Monday, February 27, 2006

7 reasons to study the gospels (or why Paul isn't enough)

We, as evangelicals, love Paul. We love doctrines and justification and theology, and Paul provides a clear map of the theological landscape. The gospels on the other hand... well, we like it when Jesus takes out the Pharisees, walks on water... but what’s with all the parables? Or with the Sermon on the Mount? And how exactly do we apply the stories of Jesus to our lives?

When it comes to doctrinal formulation, we often prefer Paul to the gospels. Yet, here are seven reasons why Paul is not enough:
(1) The centrality of the gospels – The gospels have been central to the church and God’s people throughout the centuries. The prayers, the language, have all been from the gospels. Only recently in evangelicalism has Paul become so central.

(2) Different discourses of truth – Propositional doctrine is important and necessary (as in Paul), but it is not the only way. Narrative truth is also important and necessary, and in fact, is the way God has chosen to communicate the most! It's like different kinds of maps: topographical maps, road maps, property line maps, etc… None of them contradict, but compliment each other. They are all different discourses of truth. So the Bible is a like a book of maps. It communicates truth, through a variety of maps.

(3) Paul presupposes the story of Jesus – The story of Jesus forms the basis of what the apostles go on to preach. We cannot truly understand the doctrines that Paul is teaching without understanding the gospels.

(4) The Jesus traditions are the oldest – They are certainly older than the epistles. The earliest writings are the epistles, but the gospels are a much earlier oral tradition.

(5) Encountering the risen Jesus in the text of the gospels – Encountering Jesus in the flesh makes us realize that we can’t always categorize reality into neat little boxes. As important as doctrinal statements are (and they are important), they are not the same as encountering a Jesus that is still alive and present with us.

(6) We are story people – In the fabric of our being, story is how we make sense of life. Stories are crucial to who we are. They can create life and hope and vision in us that abstract propositions cannot. When Jesus tells stories of two men that go to pray, the Pharisee and the tax collector: this is more powerful than the summary we can make of it (i.e.: “God forgives humble sinners”). This is not to pit propositional truth against narrative truth. Both are needed.

(7) We get a direct sense of the Bible’s story line – Through the Gospels we understand the flow of history, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Should I be reading this blog?

As human beings, one of our most basic needs that God has implanted in us is the need for interaction. So it's no surprise that so much of the development of new technologies has centered around the function of communication. In ages past, communication happened mainly through word of mouth. These days, more and more options for communication are made available to us everyday: cell phones, instant messaging, chat rooms, blogs, message boards, video-conferencing, podcasting, file-sharing, and many others, each with their own wireless and mobile variations. Of course, this increase of communication options has been a blessing in many ways. A cell phone is really an amazing convenience during an emergency. Email and instant messaging have been effective ways of keeping in touch with distant friends. Blogs can be a great medium for learning from the thoughts and experiences of others.

But with the increase of all these methods of communication also comes the need for greater discernment. Is my time being spent productively by reading these blogs (including this one)? Is the phone an adequate venue for discussing deep, emotional matters? How much should I share about my life on the internet? And the questions are multiplied particularly for Christians as we seek to incorporate the Christian life with this technology. Is a message board the right place to carry on a theological debate? Can I forward this email I received from a church member to the pastor? Should I try to share the gospel with my friend over IM? How do I educate youth about the spiritual dangers of the internet? Questions like these are questions that must be thought through and addressed for the first time from a Christian worldview by our generation. Along with each new option in communication comes the need to be more discerning and wise in how we think about and rightly use these technologies. As Christians, we must be careful that we do not simply adopt the mindset of our culture that readily embraces every new technology. Rather, we must carefully seek wisdom from God in prayer and regularly examine our attitudes and our actions in using these technologies against the truth revealed in God's Word.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this challenge. But be encouraged... this is a challenge that Christians have had to face with wisdom and discernment from the beginning and all through history. Let's follow the example of Apostle John, who understood how to use the technology of his day:
Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full. - 2 John 12
A helpful resource for Christian thinking about the issues of our day (such as this one) is

A picture of the coming kingdom

Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD... - Deut. 6:10-12
When I read these verses, I think about all the work that went into cultivating the land by the Canaanites. Apparently, when Israel possessed the Promised Land, they were not possessing a vast wilderness, but beautiful cities with well-developed infrastructures and technology. However, before Joshua arrived, all these cities and cisterns and vineyards and orchards existed for godless, worldly reasons. But once Israel possessed them, they would exist for the satisfaction of the people of God as a display of the glory of God's covenant faithfulness to Abraham.

