Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hoaxes and Hermeneutics

The biggest problem facing the church is lack of discernment.  If you can’t discern the truth you can die of a thousand heresies.”  - John MacArthur  
Shortly after the Civil War an atheistic cigar maker named George Hull got into a debate with a Protestant minister over the literal interpretation of Scripture.    The pastor’s insistence that Genesis 6:4—“There were giants in the earth in those days”,   should be taken literally, sparked a brilliant marketing scheme in the huckster’s mind.  Hoping to gain a profit while making a mockery of Christians,  Hull  created a  “giant petrified man” out of gypsum. 
Stonemasons and a Cardiff, New York farmer colluded with Hull on the ruse and buried the Giant in the farmer's field.    They hired workers to dig up the "new wonder",  placed it  under a tent,   and charged 50 cents for admission,  drawing crowds by the thousands.   When a group of investors bought shares in the Giant for $30,000  and moved it to Syracuse,    P.T. Barnum offered $60,000  to lease it.    His offer was denied so he created a plaster replica and made  even  more money than the original hoax.
People were divided over the Giant’s origin.   Some  believed it was a petrified man while others, including geologists, believed it was an ancient statue.     A Yale paleontologist finally uncovered  the scam declaring it a fake—and a poor one at that.    Many consider The Cardiff Giant to be one of the greatest hoaxes in history.
 “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” Proverbs 14:15
 We may laugh at such naiveté but the truth is,  people today  can be as  gullible as ever.   Who hasn't  received an email hoax  or seen a Facebook  post  that  can be proven  false with a  quick Snopes search, right?   

 When it comes to  discerning  Biblical  truth everything we  hear  must be tested  against the Scriptures  regardless of how convincing it may seem.    The devil’s most cunning deceptions are  lies with an element of truth in them—a modus operandi that is as old as the Garden.   Truth distorted plunged the church into centuries of  apostasy before the  Reformation and  continues to do so in all of the Christian cults. 

Charles Spurgeon said,  “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong.   It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”1.      Cultivating discernment is commanded of  all  believers  (I John 4:1) and it can only be accomplished through  the  means of  careful and diligent  Bible study. (Acts 17:11). 
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:14
Heresies arise  when faulty methods of interpretation are used,   but applying sound hermeneutical principles can  guard against false teaching.   Hermeneutics is the science of  Scripture interpretation which uses  a specific  set of  rules.    Those rules include in part,  interpreting the Bible in the  plain and literal sense,  corresponding  to the author's intent and  the context of the passage.   But when that approach is replaced by allegory, scientific opinion,  or subjectivism  the  text no longer speaks for itself and the meaning is left to the  reader's own  interpretation.   Tragically,  this  way of interpreting Scripture  is rampant today. 

There's  another alarming trend in the church today  and that  is the resurgence of  rank liberal theology.   These kinds of heresies were  fought against in the early twentieth century  by  men like J. Gresham Machen  but have turned up again like a bad penny.
We still have our silly hoaxes today but  far  more insidious  is the "new hermeneutic".    It is no surprise that an atheistic con artist  like George Hull would deny the literal interpretation of the Bible,  but we should be appalled  when this type of  thinking seeps into the church. 

For information regarding the current battle for the Inerrancy of Scripture,  many excellent articles and resources are available at Inerrant Word.
Quotes: John MacArthur -Strange Fire Conference 2013- Introduction
1. Spurgeon -reference unknown

The Museum of Hoaxes

Worth a click:
 Responding to the New Attacks on Scripture: Dr. David Farnell
A Disastrous Hermeneutical Replacement by Grant Kolkow
No Adam, No Fall, No Original Sin, No Substitutionary Atonement by Rachel Miller

Worth purchasing:
Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics by Bernard Ramm
Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old by Robert L. Thomas


Monday, June 29, 2015

Eating My Words

If you are a regular reader here, perhaps you remember that it was just six months ago I wrote a post about not reading the Bible through in a year. I had planned to spend this year reading the Gospels thoroughly. The truth is, I haven't gotten past Matthew 5. I could probably spend the rest of my days studying the Sermon on the Mount and still find there's something new to discover. This method has taught me much about being a follower of Christ.  I've been making copious notes from all the cross-references and a fantastic commentary.  It's been good.

Then a friend of mine linked to an old blog post written by Douglas Wilson, "As Somebody Somewhere Said". As I read, one particular sentence stood out. Wilson writes, "The only way to learn the Bible the way you should is to read and reread it."

As an all-or-nothing type of gal, I immediately starting thinking, What, give up my slow and methodical approach? I didn't want to do that. But I couldn't get away from the truth that I don't know the Bible as a whole the way that I should. I finally decided there is room for both in-depth study and reading Scripture in its entirety. So I'm taking Wilson's advice and beginning with the New Testament. Since I'm sticking with my plan to study Gospels carefully, I started with Acts.

