Monday, May 01, 2006

Scripture as Literature

This semester and last semester have been somewhat foundation-shaking for me in what I hope is a positive way. Let me share some of the things going in my head about the relationship of Scripture to such things as history, literature, inspiration and authority.

These past two semesters have included two Hebrew classes, one on narrative and one on poetry. Both of those classes have been fertile ground for the cultivation of my thinking on the relationship of the OT, especially to historical events. The question as it stands in my mind right now is something like this: What is more important: the historicity of the recorded event or the recording of the historical event? Now I phrase that question very carefully. Neither option denies historicity per se. However, I am interested in discovering whether it is necessary to hold that certain events happened as described or whether it is more important to simply understand what the biblical author is trying to communicate by conveying the event in the way that he does.

For example, in the story of Jonah, it is doubtful that Jonah's prayer was exactly as recorded for us in chapter 2. Jonah 2 records a beautifully worded prayer of Hebrew poetry. It's great! But is that a literary device or an actual historical account?

The two phrases that have been key in my thinking have been "historicized fiction" and "fictionalized history." What I am proposing is that it may be appropriate and helpful to view some of the OT as "fictionalized history." That is, while maintaining the historicity of the events, I may see the recording of those events as a feat of literature, not historiography. I do not view the OT material as "historicized fiction," that is, a story about events that never took place.

The implications for inspiration and authority are very significant. If we speak of the text of Scripture as being "inspired" or "God-breathed" based on 2 Timothy 3:16 we speak rightly. And according to 2 Peter 1:21, the recording of prophetic material at least bears the authoritative mark of the Holy Spirit's guidance. For some reason, however, I have tended to equate "inspiration" with "historicity." Is that necessary or even right?

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Christological and Trinitarian Conundrums

This post seeks the extremely ambitious goal of dealing with very profound Trinitarian and Christological questions all at once. Unfortunately, the questions may not have a lot of immediately practical value. However, before you stop reading, consider at least the value of defending the faith. If a resolution to the questions raised in the post will help you defend the faith against skeptics or perhaps confirm the faith of puzzled believers, then that may be enough practical benefit to warrant the discussion. If it is still not “practical” enough for you, then at least read on with the hope that the reflection on the character and activities of God will stir you to a deeper love and worship of him.

Okay, now for the question. I have begun a series with our teens on systematic theology. I am trying to present it in a way that is relevant for the lives of teens. As a part of that effort we study a particular topic (or subtopic) during our Sunday Bible studies, and then we discuss it in a more “fun” format on Wednesday nights. On a recent Wednesday we had set up the conversation as if it were a radio talk show. The teens asked some great questions and provided some fun interaction. One of the questions, though, left me giving an answer that I was less than comfortable with; so I told the teens I would study up and get back with them.

The question is: When Jesus came to earth, as a part of the kenosis, did he give up his right to use his divine powers (such as omnipotence, omniscience, etc.) or did he simply choose not to use them in most situations? In other words, when Jesus walked on the water, calmed the sea, turned the water into wine, etc., did he do those things at those times because the Spirit empowered him to, or did he do them because he simply chose to at those times though he could have any time?

If I am not asking the question clearly, please let me know, and I will try to phrase it differently.

Part of the problem is not just Christological; it is also Trinitarian. That is, though the three Persons of the Godhead are ontologically equal, did the economical state of Jesus change when he became a man? He has always been, in the economical sense, submissive to the Father. Did he, then, when he became man become economically submissive to the Spirit as well so that he could not perform acts of divinity apart from the Spirit’s enabling? On the other hand, does Jesus ever work apart from the Spirit?

Maybe the bigger question to ask is, have I bitten off more than I can chew just by asking these questions?

For what it’s worth, I tend to hold that the emptying of Jesus was a surrendering of the manifestation of the glory of his deity, not a surrendering of his divne powers. Now for the kicker: I would love for this discussion to be text-driven, not just theologically-driven.

