Posted in Beliefs

An Evil World Ruled by Satan? A Critique of a Popularly Held Myth in Christian Thought

Today I wanted to take a look at a concept that is popularly held by many Evangelical Christians today. It is the dual interrelated belief that Christians should not love this world, and that the devil is actually the god of this world. These beliefs are drawn from two key texts: 1 John 2:15-16 and 2 Corinthians 4:4.

What I’ll do is present to you the reader those two texts and then offer some probing questions to help us get to the bottom of this issue. Let’s get started:

1 John 2:15-16 reads,

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”[1]

Initial probing questions:

Does this text teach Christians to hate the world as in creation or the world as something else? Is the world evil or is it really good? What is meant by the phrases “lust of the flesh,” lust of the eyes” and “boastful pride of life?” Does this mean that all lusting (desires) of the flesh are wrong? Suppose I’m hungry and I lust after a decent meal, perhaps with various treats on the side? Is that “lust of the flesh” bad? In a similar fashion is it wrong to lust after beautiful things, to long to look at the beauty in this world such as a scenic drive through the countryside on a warm summer morn? Or to take in the beauty of my wife from head to toe? Is that sort of “lust of the eyes” evil? What about taking pride in my labors, or in the success of my children, are these the sorts of “pride of life” that the apostle John is warning Christians to steer clear from?

Before we begin to answer those questions, let’s look at the second text.

2 Corinthians 4:4 reads,

“…in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Initial probing questions:

Is the text before us calling the devil god in the same way that God is referred to as God in Scripture? What significance does the “mind of the unbelieving” play in understanding this statement by the apostle Paul? How has the “god of this world… blinded” the minds of such people? How does a proper understanding of Scripture—particularly that which is in the Old Testament—help us in comprehending Paul’s meaning?

Considering Similarities…

At first glance it may appear that these two texts, which do have different contextual concerns in that they are written by different men, for different purposes, to different people, with different immediate needs/concerns, but the two share an underlying theme found in a way of life. John is warning those Christians he is writing to, to stay away from the type of living that dominates the lives of unbelievers. The desires (lusts) that are in the heart of believers vs. non-believers are radically different (cf. Eph 4.17-24). Paul is explaining to Christians why unbeliever’s fail to see the gospel in its proper light—they are blinded? What blinds them? The reign of sin in their hearts. He identifies this reign with a person. The “god of this world” is really an idiom speaking of a particular individual; whom the Scriptures reveal as the devil.

Understanding the Fundamental Presuppositions of the Apostolic Faith

Both Paul and John were Jews. Being Hebrews, their worldview was governed by the Tanakh. This means that they had a particular lens through which they viewed the world around them; including the seen (physical) and unseen (spiritual or immaterial). Both knew that the entire created order was brought into being by God:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…and it was very good….” (Gen 1.1, 31).

Knowing God as Creator other truths fell in line. God is King, Sovereign over His creation:

“For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth…For God is king of all the earth…God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne” (Psa 47.2, 7-8; ESV).

And they knew well the declaration that God alone is God, there is no other who is like Him:

“Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me” (Isa 43.10b).

So then, if God alone is God with their being no other, and that He alone is King over the whole earth reigning over all people throughout history, how is it that Paul speaks of another “god of this world” and what of John’s commanding Christians to not love this world’s lusts?

The Diamond Standard

As I have said in the past, words have various shades of meaning. Contextual considerations are what helps us see the proper way in which a word or even a concept is being used by a biblical writer. Errors occur when we import ideas foreign to the text of Scripture and the overriding theology of Scripture. I realize that Christians come from a wide variety of theological convictions. That is not what I’m talking about when I speak of the “overriding theology of Scripture.” The Bible teaches a proper way to view God and His creation. Variances occur in the creatures understanding due to our limited abilities. Scripture teaches one theology; we tend to muck up the pure waters of the Word when our own traditions, biases, assumptions get in the way.

I have come to see biblical truth in the symbolic representation of a diamond. Diamonds are precious stones of much value.[2] A diamond is a solid rock that is strong enough to crush all others.[3] A diamond is also a thing of intense beauty.[4] One of the ways that a diamond’s beauty really resonates with us and catches our attention is when it is shifted ever so slightly in the light.[5] The light makes the diamond sparkle, bring out greater depth and beauty than if we looked at it from only one angle; which, in a sense makes our hearts leap with joy at what we’ve witnessed.[6]

In a similar way, but in a fashion that goes far beyond that of the diamond (a created thing), the truth of God’s Word is of infinite value.[7] It as a vestige of truth that as a solid rock makes the one who builds on it very wise.[8] When viewed properly through the light of the Holy Spirit we see the greater depths and beauty within, our attention is gripped[9], our hearts burn[10], and our minds are changed.[11] While a correct interpretation of Scripture reveals one truth, when we turn that perspective truth over and over, looking at it from a variety of angles, we notice wider applications than previously were noticed.

Shades of meaning

I say all of that to prepare you for something that you may or may not know. The term translated in English as God—(Elohim in Hebrew) and (Theos in Greek)—has a deeper/wider application that we often apply to it. For example, we see the term Elohim being applied to various individuals in the Old Testament (Tanakh), just as we see the term Theos being used similarly.

John 10…

When the Jews of Jesus’ day picked up stones to stone Him, they were about to do so for what they viewed as a clear violation of the Law of God; blasphemy (cf. Lev 24.16). It was not for good works that they wanted to kill Jesus it was because He made Himself equal with God (John 10.33). Jesus rebukes them by pointing out that they are being very inconsistent, since it is “written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’” (John 10.35a). He continues, “If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’” (John 10.35b-36).

