Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Story

The Bible is just like its author in that there has never been a more controversial and influential book written in the history of mankind. Even within Christianity there are a lot of dissenting views concerning many things about the Bible. One leading reason that many people struggle with reading, studying, and seeing the Bible's prime place in their lives is because they fail to see it written with its original intent. So many have fractured the Scriptures so badly that they see it as simply a book of stories, examples, and rules.

Contrary to what many Christians have concluded, the Bible does not tell two stories - the story of Israel in the Old Testament and the story of the church in the New Testament. No, the Bible tells one story and points to one figure. It tells the story of how God rescues a broken world and points to Christ who accomplishes this rescue. God reveals himself through types, promises, and prophecies in the Old Testament while in the New Testament He comes down to His creation and joins humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of every type, every promise, and every prophecy. The Old Testament prefigures and directs us to God’s rescuer, the New Testament presents God’s rescuer. Therefore, the whole Bible (both the Old and New Testament) is all about God’s rescue plan of redemption, and God's rescuer – Jesus Christ.
Even though it's a children's Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible is one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the singular, Jesus-centered storyline of the Bible. Sally Lloyd-Jones appropriately places (in an excellent way) the Bible in its proper context as the launching point of unpacking it.
She writes –

God wrote, "I love you" – he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror – to show us what he is like. To help us know him, to make our hearts sing.

The way a kitten chases her tail. The way red poppies grow wild. The way a dolphin swims.

And God put it into words, too, and wrote it in a book called "the Bible."

Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have rules in it. They show you how life works best [or how it works at all]. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is – it's true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all these stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who one day…

Vital Inerrancy

I recently came across an article online on the BiolLogos site entitled "After Inerrancy: Evangelicals and the Bible in a Postmodern Age." It’s a multi-part article written by Kenton Sparks, a professor of
Biblical Studies at Eastern University. Here’s how it starts:

I write for Evangelicals who either believe or suspect that our tradition has painted itself into an intellectual corner. The Church has been down this road before. In the 16th and 17th centuries it mistakenly criticized Copernicus and Galileo because their scientific views were clearly "unbiblical." And just as the evidence finally came crashing down on Church dogma in those days, so in ours, the facts are stacking up quickly against fundamentalistic beliefs in "creation science" and in the kind of "biblical inerrancy" that supports it.

While there was perhaps a period in history when Evangelicals could deny the substance of these new theories because the available evidence seemed thin, it seems to me that we’ve now crossed an evidential threshold that makes it intellectually unsuitable to defend some of the standard dogmas of the conservative Evangelical tradition. Holding fast to these old dogmas merely perpetuates the "intellectual disaster of Fundamentalism" and the "scandal of Evangelical Mind."

The intellectual cul-de-sac in which Evangelicalism finds itself can be traced back to many causes. But it seems clear, at least to me, that a fundamental cause of the scandal is its doctrine of Scripture. Often this doctrine involves a strict adherence to "Biblicism" … to a belief that the Bible provides inerrant access to the truth about everything it touches on … from biology, physics and astronomy to psychology, history and theology. In more progressive Evangelical circles inerrancy is sometimes defined more delicately, in a way that allows the non-biblical evidence to carry more weight in our reflection, but even here the subtle influence of inerrancy often engenders poor, or at least inferior, judgments about science, history, human beings and theology. In the pages that follow I will briefly explain why conventional Evangelical understandings of Scripture simply cannot be right. I will also survey some of the important resources that can help the Church get its bearings in a world without Biblicistic inerrancy.

I’m not sure what Biblicistic means, but any time you turn a word into an "ism" and then add an "istic" on top of that, it must be really bad. I’m pretty sure Biblicistic is here to make inerrancy sound as lame as possible. Later, just to be crystal clear, Sparks opines, "Biblicist inerrancy is an intellectual disaster."

Where Inerrancy?
The authority of Scripture has, for the past two or three centuries, been under almost constant attack. So it’s no surprise see it happening again. Even Christians hoping to be counted in the evangelical fold are eager to call into question the full and complete inspiration of Scripture. Is the whole Bible inspired by God? Do I have to believe all of Scripture? Does the whole Bible have a purpose, place, and authority in my life? This means it is crucial that we understand, defend, and celebrate the authority of the Bible in our homes and in our churches.

One struggles to know where to begin with Sparks’ assault on biblical authority. A single writing occasion is not the place to launch a full-on defense of inerrancy. There are many fine books and articles written in years past that do just that, including Robert Yarborough’s fair-minded, yet devastating review of Sparks’ previous work.

Another angle on the subject might look at what constitutes evangelical theology. Sparks writes from "our" evangelical tradition, and yet he disavows any notion of penal substitution and understands the Scriptures to be fallen like creation and in need of redemption. In the comments in another post, he argues, "I have no interest in preserving Christianity … I believe because, as I understand it, it makes sense of human experience. But if it turns out that Christianity fails to do that, I’ll simply turn elsewhere." I don’t know Dr. Sparks and am not an expert on his thought. I just don’t see how he can claim to speak as an evangelical scholar (to use language from his book). And with articles like this, why would evangelicals see the web site BioLogos as "one of us."
So there are a lot of things one could say, but let me simply call to mind the Apostle Peter’s assessment of Holy Scripture - And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1.19-20).

