Category Archives: Bible

Scripture and Science Revisited

One of the biggest challenges to the faith of Christians today is found at the intersection of Scripture and science. I plan to specifically address a constellation of issues that arise at this intersection of ideas over the next couple of months. But at the moment I would like to draw your attention to a couple of resources.

First, Carl Trueman and Greg Beale from Westminster Theological Seminary address the topic of The Bible, Myths, Contradictions, and Inerrancy in a helpful interview.

Another brief but good resource can be found in this post by Kevin DeYoung: Ten Reasons to Believe In A Historical Adam.

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What Is Innerrancy? Carson

What do Christians mean when they say the Bible is without error and reliable in all that it says? Here is a good explanation by Don Carson. 

Joy Over the Word

We have a speaker from the Gideon’s coming to Grace and Truth on this upcoming Lord’s Day and I thought it would be good to reflect on the precious nature of the Bible, and the great privilege it is to have the Bible in our own language. What better way to do that than to see a video of a tribe of people who are just receiving the entire New Testament in their language for the first time. This is truly a blessing.

 

HT: Justin Taylor

But watching this video should cause us to ask ourselves some questions. Do we who have God’s Word in abundance value it this way? Do we long for it more than any earthly thing? Do we spend time in it expecting to find and feed on Christ there? Too often, I am afraid that we don’t. Even in the church, the Word of God tends to be diminished in its importance in our eyes. It was of Christ the living Word, of whom the prophet said of Israel, “we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3). Sadly this seems to often be true of the relationship between the church and the written Word. Is it true of you today?

I am reminded of a story that J. I . Packer retells that comes from the life of Thomas Goodwin. Goodwin,

“having heard much of Mr. Rogers of Dedham took a journey…to hear his preach on his lecture day…Mr Rogers was…on the subject of…the Scriptures. And in that sermon he falls into an expostulation with the people about their neglect of the Bible;…he personates God to the people, telling them, ‘Well, I have trusted you so long with my Bible; you have slighted it, it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs; you care not to listen to it. Do you use my Bible so? Well you shall have my Bible no longer.’ And he takes up the Bible from his cushion, and seemed as if he were going away with it and carrying it from them; but immediately turns again and personates the people to God, falls down on his knees, cries and pleads most earnestly, ‘Lord, whatever thou dost to us, take not thy Bible from us; kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods; only spare us thy Bible, only take not away thy Bible.’ And then he personates God again to the people: ‘Say you so? Well, I will try you a while longer; and here is my Bible for you. I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more…observe it more…practice it more, and live more according to it.’ By these actions (as the doctor told me) he put all the congregation into so strange a posture that…the place was a mere Bochim, the people generally…deluged with their own tears and he told me that he himself, when he got out…was fain to hang a quarter of an hour upon the neck of his hourse weeping before he had power to mount; so strange an impression was there upon him, and generally upon the people, upon having been expostulated with for the neglect of the Bible.” – A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, p. 97-98.

May the Lord renew your appreciation for his Word. And may He also free you from the kind of worldliness that fails to long for the “words of delight” (Eccl. 12:10). And finally, may God fill you with the gospel hope that comes through the encouragement of the Scriptures (Rom. 15:4).

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

 

An Alternative to Slapping a Verse on a Problem

We as Christians sometimes have a tendency to refer to the same handful of verses for an astounding variety of problems. There is something good about this (i.e. the word of God is infinitely relevant and can be applied in innumerable ways), but there is also something bad about this. The bad thing about having only a handful of all-weather, all-terrain verses, is that  God gave more than a few verses to the church. He gave the whole Bible. When all we use to minster to those around us is the same handful of verses that we have been using for every other situation under the sun for the past ten years, we can give the wrong impression that the word of God is stale and dated. More often than not, the people we are ministering to walk away with the “been-there-done-that” feeling.

David Powlison makes some helpful observations in this area. He says: “Ministry of the word of God doesn’t talk in boilerplate. Living truth is always adorned with the particulars of person and situation.” He goes on to say that the configuration of our faith looks different in different circumstance and different times. For instance:

“Obedience for Abraham meant waiting in hope and then faithfully circumcising as an act of dedication; for Samson it meant smiting Philistines and not drinking wine;

for David it meant not building a temple but writing psalms; for Solomon it meant building the temple and writing proverbs;

for Hezekiah it meant fighting Assyria; for Jeremiah it meant surrendering to Babylon;

 for Nehemiah it meant shunning Gentiles; for Peter it meant mingling.