Please feel free to interact without solving all the problems these questions raise. Part of the purpose of Colaborers is to work together. I don’t expect any one to post with all the answers, but maybe you have some text-based thoughts that can contribute to a better understanding of the nature of Jesus’ earthly ministry as it relates to his divinity and his relationship with the Father and the Spirit. Have fun. Interact. Be textual. Be humble. And let’s work together to know Christ better!
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Expository Preaching Defined

Just a brief follow-up, tangentially related to the previous post. I was challenged to write a definition of expository preaching, which ended up being a bit more challenging than I expected. Here it is. Some wording is borrowed. Comments?

Expository preaching is that mode of Spirit-empowered proclamation in which the Text is accurately explained, passionately proclaimed, and decisively applied in a message derived from the historical, contextual, grammatical, and theological significance of a given passage, built on the substance and structure of the text, and restricted to the meaning and intent of the passage.
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Thursday, January 19, 2006


Warning: Possible toe-stepping to follow. Certainly out-loud musings to follow. So if you were thinking this is a well-thought article, rethink. It's intended to be an informal back and forth. Unless you don't comment. Then it's just...a monologue.

First, I believe in preaching. I value preaching. Preaching is one of God's methods of confronting His people with truth. The Word preached is a means of grace. Preaching is important.

But all that said, isn't it possible that we can overemphasize preaching? In a pursuit to elevate the authoritative declaration of absolute truth, can we push just a little beyond what is right or appropriate?

For instance, is it appropriate to consider the office of the preacher as a priestly office? In a desire to elevate the place of preaching, do we overcompensate by saying the preacher fulfills a priestly role?

Someone famous, who disagreeing with almost seems like heresy just to start with, painted a very picturesque priestly word picture of the preacher standing between Heaven and Hell, coming into his pulpit smelling of sulfur and burdened with the weight of the task before him. Others refer to the "priestly function" the preacher fulfills as he stands between God and man.

Granted, the preacher does pass on God's message to man and in that way stands between the two. But in a host of other ways, this analogy breaks down. What do priests do? What are their defining characteristics?

For starters, priests were necessary in the OT system to mediate between man and God. Without a true priest, no true sacrifice. Just ask Saul how sacrificing went without Samuel. How does that relate to the preacher and preaching?

In the OT system, "priest" was a select group. In the NT economy, every true believer is rightfully a priest. While preachers certainly help us understand God's Word, we all have the Spirit. How does the priesthood of the believer affect the analogy of preacher as priest?

In an utimate sense, we could all potentially understand the Bible without the preacher, right? The gift of teaching isn't the same as the "gift of understanding." People who do not have the gift of teaching may still have more insight and knowledge of the Word than someone who does. Being able to explain the truth doesn't make the preacher the only one who can understand it.

Granted, God has given gifted men to the Church throughout the ages who form a wonderful community of instruction for us to glean from. Granted, in providence God has provided preachers whose life's work is to study and then explain to us the Word, resulting in the growth and maturity of the Body. In that sense, we couldn't know what we do now without them. But given limitless time and resources, couldn't we know the Word as best finite man could even if we weren't personally gifted as a teacher?

Is it possible that we return to a rather Catholic view of the Word when we overemphasize the place of preaching, if we get to the place where people assume they have to have a preacher explain the perspicuous Word before them if they ever have hope of knowing it? Certainly, preachers have more time and more ability than the average joe in the Word, and their work is invaluable to the Body. But does the preacher mediate between God and man through preaching beyond what the Word does?

I am all for valuing earnest expositors. I am for preachers feeling the weight of their task. But does that mean I must see the preacher as fulfilling a priestly role in his proclamation? That seems like it's stretching it to me. Is a "priest" metaphor for the preacher accurate? Is it helpful? Can it be misleading? Right at this moment, I'm thinking no, no, and yes.
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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Warrior of the soul

As we enter the new year, I've been considering a topic first highlighted at Christmas. In fact, I think this topic gets top billing at Christmas. It's the subject of discussion, preaching, even ranting. Is it world peace? Love? Harmony? Nope, none of those things. It's the curious twin of Christmas. The marvel of the incarnation is rivaled in attention only by a fixation on the evils of materialism.