References…

Now many Bibles will reference Jesus’ words here back to Psalm 82. I agree that this is probably the chief text in consideration, but it is not the only one where we see God calling those He has established for a specific purpose; god/gods. One other example is found in Exodus where the Lord God labels Moses in a similar fashion. Here are the texts of which I am speaking:

  • “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince (Psa 82.6-7)
  • “He [Aaron, your brother] shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him” (Exod 4.16)
  • “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet’” (Exod 7.1).

So, what do we do with those texts? Well, would could say that they are proof positive that the Scriptures are in contradiction with one another. A skeptic would prefer that position. We could say that we must take them in a wooden literal fashion and say they are “little gods,” but not thee God. Various aberrations of the orthodox Christian faith would prefer that position (e.g., Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons). There is another option, we could define the term “god/gods” within their given context. This would be the wise response.

Thinking through Exodus 4:16 and 7:1…

Since Moses came first, we shall deal with him, and then allow this understanding (the simpler one) to guide our thoughts as we progress through biblical revelation (to some the more difficult passages). When God called Moses god, was He using the term Elohim in the same sense? In other words, was Moses identical to God? No. Moses was not the Creator, but a creature and so this is not the sense in which God is using the term to identify Moses.

Another key are the words “like” and “as” which offers the reader insight into the figurative way in which the Lord is speaking. Moses was made like God. In what way? He was in a position of authority over Aaron, for Aaron only spoke what Moses commanded. He was also in a position of authority over Pharaoh, although the king of Egypt sought to deny it. But every time he did deny Moses rained down plagues of judgment on his head (cf. Exod 4-12). Moses received this position of supremacy from the Lord God. It was given to him; he did not possess it of his own accord. Moses authority was delegated authority to rule in God’s stead, but he was to do it in God’s way.

According to a Hebrew lexicon “Elohim” has several shades of meaning.[12] The sense that it is being used in this passage, and as I will show in a moment the passage in the 82nd Psalm, is that of a supreme ruler and/or magistrate. As I said earlier, the position that Moses finds himself is one of delegated authority. God gave Moses the right to rule in His stead, before the people.

Considering Psalm 82…

Look back at the 82nd Psalm. Read through it. What do you see? Did you notice that the subjects in question fit within the context of human rulers/judges/magistrates? You ask, “How do you know that?” Look at verses 2-4. God says to these “gods,”

“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psa 82.2).

    • Rather than vindicating “the weak and the fatherless” (v. 3a);
    • rather than giving “justice to the afflicted and destitute” (v. 3b);
    • rather than rescuing “the weak and the needy” (v. 4a);
    • rather than delivering “them out of the hand the wicked” (v.4b), these “gods” (supreme rulers/magistrates/judges) refused to do what was right in God’s sight.

God put them in positions of authority to uphold His Law-Word and they refused. And so, God (identified as “judge of the earth”) was arising to judge them, for he alone is God—sovereign over “all the nations” (Psa 82.8).  The declaration by the Lord that they would die “like men” could also be translated “like Adam” since the term is singular and is the same from where we derive the translation of Adam (see Gen 2.20; 3.17). The point is that they would be struck down from their station, because like Adam before them they chose their own standard of righteousness and ruled the people wickedly.

Looking back at 1 John 2.15-16…

The problem that John identifies with the world is not the world in and of itself (i.e., the created order). The problem with the world is the attitude of sin that dominates it. The lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life are deviations from God’s holy purpose. They refer to man’s sinful pursuits. Rather than follow the lead of God they follow another. Rather than submit to the rule of God, they bow before another.

We should love the world and the things in it (i.e., God’s creation, His creatures). We should have a proper form of desire, one that desires not the natural man’s perversion of goodness, but one that reflects the Creators heart. If you are not convinced, I only remind you that the Savior sacrificed Himself because He loved the world (John 3.16). Not just His people whom He been sent to redeem, but also the very creation itself that travails in distress under the corruption of sin (Rom 8.19-21).

Looking back at 2 Corinthians 4:4…

When Paul says that the gospel of Jesus is veiled (hidden due to blindness) to those who are perishing and then he points to the “god of this world,” he is not saying that Satan/the Devil is actually a god in the same sense that God is God. He is speaking of the ruler of natural men’s hearts (cf. Eph 2.2). He is referring to the one who rules this world through sin. Not the entirety of creation, but fallen mankind (male and female).

Don’t believe me? Think I’m wrong? Then weigh my words in light of Christ Jesus’ own testimony as recorded in John’s gospel:

  • “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12.31)
  • “I [Jesus] will not speak much more with you [My disciples], for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in me” (John 14.30).
  • “And He [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16.8, 11).[13]

The devil is nothing more than a despot. A tyrant that deceives sinners into believing that they are free, all the while they are in chains. However, the purpose of Christ Jesus’ coming into the world was to destroy the devil’s works, to break his grip, to bring him low in destruction (cf. 1 John 3.8). Satan has no power over the elect of God, for in resisting him he flees (James 4.7). His authority has been usurped and this is evidenced in the world under the dominion of Christ’s disciples (Luke 10.18). For Jesus has given His people power over serpents and scorpions—i.e., the curse and the cursor (Luke 10.19). And as the gospel of Jesus advances, God gives His people victory in the world—because it is His world and no others—to smite the devil (Rom 16.20; cf. 1 John 4.4).

Closing Remarks…

These words were meant to be a corrective to those who are fearful that the devil has power where he does not. That he rules over this entire planet when he does not. He is a creature and like all creatures He is subservient to the God of Glory.

