Does Your Book Tote a Badge?

What with recent discussions here in the home frame, and with added enthusiasm from places about, we, with the quality of a Wurlitzer, bring aboard the added influence of your choosiness (why yes, I am referring to you). So sit back a spell, or twirl and sway if need be. In any event and after all, it is your nickel. Well, at least until your song has sung.

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today by N. T. Wright

SAG NT Wright

It is an interesting collection, these many harbored persuasions of a very old book. It has all authority, or does it? Must it find company in the midst of Tradition? It is meant to reveal and provide guidance, or are we downplaying its significance with restricting definitions? Why do we have this book and how are we supposed to read it?

N. T. Wright describes the place where we are now, regarding the Scriptures, as “uncharted waters.” While the past may be of value to draw wisdom from, he cautions against our imagining that our “questions will be identical with those of Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, or Ignatius Loyola. For that matter, Newman or Barth.” These uncharted waters, Wright continues, “are a lot deeper than some contemporary debaters seem to realize.”

Of the Word, this author informs, “Simplistic affirmations (‘The Bible says‘) on the one hand, and counter-affirmations (‘You read the text naively; we read it in context, and that changes everything‘) on the other, only get in the way of serious debate.”

“There are fresh ways out the other side of all that,” makes known Wright, “into creative and intelligent reflection.”

As the discussion goes, Wright revisits the term “Authority of Scripture” by advising it can only make sense in that it is merely shorthand for “God’s authority exercised through Scripture,” noting, John’s gospel introduction did not reach climax with “and the Word was written down,” but “the Word became flesh.” “Scripture,” says Wright, “Points away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who speaks the truth (John 8:39-40) which he has heard from God.”

Thankfully, the author asks the questions here for us, such as, “What might we mean by the authority of God? What role does scripture have within that? How does this authority actually work?”

Before giving us his answers, the author offers the reader some clarification of what the Bible does not claim to be, such as, “A list of rules to live by, even though it contains many commandments. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course it declares great truths about God, the world, and ourselves.”

Scripture is best described instead as a story,” informs Wright, leading to the obvious question, “How will a story have authority?” He rubs this with an image of an officer walking into a barrack-room and beginning, “Once upon a time…,” rather than with instructions for warfare.

This though, leaves the reader with more questions. If Mr. Wright is correct in his defining the Bible as “story” rather than considering if it is a “book of all authority,” what will this have to say as for how it should be read? Is it then sufficient and trustworthy? Can I depend on its instruction? What is my part in this completed story? Completed?

Somewhat, but not in every sense, because as Wright conveys, “…in scripture itself God’s purpose is not just to save human beings, but to renew the whole world. This is the unfinished story in which readers of scripture are invited to become actors in their own right.”

“Scripture is there to be a means of God’s action in and through us — which will include, but go far beyond, the mere conveying of information.”

Needing to bring things to a close for now, this author cites three things of central importance with regard to authority in God’s Kingdom and the Word (written) by which it was delivered. First, the Bible tells us that “our God is a God who speaks. Reading the Bible to hear and know God is not far-fetched, but cognate with the nature of God himself.” Second, “the idea of reading a book to have one’s life reordered by the wisdom of God is not counter-intuitive, but cognate with the nature of Christian holiness itself (Romans 12:1-2).” Third, it reminds us “that the God we worship is the God whose world-conquering power, seen in action in the resurrection of Jesus, is on offer to all those who ask for it in order thereby to work for the gospel in the world (Ephesians 1:15-23). The idea of reading a book in order to be energized for the task of mission is not a distraction, but flows directly from the fact that we humans are made in God’s image, and that, as we hear his word and obey his call, we are able to live out our calling to reflect the creator into his world.”

Your nickel is nearly spent, and N. T. has barely been introduced (my Kindle tells me 18%). Along with more from him, Lord willing, Iain Provan (another nickel please) slates a new forty-five in the juke for future offerings.

To cinch what’s been covered, I consider a series of questions centering on, “How do I read the Bible?” Do I pluck a verse from one of Paul’s letters or Jeremiah’s heeding to firm up my own presuppositions? Do I take the time to evaluate how each verse is meant to find its place in the story? Do I recognize the value of this ancient story of God’s Kingdom making its way into the world and finding its climax in Jesus? My song has been sung. Yours though is very welcome.

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Posted in Books, Canon and Authority | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Did Jesus Interpret the Old Testament?

