Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Thing with People

Most of them (us) want to be different. They (we) just don't want to change.

We want the outcome, but not the process.

Because change is hard.

Until we are willing to do the latter, we will never be the former.

One of the roles of the Christian is to be an agent of change, relying on the Holy Spirit through the use of Scripture. We are to be an agent of change in our lives as well as in the lives of others.

And remember, not just any change will do. Any change worth making is biblical change.

So we, as disciples and disciple-makers, must be agents of biblical change, using the Scriptures in the power of the Spirit to effect change both in our lives and in the lives of others.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Review of Toward an Exegetical Theology

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward and Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981. pp. 7-247.

Walter Kaiser has contributed an excellent volume on the topic of exegetical method with a particular view to the accurate and powerful preaching and teaching of the ancient Scriptures to a modern audience. He begins by mourning “the gap that exists between the study of the biblical text…and the actual delivery of the messages to God’s people” (p. 8). The clearest statement of his thesis seems to be found on the fourth to last page of the book where he says, “What we have been attempting to answer in this book will continue to be the most difficult aspect of exegetical theology; that is, how can the ancient Scriptures continue to be the living voice of God for the present time?” (p. 244). Kaiser has certainly made significant headway in this task, while bemoaning the fact that seminaries have not.

His work is divided into four major sections, the bulk of which (97 pp.) makes up the second section where Kaiser lays out his own approach to what he calls the “syntactical-theological” method.

The book is encumbered with a relatively slow start about the history of hermeneutics. This treatment contains just enough information for an injudicious reader to learn enough names and ideas to sound informed without actually being able to intelligently discuss the various views if this is their only exposure to the issues. In addition, Kaiser disappointingly gives only brief and, in this author’s opinion, unclear definitions of the various types of criticism such as form, tradition, and redaction criticism. The roles these various approaches play in modern Old Testament studies render them deserving of more discussion. Certainly in a book of this length, it would be impossible to say much, but it certainly seems possible to have said more than what was said, or at least say it in a manner that was more clear.

The second (and longest) section quickly picks up steam. Kaiser rightly defends the hermeneutical model of single meaning based on authorial intention, and shows the logical bind that its detractors have worked themselves into (p. 113). The section includes substantive and helpful discussions on determining the four different types of context, understanding the issues of single meaning and authorial intent, and the “analogy of (antecedent) faith.” His book seems geared towards chapter seven where he discusses the homiletical process, and the principlization by which the exegetical outline (what the text says) is turned into a homiletical outline (what the text says to today’s audience). In an overall excellent work, this chapter on homiletical analysis is the crowning point.

Kaiser’s graphical displays of textual analysis (chapter 8) are extremely helpful, though the lack of explanation about how the chart should be read (and constructed) could improve it. Three chapters on preaching prophecy (9), historical narrative (10), and poetry (11) are helpful as the principles of the preceding chapters are fleshed out in more practical and directed ways toward particular genres. Kaiser closes his book with an excellent chapter on the power of God in preaching, a chapter that should be very thoughtfully and carefully read with great consideration for the truth of 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

In the Diner

I am sitting here this morning working on a project to develop a discipleship ministry for people involved in life dominating sins. Were I not trying to be theologically accurate, I would say that I am developing a recovery program for addicts.

But the truth is that addicts are slaves to life-dominating sins because of choices they make. Their previous choices make have made those choices harder (since they have now created a physical dependency), but they are still choices. No one forces an alcoholic to raise that glass to his lips. No one forces a drug addict to sniff that powder. It is a choice, regardless of the physiological dependencies that may have been created.

I also don't believe in "recovery." I believe in transformation through discipleship. What an addict needs is not a way to stay away from alcohol, or stay off drugs, or stay away from sex. What he or she needs is someone to follow who offers them a new way of life, both in this world and the next. They  need to be "transformed by the renewing of their mind."

"Recovery"is, in my opinion, at least a nod of the head toward the sickness model of addiction. We recover from sickness. We find freedom by being transformed by the glorious power of the gospel.

So while I may, for the sake of convention, talking about addiction and recovery, and I am actually talking about life-dominating sins and discipleship.

So what does this have to with the diner? A man (John) who visited the church before stopped by my table to ask what I was doing. I have shared the gospel with this man before. When I explained to him what I was doing, he said "We need that around here."

It wasn't but a couple of sentences until he volunteered that he had been church-hopping. I told him one of the biggest reasons to attend our church faithfully is because the teaching is systematic. It is connected from week to week. We do not jump around the text looking for the flavor of the week. We preach what comes next in the Bible (Romans 13:1-7 this week). Besides, when you are at the same church every week, you can actually get to know people.

