. to rest as God rested, to give God worship, etc.).  The Voice Bible says in essence that you’ve got six days to get everything else done, the seventh is a day of rest.

You have six days to do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath of the Eternal your God…

Still, I believe we skip a possible secondary takeaway from verse nine too easily, especially in western society where ‘long weekends’ and ‘casual Fridays’ push us further and further toward a four day work week.  It’s said that we live in a culture of entitlement, and certainly we feel we are entitled to enjoy a certain degree of comfort and a certain number of consumer goods; so we amass great levels of personal debt to obtain those things.

While we should be pleased if our employer offers us extra work that will help reduce that debt, our labor laws insist that we be paid overtime, which means the employer thinks twice before offering us extra hours. And I do wonder what the agriculturally-based readers of the Decalogue in Moses’ time would think of our modern concept of vacation.

The website Theology of Work Project looks at different areas where the Bible addresses this topic.

John MacArthur notes the erosion of the work ethic in a sermon devoted to this topic that you can either read or listen to online.

When God doesn’t matter anymore, then there is no universal, transcendent standard for behavior. And natural human corruption runs rampant to the degree that any individual person chooses to live. And one of the basic moral virtues that disappears in a culture is work…work. People once worked hard because of the influence of Scripture and because Scripture is a reflection of the will of God. God is the authority and the Bible is the revelation of His will as that authority. Work, you see, is a virtue, work is a moral behavior.

People worked hard because they believed they were accountable to God and they were accountable to the revelation of God in Scripture. They had reverence for biblical authority and they had a basic fear of God. Even those who weren’t particularly evangelical Christians understood the place of God in society, understood the place of Scripture in society that it was the will of God and understood they had a transcendent responsibility before God to behave in a certain way. Now that God doesn’t matter, and the Bible is ridiculed and removed, if not banned from speaking authoritatively on any subject, there is a kind of fearless immorality. And one of the things that’s going to disappear is the virtue of work…the virtue of work. Sinners are happy to think that they answer to no one, but to themselves.

And later

Somebody made the suggestion that originally man was a gardener and the curse turned him into a farmer. Originally man was a flower arranger, and the curse turned him into a plow horse. The Fall did not introduce work, it changed its nature. And as the nature of work that is the punishment, but not work itself. Work neither began nor ceased with the Fall, it just took a different shape. It went from being a righteous blessing solely to being a righteous blessing with a curse on top.

And so, man seeks to restore the glory of work with the sweat of his brow, and all of his ingenuity he goes after this cursed earth, using the wonderful creative gifts that he’s been given because he’s in the image of God to abstract out of the richness of this planet everything that he can possibly extract, to provide value to his life, to provide meaning to his life, to provide provision for his life and those in his family, to provide for the needs of others and most importantly to bring dignity upon himself as one made in the image of God who demonstrates God-like creativity…

…In Psalm 104 we read, “He made the moon for the seasons, the sun knows the place of its setting. You appoint darkness and it becomes night in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about. The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they withdraw and lie down in their dens. Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.” God has ordained that men work originally six days a week here. You go to work in the morning and you finish in the evening. Work is designed by God to redeem the curse in a measure. You look at the civilized world, you look at the world that has flourished, you look at the western world in particular, and now, of course, many ascending nations in Asia and other parts of the world, and you see the magnificence that is extracted out of the creation by work. Go to Africa, and you see parched lands, starving people, murderous tribal warfare…people don’t work. It’s a tragic reality.

Work was always God’s design for us to be able to draw out all that is in this creation for the demonstration of our nobility being created in the image of God and for the glory of God and for the benefit of all man. It can be redeemed. It must be redeemed and that’s why we work. You know how that works. You redeem your yard every week. And if you went away for six months and came back, you would find out what the curse would do…just no water for six months, that will do it. Or just open all the windows and doors in your house and leave for six months and come back and see what’s inside. See what lives there. It’s a battle and we all understand that battle. We extract goodness out of His creation. That was Adam’s job and now we have to fight against the curse to extract that goodness. We are called to that work because it is noble and because it is God-glorifying.

