Posted in methodology

Making Muddy Waters Clear: Dealing with Neutrality and Bias in Light of Biblical Truth

The question of biblical study is one of perspective. As I have noted in my previous entry the inscripturated Word of God is clear. Murkiness does not define it. The question is not its perspicuity (clarity), but our attitude and baggage of bias that we tend to bring along with us when we attempt to decipher its meaning.

When last we met…

My reference point in my last post was Matthew 16. There we have two instances where the clarity of what is revealed of God through Jesus Christ, the incarnated Word, is muddied by the waters of the human mind. The Pharisees and Sadducees represent unbelieving thought. They understood what Jesus was saying. They’d heard Him teach. They’d been witness to His activities. They’d listened to eyewitness testimony verifying from others the signs of God in their midst. But they rejected the notion that the conclusion had to be—the Messiah, the Son of God, their long-awaited king was before them (Matt 16.1-4).

Similarly, the disciples of Christ witnessed Jesus personally; day-to-day. They were privy to the way Jesus thought and were eyewitnesses to His activities. However, there were times when they failed to decipher the intended message of Christ. This is recorded for us twice in Matthew 16. First, it was with the meaning of Jesus statement:

“Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16.6; NASB).1

Then, a little later, it was Jesus testimony of what must soon take place in His ministry:

“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matt 16.21).

Despite the fact that Peter (one of the twelve) rightly deduced Jesus’ true identity:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16).

He struggled with the Lord’s teaching of what that truth ultimately meant. That God’s Messiah must die. That He must be handed over and killed by Jews and Gentiles alike. That He must be raised up on the third day.

Why? Why the struggle? Why the inability to see the truth of God as it was given? Because, it did not fit the presuppositions of the audience. The truth penetrated on some level. The clarity of Christ’s message was undeniable. But it was offhandedly rejected.

Types of bias…

Being biased is unavoidable when it comes to reading, hearing and listening to God’s Word. Absolutely, without exception, having a bias in relation to biblical truth is unavoidable.

As I enjoyed a morning run this week I mulled over the subject of neutrality. When we interact with God’s Word, we need to be aware of what our attitude is beforehand. Having a bias is not wrong, but having a wrong bias is. Neutrality is not optional (not even possible), but submission (humility) is.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah” (Matt 16.4).

This rebuke from Jesus to the self-appointed religious leaders of Israel was in light of their refusal to admit the truth before them. They’d been given signs. Signs were given to verify the validity of Jesus’ claims. They wanted more. Meaning they were biased against what they’d been given, and such a stance would not be entertained by the Lord.

The sign of Jonah…

What was the sign of Jonah? Why did the Lord make reference to it? Often times it is said that this is in reference to Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection three days later. This is derived from the fact that Jonah, the Lord’s prophet, spent three days in the belly of a fish (large enough to swallow a man whole) before being vomited up on the land; returned, as it were, to the land of the living.

I do not deny that this is one aspect of the “sign of Jonah.” And yet, I am of the mind that there is something more, something deeper, that is being pinpointed by Jesus here.

Jonah was sent to Nineveh to proclaim God’s wrath (i.e., righteous judgment) against that city. Jonah refused to heed God’s call (command). He fled to Tarshish, a location in the opposite direction of Nineveh, in order to avoid what he knew. It is at the end of his story that he confesses the reason for his fleeing:

“Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this [--the redemption of the Ninevites--] I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4.2).2

Without delving too deeply, I will quickly get to my point.

Bias on display…

The call of Jonah came through loud and clear. God’s Word of command to go to this foreign people was not murky. In fact, it was the clarity of the Lord’s message that drove Jonah to flee to Tarshish. He knew that God intended to save Nineveh. He knew that God was sending him to deliver a message that warned them to flee from the coming wrath (comp. Matt 3.7). And so, in stubbornness of heart he rebelled. This led to God’s judgment on Jonah. When God sent the fish to swallow His prophet, Jonah was as good as dead and he knew it. Thus, we find he confessed his sin to the Lord, and in so doing, submitted to God’s Word (see Jonah 2.7-9).

In the book of Jonah, we see the bias of the Lord’s prophet on full display. First, he was biased against what the Lord had spoken. Second, he was biased in favor of what the Lord had commanded of him. Finally, we see that once again he struggled with personal bias against the sign of Nineveh’s repentance.

Neutral impossibilities…

It is impossible to come to the Word of God in a position of neutrality. I repeat, impossible. It is often said that we need to be aware of our biases before we come to Scripture. There is a sense where such advice is warranted. However, it is foolhardy to attempt to come to biblical teaching as if we are a blank slate. Rather we should approach God’s Word in abject humility. Confessing our biases at the forefront, and being ready at a moment’s notice to discard them (to sacrifice them) on the cross of Christ.

All Scripture (Genesis through Revelation) is God-breathed. Therefore, it is good for rebuke, correction and teaching, so that we are properly trained in the righteousness of God (cf. 2Tim 3.16-17):

“The fear of the Lord…” (ff. Prov 1.7; 9.10).

That is the required bias of any who bear the Name of Christ. Our biases need to be changed from sinful stubbornness, to righteous willingness.

