How to Use the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

bible 2.jpegYesterday I introduced the Via Emmaus Reading Plan. Today I want to share a few aims of this reading plan, as well as ways to customize it for your personal reading. If what follows sounds like a personal trainer talking, it is. My undergraduate degree (Exercise Science) and one of the most recent books I read (Hearers and Doers by Kevin Vanhoozer) both contribute to the belief that pastors should be fitness instructors for the church. Vanhoozer even calls them “body builders”—very witty and very true!

So here’s a Bible reading plan complete with various stages for different “fitness” levels. For those who have never read the Bible before, there is a way to start reading the Bible and learn about Christ with God’s people. And for those who have been reading the Bible for decades, this approach will hopefully incorporate many familiar practices to help saturate yourself with biblical truth.

For sake of order, I will answer four questions to explain how this Bible reading plan works and how you can tailor it to match your time, interest, and desires. Here are the four questions:

  1. What is the aim of this Bible reading plan?  Or what makes the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan unique?
  2. How does this plan work? Really?!?
  3. How do I read in community? Where can I find a community?
  4. What sort of supplements should I take (read) with my Bible reading? Or, how do I increase of decrease the load?

Let’s take each in turn. Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation: Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

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How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2019 ending and 2020 approaching, many are thinking about how they might read the Bible in the new year. And rightly so—the Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). So we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible reading? Continue reading

A Few Reflections on the ‘Form of God’ and What It Means for Christmas

rachael-henning-9RAHI3JRINk-unsplashChrist Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
— Philippians 2:6–8 —

On Sunday our church considered the birth of Christ and what it means for Christ, who is God, to empty himself and take the form of a servant.  On that topic there are many questions and errant assumptions.

To help think clearly about the Incarnation, here are five reflections—ancient and modern. May these words from Augustine, Calvin, Bavinck, Donald Macleod, and Stephen Wellum serve you and stir your affections for Christ during this season of Christmas. Continue reading

At Christmas Don’t Lose Jesus’s Divinity: Celebrating the Incarnation with ‘Extra’ Care

pro-church-media-kSjsDWDn3WM-unsplashWhat happened was that at the incarnation, while continuing to exist eternally in the form of God, He added to that by taking the form of a servant.
— J. N. D. Kelly —

 Given the importance of the extra in historical theology, it is surprising how quickly it is rejected or replaced with something else. The extra is crucial in helping the church to explain the full scope of the Scriptural presentation of the incarnation and how the Son functioned in and through both natures,
— Stephen J. Wellum —

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. And with candles glowing and carols singing, we draw near to the babe born of Mary and celebrate the fact that God is with us—Immanuel.

At the same time, when we celebrate Christ’s condescension, there can arise a significant misunderstanding about Christ’s humanity. In song, as well as sermon, we find lyrics that describe Jesus “leaving heaven,” or not knowing about why he is coming to earth—“Baby Jesus, do you know you will die for our sins?”  These boilerplate Christmas tag lines, but are they true? Do they faithfully represent the miracle of the Incarnation?

On the surface, they may sound fine. They praise God for Christ’s birth and his sacrificial mission to bring salvation. Yet, when we probe more deeply, it becomes apparent lyrics like these and many unchecked thoughts about the birth of Christ assume beliefs that have often been described as heretical in church history.

In particular, Christmas has a way of unwrapping the kenotic heresy—the belief that when Jesus emptied himself (ekenōsen) and became a man,  he also left many (or all) of his divine attributes behind. The theory, expressed in many ways, asserts that for the Son of God to become human, he must set aside his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his omnipresence. After all, true humanity does not uphold the universe, right?! For Jesus to be fully human then, his humanity must be fixed in one place, ignorant of many things, and unable to do all the things that God does. Continue reading

Seeing the Streams of Scripture: A Biblical-Theological Approach to Philippians 2

trail-wu-2a1TKBuc-unsplash.jpgBy myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
— Isaiah 45:23 —

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:8–11 —

Whenever we read the letters of Paul we are sure to encounter quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. Often in the same passage, there are multiple layers from the Law and the Prophets. Commentators are usually in agreement when there are explicit citations or linguistic repetitions. Interpreters of Scripture are much more at odds when there are not direct biblical parallels.

One example of this kind of interpretive difference is found in Philippians 2:5–11. In Paul’s famous “hymn,” there is an unmistakeable quotation from Isaiah 45:23 in verses 10–11. There are also many connections with the Servant in Isaiah 53. But one connection that is more tenuous is the relationship between Christ who obeyed God unto death and Adam who disobeyed God unto death.

In a remarkably balanced presentation on Adam and Christ in Philippians 2:5–11, Matthew Harmon rightly affirms the many conceptual connections between Adam and Christ. At the same time, he rightly denies any linguistic connections between Philippians 2 and Genesis 1–3. This helpfully sets up a discussion concerning what it takes for allusions to be recognized in the Scripture.

Yet, instead of siding with a narrow reading of Philippians 2 which denies all connections between Christ and Adam (a Pauline theme developed explicitly in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15), Harmon shows how the explicit connections between Philippians 2 and Isaiah 53 stands a servant typology that goes back to Israel, and from Israel to Adam. Continue reading

Rhythms of Grace: Three Reflections on Worship

sarah-noltner-F5-Z1H7lJaA-unsplash.jpg[This post is written by Matt Wood with a little help from me. Matt is a member at Occoquan Bible Church, where you will often find him engrossed in discussion about theology and leading our congregation in song.]

Do you find yourself in God’s gospel story week to week?

How does the gospel inform worship?

What should we include and exclude in our Sunday morning services?

