Category Archives: Bible

GOD’S FAITHFULNESS…PERHAPS NOT WHAT YOU THINK IT IS

What’s in a Word?

Last year, I preached a similar sermon in two different churches. It was titled, What’s in a Word? It looked at the biblical boundaries of faith, hope, and love. Three words that we Christians bandy about on a regular basis, but three words that several Christians tell me they are not entirely clear on.

In her elegant and incisive book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn McEntire writes:

“Caring for language is a moral issue. Caring for one another is not separable from    caring for words. Words are entrusted to us as equipment for our life together, to help us survive, guide, and nourish one another.”

McEntire goes on to reflect how we have lost the power and purpose of language. She emphasizes that good conversation used to be inextricably wedded to building strong communities. In other words, the loss of care with language means the loss of community.

Christians ought to be caretakers of language, but sadly many of us have abdicated our responsibility here. We are lax with some of the most important words in the Christian lexicon.

Clarifying the Faithfulness of God

I agree with J.I. Packer and others that catechesis is a desperate need for the church in America. When many Christians have murky notions regarding the biblical boundaries of faith, hope, and love, how can we declare a consistent and compelling message?

Sadly, there is confusion about many foundational, Christian truths. Consider the faithfulness of God. I’m sure many reading this article have heard the same thing I’ve heard on many occasions. I’ve heard it during times of “sharing” in church, Sunday school classes, home studies, or even in one on one interaction with a fellow Christian. Some well-intentioned Christian is thrilled to declare how God favorably answered their prayer. Then comes the popular refrain of “Isn’t God good?!” or simply “God is faithful.” God’s faithfulness has seamlessly come to be understood as a prayer being answered in the way we desired.

Sometimes when I am teaching, I ask the following question to fellow Christians: If God answers a prayer in the way we wanted, does that mean the answer was God’s will? There is usually a fair bit of silence as folks realize it probably is not the case, yet most have difficulty in finding the biblical support. Numbers 11 provides a good example. Israel was tired of eating manna. They wanted something else to eat. God granted them their request.  Quail dropped in abundance, but it was not God’s will.

God’s faithfulness is not synonymous with prayers answered in the affirmative nor is it undercut when the answer is in the negative. God is faithful to His promises. The Bible makes it clear that all “the promises of God are yes in Him.” (II Cor. 1:20). He has promised many things and will be faithful to all of them.

Should we then pray for a spouse who is sick? Absolutely. Should we assume it is God’s will to heal them? No. Is God any less faithful if He does not heal our spouse? No. So, is it okay to say God is faithful if He answers our prayer in the way we desire? It can be if we make it clear God would not be any less faithful by choosing not to grant our request. The latter is something I hardly ever hear. There are those rare and wonderful occasions where someone says, “God is faithful,” even though their desired request was not given. This gets my attention.

Knowing that God will be faithful to all He promised is a great comfort and it should make us desirous of growing in our understanding of His Word, so we know what is truly promised. Among many things, I constantly remind myself that “God is righteous and kind in all that He does.” (Ps. 145:17, NASB and ESV; The NIV translates it as “faithful” instead of kind).

I’ve heard Christian leaders encourage people to keep journals so they can “remember all the times God was faithful.” Again, these times are when God came through in the ways we wanted. Don’t misunderstand here. I have kept a regular journal for about forty years.  They are full of answers to my desired request. They are also full of rantings, questions, frustrations, doubts, despondency, and sadness. And those don’t diminish God’s faithfulness to me in the least.

God certainly answers prayer in the ways we desire at times, but what about when He doesn’t? He is still faithful. Encouraging others to think about God’s faithfulness by recalling when He answered a prayer in the way one desired, results in at least wondering whether God is faithful when the favorable answer never comes.

I try to steer clear of using the word “when” with God’s faithfulness other than recalling the completed work of Christ or one of His clear promises. Asking about “when was God faithful?” at least raises the question of when He might not have been faithful, which is an impossibility.

Our Anchor

Yes, we look back, but we look back to the finished work of Christ. That is where we anchor our confidence. Christ’s work on our behalf demonstrates God’s faithfulness. What God has done for us in Christ is the greatest act of faithfulness for it fulfills His promise, even though Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane with all the implications of that promise. Nothing or no one can take our salvation from us no matter how bad things get (Hab. 3:17-19). It is also why we need not fear those who can merely hurt our bodies but can’t touch our souls (Mt. 10:28).

By all means know that God is faithful but remember to keep clear that His faithfulness is tied inextricably to what He has promised.