Yet through all this one can learn how abiding principles (e.g., the Lord acts mercifully to redeem; faith works through love) take a different shape as new conditions arise. Scripture isn’t a compendium of timeless truths and general principles referring abstractly to generic homo sapiens. In fact, most Scripture was occasioned by a brand-new need, problem, situation or threat. Scripture comes with the details because redemption is the timely speaking and working of God to fix the very things that most need fixing.”

David Powlison, “Is the ‘Adonis Complex’ in Your Bible?” (Journal of Biblical Counseling, 22:2, 2004), pp. 42-58.

Just to be clear, Powlison is not diminishing the role of the Bible in counseling at all. Rather, he is urging us to handle the word well; to “rightly divide” it. What Powlison is advocating here is that Christians should apply truth from the Bible carefully and thoughtfully, sensitive to the nuances of Scripture and also sensitive to the details of a person’s life. In individual relationships or counseling situations, we ought to apply Scripture with a paintbrush not a fire hose. There are common experiences and common redemptive truths that underlie all of our human experience (1 Cor. 10:12-13), yet at some point these truths always need to be personally engaged and individually applied. In the case of individual counseling, that sensitivity to personal situation needs to be there right from the start.

God the Ultimate Psychologist

“Whatever the mysteries and conundrums surrounding the human psyche may be, God knows them all, at all times, completely and exhaustively. Divine psychology, therefore, is infallible and comprehensive. When God gives a diagnosis, it is beyond dispute. He knows the end from the beginning, and everything in between, without error and without doubt. When God speaks about the human psyche, therefore, we would be wise to listen carefully.”

– K. Scott Oliphant, The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith, p. 119.

The Church, the Bible, and Homosexuality: A Brief Survey

In Western culture we have seen a moral downturn in which sexual deviancy is rapidly on the rise. One example of this is the way homosexuality has now become commonplace. A representative survey of biblical teaching on the matter makes plain that the homosexuality is a sin, and like all sin it alienates a person from God (Gen. 19; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). Some of the readers of this blog undoubtedly have loved ones (be it friends or family members) who are ensnared to some degree with the sin of homosexuality.  With this in mind, we, the Church, need to be ready to lovingly address the issue with the Word of God and the gospel of Christ. 

One of the main obstacles that the Church is encountering in this realm, however, is that there are numerous voices today that are making the claim that homosexuality is not a sin and is not condemned by God. The claim is made that the Bible has been misunderstood and misapplied by the Church to create moral and sexual standards that God does not actually hold us to. There are now even groups calling themselves churches which at the same time endorse homosexual behavior. In order to faithfully bring the good news of Christ’s gospel to bear on the lives of people we need to be able to understand the arguments that are being made and respond to them with biblical truth (2 Cor. 10:3-6).

           I.      Common homosexual arguments against Scripture to justify their lifestyle:

  1. Subjectivism – Interpretation of biblical text must be governed by one’s own personal experience.  
  2. Evolving society – As new information emerges about the biological nature of homosexual behavior we are compelled to reinterpret biblical passages 
  3. Cultural biases of biblical writers – Biblical writers were bound by cultural “baggage” so that they merely reproduced the mores of their own social world

          II.      Church response to homosexual arguments against authority of Scripture:

Our response to these arguments begins by reaffirming basic biblical teaching about the nature of Scripture. Scripture is authoritative for life and sufficient to know God and his will:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (1 Tim. 3:16-17)

How this applies to the 3 arguments above in order:

  1. Scripture is a revelation from the mind of God and therefore has a single objective meaning that the Divine Author intended.  
  2. Scripture is an expression of the eternal omniscience and wisdom of God therefore does not need to be informed by man’s ongoing discoveries.
  3. God oversaw the writing of Scripture in such a way that humans wrote exactly the words that God eternally intended, the end result being his very word in the smallest parts and as an organic whole.

