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

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

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

Give Thanks For the Gifts Jesus Gives You: A Thanksgiving Meditation on Ephesians 4

pro-church-media-p2OQW69vXP4-unsplash.jpgBut grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
— Ephesians 4:7–8 —

As we approach Thanksgiving, it is good to remember that thanksgiving is more than a feeling prompted by turkey and stuffing. Thanksgiving is a way of life for those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. And thanksgiving is one of the chief ways that Jesus builds up his church.

Here’s what I mean: Scripture teaches us that we are created to give thanks to God for all that he has given to us. We praise him for his good gifts in creation, and we adore him especially for his mercy in salvation. Yet, in Paul’s letters to the churches, there is peculiar focus on giving thanks for the people whom Christ has given us. And it is worth considering this particular gift as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Continue reading

Imagine . . . : 16 Observations on Imagination, Theology, Discipleship, and the Church

michael-aleo-DpgzNS1yvWg-unsplash.jpg“Imagine there’s no heaven.”
— John Lennon —

“Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations,
captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”
— Kevin J. Vanhoozer —

In seminary I took a class called “The Worshipping Church,” where one of our assignments included visiting churches outside our denomination. In one of those visits, I went to a local Roman Catholic Church, where before, during, or after the service (I cannot remember), the instrumentalist played the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. If you are unfamiliar, the lyrics begin

Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try
No hell below us / Above us only sky

Admittedly, the instrumental tune is soothing, but the casual denial of heaven and hell is satanic. And though the words were not sung aloud in the service, to anyone familiar with the song, it was not too difficult to imagine what the song was saying.

I bring up this occasion not to bemoan the presence of that song in church—it’s exclusion from the worship set should be obvious. I bring up the song “Imagine” to observe the lack of imagination that cripples so many of God’s churches. As Kevin Vanhoozer has observed, “Many churches are suffering from malnourished imaginations, captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life.”

Going further, Kevin Vanhoozer’s book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, reiterates the need for churches to engage the imagination. Indeed, this is more than a hat tip to the arts; as Vanhoozer argues, imagination is a necessary (and biblical!) step between theory and practice, between faith and love.

As he has (for years) sought to bridge the chasm between knowledge and action with what he calls “theodrama” or “the drama of doctrine,” Vanhoozer rightly observes the importance of imagination. And in what follows I want to cite sixteen of his observations on this subject and why it is so vital for the church. Continue reading

The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn Joshua 11–12 we come to the close of the first section of Joshua. Here are ten things about those two chapters.

1. Joshua 11 repeats the same pattern as Joshua 10 . . . but faster.

Joshua 11:1 begins just like Joshua 5:1; 9:1; and 10:1. In each chapter, kings from Canaan “heard” of the exploits of Israel and Israel’s God. At first “the kings of the Amorites” feared the Lord (5:1), but then others sought to fight Israel (9:1; 10:1; 11:1). The difference in responses, it seems, is because Ai defeated defeated Israel when Achan sinned. A consequence of that debacle was an increase in hostility (and confidence) among the kings of Canaan.

This surge of confidence is what initiated the clash of Israel and the nations in chapters 10–11. And between these two chapters, we find a literary parallel. As Kenneth Mathews observes,

Chapters 10 and 11 have a general correspondence: both begin with a coalition of enemy kings (10:1–5; 11:1–5); both describe their respective battles (10:6–39; 11:6–11); and both contain a summary of the fallen (10:40–43; 11:12–23). There are details are similar, such as the Lord’s explicit directive to engage the enemy and the author’s attribution of the victory to the Lord (10:8, 14; 11:6, 8). (Mathews, Joshua102–03)

At the same time, there are differences between the chapters; the greatest difference being the speed with which Joshua 11 covers the material. In this chapter, “only one town is described in detail and there are no lengthy descriptions of a chase or of miracles. This suggests an acceleration in the narrative. Moving ever more quickly, the text completes the description of the conquest” (Hess, Joshua227–28).

