Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Needed for Preaching

1.  A Good Hermeneutic ... since you have to have a framework for intelligible communication.

2.  A Good Systematic Theology ... because the Bible only has one system of truth (though it may at times be confusing to our human finitude) and every text has to fit with every other.

3.  A Good Understanding of the Text ... because you have to know what God said and what he meant when he said it.

4.  A Good Understanding of Your Audience ... because you have to know where they live in order to communicate the meaning of the text in its theological context in a way that they will understand it.

5.  The Ability to Communicate ... so that your audience will be able to grasp God's word for their lives and be challenged to live by it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

On Sloth

Sloth doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing nothing. Sloth is the failure to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done — like the kamikaze pilot who flew seventeen missions. (Richard Exley, Mark Galli and John Ortberg, Dangers, Toils & Snares : Resisting the Hidden Temptations of Ministry (Sisters, Or.: Multnomah Books, 1994), 52).


(I had to think about the kamikaze line for a moment. Did you?)

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Literal Birth and a Figurative Throne?

The prophecy of Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:30-33 is an interesting one for amillennialists.

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end."

Every evangelical amillennialist takes the first part of this prophecy literally. They believe that a literal young lady will literally become pregnant and will have an literal son, who will literally be named Jesus. (If you deny this, you are not an evangelical.)

But then these same evangelical amillennialists take a strange turn when they deny that this literal son literally named Jesus born to a literal young woman will literally rule on the throne of David over the house of Jacob.

They suddenly resort to a spiritual interpretation that the throne of David (which historically was in Jerusalem) is now found in the heart of believers everywhere, and that that house of Jacob (which in the Old Testament was unquestionably a reference to the ethnic descendants of Jacob) is now an amalgamation of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.

The only thing I cannot figure out is why they make this sudden change in hermeneutics. There is no textual reason to make a change, and no necessary theological reason. Mary certainly would not have understood some type of spiritual kingdom.

This sudden switch, as best as I can tell, arises, not from the text, but from a precommitment to not having a literal fulfillment of this prophecy.

But why this precommitment? That is what I have never understood.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

In The Diner

I am sitting here writing a lesson on the Tribulation and listening to a mother down a few tables yell at correct her children. It reminds me that children and tribulation (not the Tribulation) have much in common.

I have always been an expert on raising children. Well, that is, until two years ago when my own son was born. (Here he is with the remnants of his first piece of his Thomas the Tank Engine birthday cake on his lips.)

I have listened to parents correct children for years, and have been convinced that many times, parents correct children out of their own frustration rather than out of a desire to raise up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Then I hear myself do it, and am even more convinced that I often do it out of frustration because I am inconvenienced. Certainly he is wrong in disobedience. But when I allow my own frustration to rule correction, I am also wrong.

As parents, perhaps our tempers too easily flare. Our voices too easily raise. We are upset, not because the child is living in gross open sin, but because their shenanigans inconvenience us. When we correct people (whether children or those whom the Lord has committed to us for ministry and discipleship) out of our own frustration, we have ceased to make disciples of Christ. We have simply started making our own disciples--people who do not inconvenience us or bring shame to us, rather than making disciples of Christ--people who do not inconvenience him, his gospel, or bring shame to his name.

Disciplining our children must be viewed as a disciple making opportunity, an opportunity to teach them what pleases God and what does not. While we cannot be sure of their spiritual state, we can take seriously the need to teach them the ways of the Lord.

The job of a parent is not to raise decent, upstanding citizens of an earthly kingdom. It is raise children whose citizenship is in another world, who are disciples of the King, and who live like it in this world.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Loving Jesus But Not The Church?

One of the common refrains of the emerging church types today is that people love Jesus, but they just do not like his church.

Is that possible? I would suggest it isn't.

Now, I understand what they are saying: The church is full of hypocrites who are judgmental and hateful towards anyone who is not like them. The church has become too much like the world--to marketed, too segmented, too consumeristic, too much of many things. And they are too often right. And they don't like that. Quite frankly, no true believer would.