“You have heard it said… but I say…”

Twenty-four hours; one day; the simple waiting of the sun to set once more, and all would have been different.

But Jesus didn’t wait. Matter being, he instigated a big ordeal. The scene opens with a need before Jesus, while he stands in the midst of those searching for a reason to discredit him and his teaching. He speaks, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy? (Luke 6:9)”

No one seems to respond. So Jesus directs his attention toward a man with a withered hand. His hand is ailing. How long has it been this way? We’ve no way of knowing, but something that is known is that a withered hand isn’t overly life-threatening, at least not for one more day. Jesus heals his hand that day. He heals him on the Sabbath as if to flaunt his disregard for the religious leaders’ interpretation of Moses’ Laws.

Consider another case. This one has no gray areas or any wriggle room. A woman is caught in the act of adultery (John 8). The Law is very clear; she is to be put to death (Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10). Jesus chooses to restore her instead.

The reality is that Jesus often breaks the law in the recorded gospels, at least in how it has been interpreted by the religious leaders of Israel. He touches unclean persons, making him unclean also (Lev 15:19). He allows his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath, dines in the midst of the tainted, and brings healing and acceptance to those far outside the sanctuary of a chosen people. This is the very same Jesus who makes this claim.

“Don’t think for a moment that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come to fulfill them (Matt 5:17).”

The Greek word translated ‘fulfill’ is interestingly used over 70 times in the New Testament and can mean several similar but a little bit different things. It can mean ‘to make full; to fill up.’ It can also mean ‘to make complete’ or ‘to carry into effect.’ None of these definitions however resign Jesus to being in agreement with how the Law was being interpreted and enforced during that day by the religious leaders.

It is evident that this caused a major disruption, Jesus’ interpretation of the Law, in that he makes his defensive statement, then elevates his case with the ‘jot’ and ‘tittle’ clause, meaning that one of the two parties has completely abandoned the right method for understanding the Scriptures as God gave them.

What here, I ask myself, is the common ground of every event where Jesus reportedly broke the Law as the religious leaders had interpreted it? In every case, at least I think, Jesus prioritizes the needs of people over a stringent interpretation of regulations. He does not consider this as abolishing the Law, but fulfilling it. Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets as described by Jesus’ actions meant delivering it as fully intended, and that full intention is obviously mysterious in nature, requiring more than a checklist to navigate.

This is difficult to grasp though, because we, like the religious leaders, also expect a cut and dried list of rules to cling to where there is never a moment’s question of what is right and what is wrong. When it came to interpreting Scripture, Jesus often chose to defend people rather than a rule or a ritual.

Derek Flood describes these two methods of interpretation as diametrically opposed to one another, rendering us to examine, “Am I a creature of unquestioning obedience or of faithful questioning?” Is adhering to a rule more important to me than altering my life and standards to meet the needs of those laid at my gate? When Jesus reads his Bible, he chooses the latter. This may often be to the dismay of the religious, but according to the Lord of the Sabbath, is an accurate interpretation of the Word.

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We Sent Them Away. They Left. Now What?

“Why would you start a school for Chinese girls?” a friend asked. “They don’t need to be educated to get married and have children.”

22106-118833These were the words asked of Lottie Moon after she identified her strategy to carry the gospel into China. She yearned for people to meet and know Jesus, but also knew for this to happen would require meeting a monumental need first. She saw it as an open door of ministry that female-China was among the most oppressed of any peoples in the entire world.

She explained, “At the moment, everything is decided for these young girls. They can’t even choose not to have their feet bound, but if they are educated, they may let their own daughters run and skip with unbound feet. Girls who are educated will educate their daughters and things will change.”

22096-118787With little support, Lottie opened this school she dreamed of for girls in China. Because no one was interested to have girls educated, she paid for all of the expenses herself. With 13 students after her first year, she provided food, medicine, and housing, meaning she often did without for their provision. She knew that it was worth it. Serving selflessly through every kind of trial, Lottie persisted in her effort to be her Lord’s vessel.

It may have been her letters that made the biggest impact on changing other’s minds about the deplorable conditions in the place where she served, and the great need for mission work everywhere.

Through Lottie’s letters, Annie Armstrong became moved to join her own women’s organization with others across the country and collect the funding necessary to send more missionaries to China. In one year, they collected enough to put three surrendered servants into the foreign country. Annie and a team of many women sent ambassadors for Christ away.