This is a sermon/article rich with commentary on this topic, and I encourage you to click the above link to get into more of it.

I offer this today not to try to bring back the six-day work week, but rather to allow us to reconsider our attitude and our approach to the five-day work we do.


The Reformation Study Bible offers a theology of work:

God’s purposes in ordaining work

That people should be self-supporting Ge 3:19 See also Ps 128:2; 1Th 4:12

That people should find self-fulfilment Ecc 2:24 See also Pr 14:23; Ecc 3:22; Ecc 5:19

That people should serve others Eph 4:28 See also Pr 31:15; 1Th 2:9; 1Ti 5:8

That people should glorify God Col 3:17 See also 1Co 10:31; Eph 6:5-8 pp Col 3:22-24

Consequences of viewing work as God’s ordinance

Work is seen as a moral duty Tit 3:14 See also Pr 6:6; Ecc 9:10; 1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:7-12

Any legitimate work may be seen as God’s calling Ge 2:15 See also Ex 31:1-6; Ex 35:30-35; Ps 78:70-71; Mt 13:55 pp Mk 6:3; Ro 13:6; 1Co 7:17,20-24

Work is seen as a stewardship from God himself Col 3:23-24 See also Mt 25:14-30 pp Lk 19:12-27; Eph 6:5-8

February 13, 2013

“Before Abraham Was Born, I Am”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” —John 8:58

Today we look at the “I am” passage in John 8.  To Jesus’ hearers, the statement would be reminiscent of these words in Exodus 13:

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,    the name you shall call me    from generation to generation.

Dr. Charles Price, pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada wrote on this recently:

It is no wonder many people in Jesus’ day had difficulty with him. Statements like this were so outlandish and ridiculous to the human ear, and blasphemous to the Jewish ear.

Of course, anyone can make bizarre claims, so the question is: Are the claims of Jesus true or false? If the claims are false, they are false for one of two reasons. Either because He knew they were false – which would make Him bad, or He didn’t know they were false, which would make Him mad. If, however, they were true, He was God. These are the only three options open to us, if the record of His words is true. It is not an option to say He was merely a ‘good man’, for a good man who was not divine, would not make the statements Jesus made about ‘coming from above’, or being in existence before Abraham!

If Jesus was a bad man, deliberately deceiving people, then He is the biggest confidence trickster in history. Today there are almost two billion people who claim, in some measure, an allegiance to Jesus Christ. If He was mad, He would join the ranks of many mad men in history, like Rasputin for instance, but for whom time would confirm their insanity.

From the logic of the situation alone, Jesus’ claims to be pre-existent and sent from His Father carry strong claim to be true. One of the things He said was that He would be crucified and then rise again after three days. That happened exactly as He said it would.

Don’t make the mistake of saying that in some way Jesus became the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. No, He was eternally the Son of God, but, “He was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.” It is His resurrection from the dead – the fulfillment of one of His naturally impossible claims – which declares and affirms who He is, the Son of God.

And that is why the gospel is much more than the teaching of Jesus. It’s about the person of Jesus Himself – the One who is alive!

Matthew Henry writes:

…[H]e does not say, I was, but I am, for he is the first and the last, immutably the same (Rev. 1:8); thus he was not only before Abraham, but before all worlds, John 1:1; Prov. 8:23As Mediator. He was the appointed Messiah, long before Abraham; the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), the channel of conveyance of light, life, and love from God to man. This supposes his divine nature, that he is the same in himself from eternity (Heb. 13:8), and that he is the same to man ever since the fall; he was made of God wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, to Adam, and Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Shem, and all the patriarchs that lived and died by faith in him before Abraham was born.

Abraham was the root of the Jewish nation, the rock out of which they were hewn. If Christ was before Abraham, his doctrine and religion were no novelty, but were, in the substance of them, prior to Judaism, and ought to take place of it.

This verse is central to the deity of Christ, and because of this you need to exercise extreme caution and discernment when encountering opinions about its interpretation online, especially if you don’t know the author or organization behind a particular blog or website.  Many of the websites claim that the passage was understood differently than we read it today, because they don’t teach the absolute deity of Jesus.