But they miss a major point: The church, with all its faults, is the body of Christ. And you cannot love Christ without loving his body. It would be like saying, "I love my family, I just don't like my spouse and children." Well, quite frankly, that makes no sense.

Warren Wiersbe cites one of the church fathers who supposedly compared the church to Noah's Ark and said, "If it weren't for the judgment on the outside, nobody could ever stand the smell on the inside." He doesn't document it, so it may just be a legendary statement, but it is certainly picturesque, if such a thing can be said of olfactory-related analogies.

The answer to the problems of the church is not withdrawal, usually not even to another church. The answer is further involvement, the commitment to make disciples in and through the local church. That doesn't mean you have to like everything, or smile on the sins of the church such as hypocrisy, marketing, consumerism, segmentalism, etc. But people who love Jesus work to change it.

So I would say, If you don't love the church, then you don't love Jesus.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

American Idol and Shout to the Lord

You have probably seen the big news by now: American Idol participants sang "Shout to the Lord" on the show.

Here's my dilemma: Is it worse that fame and fortune seekers in search of "the big break" on the road to riches sang this song? Or that there are Christians who actually thought it was a good thing?

Buy This Now

I came across a catalog with a "must have" book (the blurb says so ... I promise). It is entitled The Prophet's Handbook, by Dr. Paula Price.

The blurb says that "no church leader should be without this indispensable reference." There you have it. You should not be without this book.

What will you get?

The benefits of (again quoting) "the ultimate guide to prophecy in the local church. You will learn how God awakens and prepares excellent prophets, understand the difference between prophets and psychics, and recognize and train budding prophets."

This same author as written The Prophet's Dictionary, "a training manual of more than 1,600 terms and definitions."

This will show you how dumb I am: I didn't know there were 1,600 words that needed to be defined about prophecy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In the Diner

I was sitting here working this morning and in the midst of my concentration, I had kind of zoned out of the (rather dull) conversation elsewhere.

My ears perked up when I heard, "I am trying to watch my mouth because the preacher is here."

I confessed that I had no idea what the conversation was about.

But it reminds me of this: People in the world expect something different of believers, and recognize that certain things are incompatible with the little they know of Christianity. 

Playing golf over the years I have joined up and played with a lot of different people, most of whom had something in common: their expectations of their game far exceeded their ability, though it did not exceed their vocabulary. Of course, I have learned some rather creative ways to employ language.

But almost every time, when the conversation turned to occupations and they found out I was a pastor, an apology would come from the same mouth as the profanity had. Why? Because people in the world expect something different from believers, particularly pastors.

If I had a dollar for every apology I have heard on the golf course, I could play a lot of golf. Unfortunately, I don't have the dollar and I haven't played much golf in the last couple of years, though I hope to change that this year.

But back to the point, the world knows we are supposed to be different. So why aren't we?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Book Review of Story as Torah by Wenham - Part 4

Wenham’s Problemmatic Tales

Wenham’s “Problemmatic Tales” are problematic as he notes. They are also problemmatic in a way that Wenham surely does not intend. By noting these, he notes the fundamental flaw in his thesis—namely, that all stories do not fit the mold. There are some stories about which the reader simply cannot discern the implied author’s ethical ideal. He uses two examples.

1. Shechem and Dinah (p. 110ff.). There are conflicting issues: Jacob’s response of doing nothing at the news of rape vs. his anger at the news of slaughter. The reprehensibleness of Shechem (rape, seduction, or willing girl) vs. the reprehensibleness (or justification) of Simeon and Levi. The author leaves this story completely unresolved.

2. Gideon (pp. 119ff.) – Here again are conflicting issues: Gideon’s fear of inadequacy with dependence on God, followed by his pursuit of Zebah and Zalmunnah without reference to YHWH’s approval or instruction, followed by the construction of the ephod (which some defend as well intended, though it leads to idolatry).

These types of situations (and these two are not the only two that could be raised) do not disprove Wenham’s thesis so much as they note its inadequacy to deal completely with the text.


Wenham is most assuredly correct when he argues that stories have instruction. However, the means by which he goes about determining that instruction is not clearly laid out, even when he finally gets to it on p. 88. However, his closing comments provide helpful direction.

