I don’t often listen to Christian radio, but this morning I was glad I did. As I was driving to work I happened to hear the song, “The One Thing that I know” by Jars of Clay. I have heard this song numerous times, but this time the importance of its message really struck home to me.

In the context of speaking about the crucifixion, and the redemptive nature of the crucifixion, the song repeats the chorus line:

This is the one thing,
The one thing that I know.

It finally struck my how true and important this is. As a student, specifically of the Old Testament, I frequently find myself wrestling with such issues as the historicity of the OT (or the minimalist vs. maximalist debate) or other historical critical issues regarding the OT. However I come down on these issues it is important to remember that it is the death and resurrection of Christ that is THE ONE THING THAT I KNOW!

Evangelicals (or at least some) may condemn me for admitting to be lenient on issues of inerrancy or the historical reliability of the OT, but the truth is I’m epistemologically humble. There are very few things that I claim to know for certain. One thing I do claim to know is the truth and significance of the death and resurrection of Christ. That is enough for me.

I am not an apologist, nor the son of an apologist. However, in my reading I have recently come across a discussion about why one is convinced by ‘evidence.’ 

In the ideal detective story the reader is given all the clues yet fails to spot the criminal. He may advert to each clue as it arises. He needs no further clues to solve the mystery. Yet he can remain in the dark for the simple reason that reaching the solution is not the mere apprehension of any clue, nor the mere memory of all, but a quite distinctive activity of organizing intelligence that places the full set of clues in a unique explanatory perspective. (Lonergan, ix.) 

In other words, it is not for lack of evidence that understanding escapes someone, but the simple fact that they have not been put in the right context that would allow for understanding. Ben Meyer puts it this way: “what has been lacking is not evidence but the subjective conditions that would allow the speaker to grasp the evidence as ‘enough.'” (Meyer, 78 ) 

The importance of this observation can be felt in many contexts, but the one that struck me was in the context of Christian evangelism and apologetics. As Christians we often say that you cannot logically argue someone into accepting Christianity. Yet, at the same time, we confess that our faith is intellectually defensible. It seems to me that the problem for those who do not accept Christianity as intellectually defensible or even the most probable explanation for our human existence is not that the evidence is lacking but they are lacking “the subjective conditions that would allow [them] to grasp the evidence as ‘enough.'” 

The next question would then be, how can we, as Christians, encourage people to get into the ‘right subjective context’ that would allow them to grasp the evidence as ‘enough’? I’m sure that there is not one right answer to this question but I propose these two criteria that may get us a long way toward helping people get in the right context. (more…)

For me, worship in church is a tricky animal. I have some semblance of a musical background, and if the worship music is unprofessional, it really distracts me form being able to focus on actually worshipping. On the other hand, I am very sensitive when it comes to a church putting on a ‘show.’ This distracts me even more than unprofessional music, because I struggle believing that the worship is genuine when it is couched in a big production. It is my experience that churches much more often struggle with the latter condition than with the former. 

I recently attended a different church than my home church. I do not want to bash this church or say bad things about it. It was a little too showy for me, but I really enjoyed the service, got a lot out of the message and honestly believe that of faith of many of the members is extremely genuine. However, one thing I noticed in the service serves as a really great metaphor for the ‘showy’ church production. The church had a very big stage, but that was not my problem. My problem was that the only place a cross could be found in the sanctuary was on the back wall behind the stage. Unfortunately, this is right behind the projector screen which was down for the whole service. In this case, the technology literally covered up the cross, but my worry is that in so many cases (many of them on TV) the show trumps and covers up the reality of the cross. This may just be my experience, but this strikes me as a really sad thing. I pray for all of our churches, that we would me more and more willing to get out of the way and let Jesus be the main event of our worship, our meetings, and our lives. He must increase, I must decrease.

I originally posted this on Western Seminary’s ThM blog, but I thought it would be worth re-posting it here.

The purpose of this post is to stimulate discussion and to the thoughts of others on an issue that I consider to be of the utmost importance for evangelical faith. Those of us here at Western are mostly from a certain theological camp. The professors have all signed the same doctrinal statement and many of us students are members of ETS which means we have all signed the following statement:

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” 

My question is 1) how useful is this doctrinal statement and 2) how do others understand it? My purpose in this post is not to undermine this doctrine but have a more meaningful and more mature discussion than is often found when talking about inerrancy.