Some of Dave’s teaching videos can be accessed at www.mooreengaging.com. Dave’s next books are Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians (Fall 2021, Leafwood Publishers/Abilene Christian University Press) and with Michael Haykin, Odd Couple: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jonathan Edwards Talk about what Matters. Dave can be contacted at www.twocities.org.

 

 

 

 

BART EHRMAN

Bart Ehrman on opening day of class at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Okay, hands up…
How many of you believe the Bible is the Word of God? 
Many hands go up
How many of you believe God actually wrote a book?
Still many hands go up
How many of you have read the Bible from beginning to end?
Most hands go down
I’m not telling you the Bible is the Word of God.  You are, so don’t you think you ought to be reading it if you think it is the Word of God!

NOT BEING AN IDOLATER…A BIG DEAL WITH GOD

In I Kings 9:4 God says how Solomon will be blessed if he follows his father David’s example.  You mean, the adulterer and murderer?  Yes, says God.  He had integrity.  Huh?!  The clue seems to be in I Kings 9, verses 6 and 9 in that David was never an idolater.  Job makes much of not being an idolater as well (see Job 6:10). That carries lots of weight with God!

THE TEMPLE AND THE TABERNACLE

The Temple and the Tabernacle is one of those books I can recommend with gusto.

The text of the book is gorgeously accented with loads of pictures. Baker has done a truly stellar job with the production of this book.

Hays is a careful reader of Scripture. He does not make wild claims, yet there are many wonderful insights throughout his book.

I learned much from this book. It is accessible, but loaded with insight.

My safe guess is that it will help you make better sense of the tabernacle and the temple.

A CATHOLIC INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT

As a Protestant with small c catholic sensibilities, there is much to like about this book. I made over 400 notes in the margins.

The writing is clear, the scholarship is impressive, and the various charts and graphs add a lot to the text. 

It is ecumenical in the best sense of that word as it interacts with much scholarship outside the Roman Catholic.

There are certainly areas of disagreement like the immaculate conception and whether Rom. 3:1,2 about the Jews being entrusted with the oracles of God is significant for the extent of the Old Testament canon. I think it is whereas Pitre and Bergsma do not.

All in all, it is a remarkable achievement and one I will be recommending.

STILL NOT WILD AT HEART

The largely disembodied, behavioristic models of sanctification need to be shown a better way. I am troubled and have written a bit (book reviews of Wild at Heart, Prayer of Jabez, and a “men’s” book) on the silly and superficial models that are all too easy to criticize. Several men I know who raved about the life-changing nature of Wild at Heart boot camps and Promise Keepers remain immature as Paul said “in their thinking.”

Historic Christianity has the resources to offer compelling models that address the whole person. My fear is that pastors and other Christian leaders are increasingly ignorant of the riches that largely remain buried.

 

JOHN LOCKE OR JOHN CALVIN?

A friend asked about the individual in Christianity. Here is what I dashed off:

It is a big topic of course so here is where I typically begin. We now live on the other side of the Enlightenment. It sought to make the self sovereign.

The “self as individual” idea emerges which is a novel one for understanding personhood.

Westerners now look at the Bible through a lens that over privileges the individual (literally undivided one).

Yes, every single person is precious, a sinner, and in need of redemption, but groups and various associations are talked about a lot in the Bible. Groups of people are talked about both favorably and unfavorably. In those groups when one sins (Achan at Ai) all suffer.

Yes, there is still individual accountability per Ez 18, but nations will also be judged. Americans do not have a great way to understand all this other than those who believe large sections of the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians.

I’m afraid our exegesis is at times more beholden to John Locke than John Calvin!

SOME ENCOURAGEMENT/FINAL REFLECTIONS

Some Encouragement/Final Reflections

Like you, I have plenty to do, so will make this my final (at least for the time being) post on the racial crisis. My correspondence was heavy these past days. I am grateful for all those conversations but must pivot to other matters including the final edits of a book my publisher is waiting on.

Here you go…

I reject Critical Race Theory (CRT). Full stop. For those who know me, that will come as no surprise.

When I use “white privilege” I don’t have in mind the various tenets of CRT. I am a Christian who is seeking to think biblically and theologically about this issue. And historically. No claims to perfection about my reflections, but I am trying to make sense by writing (Augustine said writing clarified his thinking and writing showed him what he thought).

I’ve had many good conversations in the last couple days. Some have helped me to think in clearer ways about this issue. Some have shown me that there are differences of emphasis, and some have reminded me that complex issues are not resolved overnight.