To that, I would simply suggest that one turn to John 10, and see what the reaction was to one of Jesus’ other statements about his divinity:

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

The “oneness” Jesus claimed is not something rooted in mysticism. He was claiming equality with God, and his words were understood by his hearers to mean that he was claiming equality with God.

September 1, 2012

Everything New is Old Again

This weekend I discovered a new blog listed at Alltop-Christian, titled Attempts at Honesty. In one of the posts, author Mark McIntyre was asking for guest writers and when I read his guidelines, the first thing I thought was, “I don’t have anything to submit, but he sure sounds like someone I’d like to include here.”

I decided on this one, which he titled New News, Old News.

C201 readers are encouraged to click the links and read articles at source.

New news

Malcolm Muggeridge is attributed as saying, “new news is old news happening to new people.” The writer of Ecclesiastes declares:

“Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us.” (Ecclesiastes 1:10, NASB)

Humans seem to repeatedly fall into the same traps.

 
Old news

This morning in my Bible reading, I find the words of Jeremiah 5:31 anticipate what I’ve observed happening in the church at large. Rather than submitting to the word of God, many pastors and theologians stand in judgment of Scripture.

“The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?” (Jeremiah 5:31, NASB)

Through Jeremiah, God warned the nation of Israel that many of the prophets were providing a false security. They predicted peace and security, contradicting what the true prophets were saying. Rather than calling the nation to repentance and submission, they validated what the people wanted to hear.

Jeremiah tells us that when they do this, they are operating under their own authority though they claim to speak for God. Does this sound familiar? It should.

Today, we have pastors and theologians who are willing to set aside 2000 years of church tradition and the clear teaching of Scripture on issues such as marriage, family, morality and what it means to be a follower of Christ. When they do this, they are like rogue ambassadors misrepresenting the king who sent them.

Why do these pastors and theologians distort Scripture? Jeremiah tells us that in his day they did it to please the people. These prophets gained popularity and all the social and economic benefits that come with it. One can assume that the motives are similar today.

 
Judge or submit

We have two options with regard to Scripture. We can either stand in judgment of it or we can submit to it. In the end it comes down to a decision as to where the authority lies. I can assume that authority or I can submit to God’s authority. The one thing that is certain is that we cannot share it. A decision has to be made as to who is in charge.

The modern false prophets, like their predecessors, reap the social and economic benefits of reshaping their message to meet the expectations of the society. The problem is that those expectations cannot change what is really true and what is really false.

 
The real question

At issue what really is true as opposed to what we want to be true. I want to say that all behaviors are acceptable and that it doesn’t matter how one lives. But that is in contradiction to the truth. Behavior does matter. God has spoken and we ignore his speech to our peril.

The prophets of tolerance and acceptance are those who offer a band-aid as a cure to cancer. It may make it look better but it doesn’t cure the core problem.

~Mark McIntyre at Attempts at Honesty

May 23, 2012

Always Ready to Give a Defense

Moving along in the Christian pilgrimage may mean different things to different people. To some it might be:

  • spending more time in God’s presence; more effective and disciplined in prayer; growing in faith; an ever increasing awareness of being loved by God and knowing His ways

while for other people it might be:

  • going deeper into God’s word; developing a mastery of scripture; being able to provide answers to new believers and skeptics alike.

Most people would suggest that the former is the “higher” aim, but to cling to that goal at the expense of Bible study can be folly, especially when friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers ask us questions that we can’t answer, or our answers seem to them as though we are dodging the question, or are intellectually less than satisfying.

My contention is that you can’t have a deeper life without also being active in developing a deeper apologetic; that heart knowledge can’t develop entirely in an absence of head knowledge; that both Spirit and Word need to be involved in spiritual formation.

So I was glad to see this at Eric Bryant’s blog, pertaining to a series at Gateway Church.  I encourage you to read this at source, and then bookmark the site in your browser so you can connect with forthcoming messages in this series. There’s also a link to the sermon audio, but I wanted the outline (below) to be preserved here for a greater number of readers.  The question is:

How Do You Know The Bible Isn’t Propaganda?