And this is a shadow, a picture of the coming kingdom of God. We will one day live in a new heaven and a new earth (Is. 65:17, Rev. 21:1), but that doesn't mean that we will be living on a different earth. The Bible does not teach a re-creation of the world, but a redemption of this world (Rom. 8:20-21). Yes, on the Day of Judgment there will be fire (2 Peter 3:10) and the evil of this world will be judged. But as Israel did not devastate the land of Canaan, but removed all of its godless influences, so this fire will not be a fire of annihilation, but a fire of cleasing. And what will remain will be "great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant" to be possessed by the True Israel. All the amazing technology, scientific research, artistic achievements and thousands of other cultural developments will be redeemed from their present evil purposes and exist for everlasting satisfaction of the people of God, for the glory of God.

I wish I had this perspective as I was working as a consultant! If only I realized that my work was not in vain, but would one day be redeemed for the new world. For the people of God working as accountants, programmers, consultants, doctors, teachers, engineers, laborers, and every other profession, as much as your work enables the advancement of God's cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28) to subdue and rule the earth for His glory, this work, however small and insignificant it might seem now, will one day be redeemed. Though today, it might seem that all our labor only serves to line the pockets of godless men and promote the goals of corrupt corporations, the day is coming when all the evil of this world will be judged and what will remain will be all the good that your labor (and the labor of the enemies of God!) produced.

Anthony Hoekema puts it well:
This all means a lot for us now. If there is continuity as well as discontinuity between this earth and the new earth, we must work hard to develop our gifts and talents, and to come as close as we can to producing, in the strength of the Spirit, a Christian culture today. Through our kingdom service, the building materials for the new earth are now being gathered. Bibles are being translated, peoples are being evangelized, believers are being renewed, and cultures are being transformed. Only eternity will reveal the full significance of what has been done for Christ here on earth.

A scintillating future awaits us—not a future of disembodied existence, but everlasting life in glorified bodies on the new earth. Compared with the immeasurable span of eternity, this present life is but a passing moment, a fleeting sigh.
Therefore, take heart and know that your work on this earth is not in vain, but rather matters greatly. And as we work, we wait in hope for the return of Joshua, who will once again lead Israel to redeem their Land. Come, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Idolizing relationships

Dr. Mark Coppenger wrote a good article in our school newspaper entitled, "When marriage isn't God's will: idolizing relationships". A snippet:
I never stop marveling at the way in which those who profess Christ will barge ahead with romances and even marriage plans where the Bible gives them no encouragement whatsoever. When the "love" bug bites, they will toss aside scruples, ignore Scripture, alienate their believing friends, horrify their family, and embarrass the church. They will even fornicate and cohabitate as they slide into marriage. And though they may make a gesture or two toward breaking it off, they'll then mope around as martyrs, only to spring back into each other's arms at the slightest prompting from their fevered brows. As a ministerial colleague volunteered last week, there's virtually no talking them out of it.

Why is this so? I can think of two reasons right off: relationship idolatry and mission deficit.


Which brings me to Lottie Moon, the namesake of Southern Baptists' annual offering for International Missions. She was engaged to Crawford Toy, a rising star in the universe of Baptist, and indeed American, academia. But when she found his treatment of Scripture objectionable, she walked away from the relationship and chose a life of sacrificial solitude half a world away. Consider this passage from Irwin Hyatt's book, "Our Ordered Lives Confess: Three 19th Century Missionaries in East Shantung" (Harvard, 1976), found at the SBC website:

"Professor Toy, as he had now become, wrote reproposing marriage and suggesting mission work together in Japan. … He was known as a brilliant linguist and theologian. Following the Civil War he had studied in Europe, where he was exposed to Darwinian theory and to 'the new ideas of the German scholars' on Old Testament history and inspiration. … Her conclusion was that … evolution was for her an 'untenable position.' … Later in China, heated letters arrive, and 'The temptation is great.' The professor, however, now espouses theories that 'do not square with God's Word.' Rejecting C.H. Toy, Harvard and glory, Miss Moon says, 'My cross is loneliness. …'"

Of course, Lottie Moon was concerned with relationships, but those that mattered most were with her Lord and with the Chinese people to whom He sent her on mission. She could have consorted and snuggled with Professor Toy in Massachusetts or Japan, but she knew that he was not her soulmate on mission for the Lord. This was quite enough to end that romance and free her for heroic service in Christ.