Here are my reservations. (more…)

Our Pastor (I like to refer to him as Reverend John), preached on Ecclesiastes this last week. The gyst of his message was to juxtapose Ecclesiastes and Proverbs and ask which is right? Anyone who holds to the authority of the Bible would be uncomfortable with thinking one book is more right than another, but when you compare Ecclesiastes and Proverbs you are clearly confronted with two different views of life.

For example, Provers says: “Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men” (2:11) and “Pursue Wisdom, Live Wisely, She’ll keep you safe! Don’t be foolish, that leads to death”  (21:16).  Then in Ecclesiastes we see: “Then I thought in my heart, ‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’ I said in my heart, ‘This too is meaningless'” (2:15). There are many other examples of discontinuity between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and our pastor touched on many of them (you can listen to his sermon here).

He concluded that perhaps this is not a case of an either/or but a case of both and. The point is that very often the wisdom of Proverbs is true to life and should dictate our course of action. Then, on the other hand, sometimes life throughs you curves that cannot be easily explained by the proverbial cause and effect mentality. That is when the viewpoint of Ecclesiastes most clearly speaks to us.

As I listened to this sermon, I found myself thinking, (more…)

After writing the last post a very interesting power point presentation was brought to my attention (you can download it here). I encourage you to take a look at it, it is very interesting. The study details the decline of American churches by percentage of the overall population. While this is reason for many Christians to rant and rave about how much worse our culture is getting, the researchers of this study state the following conclusions:

American Culture is becoming more:

  • Post-Christian
  • Postmodern
  • Multiethnic

For Many Christians, this causes a Fear Reaction. Instaed of Fear, Rejoice – the world that is coming is very much like the Mediterranean World of the Early Church. We need to model our church’s mission on the early church’s mission to the Gentiles.

Christendom and a Christianized Culture have allowed the Church to talk about Jesus in a second-hand manner. We need to restor the priority of Jesus in our communication, engaging people with the words and actions of Jesus.

To draw such hopeful conclusions from data that supports the reality of the steady decline of American churches is, in my mind, a very mature Christian response to this fact. It seems to me that when Church and Empire or Church and Culture get in bed together it never makes for good, authentic Christianity. Let’s face it, Jesus was never a comfortable figure, he was radical. The early church was radical. Not in the sense of crazy and bizarre, but in the sense of strongly standing up to and against the norm of the day. It is here that the church can do its best work, when it has reason to say Jesus is Lord and the rulers of this world are not! I pray that the church can become that again.

It seems that I have had this conversation several times in the last few months. The question revolves around the observation that things seem to be getting worse in our society. We are facing intense economic downturn. If you look at hollywood you see that what we find morally acceptable is continuing on a downward spiral. Divorce rates are hovering around 50% for Christians and non-Christians. There are many things that we could point to that show that our world is getting worse. There are also many things that we could point to that show that our world is getting better, I don’t need to go into those here.

The point is that, biblically speaking, the world is not getting worse. It is in conflict, but it is not getting worse. Why do I say this? First, Jesus tells a great parable in Matt. 13:24-30. There he speaks of the kingdom of heaven as wheat in a field, but the enemy has sown his own kingdom, these are tares (or weeds). The parable speaks of the two kingdoms growing together. In the end they will be judged, but the tares do not overcome the wheat and the gardener does not rescue the wheat from the tares, they are opposing forces that grow up together to be judged accordingly ‘in the time of the harvest’ (ἐν καιρῷ τοῦ θερισμοῦ). 

Another reason we know that the world is not getting worse is the promise in 1 John 2:17. There the elder (writer of John and the epistles) writes concerning the world, which is a cipher for the ‘this worldly’ forces that oppose God. He says of the world that it and the desires of it are passing away (παράγεται). This world is presently passing away. What does this mean? Like was said earlier in the epistle “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shinning” (2:8). The present world is being infiltrated by the kingdom of God, by the true light. When the light came into the world (see John 1:1-17) it signaled the end of the ‘this world’ not our physical world but the element of the world that opposes the kingdom of God. 

Therefore, to say that the world is getting worse is to fail to live in the reality that Scripture portrays. Yes we live in a world where the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the enemy grow up mixed with each other. But the world cannot overcome the kingdom of God, because Christ has already overcome the world. While the world may temporarily get worse this is just part of the ebb and flow of the two kingdoms growing together. The ultimate promise is that the world is getting better and will get better. No, not better, perfect.