Today we began a series called “How Do You Know?” John Burke shared insights in response to the question: “How do you know the Bible isn’t propaganda?” Here is some of what he shared:

“Smart people vehemently attack the Bible; and incredibly smart people who were once atheists or agnostics have become convinced it’s of Divine origin. Our society is filled with references to the Bible, but has the authority of the Bible been dethroned for good? Or in fact, is the reason it’s the most widely translated, widely read, widely quoted book of history because there is something Divine about it? How do you know?

God claims to have revealed Himself through Scripture.

In Genesis 12, 4000 years ago,: The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’

No other sacred scriptures speak to all people’s of all cultures, but this God says he’s creating this nation, the Jewish Nation out of 2 people, for the express purpose of blessing the whole earth. How? In two ways: This nation would preserve His Words—and He gave explicit instructions for a class of people (the scribes) who did nothing but this, and through this nation God would come in the form of a man to reveal Himself and restore all willing humans to right relationship with their Creator.

1. The Bible has been amazingly well preserved

  • We don’t possess the original autograph copy of any ancient work, but the more copies we have, the science of textual criticism can determine its accuracy. We posses 24,000 copies of the New Testament—more than any other work of history (the second closest is the Iliad with 643 copies).
  • Bruce Metzger, New Testament Scholar says of the 20,000 lines of the N.T., 40 are in doubt. 40 out of 20,000 sentences. This means 99.5% of the New Testament you read textual critics are confident was what original authors wrote.
  • What about the Old Testament? Prior to 1947, the oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew OT (Masoretic Text) had been copied in 916 A.D, but in 1948, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we found parts of 38 of the 39 books of the Old Testament dating from 300 B.C. to 150 B.C. (so all Messianic prophecies predated Jesus).
  • So the big question, how much copy error had crept in over 1000’s of years? Notre Dame professor Eugene Ulrich, who did an Oxford series on the Dead Sea Scrolls said, ‘The scrolls have shown that our traditional Bible has been amazingly accurately preserved for over 2,000 years.”
  • The nation of Israel didn’t play the phone game. All the laws and classes of scribes and lawyers were created for the very purpose of preserving what they believed to be God’s word, revealed through the prophets.

2. God’s been foretelling what he’s doing in real, verifiable history.

A study of the top 10 psychics predictions over a 3-year period found that 98% of their predictions were totally incorrect! Humans just aren’t real good at predicting how history will unfold. But God is!

God alone lives unbridled by time. God alone can proclaim what is to come, and remarkably incorporate our choice into his eternal plan. God says to Moses 3500 years ago, here’s how you’ll know: ‘The LORD said to [Moses]…. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him… You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken’. – Deuteronomy 18:17-22 (1500 B.C.)

The 66 books of the Bible, written over a 1500 year period by 40+ prophets, contain over 1,800 individual predictions concerning over 700 separate subjects.

From 1000 to 400 BC, God sent prophets telling specifically of this Messiah who would bless all nations. Copies of all these books were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls which predated Jesus. Here are some of the prophecies:

  • The Messiah will be God’s Son and all nations will be his inheritance. (Psalm 2:7-8, 1000 B.C.)
  • All his bones will be out of joint as villains pierce his hands and feet and divide his clothes (Psalm 22:14-18, 1000 B.C.)
  • He will be born a child, live near Galilee, be called Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:1-7, 780 B.C.)
  • He will not only restore Israel, but bring salvation to all the nations (Isaiah 49:5-6, 780 B.C.)
  • He will be so disfigured, no one will recognize him (Isaiah 52:14, 780 B.C.)
  • He will bring Good News to the poor, give sight to the blind, set the oppressed free (Isaiah 61:1-2, 780 B.C.)
  • He will suffer and die to pay for our sins, he will be buried, but will rise again to see the light of life and bring many children to God (Isaiah 53, 780 B.C.)
  • He who existed from eternity past will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, 750 B.C.)
  • A messenger will come before him (John the Baptist) then the Lord will come to His temple in Jerusalem (Malachi 3:1, 470 B.C.)