22100-118806We too have sent many away, our missionaries, and they have eagerly gone to serve where God has called them. The question is “What now?”

We now have many missionaries serving hundreds of people groups in every nation of the world.

We sent them away. They left. Now what? In this time of the year when within the walls of many churches the name of Lottie Moon is spoken many more times than Santa’s, it is good to remember that we have sent members of our body to serve in faraway lands away from friends and family, away from the life and lifestyle we often merely take for granted.

As Lottie, they serve selflessly on every front, enduring hardships and the many trials that come with following Jesus where he beckons. We should not see them as separated identities gone away; but as an extension of Christ’s body, much as we would extend our arm to retrieve something needful.

Unfortunately, they are too often treated as severed, forgotten.

It is not that we should only think of our brethren and fellow-servants in Christ during this time of the year, but thankfully, and much due to the labors of Lottie Moon, this month is an opportunity to stoke the flames of compassion for our missionaries. So here are a couple of suggestions to consider as we walk through December.

  1. Pray regularly for our missionaries. Put their names on your prayer lists and calendars. Put a picture of them somewhere so you cannot help but see them often.
  2. Give to support them. This is a great time of year to give, for as our Pastor encourages, we can consider it a special gift to Jesus on his birthday. Consider it though, only a starting point for giving. Our missionaries need financial support all year and every year. Their job will not be finished until there are no more people left who haven’t heard the name of Jesus.
  3. Tell others about them. Don’t keep the wonderful privilege of supporting our missionaries a private affair. Get creative. Talk about them at the dinner table or at lunch with a friend.
  4. Use the resources available at the International Mission Board website.

Sadly, it is reported that giving to missions is down. Along with that discouraging note, keep in mind that very few missionaries receive adequate support, and a decrease in giving means their struggles will increase.

22104-118824The Great Commission, empowered by the Great Commandment, is our responsibility. Why do we have this responsibility to see that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is taken across every cultural and national boundary? Yes, because it is his earth, and his authority to tell us to do so, but equally important, because we carry the very Word of Life; we send the Word of Life.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has been described this year as One Sacred Effort to reach and teach those who have never heard the name Jesus. Unlike many charitable donations, 100% of every penny given goes to directly support missionaries in the field. Last year, this means the gospel reached 1.7 million people through the 23,000 trained to start 6200 churches. Your giving rescued the perishing, fed orphans, and cared for the needy all while making the name of Jesus known.

Yet… 4 billion remain unreached. This means the work is not done. This means we must all examine our resources and ask how God will have us stand beside the laborers in His harvest. This means we must diligently pray and sacrificially give. This means God has given us the opportunity to be ministers of the life-giving gospel of His Son, the very breath of life in a world plagued by sin and death. Individually, what we each can do may seem insignificant, but together, with our resources combined, we can carry the good news of our Savior and Lord to the ends of the world.

“Find Your Place in God’s Story”

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Enns and His Misbehaving Bible

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An exodus heralds its ads from the living-room screen, “Come see Christian Bale take on Pharaoh and his goons,” while a friend leans back on Wednesday eve with words, “Did you feel awkward sitting through tonight’s lesson having just written your latest post?” The shells are brittle, and brutal.

Have you ever endured the proverbial “eggshells fracturing beneath the footwear syndrome?” Unwanted as you might, the gritting and crumbling cackleberry skin shouting from somewhere south, “There is no way you will offer a review of this book without offending someone, so get on with it, will you.”

So with a little egg on face to boot (pun? why yes!), let’s begin then where every abecedarian ought, a rehash of what brought this pretend-to-be-author (that would be me… pun? not at all) to write what he wrote in his most recent post, The Bible Tells Me So, or not, an interrogation of the Book that’s been known to break a many protective layer of its own.

It began with a conversation with a young man who admittedly devalues the validity of the Bible whose contents he claims cannot be proven by science and archaeology, at least not in the creation story and not in early Israelite history. This sent me searching for resources, but not from those who will simply tell me everything I’ve always heard, but from someone who was actually once like-minded with me, but has restructured his belief system to accommodate an information overload generation.

I chose Peter Enns’ book for at least one persuasive reason. This guy was once applauded for his scholarly contributions to the study of Scripture, but with his redirected accent, has lost both status and employment, and even credibility among some of my favorite authors. In other words, he forfeited something to make his case.

Mr. Enns describes that familiar book we cherish, the Word of God, as a misbehaving collection of literature, rather than the commonly accepted, “The truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook — follow the instructions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force.”

