Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Let Him take care of the rest

Lord willing, I will be reviewing Hannah Anderson's new book, Humble Roots, in a couple weeks. I have not finished reading the entire book yet, but this passage was too good not to share. There are some days when it is more than enough to get through the day. Not that I've had any crises, but normal life can be so overwhelming at times. It feels especially more difficult when my nemesis, my inner Little Red Hen, tries to tell me that my only recourse is "do it myself." When I read this, it was a balm to my soul. I hope it encourages you as well.

Failure at small things reminds us of how helpless we are in this great, wide world. When little things spiral out of control, they remind us that even they were never within our control in the first place.

And this is terrifying.

Jesus understood this. He understood that small things can unsettle us more than large things; so when He called the people of Galilee to leave their anxiety—when He calls us to do the same— He does so in context of very mundane, very ordinary concerns.

“Do not be anxious about your life,” He assures them, “what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”...
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field . . . will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
We may be unable to cope with the most basic realities of existence; but He isn’t. In fact, He’s already providing food for the birds and luxurious garments for the flowers. They don’t worry because they know that their Creator cares for them. They don’t worry because they know the One who keeps this world running...  
When we believe that we are responsible for our own existence, when we trust our ability to care for ourselves, we will have nothing but stress because we are unequal to the task. You know this. Deep inside, you know your limits even as you fight against them. You know your helplessness even as you press forward by sheer determination. But at some point, the world becomes too much, and the largeness of life threatens to overwhelm you. And when it does, you must stop. And you must do what Jesus told His friends and followers to do on that flowered hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Your heavenly Father knows what you need. He knows your heart is troubled. He also knows, better than you do, that all these things are beyond you. And so, this is what you must do, all that you must do: You must seek Him. And let Him take care of the rest.

From Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, Hannah Anderson, Moody Publishers, 2016, pp. 26-29.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Theological Objections

I'm taking a systematic theology course, and on the first day of class, we were asked to raise our hands if our study of theology had elicited objections from friends or family. I, and about half of the class raised our hands. For the first part of the lecture, we discussed some of the objections we have heard. I want to share two of them, because I think they are probably the most common objections. And they are objections I've heard from women, especially.

Objection 1: The Bible is Enough -- I don't need theology.

This objection may arise because of a misunderstanding of what theology is. Basically, theology is the study (the ending -ology means a study of) of God (theos is Greek for God). To say that the Bible and theology are not related doesn't make sense, because where do we find out who God is? From the Bible. Yes, we see God in creation, but we also learn about God's character and actions through the Bible. So, to study theology is to study the Bible. The Bible teaches Christian theology. There is no need to put a wedge between the Bible and theology.

Objection 2: Theology is impractical -- give me something practical.

When people say theology isn't practical, perhaps they are not seeing the practical implications immediately. Sometimes, when we confront a theological principle, it takes time to see its practical implications. Think about these theological concepts: the goodness of God, the reality of future judgment, God's sovereign control over the world. Aren't those concepts practical? Is it impractical to consider the reality of judgment? Does God's goodness not impact us practically? Just because we are not immediately aware of the practical implications does not mean they are not there.

I wonder if what people mean when they say that theology is not practical is that they want to be told something to do. It's work to think through the implications. Can't we just have a pastor or some other authority tells us what to do? The reality is, however, that we think theologically every day.

Parents think theologically regularly, whether it is education choices, what their kids will be allowed to watch on television, or what activities they will be allowed to participate in. Parents evaluate situations of all sorts based on what they know of the Bible. That is utilizing theology. People who go to work daily do the same thing; they make ethical decisions on the job and in the public sphere based on what they know of God and the Bible. That is thinking theologically.

I know a woman who was having a discussion about the importance of theology. She told her friend that she didn't need theology because she was more "down to earth," and wanted to be more "authentic" in her faith. That comment tells me what she thinks of theology and the people who participate in it. She has the idea that those who study theology are not "authentic." I'm not even sure what that means, but one gets the idea that she thinks theology is for the elite, and that the elite don't have a real faith. That simply isn't true. Theology should make us stand in awe of God as we learn just how unfathomable he really is. It should make us feel small.

The division between faith and theology is a false one. Yes, we can have theology without faith, but I don't see how one can have faith without theology. The very premise of our salvation, Christ's sacrifice despite our sin, is a theological principle. Not everyone is a professional theologian, but we are all ordinary theologians.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

You keep using that word...

Since Diane and Kim have been posting on Bible study and hermeneutics, I am going to follow in their train. This is a repost from my personal blog from 2014.

Lately I've been digging into the nuts and bolts of Bible interpretation. This was triggered by a journal article I had read which examined different views among conservative Christians on a particular subject. These differing views stemmed from different interpretations of a single New Testament (NT) word which in turn led to different applications. On one side, the meaning was derived with emphasis on the root definition. On the other side, the context was given more weight.