This teaching is also meant to be an encouragement. We are living in some difficult times when despots and tyrants are unashamedly showing their faces. Panic and fear are driving the hearts of many, but in Christ Jesus there is nothing to fear. We have nothing to panic over, for all that comes to pass comes to pass under His watch. He is not weak and His strength is given to those who trust in Him.

Therefore, don’t let news and events break your resolve. Nor would I waste a moment’s breath giving glory to Satan as if he is really more than what he is…a vagabond living on borrowed time with a mortal injury. His days are numbered. He knows it, and so should we as we rejoice in his inevitable demise.

Godspeed!


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard 95’ Update (NASB).

[2] See Isa 28:16; also 1Pet 2:4.

[3] See Matt 21:44; also Dan 2:34-35, 44-45; Psa 110:5-6.

[4] See Psa 27:4; also Isa 28:5

[5] “For with you [O Lord] is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psa 36.9). Also see: John 8:12; 2 Cor 4:6; James 1:17.

[6] See Mal 4:2

[7] Prov 2:1-6; also see: Matt 13:44.

[8] Ff. Matt 7:24; also see: 1 Cor 3:11.

[9] Psa 1:2.

[10] Luke 24:32.

[11] Rom 12:2.

[12] “rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power.” Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Drivers-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Coded with Strong’s Concordance Numbers, Reprint 1906 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 43. S.v. Elohim, 1a.

[13] Italics added for emphasis and brackets added for clarity.

Posted in Revelation

A Little More Light…Keeps the Darkness at Bay

Biblical revelation is by its very nature progressive. Not progressive in a secular sense, but progressive in the sense that the knowledge revealed is given little by little. Then, that knowledge when properly applied is the essence of wisdom; the counter being folly. This process is gradual and is reinforced through repetition.

In the same way we train our children in life: learning to pray, to be thankful for their daily food, to tie their shoes, pick out an outfit appropriate for the activity and weather, how to sit at the dinner table and the correct manner to use utensils. All of these daily activities are not explained at once. The instruction on how to live is not dumped upon them in one great heap, but slowly over time. Learning is the acquirement of knowledge, and wisdom is correctly applying what has been learned. This process is gradual and is reinforced through repetition.

One of the difficulties that we face is the stagnation of this process for some. While, it is true that we all mature at a different rate, maturing is necessary for living life well. To use another analogy—this time from the animal kingdom—a bird that never learns to fly once pushed out of the nest is in for a mess of trouble when they meet the ground. A child that is not humble, refuses to submit, is too hardheaded to learn from the instruction of his/her betters is headed for a mess of trouble not too different than the bird. And a Christian that has difficulty moving past elementary things (the milk, rather than the meat) is in a similar mess (Heb 5.11-14).

What’s my point?

Earlier biblical revelation is foundational to believing faith. What came before, in the beginning, is the bedrock that the rest of the Christian faith rests upon. But I thought Paul said that Christ was the foundation, the only foundation, that we are to build upon (1Cor 3.11)? He did, Christ is. What ever Paul taught in the New Testament is built upon the Rock cut from no human hands (Dan 2.34-35, 44-45). He learned this not from men, but from Christ the Lord (Gal 1.11-12).

A consistent reading of the Holy Bible shows that Christ Jesus likewise understood that He and His Word—the two cannot truly be separated—was the only Rock that offered a sure foundation to humanity (Luke 6.46-49). And if we are familiar with what came before, we see that this testimony is consistent with Moses’ who made it a point of comparison between the two opposing “rocks” of faith. Only one Rock is a sure foundation that the wise may build upon, but fools have for themselves another rock that is truly no rock at all (Deut 32.18, 31).

Now I have purposefully worked backward through the biblical text (in a very rapid way) to make a vital point. Though the revelation provided in the past was sufficient for faith for those in the past, as time passed more light has been shed on the doings of God and the responsibilities of Mankind. And while, it is true that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2Tim 3.16), it does not teach all things of an equal nature. That is to say, there were shadows and types in the past (O.T., Tanakh) that served as training wheels for the people of God, until the Father above decided to reveal His beloved Son as the anti-shadow/anti-type.

What’s “anti” mean?

This term is normally associated with that which is against or opposed to, but that is not an accurate way of understanding the prefix in biblical language. To be an “anti” in terms of Scripture means “instead of” or “in exchange for.” So instead of the blood of animals, we have the blood of Christ (Heb 9.18-10.7). In exchange for a lesser covenant, we have a greater covenant affirmed by something more precious—Christ (Heb 7.22; 8.6-13). Instead of an earthly king and kingdom, we are given a heavenly king and kingdom—as found in the God-Man Christ Jesus (Acts 2.25-36). In exchange of an earthly high-priest who were by nature sinners, we have a High-Priest who knew no sin—Christ (Heb 2.17; 4.15; 7.26). In stead of purification by water or by separation through earthly attainments, we have purification through His sacrifice applied by the Holy Spirit (Heb 9.13-14; Heb 10.10).

Again, the point being made is that though there is much value in learning that which was revealed in past revelation, a mature understanding sees Christ as the complete picture. The danger always lurking around the corner is reading into the biblical text an understanding of its revelation that is foreign to the revelation in question.

Which means what?

I have heard it argued that the sacrifice of Christ seems defunct in some way, when we look at the brevity of His earthly life. How can his torture at the hands of Jews and Romans, account for the complete purification of sin for those who believe? How can His death on the cross and burial in a grave for three days (less though, than 72 hours) satisfy the wrath of God, when sinners who refuse to believe are said to face an eternity in hell-fire? Did Jesus really suffer the wrath of God in an equitable fashion in terms of eternity?

“I think not!” says the scoffer. “That doesn’t sound like justice to me!” cries the skeptic. “If that is the reality of the case, that people suffer eternal torment for a short life of sin, then I fail to see how that does not malign the benevolence of God if He truly would torture people in that way!” declares the philosopher dressed in Christian garb.

What’s the problem?

When Job complained about his suffering, God gave him a response. When the Sadducees dared question Jesus to entrap Him, He too gave a quick rebuttal. Listen and see if you can discern what is being said to both parties:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38.2).[1]

“Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12.24).

Job was a righteous man, but the Sadducees were not. Job believed in the Word of God, but the Sadducees did not. However, the rebuke from the Lord was strangely similar. Why?

And, the Reason for the Error?

The reason is both attempted to understand the situations presented to them in terms of human knowledge and wisdom. From Job’s vantage point, his suffering did not make sense. He’d done nothing wrong—at least in a blatantly overt sense—and so he failed to see why he suffered so. His suffering did not seem commensurate with his behavior. Similarly, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead in earthly bodies. They shared more in common with the Greeks, than with Job (see Job 19.25-27). Philosophically, they thought they had Jesus because if the teaching of the resurrection of the dead to newness of life was true, then what would the woman who’d been married several times do with all of her husbands?

The error present in both situations is that Mankind is capable of knowledge and wisdom apart from God. This is the faulty assumption ingrained in the children of Adam since the episode in the garden. This is why you have such confusion over whether or not Christ Jesus sacrifice was sufficient on the cross to atone for all the sins of His people (past, present and future). It is also why there is such a lack of understanding on how His short suffering and time in the grave could account for an eternity in hell-fire for the rebel that refuses to acknowledge Him as Lord.

What is?

God is the author of all life. He is the Maker of all things. He is the definer of what is just, what is righteous, what is holy, what is love, what is goodness, what is adequate retribution, what satisfies His wrath, what the final state of all creatures are. In Him alone are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (cf. Prov 1.7; 9.10; Col 2.3). If you would deign to have these things, it will not rest in your own skull. If you think yourself wise and crafty and say in your heart, “Yes, but I must read these things, I must discern these things, that is how I come to understanding” then all you prove is that you’re a blathering blind guide (Matt 15.14; 23.24; cf. Jer 17.5). It is not flesh and blood that teach these things, but your Maker in Heaven (Matt 16.17; Luke 10.22).

Therefore, if God’s Word attests that Jesus is the Christ, then He is. If God’s Word says that He and the Father are one in equality, but not in personhood, then He is. If God’s Word says that Jesus is the lamb—the true sacrifice—that takes away (atones for) the sin of the world, and that salvation (deliverance from sin, from death to life) is found in no other name, then He is. If God’s Word says that His life, not just a few hours of torture and death on a Roman cross buried in a tomb for three days, but His entire/complete life satisfies the full requirement of Holy Law and Divine Wrath, then He is.

God determines what is, not Mankind. If you fail to see that, if you fail to believe that, if you fail to submit to that—despite your limited intellect and reasoning abilities—then you step in the path of Adam in the garden and do not walk with the Lord of light. At least not consistently.

Praise be to the Lord of Hosts, that it is grace that saves and not our works, especially the works of our own hearts in regards to what we claim as acceptable teaching, as if we are judge; for not a one would enter in. But likewise give heed to these words:

“Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged’” (Rom 3.4; cf. Deut 32.4; Psa 119.160; 51.4).

Back to the Beginning…

As I said at the beginning of this post biblical revelation is progressive in nature. What was given in the past was sufficient for that generation in terms of faith, knowledge and understanding. However, as we progress through Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, more light is added to that former light so that we might see more clearly (Psa 36.9; John 8.12) the plan and intention of God, and the purpose and condition of mankind.

We shall return to this theme in a specific way in a future post…


ENDNOTES:

[1] All Scripture is of the English Standard Version (ESV).

<a href=”http://Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay“>Image by Colin Behrens

Posted in Biblical History

The Bible as a HISTORY Book

“the goal of the Christian minister ought to be to instill within his people the entirety of the Christian worldview; which is all encompassing.”

One of the first things that I stress to my students and fellow congregants is that the Bible is more than a book of theology, of spirituality, of moral norms (i.e., ethics); it is also a history book. In this way, the Bible provides answers for the Beginning (Creation), why things are the way they are, and what we can expect in regards to how things will end (Consummation).

I realize at the outset that there will be those inside and outside the Christian faith that will want to challenge this claim that the Bible is a history book. The reality, however, is that the majority of its writings (about 60%?) are written in the form of a historical narrative; being relayed to its readers from the vantage point of eyewitnesses.

Yeah, but it’s not Exhaustive…

It is true that the Bible does not given an exhaustive historic retelling of the past. There are many things left out from a historic vantage point. However, no history book attempts to relay the events of all history. There are certain elements of what has happened in the past that are left out. Each historian of the past and present (and it will be the same for those in our future as well) chooses what they’ll keep within their writings and that which by necessity will be left out. Because each theme and purpose are different.

Yeah, but its not Unbiased…

We must also admit at the forefront that all writings are by nature biased. The concept of being unbiased or nonpartisan, though popularly held, is nonetheless an impossibility. This is not to say that we should not seek objectivity in our personal lives. We want to comprehend and judge things correctly, but even this requires an unbending commitment to a standard.

Take for example the person who says my Cincinnati Reds jersey is overwhelmingly red in color. The statement is true, but it is not neutral. The person who points its color and states it as a matter of fact is necessarily biased. They have appealed to the standard color known as “red,” one of the primary colors.

Suppose a person who is color blind rejects what the other person has declared regarding my Red’s jersey, claiming that the person who sees colors is just being biased and is just telling it how they view reality. Does the “blind” person nullify what the “color-minded” can see, because the “color-minded” is naturally biased in their appeal to an objective standard? No. In the same way, we should not fault writer’s past, present or future for telling a thing as they see it. They may be right or they may be wrong, but the only way to tell is to critique the standard of justification being appealed to.

The Importance in Recognizing this…

Which is why it is so important for Christians to understand (and this they can pass on to others in their witnessing) that the Bible speaks on matters beyond the scope of what some have deemed as “spiritual matters.” The Bible as written is given as a comprehensive document that offers a cogent retelling of past events.

Are there supernatural elements to its writings that cannot fully be explained by natural means? Sure. How can you physically test that which you cannot see, taste, touch, smell, or feel? You can’t. Does that make it nonsensical? Not necessarily.

Things in Science that require Faith…

What about Dark Matter, or a Black hole, or an Oort Cloud, or the Big Bang, or evolution on a macro-level? Can I physically witness any of those things? No, I can’t and neither can anyone else (mathematical conjectures and personal desires aside). And yet, they are believed in. People tenaciously hold to them. Personally, I don’t find the arguments presented for them compelling. I realize that the appeal they have in that they seemingly make the God of the Bible unnecessary, but that does not give them an ounce of authority. It doesn’t make them necessarily true.

The same could be said of…

“Yeah, I know what some of you may be thinking, ‘the same could be said of the Christian faith.’” There are things recorded in the Bible that we cannot use our physical senses to “see.” I’ve never seen a talking donkey, or a flying fiery chariot, or a finger writing a foreign language on a wall. Nor have I, to the best of my knowledge, seen an angel, watched a person walk on water, or listen to a person say to a storm “be quiet” and it does so at that precise moment. And yes, if someone told me that “so and so” rose from the dead I would be a bit skeptical, and rightly so.

True, these are the sorts of things recorded in the Holy Bible. But they are not normative. They are miraculous or supernatural. Some, in their arrogance assume that these “stories” are the products of an ignorant people. Some atheists, like Bill Nye for instance, call them extraordinary tales told by “sheepherders;” an epithet used to belittle those in the past.

And yet, what we find in the writings of Scripture is that people were astonished, amazed and marveled when they saw these things come to pass. We are given their doubts that such miraculous thing really transpired. Doesn’t sound at all like the gullible, ignorant people we are supposed to believe that they were with our technological advancements in the scientific age. For they readily recognized that the event(s) in question were “extraordinary” and not the normal happenings in life.

All Worldviews are…

What should be apparent to all is that all worldviews are “faith-based systems.” They attempt to define reality as a whole, and give the knowledge required to understand and interpret all the evidence before us. Sometimes I listen to Christians and unbeliever’s argue about evidence. They skeptic says, “We have all this evidence, what do you have?” The Christian then responds, “What about this…or that…or maybe even this?” It becomes a rat race where one group is trying to amass more proof than their counterpart.

The fact is that we all live in the same world. We all share the same reality. We all seek to rationalize our beliefs—to offer justification for them—with our interpretation of the evidence. No matter how many times a person may say it. No matter how strongly a person might believe it to be true: “evidence does not speak or lead.” All evidence, facts or truth claims are interpreted. They are comprehended by appealing to that “worldview” or “faith-based system” that the individual in question is committed to.

What this has to do with Christian witnessing…

To be a Christian witness is more than just sharing your faith. It also requires you to provide a defense. Some spend an exorbitant amount of time attempting to build a Christian apologetic on one particular item. These individuals have an incremental approach to witnessing. They believe they must first get the person to believe “x” before they lead them to “y,” etc., etc., etc., in the hope of finally leading them to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. These evidence compilers and distributors fail to see the Christian faith as one cohesive/cogent whole. They compartmentalize the faith into block segments like bulkheads in a ship. Hoping that if they attack each separate bulkhead filling it with truth as they see it, the end result will be that the unbeliever’s doubt will be sunk; removing barriers from them putting their faith in Christ.

The Bible offers a different approach. The Bible tells the history of mankind from God’s vantage point. Each major historic event (a total of seven) provides the believer with specific references where they can go to address the needs of those to whom they are witnessing. This is one of the key tenets of Answers Bible Curriculum from Answers in Genesis, although the first time I had heard about it was in Ken Ham’s book Creation Evangelism. Well, what are they?

Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation.

  • Creation—The Creative Works of God. God as Creator created all things “very good” (Gen 1.31), making each according to their kind, and placing the first Man and Woman, as fellow image bearers, over all the earth.
  • Corruption—The Fall in the Garden. Adam rebelled and forfeited his freedom afforded to him and his offspring through Eve, the mother of all Living. All creation now groans under the curse to which Adam’s sin brought.
  • Catastrophe—The Flood of Noah’s Day. The deluge that destroyed the whole world and all things with the breath of life in them except 8 humans, two of every kind of animal, and seven of every clean who boarded the ark. A picture of judgment and salvation, of mankind left to his/her natural means, and of those who received grace and mercy in God.
  • Confusion—The Tower of Babel. Within a few generations after the Flood, people sought to make a name for themselves on the plain of Shinar. They were building a city and a tower to worship created things rather than the Creator. Their refusal to heed His command brought a confusion of language separating them to the four winds of the earth.
  • Christ—The entrance of the Living Word into Flesh, named Jesus of Nazareth. Born a Lord (i.e., Son of David), and a Savior (i.e., Son of Abraham). He came to save that which was lost in Adam, those to whom the Father had given Him.
  • Cross—The Sacrificial Lamb. Christ became the Passover for those who will be found believing in Him. He finished the work He was sent to do. He became a curse (a substitute) for the elect of God.
  • Consummation—A new heavens and new earth. God through Christ by the Spirit will heal all that was cursed by sin. Sin and Death will be cast into the Lake of Fire, and God will dwell with His people for eternity. There will be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain or death for those found in Christ Jesus.

An Example of How this can be used in Christian Witnessing…

I would imagine if I asked the question: “Is Racism wrong?” The majority of respondents would say, “Yes, absolutely.” What if I asked a follow up: “Why?” What would you say? Depends doesn’t it on what you really believe about reality and knowledge as a whole. Is Racism absolutely wrong? Is it, ever right? Is there ever a circumstance where it might be allowed?

What’s the right Christian response? How does the Seven C’s of History provide a framework for giving a solid Christian witness (gospel and apologetics; sharing and defending)?

“There are not many races of people on this planet, but one race only—the human race (Creation). The reason there are differing ethnicities in the world is because God separated the peoples after the Flood (Confusion). Racism is rooted in bigotry (Corruption) and will be judged for the evil it is (Catastrophe and Consummation). Yet, God offers a solution for this sin in Jesus of Nazareth (Cross and Christ), and He alone is able to bring perfect, permanent healing (Consummation).”[i]

This is how a holistic approach to Christian witnessing looks. The Christian worldview offers a reason and a solution for the problem of racism (as one example). The way one might apply these Seven C’s will depend upon the circumstance presented to them. The point here is showing Christians they do have a cogent response from Scripture on how to answer any individual who asks of their hope in Christ Jesus.

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ENDNOTES:

[i] Kristafal Miller, excerpt from D. Min Project.

Images by The Seven C’s of History Timeline (Petersburg, KY: Answers in Genesis).

Posted in Ministry

O. I. A. and Saturation: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

O.I.A. and Saturation

As you grow up you learn things. Some lessons are harder than others. Some enable you to look back and say, “I should have done it this way.” As I said in my last post (Read Here), I have noticed a disturbing trend within Christian circles where sincere devotion in Bible study amounts to personal conjecture. What I feel the text means, has authority over what the text actually says. What you may feel the text means to you is irrelevant unless of course you mean, “After I saw what God meant here, I realize that this is what He is saying to me.” From what I have witnessed that is not the typical sense of the statements in bold above.

Normally, you would take the two methods I am about to present and do them in a different order than how I learned to use them. In other words, O. I. A. should come before Saturation. Both are specific methods for studying the Bible to be of the most benefit to the student. When I started pastoring though I first encountered Saturation Bible Study before O. I. A.

Saturation Bible Study…

When you dip a squeezed sponge in water and then release it under water, what happens? The sponge soaks up the water and reaches saturation point (unlike the picture above). Which means what? That when you pull the sponge above the surface of the water it is heavier than it went in because it is loaded with liquid. Immediately, the water begins to pour out.

To saturate yourself in the Word of God, then is to submit to it, draw it in, and the end result is you are heavy and dripping from it. Such an abstract statement of fact might not mean much to you at this moment, so please permit me to give you an illustration that you will recognize and then in turn see the tie in with what I just said a moment ago.

Illustrative Aid…

Have you ever met a sports nut? No, they don’t grow on trees, but they are fruit off of sports proverbial branch. A person who loves sports (whether it be football, soccer, baseball, basketball, etc.) is one whose only subject matter seems to be the sport that they are nutty over.

In my younger days, you could have called me an NFL nut. I was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and for a time I followed them religiously. I knew all about their players, all about their stats, all about their franchise. Every week I watched ESPN for any little nugget I could get about them. I would watch NFL Matchup on Sunday mornings, and when they were playing, I was watching. Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Monday night, if they were on, I was in front of the tube (no, not YouTube it didn’t exist then or if it did, I was not aware of it—give me a break I’m 40). Pittsburgh Steelers is what I studied, what I yearned for, what I spoke about; it poured out of me like a soaked sponge.

Over the years God changed my heart, and removed that idol from me. I’m not saying loving sports is idolatry, it can be, it was for me, but that doesn’t mean everybody who watches their favorite team is guilty of that sin. Evidently, it was for me because I no longer have a yearning desire to watch or follow them or any other football team for that matter. In short, I know longer saturate my life in that scene and so I am a bit of a bore to some of my friends who still love and follow football, NFL or otherwise.

While the illustration here is about sports, any subject will suffice. In any conversation, given enough time, it won’t be long  before the person who is speaking will reveal what it is they are saturating their lives in (work, celebrities, movies, games, animals, etc.).

What it’s all about…

Saturation Bible study is all about taking a portion of Scripture and digging deep into it and soaking it up. It might be one verse, a section of verses, an entire chapter, a section of an entire book or the book itself (this includes epistles, Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). The point of Saturation Bible study is not reading the entire Bible but focusing on smaller portions of it for an extended period of time. You dwell on what is written. You act like a cow and chew the cud, so to speak. The point is that through careful observation of the text you put your effort on letting that passage sit and sink in your heart and mind. All the while prayerfully seeking the Lord.

The end result is a deeper appreciation of what has been written. The goal is not quantity of study, but quality of study. What you are pursing is being so inundated with the Word of God that it pours from your life. There is nothing wrong with devotionals, and I am not against reading through the Bible in a year or less, but the goal is to be a turtle rather than a hare in studying God’s Word. His Word is the devotional, and He is the focus to years end.

