‘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

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

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

‘Cardiac Discipleship’: Five Ways to Pursue the Heart in Spiritual Formation

you-areYou Are What You Love is a needed corrective to overly cerebral approaches to discipleship. It is a challenge to followers of Christ to evaluate how ‘secular liturgies’ are training our hearts to love things other than God and our neighbor. And it presents a vision of discipleship that does more than just cement spiritual disciplines in new believers; it calls us seek first the kingdom and to live with hearts enlarged for Christ and his glory.

In what follows I share a few quotes where Smith speaks directly about discipleship. I hope they will whet your appetite for your book and pique your interest in how discipleship is a matter of heart cultivation.

1. Discipleship cultivates the appetite and curates the heart.

While discipleship is a matter of learning, it is more like learning how to cook than to read code. Disciples hunger and thirst for the things of God and know how to feed on him, and good ‘disciplers’ seek to cultivate cravings in the heart of new believers. So,

Discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our love and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand ‘the Kingdom of God.’ (2) Continue reading

Praying with Passion (Psalm 126)

rhythms-of-holinessAs we begin 2017, our church has taken January to focus on a handful of spiritual disciplines—personal and public. The first in our series is prayer. But instead of just commending its importance and techniques to help, I took the route of seeing how God forms desire for prayer in our hearts.

By drawing near to God, by remembering the promises of his Word, and by desiring with increasing anguish Christ’s kingdom to come, we grow more passionate in our prayer. Indeed, passion is not a word that simply means “with heighten emotion.” Rather, its original sense relates to suffering (hence “Christ’s passion”), and this is what we do when we pray—we entering into the sufferings of Christ and weep for his will to be done.

At first glance, this kind of praying may seem off-putting, but I believe, Scripture—Psalm 126 especially—teaches us that this is the kind of prayer that endures. So if you want to grow in prayer in 2016, consider what Psalm 126 says and how it fuels prayer. You can read the sermon notes or listen online. Discussion questions and resources are below. Continue reading

Spiritual Desire: The Key to Cultivating Spiritual Disciplines

sun-heartOften, when we come to spiritual disciplines we list them, plan for them, and then labor to perform them. In the best scenario, we realize—sooner rather than later—we can’t do them apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. And so we pray and ask God to help us.

Yet, such approach may go wrong from the start. Why? Because we put the law (and its list) in front of the gospel (and its power). In other words, when we devote ourselves to discipline, we “covenant” with a bank of rules we trust to make us better—better people, better Christians, better (you fill in the blank). But of course, the law never brings life and can only be a delight after God has written his law on our heart.

The problem with any law-full approach to discipline, however, is not that it contains laws. The gospel is not antinomianlawless. The third use of the law is a gift to the growing disciple. The problem is when we call upon the Spirit to assist us after OUR plan is put in place. Now granted, if you set out to read the Bible, pray, and fast, you have already taken your cues from the Spirit’s inspired Word—especially, on that last discipline. But still the root cause of burnout remains. What is that? The problem of desire. Continue reading

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Reading Each Evangelist on Their Own Terms and Seeing How Each Reads the Old Testament

arc.jpegAny alert reader of Matthew’s Gospel will notice the tax collector-turned-evangelist is regularly quoting from the Old Testament. To him, the events of Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection “fulfill” the prophecies of the Old Testament. What may be less evident is that the other Gospel writers who are less explicit in their citations are equally informed and shaped by the Old Testament.

In a previous post, I suggested interpreters of the Bible should keep in mind that the authors of Scripture demonstrated various approaches to reading the Old Testament. Today, I want to catalog a few of those approaches, drawing again from the exegetical insights of Richard Hays’ and his careful study of the four Gospels, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. (A larger study of approaches would include Paul and Peter’s use of the Old Testament. We must save that for another day).

Reading the Gospels on Their Own Termsgospels

In the introduction to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard Hays rightly observes:

Jesus and his followers were Jews whose symbolic world was shaped by Israel’s Scripture: their ways of interpreting the world and their hopes for God’s saving action were fundamentally conditioned by the biblical stories of God’s dealings with the people Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that as the earliest Christian communities began to tell and retell stories about Jesus, they interpreted his life, death, and resurrection in relation to those biblical stories (i.e., the texts that Christians later came to call the Old Testament). (5)

Contesting the “unconscious Marcionite bias” of many modern readers, Hays writes his book to “offer an account of the narrative representation [read: re-presentation] of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel’s Scriptures—as well as the ways in which Israel’s Scriptures prefigures and illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories” (7).

I believe he hits his mark, helps students better see what each biblical author is doing with the Old Testament, and proves why it is necessary for us to understand intertextuality, in general, and how each author employs various methods of intertextuality to show how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament storyline of Israel and thus sheds light backwards on the Hebrew Scriptures and forward to Christians who worship to God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.

What follows, then, is a brief—well, it’s not as long as Hays volume—summary of points concerning each Gospel writer. Continue reading

Peace To End All Wars: What Christ’s Birth Has Done and Will Do

christmasThere is a story from WWI that reminds us that in the worst of times, there’s still hope. Nearing the end of December 1914, 5 months after WWI began, British soldiers heard their German foes singing Christmas Carols after a day of fighting.

In the dark, huddled in their cold trenches, the British soldiers wondered what to make of this. But soon, they joined in, singing well-known and well-loved Christmas carols. And so, through Christmas Eve, the two warring armies celebrated the birth of their Messiah.

Amazingly, the Christmas spirit continued the next day, as “some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues.” For the rest of the day, these sworn enemies traded gifts, played soccer, and celebrated the peace that only Christ can bring.

More than a century later, with the bloodiest century on record standing between us, the Christmas Truce of 1914 flickers a light of hope that only Christ can bring. Only between two nations with Christian heritages could such an armistice be considered. Still, the peace Christ brings intends to do more than foster temporary cease fires. As Micah 4:3 says of the Lord,

He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. 

What a day that will be when all wars cease, when the peace of our Lord is fully realized, when Micah’s prophecy comes to fruition. But for now, we still in a world filled with threat, hostility, violence, and war. Therefore, it is worth asking in what way does Christ bring peace? And how can we know that peace this Christmas? Continue reading

Typology and Typologies

gospels

Typology is typically considered as a unified whole, or at least, when discussing the subject, we speak of typology and not typologies. And with regards to hermeneutics and its application to systematic theology, this is appropriate. We must be able to synthesize our findings in Scripture and draw certain principles and conclusions (however, tentative) from the whole corpus of Scripture. Because the Bible is a unity (John 10:35), inspired by the one, triune God (2 Peter 1:19–21), we can and must seek to understand how typology works in the Bible.

At the same time, not all biblical authors do typology in the same way, and thus we need to take into consideration how each writer employs Scripture. Most recently, Richard Hays has made this point in this magisterial volume, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Working carefully through the four Gospels, Hays makes the conclusion that each Evangelist uses the Old Testament in different ways. After engaging the text of each book, he provides general conclusions about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and how typology, what he calls a figural reading, is employed by each.

Without denying the field of typology, i.e., the general study of types and anti-types, I think his observations are worth making careful consideration. Could it be that many disagreements about the nature of typology are due to the fact that various interpreters are beholden to different approaches in Scripture itself? Could it be that one reason typology is debated so frequently (not to mention vehemently) is that we do not appreciate Scripture’s own variety of typologies? Continue reading