As a result, I've been consulting D.A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies, Invitation To Biblical Interpretation by Drs. Kostenberger and Patterson, and this Tabletalk article. These resources shed quite a bit of light on the pitfalls of interpreting Scripture and the fallacies we inadvertently commit. It's also been highly mortifying. I've committed many if not all of these word fallacies and made assumptions about biblical words that were just plain wrong. After cringing inside at my mistakes, I couldn't help but think of this:

So with Inigo Montoya's admonition, here a few things I've gleaned about how not to interpret that Bible:

- The Bible was written in a real language by real people for real people in a real historical period. It is not a mystical book where every noun is symbolic and every word has hidden meaning. There is no code to crack. There is no special "Holy Spirit" Greek.1
- A little Greek (or Hebrew) can be a dangerous thing. Looking up a Strong's number does not a scholar make.
 - One can't assume meaning is always derived from the root word (etymological fallacy). If I say, "Mrs. Smith is a nice person," I'm not implying she is ignorant. The Latin root for "nice" is the word for ignorant, but the usage has changed over time. Since Greek is a real language, it too can change over the centuries. Etymology derived from Homer's day (8th century B.C.) will not be helpful for understanding a NT word. As an example, "missing the mark" is probably not the best definition for sin as that meaning was probably obsolete by NT times, not to mention downplaying the seriousness of sin. 2
- Conversely, don't impose our modern understanding of a word on the Bible (semantic anachronism). The root word for "power" is "dynamos" from which Alfred Nobel coined the name of his explosive. But his discovery took place in the 1860's. The NT writers, therefore, could not have had dynamite in mind when they wrote about the power of the Holy Spirit, and neither should we. 3
- The meaning of a word is not necessarily derived from the sum of its parts. Our understanding of "butterfly" is not enhanced by knowing the definition of "butter" and "fly." Likewise, we can't assume this about the Greek language either. 4
- The authors of the NT used synonyms like any writer to vary the language. Therefore, one can't assume theological meaning behind every word choice. The prime example is assuming that "agapao" and "phileo" always refer to two different types of love. (Raise your hand if you've done this too.) But this isn't so! Both words are used interchangeably for divine and human love in the Gospel of John. 5
- A definition is a one piece of information to take into consideration. Don't miss the tree or even the entire forest by focusing on a single twig.
- Context, context, context!

After this foray into fallacies, I'm probably a bit more cautious about how I interpret the Bible. There are many factors including etymology, usage at the time written, context, culture, and authorship, to name a few, that all need to be taken into account and given their appropriate weight for the given text. There is no single, one-size-fits-all, rigid formula because language is not static.

I also needn't be afraid of making an attempt to interpret Scripture, but this doesn't give me a license to be careless either. This is God's Holy Word we're talking about. All the more reason to approach the Bible with humility, treat it with respect, think carefully, use resources wisely, and pray for the Holy Spirit to illumine the text and keep me from error.

For more information:

Exegetical Fallacies, D.A. Carson, Baker Book House, 1996, 2nd. edition.

Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Richard D. Patterson, Kregel, 2011.

Word-Study Fallacies: Words of Caution, Robert J. Cara, Tabletalk, Vol. 38. No. 1, January 2014, pp. 13-15.

1. Kostenberger and Patterson, pp. 579-580.
2. Cara pg. 13, Carson pp. 28-29.
3. Cara,  pg. 14, Carson, pp. 34-35
4. Carson, pg. 30.
5. Kostenberger and Patterson, pp. 643-644.

Some additional resources since I wrote the original post:

Doin' the Wonky with Words: 4 Word Study Missteps, George Guthrie - Part 1 and Part 2

Grasping God's Word, J. Scott Duvall, J. Daniel Hays, Zondervan, 2012.

Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Thomas Nelson, 2004.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The whole sentence matters

I'm not a fan of memorizing isolated Bible verses. When my kids were younger, and at kids' club, they had to memorize I Peter 5:7. It bothered me that the verse was not even a complete sentence: "casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." The truth they were to learn was that God cares for us. But there is so much more to learn, and if we look at the whole sentence, we will see that.

The word beginning verse 7, "casting" is an adverbial participle. It is not the main verb. Verse 7 is a dependent clause, i.e. it's meaning is dependent upon the main clause, found in verse 6.

This is the complete thought broken down phrase by phrase:
6 Humble yourselves, therefore
under the mighty hand of God
so that at the proper time
he may exalt you,
7 casting all your anxieties on him
because he cares for you.
The main verb is "humble." It's an imperative, a command. "Casting all your anxieties on him" modifies the main idea, and "because he cares for you" modifies the action of casting our anxieties. The meaning of verse 7 is fuller by taking into consideration the main idea of the entire sentence.