These are just a couple of the questions Mike Cosper answers in his book, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel. Written by a pastor who has led music in the church for decades, his book is fantastic for all worshipers in the church. In what follows, we will see three points about worship from Cosper’s illuminating book. Continue reading

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Six Old Testament Lessons for the New Testament Church

jonathan-farber-_lpQA9ox6IA-unsplash.jpgWhen the Western tribes of Israel heard that Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar near the Jordan River, they were ready to go to war (Josh. 22:10–12). This altar threatened God’s favor on Israel, and the obedient sons of Israel were ready to act. Fortunately, before they took up swords against their brothers, they sent a delegation to inquire about this altar.

This peace-keeping mission is what Joshua 22:10–34 describes, and in these verses we find a tremendous model for peace-making in the church today.  In what follows, we will consider six priorities for genuine reconciliation.

Six Priorities for Peace-Making 

First, peace requires a faithful (high) priest.

When the Western tribes learned of the altar, they gathered at Shiloh to make war. Only before proceeding on that path, they sent a priest by the name of Phinehas. Phinehas is well-known to us because of his actions in Numbers 25. There, he atoned for the sins of the people by taking a spear in his own hand and killing Zimri and Cozbi. This appeased God, ended the plague brought on by Israel’s sexual immorality, and proved Phinehas’s faithfulness as a priest.

Now, following his lead, the delegation of Israel went to inquire of their brothers. What becomes apparent in this peace negotiation is that these brothers acted in faith and did not sin against God or them. Thus, a faithful priest was necessary for making peace. Only now with the split between the tribes of Israel, peace is made by putting the sword down and not going to war. The lesson in this is that faithful priests knew how to divide clean and unclean (Lev. 10:11). Phinehas excellence, therefore, is proved by his ability to make this decision.

At the same time, it is vital to see that a priest is still needed to make peace. In the new covenant, Christ is the peace of his people, one who has made peace by his cross and one who preaches peace to those far and near (Eph. 2:14–17). Moreover, Jesus lives to intercede for his brothers (Heb. 7:25). Thus, the unity of the church is preserved by Christ and his priesthood.

Likewise, Jesus as our great high priest also teaches God’s people how to be priests to one another. As Matthew 5:9 says, those who make peace prove themselves to sons of God, which is to say, they prove themselves to be faithful priests in God’s household. (Faithful sonship was always the source of true priesthood). Today, if the church has any unity, it is because Christ is the one who is mediating the new covenant and praying effectively for his people to become peace-makers. Continue reading

Old Testament Instruction for the New Testament Church: 10 Things About Joshua 22

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashWhen we think about finding help for practical matters in the church, 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy are books that come to mind. However, Joshua should be added to the list of places we go to find help for practical ecclesiology. In this list of ten, we will see how Joshua 22 fits into the book of Joshua. And from its place in the book of Joshua, we will see at least five ways this chapter informs a variety of church matters.

1. Joshua 22 begins the fourth and last section of Joshua.

In Joshua there are three or four major sections, depending on how you organize the book. But however you arrange it, Joshua 22 begins a new section, one composed of three concluding assembles. As Dale Ralph Davis puts it,

Observe that each of these last three chapters begins when Joshua summons (Hebrew, qara’) Israel or some significant segment of it (22:1; 23:2; 24:1). Thus the book closes with three assemblies of the people of God. Remember that all this immediately follows the heavy theological text, 21:43-45, which emphatically underscores Yahweh’s fidelity to his promise.

By contrast, chapters 22–24 are preoccupied with the theme of Israel’s fidelity to Yahweh (22:5, 16, 18, 19, 25, 29, 31; 23:6, 8, 11; 24:14-15, 16, 18, 21, 23, 24).’ Hence the last three chapters constitute the writer’s major application: Israel must respond in kind to Yahweh’s unwavering faithfulness. Willing bondage [think: Paul’s use of the word doulos] to this faithful God is their only rational and proper response. The logic is that of the ‘therefore’ of Romans 12:1 as it follows the divine mercies of Romans 1-11. In principle it is the same as ‘love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’ (Joshua, 169–70)

Davis’s observation about these three assemblies is most helpful for establishing a link between Israel living in the land and God’s people living before God today. Thus, we can be sure that these chapters are meant to help churches walk together in covenant unity.

Continue reading

The Problem with All Critical Theories of the Bible

hans-peter-gauster-3y1zF4hIPCg-unsplash.jpg5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
— 1 Timothy 1:5–7 —

In his excellent commentary on the book of Joshua, pastor and Old Testament scholar, Dale Ralph Davis, addresses the problem of critical theories used to interpret the Bible. Taking aim at the documentary hypothesis, a view which conjures up multiple sources behind the Old Testament, Davis singles out the real problem of this approach—it eviscerates the reliability of God’s Word and mutes God’s message. By adding undo complexity, it obscures the clarity of Scripture.

In response to this cumbersome and faith-eroding approach, he gives wise counsel: Continue reading

A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God Together (Joshua 20–21)

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A City on a Hill: What the Levitical Cities Teach the Church About Glorifying God

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called his followers a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14–16). This title has often been used to speak of America, as well as other institutions of moral influence. Yet, it is most appropriately applied to the church. This is seen throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 Peter 2), but we also find this idea in the Old Testament.

In this week’s sermon on Joshua 20–21, Israel’s role spreading God’s light to the nations is seen in the cities God established for refuge and instruction. In fact, by learning about the purposes the cities of refuge (Josh. 20) and Levitical cities (Josh. 21), we learn much about God’s purposes for his people. This has historical relevance for understanding the nation of Israel. But it also has theological application for Christ and his new covenant people.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are additional resources are available below.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds Continue reading