Sunday, July 08, 2012

How Some People Approach the Bible

Over the years I've seen people approach the Bible in various ways. Here are some common approaches (not an exhaustive list):

1. Some dismiss it completely.

They consider it nonsense; full of outdated beliefs and fairy tales.

2. Some pick and choose to believe certain parts of it.

Some Christians are right up front about this. They believe certain parts and eschew other parts. Other Christians, however, claim to "follow the whole Bible" yet carefully avoid engaging large parts of it because it would conflict with what's traditionally been believed by them or their churches.

3. Some claim to believe all of it but actually interpret it in such a way that the Bible just so happens to agree with everything they already believe in.

They go to the Bible to support some pet theory or opinion. If they're Republican, guess what: the Bible supports Republican views. If they're Democrats, the same applies. Some here are so creative they can turn a text or passage right on its head and end up affirming what the Scriptures actually condemn! This is especially true with today's hot-button cultural issues. You know what I'm talking about.

4. Some claim to believe it all and *try* to live in light of its truth consistently.

They understand interpretation is involved, but they are cautious not to simply interpret it as they see fit. They go to the Bible and are challenged, rebuked, and convicted by it. They try not to muffle what is says, but are eager to hear what God's word has to say to them. Hearing what it actually says isn't the hardest part; it's changing one's lifestyle, attitude, behaviors, etc., in light of it that's the hard part.

Why people adopt these various approaches (and others) is complex and has a lot to do with one's upbringing, culture, traditions, life experiences, worldviews, presuppositions, etc. But people can and have changed how they approach the Scriptures.  I speak from experience!

So how do you approach the Bible?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Scripture and the Preservation of Jesus' Words

Jesus made the astounding claim, recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels, that heaven and earth would pass away, but that his words would not pass away (Matt 24:35/Mark 13:31/Luke 21:33).  It is fair to say at this late date, that the only words of Jesus which have not passed away are those that were written down!
Charles E. Hill, "The New Testament Canon: Deconstructio Ad Absurdum?," JETS 52/1 (2009): 111.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Some Get the Atonement Wrong

"It is when our perception of God and man, or of holiness and sin, are askew that our understanding of the atonement is bound to be askew also...The reason why many people give the wrong answers to questions about the cross, and even ask the wrong questions, is that they have carefully considered neither the seriousness of sin nor the majesty of God."
--John R.W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006), 90-91.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Shocking Omission

I’ve been reading Alister E. McGrath’s Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First (HarperOne, 2007). I’m enjoying the book so far and find McGrath’s retelling and reinterpretation of the history of Protestantism quite informative and entertaining. I love it when a writer makes history come alive; and, for me, McGrath is one such writer.

With that said, however, I noticed a startling omission toward the close of his chapter on Martin Luther. In order to feel the force of this, let me give you the context. Here’s one of his closing paragraphs on Luther (p. 58):
Luther’s reforms, it is clear, were neither an opportunistic attack on the morals of the church nor a piecemeal demand for reform here and there. His fundamental conviction was that the church of his day had lost sight of some fundamental themes of the Christian gospel. After all, the theology he had been taught at Erfurt now seemed to him to be heretical, amounting to the idea of “justification by works”—the notion that humanity can achieve its own salvation by its morals or religious achievements.
Well and good. But notice the very next paragraph (Ibid):
Yet Luther is open to criticism here, in that he appears to have extrapolated from his own local situation to that of the entire Christian church throughout Europe. As historians have rightly pointed out, the evidence simply does not sustain Luther’s picture of the medieval church as totally doctrinally corrupt or out of touch with the New Testament—a fact that helps us make sense of the mixed response to his demands for reform.
Can you see it? This is absolutely appalling. No, I’m not arguing with McGrath’s assessment at this point; in fact, I’m intrigued by it. What has me dismayed is McGrath’s glaring failure to provide an endnote for that last paragraph! What historians? What works is he referring to? He doesn’t say.

Oh well, I hope I don’t find more of these "dangerous" omissions in the rest of the book.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Poythress and Walton on The Lost World of Genesis One

In August of last year, Vern S. Poythress wrote a brief review of John H. Walton's new book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (IVP, 2009), in World Magazine.  Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary and Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College.

