‘Power’ in Paul’s Letters: How Apostolic Miracles Magnify the Gospel Message

powerWhat does Paul think of power? How does he define it? When he speaks of “the working of miracles” (1 Corinthians 12:10), does he have modern charismatic signs in mind or something else? When Paul speaks of power, what is he talking about?

These are just a few questions we need to ask when we consider the word dunamis in Paul’s letters. And fortunatley, it is not too difficult to find what Paul thinks about this word, for he uses it often. However, if we come with preconceived ideas about “power evangelism” or “charismatic gifts” we might be less able to see what he originally meant. So lets consider what he says.

Power in Romans: The Gospel Defines Paul’s Understanding of Power

In Romans Paul begins with the gospel. Romans 1:1–7 defines Paul’s apostleship in terms of the gospel and Romans 1–-11 give us the fullest explanation of the gospel in Scripture. First, in Romans 1:4 Paul speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit to raise Christ from the dead, a reality that will shape Paul’s understanding of the gospel (and its effects) through all his letters. Then second, he defines the gospel as a matter of power in Romans 1:16–17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For Paul the gospel is the way in which God’s power brings salvation to sinners. The power of God raises the dead to life, beginning with Christ, and does the unthinkable: it declares the guilty “innocent” and the dead “alive.” Because righteousness and life are related in Paul’s thinking (see e.g., Romans 5:18–19), it is not surprising that justification requires the very power that raised Jesus from the dead. Continue reading

Rightly Dividing the Cultural Background to 1 Corinthians 11

corinth

The Corinth Channel

There are a lot of cultural challenges to 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, a passage that invites discussion about the trinity, gender roles, the use of head coverings, and the role of angels in public worship. Tomorrow I will preach on this passage, but today I share a number of quotations from various commentaries related to various cultural and theological challenges in this passage. These quotes provide some background to this enigmatic passage.

Dress

In the context of prayer and prophesy, it makes sense that dress would be considered. For prophets often had a particular dress. Moreover, they often symbolized in their appearance various biblical truths. So for instance, John the Baptist appearance is given as wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). Importantly, this outward dress identified him as a prophet in the manner of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8: “They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’)

Likewise Isaiah 20 records how God commanded Isaiah to walk through Israel naked for three years to indicate God’s coming judgment on Egypt and on those who trusted in that foreign power. This outward expression of God’s will fits other examples too. For instance, the high priest wore garments of beauty and glory to reflect the presence of God’s holiness with Israel (Exodus 28:2); Nazirites did not cut their hair in order to express devotion to the Lord (Numbers 6); and many grieving saints tore their clothing or wore sackclothe and ash in order to express their contrition. So, throughout Scripture, clothing and hair did play a part in expressing worship to God.

Moving from Old Testament to Greco-Roman culture, the same attention to dress is found.

The Greeks’ self-identity arose most from their speech and education, while our Roman often distinguished himself by what he wore. It was not the Greeks eschewed head apparel. Rather it was clear to them and Romans that the habitual propensity of Romans to wear head apparel in liturgical settings stood in sharp contrast to the practice of others. (R.E. Oster, “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical Context of 1 Corinthians 11.4,” NTS 34 (1988): 494; cited by Ben Witherington, Conflict and Communion in Corinth24) Continue reading

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Augustine on the Trinity: Jesus Christ ‘In the Form of God’ and ‘In the Form of a Servant’

trinityYou heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
— John 14:28 —

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
— Philippians 2:6–7 —

In his excellent treatise on the trinity, De TrinitateAugustine of Hippo masterfully explains the various ways in which Scripture speaks of Jesus—sometimes in the form of God, sometimes in the form of a servant. In the following quote, he reflects on the way in which John 14:28  and Philippians 2:6, at first glance, appear to make the Son look less than the Father—a doctrinal heresy known as subordinationism.

