Archive | April, 2010

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 3: Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ, continued

I turn now to some major Christological passages in the epistles. Regrettably, I wrote a full treatment of Colossians 1:12-20 but have had to cut it for sake of space.

Romans 10:8-13

Verses 8-10: Paul states that the saving confession is that “Jesus is Lord” (kurios) and “that God raised him from the dead.” As Paul does regularly in his epistles, he refers to Jesus by the divine title “Lord” while referring to the Father by the divine title “God.” That these are both divine titles in Paul’s usage will become clear as we proceed.

Verse 11: “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” The word “for” (Greek, gar) indicates that Paul is citing this Scripture reference from the OT as support for the statement he has just made about believing in Jesus as the risen Lord for salvation. The reference is to Isaiah 28:16, which Paul has just quoted: “They [unbelieving Israel] have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (Rom. 9:32b-33). Of course, Jesus is the “stumbling stone” and “rock of offense” (Matt. 21:42-44; Mark 12:10-12; Luke 12:17-18; Acts 4:10-12; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).

Verse 12: Paul explains that belief in Jesus for salvation is for anyone who “calls on him” for salvation. This is because “the same Lord” (kurios) is Lord “of all.” In this context, the “Lord” here must be Jesus. Paul cannot be referring to this Lord as “the same” Lord if he is a different Lord than the one he just mentioned! Paul states that this same Lord, Jesus, bestows his riches (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9) “on all who call on him.”

Note that “calling on” Jesus as Lord is an act of prayer (cf. Gen. 4:26; Deut. 4:7; Ps. 145:18; Is. 55:6; Joel 2:32). Paul speaks of prayer to Jesus elsewhere (1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor. 12:7-9), as does Luke (Acts 1:21-24; 7:59-60; 9:14, 21; 22:16) and John (John 14:14; 1 John 5:13-15; Rev. 22:20-21). Thus, we have support from the Gospels, Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation for the practice of addressing prayer to Jesus Christ (see Putting Jesus in His Place, 47-53).

This biblical practice of praying to Jesus raises severe difficulties for the Unitarian position. First, if Jesus is a different being than God, and yet Jesus hears and answers prayers, the conclusion follows that Jesus is at least functionally a second God. That is, Jesus is a supernatural or heavenly being to whom believers address prayers—including prayers for salvation and at the moment of one’s death (Acts 7:59-60). Continue Reading →

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 3: Dave Burke on Jesus Christ, continued

Jesus Christ: Prefigured and Prophesied
Last week I finished my opening argument with a reference to Genesis:

Genesis 3:21
The LORD God made garments from skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

This is Christianity’s foundation teaching:

  1. Sin deserves death
  2. Sacrifice offers a covering for sin
  3. Only God can provide a sin-covering sacrifice; a sacrifice which is “other than God”

The OT repeats three principles constantly. They underpin the entire Law of Moses, which underpins NT atonement theology. It is essential to understand these principles and recognise how they were fulfilled by Christ, as they inform our understanding of his identity and purpose. The OT was a guidebook pointing forward to Christ (Galatians 3:24); thus any interpretation contradicting the OT’s view of Christ must be rejected.

The OT refers to Christ in two ways: typology (symbolism) and prophecy. As Rob and I both agree Jesus appears in prophecy, I’ll look closely at the typology and its implications for NT Christology:

  • Atoning sacrifice for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21)
  • Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18; cp. Hebrews 5:10, 7:1-10, 9:11)
  • Ram sacrificed by Abraham (Genesis 22:11-13)
  • Passover lamb (Exodus 12; cp. John 1:29, I Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:6)
  • Sin offering for high priest & (Leviticus 4)
  • Brass serpent on pole (Numbers 21:8-9; cp. John 3:14)
  • Joseph (Genesis 37-41)
  • Boaz (Ruth 2-4)
  • King David (I Samuel 17-I Kings 2)
  • King Solomon (I Kings 4-I Kings 11)

Jesus is represented in four primary roles: (a) sacrifice for sin, (b) priest; (c) redeemer; (d) divinely anointed king in King David’s family line. As the Jewish Messiah he incorporates all four roles, none of which requires him to be God, and two (sacrifice for sin and descendent of King David) requiring he is not God.

