Freedom that’s really free

There has been a lot of mention of freedom in recent years. There are those who tout the concept in relation to liberation of black people as if the shackles of slavery and Jim Crow still pull weight on the flourishing of black and brown people. They’ll speak of the persistent oppression that must be exorcised and prescribe remedies for this to happen: equitable policies, reparations, just policing, etc. They will conclude this is a freedom worth fighting for.

Then there is the freedom granted to us Americans in our Constitution, particular the freedom of Christian expression and to live in a pluralistic society without encumbrances  to Christianity.  Some will even argue that this freedom was packaged in our Christian founding as a nation and we shouldn’t relent to preserve it under the rubric of promoting a moral and just society. They will conclude this a freedom worth fighting for.

And while there can be merit (not to mention some challenges) in each of these “freedom” fights, I am struck by the freedom spoken of in Scripture, particularly in the book of Galatians.

It is for freedom that Christ set you free…(Gal. 5:1)

We would do a disservice to this simple passage by imposing the above categories as if Paul is making room for our contemporary concerns. Rather, his statement must be considered in the context of what he is addressing in this book. And I think it’s pretty important in light of these temporal areas that seem to get so much attention today. Because, if we’re not careful, we’ll allow the  the freedom that referenced here rises far above. Continue reading

The Bible in a Nutshell Part 3: the Pentateuch (God’s Law)

Continuing on with the series, having laid the foundation in Genesis in Part 2, Part 3 will cover God’s revelation of himself through the exodus from Egypt, the provision of the Sinai covenant, and the march towards the land of promise. This portion of the Bible shows how God is gathering a people to himself, and his expectations for them as his people.  My main goal in this series is to demonstrate the cohesiveness of Scripture and seeing it as one seamless story. So as I move along, it’s important to keep the beginning of the story in mind to see what God is doing with respect to his creation.

With that, by way of review, from the fall of man, we must see God’s rescue of his creation as a unified plan beginning with the promise in Gen. 3:15. I also noted how God’s redemption is mediated through righteous representatives: Noah, Abraham, and his offspring and he is providing Through Abraham, God gave a specific promise for 4 things: 1) a land to live in; 2) numerous descendants; 3) blessing for himself; 4) blessing through him for all the nations of the world.

The tribes of Israel form and are allotted land. Their presence in the physical territory is meant to bring a blessing to surrounding nations. Does that still hold? The church has been divided on that issues. I’ll discuss that more when we get to the New Testament. Continue reading

The Bible in a Nutshell Part 1: Overview

Before we can talk about the parts of the Bible, it helps to know what the Bible is. For much of my Christian life I’ve heard references such as the God’s instruction manual for Christian living. While I think there is some truth to that description, it does not adequately describe what the richness of these 66 books. Moreover, if we reduce the Bible down to a user manual or book of propositions, our tendency will be to miss the larger story of redemption.

While the Bible is comprised of many books that were written by 40 different authors over the span of 1,500 years, the Bible is one book. It is God revealing himself to us. But we have to see how he is doing this in consideration of his intersection with time and history. As I mentioned in my last post, we want to look at the Bible from a 20,000 foot angle, so to speak. It’s easy to get lost in the trees of particular passages but lose sight of the forest. But with this series I’m hoping to give a snapshot of each section to show the beauty of the forest by providing points to consider concerning how the pieces of these 66 books fit together. There are three aspects to the Bible I think are important to bear in mind.

1. The Bible is a divine book

If you have a red letter Bible, you might be tempted to think of the words of Jesus as more important or spiritual the rest of the Bible. But this would be a mistake. All Scripture is breathed out by God,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

God moved through men as the Holy Spirit influenced their pen so that they would write in their own words the thoughts, will and intention of God. As I’ll note later, men wrote in their own styles but were guided by the Holy Spirit in accordance of what was happening. And just a side note: this means the Bible itself is spiritual, not just words on a piece of paper we make spiritual. Continue reading

New series in 2018: the Bible in a Nutshell

I want to announce a series that I’ll be starting soon called The Bible in a Nutshell. It’s not a Bible study in the sense that I’ll be going through a book or portion of a book. Rather, it’s taking what I call the 20,000 foot view and considering how the Bible tells one cohesive story from Genesis to Revelation. For now, I plan on 8 segments outlined at the end,  in which I hope to provide some insight into how each section of the Bible fits into the overarching narrative of Scripture.  I don’t subscribe to be any kind of authority on Bible reading but I do want to pass on some lessons I’ve learned in my many years of studying Scripture and pitfalls to avoid.

If you’re like me, you started off your Christian journey with a Bible in hand and eager to dive in. After all, you heard that it is God’s word. That was me! I had a desire to read the Bible for I  instinctively knew it was God’s word. I needed to learn about this Christian faith and what God has said about who he is and what his expectations are. It didn’t take long for that enthusiasm to be met with some confusion and even frustration. It’s not just one book, my many books! How does this all make sense together?

Naturally, the way we make sense of it in the beginning is to listen to the experienced voices, or at least those who claim to be. It doesn’t take much for whatever these leaders to espouse for us to then impose that on the text to derive our meaning.

That’s great if these experienced voices have taken great care to look at the Bible holistically. Meaning, they’ve studied how all the pieces fit together and handle the Bible reverently, not imposing their own philosophies on the text. Continue reading

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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