In his explanation, Augustine reminds us all that Scripture when speaking about the God-man Jesus Christ will of necessity sometimes speak of him as lesser than he is. This is not to deny his status as co-equal (of one essence) with the Father. It is to recognize the limitations of finite language, and to help disciples of Christ to worship God in all of his triune glory and grace.

I encourage you to read the following quotation slowly—it comes from Book 1, section 14 of De Trinitate. Ponder it. Look up the verses (in italicizes). Read it again. And marvel at the God who is three in one, the God who became man when the Son of God took on the form of a servant. Continue reading

Kephalē and Context: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Headship

mwFor more thirty years, an exegetical debate has raged between complementarians and egalitarians over a single word: Kephalē, the Greek word for ‘head.’

The former argue that this word means “authority over,” while the latter argues the word means “source.” In the New Testament, this word can be found to have both connotations, even in the same book. For instance, Colossians identifies Christ as the preeminent head of the church and the nourishing head from which the church derives its life and growth.

Colossians 1:18. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent

Colossians 2:19. . . . the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Still, debate remains. Without getting into all the exegetical evidence—of which there is plenty; Wayne Grudem tracks down 2336 uses of kephalē in one article—I want to show how the claim that “authority over” is exegetically unsubstantiated is actually unfounded. Far better to see kephalē as a word that wonderfully displays the original design of Genesis 1–2, men and women equal in value, distinct in roles. Continue reading

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race and Ethnicity

 

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
— Ephesians 2:14–18 —

Love Your Neighbor: A Biblical Theology of Race (Sermon Audio)

From the timing of this sermon it might look like it was a response to the recent Executive Order from President Trump. That’s not the case. Yet, the timing does seem providential as this final sermon in our series (Rhythms of Mercy: Cultivating Habits of Holiness in a Hostile World), comes to address the difficult subject of race and ethnicity.

Instead of tackling the problem of racism head on, something for another sermon, this message steps back to lay a biblical foundation for understanding what the Bible says about race. Following the contours of redemptive history (i.e., Creation — Fall — Redemption — New Creation) I try to show in this sermon how God’s intention has always been to bring reconciliation to all peoples. Clearly, this is the aim of the gospel and hence racial reconciliation is a central implication of applying the gospel to all areas of life.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes available here. Additionally, there are discussion questions below based on the sermon and many more resources that helped me think through these issues below. In particular, these resources focus on listening to African-American Christians whose various experiences have helped me tune in to the larger issues of ongoing racism in our country. I pray they will help you, as well, and that God would give us listening ears, loving hearts, and wisdom to pursue compassionate justice. Continue reading

Learning to See the Beauty of a Gospel-Centered Church

churchThis Sunday we start up a new cycle of membership classes at our church, what we call Discover OBC. And in our first part we look at the Gospel and the Church. I love teaching about these two subjects, because they are at the core of Christianity. The gospel is the message which brings hope to a sinful world; the church is the community created by that gospel and commissioned to protect and proclaim that gospel so that the whole world might hear of King Jesus.

I love the gospel and the church, and I can’t wait to teach about them Sunday. But it wasn’t always that way.

How Do You See the Church?

Admittedly, for me, I was slow to understand and appreciate the importance and beauty of the local church. In high school and college, I came to faith, began sharing the gospel, and learning how the Word of God impacted all of life. In this time, church was important, but only as an extension of my individual Christianity.

For me church was an a la carte affair. I was committed to worshiping on Sunday, but not to any particular church. As long as I heard the Bible somewhere, that was enough. I was committed to evangelism and discipleship, but I did not see them as necessarily connected to the local church. As long as the gospel was going forward, surely that was enough. Right? What did the local church matter?

Well, near the end of college I “sensed the need” to join a church. I didn’t have any biblical reasons for the desire; it was just something I felt. (N.B. I am glad for this decision, but I don’t think it is the way the Bible teaches us to make decisions). After five years of walking with Jesus, I moved across the country to join a Bible-teaching, elder-led local church. And “attach” is probably the right term, because I still conceived of the church as the place individuals attach themselves to one another, more than a covenant community created by Jesus and bound by his Spirit.