John is a pretty quiet person, but still in need of prayer that he might find the hope that is in Jesus alone.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On Romans 12:11

Romans 12:11

not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

The main interpretive issue in this verse is the identification of the spirit, whether it should be understood as the Holy Spirit (cf. Moo, p. 778) or the human spirit (cf. Murray, 2:130; Hodge, p. 396; Harrison, p. 133). Morris (PNTC) and Schreiner (BECNT) both take a middling sort of view that both the Holy Spirit and the human spirit are in view.

Schreiner says, "Believers are to burn and seethe in their spirits, but the means by which this is done is the power of the Holy Spirit" (p. 665). This is true enough, but is it what Paul was saying? Was Paul intending some sort of double reference here with the word Spirit?

The "both/and" sort of view is a fairly common hermeneutical bailout that, in my estimation, is usually illegitimate.* One of the fundamental truths about language is that words can only mean one thing in a given context. The ability to communicate cannot bear up under the weight of the full semantic range. This is what James Barr (and later Carson and others) called "illegitimate totality transfer." It essentially means attaching the full semantic range as the meaning of an individual use of a word.

This is seem by some pastors and teachers who, seeming desperate to say something profound about a passage, seem almost to preach right out of the Greek Lexicon, waxing eloquent about the various meanings of a given word rather than honing in on the one particular meaning in the context at hand. This is both time consuming as well as non-productive. If the word in question means the same thing in another passage as it does in this one, then comparison may help to inform and fill out our understanding. If it means something else, comparison probably serves only to confuse. As a pastor, I need not confuse my hearers by appealing to passages that are irrelevant because the same word there means something different.

Back to Romans 12:11, the word for spirit is a word that can be used both for the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. But it cannot be used in both senses in the same usage. It means one or the other.

In Romans 12:11, the meaning is found in comparing the first part (don't be lazy) and the second part (be fervent). We would be ill-advised to press the parallelism to determine the similarities or differences between "diligence" and "spirit." But we would be well-advised to note that the opposite of lazy is fervency, not the Holy Spirit. So Paul was exhorting these living sacrifices (v. 1) whose lives are being transformed by the renewing of their minds (v. 2) to not be lazy but rather to be energetic in the service of the Lord.

*I suppose, if words mean anything, that I have just accused Schreiner and Morris, both highly respected NT scholars, of this hermeneutical bailout. But what else do we say? Whatever pneumati (the Greek word for Spirit) might mean in that passage, I cannot for the life of me figure out how it can mean both the human spirit and the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Be a Good Dad, For God's Sake

One of the conceptions of God as Father will grow out of an individual's relationship with their own father. If a person sees their father as cruel or mean, they will quite often view God as cruel and mean.

If they view their father is impossible to please, they will often view God impossible to please.

If they view their father as lazy, disinterested, or disconnected with their lives, they will tend to view God disinterested in their lives and preoccupied with their own.

So dads, for God's sake, and for the sake of your children, be a good dad. Follow the pattern of our father who is in heaven whose unconditional love of his children does not tolerate their sin, whether of immaturity or intentionality, but neither does he respond to them in uncontrolled anger or cold isolation. 

O Fathers, Let us delight in unchanging love toward our children, following in the pattern of our heavenly Father who does not overlook our iniquity, but neither is he angry forever. He corrects with lovingkindess and attentiveness with the purpose of developing us into mature, productive citizens of his kingdom to come, while we live on this earth in eager anticipation of the age hereafter.

Who is a God like You,
who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love
(Micah 7:18)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Rant on Books

I love books, not so much when they are piled on my floor for the lack of bookshelf space or stack on top of other books for the same reason, but I suppose that is my fault. I should either quit buying books (not happening) or start buying bookshelves.

I also love pages. While I am the satisfied owner (so far) of the Logos Scholar's Library which was a requirement for me (and a couple,  and while I love the searching capability of it, I just do not  like not having pages. It just bothers me. Call me old-fashioned. But I can't wait until the computers of today consign my Logos to spot on the shelf along my copy of Windows 3.11. Ink on paper however will still be technologically viable. And the battery won't run down in the midst of a fascinating passage.

But neither of these bothers me as much as two other things.

First, endnotes ... They are a sin against the reader. They require a colossal waste of time, energy, and concentration inasmuch as one has to flip to the back of the book to search for the note, inevitably which numbering restarts in the current chapter, requiring the reader to remember the number of the chapter you are currently reading, something I rarely pay attention to, since I don't think there is great learning value in chapter numbers. I may be missing a point here or there at times by this habit of ignoring chapter numbers, but I have this sneaking suspicion that the point of the chapter is not found in the number.