This faster pace reminds us how biblical narratives are written. They are not intended to cover everything. Instead, in their selectiveness, they point the reader to the important (read: theological) facets of the story. For readers today, comparing chapters 10–11 helps us see how Joshua is written and what these battles reveal about God. Continue reading

The Lord is a Warrior (Joshua 10)

joshua07The Lord is a Warrior (Joshua 10)

Standing on the shores of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army buried under the water, Moses leads Israel to praise God for his powerful victory. And in Exodus 15:1–3, he sings,

1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.

This song of Moses rejoices in the God who defeated Pharaoh and his army. And inspired by the Holy Spirit, God teaches us who he is and how we are to worship him. As verse 3 says, “The Lord is a warrior” and he deserves our praise as such.

Today, this image of God as a warrior is not often appreciated. Instead, God, and especially God the Son, is presented in softer colors. As Dale Ralph Davis has put it, “The popular image of Jesus is that he is not only kind and tender but also soft and prissy, as though Jesus comes to us reeking of hand cream” (Joshua, 88).

Think what you will of hand cream, but the truth remains—Jesus as victorious warrior has been replaced by Jesus as a mild-mannered, emotive counselor. Certainly, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor and one who knows our pains and plight, but he is also a strong and mighty ruler whose enemies are being put under his feet every day.

In Sunday’s sermon, we considered God as a Warrior. From Joshua 10, we saw how the LORD rained down hailstones on the wicked and went to war, defending his people. Moreover, we saw how Joshua, God’s Savior, prayed and judged—two themes that must be kept with salvation. All in all, Joshua 10 presents a corrective to any view of Jesus that only thinks of him in sentimental terms.

You can listen to the sermon here. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

Under His Feet: 10 Things About Joshua 10

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashAs we prepare for Joshua 10, here are ten things about this powerful chapter.

1. The Battle of Gibeon

Joshua 10 can be summarized as the battle for Gibeon or the Battle in the Valley of Gibeon (Isa. 28:21). In this chapter, the Gibeonites are attacked by their neighbors because of their peace-making with Israel. And thus Joshua is called to rescue them.

In this setting, Joshua 10 unites chapter 9 with chapter 11. In the former, Joshua 9 recalls the deception of Gibeon, which results in a covenant between Israel and their neighbors. Joshua 11 records multiple victories of Israel over the cities of Northern Canaan. Joshua 10 itself recounts the defeat of one five-fold federation (vv. 1–27), along with seven other city-states (vv. 28–43).

Together, these three chapters explain how Israel defeated peoples in the central region of Canaan in Joshua 9–10 (Jericho, Ai, Jerusalem, etc.), the Southern region of Canaan in Joshua 10:28–43 (Makkedah, Libnah, Gezer, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, and Debir), and the Northern region in Joshua 11 (Hazor, et al.). Joshua 9–11 hang together then by the theme of Yahweh’s defeat of the Canaanites and they are organized according to their geographical military campaigns. Continue reading

For Disciples and Disciplers . . . A Short Biblical Survey of Beauty

waterfallAnd we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. . . . In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4–6 —

In recent days I have become increasingly convinced that biblical teaching, preaching, and discipleship must do more than transmit information. We must proclaim the Truth of God with the same beauty that we find in Scripture. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth did not inspire the Word in some drab and dull way. It is filled with poetry, irony, mystery, and symmetry—in a word, beauty. And the more we see such Christ-centered beauty, the more we will understand God’s Word and become like the Word made flesh.

To put it biblically, if salvation comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4–6), than sanctification is beautification, where the disciples of Christ reflect the glory of God in ever-increasing ways (2 Cor. 3:18). As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “The ‘holy array’ in which the priests of ancient Israel worshiped God (1 Chron 16:29, RSV) now becomes the righteousness of Christ (Gal 3:27), the humility (1 Pet 5:5) that clothes all believers” (Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition129). Continue reading