As I look back, I realize how much I conceived of the church and Christianity in radically individualistic ways. I had come to believe the gospel, but the operating system of my life was still the expressive individualism I inherited from my culture. Not surprisingly, this is how I approached church. Even after joining the church, I still approached church this way. It wasn’t until I began to study the Scriptures on the matter, that I began to see that the Bible was and is at odds with the individualistic Christianity that I first adopted.

Four Metaphors for the Church

Most helpful to me in understanding what the Bible says about church were the many metaphors Scripture gives to us about the church. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:15 says we are God’s household; 1 Corinthians 12 calls us the body of Christ; Ephesians 5 likens us to Christ’s bride; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 describes us as God’s temple; Ephesians 2:19–22 says the same thing; and 1 Peter 2:5, 9 adds that each of us are living stones in that temple. I have written about these things before and will cover them in our new members class, but today I want to suggest four others word-pictures that might help you and I think about what church is and isn’t.

  • First, the church is a family home not a spiritual hotel. That is, the church is not an amenity-filled temporary residence; it is meant to be a long-term, family-filled gathering place where we do life together. While our culture teaches us to be consumers, a church based on God’s Word teaches us to be brothers and sisters.
  • Second, the church is a military outpost, not an earthly resort. While there is a place for retreat and rest, the church is a royal embassy engaged in spiritual warfare. Therefore, we come to church not just to escape, but to be equipped and to work together to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to a hostile world.
  • Third, the church is a heavenly practice, not an earthly pit-stop. On a long journey, rest is needed. But if we treat church as merely the rest on our journey, we miss that church is actually the goal, not the pit stop we take on the way to something else. More accurately, gathering to worship and fellowship is the way we practice our everlasting life. It is not given to merely assist us in earthly labors; it is meant to subvert earthly labors as it teaches us to store up treasures in heaven. In this vein, God may be calling you to use your gifts to build up the body of Christ, imperfect as it is, rather than using your GPS to find the service that best meets all our needs. But to embrace that we must remember the church is not yet perfect.
  • Fourth, the local church is a temporary shadow, not the full and final substance. How often do we complain (if only in our hearts) that church is not like we want it? In truth, this is how it will always be. Until all of God’s people, from all ages and all places, are gathered around the throne room, we will experience the thorns and thistles of this age—even in the church. Therefore, it may help to remember that our local assemblies are but grace-filled shadows of God’s ultimate goal—a new creation filled with resurrected saints.

Indeed, these kinds of word-pictures have helped me think more clearly about the biblical picture of the church. Based on the metaphors of Scripture, they have enlarged my heart for the church—in all of its grace and grit. A gospel-centered church is truly a beautiful creation. I pray these images will help you see its beauty and mission as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Air That We Breathe: Expressive Individualism, I, and Me

mirrorFew modern theologians have helped me think more clearly about culture than David Wells. His collection of works on modernity and postmodernity (listed below) address the many ways evangelicalism has been bent and broken by chasing the winds of culture. Considering the ways the modern world (with its penchant for technology, urbanization, consumerism, and mass communication) has refocused Christianity, and the way modern philosophies have turned religion towards the subject, he shows why so much modern Christianity mirrors the world, rather than prophetically modeling a different way of life.

For me, his observations have been a helpful corrective against the acids of culture that eat away at our soul. He has given me eyes to be a better cultural exegete, and his Reformed convictions, have pressed me back to the Bible to see what it says about any number of topics. Most recently, I picked up his Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision to consider in more detail the effects of individualism on the church.