Jesus Christ: Predestined, not Pre-existent
The connections between typology and prophecy in Jewish religious interpretation and ideas of prefiguration and predestination cannot be overlooked; thus, if God says something, it is as good as done, a prophecy uttered is as good as fulfilled, a promise made is as good as kept. If God determines to create something at a future date, it can be described as existing already. Likewise, the subject of a typological reference can be said to have “existed” in the past via a figurative reference made before their literal existence (e.g. I Corinthians 10:4, 9, “For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ … Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents”).

We find examples in the Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 39b:

Seven things were created before the world, viz., The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. The Torah, for it is written, The Lord possessed me [the Torah] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. Repentance, for it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world … Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Repent, ye sons of men.
Continue Reading →

Evangelicalism in a Nutshell

Evangelicalism suffers from its strengths. And that is a weakness that I have to be willing to live with.

(Warning: Emergers—those of you who dispise labels: hold your nose as you read. You will grow accustomed to the smell.)

What does it mean to be Evangelical? What is the sine qua non of Evangelicalism?

There is no easy answer to this as the semantic domain of the word is usually predefined due to personal history, culture, and other subjective baggage. For some, “evangelical” simply means “liberal fundamentalist.” To the media, it is the Republican party at prayer. To Fundamentalists, it means “compromise.” To the Reformed covenantalist, it means “Tim Lahaye.” To former Evangelicals, it means canned presentations of church, cooperate liturgy, and cliché Christianity with Kirk Cameron as its head. To the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, it represents a traditionless group of vigilante Protestants who exemplify and carry the burden of the same follies as its founders, the Reformers.

However, these are all expedient definitions that don’t catch what the spirit of Evangelicalism is all about. In other words, these are perception-based descriptions of what some Evangelicals do and how certain Evangelicals express their beliefs. But expedient definitions are a tool of historical revisionists that, while important as a barometer, have no place in a foundational understanding of what is being expressed.

Let me explain with an illustration:

Take America. Take the United States of America and have people describe what it means to be an American. Do you think that there will be a monolithic voice that accurately describes “American”? There could be, but when people attempt to use expedient definitions, here is what you will get when asked “what does it mean to be American”:

Americans are rich people.

Americans are arrogant rich people.

Americans are greedy arrogant rich people.

For a different spin, try this: America is the land of opportunity.

Or as Bono would put it, “I like the idea of America and am a fan of the idea. But I don’t like American policy” [at least as it was under Bush].

However, America is built upon certain principles that allow freedom. This freedom allows for greed or opportunity. This freedom has no mandate upon particulars of expression. It does not require one political party or another. Even though people will think and say really stupid things, we believe that the principle of freedom—freedom of speech in this case—is more important than making sure people all think deeply.  There is a center or an anchor to America. There are American ideals and values. There is still the “idea” of America, even though it does not always find good and “proper” expressions. It is our job as Americans to continue to instill these values—these anchors—in the coming generations so that America does not get redefined due to expediency. We do this by teaching and reminding others of what the “idea” is. (Oh how much this is needed today.)

It is the same with Evangelicalism. Since I deal with theology and history every day, I am continually thinking about these principles of Evangelicalism. I am ever engaged in the “idea” of Evangelicalism and the principled anchors that must be understood so that the idea remains in tact. Once the “idea” is lost, so is the form of expression which the idea is supposed to follow.

So, what is the “idea” of Evangelicalism?

Like the idea of “America,” I have argued thus far that Evangelicalism has a stable ethos (mindset) that goes beyond the name. I know that to be called Evangelical means many different things to many different people. But I am trying to avoid the “What does Evangelicalism mean to you?” type of approach to allow people to see where I believe Evangelicalism is grounded. Continue Reading →

New Programs Under Development

New Programs in 2010

We’re excited to share the new programs under development at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. Many of you are familiar with our acclaimed theology program. While The Theology Program will always remain our flagship program, we are excited to have a few new programs come alongside it this year. The three large projects we’re looking forward to developing this year are: Boot Camp; The Discipleship Program; and The Church History Program. Would you pray for us to develop these programs in a way that brings honor to our Savior? Would you consider partnering with us in developing these new programs?