Walton has now responded over at the Science and the Sacred blog, and Poythress has likewise been invited to interact with Walton.  See exchanges below:
  • Poythress' review of Walton's book
  • Walton responds to Poythress' review
  • Poythress responds to Walton
  • Walton responds again to Poythress
(HT: Justin Taylor)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Revelation 2 and the Return of Jezebel: Who Do You Say She Was?

To the church of Thyatira, John writes,

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. (Rev. 2:20-23, ESV)

Some interesting suggestions have been made concerning the identity of the “Jezebel” (Ἰεζάβελ) mentioned in Rev. 2:20-23.

1. Some argue this Jezebel was the actual name of a troublesome woman in Thyatira who, coincidently, mirrored the notorious Jezebel of the Old Testament.

2. Others argue that the name “Jezebel” is used as a title for an actual woman in the church of Thyatira who was causing the aforementioned disturbances. The reason for the title being quite obvious, since the Jezebel of the Old Testament led Israel into Baal worship and sorcery (1 Kings 16:31-34; 21:25-26; 2 Kings 9:22). So calling this woman “Jezebel” would have come as a strong rebuke to her and the congregation that tolerated her. She, like the Jezebel before her, was leading people astray.

3. Still yet others argue that “Jezebel” stands for a corrupt faction in the church of Thyatira and not necessarily an actual, historical woman per se (cf. 2 John 1 [?]).

Here's what we know about this "Jezebel" according to the passage:
  • She calls herself a "prophetess" (ἡ λέγουσα ἑαυτὴν προφῆτιν).
  • She's teaching and seducing Christians to "practice sexual immorality" (πορνεῦσαι) and "eat foods sacrificed to idols" (φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα).
  • She refuses to repent of "her sexual immorality" (τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς).
  • Some are committing "adultery with her" (τοὺς μοιχεύοντας μετ᾽ αὐτῆς).
  • She has "children" (τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς).
  • Jesus threatens to cast her onto a sickbed (βάλλω αὐτὴν εἰς κλίνην), throw her fellow adulterers into great tribulation (εἰς θλῖψιν μεγάλην), and kill her children (ἀποκτενῶ ἐν θανάτῳ).
So, was this "Jezebel" the actual name of a real first century woman in the church of Thyatira, a title used for a real first century woman in the church of Thyatira, or a name given to a corrupt faction in the church of Thyatira? What do you think?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

James Cone on the Importance of One's Own Context for Doing Theology

"I respect what happened at Nicea and Chalcedon and the theological input of the Church Fathers on Christology; but that source alone is inadequate for finding out the meaning of black folks’ Jesus. It is all right to say as did Athanasius that the Son is homoousia (one substance with the Father), especially if one has a taste for Greek philosophy and a feel for the importance of intellectual distinctions. And I do not want to minimize or detract from the significance of Athanasius’ assertion for faith one iota. But the homoousia question is not a black question.

"Blacks do not ask whether Jesus is one with the Father or divine and human, though the orthodox formulations are implied in their language. They ask whether Jesus is walking with them, whether they can call him up on the “telephone of prayer” and tell him all about their troubles. To be sure Athanasius’ assertion about the status of the Logos in the Godhead is important for the church’s continued Christological investigations. But we must not forget that Athanasius’ question about the Son’s status in relation to the Father did not arise in the historical context of the salve codes and the slave drives. And if he had been a black slave in America, I am sure he would have asked a different set of questions. He might have asked about the status of the Son in relation to slaveholders.

"Perhaps the same is true of Martin Luther and his concern about the ubiquitous presence of Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Table. While not diminishing the importance of Luther’s theological concern, I am sure that if he had been born a black slave his first question would not have been whether Jesus was at the Lord’s Table but whether he was really present at the slave’s cabin, whether slaves could expect Jesus to be with them as they tried to survive the cotton field, the whip, and the pistol.

"Unfortunately not only white seminary professors but some blacks as well have convinced themselves that only the white experience provides the appropriate context for questions and answers concerning things divine. They do not recognize the narrowness of their experience and the particularity of their theological expressions. They like to think of themselves as universalpeople. That is why most seminaries emphasize the need for appropriate tools in doing theology, which always means white tools, i.e., knowledge of the language and thought of white people. They fail to recognize that other people also have thought about God and have something significant to say about Jesus’ presence in the world.

"My point is that one’s social and historical context decides not only the questions we address to God but also the mode or form of the answers given to the questions."

-James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997), 13-14.