What follows are a few quotes, observations, and insights on the topic of expressive individualism—a poisonous air wafting through so many American churches.  Continue reading

Exposing Abortion’s Allies (pt. 1): Expressive Individualism (Genesis 4:1–8)

rhythms-of-holiness

Abortion is a bloody evil that has taken the lives of almost sixty million children since 1973. Rightly, Christians (and non-Christians like Secular Pro-Life) have stood up against this modern-day holocaust. Through prayer vigils, sermons, information campaigns, legislation, and pro-life marches, much ground has been gained ground in the fight against abortion. But much ground remains.

In this year’s Sanctity of Life sermon, I addressed one issue related to the ongoing survival of abortion, and that is the rampant self-willed individualism that pervades our culture—and the church. In fact, the cocktail of personal autonomy, expressive individualism, isolated self-dependence, sexual immorality, and trust in technology has created a five-fold elixir that continues to fuel the abortion movement.  Therefore, I made the case that in addition to combatting the flames of abortion, we must aim to cut off abortion’s various fuel supplies.

Unable to tackle all of these allies to abortion, I focused on expressive individualism, something captured perfectly in LeCrae’s song, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. In that song, Lecrae recalls the way his own self-will overcame his young Christian faith and led him to assist in the abortion of his child. It is a sobering song but also illuminating. Here’s what Lecrae rhymes,

I remember back in ’02/ I was in school and actin’ a fool
My soul got saved, my debt had been paid / But still I kept running off with my crew
Sex on my brain, and death in my veins / I had a main thing, we stayed up ‘til 2 (Smokin!)
Waking and baking we naked, my body was loving it / Soul was hating it,
And time and time after time, our bodies were close / The girl was so fine
We heard a heart beat that wasn’t hers or mine / The miracle of life had started inside
Ignored the warning signs / Suppressed that truth I felt inside
I was just having fun with this, I’m too young for this / I’m thinking me, myself, and I
Should I sacrifice this life to keep my vanity and live nice?
And she loves and trusts me so much that whatever I say, she’d probably oblige
But I was too selfish with my time / Scared my dreams were not gonna survive
So I dropped her off at that clinic / That day a part of us died

This song shows how self-will leads to and fuels abortion. It also reminds us that the God of resurrection and redemption is able to bring forgiveness and healing to all people, the same message that we find in Genesis 4. In truth, the only way we will make abortion unthinkable is to begin exposing and defeating the worldview beliefs that swirl around self. That’s what I sought to do yesterday, and I pray that God would help us to continue to take captive thoughts that lead to abortion and all forms of sin.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources are below. Continue reading

Exposing the Allies of Abortion: Personal Autonomy, Hyper-Individualism, Sexual Immorality, Technological Utopia

light-bulbAn abortifacient is any man-made device which leads to an intentional miscarriage. Typically, this word is used to describe drugs or devices which terminate a pregnancy. But I want to suggest that it is not only chemicals and syringes that abort babies. Ideas do too!

For instance, when a Christian learns their method of birth control kills embryos, they change. Why? Because knowledge of the world makes their biblical convictions sharper. Psalm 139 says that God forms the child in the mother’s womb, and anything that might result in destroying God’s handiwork is impermissible for biblical Christians.

This is the way that ideas save life or destroy it. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, believed among other things in the Satanic lie that the white race was superior to all others. Accordingly, her ideas led her to found an organization which targeted the elimination of babies—but especially black babies.

Ideas have consequences, and conversely, consequences spring forth from ideas. And so in the battle to protect life, and especially unborn life, we must not only confront the legal system and the abortion providers; we must confront the ideas that strengthen and make plausible abortion. We must confront the lies that lead young women to turn against their child. And we must confront ourselves for believing some of the same lies that fuel abortion.

In truth, abortion only exists in a world with a number of pre-requisite factors. Just as a fire requires a certain source of fuel to keep it burning, so abortion requires a certain number of ideas to keep it burning. And like with the fire, we must bravely confront flames. But just as important, cut off the fuel supply. Hence, with the fires of abortion, we must expose the beliefs that make abortion plausible, even desirable. Only then will we will be able to see abortion stamped out in our day. Continue reading