Should anyone decide to challenge the traditional approach, the author describes our involuntary response, “defend the Bible against anti-God attacksProblem solved.”

Well,” Enns continues, “Until we read the Bible for ourselves that is;” when we decide to get closer than fifty paces. Then this book no longer acts like a holy rulebook should act.

Offended yet? If no (and even if yes), let’s get back to the beginning. Like, really the beginning. Fast backward to Saint Tropez, where “Adam and Eve wine and dine among two magical trees and a shyster snake stalks and talks.” And oh yeah, let’s not leave out the best part, God Himself makes occasional social visits.

The author makes it known that deep down this is a serious story with a significant purpose, and a demising outcome, but when we encounter these “sorts of episodes outside of the Bible, we know right away we are dealing with the kinds of stories people wrote long ago and far away, not things that happened, and certainly nothing to invest too much of ourselves in.

It is here that I find Mr. Enns’ assessment a bit evocative, and rightly so. Who will find it not so strange that those without affiliation to our faith might see it a bit odd, our beginning?

Once we get beyond a flood and a tower, it seems things calm a bit, if we consider it calm to watch seas and creeks part their currents for safe passage that is. Then, there is of course that milk-saturated and honey-endued land awaiting the Israelites. Unfortunately, it is already inhabited. What then will we do with a God who instructs one people group to annihilate another for the sake of some land? Paraphrasing Enns, “Maybe we do what we’ve done for many years; avoid the difficult texts, don’t teach from them. No knowledge, no harm, no foul, right?”

The reader is forced into the author’s answer snare with questions as this, “Shouldn’t it strike anyone as odd that the same God who instructs us to love and take care of our enemies told Israel to kill and take for slaves hers?”

Revisiting the most recent post, if we are going to be taken serious now, and in the future, we are going to have to finally discuss that the reportedly found evidences of archaeologists do not support this pre-promised-land history of Israel, and that a first-time hearer who has been saturated in a world of science and technology is going to view these tales a little far-fetched.

That may mean little to us as we huddle within the walls of church buildings, but if we are going to be Great Commandment and Great Commission minded outside the sanctuary, and if we care about a younger generation who statistics are overwhelmingly proving are shunning our message, then we are going to have to converse over the things they are being taught.

TBTMSIn his book, The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It, Peter Enns seeks to build for a proper method of reading the Word by first establishing that Israel just may have hyped up its early history in an effort to make her God more formidable than the gods of the other nations. He demonstrates that they were merely doing what was common, because the strength of every nation was hinged upon how powerful their god was.

This though, as formerly confessed, leaves us trembling in the wake of thoughts of a Bible relegating its words to mythos. How are we to defend such a book? According to Enns, we don’t. We were never called to. Rather, we read the Old just as Jesus and the New Testament authors did.

Allow me to offer an example that still has me intrigued.

After Israel leaves Egypt, we are made aware of some necessities the people had to have for survival in their travels; food and water. The manna of course rains down from heaven, but where will the Hebrews’ drink come from? Yes, you know. Moses is told to strike a rock, and water comes pouring forth (Exodus 17). But the people don’t stay by the rock; they move; eventually for forty years. Near the end of their journey, they once again need water, and to Moses’ demise he strikes a rock in an entirely different geographical place (Numbers 20). The author astutely questions, “These people only needed to drink water twice in forty years?”

Enter here old Paul the Apostle many, many years later, who knows this story better than most, and had this to say of that exact event, “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).”

According to Paul, Moses struck the same rock in two different locations. Paul informs us that the rock followed the children of Israel around for forty years, all two million plus of them, meandering around a forsaken land with this rock marching along behind them.

I have to interject something here that has been bothering me… a lot. In all of the commentaries I’ve been privileged to gander over this text, nearly all try to spiritualize this rock following act, or depict a stream flowing and following, as if it’s too uncanny for a rock to follow people around. Whereas, I can’t help but remember it’s raining bread out of heaven in these same texts. These people have witnessed water turned to blood, massive attacks by frogs and locusts, every first-born in an entire nation slaughtered mysteriously, a Sea parted, and… well, a moving rock goes over the borderline of reasoning?