These are just 9 of 61 prophecies foretelling Jesus’ coming. Without God’s miraculous intervention, how else could you get 40 writers to pre-write accurate history before it happens?

Jesus is mentioned in history books not included in the Bible. In fact, From non-Christian, extra-biblical sources, we can conclude:

  • A man named Jesus, of the town of Nazareth in Galilee, lived during the reign of Tiberius Caesar.
  • Jesus was a contemporary of John the Baptist, a prophet who attracted a large following among the Jews and was beheaded by Herod.
  • Jesus had a brother named James who became a leader among the Christians and was martyred for his faith in Jesus as Lord, God and Messiah.
  • Jesus was recognized as a wise teacher who accurately predicted future events, lived a virtuous life, challenged the teaching of the respected Jewish religious leaders, and attracted a large following among the Jews as well as the Gentiles.
  • Jesus performed miracles (Jewish Talmud).
  • Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem.
  • His crucifixion was overshadowed by a great darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour.
  • After His death, His disciples continued to proclaim Him as the Messiah, worshipping Him as God, and claiming that He had appeared to them as risen from the dead.
  • The impact of Jesus’ life upon His disciples was so great that within 16 to 80 years after His death, vast numbers of His followers were willing to die for their conviction that Jesus lived, died and rose again on their behalf.

This is not mythology. This is not religion. This is history – God’s story foretold.

The question remains: what are we going to do with the Scriptures?

To the religious leaders who killed him, Jesus said, ‘You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me… How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’

Jesus says the real problem is that we get so caught up in seeking praise from other people that we get distracted from pleasing God.

The Bible is God’s Word, God’s History, God’s Love letter. Do you seek God through the Scriptures?

If you are not sure that you believe, read Luke or John’s eyewitness account and ask God ‘If this is really you, help me have eyes to see.’ If you seek him honestly, watch how he meets you.

If you claim to believe but make no real effort to seek God regularly in his Word, get on reading plan, jump into a small group, and/or ask for others to keep you accountable to do so.”

If you want to watch or listen to the entire message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.

…For some, today’s thoughts may seem very basic, very elementary; but they are necessary to be able to field questions from doubters. Of course, a life of love lived in submission to God is also a powerful apologetic, and it’s important that we build our faith and our confidence not exclusively on external proofs, but on an inward reality: “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.”

 

February 7, 2012

Jeff Mikels Fields Some Questions – Part Two

I love it when pastors do a Q&A (question and answer) session after their sermons.  Yesterday we met Jeff Mikels, pastor of Lafayette Community Church in Indiana, who has blogged some of the questions he wasn’t able to answer in previous messages. Today we conclude with three more questions.

Some of the questions may apply to your interests.  Each question is a link to the full article.  You are encouraged to read each question at its source and leave specific comments on the applicable article.  When you click through, you can also use the articles you read to link to the rest of his blog.  I promise there won’t be Part Three tomorrow, but I equally promise that I believe we’ll return to Jeff’s blog in the future. 

I’ve also added some comments at the very end that apply to both parts of this short series.

The Bible: Do NT verses on Scripture apply to both Testaments?

Can we generalize New Testament verses on the authority of Scripture (eg. 2 Tim 3:15-17) to the NT since in the original context they were referring only to the Old Testament?

I didn’t get to answer this one on Sunday, but it’s a good question and deserves a little time. Basically, the question raises the issue that the New Testament authors use the word Scripture to refer to their Scripture which would have been the Jewish Scriptures or the Old Testament. Therefore, one could argue, the New Testament passages on Scriptural authority apply only to the Old Testament. As a result, how do we get our idea that the New Testament is also authoritative?

