Tag Archives: bible

What is ‘outreach’?

The Bible does talk a lot about public evangelism. In Acts, for example, the apostles preach to large crowds of unbelievers on many occasions. Their preaching is often direct and, even, confrontational. (e.g., Acts 2:14-40, Acts 14, Acts 7:1-51).

However, there is also a component of relationship and community that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. (1 Thes. 2:7-12, Acts 19:9, 1 Thes. 4:12).

In my own life, daily discipleship is much harder than one-time events. I don’t particularly mind large, attraction-based, event-oriented evangelism (though I question their effectiveness in today’s culture). However, one-time evangelism must be accompanied by daily, sacrificial, authentic, missional living. I find it much harder to mentor a student weekly than take teenagers to camp once a year. It is much more time-consuming to volunteer in the local middle school than throw a Superbowl party. I have to be vulnerable when I share my life with other people and that scares me. When you share life you share success and failure, strengths and weaknesses.

By God’s grace I will strive to demonstrate the gospel not just once in a while but every day.

The Centrality of Language

As my wife knows, I have become a little persnickety about concepts regarding meaning, language, and the like. Unfortunately I allowed myself to be enticed into a Facebook ‘discussion’ on Bible translation (sidenote: facebook ‘discussions’/arguments rarely work). Shame on me, I should have known better.

I became the ‘bait-taker’ in this Facebook comment thread because the author denigrated an entire translation, the “Nearly-Inspired-Version” as he called it (where have I heard that before?). I am not here to defend the NIV per se but it is significant to realize that no translation is inspired.

Translations are never one-to-one. Meaning is not tied wholly to words but to context and usage (both linguistic and cultural). To use a semi-crass example: I remember learning Spanish in high school and college. I thought, in my immature and innapropriate way, that it would be funny to learn how to describe bodily functions en Español. I learned that, en Español, I would say, “me tiro un pedo” — literally, “I threw a fart.” That’s not actually what is happening during the act of passing gas — it is an idiom, an expression. Just like I have never “grabbed the bull by the horns,” though I often claim to.

Literal translations are never entirely sufficient. The Bible is inspired, but it is inspired human language. As such, all the idiosyncrasies, irregularities, and communicative difficulties of human language exist (e.g., idiom, non-standardized spelling, grammatical irregularities, etc.). The reason I was so bothered by the original Facebook post was the way it disparaged an entire English translation because of one non-literal translation. This person was upset that a particular verse in the NIV (Genesis 2:17) translated bĕyôm (literally “in the day”) as “when” (I know that the NET Bible also translates bĕyôm this way).

but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17, NASB).

“In the day” is very likely an idiom meaning “when.” If I was talking and said “the other day” I rarely mean a specific date and time but, rather, “a while ago” or “when this happened in the past.” In fact, I sometimes refer to things that happened months ago as “the other day.” The real kicker in Genesis 2:17 is not what is meant by “in the day” but what is meant by “die.”

My concern with this type of naïve literalism is not the intent. I understand that those who want wooden, word-for-word, literal translations are trying to preserve (in their minds) the original text. Nor is my concern the actual translation of Genesis 2:17 (I am fine with either “when” or “in the day” and would probably have translated it “in the day” because I think the idiom transfers well). My concern is that a narrow understanding of language and inspiration will actually confuse the intended meaning of the text as understood in its original cultural-linguistic context. As such, strict literalism might obfuscate rather than elucidate the intended meaning.

There are a number of examples of this problem that I run into every time I try to translate anything (whether it is Spanish, Koine Greek, Biblical Hebrew, English slang, body language, etc.). Maybe I’ll share some more examples in the future from things I am translating!

Walk the Talk

I have again been reminded of a way to functionally undermine the authority of the Scriptures. Bible teachers or Christians frequently proclaim their allegiance to the Scripture and its truth yet often only vaguely reference its contents out of context or (worst) (mis-)use the text to suit their own ends; in these moments they demonstrate that all the talk about authority and sufficiency is smoke and mirrors, propaganda, and hypocrisy. I also see people consistently elevate and emphasize secondary material in the text above things of greater importance. Sometimes, wholesale theological fabrications are held in higher esteem than the gospel.

All of this reminded me of an excellent message by David Nelson delivered at SEBTS during convocation a few years ago. His message (“How to Undermine the Authority of Scripture”) gave four ways to functionally undermine the authority of the Bible:

1. Make loud claims about the inerrancy of the Bible and then fail to teach it all.

2. Insist that what is not in the Scripture is in the Scripture.

3. Neglect to teach what is in the Scripture or fail to give it the proper emphasis given by the Bible.

4. Make loud claims of the authority of Scripture and then fail to live a truly Christian way of life.

I would highly recommend listening to the entire message.

The Next Christians: A Hopeful Appraisal of Christianity’s Future

Gabe Lyons, coauthor of the insightful book UnChristian, has written a helpful book entitled The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their blogging for books program.

When it comes to Lyons’ basic premises I think he is right on target. First, any notion of America as a Christian nation is quickly coming to an end. Greg Boyd and others have been banging this drum for some time now. The idea that America is, should be, or ever was a truly Christian nation is essentially over. Second, the loss of Christian America is a (gasp) good thing! With the end of cultural Christianity the gospel is able to flourish in an environment where it can be heralded without the false assumptions and blatant hypocrisy’s of those who claim Christianity but have no resemblance to Christ.

Whether for reasons of misplaced nostalgia or poor historical recollection, there is a tendency for some, as they grow older, to glorify the past and pessimistically evaluate the present. Lyons provides a lot of hope in his description of the state of Christianity. He is able to point out the current struggles of modern evangelicalism while still observing a number of younger evangelicals who are sacrificially and whole-heartedly communicating and demonstrating the love of Christ at home and around the world.

It can be uncomfortable to hear traditions being challenged but in the midst of such challenges is the opportunity to evaluate what the Bible has to say about the gospel, the church, and the mission of God.

Lyons is well-read when it comes to scholars who have studied Christianity and culture. In addition he is particularly well-connected within evangelical circles (though his name-dropping verges on annoying). I felt that Lyons had a great grasp on how to influence culture (e.g., education, media, etc.) but might have been lacking in some areas of Biblical studies. He emphasizes key concepts in the Bible such as redemption, community, and charity. In his emphasis on more relational aspects of proclaiming the gospel he deemphasizes other equally valid Biblical models such as public proclamation of the gospel or vocal opposition to sin.

All-in-all Lyons book is easy to read and provides an optimistic look at younger Christians and the way they can shape culture by proclaiming and living the gospel. Lyons doesn’t say much that is new but his voice is well-respected among younger leaders and, therefore, his influence will be felt. I would still recommend the authors he cites (e.g., Niebuhr, Lewis, Schaeffer, Guinness, Newbigin, Carson) as more comprehensive, thoughtful, erudite, and profound but Lyons serves as an interesting entrance into the discussion of Christianity and culture.

The Bible as Icon

Beyond doubt, the Bible for many Americans is, as Martin Marty phrases it, an “icon” as well as an object of study. With no American group is this more the case than with evangelicals… Evangelicals, by reputation and self-definition an antiliturgical folk, have nevertheless made a formulaic phrase, “the Bible says” (or its variants, like “my Bible says”), an all but essential part of the sermon. The iconic place of the Bible accounts for the fact that so many evangelicals profess belief in scriptural inerrancy, yet know little about the book’s actual content. It also helps explain why many different bodies of evangelicals continue to insist that they follow “the Bible alone” and are not influenced by historical or cultural conditioning, as they go their mutually exclusive ways in doctrine and practice.

– Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism

Some More Glenn Beck Discussion

Glenn Beck is a regular topic of discussion on this blog (see here and here).  My reservations about Beck are numerous (both political, ideological, historical, and theological).  Recently, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally has gained much attention.  Some have lauded Beck for showing courage to stand for America’s “founding values” and others have cautioned evangelicals to be careful with whom they partner (at this point the essay by Russell Moore is genuinely helpful).  Not only has Moore weighed in but Doug Wilson and Scot McKnight have offered some commentary on the situation.

One denominational side note that I found disappointing was the alliance of Richard Land (president of  SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) with Beck as part of his multi-faith “black-robed regiment.”

Outside of Moore, Robert Parham has proven to be the most helpful.  He not only provides insightful commentary about the dangers of civil religion and generic, theistic alliances, he does so with ample quotations from the actual event in question (“Restoring Honor” on August 28, 2010).

Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of America history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning…

Beck said, “We can disagree on politics.  We can disagree on so much.  These men and women don’t agree on fundamentals.  They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches.  What they do agree on is that God is the answer.

It is insightful to note that the definitions of god provided by these various clerics are so broad that god is probably not even a sufficiently meaningful category.  Whose God?

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the “American scripture”—such as the Gettysburg Address—as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God—God generically—not a specific understanding of God revealed in the Biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic…

Church vs. Home

I have been reminded of late about the massive misunderstanding that most Christians have regarding the nature of the church.  One common fallacy of which I have recently encountered has massive implications for the way one lives and behaves.  It is routinely propagated that one must behave in a particularly pious way “at church.”  “Put on your Sunday best,” someone might say.  Others balk at a pastor’s knowledge of popular media or his reference to popular culture while teaching.  They say that it has no place “at church.”  The manifestations of this Biblical mistake are never ending.

Ultimately some would have you believe that certain physical space is sacred and other physical space is secular.  Like Moses and the burning bush, when you step onto the church’s property you are “on holy ground.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The reality of the New Testament is that believers are the ones who are holy, by means of the blood of Christ (1 Cor 3:16–17; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16).  The church is not a building (Eph 2:11–22) but a people.

On the one hand, what you do and say with the church should not be disconnected from what you do and say by yourself.  Granted, the purpose of a church meeting together is different than when you are alone—mutual edification can only occur with others.  However, there should be little difference in the manner of my living when I am with other believers and when I am by myself.  If what I wear throughout the week is not appropriate for “church” then it is not appropriate for the grocery store.  You might not want to wear a baseball uniform or pajamas to church (different purpose) but neither must you wear a specific “church uniform.”  If God does not require a suit to go the baseball game then he does not require one when I gather with other believers.  This thinking should extend to what I watch on television and the content of my conversation.  As far as I can tell, the Biblical definition of sacred and secular is purely an inward category.  Holiness is a function of our calling from God, not our location (Eph 1:4; Col 3:12; 1 Pet 1:15).

Watch your life and doctrine…

I came across a brief video clip of C. J. Mahaney.  He was offering advice backstage at the 2010 SBC Pastor’s conference.  His simple advice was from 1 Timothy 4:16:  “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

I empathize deeply with C. J.’s concern.  It is much easier for me to watch my doctrine than my life.  I must be careful to pay close attention that the information I gain about God results in a life transformed to look like Christ.  The result of any knowledge about God is a life that bears much fruit for His glory.

A timely reminder.

Romans 13 and the Revolutionary War

On the heels of our most recent Independence Day celebration I was contemplating the relationship between the Revolutionary War and the Bible.  Paul says in Romans 13:1-7:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Does America’s War for Independence follow these criteria?  Many have argued on both sides of this issue.  I see some serious problems with arguing that America was upholding the Biblical mandate during the Revolutionary War.  I understand all of the reasons for declaring independence from Great Britain, but none of them could have been more compelling than Paul’s reasons to rebel against the Roman government.

I think I learned a few important lessons from this miniature historical exercise: (1) Do not to glamorize America’s past, realize that God can still bring good from bad.  (2) Do not assume that every decision America has made in the name of “life and liberty” is perfect.  America is not the standard for right and wrong — that is reserved for the perfect and holy God of the Bible.

John Piper’s Advice

On the Desiring God blog, they had some advice from John Piper.  I was particularly impressed by what he said.  Read for yourself.

Hold fast to the Bible.  Base everything on the Bible.  If you are going to criticize, criticize from the Bible.  If you are going to affirm somebody, affirm them from the Bible.  If you are going to do a strategy, do it from the Bible.  Be a Bible saturated people.  That’s what will make for long term staying power for the gospel.

I know this is going to be called bibliolatry, and people will say, “You worship the Bible, not God.”  Bologna on that.  People who reject the Bible for God become idolaters.  The only God worthy of knowing and loving is the one we meet in and discover through the Bible.  I do want him to be everything and the Bible is secondary compared to Him;  but if we try to say Him or something about Him without stressing the foundation of the Bible, then we will lose what we are trying to preserve after a generation.