       III.      Church response to those practicing homosexuality:

  1. Church must at all times love God and neighbor (including those who practice homosexuality) in ways that God prescribes (Matt. 22:37-40)
  2. Church must convey God’s condemnation of homosexual behavior (Rom. 1:32)
  3. Church must evangelize the one practicing homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:11)
  4. Church confront and correct erroneous teaching (1 Tim. 1:9-10)
  5. Church must purify itself (1 Cor. 5:9-13)

There is more that can be said here but I hope that this brief sketch will prove helpful to some. May God help and bless the work of the church in spreading the good news of God’s forgiving love for all sinners (including those who practice homosexuality) and saving power through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark #2 Biblical Theology

 We are currently in the process of posting the notes from our teaching series on the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. You will eventually find them all at our church website. Here are my notes from mark #2.

______________________

Biblical Theology – Mark #2

I.      Definition of “Biblical Theology”: As Scott Oliphant remarks, because “there are various forms (and contents) of biblical theology, we should be clear here as to how we are using the phrase.” [1]

 We are using the term with a broad meaning so that it encompasses two things:

  1. A method of doing theology.
  2. A reference to the content of theology.

 BT as Method [emphasis on historical development] of Theology:

  • “Biblical Theology…deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.” [2]
  • “Biblical theology recognizes that special revelation did not come from God in one mass at one particular time…It came progressively in history throughout ages and generations.”[3] 

 BT as Content [emphasis on continuity within biblical context] of Theology:

  • This is the primary emphasis Dever gives in using the term: “One of the chief marks of a healthy church is a biblical understanding of God in His character and His ways with us.” p. 60.
  • Biblical theology will pick up on dominant threads of biblical teaching about God and his works:
    • regarding God (creating, holy, faithful, loving, sovereign, triune, etc.)
    • regarding God’s relationship to humans (created, in God’s image, fallen, responsible, etc.)
    • regarding God’s action of redemption (atonement, election, covenant, etc.)
  • Biblical theology will understand how these dominant threads fit within the story-line (“meta-narrative”; “macro-story”) of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t give us disembodied doctrine of abstract ideas. It gives us a coherent picture where these various threads are woven into a tapestry of truth about God and his ways.

 Summary: “Biblical theology as a distinct and fruitful study must take seriously both historical progression and theological unity in the Bible.”[4] In this way, Biblical Theology enables the Christian to see both (1) the way the Bible unfolds and also (2) the real similarities that exist in every era of revelation.

 II.      Benefits of Biblical Theology:

  • Avoids a “custom-fitted deity”[5] and it protects us from wrong ideas about God.
  • We are moved toward a faith that is both informed and strengthened when we see that he is the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow.
  • Appreciates that the flow of biblical history helps us to understand God is a covenant keeping God who works all things for good toward his people.
  • Insulates/protects the church from doctrinal controversies. Prevents us from focusing too much on “favorite passages” in isolation of others.
  • Is necessary to fulfill the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20). We must teach “all things” Jesus commanded rather than merely cycle through a series of familiar or popular topics.

 Summary: Biblical Theology helps keep the main thing the main thing while, at the same time, acknowledging that we are called to be faithful with everything. This biblical balance is crucial. As D. A. Carson says, a misplaced emphasis in the thinking of the church “tends to divert people from things that are forever basic: the truth of the gospel, a living walk with the living God, love for men and women, an eternal perspective, hatred and fear of sin, a passion for holiness, a profound desire to see Christ exalted… I worry when these things are not front and center.”[6]

 III.      Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • How well do I know biblical theology? Do I have a satisfactory grasp of major themes and developments in the Bible?
  • Could I explain the Bible’s storyline to a new Christian or a non-Christian? Could I tell them how the Bible fits together as a single book?
  • How often do I read through the Bible in its entirety? What specific plans could I make to strengthen my knowledge of biblical theology?

 


[1] K. Scott Oliphant, Reasons For Faith: Philosophy In The Service of Theology, p. 230-31, note 41.

[2] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old And New Testaments, p. 5.

[3] John Murray, “Systematic Theology,” Collected Writings of John Murray: Studies in Theology, vol. 4, p. 17.