One difficulty with any complex issue is that groups are hardly monolithic. Saying all people in a certain group believe x is not reflective of what exists in any group: a myriad of perspectives.

My use of “white privilege” as I mentioned in a quick blog post on June 6 was “not a punt to liberal, political ideology, but rather the manifest witness of God’s Word.” Manifest may be the wrong word because we can disagree how clear that emerges from the pages of Scripture. 

Here is where I should say more about “white privilege.” As one friend said, since the term is used in a certain way by those who hold to CRT, perhaps another term is needed. I think that is good counsel. I am looking for a way to communicate that some/many (certainly not all) of us white people can be oblivious at times to the struggles those from other backgrounds face.

Making sweeping assertions is a constant temptation but should be resisted. If you are familiar with the conditions of many whites in Appalachia, you will know that they have less “privilege” than affluent African Americans in the suburbs. Class is not being talked about enough these days, but it is also worthy of our attention. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a good reminder of this reality.

One last word for all of us: Let’s not get weary in well-doing. That is clearly biblical! See Gal. 6:9. We must fight the tendency to hunker down in our own world and so leave the messy problems for others to address.

In modern life there are more controversies than any one person can address. You may be called to other things. All of us need great wisdom to discern where and how our time should be spent.

We Christians have a huge advantage because we have God’s Spirit to empower and direct us. We don’t go it alone. We also can shout the glorious truth that our God is triune. The beauty of true unity, but never at the diminishment of diversity, really does exist and is worthy of emulation. 

I’m planning to design a t-shirt that says, “MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN!”

 

WHAT WHITE CHRISTIANS CAN/SHOULD DO

I am sixty-two years old. I am white. I was not responsible for either of these two things, but I am responsible for many other things.

A good friend asked me what we as Christians in the majority culture here in America can do with respect to the racial crisis. There are many things, but here are a few in no particular order, except for the last which is of first importance.

*We Christians need to stop being so consumed and/or afraid with how terrible we believe America is at this point in its history. Instead, we should spend our time making sure we are clear on all of God’s truth, compassionate to every person, and courageous even if it is costly. This will keep us Christians plenty occupied. It is animated by the reality that “judgment starts with the household of God.” (I Peter 4:17)

*It is great to have African American friends, but you will not have much to offer any friend if you are not grounded theologically. I used to give disclaimers whenever trying to promote the study of theology for all Christians. No longer. Knowing what and why you believe the Christian faith to be true is the most practical pursuit of life. This leads to my next thought.

*If you unable to give compelling reasons for why the trinity has much to offer not just with the racial conflict in America, but with many other pressing matters, please study up before you go out representing what Christians believe. The unity and diversity of the trinity has far-reaching implications for all sorts of things. Again, get studying if you can’t articulate in compelling and clear language all that the trinity (and other Christian beliefs) has to offer.

I have asked several Christians why the trinity is compelling including a Dallas Seminary trained pastor. Except for my wife and a handful of others, I typically do not receive a great response. Most Christians sign their church’s doctrinal statement with a thin understanding of what they are agreeing to. I concur with J.I. Packer that the most pressing issue for the church is robust education. Again, no apologies.

*We must make concerted efforts to get out of our echo chambers. Most of us live in some sort of echo chamber. In addition, we should avail ourselves of theological education that is increasingly aware of two thousand years of Christian reflection not just what happened after the Protestant Reformation. All the major Protestant Reformers would agree with me on this!

*There is a good chance many of us have significant homework to do. Homework is another word I used to apologize for when talking with adults! To quote President Bush #41 “Not going to do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

If you have not read it, begin with reading Narrative of a Slave by Frederick Douglass. There are many more things I would add, but that is a good place to start.

*Be aware of false dichotomies. Believing that people need to trust Jesus as Savior is not at odds nor diminished by acknowledging “structures of evil” or “institutional racism.” Or “white privilege.” If we want to be biblical, we will need to juggle many truths at the same time.

We Americans do not tend to be the most thoughtful people. The great observer of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville, appreciated several things about America. However, he saw the problem of superficial thinking in our country almost two hundred years ago. American Christians are not immune from the tendency to emphasize one (many times valid) truth at the expense of other truths.

*Last, but obviously most important, we will need God to convict, direct, and motivate us to do these things, things many of our fellow Christians either denigrate or worse still, do not think about at all.

I am grateful to my friend, Dr Vince Bacote of Wheaton College, for his input on this post. As it is always said at such points, but with good reason, I alone am responsible for the content. I am glad that Vince agreed that what I wrote should be “common sense” among Christians. Sadly, foundational truths should not be assumed in our day and age.