Archive for January, 2016

How do Christians live with guilt?

January 29, 2016

Iron_eagleI shared this homily at last night’s church council meeting—on January 28, 2016.

Homily Text: Psalm 103:12

For my generation, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger thirty years ago today was one of those “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” kind of moments. Those of you who, like me, were in the metro Atlanta area may remember that it was a snow day—not because it actually snowed, but because it was unusually cold. The buses wouldn’t start or something. So they closed school.

So we teenagers needed something to do. And I remember what I was doing: my friend Brian and I went to see a movie at a place next to Northlake Mall, where the WSB tower is. And the movie we saw was called Iron Eagle, starring Lou Gossett Jr. This was not the greatest movie ever made, and there’s no good reason that I should remember that on this date thirty years ago I saw this otherwise forgettable movie. But it’s forever etched into my brain because I saw it the same day that the Challenger exploded.

You don’t forget stuff like that. In fact, we have a problem with remembering events that we’d just as soon forget!

I’m thinking of a radio interview I heard today with a retired engineer with Morton-Thiokol, the company that manufactured the solid rocket booster’s O-ring seals for the space shuttles. This engineer, Bob Ebeling, wrote a famous memo, months before the Challenger disaster, warning NASA that they shouldn’t launch the shuttle below freezing—that these O-rings seals would fail. And on that morning 30 years ago, the temperature was 18 degrees at Cape Canaveral. His warning, along with a briefing he gave to NASA officials on the morning of the launch, proved prescient.

In this interview today, Ebeling blames himself. He said he should have done more to warn NASA. Ebeling, whom the interviewer described as a deeply religious man, said: “I think that was one of the mistakes that God made. He shouldn’t have picked me for the job.” He said he’s going to tell God, “You picked a loser.”

You picked a loser… Isn’t that heartbreaking? Especially considering that Ebeling was one of the good guys! He tried to do the right thing! Could he have done more? I’m sure he could… but hindsight is 20/20.

But I want to say a few things about this: First of all, in a way, Ebeling is right: God did pick a loser when he picked him for the job! In fact, God always picks losers when he chooses to work with us human beings. God even picked a loser when he picked a man named Saul of Tarsus to be the apostle to the Gentiles. As Paul himself said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.”[1] This same man said, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”[2]

What a loser Paul was!

God always picks losers. Because he picks people like you and me!

I would also say that Ebeling is right when he says that God picked him to do this work. God chose him. Absolutely he did! Paul says in Colossians 3:24 that the work we do—and he’s speaking in this instance to people who are literally slaves, the most humble kinds of servants—Paul says that even they are doing this humble work for the Lord. So if Paul is right that Jesus is our boss, then that means he’s in charge. We can do our work and leave the results up to him. As pastor John Piper said: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”

So Ebeling can’t begin to comprehend how God was using him and the work that he did! But that’s up to God, not him.

Finally, and most importantly, I would say this: For thirty years Ebeling has been haunted by memories… He remembers mistakes he made.

And don’t we all! Don’t we all remember mistakes? Don’t we all remember sins? Don’t we all have a hard time letting go of the past? And don’t we, like Ebeling, feel guilty?

And so here is the most important thing I would tell Bob Ebeling if I had a chance to counsel him. God doesn’t remember his mistakes… his sins.

In fact, I would tell him that God gives us the most amazing promise in his Word: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”[3] Or as Isaiah tells God: “you have cast all my sins behind your back.” And he has God tell us, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”[4] Or as the prophet Micah says, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”[5]

It’s as if God forgets. Once we confess our sins, we should let go and move on. Why? Because God has let go! One theologian rightly refers to this as divine amnesia. No, this doesn’t necessarily, or even usually, mean that God shields us from all the consequences of our sin—this can be a form of necessary discipline for us—but it does mean there’s no longer any guilt.

Why?

Because in God’s eyes we are perfect. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, an exchange has taken place once and for all. On the cross, it’s as if we have given Christ our unrighteousness and he has clothed us in his righteousness.

Maybe it’s too easy to simply say, “Once you confess your sins, you should forget it, let go of it, and move on” confident that Christ nailed these and all your other sins to the cross. That sounds good, but it’s hard to forget!

So instead of forgetting, I’m going to urge you to remember something… Something which is said very well in the recent book Law and Gospel:

The Gospel announces that we are justified by grace through faith: not by what we do, or even who we are, but by what Christ has done and who he is. Our guilt has been atoned for, the Law fulfilled. In Christ, the ultimate demand has been met, and the deepest judgment satisfied. In his death and resurrection, our sin was imputed to him, his righteousness to us. Note the past tense: This not up for grabs. Something has been accomplished, and that something is real. Remember, Christ’s dying words from the cross are “It is finished.” Which means that as far as God is concerned, the performance is at an end—gold stars all around. This leads to reconciliation with God, and even eternal life. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will be saved by his life” (Rm 5:10).[6]

Amen.