I admit I'm having to squelch the desire to pull out my commentary to read along; however, I didn't have to read very far in Acts before I knew I'd made a wise decision. Over and over again I've been struck by the ability of Peter, Philip, Paul, and Stephen to give in-depth accounts of the Scriptures. Could I do that?  Shamefully, the answer is no. Sadly, I'm not alone. Even among those in Reformed circles who declare their great love for the accurate and systematic teaching of God's Word.

We live in a time of unprecedented access to the Word. There is a translation, type, and form of the Bible to fit everyone's needs. And for all that, our culture is still biblically illiterate, in a time that biblical literacy could not be more important. We have this treasure in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:5-7), yet it's often reduced it to a list of buzz words and catch phrases that fit on tee shirts and church signs. This watering down has dulled the sharp, two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Instead of allowing it to pierce the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, we wield it as a blunt instrument to numb ourselves and others to the real, deep pain of sin. We pick out the verses we like and slap them over our wounds, leaving our souls to fester in our ignorance.

My husband and I have been discussing how the Lord uses people to draw unbelievers to Him. Can He use a tee shirt? Of course. He can use anything He wants. But we must be guard against sentimentalizing the Gospel to the point that it becomes culturally-acceptable kitsch. We may plant seeds by posting, tweeting, or wearing a verse but if we can't properly open the Scripture in explanation, we're overlooking the call to water (1 Cor. 3:5-7). Peter exhorts us to always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

You may consider this a retraction of sorts. Do I intend to read the Bible through in a year? No, but I do intend to read it through using Wilson's suggested method, however long it takes. It's time to rip off the bandages and cleanse my sin-sick soul with the whole counsel of the Word.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I'd rather be a tree

While preparing a seminary assignment, I had cause to look at this passage in Jeremiah 17:5-8:
Thus says the LORD:
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places
in the wilderness
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when the heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit."
We either trust God or we trust something else, usually man, whether it is ourselves, another person, or a man-made system. It's not wrong to trust people, but when we trust people above God, we are walking on dangerous ground. Jeremiah says that the one who trusts in man has a heart which turns away from the Lord. The result is that he is parched, dry, and sees no good. For the one who places all of his trust in man above God, this parched condition will ultimately show up when trials come. Human friends don't always stick around when trials come, but God will not forsake us.

When we have a crisis, where do we turn first? Does turning to God in prayer come second, or even last? Do we run to a close friend before God? Our husbands? Our siblings? Our parents? Where do we find our value? Are we more worried about what others think than God? If we walk through a trial, these things will be revealed.

As women we are encouraged to be in relationships with people, especially other women. And we need those relationships. We need to be encouraged in the things of God and we need to minister to others. But it is very easy to put more emphasis on what others think of us than is good.

I picked up the book Trust, by Lydia Brownback, and I liked what she had to say about the risk of trusting too much in people:
Consider your motivations in showing love to others. If you detect an underlying compulsion to obtain a compliment or word of approval, it's a pretty sure bet that you have placed your well-being in their hands. 
Desiring the love and approval of the significant people in our lives is natural; however, if we feel we must have that to be happy, then a good desire has become a destructive one. We are attributing to people what rightfully belongs to God, which is why we are never able to live at rest with ourselves and at peace with others.
In this world of "likes" and "re-tweets," and sharing of links, it can be a very subtle thing to begin living for the approval of others. We may think we're putting God first because we travel only in Christian circles, or because our intent is to use social media to spread the gospel. But if we're restless and frustrated when we're not getting the attention we feel we deserve, that is a sign that our priorities may be off.

Notice the contrast in the Jeremiah passage: the one who trusts in flesh is a shrub; a little shrub, living in a parched, dry land. The one who trust is God is a tree, tall, strong, flourishing, and well-fed. Perhaps our times of feeling spiritually dry and frustrated are symptoms that we are trusting in man more than God. When it comes right down to it, whom do we trust? It's a question worth asking.

Friday, June 19, 2015

True community

Years ago when our oldest two children were our only two and only babies at that--and even before--my husband and I had a large circle of several close friends and it was wonderful.

We were raising our babies together, we shared meals together, we went to church together, we talked on the phone, we hung out, we did Bible study together, we went on vacation together. One friend and I shared clothes like sisters and even took a smocking class together. Our lives intertwined in friendship and fellowship and, yeah, lots of fun.

I had no idea what I was experiencing was unique. When my husband and I moved away from that city and that group of friends, I assumed I’d just as easily find another peer group that was equally as welcoming and friendly.

I was wrong.

True community is rare. The friendships we enjoyed all those years ago were based initially and perhaps mainly on our common stage of life but I’ve discovered that as the children grow older it is more and more difficult to maintain a friendship with even that in common.

