Tag Archives: old testament

Mythbuster Monday: Myth of Experience

There is this perpetual myth floating around that has implications for our understanding of wisdom, decision-making, and the will of God. It is a myth that is pervasive but proves wanting with a little Biblical and logical examination. However, without being examined many use it as an excuse to ignore any counsel that is contrary to choices they already want to make or have made.

I call it, “THE MYTH OF EXPERIENCE.”

Can I Know If I Haven’t Tried?

This myth has a number of iterations. For example, I do a lot of ministry with families. Some of the most fruitful pastoral opportunities involve teenagers and their parents. However, I do not have any children of my own. Therefore, when I have a difference of opinion with a parent over a particular issue the invariable response they give is, “you don’t understand because you don’t have kids.” Really? A doctor doesn’t have to have a disease to know the cure.

The whole purpose of advice is to help others avoid experiencing something that is bad or harmful or help them try something they haven’t tried. If experience is necessary then Christians can just get rid of the Bible and start experimenting (it appears some have already started down this path). This goes along with the old notion that “people have to learn the hard way.” Maybe some people choose to learn the hard way but they sure don’t have to learn the hard way. If possible, I would rather learn from the mistakes of others than experience them myself.

I am not trying to denigrate the value experience can have. Those who have made poor choices or experienced particular things are able to understand and empathize in a more robust way with others in similar situations. However, their experiences are not necessary for godly decision-making or figuring out “what is right.”

Experience Can Be Negative

It is important to remember that experience is not always positive. First, some experiences irreparably harm you or have consequences that never go away. In addition, personal experience makes objectivity more difficult than it already is. None of us see the world from a completely fair and unbiased perspective. None of us interpret history objectively. No Christian can look at the Bible and fully understand its meaning without being affected (either positively or negatively) by their own worldview and experiences. As a result, it might be possible that someone who has not experienced a particular situation may be able to more fully appraise the possible outcomes without being unfairly influenced by their own past.

Experience Can Cloud Objectivity

Most of us interpret things the way we want them to be rather than they way they are or should be. I have a recent example that makes this perfectly clear. I have some mutual friends that recently had a baby. On her blog, my friend carefully explained all of the positives of breastfeeding in public. Her main arguments were based on the fact that it was natural (it’s a part of the human body’s natural experience) and necessary (a baby has to eat). Purely because I sensed a logical inconsistency I pointed out that a lot of activities are natural and necessary (e.g., going to the bathroom) but our society still requires us to do them in private. Now, I’m not trying to rile up all of the lactating mothers out there. I’m just using this recent incident as an example. My friend (as a mother) was having a hard time seeing things from an unbiased point-of-view and was insinuating that when my wife and I have a baby we’ll understand. Basically, since we haven’t experienced this situation we have no right or ability to comment! Personal experience will increase our empathy of how difficult this issue is but it shouldn’t change our understanding of the issue at hand. One could argue that I am just as biased in the other direction since I do not have a hungry child whose cries melt my heart. That is my point, experience actually makes it harder to achieve objectivity (in both directions)! Since no one can remove their experiences or lack thereof, how do we decide what is right? We’ll get to that a little later.

Age and Experience

Another variation of this myth involves age. Many people argue that “experience = wisdom.” We all know this isn’t the case. I have met a some older people that are exceeding experienced and exceedingly wise. On the other hand, I have met a lot of experienced, elderly people who are immature and unwise. What is the difference? Experience is not synonymous with wisdom. One can be wise and inexperienced. One can also be old and inexperienced. I have met a number of elderly people that haven’t experienced a lot in there lives. However, wisdom and experience combine to make an unmatched resource for discernment, advice, encouragement, information, and much more.

Wisdom and Truth Are Independent of Personal Experience

How can one find wisdom? The theme of wisdom is prevalent throughout the Bible. In the New Testament, Jesus is described in terms of the Old Testament wisdom literature (e.g., Prov. 8:1-36, 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God. There is hope for those of us who don’t have sufficient life experience. We can still have wisdom via the person of Jesus Christ.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength… It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:18, 25, 30).

When Paul is talking to Timothy he explicitly tells him that his youth and, in some regard, inexperience do not negate his calling, his giftedness, and (most importantly) the truth that he has received (1 Timothy 4). The mature in his congregation are worthy of respect but the foundation of the church is not on their experiences but on the Word of God to which they must be faithful.

Ultimately, it is not one’s experience or inexperience that should guide decision-making. Jesus is the power and example of wisdom; he is the truth.

Summary Thoughts

To summarize:

1. Experience is not necessary to make the right decision.

2. Experience does not equal wisdom.

3. Experience is not always positive, it can be harmful.

4. Personal experiences can cloud one’s ability to make a sound, Biblical decision.

5. Experience and wisdom work together to produce godly discernment and judgment.

6. Experience is not the final determiner of what is wise and true, Jesus is.

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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!