[4] Edmond Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 17; quoted in Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, p. 69, note 82.

[5] Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, p. 28

[6] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, p.474.

Reading the Bible Like a Pilgrim

It is now mid-February and without actually asking anyone, I am assuming from experience that roughly half of you who enthusiastically started off the year on a daily Bible reading schedule, have now fallen short of the goal or even quietly abandoned the quest for one reason or another.

As Christians, we are pilgrims on a journey home. The Bible is God’s voice to us on the way. Are you distracted by the trivial things of life or discouraged by the mundane? Let the setiments of John Wesley refocus our perspective for eternity and stir up our desire for all that God’s Word promises will be ours in the consumation:

“I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over a great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing – the way to heaven:…God himself has condescended to teach the way: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri (a man of one Book). Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men. I sit down alone: only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven.” quoted by John Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 32.

Since I have also had periods of inconsistency in my Bible reading through the years, I am sympathetic to your stumblings and shortcomings and I want to encourage you to pick back up and keep going. You don’t have to start over completely. I would recommend following the link that I have supplied on the side of this blog and just keep going with the passages listed for today.

For the Love of God

For those of you who are considering either a daily devotional or a Bible reading plan for 2010, I would recommend this as a resource to consider. It is a combination of both a Bible reading schedule to get through the entire Bible in one year and also a daily devotional with some theological substance to it. It is biblical theology understood practically and it is classic D. A. Carson. 

Did I also mention it is free and accessible online?

Check it out here: D. A. Carson, For the Love of God 

It is also available in book form: For the Love of God, Vol. 1For the Love of God, Vol. 2

‘The Bible Is My Creed’ Pt. I

What words should we use to talk about God? What words can we use to talk about God? There is a teaching that persistently resurfaces throughout church history that says Christians should not use words that are not found in Scripture when we are expressing Christian doctrine. Those who hold this position say that we should only affirm what the specific words of Scripture say and that we should go no further than that. In practice, those who hold this view are highly skeptical of a well-developed theology.

This theological skepticism can happen at both the micro and macro level. On the micro level, words such as “Trinity” are often rejected because they cannot be found in Scripture. This extra-biblical terminology is considered an innovation of man and therefore not a true or biblical way of stating doctrine. They say they are not interested in using words that are not found in Scripture because they are merely “human” words and cannot convey the same truth that the inspired words of Scripture do.

On the macro level, historic creeds and confessions are often rejected. The practice of adhering to a formal creed or confession (i.e. “confessional subscription”) is viewed negatively as though it meant a person had abandoned pure biblical Christianity. This perspective has a high degree of skepticism that it is even possible to formulate a well-developed system of doctrine that is actually correct. Those who hold this view, then, will often eschew creeds as necessarily unhelpful products of man’s fallible thinking. The saying, “The Bible is my creed and that is all I need,” is one example of this perspective that is common in some circles.

Let me first say that, on one hand, I am cautiously sympathetic toward those who hold this kind of thought. In one sense, it sounds genuinely devout. What Christian doesn’t want to affirm the inspired words of God in a special way? After all, the Scripture is uniquely inspired whereas our teaching and writing today is not. Furthermore, Scripture is uniquely authoritative in a way that a creed or confession could never be. So my concern here should not be understood to diminish a high view of Scripture I have continually expressed in various ways elsewhere (for instance here, here and here). Yet, on the other hand, we must go beyond this and ask the question, is it right to insist that only biblical terms can, or should, be used in expressing the Church’s doctrine? Is it wise? Is it pleasing to God?

It seems to me that the answer to the above questions has to be no, for a wide range of reasons.  This errant perspective has been around for a long time, however, and because I have come across some enthusiastic proponents of it in recent days I plan to address it here in a series of posts. Some of the readers of this blog may never have heard of this teaching. Others are well-acquainted with it. I hope that this will assist all in thinking through the task of doing and living theology in the Christian life and in the church. Over a series of posts, I will argue that the view that says ‘Christians should only use the actual words of Scripture to express Christian doctrine’ is wrong because it is (1) logically incoherent, (2) biblically untenable, (3) pastorally unfaithful, and (4) historically suspect.