True Biblical community is even more rare and becoming increasingly so. I just finished reading True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia by Jerry Bridges. In this book that is encouraging and convicting and exciting, Bridges outlines the markers of true community, the most important being common communion with God through His Son Jesus Christ. The Lord joins us together as His church and it is there we find the fellowship and partnership we were made for.

In addition to our common faith, true community happens as we partner together on mission for the gospel, as we serve each other for the common good, as we share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, and, yes, of course, as we sit down together over a good meal. This kind of community can and should and will stretch across superficial commonality like age or stage of life or vocation or gender.

I look back on the community I enjoyed and loved twenty years ago with such nostalgia because it was not the norm. It was a unique and beautiful stage of my life that I miss in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, I know community, Biblical community, in my current church and among my current group of friends both real and virtual and I am profoundly, humbly grateful. But it lacks the ease and the openness I once knew.

Community is harder now, I think, because of the demands of our busy lives and because of the distractions of social media. We didn’t have all the expectations of Pinterest thrust upon us. There were no mommy blogs telling us what good moms did and didn’t do. We didn’t know the tyranny of email and Facebook and Twitter. I mean, the only social media I engaged in at the time was talking on the phone. Yeah, me. For real. Now I never do.

True community may be rare and the forces of our culture stacked against it but that only means it is all the more imperative we pursue real, true, and open community, the sort of community that sees and serves another. One of the first things we can do in this pursuit is put down our smartphones and focus on people over Facebook. I’m serious. Few things communicate a lack of engagement, a lack of community, than attention focused on your phone, whether that is the intention or not. Body language speaks volumes. Could you, when you are out and about and with someone else, put the phone away and ignore technology's demands? Could I? Let’s try. 

Regardless of whether your phone stays in your purse or not, let’s be about people, about sharing, and about serving. Let's talk. Let’s engage others. Let’s hang out both with our friends and those not yet our friends. Let’s pursue Biblical friendship and community. As we do so we bring glory to the Savior who loved us and brought us to communion with Him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review - Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer's Disease

The fall has taken its toll on our bodies. We get sick. We grow old. We die.

We may also forget.

Something has gone wrong with the intricate inner workings of our brains, and we can't recall recent events. This may begin gradually, but it doesn't stop here. The inexorable progression of this disease begins to impact other areas of our lives. The normal day-to-day routine becomes more difficult, which ultimately leads to the inability to function and the need for constant care. It's as though we have lost who we are. We've lost our intellects, skills, talents, and personalities at the hands of this foe, and we are left as mere shadows of who we used to be.

This is the picture of Alzheimer's disease, and it is heartbreaking.

How do we respond as Christians to this tragic effect of the fall? How do we respond if this indeed becomes our own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one?

Dr. Benjamin Mast, an Associate Professor at the University of Louisville, has written a book on Alzheimer's titled, Second Forgetting. It contains information about the disease itself and wise counsel regarding care, prevention, and planning. But the strength of this book is its application of the gospel.

Dr. Mast defines the first forgetting as the experience of memory loss.  However, the second forgetting is when not only the patient, but the family and church experience a spiritual forgetting. We forget God and His promises and are overwhelmed by it all. Thus the author seeks to remind us that God does not forget us because of Christ's work on our behalf. Through the Scriptures, he offers specific encouragement to the sufferer and those who are providing care. Additionally, the book provides very helpful suggestions for interacting with someone with Alzheimer's and ways to spiritually engage him/her through prayer, song, and the Lord's table.

I was eager to read Second Forgetting because I have a loved one with dementia. I learned a great deal and cried a great deal, but there was hope mingled with the sorrow. I was reminded that God cannot and will not forget for Christ's sake, and my family member's identity in Him is something that this illness can never take away. I was also encouraged that, as time goes on, my family can cry out to the Lord for wisdom and grace, and He will hear those prayers.

I highly recommend Second Forgetting if you have a loved one with Alzheimer's. This would also be a great resource for the local church as it seeks to minister to families who have been affected by this disease.

Though Alzheimer's disease is a frightening and powerful enemy, the promise of God is greater: nothing can separate those who are in Christ from the love and grace of God. Not the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's disease, not memory impairment observed in psychological testing, not the behavioral problems, the aggression, the confusion, or even the apparent forgetting of the Lord can separate us from him.

Because of Christ's suffering and resurrection we are promised that our suffering will come to end, and God will bring us into his presence where all things are made new. Here we will know incomparable glory, enduring joy, true freedom from sin and decay, and restoration to the perfected image of God.  
We may doubt and forget, but God has not forgotten us or his promises.2

1. Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer's Disease, Benjamin Mast, Zondervan, 2014, pg. 69.
2. Ibid.pg. 167.

About the author: Dr. Benjamin Mast, PhD. is a licensed clinical psychologist, Associate Professor in Psychological and Brain Sciences and an Associate Clinical Professor in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville, and an elder at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky.