Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category



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The Quiz

Number a paper 1-15 and choose either C for “cut and paste exactly as written” or P for “apply redemptive principle.”

    1. Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and increase in number.”
    2. 1 Corinthians 7:27 “Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.”
    3. Deut 6:5 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”
    4. Deut 26:12 “When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce … you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.”
    5. 1 Cor 16:20 “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
    6. 1 Cor 14:34 “Women should remain silent in the churches.”
    7. 1 Tim 5:23 “Stop drinking only water and use a little wine.”
    8. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”
    9. Lev 19:19 “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
    10. John 13:14 “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.”
    11. Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
    12. Prov 31:6-7 “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish, let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”
    13. 1 Peter 2:18 “Slaves submit to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”
    14. 1 Tim 2:9 “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire”
    15. Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”

Two Ways People Interpret the Bible

Biblicism — simply cut and paste the bible into our lives. “I just do what the Bible says.” You might think Biblicism is the most faithful way to approach the Bible, but it actually isn’t! Here’s why: Sometimes biblicism works beautifully, fulfilling the reason for the text, but other times biblicism fails miserably, especially when a passage is applied in a situation entirely different from the one for which it was given.

Redemptive Spirit Hermeneutic — “Understand and apply the why.” This method views scripture as having a husk and a kernel. The husk is the exact words, the kernel is the underlying redemptive spirit. The spirit of the text (the WHY) is the single most important aspect of scripture with which we can wrestle. This is where we drill down and find the gold. This is where we discover and encounter God’s heart, his character, his wisdom, and his holiness as we read and apply the Bible. THIS is the most faithful and reverent way to read the Bible.

Two Old Testament Examples

FIRST EXAMPLE – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 “If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

The “rape law” of marriage you just read during the quiz – in context was meant as a protection for women, but to apply this Scripture AS WRITTEN here and now would not only feel way wrong, but it would actually BE way wrong. It would be going BACKWARDS ethically, not forward. Our instinctive offense at this command reveals how far removed we are from its original audience in terms of culture and context. For the original target audience, this scripture was a considerable step FORWARD for protecting the welfare of raped women.

SECOND EXAMPLE – Deuteronomy 23:15-16 15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.

Against the backdrop of its context and culture where slaves were property who could be beaten and sexually abused at the discretion of masters, this passage originally landed as a thing of beauty, moving ethical boundaries toward an increase of humanization and protection for slaves. It landed as “good news” then, but would land as “terrible news” now, because the church over the many centuries has made hard won, and deeply gospel-informed improvements compared to ancient near eastern culture.

At the time…it was redemptive. To cut and paste it into our lives would be regressive.

Progressive Revelation

God, as a master teacher, starts with humanity where He finds us, and moves us along by stages. Basic building blocks come first, later, higher principles. What God said at one time is not necessarily what God ultimately wants to say….keep on reading! In basic math the teacher says, “Johnny, you can’t subtract larger numbers from smaller numbers.” Then a few years later, the teacher announces that, “Today, class, we are going to talk about negative numbers.”

Accommodation

Anyone who crosses cultures for the sake of Jesus comes face to face with the reality of cultural accommodation. Joe and Gloria Bontrager have served among cultures that practice polygamy. It is simply part of their culture! Are they supposed to tell the husband to divorce several of the wives? Would that be redemptive? Similar accommodations are happening for the Lord over the centuries, including with us right now. A biblicist approach takes scriptures that contain missionary accommodations and then wrongly views the letter of those laws as permanent absolute standards for all time.

How Jesus interpreted the Bible

Jesus interpreted the Bible very differently than the religious establishment of his day. They were focused on establishing the exact words and doing the exact words, but he was digging deep. Two examples.

#1 Marriage. Jesus understood Moses permitting divorce as God making concessions to human hard-heartedness rather than reflecting God’s desires and intentions, which lay elsewhere, namely in the permanence of marriage (Matthew 19:3-12). They could say, “We’re following the Bible so we’re pleasing God.” He argued, “No. Pleasing God requires more than doing the words of the Bible. It means embodying what’s in God’s heart.” God was accommodating them, but that concession wasn’t actually his heart. In other words, we need to go deeper than the letter of the law. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were SURE he was disobeying the Bible.
A second example…

#2. Sabbath. Remember how Jesus was constantly dogged by churchy folk who accused him of breaking the Sabbath by healing on Saturday? They were literalists and he was a spirit of the law interpreter. He healed on the Sabbath because the Sabbath is about God’s children entering into God’s rest, so by his way of thinking, Jesus was restoring them to a state of rest! The so-called conservatives all around the room gnashed their teeth at him for violating God’s commands, when in fact, he fulfilled its deepest meaning. Do you hear that? Sometimes by doing the words of a command exactly as written, we can be violating God’s very heart in saying it in the first place!