Lesson learned…

One of the things that Greg L. Bahnsen has taught me in his writings (and it has been continually confirmed both inside and outside the Church) is that men love their own opinions. They love to appear wise and knowledgeable. Yet, much of what they believe is grounded in the relative thinking of man’s mind, not the unchanging Word of Christ.

If we are to win wars, then we must be willing to lost the first and most important battle before us; by swearing our fealty to king Jesus (cf. 2Cor 10.4-5). Do this and the clarity of Christ’s Word shall shine through; making muddy waters clear. Fail to do this, and you will receive the rebuke of Peter:

“Get behind Me, Satan! …You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matt 16.23).

ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 95’ update (NASB).

2 The bracket section is added for the reader’s clarity. This is for those who have not read through this little prophetic book. For the one who has taken the time to study this historic piece in context, the conclusion here given is unavoidable.

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 Ministry

The Heart of One who sits in a Glass House: A Talk in Regards to my Philosophy of Ministry

Lately, I have taken a bit of time beginning to discuss my philosophy of ministry as a Christian minister (Helping Shape My PhilosophyAn Early ConcernO. I. A. and Saturation). Bear in mind this is only one small part, albeit an important one, of my philosophy but one I have deemed noteworthy to share with you (whoever you might be).

Necessary Sacrifice and Misunderstandings…

One aspect of the cross I bear is found in lengthy hours of study and reflection. For those that assume reading stacks of books, listening to the arguments of skeptics, attempting to reason with fellow believer’s—both inside and outside the church where I am a preaching/teaching pastor—wrestling with my own sin as I too am confronted, corrected, taught, and trained in leading a godly life is easy then I suspect that you have not spent much time doing those things.

Trying to balance that with the rest of my life can also at times be stressful. Especially, when I arrogantly assume that I am doing this task on my own without the support of prayerful congregants, a loving and supportive wife, and most importantly of all my gracious Lord and Savior. Stepping into life so foolishly is that which I know I should not do, but if I am to be transparent the very thing I do.

Ministers live in a glass house. And like it or not where they sit is sometimes viewed as a throne above all others. That is not an accurate view of reality, but it is the way people sometimes tend to imagine us. Thus, we are called holier than thou, self-righteous, legalistic bigots and moral policemen.

The fact is, however, that we dedicate our lives to building up others in the faith; although, we do not always do a great job at that. We present to fellow image bearers the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ, the promise of sins forgiven not because of anything done either by human effort (yours or mine), but because of what God our Creator has done on our behalf. Often it is forgotten, or perhaps it is assumed contrary to the truth… that ministers are no different than anybody else. I am not better than other Christians because I happen to serve the Lord in the capacity that I do.

My particular Niche is not better than yours…

If every aspect of life is to be lived for God’s glory. Then this means that every sector of life is meant to be lived in a holy fashion. There are no separate categories of holy and secular. A pastor is no more important than a janitor, just as a doctor is no more holy a profession than a mechanic, or a janitor, or a clerk at a department store, or the local garbage guy. Each occupation and vocation, if it is not a sinful practice (such as a doctor that euthanizes his patients whether they are in their mother’s womb or the elderly lady whose life seems to prying eyes less meaningful) is good and worthy of our time and appreciation. We are all gifted differently and we all serve differently, but that does not lessen our value as human beings made in God’s image.

Within the context of Christian ministry this also means that I do not see my value as any more significant than the person in the pew. I have sat in the pew, and there are times when I still sit in the pew, and if the Lord deems it necessary there may be a time where my permanent place is found in the pew.

Which means that when I have said that I have noticed a disturbing trend among those who call themselves Christians, who then in turn take the Bible as their personal megaphone for voicing their personal conjectures rather than repeating what God has spoken, I am not putting them down, but merely making an observation. “What I feel…” and “The text to me, means…” are not a healthy way to study your Bible. If you want to call that sincere devotion that is fine, but it is not accurate unless you are calling your thoughts that which you are sincerely devoted to.

Elitist Niggards[i] and their Assumptions

As I have said previously, there is a general assumption amongst Christian academia and the pastor’s who have swallowed the notion hook, line and sinker that people in the pew can only handle a dummied down version of Scripture. You know “8th grade education and all.” If you preach too much theology, too much doctrine, if you dig too deeply into the wellspring of the Bible, then more than likely your people will not understand it. And, if you are not careful you will run people off, because they won’t want to hear it.

Not a new Attitude…

Personally, I find this elitist notion offensive. Certainly, the attitude is not new. Church history reveals that during the Middle Ages it was believed that peasants were too ignorant to comprehend the Scriptures, things of theology, and doctrine. One of the fears about translating the Bible into the common tongue (say English for example) was that the populace—the pew sitter—would make a mess of the truth. Only those trained in academia could hope to obtain, hold and regurgitate what God has said. And in case you think I am merely picking on the Roman Catholic Church (don’t get me wrong they have their faults as well do we Protestants), turn in your Bible’s and see if that attitude was not prevalent with those deemed to be the teachers of Israel.

“They answered [the man born blind], ‘You were born in sin, and would you teach us?’” (John 9.34; italics added).
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished” (Acts 4.13; italics added).