I am trying to spend more time reflecting on the sermons that are proclaimed to us each Sunday. I love the preaching at our church but too often by the time it’s Tuesday I can’t even remember what the sermon was on. So I think I am going to begin reflecting on the our church sermons as an occasional series on this blog. 

Today’s sermon was on the various metaphors for discipleship: salt and light (Matt. 5), fishers of men (Matt 4:19/Mk 1:17) but most significantly the true vine and branches (John 15). As John 15 was read in the sermon today I couldn’t help but notice the prevalence of the word ‘remain’ (μενω). This is possibly because I was trying to follow along in my Greek New Testament and I at least knew the word μενω. But it could also be because of the 118 uses of the word μενω in the NT by far the most occurrences are in John, 40 in fact. Of those 40 occurrences in John, 11 are in chapter 15 alone, that means a over 9% of all the uses of μενω in the NT are in this chapter alone!

In John 15 the phrase ‘remain in me’ (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί – vv. 4, 5, 6, 7) is repeated. The first occurrence is the command to remain in Christ (μείνατε, v. 4) followed by the promise that whoever remains ( μένων) in Christ and Christ in them, will bear much fruit (v. 5). Then we are warned that whoever does not remain (ἐὰν μή τις μένῃ) in Christ will be thrown into the fire (v. 6) because, it is implied, they do not bear fruit. All this is finally capped off with the final promise that whoever remains (ἐὰν μείνητε) in Christ and has His words remain in them also will be granted whatever they ask for (v. 7).

The question that came most readily to mind in this text was: how are we to remain in Christ?

This question is first answered for us. In v. 4 Christ commands us to remain in Him (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί – imperative use of μενω) even as (κἀγὼ – combination of και and εγω) Christ remains in us. In other words, we are to live in the reality that Christ remains in us! This reality is easy to affirm but difficult to inform our daily living. If we lived our life as if Christ was truly dwelling in us, I really believe we would live much different lives.

The second answer to this question is given in v. 7. There we are told that our prayers will be answered if we remain (μείνητε) in Christ and his Word remains in us (τὰ ῥήματά μου ἐν ὑμῖν μείνῃ). Thus we remain in Christ by letting His word (ρημα – I don’t have time here to go into the difference between ρημα and λογος, perhaps that is worth another post another time) remain in us. 

So as I go about this week, my goal is to remain in Christ by 1) living in the reality that Christ remains in me, and 2) intentionally letting God’s Word remain in my heart. If those two things do not change the way I go about my week, I don’t know what will. These things are worth thinking on.

Last night I had the opportunity to sit in on my first ‘Preaching Team Meeting’ for my church. Wow, what a good time. We spent the better part of two hours just talking and theologizing (yeah I’m going with that as a real word) about our church’s upcoming sermon series on, wait for it . . . the ketuvim! Such a good time.

We sat around a table at one of my favorite local pubs and talked Bible and theology for two hours. At one point I realized that this is the closest I’ll get to experiencing the famous ‘inklings.’ Thus, I like to think of this little group as my own personal ‘thinklings’ (read theological inklings) or perhaps even better the ‘pinklings’ (read pastoral inklings) since the main point of the group is to discuss how to bring Scripture to life to our church.

This brings me to the other reason that I celebrate this group and the reason I think all academics should be a part of such a group. In this group we discuss Bible and theology in the context of the church. Here is the best place to discuss Scripture. Scripture does not truly come alive when a parallel within ANE literature is found to illumine some text. Scripture comes alive within the context of the believing community. This is why all academics should try as best they can to study Scripture in this context. The late great (can you use that of a theologian?) brother Brevard knew this well:

” . . . the Bible is a particular kind of literature. It was not written to satisfy human curiosity or to evoke religious speculation on heavenly mysteries, but it is a call for faithful response during one’s whole life.” (Brevard Childs, in Rule of Faith[Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishers, 1998], 1-12. Available online)

PS – to all those who, like me, did not grow up in this kind of an environment let me assure you: a pub is the best place to theologize. Cheers!

(Just to be clear – I only wish that the picture in this post is the pub where we met last night. No, that picture is the famous Eagle and Child, known affectionately as the Bird and Baby, where the actual inklings met.)

I think I have finally convinced my dad of the importance of the OT for the Christian faith. Recently he asked me what he should be looking for when he reads the OT. Below the fold is my response to him. It is not complete, it is not as carefully thought out as I would like, but for a one-off response I think it merits thought. I am curious how others would answer the question: ‘How should Christians read the OT?’ (more…)

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