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

What is the Bible? And What Does It Do?

theoWhenever we talk about inerrancy, we must begin by defining what the Bible is.

In philosophical parlance, this discussion relates to the nature or ontology of the Bible. Defining the Bible rightly matters because Scripture is more than a functional handbook for religious followers of Jesus. The Bible it is the very Word of God.

Yet, even this lofty claim requires clarity, and so here are five considerations about the Bible’s ontology from Kevin Vanhoozer (Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom80):

1. Scripture is not a word from outer space or a time capsule from the past, but a living and active Word of God for the church today.

2. The Bible is both like and unlike every other book: it is both a human, contextualized discourse and a holy discourse ultimately authored by God and intended to be read in canonical context.

3. The Bible is not a dictionary of holy words but a written discourse: something someone says to someone about something in some way for some purpose.

4. God does a variety of things with the human discourse that makes up Scripture, but above all he prepares the way for Jesus Christ, the climax of a long, covenantal story.

5. God uses the Bible both to present Christ and to form Christ in us.

Getting the Bible right does not secure good interpretation or practice, but getting the Bible wrong does. So we should aim to rightly understand what Scripture is and what it is intended to do—namely, lead us to Christ and make us like him.

Yesterday’s post considered the matter of interpretation, but that discussion depends on getting the Bible right, which these five points help us see. To the end of reading the Bible and becoming conformed to Christ, may we continue to labor and pray.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Inerrancy and Interpretation: Kevin Vanhoozer on Map-Making and the Meaning of God’s Word

london
What is inerrancy? And what does it mean for a picture to be true? And what does it mean for the Bible, which is filled with pictures (similes, metaphors, parables, etc.) to be inerrant?

For those who affirm biblical inerrancy, as I do, questions like these enter into a wide-ranging debate about Scripture and hermeneutics. This is especially true when we appreciate how the truth of the Bible is not grounded in logical abstractions or mathematical proofs; it is grounded in the triune God who has spoken of himself in a book that comes together as a progressively revealed story. In other words, truth in the Bible is unlike any other book. It is not only God’s truth, but in a book composed of various genres, its truth is also conveyed through forms of speech whose truth is not easily ascertained or readily appreciated.

Again, what does it mean for a picture to be true? (For an interesting look at this problem from a wholly different angle, see Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Picture Problem“).

In Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomKevin Vanhoozer has an illuminating chapter on the nature and function of Scripture with special attention to the doctrine of inerrancy. Moving the conversation about inerrancy beyond claims of veracity, he rightly documents what Scripture is (its ontology) and what Scripture does (its function).

In what follows, I want to share his nine qualifications about inerrancy and give a short summary of each point. For clarity sake, all the enumerated points below are his; the expansions are mine with multiple quotations from his chapter. Continue reading

Herman Bavinck on the Importance and Difference between Dogmatics and Ethics

bavinck.jpegWhat is theology? And what is it good for? These are questions Christians ask and theologians attempt to answer. In his various works on theology, Kevin Vanhoozer has attempted to explain doctrine in terms of drama (e.g., The Drama of Doctrine). More recently, he has argued for the place of doctrine and drama in the making of disciples (e.g., Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine). In Pilgrim TheologyMichael Horton makes the same point—doctrine summarizes the drama, directs doxology, and instructs disciples.

In short, some of the best theologians today know that theology is for living, doctrine is for discipleship, and everything is for worship. Still, theology (truth about God) is not to be confused with discipleship (walking in truth). To say it differently, there is a place for theology and ethics. And recently, I was reminded (or instructed more fully) how these two disciplines are related to one another, but also different.

