Monday, February 29, 2016

Confessions of a World-Lover

Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: consider your ways. You have sown much and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes...You looked for much, and behold it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins,
while each of you busies himself with his own house.
~Haggai 1:5-6, 9

 Haggai's words pierce my heart as I think of the toiling and spinning I've done in this life. I have pursued the American dream and come up wanting. I've known the emptiness of too many possessions and too much debt, of being overwhelmed yet still not having enough. I have stored up my treasures on earth. I have tried to live my best life now.

I have loved the world and paid the price.

There are many pitfalls to loving the world. Puritan William Greenhill outlines them thoughtfully in a sermon later published as the book, Stop Loving the World. His argument that most convicted me is that loving the world is unreasonable. Loving the world "will direct you to things that are merely probable and make you leave things that are certain." Greenhill directs us to Haggai 1, where "the Lord asks his hearers to consider whether their prosperity, such as it is, brings about the intended satisfaction" (source). The Israelites were so busy pursuing their own gain that they ignored the Lord's house. It's easy enough to look at the prosperity gospel that's so rampant today and point fingers, but I am also guilty. How many times have I overlooked the church - both the building and the people - in favor of my own pleasures? The trappings of this world are uncertain. As Greenhill states, "The promises of the world and the devil are seldom made good." We don't have to look any further than Genesis 3 to know he is right. As believers, we have full assurance that God's promises are certain. Psalm 18:30 tells us, This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

Greenhill also cautions that even if "we do get the world with our endeavors, we cannot keep it without fear of losing it."  Again, he points to Scripture, Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:5, KJV). Hebrews 12:28 tells us we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. It is secure. Greenhill points out, "if we get grace, that will continue with us. If we get peace and joy, none can take them from us. If we get an interest in Christ, none can pluck us out of His hand."

Finally, Greenhill explains that "Loving the world directs us toward the worst things. There is excellency in grace; there is excellency in the knowledge of Christ. To let these things go and choose the others is unreasonable." 

Although I have been guilty of treasuring the material, it is more often the non-material that my sinful heart craves. As Jay Collier writes in the Preface of Stop Loving the World,
We cherish the good opinion of others, desiring honor among men. And we love to be in control, influencing the way things happen in this world and having our will be done. Each of these things has its proper place, yet we so easily expect them to be our source of joy.
 D.A. Carson posits that our hearts and lives are the hardest place to love God (source). To fight against our natural tendencies "demands of every believer who can read...devoted, reverent, disciplined reading and rereading of the Word of God, a reading discharged with an attitude of eager attentiveness."

Could it be that the key to loving the world less and loving God more is to adjust the attention I give to each? Pouring over the Word with more intensity than I pour over social media. Being more eager to read my Bible than my library book. Giving more thought to the Scripture than what someone said to hurt my feelings. Looking at the life of Christ as intently as I judge the lives of those around me. And most importantly, point others to Christ instead of the rotting decay of this world. Greenhill states, "when we relish and savor the world in our conversations, this shows we are glued to the world and love it." My love for the world must be glaringly evident to those around me.

Greenhill is absolutely right. It is unreasonable to exchange the glories of God for the trappings of this world. Yet I have done so, over and over again. In typical Puritan bluntness, Greenhill offers directions to stop loving the world: mortify your lusts, look on Christ, submit to God's will, and a few others. Armed with these remedies and with the grace of God, I hope to break off my love affair with the world.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Reading the Bible in 90 Days

Having started on February 1, I am attempting to read the entire Bible in 90 days. It has been challenging, and I am already a little bit behind. But so far, it's been very good. I am still trying to find the optimal time of day to read, which varies from day to day, but the main goal is to read. I would not recommend this as the only method of Bible reading because it's not possible to do in-depth study at this pace. However, this is a great way to get the Bible's big picture. With less than a month under my belt, here are a few lessons I've learned so far.

The Bible has unity. It contains the overarching story of God's promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15 and His faithfulness to keep His word through the twists and turns of human history. Reading the historical narratives in 3-4 days has helped me maintain that storyline. For example, God is faithful in preserving Abraham's descendants in spite of the patriarchs failings, through their enslavement in Egypt, eventual release, and wilderness wanderings. The downward spiritual slide in Judges is contrasted with the hopeful message of Ruth and the reign of a man after God's own heart. While the patriarchs, judges, and kings foreshadow the coming Messiah, even the best of men are only men who stumble and fall. But God's plan is still moving forward step by step and will not be deterred.