“The Church today, like Israel of old, still hopes and prays for the consummation. It still has to live in a world distorted by hardness of heart and not as it was in the beginning. It still lives in a world where sin and violence are endemic. Individual Christians and the Church are afflicted by both. They need the laws and narratives of the Old Testament to remind them of the creator’s ideals and how to handle situations which fall short of these ideals. In this way the experience of the saints of the Old Testament has much to teach those of the New” (p. 154).

He closes by emphasizing two key points, which are perhaps the two key points in the OT. The first is God’s tolerance, that thought he has a high ideal, he is a God of grace who does remembers that we are but dust and treats us accordingly. The second is God’s faithfulness to his promises in spite of his unfaithful people. Over and over again, these two points arise throughout the biblical narrative, reminding us that story is torah, at least in some respects.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Prediction?

I recently saw a very respected amillennarian make the statement on his blog that Hosea 11:1 is a prediction of Christ.

The problem is that Hosea 11:1 is not a prediction of any kind, much less of Christ. It is a historical statement. How do we know? By reading the verse in its context. It is a statement about Israel's history of rejection of God in spite of all the good things that God had done for them.

This kind of statement that Hosea 11:1 is a prediction of Christ reminds me that dispensationalists are not the only ones who will say strange things to try to make Scripture fit their paradigm.

So what of Matthew 2:15 and the "fulfillment" of Hosea 11:1? When we consider the NT uses of "fulfill" (pleroo), isn't is obvious that "fulfillment" has a much broader semantic range than simply the realization of a previous prediction?

Consider Matthew 5:17 where Christ "fulfilled" the Law? Was the Law a prediction? No, it was a standard of living that Christ fully kept.

Or Romans 15:19 where Paul "fulfilled" the preaching of the gospel. What did Paul do? He preached the word to a whole region, and thus "fulfilled" or "preached fully."

And I could list more. But you can get out your lexicon and check them out on your own time.

A "fulfillment" can also be an illustration of a typological fulfillment. That's what I believe is going on in Matthew 2:15. When Matthew thinks of Christ going to Egypt, he thinks of the illustration of Israel having been in Egypt and being saved out of Egypt.

When you think of the illustration and the original, you realize that Hosea 11:1 has only one similarity with Matthew 2:15: God's chosen one(s) being brought out of Egypt.

Note these differences:

  • Israel and Christ are two different people(s).
  • In Hosea 11:2, the people continued to walk in sin. Jesus never sinned.
  • In Hosea 11:3, the people were unaware or forgetful of God's work in their lives. Christ never forgot that, but rather recognized continually that everything he did was only what the Father wanted done.
  • In Hosea 11:5, they would be enslaved to Assyria, something Christ never was.
  • In Hosea 11:6, they would be destroyed, something Christ never was.

So whatever else we might say about Hosea 11:1, it is not a prophecy. It is a statement of historical fact designed to highlight the utter incomprehensibility of Israel's rejection of God.

Does This Mean Anything?

Victor Hamilton, in his commentary on Genesis 18-50, points out a number of similarities between Judah and David, in their sin with Tamar and Bathsheba, respectively (p. 448).

  1. They both have an illicit sexual relationship followed by a time of quietness in which it is doubtless that the men hope the situation has been forgotten (Judah) or covered up (David).
  2. Both relationships produce a child.
  3. Both men express moral outrage and righteous indignation when told of the behavior of the women, both not knowing the full story (Judah did not know that he was the father; David did not know that he was the subject of the story).
  4. Both are trapped into admitting their own culpability.
  5. Both men, when confronted with the truth, acknowledge their sin publicly.

The question is, Does this similarity mean anything in interpreting Scripture? Is it a part of what God intends for us to understand? Did the author of 2 Samuel intend to allude to the great great [etc] grandfather of David? Or is it simply an interesting comparison, indicating that sinners tend to act alike?

