Category Archives: bible

Because He is Good

I was rereading John 10 today (after hearing someone teaching this passage yesterday).  I wasn’t able to get past by vss. 10-11.  I noticed how the thieves throughout the chapter are trying to deceive the sheep.  I am reminded in my own life of all of the deceptions.  “Thieves” are often trying “steal, kill, and destroy” my joy, hope, and satisfaction in the true shepherd.  Jesus, however, has come to give me a full life, an abundant life.

Two questions:  What is an abundant life?  How does the shepherd provide such a life?

The more I read this section, an abundant life is a life in relationship with Jesus.  Like the psalmist, a person who lives a full life is able to say that “the nearness of God is good” (Psalm 73:28).  A happy sheep, is a sheep in the presence, protection, and care of the shepherd.  In the words of John Piper, “my satisfaction in Christ alone must run so deep that no pain can shake it and no pleasure can compete with it.”

How does such a satisfying and good life come to me?  Through a shepherd who is good (v. 11).  A shepherd who has sacrificed himself for me.  Jesus is both the shepherd and the sacrificial lamb.

I am reminded of the over-quoted C. S. Lewis line from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:”

‘If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than me or else just silly.’

‘Then he isn’t safe?’ asked Lucy.

‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver.  ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.’

The Meaning of the Pentateuch — Review and Giveaway

Christianity Today recently chronicled the Mark Driscoll/John Piper war-of-words regarding John Sailhamer’s newest book.  To recap, here was the online verbal exchange:

Driscoll noted that he received Sailhamer’s newest work, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, a book he felt was appropriate for “hardcore uber geek theological types who love footnotes.”

John Piper responded with an appropriate verbal beat down:

To all pastors and serious readers of the Old Testament — geek, uber geek, under geek, no geek — if you graduated from high school and know the word meaning, sell your latest Piper or Driscoll book and buy Sailhamer… There is nothing like it.  It will rock your world.  You will never read the Pentateuch the same again.  It is totally readable.  You can skip all the footnotes and not miss a beat.

In fact, you might have to skip the footnotes unless your German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French are up to par!

A Little Background

I was first introduced to John Sailhamer and his writings when I came to SEBTS in 2006.  After enduring four years of study at my undergraduate institution’s Religion department I was worn out from defending the historicity of the Hebrew Bible.  Reading Pentateuch as Narrative and Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach was a breath of fresh air.  This hermeneutic took the text of Scripture seriously and made sense of of the New Testament writers’ interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.  These books provided a necessary corrective to my hermeneutic.  I had been so preoccupied by secondary textual issues in my reading of the Old Testament I had neglected to let the Old Testament shape my questions and concerns when I approached the text.  After listening to Sailhamer and re-reading the Hebrew Bible, I no longer felt self-conscious about the intentionality and cohesion of the Old Testament.  Further, from a scholarly perspective, I was made aware of the shortcomings of previous historical-critical approaches to the Hebrew Bible.  The method I was taught in my undergraduate studies (e.g., Wellhausen) had been demonstrated by modern scholarship to hold little prospect for consensus.  The meaning of the Hebrew Bible was opened as I saw new perspectives in reading the text as intended by its author(s) (e.g., Childs, Sailhamer, Rendtorff).

The Meaning of the Pentateuch

Sailhamer’s most recent contribution to Old Testament Studies is a legitimate tome in the field.  It is the magnum opus of his great career.  This text combines years of classroom teaching, scholarly research, and published books and articles into one collection.  The result is a comprehensive approach to the Pentateuch explaining and incorporating a robust Biblical Theology and well-defined Hermeneutic into serious, careful exegetical examination of the Hebrew Bible.  The reader will gain large overviews of subjects such as Biblical exegesis, Biblical theology, historical method, and philology.

What I most enjoy about this book is Dr. Sailhamer not only makes summary hermeneutical/theological/philosophical statements but he also demonstrates how he arrived to these conclusions.  Further, he demonstrates an exhaustive knowledge of the history of ideas in relation to Biblical exegesis and theology.  As a historian, Sailhamer is able to trace the historiography of Old Testament interpretation and explain how modern evangelicals have arrived at their current hermeneutical guidelines.

Exegesis

Sailhamer takes seriously the compositional strategy and the words of the text of the Hebrew Bible.  For Sailhamer, proper interpretation seeks to find the intended meaning of the author by the words he uses and the way the text is structured.  As a result he spends a significant amount of time exegeting the theological commentary that occurs at the seams of the Tanak (e.g., Deuteronomy 34, Joshua 1, Malachi 3/4, Psalms 1-2, Chronicles 36).  For him, these “seams” provide significant interpretive clues to the intended meaning of the Hebrew Bible.  Within the Hebrew Bible (and, even, the New Testament), Biblical authors act as Biblical theologians as they interpret previous text (e.g., compositional themes, prophets, apostles, etc.).

Organization of the Book

The book is organized into three sections dealing with foundational issues (e.g, hermeneutics, Biblical theology), text specific issues (e.g., compositional strategy), and theological conclusions drawn from a reading of the Pentateuch (e.g., covenant, blessing, messiah, Mosaic Law, salvation).

Concluding Remarks

Much more can be said about Sailhamer’s discussion of theology and compositional strategy.  Hopefully what has been discussed will whet your appetite to read this book and (more importantly) to examine the intended meaning of the Pentateuch.

Giveaway

In order to increase the traffic at my new blog and be generous, I have decided to give a brand new copy of John H. Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the PentateuchTo enter this giveaway merely comment on this post (make sure to use a valid e-mail address so I can contact you if you win). The winner will be chosen randomly and contacted via e-mail.  Please share this contest with other people via Twitter, Facebook, blog, or neighborhood flyers. Only one comment per person, but you’ll get an extra entry if you link to this post on your own blog!

Eating Problems, Identity, and Transformation

This article was a reminder how the “world” (to use a Biblical term) continues to pressure young girls to “conform” to a particular image.  I have spent a lot of time talking to young men and women.  A recurring problem I see is the idolatry of appearance.  Young ladies, in particular, are susceptible to the the low-self esteem and need for acceptance that leads to eating disorders and other unhealthy behaviors associated with image problems.  A young lady who is a senior in high school recently said that she just didn’t know who she was anymore.  The problem?  She had spent a lot of time looking for security, identity, and belonging in her appearance and relationships.  When these things failed to deliver meaning and purpose she felt lost.  The only answer is clearly to find her identity in Jesus Christ.

In small group the other night, we were going over Romans 12:1-2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We spent a lot of time identifying the molds into which the world was pressing us.  We also tried to figure out what it meant to be “transformed” by the “renewing of our minds.”

We came to a few mutual conclusions:

1.  We need to identify the “pattern[s] of this world.”

2.  Our lives are lived in response to what God has done for us through Jesus.

3.  Transformation requires thought (i.e. mind).  I have to be self-aware and self-critical if I am ever going to identify the areas in my life that need to change.

4.  I do not need to find the magical will of God, I need to “prove” the revealed will of God which is, primarily, to submit my entire life to God as an act of worship.

Church and Community

Here are two of the most helpful exegetical exercises that have informed me about the church and its purposes.  I would suggest you take the time to engage in these activities.

1.  Look up every instance of the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia, church, gathering, assembly, congregation, etc.) in the New Testament.  Read the context of each use.  The result will be a more healthy understanding of the Bible’s use of church.  To understand what a church must do you must understand what a church is.  In my mind being  precedes doing.

2.  In regard to the “community of faith,” each Christian should look up, read, and meditate on the “one another” passages of the New Testament.

Some of the more important preliminary conclusions at which I arrived when I first did this activity?

1.  The overwhelming emphasis in the New Testament is on the physical, visible, local church.  To say it another way, every Christian is a member of the “body of Christ,” but that body is manifested in a particular place and time.