Taking into consideration the background and purpose of the book gives the sentence even more significance. The recipients of I Peter were enduring trials (1:6; 4:12-19) and Peter's purpose in writing is to instruct them with regard to handling themselves in this environment. By the time he gets to 5:6-7, he has discussed how to suffer well. As he reaches the conclusion of his letter, his command to humble themselves is timely. Part of the attitude toward suffering is humility.

The word, "humble" in 5:6 means to make low. The verb is a passive imperative, an action which Peter is asking them to do to themselves. Another way to translate this is "be humbled." The idea here is that we are to be fully dependent upon the Lord, to recognize that he is greater than we are. Think about a dog, going to her master when she's found digging in the yard or shredding the bathroom garbage (I have much experience with both of these phenomena). She will shrink low, put her ears back, and her tail between her legs. She knows she is confronting a power higher than herself.

When we consider the two phrases "humble yourselves" and "casting all your anxieties on him," we have a complete picture. Humbling ourselves is a first step in casting our cares on God. If we don't humbles ourselves, it may be too easy to simply cast them on our own devices. We are not always aware when we struggle to release control, but we all do it.

I Peter 5:7 is often used to try to comfort those who struggle with anxiety, and it is often said without the first part of the verse, humbling ourselves. Many who struggle with anxiety fear a loss of control. That makes it hard to humbles ourselves, because at its core, humility accepts a lack of control. When we struggle to release control, we may struggle to cast our anxieties on the Lord, whether it is because we are suffering or because we are simply anxious about something. When we are anxious, we may feel weak and burdened, but that doesn't mean we aren't still trying to gain control in order to ease our anxiety. Our first step needs to be to humble ourselves. Of course, it's not a magic cure, and every situation of anxiety is unique, but for the day to day anxieties we face, it's a good place to start.

I haven't got it all figured out yet, and I suspect no one else does, either. Trials are a part of life in Christ. And humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God is the only way we can make sense of them. Notice what Peter says at the end of verse 6: "so that he may exalt you." We are only exalted when we allow Christ to work in us. That means that we need to be made low and let him reign. We have to relinquish the reins of control. This is a lesson I must learn daily.

See what we learn when we take the whole sentence in consideration!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Contending for Old School Hermeneutics

“what is one small hermeneutical step in the wrong direction turns out to be one giant step toward the wrong theology” 1  - Norman L. Geisler

 If you've followed this blog for a while you know that we love the subject of hermeneutics.  Proper interpretation of the Bible is essential in order to have a right understanding of God's Word and to protect  us against false doctrine.  I don't pretend to be a scholar but I have been around long enough to be able to spot the insidious new wave of liberalism resurfacing in conservative evangelical churches in recent years.
One reason for this is the ongoing attack on the inerrancy of Scripture and a departure from traditional principles of  interpretation.   The emergence of the “new” hermeneutic  has been investigated  by  Robert L. Thomas  in his book Evangelical Hermeneutics;  The New Versus the Old :
“Changes in hermeneutics have coincided with changes in evangelicalism. … Recent hermeneutical trends have forced evangelical interpreters to choose between two hermeneutical systems that oppose each other in dramatic ways.   ….There is utter confusion because they share no commonly accepted hermeneutical procedures among themselves.” 2
"the most notable difference between new hermeneutics and traditional principles is the overwhelmingly subjective nature of the new approaches versus the objectivism of the old.  ... The new hermeneutics provide no stopping points to limit the extremes to which  individual personal inclination may go in fostering new teachings allegedly derived from Scripture."3  
Many of these changes in hermeneutics are affecting the church’s thinking regarding feminism,  missiology,  ecumenism,  Gnosticism,  and homosexuality,   just to name a few.    So,  here's a reminder of some of the  fundamental rules for engaging in a God honoring study of the Bible. 

Inerrancy:  Believing in the inerrancy of Scripture is an absolute prerequisite.   We must come to the  Bible believing that it  is entirely true  and without error in the original writings.    It can be fully trusted in every sense, including all matters pertaining to science,  history,  geology,  and spiritual enlightenment. 
We believe in the grammatical-historical method of interpreting Scripture  based on a specific set of hermeneutical principles.   When we talk about grammatical we’re referring to the words, their meanings,  the sentence structure,  the interaction with the original language, ect.    By historical we’re speaking of things like:    Who wrote it?  Why did they write it?  When did they write it?  Who did they write it to?    What was the cultural context?  Was it written to Israel or the Church?  
Changes have brought about  much confusion over definitions  therefore a  good traditional definition of Hermeneutics  could be defined  as “a set of principles” while  exegesis   is an implementation of valid interpretive principles" 4.    Simply stated,  hermeneutics would be equivalent to the “rule book” for playing the game and exegesis would be like “playing the game”.
“As a theological discipline hermeneutics is the science of the correct interpretation of the Bible….It stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game. …The rules are not the game, and the game is meaningless without the rules.  Hermeneutics proper is not exegesis, but exegesis is applied to hermeneutics” 5-  Bernard Ramm 


