Christianity 201

November 5, 2015

You Can’t Live “Christian-ly” Without the Christian Message

Sometimes the original writers e-mail me to say they like the titles I gave their pieces better than what they had. But other days, I’m personally challenged to get inside the author’s message and try to re-frame it in different words.

Titus 3:8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Today we pay a return visit to What’s Best Next, the Christian Leadership blog of Matt Perman. Click the title below to read at source:

Why is Theology Central to the Christian Life?

Why is Theology Central to the Christian Life? Because, as J. Gresham Machen said so well, Christianity is not just — or chiefly — an ethical code, but rather “a way of life founded on a message.”

Christianity is based on news. On something outside of us. On truth. And that’s theology.

Since Christianity is a way of life founded on a message, you can’t uphold the way of life if you disconnect it from the message. It’s like cutting a plant from its roots. It won’t last.

Further, Titus 3:8 shows us that sound doctrine (with exhortation) leads obedience when it is understood and believed. Note how Paul tells Titus there to teach the doctrine of justification so that God’s people will excel in good works.

How is theology the foundation of obedience? Because it builds the joy and hope that fuel obedience. Theology builds faith, and faith fuels obedience. The Christian life is a life of faith, and therefore doctrine is essential.

Of course it is not enough to just hear truth. We also must believe it and act on it. In turn, as we do so we find that application yields more spiritual discoveries.

So, interestingly, if you care about theology, applying what you learn leads to both love and, in turn, greater theological insight. But the ultimate aim of it all is love (1 Timothy 1:5).


1 Tim. 1:5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

February 12, 2011

Devotional Interpretation

I often get asked about the two dominant study Bibles on the market, The NIV Study Bible (also reprinted in NASB, KJV and TNIV) and The NLT Life Application Bible (also reprinted in NIV, NKJV and NASB).  It’s an over-simplification on my part, but I usually fall back on this line:

“The NIV Study takes us in to Bible times and shows us some of the background of the text in its context; whereas the Life Application notes brings the Bible into our time and explains the revelance of the text to our lives today.”

Of course, the individual study notes in both number in the thousands, and shouldn’t be reduced to this generalization, but it works to some degree.  Another generation would be to say the Life Application notes are more devotional in nature.

Back in June 2010, Darrell Buchanan wrote a blog piece he called Devotional Interpretation; two words I had never mentally combined before…

I recently came across John Goldingay’s explanation of “Devotional Interpretation” in a section of his larger entry on “Hermeneutics” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (InterVarsity Press: 2003).

Specifically focusing on the Pentateuch, Goldingay says devotional interpretation is interested in the significance of a text “for people’s personal lives, especially their personal relationship with God” (390). This is a big reason why so many with good intentions to read through the Bible make it through Genesis and Exodus but usually give up when they reach the middle of Leviticus!

What a devotional reading forgets is that the focus of much (most?) of the Bible is on the community – Israel in the OT and the church in the NT.  Or, as Goldingay puts it: “[T]he Pentateuch instinctively thinks corporately, as modern readers do not. It thus has the potential to rescue devotional reading from some of its individualism” (391).

The Christian Faith Institute blog seems to take a very un-charitable view of devotional interpretation at first glance, though I suspect their concern is when it waters down preaching, which requires study at greater depth.

…A common practice is to interpret scripture “devotionally” or “privately”. By “devotional interpretation” we mean reading the scripture assuming what it means to us personally, without taking the trouble to see if that is the intended meaning of the passage. Devotional study is a positive practice, but the casual use of it is what we are referring to here. Devotion to God must be based on what God actually says…

…The first step in applying the scripture is to understand what it meant to the generation when it was written. Scripture does not mean what we think it means, because we feel that God has spoken to us from it in a particular way. The scripture means what it meant to the generation it was addressed to.

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:20-21).

“Private interpretation” means we interpret the Bible personally, without first finding out what it means contextually (in its own context). The meaning of prophetic scripture is not arbitrary, according to our view, but it is according to what the Holy Sprit originally said…

F. E. Stoffler (as cited by E. J. Swensson) provides some historical background:

Later [Pietism] was opposed to the Enlightenment attempt to reduce Christian commitment to the acceptance of a few propositions held to be rationally demonstrable…Pietists strove to restore to Protestantism a theology based on a commonsense, untortured, more-or-less literal, and basically devotional interpretation of the Bible.

I’ve stated here already that the Jewish mindset was that the scriptures were like a diamond; and just as a diamond refracts the light differently when held at different angles to both the light source and the human eye; so also are the various ways that the scripture can be interpreted.   Therefore, I believe that the ‘face value’ of a text may be valid for some, while the historical context interpretation may serve others better.  But I do not risk suggesting that the one is better than the other.