Boot Camp is a one-day equipping event geared toward church leaders. Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Small-Group leaders, Children Ministry leaders will all benefit from Boot Camp. Our objective is to make theology accessible at an intensive level. As we talk to pastors around the country many are afraid what the people in their church really believe. They may be godly people in love with Jesus, yet they have not been grounded in the foundations of our faith. Our first boot-camp will teach those foundations in an intensive 6-hour time period. Imagine churches around the country and world being equipped in the foundations of the faith from 9am-3pm on a Saturday. Boot Camp will be in Digital and DVD formats for churches to use at their convenience… KEEP READING

The Greatest Theological Lesson in Seminary

This post is dedicated to my fellow classmates at Dallas Theological Seminary and all other seminary students

Seminary is hard work.  The curriculum is intense, the work load is demanding and assignments seem to over-shadow time that rapidly seems to tick away.  But there is much to learn – Greek, Hebrew, Church History, Homeletics, Pastoral Counseling…and the list goes on.  At the same time, there is a delight in absorbing all the rich education.  Yes, learning is fun.

Most people go into seminary with a great sense of call.  When the mire of requirements kicks in, it is easy for clarity of direction to get blurred into a myriad of questions.  Yet somehow, God has a way of refining, and in some cases redefining focus to keep going, absorbing the rich atmosphere of theological education in the context of an organically shaped Christian community of fellow students and professors.  At least that is the way it has been for me.  Learning is re-energized, goals re-clarified as the post-seminary prize of ministry accomplishments await.

There is much to learn and more often the lessons come in the form of unwritten curriculum outside of the classroom, outside of Greek and Hebrew and all the theological disciplines.  These are not easy lessons.  Juxtaposed to the written curriculum presents interesting challenges and well as the reinforcement that we are being used for a greater purpose to the glory of God.  The lessons come, we learn and grow.  Ministry purpose is clarified.

But I believe all the lessons, both inside and outside the classroom pale in comparison, to the greatest lesson to be learned –  humility.  All other learning is fruitless without this.  I am not talking about a contrived form of servanthood, but the reality of who we really are.  All the seminary education should reinforce the conclusion that only by God’s grace and gifting, are we able to participate in the learning program.  Only because he has made provisions.  And only because he has opened blinded eyes to embrace the beauty of his truth.  There by the grace of God go we.

I’m learning the hard way, that clarity of sight can get clouded with haziness of ambition fueled by the particles of learning.   Goals turn into assets that turn into expectations of how the education will be used to train others, to help others, to teach others.  Given the principle of self-focused rebellion, unchecked and unexamined self-importance can quickly turn seminary training into a rite of passage for greater recognition all in the name of Christ. Ministry goals turn into privilege of position and the presuppositions of elevation, most likely disguised in the cloak of ministerial service.

I don’t think there could be anything more harmful to the education we are so privileged to obtain and to the body of Christ, in general than to suppose a seminary education overrides the greatest command to “love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind AND to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-38).  Teaching this is one thing.  Living it is something altogether different.  But Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 5:3, that leaders are only exemplary servants.   If we go in as servants and come out a teachers, then I think we would have missed the whole point.  Seminary should improve our relationship with God and people.  No amount of academic education can validate if it doesn’t.

So I believe this does require frequent, piercing introspection to assess who we really are and who is greater in our theological training – us or God.  Internal dishonesty can eventually leverage unmitigated external demands of recognized capabilities resting on accomplishments, education and skills.  Pride is the ugliest mark that can taint the finest of seminary education, especially if it results in harmful treatment of God’s truth and his people all in the name of Christian education or pastoring.

Humility, on the other hand, embraces clarity and prompt dependence on grace and truth.  It is willing to look into the deepest recesses of the soul and listen for the reverberation of self – self-focus, self-promotion, self-importance.  It is ready to point the accusatory finger around and ask ‘is that me’?  Humility requires gut-wrenching honesty.

The body of Christ needs this honesty; it needs humbled servants.  It is already too riddled with less than authentic personalities who  have reversed John’s dictate and have increased, while Christ decreases.  People are hungry for truth, for grace and for genuine care of their souls.  Let’s not be the ones who cause further damage but to embrace Christ’s example, who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28).  Let’s make sure that piece of paper never becomes more important than that.