In the context, Peter is reminding his readers that the Lord will come back in fiery vengeance on the wicked – and because Christ will return, we ought to pay attention to His Word and live accordingly. The false teachers deny all this. So Peter presents two pieces of evidence for Christ’s return in judgment. First, he presents eyewitness testimony - they saw Christ’s glory on the mount of transfiguration (1.16-18). Second, he presents written evidence - the prophetic word confirms what we saw (1:19-21). Amazingly, Peter describes the prophetic word, which I take to mean all Scripture (v. 20), as "something more sure" (v. 19). In other words the Bible is more reliable than our senses (see Luke 16.31 for something similar).

More than that, the prophetic word was not produced by the will of man. Rather, men spoke by God, not in the sense of mechanical dictation (a straw man if there ever was one), but as the instruments of divine revelation. The Scripture is so much a divine book that Peter can say the men who spoke the words recorded in Scripture were "carried along by the Holy Spirit." As Calvin says, "they dared not to announce anything of their own, and obediently followed the Spirit as their guide, who ruled in their mouth as in his own sanctuary."

The verb translated "carried along" is the same word translated earlier in v.21 as “produced.” The prophetic word was not produced by man but by the Spirit. It’s surely significant that word is also used in v.17, 18 with reference to "the voice borne from heaven." The words of the prophets (known only to Peter’s audience in written form) were borne from God just as surely as the words spoken by the Father on the holy mountain. The Scripture is the Spirit’s book through and through. What Scripture says is what the Spirit says (Heb. 3:7; Acts 4:25; Rom. 9:17).

Why Inerrancy?
This is but one reason why inerrancy is denied at great peril. There are many ways to defend inerrancy, but the simplest argument is this - Scripture did not come from the will of man; it came from God. That is clear from 2 Peter 1.19-21 and 2 Timothy 3.16 (to name the classic texts). And if it is God’s Word then it must all be true because as Romans 3.4 tells us, "Let God be true though every man a liar."

All of this is so critical because when we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word - claiming the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. In other words, when we deny inerrancy we are forced to make one of two conclusions - either the Scripture is not all from God, when 2 Timothy 3.16 says it is all breathed out by God, and Jesus and the Apostles assume (and teach) it speaks for God; or, second, we must conclude that God is not always dependable. Both of theses conclusions are beneath the Christian. This sort of thinking does not work for our joy and freedom in Christ, and it does not bring honor to the Spirit of God who carried along the men who wrote God’s word.

A Sorry Story Gets Sorrier

From the New York Times:

VATICAN CITY — Addressing the sexual abuse crisis from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church before thousands of white-robed priests, Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged forgiveness, saying the church would do “everything possible” to prevent priests from abusing children.

“We, too, insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again,” Benedict told thousands of priests and the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for celebrations marking the end of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest.

The pope did not outline specific actions that the church would take to combat abuse, as many had hoped — and as Benedict had pledged at an audience in April. Nor did his remarks go much beyond what he had already said in a letter to Irish Catholics in March and in a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse on Malta in April.

But it was the first time that Benedict had asked forgiveness for the crisis from St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the church itself, and on an occasion focused on priests.

The pope said the Devil was behind the scandal, saying it had emerged now, in the middle of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest, because “the enemy,” or the Devil, wants to see “God driven out of the world.”

The Roman Catholic Church seems unable to shake the sex abuse scandals that have plagued her over the last decade and more. The incidents of abuse have undoubtedly rocked the church and, more seriously, devastated many individuals and their families.

I’ve not followed the Church’s dealings with this matter very closely. I’m certain others have more astute observations. But after reading The Times coverage of Pope Benedict’s comments, I’m left with a few quick thoughts.

1. Promises to “do everything possible” absent concrete plans and actions amounts to a failure to repent - There must be a plan of action in keeping with repentance or the Church’s credibility on this matter is completely shot.

2. Superstition won’t solve the problem - It appears from The Times article that at least this writer thinks something significant has happened because pronouncements were made from St. Peter’s Square. A decree from “the heart of the church itself” means nothing if it doesn’t address the hearts of priests and leaders inside the church. I suppose something of an aura of ex cathedra pronouncement is supposed to attend these comments. If so, what a sad indictment when the problem exists in churches on main street around the world, churches that have basically received protective cover from the Church hierarchy.

3. Blame-shifting won’t solve the problem - It’s pretty sad that the Pope resorts to “the Devil made them do it.” To be certain, the Enemy opposes the people of God - but from all outward appearances, he seems to be getting a fair amount of help from the Roman Catholic Church itself. As far as I know, it’s not within the Slanderer’s ability to prevent a full and thorough repentance, the acceptance of accountability, and serious action to protect children from priests. The Pope’s comments seem rather interested in not spoiling a celebration for the priesthood rather than actually taking steps to secure justice for abused individuals and families. It’s lame to blame the Devil. Better to repent in sackcloth and ashes, and make restitution four-fold.

4. Polity matters - The way a church organizes herself to call leaders and to practice discipline matters immensely. The Roman Catholic Church faces this tragic circumstance in great measure because its polity allowed the protection of offenders and disenfranchised its members. Church polity could never prevent abuse in any absolute sense. But a New Testament approach to membership and discipline, resting final adjudication with the local church, would certainly have helped to contain the spread of abuse and the collusion of priests and bishops. If the congregation had authority to hand an unrepentant sinner over to Satan, and to treat the offending priest like a pagan or tax collector (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5), abuse cases would have instantly been public, accountability and scrutiny intense, and members protected and informed. At the end of the day, church polity isn’t a dusty old idea bored pastors sit around and discuss. It’s part of how we live out the gospel and it has significant consequences for those affected.

5. Finally, only the gospel rightly understood and applied will heal these hurts - Some want justice - others want mercy. Some demand punishment - others want forgiveness. Some want financial recompense - others the kind of charity that protects the Church’s collective interest. The competing justice concerns are staggering. No one will be justified before God, no matter the option chosen. The only sufficient hope is a discovery of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. What else frees us from self-righteousness? What can purchase forgiveness without compromising justice? How else will victim and sinner be reconciled to one another and to God? Only by an exclusive embrace of Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished in His crucifixion and resurrection. Only by trusting that alone, apart from any works of merit, will there be freedom to survive this abuse and scandal and to live in the redemption Jesus provides. Law won’t fix it. Only grace alone can.

Justification by Facebook

John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. He was right.

Throughout history, we have bowed down to golden cattle, celestial beings, stone animals, and even human body parts. The passage of time has only increased the number of ways we exchange the worship of the One True God for lesser, false gods. Today, we can sadly add yet another idol to the list - social media.

Social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), as technology, is neutral and harmless – even good. Social media can and should be used for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel in every possible way. But natural-born idolaters, like you and me, are no more than a few clicks away from making this good thing a god thing.

Social media carries a unique set of temptations. Much like the adulterous temptress described in Proverbs, social media offers us the invitation to come into her house and enjoy the choicest foods, only to find the meal poisoned.

The most dangerous of these tainted meals is pride. Few other creations in history have allowed us to see how "important" we (and our emotions, thoughts and opinions) are with such tantalizing immediacy as our walls, blogs, and tweet stats. There are times we check our wall, or our stats, because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus, and we forsake the true justification of who we are in the gospel for the false justification of who we are in the eyes of our friends. We do the opposite of what we set out to do in the first place - we serve ourselves instead of God and his people.

Pride creeps in through wall postings, profile changes, tweets, status updates, etc. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with mentioning what we are thinking, how we are feeling, where we are having lunch, or who we are with, we would be well served by checking our hearts before we do. Are we sharing this information to give people a helpful window into our lives as we seek to live out the gospel, or are we unwittingly (or even quite wittingly) enticing our friends toward coveting the life we are living? Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth posts.

So what's the answer? Well first, let me be very clear in that it's not to abandon these social resources God has given us to communicate and connect. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking are all excellent grounds on which we can enjoy, explore, grow and flourish in life. Can you imagine the gospel revival, and the call back to the worship of Yahweh if the Christian community invaded Facebook, took it over, and used it for exaltation of Jesus Christ and glory of God?

I'm not even saying everything we post has to be a Bible verse or, "Praise the Lord…" Those things would be great (and we should do them) but it's even more basic than that. I don't even have Facebook, but I so often hear of people posting:
• Life sucks
• I hate people
• Why don't all of you get a life
• My car is my baby
• Different abbreviations for swear words (or phrases)
I know of people (not from our church) who have actually publically ripped their church on Facebook. I've seen some Christians rip others publically on Twitter and in their blogs. Please understand that when people hear us claim we are Christians and then witness us express ourselves in such negative, hateful, materialistic ways, it is impossible for them see their need for the gospel – and so they don’t believe in Jesus.

So what's the answer -

1. Think before you post
Don't use such public forums to vomit up your emotions. It sounds simple, but stopping to think about why we are about to do what we are about to do is an amazing sin-killing weapon. Use it and use it often. It has been a great help to me.

2. Consider "fasting" from social media for a season
While this may seem extreme, in light of Jesus' counsel about tearing out our eye if it makes us sin (Matthew 5:29), fasting seems like the least we could do to expose the true condition of our hearts. If we are flatly unwilling to consider it, that should tell us something.

3. Believe the gospel
Make your solid theology soundly practical in daily life. If, when we are tempted to go to the fleeting approval of man to shore up our insecurities, we instead go to the approval of God that is ours in Christ, the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets, we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.

Calvin was right. The heart is an idol factory. But at this intersection of technology and idolatry, pull the plug on the bad and keep the good.