This does not mean, however, when you focus on one passage—let’s say John 6—that you do not reference what is being spoken of their in other passages. Interpreting Scripture with Scripture is the only way to be safeguard against reading too much of your own thoughts into a passage. It doesn’t prevent it, but it does help. So, using John 6 as an illustration, you may saturate in the first part of the passage (vv. 1-15) for a week or two (maybe a month or longer, I don’t know I’m not you). Well as you are saturating in that passage you will notice that a great crowd is following Jesus, and so you may look back through the rest of John’s gospel for reasons why. You may pick up on the Passover (v.4) or the statement found in verse 14 about “…the Prophet who is come into the world” and look who into the meaning of that from the Old Testament? Which may cause you to wonder why the feeding of the hungry prompted this (v.10-12)? Why they wanted to crown him as king (v.15)? Or the meaning of the twelve baskets filled to the top with left overs from a kids packed lunch (v. 13).

The point is you take your time with this passage before you move on. You come to know it personally, and are able to recall the details of it without much effort. It just pours out of you. That’s Saturation Bible study.

Perhaps you are wondering, “What in the world is O. I. A?” O. I. A. stands for Observe, Interpret and then Apply. Many errors could be avoided in learning from Scripture if people did not rush to Interpretation and Application. However, as I noted above Christians who have not been sufficiently taught tend to read the text before them and then immediately draw their own private conclusions about what is being said. This is also the reason I came to realize that teaching Saturation Bible study after learning O. I. A. would be more beneficial to Christ’s church.

O. I. A. is really just the classic historical-grammatical hermeneutic method of exegesis. Exegesis means to “flesh out” what is in the text. Whereas, hermeneutics focus on the question: “What does this mean?”

The first key step in studying your Bible is O—observing

You need to take time in the observation stage of studying Scripture, before you attempt to move on to the “I.” Observation is taking time with the text in an effort to identify the flow-of-thought (i.e., context) of the author as he presents his message to his audience. This would also include some minor background work prior to reading the passage. Many study Bibles today offer a brief examination of the context (historically, culturally), the author, his audience and key themes, some even dealing with difficult theological/textual issues which greatly aids the serious biblical student.

As you observe the text you also notice key words, repeated phrases, key concepts (like “Son of David”), and identify allusions or direct citations of other portions of Scripture (i.e., prophetic passages and such). The whole time you are thinking about and writing down questions of what you’ve read: Who, what, when, where, why, how?

Again, think of turtle versus the hare approach to reading your Bible. While, you want to finish the race you started you take only one day at a time, leaving tomorrow with its own worries.

The second step in studying your Bible is I—interpreting

Once you’ve taken the time to observe the text, you are ready to begin interpreting the passage before you. In this step you begin researching the things you identified earlier in the observation stage. Your goal is to begin answering questions that were raised (which you hopefully jotted down) as you went through the text. Defining key words, concepts, themes and any theological/textual issues that may have sprung up. The first step is using Scripture to interpret Scripture. While the Bible was written by human writers, it is the Holy Spirit’s document not man’s (cf. 2Pet 1.19-21; 2Tim 3.16-17). Look and see what God has said on specific issues before jumping to conclusions. If you find apparent contradictions, weigh them with what else was said on the subject. Use clearer passages to aid in interpreting harder passages.

Another key point that needs to be made is with the use of grammar. Different genres, different emphasis being given, gives different meanings. A given term may have a variety of ways it can be used depending upon the context. Thus, context is key. The less a word is used in Scripture, the harder it can be to define it. For example, the Hebrew word translated for “gopher wood” in the building of Noah’s ark is a bit perplexing to some since we are not sure what type of tree is being referenced.

This raises another important step in the interpretative process in light of secondary tools (e.g., commentaries, dictionary’s, original language dictionaries, lexicons, etc.), these can be helpful to the student of Scripture but they are not Scripture. They are therefore secondary for a reason. We want to turn to them after we have been doing the hard work first. I cannot express how frustrating it is to see people look at the notes in their study Bible’s before they have given time for Scripture to soak in by sitting in an observing the text.

We all have blind spots in our field of vision and this includes even godly individuals who have written books. Yes, they provide wonderful tools at our disposal. Yes, they might be right on 80% of what they’ve written, but don’t take their word of granted. If the Holy Spirit thought that the Bereans were more noble than others because they weighed the words of an apostle with Scripture (Acts 17.11), then we better make sure we do the same. God’s word is the foundation, it is the standard by which all other things are measured. We are to test all things first, before we call them good or right (1Thess 5.21).

The final step in studying the Bible is A—apply

We apply what we have learned, but if we have not truly learned the truth, we dare not apply it; therefore, this has to be our last step. I won’t wag my tongue very long here. If you want justification for this step, I merely turn you to 2Tim 3:16-17 where we learn that God’s Word—the very breath of His mouth as it is uttered, written down for us in the pages of our Bible’s—is useful, profitable and of exceedingly great benefit to the humble believer. Having taken the time to flesh out what was written (observation), in order to determine what was/is meant (interpretation) we now seek to apply it to our lives in one or more of the following ways: teaching—being taught the way we should go, reproof—being challenged for the way we were going, correction—having our hearts and minds conformed to God’s way of thinking, training—being shown the proper steps to take to live a righteous life (good in God’s sight).

Closing thoughts…

If you’ve read my stuff for any amount of time you may have noticed that some of these things I have said here, I’ve said before. To that I say, “we learn through repetition.” My children did not learn to tie their shoes on their first attempt, and we as people need to be constantly be reminded of what is necessary and good to get the most benefit out of our time with God’s Word.

