The presupposition dance: our tango with Scripture and systems

reading-the-BibleI got into a couple of interesting threads the other day on Facebook that got me thinking about this post I did a few years ago, The Myth of Non-theology and Neutrality. One of the discussions involved limited atonement. I recounted how I too once struggled with the concept until I started asking different questions. Now these questions went beyond the typical identification of cherry picked proof texts, but were derived from a more systematized approach to Scripture that naturally arises from it. In other words, it wasn’t enough for me to rest on the passages I believed communicated a universal atonement but to ask what the whole counsel of Scripture has communicated about the nature and application of the atonement. I posted this article here as a succinct summary.

Well, sure enough, one of the rebuttals was that it seemed that the position was being derived because of doctrine or rather, a doctrinal system was being imposed on the text. Because the article itself didn’t deal with any particular passages. On the surface, I think this kind of conclusion might sound like a good corrective. I mean, we do want Scripture to speak for itself. However, my retort was in line with what I wrote a few years ago regarding the myth of neutrality. There is a dance between our exegesis, i.e., letting Scripture speak for itself and our presuppositions that are formed from making decisions on how the whole of the 66 books form a complete picture. This also presumes that we all bring presuppositions into the text, hence the myth of neutrality. The issue is not whether we do or not, but what is informing the presuppositions. I wrote;

But his main point must be duly noted. It’s naive to think that we can have no method of interpretation and just approach the text with neutrality. We all have some kind of influence that we bring to the text and especially those we learn from who help us shape our ideas about Christianity. There is no such thing as just being biblical because it is necessary to have some type of methodology to interpret Scripture. The idea that we just pick up the Bible and read often ends up in what I call Scattegory Hermeneutics, a hodge-podge of interpretative methods that either over-emphasize some areas than others and/or produce inconsistencies with the complete witness of Scripture and faithfulness to historic Christianity.  When coupled with pragmatism and experience that is so prevalent in mainstream evangelicalism, interpretation becomes its hostage bending to the will of expediency.

Now this may raise an obvious question and concern. Does this mean we impose theology unto the text? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there is a set of presuppositions that are the sina que non of Christianity. Meaning, there certain things we must believe to be true about the tenets of the Christian faith, without which Christianity does not exist. That’s why its important to have teachers, who themselves have taken the time to study the depth and breadth of Scripture, church history and the discipline of theology. This helps in knowing have or have not been faithful to the historic witness of Christianity.

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The ‘All Things’ You can do through Christ

man standing on rockPaul wrote to the Philippians

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly  that now at length you have revived your concern for me . You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, and abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

I don’t know about you, but I have frequently heard that last line used in reference to some herculean task that needs to be done. Juggling too many balls in the air? Need to raise funds for that upcoming mission trip? Have to achieve a big project at work? Don’t worry, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

As nice as these sentiments sound, they unfortunately miss the context of what Paul is addressing. Note first, that he is saying this in reference to contentment in circumstances.  Another observation concerning the context of this passage is that Paul refers to tangible needs being met, specifically financial needs.  Reading further in vv 14-18, his specific reference relates to ministry support though certain there can be application to individuals as well. But there’s something else here I think gets often missed. Christ gives strength through whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, whether it is flourishing or in need.

I don’t think anyone would complain about prospering and otherwise times of abundance. But when you are in need is a different story.  While Paul refers specifically to financial circumstances in ministry, I think there is an application for the loss and/or deficiency of various needs. It could be that you are unemployed or underemployed and unsure how the financial gap will be met. Or maybe you have been knocked out of the career loop or been demoted. Or maybe you lost your house or other material blessings or taken a hit in same way in ministry.  Such losses can be devastating, especially when it impacts your reputation and can make you feel underachieving or unaccomplished. Continue reading

Eight Bible Interpretations That Make Me Scream

black-woman-screamingAs a follow up to this post on caricatures that drive me nuts, I thought I should highlight interpretations of passages that have that same effect.  Now these are not about differing opinions that can have some validity. Rather, its interpretations that I think really miss what is being communicated and another meaning is imposed that is foreign to what the original author intended. Typically, I find the reasons for this are 1) not considering what the word means in that cultural and/or literary context 2) not considering what the passage means in light of what the author is trying to communicate 3) not considering the genre of literature and 4) not correlating it with the whole of Scripture and how that relates to God’s redemptive plan accomplished in the Son.

So in no particular order…

1) John 10:3-4 – the small still voice:

Placing Jesus’ use of voice in consideration of what he is revealing about himself, the voice is not a speaking voice but the ability to respond to him in faith according to who he is. How do I know this? First, he says it is a figure of speech (vs. 6); Second, based on his explanation of the shepherd and the gate (vv 7-18), he is identifying the contrast between those who do not believe in him and those that do believe. Hearing his voice is a metaphor for believing.

2) Proverbs 29:18 – find your vision:

The word there is actually used for revelation, which refers to God’s self-disclosure not our discovery of something we think God wants us to do.  Revelation in that context meant the word of the Lord that related to his authority and and communication concerning himself and his intentions. To put it in a contemporary setting would mean that wherever there is no proclamation of the biblical message (word of the Lord)the people perish. Continue reading

A Closer Look: A Violent Shakedown (Matt. 11:12)

warriorsI have written in this series in a while. But there’s nothing like that one verse that keeps popping up with an interpretation that I don’t believe is faithful to the context that spurs a revival of sorts. It’s the kind of passage that can easily represent our own imposed meanings because there has not been careful study to determine what Jesus actually meant by what he said.

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12)

Common interpretation: The people of God are to be forceful in kingdom pursuits. An extreme interpretation is that we are the ones who make the kingdom happen.

What’s going on: Keep in mind Jesus’ audience and their expectation for the Messiah, the one sent by God who would restore Israel to her glory days that rested in the promises made to David (2 Sam. 7). They had lost their land over to Gentile rulership and their kingship. The idea permeated this ancient audience that that restoration would be a grand political sweep that would knock out the existing regime.

Also keep in mind that the ministry of John the Baptist was an announcer of sorts of the Messiah so that people would believe in Him. Meaning, that people would come to trust that the promises of God are found through Christ. Here the audience are Jews but we know from the breadth of Scripture that this also refers to Gentiles who would be grafted in to the kingdom as equals. Continue reading

Healing and the Resurrection

empty tombI don’t really have time to blog these days so forgive the brevity and superficial nature of what could be a more indepth conversation. But I came across what I consider to be an important connection in the relationship between divine healing as portrayed in the Gospels and Acts.

A debate that often gets tossed around today is the gift of healing or if healing is part of the atonement. It’s really hard to argue with the Gospels and the book of Acts that healing was very much a part of Jesus’ earthly ministry and that of the apostles.

There might be a tendency to read Acts as a prescription for life today. But keeping in mind that this is about the ministry of Jesus, which continues through the witness of his disciples. It’s why Acts 1:8 sets the precedent for the rest of the book and the purpose of the church – to testify to the Son. It’s why it kind of bothers me when we’ll focus the attention of Acts 2 on the occurrence of the baptism of the Spirit instead of the reason, summarized in vv. 14-26. Peter gets to the point of all – “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (vs 36) Continue reading