Monday, February 23, 2009


Since I'm too busy/lazy/uninspired (pick the one you think most appropriate) to blog, I thought I'd point you in the direction of Eric D. Snider's Snide Remarks column today. If you are a blog reader then you should find his piece amusingly insightful, as he pigeon-holes those who comment on blogs into 10 types (I'm probably type #2). Wanna see which type you are so you can become self-conscious about commenting on blogs? Then click the above link to find out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"What is truth?"

The Bible is not the truth.

There's a provocative opening sentence to get your attention. Allow me to explain it.

I think in Evangelical circles, where the Bible is held in extremely high regard (and rightly so), there can be a tendency to actually make an idol of it. We can replace God with a book, and thus worship the book rather than its author. It can so easily become the case where we treat God as if He's dead, or as if He's somewhere else attending to other matters, but in the mean time He has left us a book so it is this book alone which is to be the focus of our attention and our love, and our ultimate goal is to know its pages and obey what is written.

If this blog were in any way popular I'm sure there would be people saying 'But hang on a minute...' right about now. However, please don't misunderstand me, imaginary protester. Would it be wonderful if we each knew the pages of Scripture by heart? Absolutely. Should we as Christians have a deep love for the Bible and a hunger to plumb its incredible depths? Of course. In fact one of the marks of the Holy Spirit's presence is the creation of a longing in the heart to read God's Word. As I've said before, you cannot separate the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The two have been innately linked from creation (Gen. 1:2-3), and beforehand.

The Scriptures are an invaluable tool, acting as a revelation of God to us humans and as a means to be instructed, encouraged, taught etc (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

However, contrary to the way we as Bible-revering Christians might act, knowing the Bible is not the be all and end all. This is where some of us -- and this most definitely includes me -- have gotten it wrong, because as far as I'm concerned onlookers could be forgiven for thinking that being a Christian is about reading a book and following its orders, or perhaps reading a book and knowing what is the correct thing to believe (which is my m.o.). Again, there is nothing wrong with obeying the Bible or knowing what to believe. In fact these are indispensable aspects of the Christian life, but they are not the substance. They point to the substance, which is Christ.

I was taught a very important lesson at the beginning of the Biblical Interpretation class which I took last year, and it was this: The goal of reading and studying the Bible isn't to know the Bible better. The goal is to know God. When God proclaimed that a new covenant would be made with His people, one of the promises of God was not "They shall each know My book". The promise we have is that we shall each know God Himself, from the least of us to the greatest (Jer. 31:34).

The Bible is only of benefit to us if it takes us beyond its pages. Remember the Pharisees. They knew the Scriptures as good as anyone in their time. They were not the 'baddies' of the day as we in the 21st century tend to think, but the religious, the people who were the authority when it came to understanding God's Word. If they were around today (though some might rightly argue that they are), they would hold lofty positions in the Church, and be exceedingly respected by you and I. And yet they missed the whole point, and so can we. That is why Jesus said to them,

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." - Jn. 5:39-40

To pull a Eugene Peterson, what Jesus is saying is that "You read the Bible, you study the Bible, you meditate on the Bible, thinking that doing this is the goal of your life, but if you really understood the Bible you would realise that it points to something greater than itself; something more authoritative. What it points to is me, and yet you refuse to follow the signs and go to the One whom the pages direct you to".

As I said at the beginning, we can so easily make an idol out of the Bible, turning God's gift to us into something that replaces God Himself.

Charles Price, master of analogy, explains this scenario well. When he bought a car, an instruction manual came with it. However, he didn't read the manual so that he would know more about the manual; he read it so that he would know about the car. As he goes on to facetiously say, he could have done the latter. He could have read a littel bit of the manual each night, underlining the bits he liked best. He could have joined the Toyota fellowship and heard someone expound the manual. He could have put sections of the manual to music and sung it, or perhaps studied Japanese to read it in the original language. However, the time would come when he would get bored of the manual, because he was missing the whole point of it; the point being to get to know and experience the car. The car was the subject of the manual, not the manual itself. The book served a vital purpose, but its purpose was to point him to something beyond the words contained within.

In a similar way, this is what the Bible should do, and so the minute our Christianity is wrapped up in the book alone then something is wrong. It's good to underline its passages, it's good to hear the Bible expounded, it's good to sing songs based on what it says, and if you're so inclined it's good to be able to understand it in its original languages, but if only if all of this points you to a person, Christ Jesus.