2.  Christians need each other to become more like Christ.  There is no place in the Bible for “Lone-Ranger” Christianity.  The community of believers is essential for sanctification and edification.

3.  The church is the place not only to proclaim the gospel, but (more importantly), to demonstrate the effects of a gospel-changed life.  In today’s culture, especially, an authentic demonstration of the gospel is often more important than a precise articulation of the gospel.

Intellect and Action

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

In a meeting today I was reminded of this verse.  Paul distinguishes his doctrine from the false teachers because it produces love.  The genuine gospel that Paul preached was the basis for a life of love.  A gospel changed person loves with a “pure heart” (a heart cleansed from sin), a “good conscience” (a conscience clear from guilt), and a “sincere faith” (a life free from hypocrisy and insincerity).

For me the application is twofold:

1.  Is my love based on the gospel that through the work of Christ I have been freed from sin (Rom. 6), declared righteous, and given the gift of a new heart?  Because of what Christ has done for me I am able to love appropriately in return.

2.  The result of good doctrine is obedience to Christ (Jn. 14:23), not merely theological information.  The temptation, sometimes, is for there to be a “hiatus between the arena of the… theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena” (Thielicke).  Are my actions consistent with what I know about God and the gospel?


Is forgiveness really once for all?

I have been comparing the idea of Jesus’ forgiveness of  sins being sufficient for all time (a la Hebrews 10) and the insistence by many of continually confessing sin (a la 1 John 1:9).  In my cursory reading of 1 John it appears that such a confession is a mere agreement that one is guilty before rather than  a continual appropriation of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a one time act accomplished solely by God (1 John 2:12).

My initial conclusion: confession of sin is a realization of one’s condition and God’s salvation.  God does the saving, confession is a natural result (not a prerequisite or ongoing requirement).  I am not sure if this is all a part of evangelicalism’s “Catholic hangover” or just a failure to fully trust in the grace alone, faith alone message of the gospel.

I wonder how my actions would change if I really lived in the guilt free, once-for-all forgiveness of Jesus?

The Forest or the Trees?: Thoughts on Reading the Bible

Recently I came across a review of N.T. Wright’s new book on justification in the e-journal Themelios.  Though I have not read the book I am familiar with the ongoing debate between John Piper and N. T. Wright on the nature of “justification” in Romans.  Sidenote – an obvious conflict of interest exists when the reviewer is the executive pastoral assistant to John Piper.  However, more to the point of reading the Bible, the reviewer criticizes Wright’s exegesis by comparing him to Piper:

Exegesis has two different flavors for Wright and Piper. Piper wrestles word by word, proposition by proposition, and then paragraph by paragraph. Wright moves much quicker through large chunks of Paul’s thought, refers frequently to whole chapters and paragraphs…

Mathis illustrates a common mistake in reading Scripture.  To Mathis’ point, one must not merely hover over the text or keep the text at arm’s length.  However, the myth of word-by-word exegesis has been propagated to the exclusion of context.  Every word is important, but any given word, phrase, or paragraph is pointless if it does not contribute to a coherent whole.  There are many contemporary examples of preachers, teachers, and scholars who purport to do Biblically faithful exegesis merely by teaching word-for-word through a text.  However, it might be more impressive when one synthesizes and explains the content of an entire paragraph, chapter, or book in the Bible.

Social Justice and/or Personal Holiness: A Quandry?

My mind has been unsettled recently about the relationship between social justice and personal holiness.  My own experience with the Church has been in settings that almost exclusively focus on issues of personal morality (e.g., fornication, lying, etc.).  I think there is good reason for this.  Take the Ten Commandments for example, they seem primarily concerned with one’s relationship to God.

On the other hand, there are well-meaning Christian and non-Christian groups that continually sound the alarm concerning the thousands of people that die every day from preventable disease around the globe, the children dying from starvation in other countries, the children kidnapped and forced to kill as soldier’s for a cause that is not there own.  I could go on and on about modern day slavery and the like.

