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 internet has been abuzz the last few days over the Nashville Statement, delivered from a joint conference between the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The statement succinctly lays out a case for the sexual ethics expressed in Scripture and believed by the church since the dawn of it’s inception.
Given the contemporary mood regarding sexual identity and orientation, it’s no surprise that vitriol against the statement has splattered all over the internet in repudiation of what the statement expresses. No surprise either from those in the progressive camp that claim both Christianity and endorsement of homosexuality and transgenderism (as if the two can co-exist), a renouncement with the claim that the statement does harm to the LGBTQ community. What’s a bit more surprising is the pushback from those who for the most part affirm what the statement endorses but quibble with the impact it will have for ministering to those who claim this identity. There are other reasons cited but for the purpose of this post, I’m honing in on this particular line of reasoning.
In other words, a common thread I’ve seen from both the progressive camp and the ones who affirm the statement but have reservations is this: it will hurt the feelings of those with this identity. Put another way, being sensitive to the concerns of those who feel themselves oriented in certain directions is a pastoral concern at least, and in more unfortunate cases, a license to release people from feeling bludgeoned over their particular orientations. They should be free to live without condemnation.
Now, I get that we do need to be cognizant of struggles of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. As Christians committed to the sexual ethics and gender identity sourced in God’s creative mandate, we do want to take a firm stand of what the church has rightfully recognized but at the same time be compassionate towards those who find contradictory tendencies within themselves when they are confronted with this reality. We don’t want to be insensitive jerks and lack compassion towards those who have to reconcile inordinate affections with what Scripture commands. I surely understand the need for pastoral care and tending towards those who at least want to do the right thing but struggle. Continue reading →
Today, a friend asked me to explain what is covenant theology. I get the question and it’s one I would have asked years ago at the mere mention of the name. In fact, when I first heard the term several years ago, my immediate frame of thinking was this: it is a system of thought imposed on Scripture especially when terms like covenant of works and covenant of grace are used to describe it. Unfortunately, unless you’re immersed in Reformed and particularly Presbyterian circles, this idea of imposition can cause a spurning of sorts as if somehow this is contrasted with the just reading the Bible. In simple terms, covenant theology can be rejected because of an erroneous belief that it is doctrine imposed on Scripture and wholly separate from a biblical theology derived from simply reading Scripture.
In reality, covenant theology is not an imposition on Scripture at all but rather an extraction from Scripture. In other words, covenant theology is essentially derived from a holistic rendering of Scripture and considers the anchor that holds the 66 books together: that is God’s gracious actions towards his creation based on covenant which is embedded throughout the biblical narrative. Covenant theology looks at the whole picture and asks ‘what is God doing?’ from Genesis to Revelation. So terms like covenant of works (or more appropriately life-the foundation for his creation) and covenant of grace (his rescue of a fallen creation from the kernel promise of Gen. 3:15) are essentially capturing God’s redemptive action towards his creation based on this whole picture.
Through my many years as a Christian, I have found the way the Bible is approached leads to a segmentation and bifurcation of it’s parts and hinder a consideration of the big picture. But when you steps back and takes a 20,000 foot view of sorts, you can’t help but see the beauty of the interlocking parts culminated in God’s redemption through his Son. In his Intro to Covenant Theology, J.I. Packer says this; Continue reading →
I 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.
As I wrote about in Hearing God Speak regarding my master’s thesis, one of the books I interacted with was Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. If you are not familiar with the book, Deere writes about the need to hear the voice of God beyond the Bible, namely through dreams, visions and prophetic utterances. Deere proposes that in order to have a vibrant walk with the Lord, we need to model the way in which God spoke to the people in the Bible, namely the prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself. He uses a plethora of examples, including his own, that portrays a staid and rather lifeless Christian existence by relying on the Bible alone and the inability to really hear from God. This is contrasted with an energized Christian walk that relies on the ability to hear God speak beyond the Bible. The thrust of his proposal is that if you want to really experience the Holy Spirit then the Bible is not enough.
Unfortunately Deere’s proposal echoes a view that I believe many Christians have adopted about the work of the Holy Spirit especially related to the Bible and our Christian walk. T To varying degrees, it is the idea that the Holy Spirit is only partially present in Bible and that if we really want to experience the Holy Spirit it requires going beyond the Bible to “hear the voice of God.”
I propose that this position undermines the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in relation to the biblical text. It presumes that the Holy Spirit cannot be fully active with just Bible reading alone or if the preacher simply reads and explains the text. Now Deere does not dismiss the power of Scripture, since he does have a chapter entitled God Speaks Through the Bible. But the thrust of his proposal is that it is insufficient. But I don’t think it adequately relates the Holy Spirit’s involvement revelation, which is how God made himself known.
Deere’s premise rest on the fact that the Holy Spirit began the age of revelation in the book of Acts, which gives us a prescription for how we should hear from God  Well, if we see that Scripture is a product of revelation, that is how God made himself known, that prompts us to go back to Genesis and follow along as His story progresses. The covenant promises and acts of God in relation to his people unveil a progressive revelation, in which he provides the Law and to which the Prophets testify. The people and miracles that he used were for the purpose of revelation, which unrolls progressively through Israel’s history with the expectation of fulfillment of covenant promises. The progressive revelation culminates in the Son so that the fullness of the Godhead is revealed in the Son (Colossians.2:9; Ephesians 1:9-19). The Son fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18) and all the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20). Continue reading →