Moving on, and in case you missed it, “That Rock was Christ.” Now we’re getting somewhere according to Enns. Whether it is this Rock (which adds a little meaning to it only needing to be struck once, doesn’t it?), or Jesus equating Moses’ burning bush episode with evidence of the resurrection, or Paul’s returning allegorical imagery of works and grace through Isaac and Ishmael, whether Jesus himself speaking or his New Testament writers writing, they are repetitively  using the Old Testament to teach and preach the Christ. The history of the Old Testament seemingly finds itself an effective catalyst to the brilliance of the Gospel.

I am inclined to stop here, for this may already be my longest post ever, but I think it is wise, especially for me but maybe for others also, to remember the words of G. K. Chesterton speaking of H. G. Wells:

“He was so often nearly right. … But I think he thought that the object of opening the mind is simply opening the mind. Whereas I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

No, I’m not quite ready to relinquish my hold on my own personal beliefs that Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua were real people (sorry folks, but with half a century behind me, it’s what I believe of the Old Story… pun? no, actually a spoiler alert). But for the sake of trying to engage and intervene into the lives of those who can’t fathom how my God could possibly have dealt long ago with those we can’t provide tangible evidence for their having existed, I am willing to start somewhere. Maybe where another besides myself already is? We of a previous generation must somehow find a way to step into a world unimaginably different than from whence we came; into a place where there were and are no Sunday morning lessons and there were and are no Mothers and  Grandmothers with calloused knees, a place where social media and electronic gadgets demand the worship of their servants; a place where Jesus is just another caricature from an opined outdated book with no purpose. For our younger friends, “The Bible tells me so,” in quote alone, is now rarely an ample open door to our Lord’s Kingdom. The Gospel however, very much still is.

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The Bible Tells Me So, or not

What will we do if there are informational inaccuracies in that book we hold so dear? What if the Bible is not an instructional manual for the Christian life at all? What if it is instead a compilation of literature meant to be wrestled with. What if it is meant to keep our faith unsettled in our quest for maturity? What if its only intent is its end, Jesus and his gospel?

For most of my life I have defended this book as the Truth, and I still do, but I am abruptly beginning to recognize that my defense of its words means something totally different than it used to.

I think that there is good reason for my revisit of my feelings for the Word. In fact, I think until we of western culture are able to do so, we will continue to observe an exodus of our younger generation from a willingness to hear the truth of Scripture.

I asked a young man just yesterday, “Why will you not even consider your grandparent’s faith?” He answered my interrogation with a single word, “Science.”

TBTMSIn an effort to familiarize myself with a generation that has grown beyond the history and science of the Bible, and for arguable reasons I might add, I sought to read behind someone who once lived in a box like mine, someone who had to give up a lot to venture into a very awkward world.

Peter Enns, author of “The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It,” is one such who lost status and career to evaluate the missing archaeological evidence of early Israelite history. His own claim is to keep an open mind, as archaeology is uncovering more and more each day, while being willing to work with what we have to face the challenges of this generation.

As to date, the stones have not cried out in support of two-million Jews leaving Egypt and wandering in a desert for a human lifespan. Once again, this is not to say that by human limitations we simply haven’t uncovered them yet, but that it is profitable to ask the hard question, “What if these things are only mythos?”

By that Mr. Enns means, “What if, like every other nation, Israel created an exaggerated account of their history to lift their God above all other gods?”

The discomfort I experienced while reading this book, and even more so in writing this post, reveals my struggle to step outside the comfort of my Baptist walls. At the heart of the author’s writing though is the desire for the reconciliation of truth and reality. Can we trust the Bible if its historical narrative is inaccurate?

In this book, the author demands an affirmative ‘yes.’ He does so by weaving his readers through the inconsistencies and walking us beside Jesus’ and the New Testament authors’ use of Israel’s history, the Old Testament. Through our Lord’s words and his disciple’s writings, Mr. Enns claims that the Bible ‘decenters itself.’ He writes:

The Bible doesn’t say, “Look at me!” It says, “Look through me.”

He insists the Bible’s role is to encourage the faithful to live in its pages in order to look up from its pages and, by the power and love of the Spirit of God, see Jesus, who is God’s final word.

The methodology of reading Scripture as the story it intends to be, according to the author, with its entire focus on Jesus, rather than Israel, lessens the need for historical accuracy, leaving an able God to work through the frailty of His image-bearers.

I am far from ready to board this ship of thought entirely without regard of keeping a foot on familiar soil, but it indeed has given food for serious thought, especially as I have opportunity to speak to my younger friends who refuse to write the realm of proven science off because the Bible tells me so.

 

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