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 Strength That God’s Sovereignty Supplies and the Judgment God’s Sovereignty Justifies

pexels-photo-32625610  The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11  The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
— Psalm 33:10–12 —

Throughout the book of Joshua we see the personal presence of God. In battle after battle, Yahweh fights for Israel. Through his appointed leader Joshua, God brings justice on a land whose sin has finally come to judgment (cf. Gen. 15:16), and he brings salvation to Israel, as more than 31 city-states rise to fight God’s people (Joshua 12)..

Indeed, if there is any theme that recurs in Joshua is God’s sovereignty over the affairs of the nations. As Psalm 33:10 puts it, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” Yet, God’s sovereignty does more than run roughshod over the affairs of men. His personal actions in the world actually bring to fruition the sins of the nations, which in turn demonstrates his righteousness in bringing judgment on evil. Simultaneously, his covenant promises lead his people to bold action. Rather than passively waiting for God to act, God’s actions impel his people to follow suit.

Joshua teaches us, therefore, how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility work together. In particular, we see God’s sovereignty in his judgment and salvation. And for those of us who are seeking to know God and his ways in the world, it is worth our time to consider both. In what follows, we will consider how these often confused and competing themes (God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility) work in harmony. 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

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

What Hath the Lord’s Supper To Do with Baptism (pt. 2)

ryan-loughlin--a8Cewc-qGQ-unsplashYesterday, I began to consider the necessary unity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or to put it differently, why baptism is the necessary prerequisite for the Lord’s Supper. Today, I will make a biblical-theological case for why this unity should be believed and practiced.

By looking at how the whole Bible sets the stage for Christ’s two ordinances, we find a compelling reason for practicing them together and in order—baptism first, then the Lord’s Table. Or as we will see from Joshua, the Lord’s is for those who have passed over the waters of baptism and entered God’s land. This is physically and historically true with old covenant Israel; this is symbolically and personally true for every member of God’s new covenant.

It will take a little bit of time to see all the pieces of this argument, but for those willing to put in the effort, there is a great reward for seeing how Scripture unifies God’s ordinances and explains their place in the life of the Church and the Christian today. In what follows, I will offer two presuppositions and four reasons for why the Lord’s Supper requires baptism. Continue reading

Reading Joshua with the Early Church: Ten Quotes from the Patristics

joshua07C. S. Lewis has said that for every three books we read from our century, we should read one from an earlier century. This is not because other places and other periods of time do not have a lock on truth. Other centuries have many errors, but—and this is Lewis’s point!—they do not share the same errors that we do. Thus, by reading books from other eras, we are given problems, solutions, and perspectives (read: wisdom) that we cannot find in our own time period.

When it comes to the book of Joshua, we find an example of this in the connections that the Early Church made between Joshua, son of Nun, and Joshua (Jesus), son of Mary, son of God. In the last few centuries, modern scholars have provided copious literary analyses of Joshua; they have proven Joshua’s vocabulary comes from Deuteronomy; and they have corroborated the form and content of Joshua with other ancient Near Eastern covenant documents, as well as archaeological research.

Yet, what continues to be lacking in today’s studies are the canonical connections that filled the writings of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and others. In the first three centuries of the Church, especially as the Church grappled with the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, these early apologists made numerous connections between Joshua and Jesus.

In particular, these Church Fathers made much of the name of “Jesus,” or “Joshua,” or as it is found in Hebrews 4:8 and 4:14, Iēsous. Indeed, as any reader of the Greek New Testament will discover the name translated “Joshua” in 4:8 is the same name translated “Jesus” in 4:14. While our English Bibles lead us to view these names as different (Joshua and Jesus), the Greek name is the same.

Similarly, Jude 5 (ESV) speaks of “Jesus” who saved Israel out of Egypt. Here again the name Iēsous appears in multiple early manuscripts.[i] While Jude may have been saying that Jesus of Nazareth, who is the eternal Son, led Israel out Egypt, there is better evidence for seeing a typological connection in Jude 5. The God of Israel led Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land by means of Joshua (Iēsous), who is a type of Christ. Or as Richard Ounsworth puts it, “Joshua’s role as savior of his people . . . points toward the fulfilment of this foreshadowing of Christ by one who shares Joshua’s name” (Joshua Typology in the New Testament13). Continue reading

Glory from Beginning to End: Ten Things About Psalm 29

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon, here are ten things about Psalm 29.