Jesus didn't come to earth and say "Scripture is the way, the truth, and the life". His message is that He is the truth, the fulfilment of Scripture. It is Christ who died for our sins and rose again. What the Bible says about these things is true, because a)its words find their source in God Himself, and b) because through His Word God points to Jesus, who is the truth. Scripture acts as an authoritative witness to Christ, who is the supreme authority. The words of the Bible are revelations of God given by God (or God-breathed) and thus uniquely aid us in getting to know God, but only if they lead us to Jesus, who is the definitive revelation of God, for He is God incarnate.

And so once again, the Bible is true, but it is not the truth (although you could say it is the truth about the truth, given to us by the truth...I think [???]). There are things about this that I don't fully understand, and follow-up questions that I most likely won't be able to answer. But please don't let that stop you from asking them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Snapshot

For those of you wondering just what exactly I do in Scripture School, prepare to have some of your curiosity satisfied. Here's a passage of Scripture which I was asked to "discuss", in its historical and literary context (but of course). It's from Hebrews. (See, I told you I'd mention Hebrews again).

It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:

"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts."

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. 11Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

Here is my answer. It's not my best work, but it's certainly not my worst either. It is however just over one thousand words long, so feel free to back out now if you were just looking for something quick to breeze through.

Hebrews is fundamentally a book of encouragement. The Jewish-Christian audience to which the author wrote were experiencing external (and probably internal) pressure to go back to the faith of their forefathers. Thus the central message of Hebrews is “Don’t go back! Don’t miss out!” This message can be found in Hebrews 4, where the author encourages his readers to “make every effort to enter that rest” (4:11). That is, “Don’t give up. Don’t go back. Don’t miss out. Hang in there, and you will enter God’s rest”.

Since his audience is a Jewish one, the author uses a well-known story of the children of Israel which helps bring his encouraging words to life. “An exhortation inspired by the exodus” writes Hagner in his commentary. In chapter 3 the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95, which deals with the “wilderness generation” of Israel – those people to whom God had promised rest, and yet failed to enter into it because “Their hearts are always going astray” (3:10).

As the writer says in Hebrews 4:2, the wilderness generation received the “gospel”, they received the good news about God’s rest, yet the message was of no value to them because they did not combined with faith. Their unbelief caused them to fall short. And consequently, God promised that this particular generation of Israelites “shall never enter My rest” (4:5).

The exhortation found in the midst of verses 6-11 is then followed by a sort of warning. Hardness of heart caused the generation of Moses to stumble, and so we must be aware that God’s word is able to detect the innermost secrets of our heart. It judges the heart’s thoughts and attitudes, and all is “laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (4:13). In effect the writer is saying to His audience “Take care of your heart, because God knows exactly what is going on inside of it, and in the end you’re going to have to explain yourself to Him”.

In between this looking back to the example of old and looking forward (for want of a better phrase!) to the final judgment lies the message of verses 6-11; the message for “Today”. We are told that the rest which God offered to His people is still available, though it is not quite the same at least in terms of physical nature. After all, Joshua entered the Promised Land, and yet from this land David could still write about “another day”, a rest which transcends the boundaries of the Promised Land.

Therefore we are to understand this rest which is on offer today not necessarily as a physical location to get to, but as childlike trust in the sufficiency of God. We are to rest in His provision, confident that He who sustains the whole universe is more than able to sustain you and I.

The nature of this rest explains why hardness of heart is so antagonistic to it, for to remain hard-hearted toward God is to remain self-sufficient. The author didn’t use Adam as a negative example, but he could have, since like the Israelites Adam refused to listen to the voice of God, choosing instead to go his own way.

But rather than saying to his Jewish-Christian readers that they are exactly like the wilderness generation and that they are doomed to miss out on God’s rest, the writer maintains the message of encouragement all the way through. He bids them to “make every effort to enter that rest”, not wanting any of them to fall down along the journey and turn around. And important to his point is that it is in fact a journey we are on.