I don’t have the answer, but I am coming to some preliminary considerations.

1.  Personal holiness and social justice are intertwined. Jesus makes it clear that love of God and love of others are two sides of the same coin.

2.  Christians need to be careful what they emphasize. On Derek Webb’s so-called controversial new album “Stockholm Syndrome” he has a lyric that reads:

If I can tell what’s in your heart / By what comes out of your mouth / Then it sure looks to me like being straight / Is all it’s about

I believe that marriage and sexuality are gospel issues.  However, I do not believe they are the only issues.

3.  The gospel is both foundational and transformational. The gospel does not speak to only personal struggles but, also, the redemption of the world.  Genuine service to the downtrodden is not less than the proclamation of the gospel, but it certainly is more.

These are some initial thoughts.  What do you think?  Any advice on how to think clearly about these issues?  Leave some comments.

Talk is Cheap

It is abundantly clear that God has put my wife into my life for the purpose of sanctification (among other things).  During a recent six hour car ride from Pennsylvania, Whitney was sharing what she was learning from the Bible (sidenote: long car rides are some of our favorite time to talk and laugh together).  She read a passage from Isaiah 58:

The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground.  Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after: a day to show off humility?  To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black?  Do you call that fasting, a fast that I, YHWH, would like?

This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.  What I’m interest in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families (Isaiah 58:3-7)

This sounds very similar to Jesus’ description of humility in Luke 18:9-14 and genuine discipleship in Matthew 25:31-46.  Jesus describes this sort of hypocrisy when he quotes Isaiah 29:

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.  But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’ (Matthew 15:7-9).

John Sailhamer summarizes Isaiah 58:1-14 as follows:

The kind of repentance God required of his people is a contrite heart and a life of good works.  There was little value in fasting if one’s life did not reflect compassion and obedience to the will of God.

What good is singing a song (hymn? chorus? psalm?), attending church, praying, fasting, or (even) reading my Bible if my actions and attitudes do not legitimate these practices.  Thank God for grace to try again, for a holy dissatisfaction regarding my unholy life, and disdain at my hypocrisy.

Reflections on "God Exposed." (Part 2)

How do I describe the impact of C. J. Mahaney’s message this weekend?  I have yet to hear a teacher of the Bible who so accurately understands his own shortcomings yet so clearly magnifies God.  Mahaney taught from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and encouraged faithfulness to the gospel through the content and character of the preacher.

Mahaney made clear that the Word of God is essential to the church.  Before being overwhelmed by the obvious he traced out the implications of such a thought.  For example, the primacy of the Word of God should be reflected in the schedule of the preacher (i.e., I should set aside adequate time to unhurriedly exegete, applicate, and illustrate the text of Scripture).  I cannot let lesser duties overwhelm this primary concern nor can I allow sinful procrastination to cripple my Bible Study.

I was also reminded during this time that a pastor/elder is most adequately equipped to teach the Bible at a particular church because preaching requires pastoral skill and discernment to teach and apply the Bible.  A pastor should know the struggles and victories of his congregation and, therefore, know the appropriate use of admonition and exhortation.  I would not want to admonish the weak and encourage the unruly!  This requires an atmosphere of community that is conducive to openly sharing life.

Mahaney pierced my heart with his encouragement to preach “with all patience” (2 Tim. 4:2).  It is sometimes easier to give a weekly monologue than be patient with people.  I must always keep in the front of my mind God’s patience with me.  Further, I cannot expect my listeners to immediately understand and apply everything I preach.  God has been slowly working on my heart and I have been “living in the text” for weeks.  How foolish of me to think that what took me weeks and years to understand will immediately be fully grasped by my audience.  Further, it is the height of arrogance to think that I am such a good communicator as to condense years worth of Biblical study and personal sanctification into a single hour-long sermon.

All-in-all I must persevere in the careful and consistent teaching of the Word of God and “be grateful and surprised” that anyone shows up to hear me speak at all!