1. Psalm 29 is the third creation psalm and third “mountain top” in Book 1 of the Psalms.

This point is easier to show than to tell. In the following graphic, we see how Psalms 8, 19, and 29 stand at the center of various chiastic structures (“mountains”) in the Psalter. (You can hear how this outline works here).

Book 1

Arranged in this way, we might read Psalms 8, 19, 29 together and see how the God of creation was to be worshiped by mankind (Ps 8), in response to the word of God (Ps 19), and in the temple (Ps 29). Even more, we can see how glory connects these creation psalms together.

Psalm 8 says God crowned mankind with glory and honor. Psalm 19 speaks of God’s glory displayed in creation. And Psalm 29 speaks of God’s glory coming into the temple. In all of these ways, we discover how manifold God’s glory is.

2. The creation imagery of Psalm 29 recalls the ancient battle songs of Israel.

For instance, the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) uses creation imagery to describe God’s power to destroy his enemies. Deborah’s song (Judges 5) does the same. And according to Derek Kidner, this is a common way ancient Near Eastern songs were composed.

Early Canaanite poetry was similar in this respect.. Whether David was building the psalm out of an ancient fragment, or turning to a style that would recall the old battle-hymns of God’s salvation, the primitive vigour of the verse, with its eighteen reiterations of the name Yahweh (the Lord), wonderfully matches the theme, while the structure of the poem averts the danger of monotony by its movement from heaven to earth, by the path of the storm and by the final transition from nature in uproar to the people of God in peace. (Psalms 1–72142). Continue reading

The Hole In Our Praise (and Lamentation) and Worship

chuttersnap-6jkiVl4mwws-unsplashOn my shelf I have a Celebration Hymnal: Songs and Hymns for Worship. It was published in 1997, foreworded by Jack Hayford (Pastor of The Church on the Way), and intended to provide “tools for ‘blended worship'” (from the Preface). Consisting of 865 selections, it combines new songs and old hymns, Scripture readings, and even various calls to worship.

Yet, what is strikingly absent are songs or Scriptures devoted to lament or confession. Instead The Celebration Hymnal celebrates all that the triune God has done. But it’s consistent tenor only highlights the good news of God, without considering the bad news of sin and he reason why humanity needs salvation.

For instance, the opening section of “Songs and hymns for worship” are categorized under nine headings:

  • Praise the Lord
  • Exalt the Lord
  • Bless the Lord
  • Adore the Lord
  • Glorify the Lord
  • Magnify the Lord
  • Worship the Lord
  • Give Thanks to the Lord
  • The Family at Worship

These stunningly positive categories of song are inter-leafed with Scripture readings to make up the first 201 selections. Likewise, under the category “Walking with God,” we find 12 categories:

  • Faith and Hope
  • Aspiration and Consecration
  • Assurance and Trust
  • Commitment and Obedience
  • Comfort and Encouragement
  • Prayer and Devotion
  • Purity and Holiness
  • Stewardship and Service
  • Guidance and Care
  • Provision and Deliverance
  • Spiritual Conflict and Victory
  • Peace and Joy

These sections compose more than 200 songs and Scriptures (526–752), and provide a well-rounded corpus of songs dedicated to different areas of faith, hope, love, and holiness. Yet, what remains absent is any mention of lamentation, sorrow, or pain, as well as any explicit mention of sin and confession.

Songs of “repentance and forgiveness” find four spaces under the category “New Life in Christ.” But these four songs are overshadowed by the ten songs of “invitation and acceptance” and eleven songs of “witness and and praise” in the same category.

To be fair, these themes are addressed in various songs throughout the hymnal. I confess, I haven’t read the whole book. But what I am interested in does not require a full reading but a look at the organization which the publishers supplied.

It is instructive that lamentation and confession did not make it into the arrangement of The Celebration Hymnal. While lamentation is a key biblical theme, only two Psalms of Lament are even cited in The Celebration Hymnal. And tellingly, those selections are from the vows of praise. Nothing comes close to the cries of dereliction or the screams for salvation that are found in Psalm 13, 22, 88, or 89. Continue reading