I’m still learning, and hopefully so are some of you…


NOTE TO READER: I apologize if you received an email of this post with the title reading “O. I. P….” rather than starting with “O. I. A.” This was a blunder on my part. I realized it this morning before it posted, but did not get to it in time to correct it in the title and throughout the post. There is a similar abbreviated form that I use having borrowed it from Jason Lisle’s work “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” where he uses “A. I. P.” to refer to Assumption, Inconsistency, and Pre-Conditions of Intelligibility. Having written something recently somewhere else I had got in the habit of typing that. And so, from habit I finished the last letter with “P” rather than “A.” Again, I apologize for the confusion. Thanks for reading,

Kris

Image by Jose Miguel Guardeño

Posted in Ministry

An Early Concern: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

As a pastor one of my early concerns was for the people under my stead to have a sincere devotion to the Word of God. Depending upon the type of person you are speaking to “sincere devotion” can have differing shades of meaning. For some this means a daily regiment must be in place.

Either it is when you arise early, or during a lunch break, or before you go to bed every night, whenever it might be that you decide is good for you to have some “quiet time” with the Lord. If you are going to be sincere in your devotion to Him and His Word this is what is meant for some. Others will put stress on reading through the whole Bible (Genesis to Revelation) every year as a way of demonstrating sincere devotion to the Lord and His Word. Both concepts have their merits. An individual who takes seriously the study of the Holy Bible will most certainly benefit from a consistent schedule and a thorough reading through the whole volume; beginning to end.

If you prefer either one of those methods, then you are doing well but that is not my meaning of sincere devotion. Thus, it was not the method I taught (and continue to teach) to those under my stead. My philosophy of ministry focuses on two key elements for biblical study: O.I.P. and saturation. I will explain what I mean by those here in a moment, but before I do, I want to address an unfortunate trend that I surveyed early on. That demonstrates a weakness in the way that the Bible is sometimes approached in Christian circles; not necessarily the method. Although, it is true, I have my own preferences.

An Inherent Problem Plaguing Biblical Study…

One of the problems with the ways that people read their Bible that I have noticed over the years is that they give little consideration to the flow of thought from the authors view point, all the while supposing that “this is what the text means to me” is the best approach. Having been raised in church I have seen many mid-week Bible studies. The “this is what the text means to me” or “I feel like the text is saying this” were common prefaces before a person gave the meaning of the text, and when I was young, I assumed that they had the right of it.

As far as I am aware that is not the normal way, we read other writings. For instance, when you open up an obituary you read about the passing of so and so, about how many relatives they’ve left behind, and either when the services will be held or a few “prayers and praises” given by loved ones. You are given statements that are examined and taken at face value. You understand that there is little room for personal interpretation and that the only way to properly understand what is written is how the writer has presented the news to his/her audience.

The same is true of the Sports section, of a national geographic article on zebras, or the upcoming weather report by your favorite meteorologist. While we may see some of the authors personal biases coming through in varying ways, the meat of the material presented is not to be treat like an Etch A Sketch where you can shake your own meanings out of it, filling in the lines that you believe are appropriate.

When an author writes to an audience, he/she has a specific message in mind. The reader is not at liberty to deconstruct and then rework the message to their own liking. Essentially, shaping it in their own image. Unfortunately, this is the approach that I observed many professing Christians do. What I have found (call it antidotal if you like) is that many church-goers do not know how to read their Bible’s in a way that they might most benefit. Where they take God at His Word and allow Him to say what He intends to say, thereby giving Him the glory.

As Greg L. Bahnsen once said “the Bible is not a clay nose that we can shape this way and that in order to make it say what we want it to say.” The first step in being rewarded from sincere devotion to the Word of God is by acknowledging it is God’s Word. A variety of disasters occur when we fail to take this first step of humility; chief among them is blaspheming His Name.

Since becoming a minister of the gospel, I have assumed that the task before me is of the utmost importance. To take this task lightly is a terrifying blunder not only for me personally, but also those who I am teaching and preaching to. I do not want to be a “blind guide” (Matt 15.14; 23.16, 24) and I take seriously the warning that “not many of [us] should become teachers…know[ing] that we who teach will be judged with great strictness” (Jas 3.1). For “to whom much [is] given…much will be required” (Luke 12.48).

Therefore, since I saw an egregious error committed and taught by some in the Church, I wanted to make sure I—to the best of my ability—avoided leading myself and others down the same path.

A Common Objection…

Now, I have encountered the objection by some that they have the Holy Spirit, and since they do “he will teach [them] all things” (John 14.26). Fair enough. It is true that the born-again have the Holy Spirit, lest how could they have possibly been born from above? It is also true that we who have the Spirit have the mind of Christ so “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1Cor 2.12) in so doing be able to “discern all things” (1Cor 2.15). However, knowing the context of the passages in question and comparing them with other portions of Scripture is important to “discern” those things that have been freely given. The statement in John’s gospel speaks primarily to the apostles of Christ who would first send forth His message and later write down His words. The argument presented by Paul is focused on those who are teachers and others who have gained maturity in what has been given, so that they are able to discern the true message.

While we have the Holy Spirit, who leads us into the truth, the truth can only be properly understood when we correctly read His Word. Not to mention that Christ Jesus has deemed it necessary to provide His body of believers with teachers, preachers and evangelists to strengthen those who are not gifted in that particular manner “to equip the saints for the work of ministry…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to [maturity]…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4.12-14; italics added).

The point being we all need to be taught before we are ready to teach others. To use a Star Wars analogy, it is not the padawans who have the force that teach, but the Jedi Masters who teach the padawans in living and use of the force before they can teach others. If you’re not familiar with Star Wars mythology, or you find the use of such worldly illustrations appalling, then stick with what I said previously: you must first be taught before you can teach.

NOTE TO READER:

Due to the length of the original post I have split it into two segments. Segment “A” is the one you’ve just read. Segment “B” will drop sometime tomorrow. “A” introduces a problem I noticed early on in Christian ministry; “B” will reveal what I did to address that problem as a pastor-teacher.

Forthcoming…O. I. P. and Saturation: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry