Archive for February, 2011

Where You Begin and Where You End

I have often said, when teaching in various settings, “Where you begin is where you end.” This is my axiomatic, though admittedly somewhat simplistic, way of expressing the truth that all of us come to a situation, a problem, or a challenge with our own preconceived notions and biases. These preconceived notions and biases, in turn, inevitably color the conclusions we draw and the solutions we formulate. This is especially true when it comes to working with the text of Scripture. If you approach the Bible with a stance of pessimism and incredulity, what you find will be appropriately pessimistic and incredulous. Conversely, if you approach the Bible with a stance of awe and a desire to “give the Bible the benefit of the doubt,” as it were, the conclusions you draw will strengthen your faith soothe your troubled soul. It is no secret that I am in the latter camp of how I approach Holy Scripture. In light of my ABC yesterday on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, I thought that this quote from Ben Witherington III, given at the Greer-Heard Forum last Saturday at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, offered some keen insight into why I am in this latter camp:

I don’t believe in “justification by doubt.” I don’t believe that philosophical skepticism is the same thing as critical thinking, and I also don’t think that the sort of historiography that is undergirded by such a prioris can help us very much with the question are the Gospels reliable, truthful witnesses when it comes to the historical Jesus. In fact, if you want to actually get at the truth of something, you have to enter into dialogue with that source giving it the benefit of the doubt, allowing it to have its say, and while one doesn’t put one’s critically thinking cap aside, if you do not approach the material with an open mind and a willingness to learn from it, you won’t get at the truth of the matter, not even the historical truth of the matter. You can’t possibly analyze the actual nature of a raging fire, by pouring cold water on it, and then picking over the ashes and charcoal thereafter.

February 28, 2011 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Perfect Book

This past weekend, we kicked off a two part mini message series titled “INSPIRE!” where we are looking at how the Scriptures are both inspired by God – that is, they are His very words, authored and spoken by Him – and inspiring to us – that is, they give us guidance for our everyday lives and hope for tomorrow.  Yesterday, we talked about the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture according to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  From these verses, we draw the doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture.  The word “verbal” means that God not only inspired the general thoughts of the biblical authors, but their very words.  The words of the Bible are truly “God-breathed.”  The word “plenary” comes from the Latin word plenarius, meaning, “entire,” or “complete.”  Thus, the doctrine of plenary inspiration states that all, not just some of the Bible is inspired by God.  From Genesis to Revelation, God is speaking.

Because the Bible is verbally and completely inspired by God, it follows that the Bible is also inerrant.  Because God is finally the author of the Scriptures and God is perfect, the Scriptures themselves can be nothing less than perfect, even as the Psalmist says, “The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7 NLT).  Robert Preus puts the connection between the doctrine of inspiration and the doctrine of inerrancy well when he says, “Inerrancy is an inextricable concomitant of inspiration” (“Notes on the Inerrancy of Scripture”).  One cannot have a vigorous and meaningful doctrine of divine inspiration without an honest position of inerrancy.

But what do we mean when we say the Bible is “inerrant”?  Because there has been much misunderstanding as to precisely what inerrancy entails, I offer the below list of what inerrancy does and does not mean as outlined by James Voelz in his hermeneutics volume, What Does This Mean? Voelz outlines three things that inerrancy does not entail:

  • Inerrancy does not entail exactness of quotations.  This is illustrated especially when New Testament authors quote Old Testament prophetic texts.  For example, at the Council of Jerusalem, when church leaders are trying to decide whether or not they should require Gentiles to become circumcised according to Jewish custom before becoming Christian, James quotes Amos 9:11-12 and says, “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages” (Acts 15:16-18).  James concludes that because the Gentiles also seek and bear the name of the Lord, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19) and thus counsels against requiring circumcision for Gentile converts.  Notably, the Hebrew text of Amos 9:11-12 is different from the Greek text that James quotes.  It reads, “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent. I will repair its broken places, restore its ruins, and build it as it used to be, so that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations that bear my name.”  In the Hebrew text, rather than a general remnant of men seeking the Lord, Israel possesses the remnant of Edom. The difference in these two texts is not an affront to the inerrancy of the Old Testament; rather, James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is using an Old Testament prophecy for the express purpose of highlighting how many Gentiles are coming to faith in Christ.
  • Inerrancy does not constitute exactness in the order of events recorded.  A famous example of this principle is found in the temptation of Jesus’ in the desert.  In the account in Matthew 4, the devil begins by tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread, moves on to tempting Him to throw Himself down from the temple, and then finally demands that He fall down and worship the devil.  In Luke 4, however, the order of the temptations is shuffled.  First, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread.  Next, he tempts Him to worship him.  And finally, the devil tempts Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple.  What accounts for this difference?  More than likely, the different evangelists wish to emphasize different things.  Matthew highlights the “descending Christology” of Satan’s temptations, ending with a demand so brash and low as asking Jesus to worship him.  That is, Satan wants Jesus to be “under” him by worshipping him.  Luke, however, saves the temple temptation for the final one, more than likely because it is the temptation in which Satan quotes Scripture.  Satan says, “It is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Luke 4:10-11).  Before this temptation, Jesus has cited Scripture to refute Satan’s temptations.  But now, Satan is using Scripture against Jesus.  Luke seems to highlight Satan’s most sinister type of temptation – the twisting of God’s Word – by saving it for last.  The change in order in no way negates the historical veracity of these temptations, however.  The different evangelists simply wish to highlight different things in Jesus’ wilderness experience.
  • Inerrancy does not constitute the avoidance of figures of speech. Hopefully, this aspect of inerrancy is fairly self-evident.  For even today, figures of speech are commonplace.  Thus, when the Psalmist sings of God’s creation, “God set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” (Psalm 104:5), he is not saying that the earth is somehow cosmologically static.  Indeed, we know it’s not.  Scientific observation has taught us that the earth revolves around the sun.  The earth does indeed move.  The Psalmist, however, is not speaking with cosmological concerns in mind.  He is simply stating that, at least from our human perspective, the earth seems very solid and unmovable thanks to the high handiwork of our God.

In light of all this, what then can we say about inerrancy?  Voelz explains inerrancy from a positive standpoint well:  “To say that the sacred Scriptures are inerrant is to say that their authors are absolutely truthful according to their intended purposes” (What Does This Mean? 239).  Thus, the biblical writers do not lie in any of what they write.  They do, however, write using normal and expected grammatical and rhetorical tropes.  Armed with an understanding of these tropes, we can trust the Scriptural writings as God’s inerrant Word.  And because God’s Word is inerrant, it will never lead us astray.  Praise be to God for His perfect book!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

February 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – For Thinkers Only

Last week, I posted a blog on Mark 12 and the glory of loving God with all your mind. As a follow up to that post, I wanted to offer a few further reflections on this important topic.  As I mentioned in ABC, there is a common belief among many that people of faith in general, and especially the faith Christians, is not intellectually astute and is even downright imbecilic.  Consider this from one of the leading atheists of our day, Sam Harris:

The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strew men and women who thought the earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology. To rely on such a document as the basis for our worldview – however heroic the efforts of redactors – is to repudiate two thousand years of civilizing insights that the human mind has only just begum to inscribe upon itself through secular politics and scientific culture. (Sam Harris, The End of Faith, Location 601-605)

Two things are especially notable about Sam Harris’ quote.  First, he assumes a fundamentally modern epistemology.  That is, he assumes that, as history marches forward, we inexorably become smarter, more insightful, and yes, even better than the generations before us.  The bare events of human history, however, do not always bear out Harris’ assumption.  The Dark Ages saw a sad retrograding of human knowledge and two world wars demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that humans are by no means becoming somehow inexorably better.  History does not always and only march forward into a brighter, better future.  Second, note the vehicles by which Sam Harris says the world becomes a better place: “secular politics and scientific culture.”  Really?  It was the precise wedding of secular politics and scientific culture that gave us the eugenics of the Nazis.  The Nazi’s applied Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” politically to usher in a reign of terror and death against anyone they did not deem “fit.”

The fact of the matter is, it is only Christianity which gives us a cohesive explanation for why some people do evil in the name of religion, as Sam Harris aptly points out, and others do evil in the name of “secular politics and scientific culture,” the very things which Harris lauds as the highest good.  Christianity says it is the depravity of man which drives him to do evil.  Because man is depraved, he will do evil in the name of all sorts of things, twisting things which can be good for his own evil intentions.

Thus, Christianity and its holy book, the Bible, provide a cohesive and even comprehensive explanation for the world which we encounter.  Perhaps the biblical authors aren’t nearly so ignorant as Sam Harris makes them out to be.

This all leads us back to Mark 12.  When Jesus tells a questioning Pharisee that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind and with all your strength” (verse 30), the Pharisee responds, “You are right” (verse 33).  As I mentioned in ABC, this little phrase, “You are right,” is a marvelous declaration of faith.  Indeed, Jesus takes it as such: “When Jesus saw that the Pharisee had answer wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God” (verse 34).  Interestingly, the Greek word for “wisely” is nounechos, the word noun meaning “mind” and the word echos meaning “have.”  In other words, when this Pharisee answers wisely, he answers in such a way that demonstrates that he “has a mind.”

Like the Pharisee who agrees with Jesus, we too can “have a mind” as Christians.  Our faith does not require us to check our brains at the door, no matter what Sam Harris may say.  This is why Jesus calls us to love the Lord, our God, not only with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our strength, but also with all our minds.  So think on God and His Word and you’ll find that, when it comes to Christ, there’s a lot to think about!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

February 21, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weekend Extra – Mind Your Maker

The other day, I stumbled across an internet quiz which, if you answered a few simple questions, claimed to tell you whether you follow your head or your heart.  The questions included, “Is kissing in public cute or should it be avoided?”  “Are flowers, little romantic notes, and romantic restaurants an important part of dating for you?”  After seven simple questions, I learned that I followed my head more than my heart.  I’m not surprised.  After all, I’ve considered this characteristic of my personality before…in my head.

There is a regularly peddled belief, often lapped up by our emotionally inundated society, that it is better to follow your heart rather than your head.  Just look at the sappy sentiments that permeate greeting cards which are being given all over our country on this Valentine’s Day.  In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert chronicles how she traveled the world after divorcing her husband, looking for insight into life, which she gains from a medicine man in Bali.  Apparently, even a Divinely witnessed moral commitment made in marriage is no match for the whims of a human heart.  And, indeed, it shouldn’t be according to Gilbert.  To follow a moral commitment made in marriage rather than your heart would be no less than, well, immoral!

Certainly, the human heart is important.  The wise man of Proverbs reminds us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).  But at the same time the human heart is capable of great good, it is also prone to deep evil.  Jesus warns, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).  The heart, then, cannot and should not be the summit and sum of human decisions and desires.  This is why Jesus, in our text for this past weekend, says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  In His words, Jesus is quoting the Shema, a Hebrew word meaning, “Hear,” based on Deuteronomy 6:4-5:  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Faithful Jews still recite the Shema two times a day and it is traditional for them to recite this as their last words before they die.

What is so striking about Jesus’ recitation of the Shema in Mark 12 is His addition to it.  The original Shema reads:  “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  But Jesus adds another way in which we can love the Lord, our God.  Not just with our hearts and souls and strength, but also with our minds:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  It is not just the heart that loves God and follows Him, it is also the mind.  The mind is important to Jesus!

The apostle Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).  In order to follow God, we need not just properly disposed hearts, but miraculously transformed minds.  Minds which love to ponder the things of God.  Minds which diligently studies the Scriptures.  Minds which use their intellectual capabilities to study God’s world and marvel at its grandeur and intricacies.

Do you love the Lord, your God, with all your mind?  Are you learning new things about God and His Word?  If you’re not, you’re missing out on a fantastic part of your life in Christ.  So join a Bible study, listen to good teaching, and ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  For our God always gives us something new – and exciting – to think about.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

February 14, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – True Treasure

The wise man of Proverbs reminds us, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).  Envy, the wise man says, is dangerous.  However, envy is also such a universal part of the human condition that God finds it necessary to warn us against it time and time again.  He even prohibits it in His Ten Commandments:  “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).

Part of what makes the sin of envy so dangerous is that because it can be engaged in privately, it can often go unnoticed and, even if people do spot envy in your eye, there are little to no repercussions.  Though you may get arrested for stealing, no such punishment exists for envying.  Indeed, we even have a saying that encourages envy:  “You can look, but you can’t touch.”  The under-riding premise of such a statement is that it although it is not okay to take something defiantly, it is okay to lust after it longingly.  It is okay to envy.

This past weekend, we continued our “Fit for Life II” series with a look at our hearts and how they are connected to our finances.  The message was based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

As I mentioned in my message, when we read words like these, we can be tempted to think, “Jesus’ words don’t apply to me.  I don’t store up for myself treasures on earth because I don’t have any treasures!  This economy has hit me really hard!”  And so we dismiss out of hand Jesus’ words about how our hearts and treasures are connected.

It is important to understand that when Jesus spoke these words, He spoke them not to people who were well-to-do, but to people who were poverty-stricken.  The crowds who listened to Jesus were most likely comprised of simple Palestinian farmers and tradesmen who would have been making around a denarius a day, equivalent to about 20 cents in today’s currency.  Thus, Jesus is calling on people who must live on 20 cents a day not to store up earthly treasure!  These people hardly seem like a group who would need this kind of reminder!  But Jesus knows the sad state of the human condition.  Even among the poor, storing up the wrong treasure in the wrong place can become a huge problem.  At issue is not the amount of money that a person has, but the perception of money that a person holds.  A person can be greedy and poor all at the same time.  For a poor person, like a rich person, can envy those who have more money and earthly treasure than they.  This is why Jesus continues:

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

The ancients believed that the eyes were a source of light that helped illumine the world around, thereby helping a person see.  When the light of the eyes went dark, a person would go blind.  Thus, Jesus says, “If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”  But Jesus means to describe more than just physical blindness here.  He says, “If your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”  The Greek word for “bad” is poneros, meaning “evil.”  The eyes, just like any other part of the body, can be used for evil.  The eyes can be used to gaze and covet.  The eyes can be used to stare and envy.  Just because you don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean you can’t you use your eyes to look at someone else’s money or lifestyle and secretly desire it for yourself.  And this, Jesus says, is poneros.

What is the solution to such envy and covetousness?  The apostle Paul says it is to “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).  Rather than seeking and striving after the treasures of this world, we are to seek and to strive after Christ.  For in Him is true treasure.  So treasure Christ, for He treasures you.  In the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “So did Jesus Himself, at the utmost cost, buy the world to gain His Church, which was the treasure which He desired.”  You are Christ’s treasure.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Dr Player’s ABC!

February 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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