We could not say with any reasonable soundness that Moses intended to prefigure David. It would be possible that the author of 1 Samuel was aware of Judah and Tamar through the books of Moses, and was intentionally making an allusion to the event. Yet what purpose would that serve in 1 Samuel? (Feel free to offer a suggestion if you have one.)

My sense is that these are simply interesting coincidences that indicate that sinful people tend to respond the same way in similar situations. It is doubtful that Judah and David are the only two men who ever did this and got caught in such a manner. In fact, chances are that we all know someone who has done something like this, or is in fact, may be doing something like this right now. These are merely the two who God decided to memorialize in the biblical record.

I am always suspicious of commentators and preachers who see all kinds of these allusions in the text, and then lean heavily on them for meaning, simply because I see no textual basis for such an allusion.

We see this type of argument often made about words, such as in Genesis 37 and 38 where Hamilton, for example, uses the Hebrew word for "recognize" (nakar) in 37:32, 33; 38:25, 26 to argue that these two chapters are united. But what if these words were simply common words to connote the idea of seeing something and noting its identity? Again, I am suspicious, though I do not totally discount it. We all frequently use the same word in different contexts without any intent to connect things. We use the word quite simply because it is the word that means what we wish to say. Of course, you can't fill a commentary with that, but it makes more sense, to me anyway.

I would argue we should see fewer of these allusions rather than more, and limit ourselves to what is more obvious from the text.

So let us be cautious. The text is packed full of meaning without our creativity.

Book Review of Story as Torah by Wenham - Part 4

Ethical Ideals in Judges

His discussion of Judges focuses on the negativity of the period of the judges. “Most of the stories in Judges seem to be told to shock the reader or at least make the reader ask him- or herself about what the character in the tales ought to have done. In other words the narrative embodies a set of values and ethical norms that the reader must somehow tune into if he or she is not to read the stories against the grain, i.e. in ways that are contrary to the message that the author intended to convey” (p. 45). He here argues that while it may be difficult to tell what the author is disapproving of in a book like Judges, it was assumed that the community was close knit enough to share common values about religion and ethics so that spelling out these authorial ideals was less necessary since the reader would likely already share them.

From Othniel, the only judge not criticized, he traces a line of judges from bad to worse to non-existent (“there was no king in Israel”). He therefore asserts that the implicit argument of Judges is about the kind of leadership that would be necessary in the community.

“The book [Judges] therefore poses the question: what kind of leader is required to keep Israel faithful to the Lord, and to give her victory over her enemies? The partial success of different judges in these areas offers glimpses of what a future leader ought to be like, but the book as a whole invites the reader to think about these issues and does not offer pat answers…From its accounts of the various leaders, it would appear that the book of Judges is advocating a leadership with the dual function of military leadership and enforcing justice. But who does the book think may assume such a role? First and foremost they must be divinely appointed” (p. 53).

His conclusion on Judges is certainly justified:

“As in Genesis human sinfulness does not nullify God’s graciousness. Israel may break the covenant, and suffer for it, but God will still hear their prayer when they repent. God’s readiness to answer prayer runs through the book of Judges and relives its otherwise gloomy message. Nevertheless the abysmal state of the nation portrayed in the closing chapters is unresolved. It leaves the readers asking what can be done to put the nation on to a better footing. The last verse of the book, while underlining the critical situation, also hints at a way forward: ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25) …

“As a whole the book of Judges appears to be implicitly commending a different kind of leadership: through its portrayal of the inadequacies of the judges it is implying that a king could lead to more fidelity to the covenant within the nation and offer more security from external threats. Nowhere does it give its perfect model for kingship; rather by painting a variety of judges it encourages its readers to reflect for themselves on what the best kind of leader would be” (pp. 58-59).

Evaluation: His treatment of Judges is more cogent than his treatment of Genesis.

Ethical Ideals in the Law Code

Wenham’s third section covers the Law and argues that there is a gap between law and ideal. “A study of the legal codes within the Bible is unlikely to disclose the ideals of the law-givers, but only the limits of their tolerance … The laws thus tend to express the limits of socially acceptable behaviour: they do not describe ideal behavior” (p. 80). In this he notes that what God tolerates is very different than what he desires. The Law merely set a floor for behavior, while the ethical stories raise the bar. At the heart of it was the idea of the imitation of that “held together the network of virtues and ethical ideals that the biblical writers were implicitly promoting through these texts” (p. 109).