What I Believe…

Now I am not unrealistic. I realize that before you can teach others you must be taught yourselves. A patient that continually argues with his doctor’s diagnosis, ignoring his training assuming that any fool off the street could do what he can, is blatantly ignorant. In one sense any person may pursue a doctorly profession. While talent demonstrated is a plus, the one who is willing and passionate to do the hard work may also attain similar status; physical and mental disabilities aside (and even these may be overcome, so don’t go running down that road for an excuse).

My position has been from day one that the person in the pew, if given the proper training in a dedicated fashion, can likewise learn the basic principles of sound exegesis and hermeneutics. You don’t have to have a degree beside your name to understand the Bible, the doctrines found within its pages, and the rich theology embedded throughout. Apollos was a gifted preacher in his day, but it took a brother and sister in the faith (i.e., pew-sitters) to teach him something he did not know (Acts 18.26).

What I’ve Done…

So then, how have I gone about doing it? Well, I have already shared with you in my last post (READ HERE) two key ways that I have done that is with O. I. A. and Saturation Bible Study. There are two other tools that I have applied to my ministry context to aid the believer in the pew. The one was created by Answers in Genesis entitled “Answers Bible Curriculum” (A. B. C.). This particular study focuses on taking the student of Scripture through the entire Bible in three years. The primary concern is about building the right foundation and getting the believer to look at the whole Bible as the final authority for the Christian faith (i.e., worldview). I have used this in both churches where I have pastored for Sunday school and small-group study.

The other tool is one that I personally designed from my own research and study. Its focus is on Christian witnessing.  Normally, when Christians think of witnessing, they have evangelism in mind (sharing the gospel), but what I wanted to do was show how true Christian witnessing is not limited to one sphere but rather two: evangelism and apologetics. The two are really different sides of the same coin. For when a Christian witnesses, they not only share their faith; they are also required to defend it. The course I designed to help begin this process takes the student systematically through a twelve-week course. Granted, twelve weeks is not much time. The fact is Christian witnessing is a lifelong venture of study and practice.  (it’s really a life-long venture)

(NOTE: Unfortunately, I cannot go into the details of this program of study right now as this is a part of my D. Min. project. I have submitted the final edited copy to my advisor and am waiting on his announcement of defense worthiness and date of defense.)

Enough about the graduate school stuff. Back to what I was saying before all that.

My heart on the matter…

In an effort to equip my congregants for living a godly life, I have treated them like disciples. New flash! That’s what Christians are supposed to be. And one element of a disciple is that of a learner, a student. In this way, we are equal before Christ for we are all His disciples, thereby a learner and student of…. Drum roll, please! His Word!

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32).

What truth? Free from what? Some say, “sin.” True. Others say, “hell.” Also, true. But if we are free from sin and free from hell, then what are we freed for? Ahhh… the question that we ought to be asking. The question that I seek to instill in the minds of those whom God has called into His family…every time that I preach/teach.

The short of it is that the truth of God frees you from adopting every “argument and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2Cor 10.5). For in Christ Jesus is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2.3). Now the goal of the person who has been freed from sin by “receiv[ing] Christ Jesus the Lord” is to learn as a disciple to “walk in him” (Col 2.6). Now if it is true that God in “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2Pet 1.3) through “Jesus our Lord” (2Pet 1.2), then my heart as a Christian minister for the people under my stead must be what? To “make every effort so that after my departure [they] may be able at any time to recall these things” (2Pet 1.15). Unlike the apostle Peter I was not given by the Lord any indication when I might go. Therefore, I must treat every day, every opportunity to teach those under my stead to be “established in the truth that [they] have” (2Pet 1.12).

My heart on the matter is this. Christ has equipped His church with teachers, so that in teaching they might train up others to do likewise. Not only to teach, but live lives that are pleasing to God. Understanding that what the Bible speaks on it speaks authoritatively, because it is God’s heart on the matter revealed to His creatures. And His truth has application not just on moral or spiritual matters, but matters pertaining to every day life. I believe that the person in the pew is just as valuable, and just as capable of knowing the truth, as well as learning how to apply it living their lives.

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

In my next couple of posts, I will give some real-life examples of this all-encompassing Christian worldview, and how the truth of Christ delivers us from error. The first will address a cultural issue, the second will speak on the rationale for something we use and depend upon constantly.


ENDNOTES:

[i] I debated whether or not I should address this word use here. But given the cultural climate here in the U.S. and the assumptions that might be ingrained in those outside our nation—having been infiltrated with a news media that wants to prorogate hateful division between people groups—I have decided I might as well be safe and give a definition for the word “niggard.” It is not the word “nigger” which rappers use ad nauseum, stupid bigots throw around like paper airplanes, and overzealous SJW’s accuse every lighter skinned individual of (whether by nature or attitude).

The term “niggard” or “niggardly” means one who is stingy or a miser. A person who withhold something from someone because they hold a “grudge or petty” bias. The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition (New York, NY: Dell, 2007), 573, niggard; niggardly, s.v.

Image by <a href="http://Image by David Mark from Pixabay“>David Mark