Reading quickly has kept me from falling back into some bad hermeneutical habits. There isn't time to allegorize narrative because the pace forces me to read what is written as it is written. I don't get lost in the weeds and begin to wonder if there is a deeper, hidden significance to rock badgers (Lev. 11:5) There's also less temptation to read myself into the story because larger portions keep the context in the forefront. For example, the point of God's call to Abraham isn't about helping me step out of my comfort zone. God made a covenant with Abraham because He intended to preserve a people and a family line from whom Jesus would come. (Gen. 12; Matt. 1)

In the past, I have struggled with daily Bible reading. It may seem counterintuitive, but reading larger portions is helping my consistency. Getting the bigger picture makes the Bible that much more exciting. Rather than a compilation of nice and not-so-nice stories, verses, chapters, and books fit together to form God's unfolding plan of redemption. So if you haven't tried reading the Bible in 90 days, give it a try. It's a challenge, but a good one.

The logical conclusion to be drawn is that if the unity of the Bible has any meaning at all, the real context of any Bible text is the whole Bible. Any given text is more meaningful when related not only to its immediate context, but also to the entire plan of redemption revealed in the whole Bible.1

1. Gospel and Kingdom: The Goldsworthy Trilogy, Graeme Goldsworthy, Paternoster Press, 2000, pg. 31.

Resources:
The Bible in 90 Days Reading Schedule: This is the plan I'm using, which is in book order.
Through the Bible in 90 Days: This plan intersperses the Psalms and goes back and forth between the Old and New Testaments.
There are probably many other plans available on the Internet.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Is Bibliolatry Valid ?

Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day” 

The primary reason for studying the Scriptures should be to draw us closer to  Christ.    If we're  not  desiring a deeper love for  Jesus and longing to become more like Him it's time to stop and examine our motives.   That said,  is it possible for Christians to become overcommitted to the Scriptures to the point of  worshipping the Bible instead of God  as some believe?

Bibliolatry is the notion that Christians are guilty of idolatry when they view the Bible as equal to God,  or when  studying the Bible  supersedes their personal relationship with Him.    No one is suggesting a literal bowing down to worship  the Bible as a material object.   I have heard sermons  by evangelicals  who teach that  Bibliolatry is committed whenever Christians  value  “head knowledge”  above “heart knowledge”.   But this makes no sense because one cannot have a transformed heart without first having an informed mind.  (Psalm 119:11,  Heb. 4:12)

However one might define Bibliolatry,  to think the Bible can become  an idol  that can be  sinfully worshipped  seems  ludicrous.    The  Scriptures are the infallible, inerrant,  sufficient, Word of God  that were  written under the direction of Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  (2 Pet. 1:20-21, 1 Pet. 1:10-12)    Christ is  the focal point of all Scripture and He Himself is called   the Word of God. (Jn. 1:1; Rev. 19:13).    And the written words of Christ are  eternal,   “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Mt.24:35Forever, O Lord, your word  is firmly fixed in the heavens.”  Psalm 119:89

The accusation of Bibliolatry is certainly not a new one.    In times past this thinking typically came from those who denied the literal interpretation and inerrancy of Scripture.   The  concept of Bibliolatry was argued against by the Hebrew Presbyterian Adolph Saphir (1831-1891) nearly 150 years ago in his book “Christ and the Scriptures” and again  by  Frank E. Gaebelein (1899-1983) in the 1950’s.   

Gaebelein writes,
  “[Let us] conclude our discussion of the unity of the Bible by facing the accusation of bibliolatry that is often made against those who hold to the complete reliability of Scripture.  Such Biblicism and literalism are, we are told, nothing short of turning the Scriptures into a “paper pope”.   
…If the Bible finds its true and vital integration only in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ then there can be no bibliolatry in any form, shape or manner on the part of any of us, no matter  how stoutly we adhere to the inerrancy of Scripture.  
…According to its  own self-witness,  it is an instrument of the living God—the sword of the Spirit, the seed incorruptible whereby  we are born again,  the law of the Lord that converts the soul, the mirror in which we see ourselves in the blazing  light of God’s truth, the hammer that crushes our hardness of heart.  
…The center of the Bible is the living Christ.  Through  it’s pages God the Holy Spirit who inspired it bears witness to the Person who unites all the manifold strands of history, prophecy, poetry, symbolism, and doctrine to bear witness to him and his saving work.    
   Let us therefore rejoice that Christ is the center of the Bible, that in him alone it finds its living unity.  Let us reverence the Bible as the only written revelation of God,  the only completely truthful book, realizing that we reverence it most fully and honor it most highly when we see within its pages the Lord Jesus Christ and when we make him in whom its unity is centered the center of our own life and service.” 1 