Scripture Must Be Interpreted Literally 
We’ve always abided by the principle,  “If the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.”     The authors of Scripture wrote  to their audiences with a specific purpose  (authorial intent) and just as we wouldn't  look for mystical meanings in  an email from a  friend,  we  also don't want to tamper with the plain intentions the author of Scripture had in mind.   Ramm points out that to interpret Scripture literally is to  understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, and customary, tradition” 6

The Principle of Single Meaning
Traditional  hermeneutics have always held that  Scripture has  but one meaning although there may be many applications.  
“A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection.  The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture.”7– Milton S. Terry
The principle of single meaning has especially fallen on hard times in the world of hermeneutics.   Robert Thomas  sounds the alarm  in his rebuttal  to a number of modern authors in his article   The Principle of Single Meaning:
“A mass evangelical exodus from this time-honored principle of interpreting Scripture is jeopardizing the church’s access to the truths that are taught therein.  Whether interpreters have forsaken the principle intentionally or have subconsciously ignored it, the damage is the same. The only hope of escape from the pit into which so many have fallen is to reaffirm the principle of single meaning along with the other hermeneutical principles that have served the believing community so well through the centuries.” 8
Doctrinal Unity

This principle protects us from false doctrine.  When we come to difficult  passages  we go with the whole teaching of Scripture on the subject.   For instance,  verses like Philippians 2:12work out your salvation with fear and trembling”  are used by cults to teach a works based salvation.    But the principle of Doctrinal (or Theological)  Unity takes into consideration the fact that the entire body of Scripture combined overwhelmingly teaches otherwise, therefore there must be another explanation of  this verse because we know the Bible does not contradict itself.   
Scripture Is Its Own Authority
The authority of interpretation  does not come from ourselves.   The popular trend  of asking  "What does this passage mean to you?"  is a sure prescription for doctrinal disaster.   Equally dangerous is the belief that  religious  institutions have the  final authority in interpreting Scripture.  Rather, it is from within  the Scriptures themselves that we have the means to interpret them.
 “obscure passages in Scripture must give way to clear passages….The Roman Catholic Church claimed that it possessed the mind of Christ and the mind of the Spirit in its teaching magisterium so that it could render obscure doctrines clear.   The Reformers rejected the claim  of the [RCC] that it had the gift of grace and illumination to know what the Holy Scripture taught.  In place of an appeal to the teaching magisterium of the Church, the Reformers proclaimed that Scripture interprets Scripture” 9
That is, the words and sentences must be properly understood.    Of course knowing the original language would be preferable but for the rest of us the use of various Greek and Hebrew word study books will come in handy.  
A. What are the verses before and after it saying?    
Just as  location, location, location is to real estate,   context is king in Scripture.    It is easy to assume popular evangelical interpretations.   For example,  I Corinthians 6:19  states:  “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”    is often taken out of context to present a case for healthy living when it is actually  referring to  fleeing sexual immorality.   Other questions include - What is the  book and its  theme?  Is it Old or New Testament?    How does the word relate to the verse,  the  paragraph,  the chapter,  and the entire book?    
B. Cross referencing
“grammatical interpretation takes into consideration parallel passages or cross references…what is said in one part of Scripture may illuminate what is said in another part of Scripture.” 10
The  The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge  is an excellent tool for this.

C Historical and cultural 
When was it written?  Where did this take place?  What were the issues being addressed?  What was the cultural setting of the time?  etc.   Reference tools that are helpful would be Bible maps and encyclopedias and the works of early historians such Eusebius and Josephus.
It is so important to keep reaffirming these time honored principles  for interpretation  when we study our Bibles so that we might prove to be   “a workman who does not need to be ashamed,  accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15
  1. Evangelical Hermeneutics;  The New Versus the Old  by Robert Thomas: Kregel; 2002Thomas: ibid pg. 17, 19
  2. Thomas ibid. pg 508
  3. Thomas ibid; pg 27
  4. Protestant Biblical  Interpretation:  A Textbook of Hermeneutics by Bernard Ramm;    Baker Book House;  1970; pg 27
  5. Ramm: ibid: pg 121 
  6. Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton S. Terry  2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan)  pg. 2
  7. The Principle of Single Meaning;  Robert L. Thomas,  The Masters Seminary Journal;   Spring 2001; pg. 33-47
  8. Ramm: ibid: pg 104-105
  9. Ramm; ibid. pg.14