“Genesis sets out a very lofty ideal of human behaviour. It does not show its heroes simply keeping the law in their individual actions or illustrating typical human virtues. Rather it sets out a vision of human beings made in the image of God, his representatives on earth, and therefore obligated to try and imitate God in their dealing with one another and with other creatures” (p. 107).

The characters of Genesis both excel and fall short of this ideal, giving a pattern to follow that does not discourage imitation.

Evaluation: One wonders if the Law is really the “floor” of God’s expectations. The NT bears witness to the perfection of the Law, which seems to speak of more than simply a floor beyond which one should not sink. The fact that imitation of God in holiness is a key part of the Law (Lev 11:44), and the casuistic laws do address life in the community of a fallen world seems to warrant a higher view of the ethical codes than Wenham seems to give it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Food for Thought

Scholarly arguments are of extremely limited value in producing people who are ready to lay down their lives for the truth of the Bible. You can't remember the arguments.

-- John Piper, "Why I Trust the Scriptures," from Text and Context Conference at Mars Hill Church, Seattle.

[Sermon stealing] is not only stealing. It indicates that the person has already abandoned what the ministry is about. What the ministry is about is to free up some person, a pastor, so that he is studying and thinking the word of God to enable him to teach the whole counsel of God to others. And if instead he is merely an organic tape recorder he is taking money under false pretenses.

-- Don Carson, "The Pastor as the Son of an Earthly Father," from the Bethlehem Pastor's Conference at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis.

Book Review of Story as Torah by Wenham - Part 3

Ethical Ideals in Genesis

Wenham points out the admiration for physical and mental toughness (Jacob at Jabbok, Jacob going ahead to meet his family, Abram’s defeat of the four kings, Jacob blessing his sons and their descendants by comparing them to animals that represent strength), but notes that violence and savagery is condemned (Jacob condemning Simeon and Levi, story of Lamech). At the same time, Genesis disapproves of fear, noting that “hardly ever is fear justified and very often it leads to wrong” (citing Abram lying about Sarai, Isaac lying about Rebekah, Lot offering his daughters to Sodom, Lot living in a cave rather than in Zoar). The only two approvals of fear are Jacob at Bethel, and fear of Adam when he sinned (p. 90-91).

He notes that prosperity and generosity are presented positively, though not a virtue, but “grasping at wealth or meanness towards God and man is implicitly criticised” (p. 91-92). Family relationships are held out both positively and negatively (pp. 95-96).

He argues that the long speeches of narratives such as Abraham’s servant to Laban, Judah in Genesis 44, Joseph as an advisor to Pharoah, or Abraham as “an effective and persistent negotiator” indicate that “eloquence and persuasiveness in speech are here being celebrated” (p. 93). Misuse of speech on the other hand is hard to condemn because of the lack of knowledge of cultural conventions and voice inflection (p. 94). In conflict, blame is usually attached to both sides “so that the reader does not come down too firmly on one side or the other. Nevertheless it does implicitly advocate a pacific approach to problems” (p. 95).

He argues that the stories of Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Joseph’s brothers, Abraham and Lot, and Abraham and Abimelech mean that “Genesis is surely suggesting to its readers that they too should forgive even their long-term enemies, if they show sincere contrition” (p. 38). He then argues, “Thus Genesis is not simply a justification for Israel’s occupation of Canaan, it embodies a practical appeal as well. It urges brothers to make peace with each other and forgive past wrongs. It insists that Israelites should live peaceably with their relatives, with fellow countrymen of different ethnic origins, and implies that as a nation it should not be afraid to make agreements with surrounding nations when they seek peace” (p. 39).

And then, “There are multiple thrusts to the book of Genesis. It is a claim to the land. It is a plea for peace and reconciliation between the tribes. It justifies peaceable relations with the Canaanites in the land, Egyptians, Arameans, Edomites, and others beyond Israel’s borders. It predicts a Judaean royal dynasty, and justifies God’s passing over older brothers in favor of the younger by many examples” (p. 41).