By the way, although I didn’t say this in my homily, this Romans 5 verse is an amazing statement about something that we Methodists don’t often emphasize: the perseverance of the saints—what is popularly referred to in evangelical circles as “once saved, always saved.” To be fair, Wesleyan theology might say, “once saved, nearly always saved,” but I struggle to accept this Wesleyan doctrine of backsliding.

Regardless, in the context of his argument in Romans, Paul is saying that God accomplished the “hard part” by dying for us through his Son Jesus “while we were enemies.” Having now been reconciled to God through faith—having been transformed from “enemies” to “friends,” indeed, children—the “easy part”—by which he means enduring until the end, arriving safely in God’s kingdom on the other side of death and resurrection—will surely happen!

If you’re someone who is prone to worry about your salvation, who feels guilty over the persistence of sin in your life, I invite you to spend a few moments reflecting on this verse.

[1] 1 Timothy 1:15 NIV

[2] Romans 7:19

[3] Psalm 103:12

[4] Isaiah 43:25

[5] Micah 7:19

[6] William McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2015), 61-2.

Busyness as a “law-based barometer of self-worth”

January 28, 2016

lgcoverI’m working my way slowly through Mockingbird Ministries’ recent book Law & Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints). One recurring theme is the way in which humanity is enslaved to the Law, which often manifests itself as enslavement to our self-created “little-l” laws. In the following section, the authors talk about our attempts to justify ourselves by being “busy” all the time.

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are,” essayist Tim Kreider famously observed, pinpointing one of the most inescapable pathologies of modern life. When asked how we are doing, we used to say, ‘fine’ or ‘well.’ Today the default response is ‘busy.’ Which is an honest answer. Smartphones and similar devices have largely chased away the uncomfortable idleness that once characterized society, quickening the pace of life to an almost absurd degree. People are busy. We are busy. Very busy.

But ‘busyness’ is more than a description of how we’re doing; it is one of our culture’s predominant indicators of worth and value, a measure of identity and therefore personal righteousness. The more frantic the activity, the better. Kreider spelled this out when he theorized that, “busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

What does it say about you if you’re not busy? Nothing good, so get back on the horn. The implication is that if we’re not over-occupied, we are inferior to those who are. As with all law-based barometers of self-worth (beauty, wealth, influence, youth, etc.), there is no ‘enough.’ Any justification we may attain through exertion is short-lived to say the least.[1]

1. William McDavid, Ethan Richardson, and David Zahl, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2015), 60-1.

When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?

January 27, 2016

Last Sunday’s scripture was John 2:13-22, Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. Careful readers of the gospels may wonder why John puts this event near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, while the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) place it near the end, during his Passion Week.

In the world of critical scholarship in which I was immersed for several years, this wasn’t even a question: since John cares little for historical accuracy, he places the pericope here to serve his thematic purposes. Here’s a typical explanation, from Candler professor Gail O’Day’s commentary on John:

It is unlikely that Jesus performed this bold act twice, so the two traditions probably narrate the same event. The synoptic chronology is the more historically reliable, because it is difficult to see how the Jewish religious authorities would have tolerated such a confrontational act at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John moves the temple scene to the beginning of his Gospel because it serves a symbolic function for him. The temple cleansing in John completes the inaugural event begun with the Cana miracle. John 2:1-11 reveals the grace and glory of Jesus and the abundant new life Jesus offers. John 2:13-22 highlights the challenge and threat that new life poses to the existing order (cf. John 5:1-18).[1]

Many evangelical scholars take this position, too.

N.T. Wright, that rare evangelical who gets published by mainline publishers—including Abingdon, which published his Romans commentary alongside Dr. O’Day’s John commentary above—disagrees. Like O’Day, he thinks that the event happened once, only not near the end of Jesus’ ministry, but at the beginning. Since the Synoptics, unlike John, compress Jesus’ public ministry into a one-year rather than three-year period, they narrate this event near the end, not because that’s when it took place, but because that’s when they have Jesus in Jerusalem.

Few would deny that the four Evangelists arrange pericopes to suit their thematic purposes. This is consistent with Article XIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which says (emphasis mine):

WE DENY  that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Wright, who neither confirms nor denies that he is an inerrantist, says:

In favour of putting the incident at the beginning, as John does, is the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t have Jesus in Jerusalem at all during his adult life, so the final journey is the only place where it can happen. John, however, has Jesus going to and fro to Jerusalem a good deal through his short career. And if he had done something like this at the beginning, it would explain certain things very well: why, for instance, people came from Jerusalem to Galilee to check him out (e.g. Mark 3.22; 7.1), and why, when the high priest finally decided it was time to act, they already felt they had a case against him (John 11.47-53).[2]

The final alternative—and the more conservative one—is that the event took place twice—once at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and again two or three years later, near the end.