In the editorial introduction to the first volume of Herman Bavinck’s recently published Reformed Ethicswe find how this great theologian for the Netherlands distinguished theology and ethics. First, in Reformed Dogmatics, he states,

Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to, and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents. In dogmatics, the articles of faith are treated; in ethics, the precepts of the decalogue. In the former, that which concerns faith is dealt with; in the latter, that which concerns love, obedience, and good works. Dogmatics sets forth what God is and does for human beings and causes them to know God as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; ethics sets forth what human beings are and do for God now; how, with everything they are and have, with intellect and will and all their strength, they devote themselves to God out of gratitude and love. Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. (xxv–xxvi, Reformed Dogmatics 1:58) Continue reading

Hermeneutics as Disciple-Formation

Christ in OTThe one who follows Jesus to the cross (but no further) is an admirer; the one who takes up the cross is a disciple. The admirer, unlike the disciple, follows Jesus only up to a point. . . . The Emmaus road admirers did not recognize Jesus; he was a stranger to them. They were incapable of reading the Scripture or the situation rightly. . . . Admirers [users and critics] of Jesus are able to follow the biblical testimony up to a point; they are able neither to recognize what it means for them nor to appropriate its perlocutionary effect [i.e., the way the word ‘works’]. Similarly, for many readers, the text is a ‘stranger,’ to be admired or followed only ‘up to a point.’ Like the Emmaus travelers, the itinerant reader may be familiar with the text without ever having a moment of recognition, without ever coming to a personal knowledge of the ‘strange new world of the Bible,’ without ever deciding whether the stranger [i.e., the triune God] is friend or foe.
 Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? —

Hermeneutics, technically defined, is “the science that teaches us the principles, laws, and methods of interpretation” (Louis Berkhof). Since college, this subject has been a passion and a pursuit. And so it is with great joy that I continue to consider this topic with the men of Occoquan Bible Church today.

Because the ‘science . . . of interpretation’ is actually part of God’s wise and gracious process of making disciples, it is vital we learn more than interpretive skills and techniques when we study hermeneutics. We must begin with the right posture of heart, which is to say the Holy Spirit must grant new eyes and new affections, so that as born again disciples of Christ our biblical studies bring us into greater communion with the triune God.

Keeping this personal knowledge of God at the center, I have tried to frame our study around the Father who Speaks, the Son who is that Spoken Word, and the Spirit who empowers us to believe and receive the Word of God. Most, if not all, of these thoughts are unoriginal, but novelty for novelty sake is never the goal of interpretation. Rather, the goal of Bible reading, I believe, is beholding Christ in all Scripture. With in mind, I share the notes here on three presuppositions (read: postures of the heart) disciples need to rightly understand the Word of God.

  1. Author — The God Who Speaks
  2. Text — The Word God Writes
  3. Audience– The Spirit Who Empowers Understanding (today’s lesson)

In these, my hope is to consider how faithful interpretation enhances doxology and discipleship. For any other aim misses the point of Scripture.  As Kevin Vanhoozer has wisely written, we must be disciples who receive the Word of God not mere admirers, dubious critics, or pragmatic users of God’s Word. To that end we pray and study.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Let’s Increase the Drama: Kevin Vanhoozer on the Church as Gospel Theater

drama.jpegWhy should you commit to, participate in, become a member—or however you want to describe it—of a local church? Because Christians are called to gather to “dramatize” the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While “drama” in the church is often a troublesome condition related to strife and gossip; rightly understood, drama is the very reason why the church exists. Consider the insightful words of Kevin Vanhoozer (The Drama of Doctrine), who describes the communion of the church as a theater troupe called and commissioned to interpret God’s Script through their faithful living and Word-based improvisation.

The church has to celebrate what no other institution can celebrate: communion with God and communion with others. The Lord’s Supper is a communal act of solemn, yet ultimately joyful, thanksgiving. The shared bread and wine recall the theo-drama’s climax and rehearse the play’s conclusion. It is a key scene to the meaning of the whole, and it ought to affect our interpretation of all the other scenes. The Supper cannot, however, be performed by individual actors, no matter how virtuosic their talent; it takes a company. A company is, in the first instance, an assembly. The church is that singular assembly that keeps company gospel and with one another, not least by breaking bread together (com panis = “with bread”). But the church is a company, second, in the theatrical sense: a troupe of speakers, singers, and actors. It is the company of the forgiven, and this is why the company communicates, indeed radiates, joy.