As a result of his view of the polemical and ethical thrust of Genesis, Wenham dates the writing of Genesis to the united monarchy. He rejects the Mosaic period (13th century for Wenham) and thus Mosaic authorship because Israel did not treat the Canaanites with the peace he sees being promoted, and because the land boundaries of Genesis are most closely matched during the Solomonic reign (pp. 41-42). He uses the stories to argue for a claim to the land, peace with fellow Israelites as well as surrounding nations including forgiveness in the wake of the division of the kingdom after the death of Saul, the right of tribe of Judah to leadership, and the passing of older brothers in favor of younger brothers (cf. pp. 38, 39, 41. 73). He argues that “Genesis breathes a spirit of peace and reconciliation” in response to “issues that were alive in the period of the united monarchy, intertribal jealousies, particularly the right of the tribe to Judah to leadership, and relationship with the Canaanites and the surrounding nations” (p. 73).

Evaluation: While he admits that “the message of Genesis does not depend on finding an appropriate setting for it [but] … must emerge from a close reading of the book itself” (p. 43), he depends too heavily on his ethical conclusions and thus dates the book far later than it should be dated. In addition, some of his conclusions, such as the celebration of eloquence in speech, hardly seem to have any merit in the text. Others of his conclusions, such as the call to live in peace with the Canaanite are completely contradicted by later portions of the Pentateuch.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Book Review of Story as Torah by Wenham, Part 2

Wenham’s Organization of His Book

It begins with an Introduction followed by a chapter on Critical Methodology. It then has three main chapters on the Rhetorical Function of Genesis, the Rhetorical Function of Judges, and Ethical Ideals and Legal Requirements, where Wenham attempts to demonstrate his main thesis. Next is a chapter on Some Problemmatic Tales, followed by a chapter on New Testament Perspectives, and ending with Conclusions.

Wenham sets out his main thesis at the beginning, but his methodology is almost cryptically hidden throughout the text. It is not until pp. 88-89 that Wenham gives a three-fold criteria for determining the implied author’s ethical ideal, even though the preceding chapters have been trying to establish the ethical ideal from Genesis, Judges, and the Law codes. It seems better for this to have been placed early in the book, so the reader can understand how Wenham landed on certain ideals.

These criteria are as follows:

  1. Behavior pattern should be repeated in a number of different contexts since “it is more likely that a repeated pattern is intended to be imitated than one that is described just once” (p. 88).
  2. A virtuous character trait should be exhibited in a positive context (p. 89).
  3. Remarks in the legal codes, psalms, and wisdom books often shed light on Old Testament attitudes to different virtues and vices (p. 89).

Evaluation: Aside from the fact that the third criteria is not parallel with the others, and that none of the criteria offer any real objective standard, these criteria do provide a starting point for consideration. It is good that they require that individual pericopes be evaluated in the larger context of an entire book, or even section of books (e.g., the Pentateuch). Furthermore, they do not provide a paradigm for addressing negative character that appear frequently (e.g. lying) though Wenham does address them in his writing as negative. Wenham cautions about finding any virtuous action in Judges (p. 89), though his “Problemmatic Tales” use Gideon as a paradox, appearing both virtuous and questionable. In short, these criteria work well for stories that fit them, but have no place for stories that do not (of which there are plenty).

How Stories Communicate Ethical Ideals

Wenham argues that the moral viewpoint of the author/narrator is rarely explicit, but often contained in his presentation of the story or scene: “A wise woman called from the city (2 Sam 20:16), Sarah ill-treated her (Gen 16:6), the people of Israel played the harlot after the Baals (Judg 8:33) (p. 14). This has the effect not only of revealing the author’s ethic, but also balancing the reader’s emotional balance and emotional distance, both of which are necessary.

Furthermore, the stories selected highlight the qualities or virtues that the author deemed noteworthy. By his selection of stories, the author highlights the ideals that he wishes to encourage or discourage.