Did Paul Make a Fundamental Mistake in Athens? – Paul the Philosopher (Part I)

When I was in college, I remember reading F.F. Bruce’s superb work, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free.  I recall, however, Bruce’s suggestion that Paul’s preaching at Athens (Acts 17) had been something of a failure. Why? He hadn’t preached the “word of the cross.”[1] Similarly, the late William Ramsay claimed that Paul, because of the apparently meager response to his Areopagus speech (which cited Stoic thinkers for reinforcement), was “disappointed and perhaps disillusioned by his experience in Athens.  He felt that he had gone at least as far as was right in the way of presenting his doctrine in a form suited to the current philosophy; and the result had been little more than naught.”[2] 

Thus, in Corinth—Paul’s next stop—he determined that he wanted to “know nothing while I was with you but Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).  No more philosophy or apologetics there!  No more quoting of pagan thinkers to build bridges with his audience!  

 But is this what really happened?  Not at all! In this first part of a series on Paul the philosopher at Athens, I want to probe further into his cross-centered approach rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures, but adapted to a pagan audience.  (You can follow the text here.)  I’ll offer a few responses to the assertion regarding Paul’s alleged failed, inferior methodology of placing philosophy and reason above the cross.

1. The charge is an argument from silence: We could ask why Luke would devote so much space to Paul’s speech when the message ran contrary to the preaching of the cross—and could undermine Luke’s own theological strategy in the book of Acts. 

2. The claim reads into Acts a specific situation in Corinth: In 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing the congregation’s arrogance and one-upmanship—a complete departure from dependence on the sufficiency of Christ’s cross-work and the Spirit’s power.  They had emphasized their giftedness in knowledge and wisdom and rhetoric. They glorified speaking in tongues, elevating this over other spiritual gifts; they considered themselves as having “arrived”: “you have become kings without us,” Paul told them (1 Cor. 4:8).  They elevated social status so highly that they were willing to tolerate—even boast about—gross immorality in one of its prominent members (ch. 5).[3]  And the new covenant blessings through the Spirit overshadowed any sense that a future bodily resurrection was still needed (15:12).  The Corinthians’ skewed theological perspective emphasized the “already” but ignored the “not yet”—a view known as “over-realized eschatology.”[4] 

Yes, the Corinthians believed they had all blessings in Christ—and nothing was left for the new heaven and new earth!  The point is this: we should treat Paul’s writing about the Corinthian situation on its own terms and not read Paul’s correspondence back into Luke’s theological strategy in Acts.

We could add that in 1 Corinthians itself, Paul is still quoting pagans!  He cites Menander when he writes, “Bad company corrupts good character” (15:33). Paul uses the same strategy of quoting pagans in Corinth—just as he did in Athens!  For good measure, we could also throw in Paul’s citing the Cretan thinker Epimenides in Titus 1:12.

3. A review of Paul’s ministry in Acts shows this charge to be inaccurate; Paul uses the same general approach before and after Athens: Before Athens, Paul would “reason” with people in an attempt to “persuade” them (cp. 28:23).  He does so in Thessalonica (17:2) and during his visit to Athens (17:19). Also, Paul continues to do so after Athens—in Corinth (18:4) and Ephesus (18:19; 19:8,9). Continue Reading →

Financial Needs

Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, like so many other good ministries, is in significant financial need. If you believe in or have benefited from what we are doing, please consider partnering with us. BTW: Reclaiming the Mind is the ministry associated with this blog.

Bible Interpretation In a Nutshell

The following is a practical guide to biblical interpretation following a three step process that I have used for years. The Bible is two-thousand years old and often seems very archaic. This makes it hard to know how it applies to us. It can be very frustrating as all Christians are encouraged to read their Bible daily but often are at a loss as to how to understand it and apply the message to their own lives. This process has served me well and I believe it is representative of the best way to interpret the ancient word of God and apply it to today. I hope that it will alleviate some of the “Bible interpretation anxiety” that is out there, allowing the Bible to become real and relevant to your life.

click on image to enlarge

Notice the three sections of the chart. There are three audiences that everyone needs to recognize in the process of interpreting the Bible. In the bottom left, you have the “ancient audience.” This represents the original audience and the original author. The top portion represents the “timeless audience” which transcends the time and the culture of the original situation. It is that which applies to all people of all places of all times, without regard to cultural and historical issues. Finally, we have the “contemporary audience” in the bottom right. This represents the audience of today. Here we will find application of the Bible with regard to our time, culture, and circumstances.