This is a very rational line of thought, but it misses on one small point. When the New Testament writers used the word “Scripture” they were not talking only about the Old Testament. In fact, there’s a fascinating passage in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. — 2 Peter 3:15-16

What’s fascinating in this passage is that Peter considered Paul’s writings to be Scripture. The word “other” near the end of v. 16 demonstrates that. Another fascinating thing about this passage is that Paul was still alive when it was written. So follow the logic: Peter knows about Paul’s writings. Peter calls them Scripture. Paul most likely is aware of Peter’s writings. He surely would have been told what Peter thought about his letters. Paul doesn’t deny it, ever. The most likely conclusion is that Paul and Peter both knew that what was being written in their day was to be considered Scripture.

Therefore, the answer is “Yes.” New Testament passages on Scripture refer also to the other New Testament writings.

The Bible: What about the apocrypha?

On Sunday, I was asked about the apocrypha, but I later found out that the answer I gave was partially wrong.

What I said was that back in the days before Jesus, there were a number of books that were circulated among Jewish people. However, back then, no one considered them to be on the same level as Scripture. In fact, after the prophet Malachi wrote his prophecy it was widely understood that there were no more prophets, and that was 400 years before Jesus. Nevertheless, history still happened during those 400 years and Jewish teachers still speculated on spiritual realities. That’s where the extra books came from. Nevertheless, as I said, the Jews of the time did not consider them to be authoritative or on the same level as the other Scriptures.

When the Hebrews Scriptures were translated into Greek, the translators decided to also translate some of the other documents into Greek as well. Eventually, the collected Greek translations came to be called the Septuagint after the supposed 70 scholars employed to do the work of translation.

By the time of Jesus, the majority of the Septuagint had been translated, and both Jesus and the Apostles used the Septuagint version as the version they quoted from. Nevertheless, no New Testament writer quotes from or refers to any of the books in the “apocrypha.” (see this article) Further, when the Rabbis finally and fully agreed on which books were the authoritative Hebrew Scriptures, they included only the books we now have in our Old Testament. Therefore, the reason these other books are not in Protestant Bibles today is that the Jews of Jesus day, though they used the Septuagint translation for their knowledge of Scripture, seemed to know a distinction between the books that later became the “Hebrew Scriptures” and those that later became the “Apocrypha.”

That’s basically what I said on Sunday, but I also made a claim that I have since learned was incorrect. I said that the Catholics followed the tradition of the Septuagint and included three sections in their Bibles with the Apocrypha in between the Old and New Testaments. However, that was wrong. Having been raised Catholic, my wife Jen has a Catholic Bible and showed me after the service that in their Bible, the “apocryphal” books are interspersed throughout the Old Testament. Furthermore, she told me that Catholics are actually quite offended by the term “apocrypha.”

So I was wrong about the Catholic Bibles. After a little more research tonight, I found that it was Martin Luther who first put the Apocrypha into a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, I’ll just say that the best way of understanding the difference between Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles is that Protestants follow the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures for the Old Testament while the Catholics follow the tradition of the Septuagint.

I personally follow the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures endorsed by Jesus and the Apostles.

For additional information, these Wikipedia articles are quite interesting:

Understanding the Father

On Sunday, we addressed the third statement from [our church’s] Statement of Faith, but before we can look at it, we need to consider the relationship between human language and the reality of God.

The Limits of Our Language

What thoughts come to mind when you think of God? What images come to you? Is he some old man sitting on a throne? Do you imagine him in the ways of Greek mythology, like Zeus holding a lightning bolt and standing on a mountain? Do you imagine him as a highly exalted human being?

The problem is that none of those images are valid. None of those images work. None of those images are allowed. They are all idols. In the burning bush, God used no mental images to describe himself. The fire was a portal for his voice, but his self description was simply “I AM.” In the march from Egypt to Israel, God confirmed his presence before the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the days of wandering, God confirmed his presence by the golden box called the Ark filled with the ten commandments. And near the top of the list at number two was the command against having any idols, any objects of worship that were visible and tangible.

Our mental images are just as idolatrous because they put representations of God in our mind that are not actually God as he is. The most important thing to know about God is that he cannot be contained, he cannot be imagined, he cannot be imaged by humans. Our concepts are too small, our brains are too childish, our language is too limited, our knowledge is too elementary.