___________________________
 


More thoughts on the subject:
What is Bibliolatry?  Got Questions?.Org
Bibliolatry — A Fraudulent Accusation by Dr. A. William Merrell
Is Bibliolatry Possible? Westminster Seminary by S. M. Baugh


1. Frank E. Gaebelein;   The Unity of the Bible;  Revelation and the Bible Edited by Carl H.F. Henry;  Baker Book House;  1958 Pg. 400-401

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

But I like polycotton blends!

If you suggest to someone that getting a tattoo is bad because the bible says so (Lev. 19:28), her response might be: "Well, if you believe that, then you shouldn't wear clothes made of two kinds of fabric." This person also knows some Old Testament Law. And while we know that the Old Testament Law does not apply to us in the same way, we tend to pull verses out like that. We still uphold the Ten Commandments, which is law, but what about the others?

Interpreting law is not an easy task. And it's not something one can teach or fully explain in one blog post. Interpreting all of Scripture is hard work, and it deserves a deep treatment, which is why hermeneutics textbooks are so big. I would like to share some things which have helped me. Last week, at school, I had an assignment interpreting laws from Leviticus 19:19-37. I had to choose five of the laws, explain their significance for the original audience, and then bring them into contemporary situations. The law about blending fabrics and the law about tattooing were among them. I chose to comment on both of those laws.

The Mosaic Law is given in the context of a covenant, and that is important. Every law, even the laws which can be regarded as civil, are all given in the context of a covenant, and that means it must be looked at in the context of relationships; relationships between God and his people, and between the people themselves. The Law is not a code like our own laws. Understanding that has helped me look at how these laws provide a structure for relationships rather than just being a selection of unusual commands.

The Law contains more than one kind of law. There are those which are direct commands (You shall not steal) and there are those which are what is known as casuistic, the "if ... then" kind of laws (Eg. Ex. 21:12-13). Understanding the original intention of the law is important, because how it was understood then is a guide for how we incorporate it into our lives today.

We know that the Law has been fulfilled in Christ, but fulfilled does not mean that it is something we reject entirely. The Law is part of God's Word, and all of God's Word is useful for us (II Timothy 3:16-17), so we cannot simply dismiss it. What is needed is careful thought and good hermeneutical principles. As we studied these principles last week, I found two in particular very helpful.

The first comes from my textbook: "All of the OT applies to Christians, but none of it applies apart from its fulfillment in Christ." The second comes from my professor. While the form of the law is no longer valid, the function still is. When we interpret law, we isolate the form, ask ourselves it if is valid, and then seek to find the function of the law; what is the principle behind the law?

So how do I handle Leviticus 19:28? This deals with cutting the body and getting tattoos. Many people see the contemporary practice of piercing as parallel to the idea of cutting. The phrase "for the dead" implies that the practices were part of a religious practice. Forsaking Canaanite religious practices was part of living as a separated people. Furthermore, the Israelite were created in the image of God and were not to disfigure their bodies which was part of these pagan practices.

We can bring this forward to our situation by remembering that we, too, created in God's image, should not partake of pagan religious practices. We are called to live as God's separated people. Now, some people may counter with the remark that getting a tattoo is following pagan practices and disfiguring our bodies, but who defines what "disfigurement" means? Some would suggest that ear piercing is disfigurement. What about plastic surgery? It gets as little more complicated. As one of my fellow students reminded, our motive is important.  Personally, I don't think someone who gets a tattoo because she thinks it looks beautiful is participating in a pagan religious rite. The person may or may not regret it some day, but it's not disobeying God's commandments.

Reading the Law can be intimidating and seem meaningless to us. However, it ultimately points to God's holiness. Not only does it highlight our need for Christ, its foundation is God's holiness. That means it is most definitely something we should read.