One time his disciples picked grain and ate it as they were walking through a field (Matthew 12). Again, the churchy people condemned his disciples as unbiblical (!), but Jesus pushed back, and pointed out the time that David and his men ate the sacred bread of the presence, which was not lawful for them to do.

Once the revelation drops in on you, you’ll see that all over the 4 gospels Jesus is fulfilling the spirit of the OT commands, often by violating a cut and paste approach to the Bible. Jesus dug down deep and found God’s heart and intention behind the scripture, and lived that out. He lived deeply in the “Why?” questions. As the Word made flesh (John 1:14) Jesus is what it looks like to LIVE the spirit of the text.

Paul Must Have Learned from Jesus!

According to Paul, disciples of Jesus aren’t ruled by “bible laws,” but rather, we are led by the Spirit, who is love, and thus we fulfill the deeper intention of every Bible verse without being “under” it (Rom 7:1-6). Paul meditated deeply on the things Jesus did and said and let them sink deep down into his bones until they became a gospel worth sharing with everybody.

Muzzled Ox. Paul told Timothy that elders who preach and teach ought to be financially compensated. “Where’s that in the Bible, Paul?” “Easy,” he says. “‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain.’ It’s right there!” (1 Tim 5:18). He says, “Who here actually thinks that God said this because he cares about the ox?!?” To which we all said, “Uh, me?” And then he says, “Isn’t this actually written to teach y’all to pay the preacher?” And we said, “Wow, Paul. I mean. I guess that might be a really loose tangential application of that passage, but for sure I wouldn’t say that’s what it’s actually about.” And Paul would scoff and say, “Amateur.” And then we’d say, “Dude, we legit could’ve read that verse for 500 years and never applied it that way.”

The reason is NOT because he’s an apostle and can “take liberties with the text.” Nope. It’s that he’s reading the Bible the right way.

The mission is ultimate

We become all things to all people to reach them for Jesus. The perennial question, then, is, “How do we best reach this culture with the gospel?” Our message doesn’t change, but our methods do. We’re never willing to compromise in a way that displeases or misrepresents the Lord. But the apostles, in their time and place, were trying to present a vision of what it looks like to follow Jesus that would be winsome and attractive to their culture. Sometimes the New Testament authors accommodated to their culture just like God did in the Old Testament. For example:

Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way. (Titus 2:9-10)

The household codes of how masters are to treat slaves and how slaves were to serve masters involve an element of accommodation to sinful culture, not a perfect expression of God’s will. Within that accommodation is the redemptive spirit of the text, namely, the imperative to serve and love with Christ’s sacrificial other-centered love. The LOVE is what makes it Christian, NOT the institution of slavery.

Here’s another example from the exact same passage in Titus 2. Again, sacrificial love + cultural accommodation for the sake of the mission:

[Young women are to] “to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:5 ESV)

Stumbling block

The culture of the day was patriarchal. Anything that undermined assumptions of men in charge would have been a major stumbling block to culture in the 1st century. The male/female roles expressed in the New Testament are, in many ways, an accommodation to make the gospel as attractive as possible to the culture of the day, while infusing them with a beautiful redemptive spirit that images Christ. There ARE beautiful and timeless truths about headship and gender differences in some of these passages, I’m not suggesting otherwise! But I am saying that cultural assumptions about husbands having power and wives NOT having power are NOT THE POINT of Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19, serving each other in love are! Or, to put it another way, “Men in charge,” is not what makes a marriage Christian. Sacrificial, Christ-exalting, other-centered love is what makes a marriage Christian.

First Down

Throughout history, Jesus is always moving the ball up the field in the trajectory of the end-zone. In each generation he moves things as far as the culture of the day can bear without unduly harming the spread of the Gospel.
If you remember how I started with the examples of the rape law and the runaway slave laws, you may connect the dots! Relative to the original situation, those commands were redemptive! But applied in a “cut and paste” way today, they would pull the wrong direction, away from the increase of love and justice.

Same scripture, different culture

Sense How Different These Texts Feel In Different Cultures! For example: We stumble over, “wives submit to husbands” and they stumbled over, “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” We stumble over “a woman should learn in quietness and submission,” they stumbled over, “a woman should LEARN.” The very same texts of scripture that land on us as sexist, landed on the original target audiences as nearly feminist.
A Pastoral Concern: READ ME!

The Bible is a little like music. The depth and complexity of what’s musically possible should never discourage you from learning to sing or pick up a guitar and strum simple chords. The presence of Mozart doesn’t negate the value of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” or “Hey Jude.” Any believer with the Holy Spirit can pick up their Bible and understand something true and from God for their life. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Knowing God, today?

It is your Bible. It doesn’t belong to pastors or scholars or dead denominational founders. It’s your Bible. You and God have a relationship and the Bible is meant take a central place in that relationship.

The point of everything I’ve said today is this: If we’re reading scripture correctly, it’s good news and it leads to a life of love. If it isn’t, and doesn’t, we’re missing something. Amen.

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