I suppose I shouldn't be very surprised by the inevitable attention materialism gets. It's the opposite of themes people often associate with Christmas: giving, selflessness, goodness. It's antithetical to the arrival of Christ. He left the infinite riches of glory for abject poverty. Christ clearly cared not at all for the comforts, pleasures, and pampering the American Church spends its vitality on year in and year out.

I've been considering ways materialism has made inroads in my thinking. For instance, here in California it seems that everyone is driving a new car. Clunkers are by far the exception, and I see Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs, and the like so much that I wonder if dealers give them away here. I've seen cars that before I thought only existed in video games; Lotus, MacClaren, Ford GT. The average cars include nice shiny Accords, Camries, Lexuses, and new pickup trucks of every make. There are not so many Saturns.

I do not exaggerate the proliferation of nice cars here. Often visitors notice before we're even back from the airport. But there's nothing wrong with my Saturn. It runs well, is safe, is not unsightly, is paid off, etc. But to be honest, at times I wish I was not driving the only sub-$10,000 car in 19 miles on a bumper to bumper freeway. I kind of wish my car was newer, had a CD player, had power steering, had that cool remote locking gizmo, or possibly even had a sunroof. And that's exactly the way the materialist thinks.

Materialists don't need to have much. It's a cross-gender/race/social status/tax bracket kind of affliction. There's always more to want, better to have, nicer to buy. If I'm going to spend $70 on a pair of running shoes, why not $90? Just think how much nicer it'd be to have two cars instead of one. I was going to pay $600 for a perfectly good base-model laptop, but look at all the extras I can get for another $600. And so it goes.

So now that Christmas, in its own unique and rather backward way, has made me consider the materialism that mainstreams from my heart to my wallet, I've been thinking about a plan of attack. I have a few ideas, but I'd like to know yours.

Give me some biblical, practical, personal suggestions for dealing with materialism. How do you combat the materialism that undermines your principles of stewardship, unsettles your contentment, and shifts your perspective from the eternal to the mundane? How can we best defeat the lust of materialism that wars against our souls?
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If God Is Sovereign, Why Pray?

If God is sovereign, why pray? This question often comes up when talking about sharing the gospel with lost people. The common misunderstanding is that since God is sovereign and will certainly save all of his people, then there is no need to pray for the salvation of those people. That apparent dilemma has already been dealt with very appropriately by a number of people. (See the bottom of this post for a list of helpful articles.)

The question I want to pose is this: If God is sovereign over more than just salvation—in fact over all of life—then why pray about anything? Let me ask the question differently: Will my prayers change God’s course of action?

The question is not merely theological musing. It is a very important question that has significant bearing on my prayer life and my understanding of God himself. Here are some of the explanations. I would appreciate any addition to the list (preferably with Scripture) or any elaboration or clarification:

1. We must pray because God commands it (1 Tim 2:8; 1 Thes 5:17; et. al.)

2. We must pray because it strengthens our relationship with God (various Psalms)

3. We must pray because it demonstrates our dependence upon God (Jas 5:14)

These are all good reasons to pray, but they do not address the question directly. Do my prayers change God’s plan? If not, then why pray? If so, how so? Should I pray for someone’s safety as they travel? Will God possible not protect them if I do not pray for their protection? Should I pray for my healing when I am sick? James 5 seems to indicate that I should. There may be a larger question underlying the ones I am asking; if so, feel free to point it out.

There are a couple of reasons for this post. First, we at CL desire to see theology done in the context of the community of faith. We will not trot off to a monastery somewhere and search for this answer on our own. This is an effort to come to a theological understanding of an important question in a communal context. Second, the question has been raised to me on more than one occasion by sincere seekers of the truth. I am not convinced that my own understanding of the issue has been sharpened enough to give a coherent answer without writing a dissertation on the subject! So I would like to be able to glean from you in order to hone my own understanding. I look forward to your interaction!

A few helpful articles:

The Sovereignty of God and Prayer (John Piper)
If Predestination is True, Why Pray (Charles Spurgeon)
Several helpful articles at
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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Happy Birthday, David

Today is David's birthday! Leave a birthday note for him here.
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