However, if you are going to sin so egregriously in writing by using endnotes, humor us with two thoughtful (and easy) concessions. First, do not restart your numbering at each chapter. If you have 349 notes in your book, that is okay (in fact, it is perhaps preferable since it lets us know you are not "sucking this out of your thumb" [Thanks for that metaphor, Dr. Combs, from whom I first heard it]). Our Arabic numeral system will handle "349" just fine (as opposed to the Roman numeral system where "CCCXLIX" would indeed be cumbersome).

Second,if you are going to sin so egregiously by using endnotes, then use headers in the note section that contain the pages for which the notes on that page are found. For instance, if page 321 in your book contains the notes found in pages 45-57, then simply put a header on the page that reads "Notes from pp. 45-57." That way, the endnote will be more easily found. And by the way, footnotes at the end of chapters are worse than at the end of books. At least when they are at the end of books, you have a general idea of where to find them. The page on which chapter eight ends is a shot in the dark.

A second, but less troublesome practice in writing is the division of bibliographies into categories. While I believe the practice of exegesis includes trying to discern authorial intent, I do not think my exegetical time is best spent by trying to figure out if the author considered a book a "General Work," an "Exegetical Work," a "Journal Article," a part of a "Festschrift," or one of the other myriads of categories authors employ.

While my admittedly small mind can find no reason for endnotes aside from marketing to those who might intimidated by eight point type at the bottom of the page that contain usually valuable information, I can see some value in a divided bibliography. But not enough to make it recommended.

If you want to list works on a particular topic, put a bibliography at the end of the chapter on that topic, and then put a full bibliography at the end.

And while I am here, can we do away with MLA (or ALA or whatever it is) where notes are parenthetical, referencing only the author, the date, and the page number). It is extremely frustrating to try to figure out what Carson wrote in 1993 (especially when working with a divided bibliography ... but at least they are not at the end). With the miracle of word processors, just click on the little footnote button, and make a footnote.

Happy Reading ... and Happy Searching should you happen to have a book with endnotes and happen to actually read them.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Book Review of From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew

Chisholm, Robert, M. Jr. From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. 278 pp.

Robert Chisholm, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, set out to write a guidebook for sermon preparation from the OT that begins with the Hebrew text and ends with a timely, culturally relevant exposition of the Bible of ancient Israel. In this task, he has certainly succeeded. This work takes the reader through virtually the entire process of sermon preparation, starting with the bare Hebrew text and ending with a message ready to be preached. Along the way, he includes copious example from a wide variety of OT genres to illustrate virtually every point he tries to make. His list of suggested further reading at the end of each chapter will prove valuable to the student who desires to increase his knowledge in the areas covered by this book.

Chisholm begins with an excellent apologetic for the use of the Hebrew text by the pastor (chapter 1), and then he devotes a short section (chapter 2) to an analysis of various tools available to the exegete-pastor. Since the publication of this book in 1998, the availability of resources has drastically changed, rendering this section somewhat outdated. Nevertheless, his analysis of the various strengths and weaknesses of the lexical aids is valuable, since the aids he does list are still available, some in electronic format.

Chapters 3-5 cover some of the foundational matters of textual criticism, semantics and linguistics, and basic Hebrew grammar. While each of these topics can (and has) filled books all by themselves, Chisholm does an admirable job of boiling down some key points of each topic to provide a basic foundation. His chapter on Hebrew syntax (chapter 5) would be much improved, in this author’s opinion, by the relatively simple task of adding vowel points.

Chapters 6-7 cover the two basic genres of OT literature—historical narrative and poetry. His demonstration of how to analyze a narrative passage is helpful in seeing how to organize the passage around the relationships between the various clauses. It would be helpful to develop some sort of graphical scheme to supplement the labels (e.g. sequential, temporal, circumstantial) and emphasize the key parts of the narrative while subordinating the supporting parts. His discussion of the basic ingredients of a story and the types of characters (pp. 151-53) is helpful in analyzing the key parts of a narrative in order to isolate the significant from the insignificant, or at least less significant.

Chapters 8-9 flesh out the process by first advocating a seven-step process to determine the meaning of the text itself (chapter 8) and then “mak[ing] the ancient text come alive, so that it can impact the thinking and behavior of people living, struggling, suffering, and dying in the here and now” (p. 221; chapter 9). This chapter, as do the others, include a number of examples of Chisholm’s own work. Chapter 10 closes with some exercises that the reader can try his own hand at.

Overall, this is a valuable introduction for preaching Old Testament texts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Books Read 2007

Here are some of my reading choices from 2007, in no particular order. These are books that, in retrospect, I thought were worthy, at least in some way, of the time it took to read them. (Do I even need to say that this is not a blanket endorsement of these books, their authors or where their authors speak, or what kind of music they have in their churches, or who their deacons are, etc?)