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Hearing the Voice of God: Ten Axioms About God’s Authorship of Scripture

bible“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
– Proverbs 1:7 –

“The fear of the Author is the beginning of literary understanding”
– Kevin Vanhoozer[1]

This morning, I have the privilege of beginning a series of “studies” on hermeneutics and biblical interpretation among the men at my church. The title I’ve chosen is “Toward Doxology and Discipleship: Presuppositions and Principles for a Trinitarian Reading of Scripture.”

Influenced by the work of Kevin Vanhoozer, my aim is to lay out three presuppositions in the next three months concerning the three horizons of communications—author, text, and recipient(s). By taking a trinitarian approach—where we see the Father as speaker, the Son as the content of Scripture, and the Spirit as the One who enables people  to rightly receive understand God’s speech—can are ready to rightly read Scripture.

Only after this triad of communicative presuppositions, can we employ biblical principles that cohere with God’s inspired Word.  That’s the goal of the next three studies, where I hope to outline the three horizons of the biblical text to show how every interpreter of of the Bible must do justice to the textual, covenantal, and canonical horizons (so Edmund Clowney, Richard Lints, etc.). Only by reading texts with respect to grammar and history, covenantal or epochal placement in the Bible, and the final revelation of Christ in God’s canon can we fully appreciated all Scripture has to say to us, indeed what God is speaking to us even today (see Hebrews 3:7).

If you are interested, I’ve included my notes for this week and listed below my ten concluding “axioms” that show the cash value of starting with the doctrine of God, and more specifically why bringing his Authorship to the forefront is imperative for good hermeneutics. If hermeneutics is “your thing,” or if it is not, I’d love your feedback. Continue reading

Postmodernism and Evangelical Thought (4): A Wise and Selective Appropriation

After surveying many of the key figures and concepts that make up postmodern thought, the question becomes: Is postmodernism salubrious or toxic for evangelical theology?

The answer, not surprisingly, differs depending on who is speaking.  In what follows, I will list three postures to take towards postmodernism.  In today’s evangelicalism, some like Stanley Grenz, John Franke, and Roger Olson have gladly appropriated postmodern thought, others like Douglas Geivett and Scott Smith have rejected it. Still others, most sensibly, have selectively and wisely incorporated some but not all aspects of postmodernism.  We will consider these in turn as they explain how postmodernism has impacted evangelical theology. Continue reading

Taste and See the Sweet Layers of Scripture

My wife is an excellent maker of cakes. My favorite is the homemade chocolate cake she makes. What makes it so good? Well, the sweet, moist cake is a good starting place, but it moves from good to great when she adds the frosting, and it goes from great to ‘out of this world,’ when she makes a double-layered cake with a large portion of frosting in the middle.

Makes you hungry, doesn’t it?

Well, the richness of a double-layered, chocolate is not unlike the word of God, which the Psalmist described as sweeter than honey (Ps 19:10). If he had chocolate in his vocabulary, I bet he would have made that comparison, as well.

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For Your Edification (3.15.13)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Church, and Culture.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.

Walking Wisely WHEN and WHERE You Work. Phillip Bethancourt, a friend of mine and the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at Southern Seminary, posts some wise words on making job decisions and orienting your vocation around the gospel of Jesus Christ and the way that Jesus has made you.

The Doctrine of Inerrancy Kevin Vanhoozer has provided a helpful defense and explanation of an important theological concept–the doctrine of inerrancy.  This is the belief that “Scripture, in the original manuscripts and when interpreted according to the intended sense, speaks truly in all that it affirms.”  Vanhoozer’s piece nicely outlines what inerrancy is and is not.

Bonhoeffer Question & Answer. Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and social media lobbyist for religious liberty, converses with Jason Meyer and John Piper on the person, ministry, and influence of German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For Your Edification, dss