In Biblical interpretation, it is of extreme importance that one goes in the order of the chart. The goal is to find out what the Bible meant, what it means, and how it applies to us. So many people start with the third step and fail miserably in understanding God’s word. Others start with step number two, attempting to force their own theology on the text. It is important that all steps are covered to ensure interpretive fidelity.

Step one: Exegetical Statement

What did it mean then?

The first step is the most important. Here the goal is to ascertain the original intent of the writing. It is very important that one enters into the world of the author and the audience. Sometimes this will be easy, sometimes it will be very difficult, requiring quite a bit of study.

Here are the different issues that you must consider:

Historical issues: There will be historical circumstances that will aid in your understanding of the text. Here, you will ask questions of “occasion.” Who is the original author? Who is the original audience? What purpose did the writing have? When Moses wrote the Pentateuch, what was his occasion or purpose? Was it to give an exhaustive history of the world to everyone or to prepare the Israelite religious community to exist in a theocratic society under Yahweh? When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, what was his purpose? Knowing that in 2 Corinthians he was writing to defend his apostleship as other false apostles were opposing him is essential to understanding every verse. As well, what was Paul’s disposition toward the Galatians when he wrote to them? Was it to commend, condemn, or correct? The occasion will determine so much of our understanding.

Grammatical issues: It is important to understand that the Bible was written in a different language. The New Testament was written in Greek. Not only that, but it was a particular kind of Greek called “Koine.” Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (small portions in Aramaic). Naturally, other languages will have characteristics that communicate well in the original tongue but can get lost in translation. Greek, for example, works off inflections (word endings) which determine their part of speech. Word placement can add emphasis. These types of things are often hard to translate. I am not saying that everyone needs to be a Greek and a Hebrew scholar to understand the Bible, only that there are grammatical issues that can nuance our understanding of the passage. A good commentary will normally bring these to recognition.

Contextual issues: Every book was written for a purpose. The smallest component of a writing is a letter. We don’t take each letter in isolation, but understand that with a group of letters, it makes a word. But we don’t take the word in isolation, understanding that a group of words makes a sentence. And we don’t take sentences in isolation, understanding that a group of sentences makes a paragraph. But we don’t stop there. Each paragraph either represents or is a part of a larger whole that we call a “pericope.” The pericope is the basic argument or story that is being told. The story of David and Goliath is a pericope of many paragraphs. As well, Christ’s parables make up individual pericopes. Finally, the pericopes are smaller parts of the entire book. The purpose of the book will shape the context in which each pericope should be interpreted.

Here is how it looks:

click on image to enlarge

Literary issues: We must remember that there is no such thing as a type of literature called “Bible” or “Scripture.” The Bible is made up of many books from many different types of literature called “genres.” Just like in your everyday life, you encounter many genres and know almost instinctively that they follow different rules of understanding. You have fiction novels, newspaper editorials, commercials, television dramas, academic textbooks, and tickers at the bottom of the news stations. All of these need to be understood and interpreted according to the rules of the genre. In the Bible, we have narratives, histories, parables, apocalyptic prophecies, personal letters, public letters, songs, proverbs, and many others. Each of these are to be interpreted according to the rules of the genre. Just because they are in the Bible does not mean that the rules change. For example, a proverb is a common type of literature that is found in the Bible, but also in many other cultures. A proverb is a statement of general truth or wisdom that does not necessarily apply in every situation. A proverb is not a promise. If it is in the Bible, it is still not a promise. As well, theological histories are just that—theological. Being in the Bible does not turn it into a technically precise and exhaustive history that is supposed to answer every question that we have. We must determine the type of literature we are dealing with if we are to understand it.  Continue Reading →