When Darkness Will Not Lift (John Piper) - This little book is a great book on living in spiritual darkness. I found it very encouraging and have recommended it to others at various times.

The Cross of Christ (John Stott) - This is a fairly stout work on the work of Christ on the cross, teasing out many implications. I read this as a part of my Saturday night, pre-preaching routine, to help remind me what I am ultimately doing on Sunday morning—leading people to Christ crucified. It was a very good read.

Evangelism for the Faint-Hearted (Floyd Schneider) - I blogged about this book elsewhere, but it remains high on my list of books that were worth reading, primarily due to it's conversational approach to evangelism, finding out where people are and what objections they hold against the Bible and its message.

Courageous Leadership (Bill Hybels) - I have read all or part of this book several times in the last four or five years, and each time I have found it to be helpful in some basic ideas of leadership in the church. It is not a deeply theological book, as you might suspect from seeing the author, but I think it is deeply practical one, a place to get started for people who struggle with "What do I do now?"

Truth and the New Kind of Christian (R. Scott Smith) - This is an excellent book on the emerging church and the philosophies underlying it. I have read Carson's, which I thought was good. Personally, I think Smith's is better. I would recommend them both as currently the two leading books about emergents by non-emergents.

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (Paul David Tripp) - This is simply one of the many excellent books from the CCEF. It is about people ministering to people. This is perhaps the best book I read all year, in many ways. For training and deploying people into personal ministry and discipleship, this book will be an invaluable resource. In an intentional ministry of training lay ministers, this book should be at the top of the required reading list. In fact, it may be good to read this one twice before reading another.

Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches (John Hammett) - This is an excellent primer on Baptist distinctives, and their biblical foundation.

The Peacemaker (Ken Sande) - This is an excellent book on conflict resolution. It was a major source for a series that I thought on conflict resolution in our lives.

Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church (Donald Whitney) - A follow up to his previous book on spiritual disciplines, this book focuses (as you might imagine) on life in the body. I found it very encouraging, and this served as a resource for a series I taught on Seeing the Church Through New Eyes.

I read a number of other books, some of great value, others not so much.

Friday, January 04, 2008

On the Iowa Caucuses, Barack Obama, and Heart Issues

Barack Obama, fresh on the heels of a victory in the Iowa caucus said this:

Big cities and small towns, you came together to say, 'We are one nation, we are one people and our time for change has come.'

It leads me to wonder about Obama's sense of "nation." And his sense of "people."

Wasn't the caucus just in Iowa, where about 225,000 out of 2.9 million people turned out to caucus? And the majority of those people voted for someone else, not for him. In other words, the majority of Iowans said, "We do not want Barack Obama to be president."

In 2004, the state of Iowa turned out to the tune of 1.5 million people for the general election and elected Bush. So we have minority of 225,000 people speaking "as one nation ... one people"?

I rather doubt it.

Obama may well win. But this type of statement is part of what is wrong with politics (and too often life in general). We do not seem to have many who can see and speak about the actual state of affairs.

So what does this have to do with ministry? 

Our counseling rooms (and our own minds in most cases) are filled with people like Obama, who will say whatever will make them look better, even when it's not true. We have an innate tendency to paint our life's picture in the most flattering way to ourselves.

We must confront ourselves and others with great love and kindness but with great directness to get to the heart of the issue. Ask questions like, "What was going on in your heart when you said that?" Or "What did you really want to get by acting that way?"

This reveals the idols of the heart that control the way that we view the world.

Be an idol-digger in your own life and in your own personal ministry with others. Leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of the real issues of the heart. Do not settle for pious platitudes.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Homework for Facing Temptation

In counseling people (which I consider to be focused discipleship on particular issues), it is necessary to find out what people are actually thinking, how they are interpreting their life, and what their interpretations say about what they really believe.

I find it often helpful to give homework so that the thoughts of the conversation continue after we separate from each other.

I found the following homework in Paul David Tripp's excellent book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), on p. 312. It is based on 1 Corinthians 10:13 and designed to get the person to formally express where he disbelieves God. I usually find it helpful to have the person actually write out his answers so that he is forced to take time to think about it rather than just winging it when we get back together. I rarely keep the homework since I don't need it, though I may make a copy of it if I think it will be relevant for future conversations. I usually give the original back to the person, and say, "Keep this and keep working on it."


1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Declaration: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man;

Question: Where have you been tempted to think that your situation is unique and that you have been singled out for particular suffering?



Declaration: God is faithful.

Question: Where have you tended to believe that God has been unfaithful to his promises to you?



Declaration: He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able,

Question: Where have you thought that you have been given more than you can handle or that the extreme pressures of the situation have caused you to sin?



Declaration: but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

Question: Where have you tended to feel trapped, with no reasonable way to deal with your situation?