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Without The Text Nothing Means Anything

A vague title, I know but it captures my thoughts at the moment as I am finishing up reading material on my text I am preaching on from Ephesians 4:7-16.  The issue centers around Paul’s apparent use of Psalm 68 to speak of Jesus giving gifts to us.  I have read the six most popular views by commentators and scholars for the fifth time. I have looked at the arguments pro and con from every perspective I can imagine and I step back just shaking my head.  Remember, these are the serious interactions:

One view is that Paul simply is choosing to use the Psalm wrongly and doesn’t care.  He will use the bible as he wishes for his theological interpretations.  A second view make the “argument” that Paul is simply quoting from memory and got bit of it wrong.  Oopsie!  A third tries to say that Paul is taking his quote from the Aramaic Targum.  Unfortunately that was written around the fifth century A. D.  Which reveals that the advocate for this view doesn’t think Paul really wrote it and that it was done much later than any conservative scholar would allow.  Then there is my favorite, a fourth view that says that Jesus ascended into heaven as Jesus and then descended not as Jesus but as the Spirit (read the passage if you are confused, it is 4:9-10).

All of this leads me to my point.  Each of the above views comes because the scholar rejects in one way or another the biblical text as true, trustworthy.  The result is that now the text can mean anything when it is a difficult passage.  Just say that the writer made a mistake or some such drivel.  Once a scholar steps away from the text as being true and right anything can go, it is really only limited to his mind and will.

This is all great for the scholarly world because every time a new view is postulated it gives everyone a lot of new material to work with.  Meanwhile the guy working for Snap-on Tools or the single mother with two children are ignored.  These people for whom Christ died are not fed.  Frankly they are not even in view.

As a pastor who seeks to teach deeply and yet with the purpose of building my church up in truth this sort of stuff is just wearying.  You wade through endless words that are written not out of faith but unfaith, not with trust but in distrust of the bible.

The church does not need another commentary that will fill up the pages with endless arguments that flow from unbelieving minds before the commentator works out his conclusion.  The church needs men who will sift through those who are the doubters and double-talkers and bring to the pastors and students the food from the text, presented as their faithful efforts in presenting the truth as truth.

Convictions Must Flow from Somewhere

I recently returned from a trip to Brazil to teach a group of young seminarians the subject of apologetics.  The first part of the curriculum is essentially  an overview of the various systems of apologetics out there.  For those who don’t know about what I am writing, apologetics is essentially the defending and declaring of the Christian faith to a non-Christian world.  In many ways it is a subset of evangelism though in many ways it has become a way to gather a following and sell books.

The various schools of thought on this is not important to my article so I will spare you of a description of each.  Frankly it can be very boring as you read and interact with many writers who argue their points and then you try to interact with them.  The reason for it is simple, there is no basis for the average student to properly interact with the positions.  Read that sentence again because it is very important.  The men are being introduced to a huge subject and they usually do have sufficient knowledge to have a good, thoughtful opinion, much less a conviction.

The second part of the coursework is then a proposal for a specific type of apologetics that is borne from a sound exegesis of the key biblical texts related to the nature of man, especially due to the presence of sin, the ability of man to make a free decision unaffected by sin, and the nature of the way God converts a soul.  These are not merely theological ideas that we should place on a table and all talk about like they are objects picked up off of the seashore.  These are biblical statements and they mean something.  And again this is where conviction comes into play.

As I taught the second half of the course I watched to see what types of reactions, comments and questions were raised in light of passage after passage being unfolded and laid before them.  It is same thing I do when I preach.  I labor to unfold the biblical passage before the people and I watch.  Especially when it is on a subject over which I know there is dispute.  When I say something like, “Notice the way Paul wrote this . . .” I want to see how many look down to examine the text.  I can say that for the most part my church is eager to do so, making my job in preaching much easier than other pastors.

But I also see the one who will sit with their arms folded and are unmoved.  They are convinced and nothing will change that.  With my students in Brazil it was the same thing.  I wanted them to raise questions but I wanted those questions to flow from the biblical text.  Not some author and certainly not from their own thoughts.  And this is where I now make my point of this post.

Convictions exist in every human.  But for a Christian those convictions ought to flow from a willful submission to the biblical text.  And if it doesn’t then those convictions come from something other that God’s Word.  When you learn to submit yourself to the bible then you become a person in a consistent state of change.  As you mature and as you learn you realize that certain texts were misunderstood by you.  Others become more clear and certain and you see that your first thoughts were good but not as deep and full as they could have been.  Regardless, a healthy Christian is one whose first question on anything is, “What does the bible say?”

I remember years ago finishing a sermon and a person came up to me visible angry.  He told me that what I was teaching that night was not what the majority of the church believed.  I looked at him and asked one question, “Did I properly deal with this passage or not?”  He said that I did but that he did not like it nor approve of it.  I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that his problem wasn’t with me but with the Lord.

Convictions.  Powerful things they are.  Just make sure they flow from the Word of God and not anything of this age.

Joel Osteen, Revised

This is a great little graphic that take Joel Osteen’s seemingly good confession about the bible (which he consistently demolishes) and puts it in a better light. I have no idea where this came from, I shamelessly stole it off of a Facebook post.  If I need to give credit then let me know.  Enjoy. . . .

osteen and reality

The Intersection of Archaeology and The Bible

With great interest I read this article relating a recent development in the world of archaeology. Doug Petrovich, described in the article as an Ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert, has determined that the inscription on a piece of pottery is ancient Hebrew.  Read the whole article, it is an easy read and is directed toward non-scholars.

What makes this a key event is how scholars in so many different fields approach the biblical text.  There is a presumption that it is not historical, it is not factual and it is not to be taken seriously as a guide to the flow of human events in the past.  Even in the article itself this comes out.  Take for instance:

Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein told FoxNews.com that the Ophel Inscription is critical to the early history of Israel. But romantic notions of the Bible shouldn’t cloud scientific methods — a message he pushed in 2008 when a similar inscription was found at a site many now call one of King David’s palaces.

At the time, he warned the Associated Press against the “revival in the belief that what’s written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper” . . . .

Professor Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University agrees that some archaeologists are simply relying too heavily on the Bible itself as a source of evidence.

“[Can we] raise arguments about the kingdom of David and Solomon? That seems to me a grandiose upgrade,” he told Haaretz recently.

I do not write this brief post with any thoughts of trying to convince people of the bible’s historicity nor in its value to fields related to Ancient Near Eastern studies.  I merely use it to point out how the Bible has a way of sticking its “nose” into these realms whether people like it or not.  I don’t need to defend the bible, it continues to prove itself repeatedly and I have confidence that this is no fluke.

I do write this because some of my readers may feel at times that there is immense pressure to doubt the bible, or to place it either on the same level as other writings or even to place it in a lower position over other literature and sciences.  Rachel Evans got a lot of people in a blather with this little post where she posits her thoughts on what drives Millennials away from the Church.  All she really does is reveal her own set of presuppositions.  In that post she, apparently the recognized spokesperson for Millennials, “We want a truce between science and faith.”  

Once again you see the same issue rise up.  What happens if the bible teaches certain things about the beginnings of this universe, the root of death and disease, and the root of wars? And what happens if science, archaeology and history finds those ideas to be silly, ignorant or preposterous.  Who started the war that needs some sort of truce?  And what sort of truce is it to be, we all agree to stay in our little corner and play nice?  That is naive and foolish but it seems to be how things work.

Everyone has presuppositions (which is a presuppositions itself) but too often we don’t want to admit it.  I presuppose the bible to be the inspired revelation of God to man.  I presuppose that it is true and faithful and is a trustworthy description of history and reality.  Others presuppose it to be a unfaithful expression of history or science; filled with myths and legends and is nothing more that a product of man.

So, I look at the article regarding the inscription and I not surprised.

Get To Know Your Bible

There was a moment in our marriage many years ago where my wife asked to go to a specific class in the women’s ministry of our church.  We had three children (maybe our fourth, my memory is vague here) and she was homeschooling two of them.  I was working full time and in seminary, along with a busy jail chaplaincy that was an hour away.  My decision was to say “No.”  Her appeal was funny, she told me that it was about submission!  My reply was simple and to the point, she didn’t need to have another class on submission, she knew the verses and there was not going to be something special or new taught.

I knew she was discouraged by this but there simply was no time in our days at that point.  I then looked at her and stated as clearly as I could that I didn’t want her to become that woman who is always filling up pads of paper with notes but never actually taking the time to practice what is learned until it becomes habit.  Those women are a dime a dozen. I wanted her to be the woman who simply rested in the Word, read it faithfully, and sought to put it into practice as she learned.  I promised her that if she did what I told her that in ten years these same women would be asking her to teach them how to be godly wives or mothers.  My prediction came true.

I say this story simply to impress upon you who read this of the power of long-term vision coupled with faithfulness.  You don’t become godly overnight and you don’t understand your bible overnight.  Much of my time teaching is really “unteaching” things that people think they know and they don’t.  Or worse, they know a little bit, think it is a lot and they stop growing and learning.  That is not how to learn the Word of God.  Knowing your bible is like a good marriage, it takes time, patience and practice.

All of this is written to introduce you to a great blog by a man who was in my seminary a couple years behind me.  Since that time he has far surpassed me and I have followed his journey with interest.  He is writing a series of blog posts on Evangelicals & The Bible and as  I read the latest installment I came across this quote which precipitated my own post.

My advice is to get to know the Bible over time—like, over decades.  There aren’t five easy steps to Bible knowledge.  I’ve told students in the past to measure their knowledge of the Bible in 5-year increments.  And when I’ve said that, I could hear sighs of relief.

Relax.  Read your bible.  Let it percolate in your heart and keep your ears and mind open to learning.  Let the doctrines stretch you until they change you.  But accept with a willing heart that it takes time.

One Reason The Church Is Messed Up

Just came across this site somehow.  Its primary purpose is to provide movie clips that you incorporate into your sermon.  But there is also the amazing side benefit that you can get sermon outlines written for you that already incorporate some of the clips.  Wow!  How great is that!  Here is what they say:

WingClips Sermon Outlines will help you understand and analyze how each clip can illustrate spiritual truths to your group or congregation. Each Sermon Outline consists of a Main Idea, Application, Correlating Scriptures, and Alternative Idea(s). Please note that not all of our clips have Sermon Outlines available.

The only thing I see in that quote that I like is that not all clips have an outline.  Notice that the purpose of the outlines center not on the biblical text but upon the clip.  This is ear tickling in an outstandingly obvious way, but sadly it sells. I wanted to see more of what they do so I signed up for a free account.  When it was activated up pops flapping wings and a “Congratulations! You just got your wings!”  If you know me you can imagine my facial expression.  Glowering would be a good word to describe it.

I wanted to search by scripture not film clip and when I did I found it ironic that one book not represented at all was Song of Solomon.  If there would be one book I could find clips for easily it would be that one.  But then, they have offered me a position. Everything costs money and their one sample PDF of a sermon outline doesn’t actually work.  But reading the summaries of the sermon outlines made it sufficiently obvious that theology, a bloody cross, a sovereign Lord, or hell simply was not the driving force.  Sad.  Reminded me of a guy who sold my daughter a car who was excited about the Sunday School curriculum his church had for adults that was based off of The Simpsons.

What Is The Most Pressing Issue in Missions

Just finished a wonderful time with my dear friend Philemon over food and coffee. We talked much of family and personal issues but quickly began to talk about the world of missions and the needs out there. Philemon is part of the Training Leaders International and is traveling extensively throughout the world in the course of his job.  In every point of the conversation we reflected on the critical situation throughout the world for theologically trained pastors.  What is needed to get into the unreached areas?  Theologically trained pastor are needed.  What is needed to strengthen weak denominations and churches in barely reached areas?  Theologically trained pastor are needed.  What is needed in countries with long-standing churches to further the work of the gospel?  Theologically trained pastor are needed.

He was recently in Douala, Cameroon with a team I of which I was to be part.  They taught in a Pentecostal seminary where on day one the question was raised by the students, why do we need to learn how to study the bible, the Spirit will tell us what it means.  By day two they were hungrily learning what they had never been taught before and by the week’s end they were convinced that they must master the Word of God.  Another team goes out in August, Lord willing  I will be part of it.  One of the leaders of the seminary took the class as well, at the end he stood and testified that Pentecostals are too loud and that they all need to learn to be quiet and hear and see what the Word of God actually says.  Think of the difference just one course of theology has begun to create in a group of people preparing to pastor God’s people.

The gospel in God’s means to save people, but it is the unapologetic proclamation of the Word that grows them in respect to their salvation.  Untrained, poorly trained pastors simply can’t do that.  Here is a 31 day prayer map to consider using.  And if you do, pray that God will bring training to the pastors that they might be able to teach the people.

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