Friday, June 18, 2010

God: Original Risk-Taker, or Sovereign, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Lord?

God: Original Risk-Taker, or Sovereign, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Lord?

I love to read the writings and sermons, as well as biographies, of the Early Church Fathers. Often, they displayed valiant faith and incredible theological insight, but at other times, your left wondering how they missed the point, how they could get so far from Truth. The answer? Bad hermeneutics.

Good intentions, but dangerous hermeneutic

Looking at the first five or six centuries of early church literature, you’ll notice periods when certain doctrines, such as those regarding the nature of God, tended to have served as the hermeneutic filter for the interpretation of the whole of Scripture. This was primarily due to attacks on the biblical doctrine of God by heretics, and in response, certain Fathers attacked the heresies by appealing to relevant biblical passages, reason, and sometimes, biblical passages that were not really dealing with the nature of God, yet were treated as though they were. In dealing with the doctrine of the nature of God, the Fathers generally fell on the side of biblical truth. However, in their mishandling of Scripture, i.e., trying to prove a biblical truth by using Scriptural passages that do not speak to that truth, they may have led the way for others to do the same, but without having biblical truth as an end. As the allegorical and mystical approaches to the interpretation of Scripture began to take precedence in the later centuries of the Church, as can be seen in modern RCC dogma, doctrine began to truly suffer. However much this ancient hermeneutical issue may not seem to be a problem, in today’s sophisticated American expression of Christianity, it most certainly is.

How can we know Truth?

So, what is God really like? We can get a pretty good glimpse through the proper interpretation of Scripture. This means that we must ask the right questions of Scripture. The first question to ask of Scripture must be “What does it actually say?” Getting this wrong, is the first mistake our modern heretics make. If you want to know what God is like, you only need to look at Scripture to find out––what does the Bible say God is like? If you want to know what Man is like, you have two sources, the Bible and the newspaper; you’ll find that on the subject of the depravity of Man, these two will generally agree. If you want to know what Man Should be like, the Bible makes clear, we should be like Jesus.

The next question must be, “What does it mean?” On this question, we must look at the purpose of the human author (as best as can be understood), we must also consider the original hearer/reader, and what did it mean to them? This may sound obvious to you, but just look around, read a few “Christian” books, like Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and you’ll see that it is not. Just like some of the Fathers, if we get so caught up disputing the heresy of the day, or proving, what we think to be, the most important concept missing in the Church today, we will, at best, miss other, equally relevant, scriptural truths, and at worst, we will miss the point of Scripture all together.

A challenge for the Christian as you read books such as Wild at Heart

Examine what you believe about God, and why you believe it. Read the Bible in its entirety, and allow your beliefs to be challenged by what you read. God’s word is not only true, it is Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Voice: New Testament (A Thomas Nelson Project)

As a church planter/pastor, working in the Greater New Orleans area, I am aware of the spiritual condition, i.e., the worship of false things, lack of biblical understanding, and apathy toward the things of God, of both some church attendees/members, as well as of those not so inclined. I realize that sometimes confusion over the meaning of the biblical text is at the heart of the problem. Therefore, I am open to the concept of using fresh means of presenting the unchangeable truth of God’s word, to the people of our inclusive, and yet, continually fragmenting culture, in order to help them to better understand and apply the gospel to their lives. I further realize that this is such a rarity (rebellion against God as a result of not understanding the meaning of the text), it hardly warrants a mention, much less, a new version of the Bible. However, I was very interested to learn of a new translation that used the screenplay format for dialogue, as well as boxed commentary on the page, in order to make the text a little easier for people, new to the Bible, to follow and understand. I decided to get a copy of “The Voice” and check it out.

Bold New Translation

The first problem is that “The Voice” is not a “Bold, new translation” as Thomas Nelson Publishing claims, but is instead, an impotent paraphrase. The people at Thomas Nelson, as well as Zondervan before, surely know the difference between the two approaches to the text, so it is quite disturbing to see them deceptive on this point. This, however, is not a hill on which to die, but publishers of the Bible should be honest about their products. They should hold the Bible in high regard. Regarding this review, there are already many reviewers exposing the many textual problems with this version of the NT, so I will not focus on those particulars. Instead, I will think aloud, so to speak, and question, what is “The Voice,” whom are they trying to reach, and who is responsible for this misuse of the New Testament?

Theology and the Nature of Scripture

Once you open the cover, the publishers are a little more revealing regarding the true nature of the book, but you must discern the implications of what they are saying. The first tagline, “The liberating king and his church,” exposes their Christology, and introduces the reader to the overall guiding theology behind this work. Since the person and work of Jesus Christ is the point of Scripture, a biblically sound Christology is the single most critical factor in understanding Scripture. In short: if you get Jesus wrong, you get the whole Bible wrong. The second tagline, found preceding the preface, reads, “A Scripture project to rediscover the story of the Bible.” This statement serves as an explanation to their view of the nature of Scripture. That being said, why would they use the word “Liberator” instead of “Christ?”

Does “Liberating King” communicate the gospel to the culture?

Throughout this rendering of the NT, the title words for Jesus, viz., Christ and Messiah, are replaced with the words, “Liberator” and “Liberating King.” Do the folks at Thomas Nelson Publishers really believe that the word “Liberator” speaks the truth of the person and work of Jesus, more effectively than the words Christ and Messiah? Just google the word “Liberator,” and see how long it takes to get to a reference to Jesus. If you ask people what they think of when they hear the word “Liberator,” depending on their age and socio-economic background, they will give you a variety of answers, from Malcolm X to president George W. Bush, but none having to do with the person and work of Jesus. It must be concluded that the decision to use the word “Liberator,” instead of the word “Christ,” has to do with the Christology of those involved in the decision, and not the attempt to better communicate the gospel to this culture. “The Voice” reduces the person and work of Jesus Christ to that of a socio-political zealot, offering to lead people to freedom. Consider recent history, and the likes of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Barak Obama. All have been considered, and called, “Liberators” by groups of people. This label could be applied to anyone trying to improve the state of another. The words “Christ” and “Messiah” can only apply to One, viz., the prophesied incarnation of God the Son, the Savior, the Redeemer, Jesus.

“A Scripture project to rediscover the story of the Bible”

It seems that for the folks involved in the direction of “The Voice,” viz., the editors and publisher, Scripture is insufficient as it stands in it’s current modern English form, it’s meaning incomprehensible, and it’s “Story” (the gospel) hidden or lost, needing rediscovery. This implies a light view of Scripture on the part of the editorial team and Thomas Nelson. As a “Scripture Project,” Thomas Nelson, the editors, and all the contributors, have collectively produced a book that is something much less than Scripture.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Missional Man, Martin Luther

Martin Luther (1483–1546)


Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, into a modest copper miner’s family in Eisleben, Germany. As Luther came of age, and as determined by his father, he set out to earn a degree in law. But in July of 1505, a violent lightning storm knocked Luther to the ground, and thinking he would die, he screamed out, “Help me, St. Anne! I will become a monk.” Young Martin did not die, and was determined, even against his father’s threats, to keep his vow. A short time later, he entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, and became a monk. But Luther was restless. He knew there was something missing in is faith, he knew that despite his greatest efforts of righteousness, he still stood before God, unworthy. As his superiors sensed his desire to understand, he was sent to Wittenberg, where he received the doctor of theology degree and subsequently taught the Bible.


Still doubting himself and his faith (how can a righteous God accept a sinful man), Luther was encouraged to visit Rome, where due to its majesty, his faith might be restored. but It was during this trip to Rome that Luther became disillusioned with the Roman Catholic church. It was due to the corruption he saw there that he began to question the Roman church’s authority. He returned to Wittenberg to teach, and through his study of Romans, particularly Rom. 1:17 (For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith) Luther came to the knowledge of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.


How sinful man can be justified before a holy God, became the foundation of Luther’s teaching, as well as the foundation of his opposition to the Roman Catholic church, and on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. These 95 statements were not intended for public distribution, but were instead, intended solely for academic and theological debate. They were, unfortunately, not received as intended. A major element of conflict between Luther and the Roman Church was primarily due to his public stand against the abuse of indulgences (the buying and selling of God’s grace). Luther also denied the supremacy of the pope as well as the infallibility of general councils, and instead, stressed sola scriptura—Scripture alone as the authority for Christian Faith and practice.


In 1520 Luther wrote three treatises, a mission statement for reform (ISBN: 0800616391). The Freedom of the Christian: justification should effect one’s existence in society. Christians should not only serve their neighbors, but they should do so out of love and gratitude for Christ. Luther was “Missional” before being missional was cool. The Appeal to the German Nobility: this dealt with the wealth and power of the Roman church. The Babylonian Captivity: in this, Luther discussed the Roman sacramental system, showing that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the only valid sacraments of the church as instituted by Christ. In response, Pope Leo X issued a Bull of Excommunication against Luther accusing him of heresy. In April of 1521 Martin Luther stood before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and other political and religious leaders, at the Diet of Worms. Luther was tricked into thinking this would be a debate, based on differences in the interpretation of Scripture, but was instead an inquisition to answer charges of heresy. During the trial, when demanded that he recant his teachings and writings, Luther declared, “I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Luther understood that the Bible was the only infallible and inspired authority regarding Christian faith, practice, and salvation, and because of this reality, he said, “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel” (see Gal. 1:6-9).


The major turning point in Luther life was his understanding that God justifies sinners by imputing to them the righteousness of Christ, and that man’s righteousness, as based on his own works, are at best filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Justification is God’s declaration and promise of righteousness, reconciliation, and the forgiveness of sins because of the person and work of Christ. Jesus earned for us the favor of God, and defeated sin, death, and the devil. Therefore, in Christ, we may be confident in our standing with the Father, even though we still sin. Luther defined this as simul iustus et peccator, “at once justified and a sinner.”


Martin Luther once recounted a dream he had. In the dream there was a book where all Luther’s sins were written. The devil spoke to Luther, “Martin, here is one of your sins, here is another,” pointing to the writing in the book. Then Luther said to the devil, “Take a pen and write, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.’ ” See 1 John 1:7 (Water, M. (2001). Bible Promises made easy. The Made Easy Series (23). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.). Toward the end of Luther’s life, his lecturing and writing only increased, and in God’s sovereignty, his itinerary brought him back to the place of his birth. It was in Eisleben that Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546.





Bibliography


Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E.,(1992). Holman Bible Handbook. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.


Eckman, J. P. (2002). Exploring church history. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.


Enns, P. P. (1997). The Moody handbook of theology. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.


Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-2003). Vol. 3: The encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill.


George, T. (2001). Vol. 30: Galatians. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.


Water, M. (2001). Bible Promises made easy. The Made Easy Series. Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.