If you are interested in learning more about biblical interpretation, I would recommend Grasping God's Word. I have had a chance to look through it, and it's very helpful for students new to hermeneutics. It's directed to students, and it speaks as if the reader is a student. It may seem as if the authors are talking down to you, but try to imagine you are a first year Bible school student, and it seems more natural.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sanctification in the Walmart Line

It's clear from the Scriptures that sinless perfection is impossible in this life. (1 John 1:8-10, 2:1-2) We will battle indwelling sin until we die or Jesus returns, which is why Christians need the gospel just as much as those who have yet to enter the Kingdom of God. But what about mistakes? What about those silly, careless things that crop up now and then?

Life would be easier if I would always get it right. Life would be even easier if everyone else would get it right, too. For example, can you imagine how this would transform shopping at Walmart? What would it be like if there were always enough cashiers? And cashiers who were efficient? What if everyone counted their purchases so no one had too many items in the express lane? Think of how pleasant that experience would be. But I will not always get it right no matter how hard I try and neither will you or the folks at Walmart.

The fall has taken its toll, and no one is exempt. My physical body has failed me at times where I've dropped dishes due to butter fingers. My mind has gotten distracted so I've lost count when measuring an ingredient for a recipe. Although breaking a glass and miscounting cups of flour are not sins in themselves, what has been my response? What attitude comes to the surface when I'm at Walmart with 20 other people waiting for a single cashier when there are six vacant registers?

There have been times when these irritations didn't bother me, praise God, but my responses have not always been sinless. I've been impatient with others and unkind thoughts have flitted across my mind even though I kept my mouth shut. I've been frustrated when I didn't live up to my high expectations of myself. This is sobering especially when I consider what sort of person I may be in 10 or 20 years. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and these little instances of pride and impatience can add up to create quite a curmudgeonly woman. But it doesn't have to be this way.

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification." (1 Thes. 4:3) I can rest in this truth and the fact that the Holy Spirit hasn't stopped convicting me of sin and granting me repentance. I do not have to finish the race on my own or in my own strength. And I have hope knowing that He will renew me, turning potential irritations into sanctification lessons. Occasions for impatience and pride can be transformed into opportunities to grow in kindness and humility. Even at the checkout line at Walmart.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience Col. 3:12

Monday, February 8, 2016

Confessions of a Cymbal-Clanger

"I am deeply persuaded that the foundation for people-transforming ministry is not sound theology; it is love."  At first I wanted to close the book. The club-wielding Pharisee inside of me was quick to decry Paul Tripp's words.

One of the benefits of reading well this year is time to think on what I'm reading, to wrestle it out. And I have wrestled hard with Tripp's premise. Uncomfortably so. After all,  I've read, taken notes, studied long, written much and talked much about theology. Shouldn't theology be the basis for all we do? Tripp points to 1 Corinthians 13:1-2:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,but have not love, I am nothing.
Notice that the Apostle Paul doesn't deny the importance of prophetic powers, understanding, knowledge, and faith, but he goes on to say that they will pass away (1 Cor. 13:8). Wisdom, discernment, and faith are critical components of our lives as believers, but they are useless without love.

So I've continued to ponder Tripp's claim and how to offer hope to those around me who are hurting. And I've wrestled with another of his statements:  
The hope of every sinner does not rest in theological answers but in the love of Christ for his own...This love is not a band-aid attempting to cope with a cancerous world. It is effective and persevering...It faces the facts of who we are and how we need to change and simply goes to work.
I remember the ministry of Amy Carmichael, the lives changed because she loved Christ and He loved others through her. She preached the Gospel to them, but she loved them first. I consider the words of Martin Luther, "This should be the sign by which they should know whether they are true Christians or not...He makes him humble, gentle, and ready to help his neighbor in any need." (source) The great theologian knew that love, not theology, was the fruit of the Spirit.

I've realized that having a solid biblical theology is absolutely necessary. But I've also realized that offering a dose of good theology to someone in pain can be like offering a starving woman a lift to the grocery store. I may have shown her what will fix the problem, but I haven't helped her fix it.  I haven't loved. Oh! that I would learn the value of shutting my mouth and loving! Job's friends sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:13) Once they started speaking, they became clanging cymbals. I see myself in their words - fumbling for answers, giving terrible advice, pushing my ideas, drowning out the message of grace while I clanged on and on.