Even as we talk about God, we must keep in mind that God is bigger than the words we use. When we say God is love, we mean that he has revealed himself to us with the word “love,” but that his love is more loving than our love.

By way of disclaimer, then, I just want to say that God is the standard for the attributes we describe. It is not the other way around. We can’t use our words, define our words, put our own concepts into our words, and then apply those labels to God. We can’t say, “Well, to me, love means… and therefore, since God is love, he should act like…” You can’t come to know God by learning more about the attribute. You can’t study fathers to learn about your Heavenly Father. You can’t study lovers to learn of God’s love. You can’t study morals to learn about God’s goodness

Instead, we need to let God and his reality fill out the definition for the words we use. If God is love, we must let God’s character and actions define for us what love really is.

Now, we can turn to the statement.

The Father

[Our] Statement of Faith reads thus:

God the Father is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love. He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of each person, He hears and answers prayer, and He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 32:4-6, Psalm 139, Matthew 6:6-8, John 3:16-17, John 4:24, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 8:6).

Implications

What I find to be most fascinating about all of this is that the statement starts with a God who is an infinite personal spirit, perfect in holiness, and it ends with a God who pays attention to the prayers of individual people.

In talking about this with our congregation, I walked through the statement point by point, showing supporting verses and providing brief explanation where helpful. Then, at the end I addressed some live questions from the congregation. Those questions were fascinating because they all seemed to revolve around the one big issue of God’s will versus human freedom.

Answering those questions adequately requires us to fully grasp the meaning of the first sentence of our statement above. Here are a couple bullet points to flesh out the statement:

  • As the only infinite personal spirit, God is boundless with regard to time and space, without physical properties, but able to mentally relate to other intelligent beings.
  • Perfect holiness means that God is completely distinct—other than—everything in Creation. He is above and beyond his creatures. His essence, attributes, and behaviors cannot be fully comprehended by any created being.
  • Perfect wisdom means that God always fully understands all possible courses of action. He perfectly understands the past. He can perfectly predict the future. Therefore, he can perfectly select the best course of action in any circumstance.
  • Perfect power means that God is always able to accomplish what he intends to do. It doesn’t mean that he is able to create logically impossible realities like a circle with four right angles. It does mean that he always gets what he wants. His power extends so great that he is even able to create a world where the independent actions of free beings bring about the end result he desires.
  • Perfect love means that God is first of all in a perfect love relationship with the other members of the Trinity. His very nature allows for and demands a loving mutuality of deference, equality, respect, and affirmation. Love is intrinsic to the nature of God. Therefore, because the Trinity is at work cooperatively to bring about God’s desired plans, the Father deeply loves his plans and the execution of those plans by the Son. Finally, the Father loves the individuals of the world because they are his prime agents working out his plan on planet Earth.

In the posts to follow, we will be addressing questions regarding the will of God, but to conclude this post, I want to affirm the most personally compelling reality of the nature of God.

God, the one who is unbounded by time and space, who knows the best thing to do at all times, who is fully capable to bring about his will regardless of circumstances, made you to be who you are at this moment in history. God, who always knows what’s best and always gets his way, made you.

Take pride that God has chosen you to be part of his plan. Take warning that God expects you to play by his rules. Take comfort that God has done everything possible to empower you to do just that.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. — John 3:16-17


Now that we’ve freely “borrowed” some of Jeff’s writing; I’d like some of you to return the favor by bookmarking or subscribing to Jeff’s blog.

But before we leave, I want us to “borrow” one more thing.  Look at the questions that appeared yesterday and today and while the substance of each answer is important, notice the carefully reasoned approach by which each is answered.  That’s the style your “always be ready to give an account” answers should have to your friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers.  You go from “A” to “B” to “C” to conclusion.

Consider the concept that you want to make progress with each new paragraph or thought, and the idea that one paragraph builds upon another which is based on a foundation or hypothesis.

But then, having said that, you have to content or substance.  Like the Bereans, you need to “search the scriptures” in order give people quality answers to the questions they might ask.  Christianity 201 is all about digging a little deeper.