The Christian life can often be exclusively described as some sort of one-off deal. You repent, get your ticket to heaven, and now you’re just waiting around for that glorious day to arrive when you either die or get beamed up into heaven. Or it can be seen as all taking place during one date in court, where you are pronounced ‘innocent’ and thus can live the rest of your life with a guilt-free conscience, relying on that past experience of acquittal to get you by.

Now of course there is truth in these pictures, or at least the latter one anyway. The Bible does speak of our dealings with God in terms befitting a courtroom drama, but we are not to allow this one analogy to dominate our interpretation of every portion of Scripture. For example, to apply such a picture to this passage will only lead to confusion, and most likely some creative but flawed hermeneutics.

The author of Hebrews makes it clear that our Christian life can be viewed as a journey, and on a journey you can slow down, stop, and ultimately decide to turn around. The language of this passage makes it clear that we have not yet fully entered the rest, but we are entering it. It’s almost like the kingdom of God, which is “already…but not yet”. Therefore, the Jewish-Christians which the author is specifically addressing, and all Christians who live in a day called “Today” are encouraged to continue entering, continue combining the hearing of the gospel with faith, because in the end Jesus is looking for people to whom He can say “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

Does this mean the quantity of our faith saves us? Is our confidence of salvation derived from our own ability to strive and persevere? No. Faith is nothing on its own. It’s similar to love, in that it requires an object in order to make sense. You can’t be in love with nothing. There is something or someone you are in love with, and similarly there is something or someone you have faith in. For Christians, Jesus is that someone. Therefore remaining faithful means continually trusting in our “great high priest who has gone through the heavens” (3:14); the one who has made purification for our sins, and now sits at the right hand of God (1:4). These can sound like trite Christian phrases, but they are the realities of Christ’s perfect salvation achieved by His death and resurrection, and it is in Him that our faith is based, and He whom we must continually cling to “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (3:16).

Monday, February 2, 2009

He Brews, Does He?

It's been a while since I've gotten, you know, personal on this blog, so I thought I'd give you, my loyal and cherished (and quite possibly only) reader a glimpse into my life. So here's a list of what I've been up to of late:

Sod all.

No that's not strictly true. My second and final semester in Scripture School is almost a third of the way through, and I'm really enjoying the classes so far. Especially Hebrews. It's a book I've totally neglected throughout my years as a lukewarm Christian, so I'm glad I finally get a chance to plumb its depths under the guidance of a master teacher (as Dr Autry insists on being called*).

I'm not sure about your sermon-listening experience, but usually I find that if someone speaks on Hebrews I can pretty much guarantee that they are going to be delving into the classic chapter 11. Its reputation is justified of course, but there are so many other great tracks (chapters) on the album. It's like buying The Joshua Tree and listening to With Or Without You repeatedly. Sure that's fine for a while, but what about other anthems such as Where The Streets Have No Name or I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For? And then there are some little gems such as Red Hill Mining Town and Running To Stand Still, and some growers such as Exit and Mothers Of The Disappeared.

My point is, The Joshua Tree is a splendid album, so go out and buy it right now...even if you already have it.

Wait. That's not my point. Or at least not the main one. My point is, a marriage is a lot like an orange. You have the...

Nope. That's not it either. Where was I? Ah, yes. Hebrews. You see the Book of Hebrews is a lot like an orange. And by 'orange' I of course mean 'album'. There is just so much in this book that almost every sentence has to be studied with precise care, and yet it all fits into the book as one complete message. What Romans (another exquisite piece of literature) is to Soteriology, Hebrews is to Christology.

But as complicated and nuanced as the writing can be at times, the author has one simple goal in mind, and three ways of achieving it.

The goal is to encourage Christians. The threefold strategy for achieving this is to explain:

- Who Christ Is

- What Christ has done

- How we respond

I won't elaborate any further, but I'm quietly confident I've got you all dusting off Hebrews chapter 1 and giving it the once over, or perhaps even sticking it in your CD player just to see if anything happens. Like maybe if you play it backwards you will hear the anti-Hebrews, where Jesus is proclaimed to be just the worst high priest ever. Well rest assured this won't be the last time I mention the letter to the Hebrews on the blog.

Anyway, so much for getting personal. I guess I just wanted to write something, and this is what came out. And besides, there is something kind of revealing about this post. I mean if nothing else it tells you that I have absolutely no social life. And that I like The Joshua Tree...and oranges.

* But not really