Several months ago I stood beside my closest friend as she mourned the loss of her father. Ten days later, I stood beside her again as we watched the medical examiner take both of her husband's parents. The depths of grief and despair were unimaginable to me. I wanted to offer comfort, make sense of the senseless, give her some deep theological truth to carry her through. It was God's grace that I was completely unable. He kept me silent, as Job's friends were. I held her, I prayed for her, I cared for her children. I watched her church family do the same. Words would have sounded as clanging cymbals, loud and discordant. They needed people to silently sit alongside them in the mud of suffering. They needed love.

Theology and a right understanding of God is essential to live the Christian life in a fallen world. Persis recently challenged us: "So please don't be afraid of theology. Please don't be afraid to open the Bible and stretch your understanding." I couldn't agree more. As I learn more, I trust more. I gain more peace in the chaos of this temporary home. I live more wisely and bring more glory to Him. My friend Becky said it well,
Studying big books about the Bible like commentaries, systematic theology, and other very important titles like The Institutes of Calvin, etc. is absolutely important; but we should never forget that the ultimate goal of knowing more is to love more. Love God more, love our neighbor more, love our family more, love the Word more, love to meditate on the Word more.
 It's time to lay my cymbal down.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Theology in Story

This past week in my hermeneutics class, we have been studying historical narrative. Today, I thought I'd edit a post I wrote for my own blog three years ago. I'm thankful that much of what I wrote then has been re-iterated by my prof, and that I have learned even more.
Historical narrative makes up most of the Old Testament. What, exactly, is it? Is it just historical fact? Is it theology? I'm going to start with what it isn't.
It is not allegory. The account of Jacob watching a ladder to heaven is not an allegory of the Christian's ascent to God.  It was something Jacob actually saw. The account of Adam and Eve in the garden is not just a picture of sin; it actually happened.
Secondly, the Old Testament narratives are not moral stories. While morality is depicted in the accounts, their primary purpose is not like an Aesop's fable, to teach morality. 
Thirdly, Old Testament narratives are not doctrinal lessons.  It is true that we can discern God's character throughout the Old Testament.  That is actually one excellent way to read the Old Testament, to look for aspects of God's character.  But again, that is not their primary purpose. The stories will highlight and support doctrinal teaching, but their purpose is to tell a story; a true story. Their purpose is to provide an account of history which demonstrates a theological truth.
Narratives have plots, characters, conflict, tension, themes, and resolutions. God is the ultimate protagonist, and Satan is the ultimate antagonist. In their book How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Fee and Stuart say this:
The basic "plot" of the biblical story is that the Creator God has created a people for his name - in his own "image" - who as his image bearers were to be his stewards over the earth that he created for their benefit  But an enemy entered the picture who persuaded the people to bear his "image" instead, and thus to become god's enemies.  The plot resolution is the long story of "redemption," how God rescues his people from the enemy's clutches, restores them back into his image, and (finally) will restore them "in a new heaven and new earth."
There are three levels of narrative. There is the overarching narrative of God's plan for his creation.  That is what Fee and Stuart are referring to in the above quotation. Then there is the level of the redemptive history of man, through the covenant people of God. And there are the individuals narratives, stories like the account of the Exodus, or the story of the Judges. When Jesus talks about the Scripture testifying to him (John 5:39), he means that first level of narrative. 
When we apply Old Testament narrative, we should look at that those first two levels, yet we are often tempted to restrict our applications to what we have learned from the third level of narrative. That is not going far enough. We need to reflect on the other two levels if we want a theological application.
Restricting our application to the third level of narrative alone is an example of moralizing. For example, I may think to myself, "Sarai followed Abram without question when God called him out of Ur. She was a good wife. If I want to be a good wife, I need to be like Sarai." That is moralizing. It is a noble thing to be a good wife, and there are other places in Scripture which support the principle of being a responsible wife, but this account of Sarai and Abram leaving Ur is not about marriage. Esther is not about how to be manage a difficult husband. Every story about Moses cannot be reduced to a lesson about effective leadership. 
What we want to do is look at the God of the biblical characters, and put our faith and trust in him the way they did. Their God is our God. Instead of, "Dare to be a Daniel," dare to trust Daniel's God (that is an example my prof used). One of the downsides of moralizing is that it tends to forget about the relationship of those individual stories to the entire canon of Scripture. We miss out on so much if we forget about those aspects; we miss out on seeing the Bible as a unified whole. And that is part of what is so beautiful about the Bible.
Everyone loves stories, and the stories of the Bible are wonderful, exciting stories. But they are unlike any other story because they happened. And they are a part of a grand narrative orchestrated by God. Let us not forget to read them in that light.