Those seeking marriage outside the counsel of God often quote the Genesis verse that says it was not good for Adam to be alone. I've just passed the life-sized portrait of Lottie Moon, hanging in Southern Seminary's Honeycutt Center, and I've been reminded that she was not at all alone. Standing around her are five Chinese beneficiaries of her life, prepared to say, "Thank you, Miss Moon" (and not "Mrs. Toy").
A helpful reminder... read the rest here.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Luther and Bibleworks

As I'm saving up some money to buy the latest revision of Bibleworks that will soon be released, I consider the words of Martin Luther on the academic advantages of his day and the responsibility that accompanies them:
It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God; it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor — yes, almost without any labor at all — can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame.
In Luther's day, he had none of the technological advantages of our day. When he wrote, he had to write with quills and ink (dip and scratch, dip and scratch), which is amazing considering the massive amounts of correspondence (no email!), treatises, papers, and sermons that he wrote. Of course in his studies, all he had were texts... no electronic commentaries, no instantaneous word searches, no parsings of Greek or Hebrew texts. Yet, here he is celebrating the amazing advantages that he has over our early church fathers. I wonder what he would say today...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

We walk by faith, not by sight

“we walk by faith not by sight” – 2 Cor. 5:7
Isn’t it amazing how much there is that we as Christians believe in, but cannot see? This statement by Paul comes in the midst of a discussion on the future hope of believers. Presently, we do not see the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23-25), but instead, our existence is marked by groaning and affliction. Though God promises that we have been justified and cleansed and liberated from sin, we still feel very strongly the corruption of our remaining sinful nature. And though the kingdom of God has come, we do not yet see the redemption of the world (Rom. 8:20-21), but instead, we experience the futility of creation in all manners of hurricanes and earthquakes and other natural disasters. What we see with our eyes contradicts our future hope and suggests to us that our hope is an illusion. This is the challenge of walking by faith.

Yet this challenge of faith is no different from the one faced by Abraham, the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:16). The circumstances he faced in his life should have surely quenched any hope of having a child through Sarah. He was nearly a hundred years old and Sarah’s womb was as good as dead (Rom. 4:19). Yet, in faith Abraham believed that God could do the impossible and that He would be true to His Word. This challenge of faith also no different than the one faced by Christ, who looked to the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2), even as he was preparing to walk the Calvary road leading to a cross and a tomb. And as a result of his faithful obedience to the Father, the Author and Perfecter of our faith did not remain in death, but overcame death and rose to sit at the right hand of the throne of God.

And so today, we, who are of the faith of Abraham, look at our groaning bodies, and our stumbling lives and this fallen world, and against all odds, we ground our hope in the resurrection of Christ, and we cast ourselves on God, Who will one day do the impossible. We walk by faith, not by sight.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

January Book Review

The Universe Next Door by James Sire - A helpful, informative tour of 8 different worldviews (Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism, New Age, Postmodernism), examining their claims, explaining their positions and critiquing their arguments. I've come to realize that before you can begin talking to non-Christians about God, you have to be able to understand (as well as critique) their worldview first. This is a good place to start.

Faith & Reason by Ronald Nash - Argues for the rationality of a Theistic worldview from a reformed perspective. Excellent book to give to a high school student struggling with doubts, or the Christian university freshman who's taken his first philosophy class and feels overwhelmed.

Life's Ultimate Questions by Ronald Nash - Covers some of the same material from Faith & Reason, but goes deeper. He tackles philosophy from a historical perspective and also deals with contemporary issues. This was my introduction to Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, which was fascinating to see how these philosophers tried so hard to understand this world, when we take for granted so much of the truth that is revealed in the Bible.

Prince Caspian by CS Lewis - Didn't like it very much. Too much talking, not enough action.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis - Probably the best one in the Chronicles for me so far... definitely up there with The Magician's Nephew.

Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose - I'm a big fan of WWII history, so I really enjoyed the mini-series, which was based on this book. As always, the book goes more in-depth than the movie, and this is the case with this book. Thanks to my sister for this great gift!

God's Greater Glory by Bruce Ware - Since I had Ware for Systematic Theology, a lot of the material was familiar to me, but it's still a great treatment of God's sovereignty. He provides clear, reasonable and convincing Biblical defenses to the most popular theological challenges to God's sovereignty (i.e.: the problem of evil, free will, etc...).