In his commentary on John, D.A. Carson doesn’t take a firm stand, but he’s unimpressed with arguments against the event’s occurring twice. First, he notes that critical scholarship’s skepticism about events occurring in doubles is based on speculative “just so” theories. Second, he writes:

[I]t is often argued that if Jesus had cleansed the temple once, the authorities would never have let him get away with it again. This is ingenuous. If there were two cleansings, they were separated by two years, possibly three. During that interval Jesus visited Jerusalem several times for other appointed festivals, without attempting another temple-cleansing. The authorities could not possibly be expected to keep their guard up against him indefinitely. If he was not arrested the first time, it may well be because a certain amount of public feeling sided with Jesus: is not that suggested by 2:23?

In short, it is not possible to resolve with certainty whether only one cleansing of the temple took place, or two; but the arguments for one are weak and subjective, while the most natural reading of the texts favours two. Meanwhile it is important to note (1) that a detail in John’s account of the temple-cleansing does not issue immediately in a conspiracy by the authorities to have him arrested and killed, for Jesus has not yet established his reputation, whereas the later cleansing reported in the Synoptics is presented more or less as one of the last straws that call down the wrath of the religious establishment.[3]

One final note: As if to give the lie to the idea that John’s gospel is less historical than the other three, please note that it is only John, in v. 19 (“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’”), who narrates the event that led to a spurious charge reported only in the Synoptics: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands’” (Mark 14:58; Matthew 26:61). (Notice Jesus didn’t say, “I will destroy…” but that’s how rumors start.)

Did Mark and Matthew know where this rumor originated? We don’t know. But if they knew it was connected to the Temple-cleansing event that they report in their own gospels, why didn’t they say so when they reported it? This conspicuous omission lends credence to the idea that there was an earlier temple-cleansing.

1. Gail O’Day, “The Gospel of John” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 543.

2. N.T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part One (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 25-6.

3. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 178.

Sermon 01-24-16: “Destroy This Temple”

January 26, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

As different as the miracle of turning water into wine in John 2:1-12 seems from the cleansing of the Temple in vv. 13-22, I argue here that they make a similar theological point: Our sin problem is a problem deep within us, in our hearts. If we’re going to be saved, God is going to have to heal us there. The merchants and money-changers were literally putting tables and livestock in a space that was devoted exclusively to God. Their things were were interfering with the worship of God. What a fitting symbol of the problem that we all have!

Sermon Text: John 2:13-22

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

It wasn’t exactly “Snow-pocalypse 2016,” was it?

I read on WSB that the metro Atlanta area got two inches of snow, but I certainly didn’t see that around my house! But Georgia was prepared this time: based on what I read, the governor and city mayors did a better job coordinating than they did a couple of years ago, the last time it snowed—when some members of our church were stranded on the interstates literally for hours. We all know that even a small amount of snowfall can disrupt our lives in powerful ways. It’s a small thing, but it has major consequences.

And so it is with Jesus’ action of “cleansing the a Temple” in today’s scripture. It’s easy for us to miss how this seemingly small event disrupted the city of Jerusalem. Think about it. Today’s scripture takes place during Passover week. Jewish pilgrims from around the Roman Empire would come to Jerusalem during this holiest of weeks. The population of Jerusalem would swell from about 80,000 to half-a-million in one week. And when these pilgrims came to worship in the Temple, they needed to offer a sacrifice. And it’s not like a pilgrim would travel from Spain or Italy to Jerusalem with an ox or a goat or a pigeon; no, they would buy them once they arrived. And in order to do so—and in order to pay the Temple tax—they would need to exchange their currency, just like we do when we travel abroad.

So as part of the Jewish sacrificial system surrounding the Temple, merchants were allowed to set up shop on the Temple grounds—in the outer court of the Temple, the so-called “Court of the Gentiles.” It was a great convenience to set up shop there, since Jewish pilgrims would have to go that way in order to get to the sanctuary, where priests would offer their sacrifices. Read the rest of this entry »

“Because then I would be enough”

January 25, 2016

I made reference to this short, self-deprecating speech in yesterday’s sermon. That Jim Carrey is self-aware enough to recognize this “terrible search” within himself is a sign that he’s moving in the right direction.

I said:

A couple of weeks ago, at the Golden Globe Awards, comedian Jim Carrey was presenting the award for “Best Motion Picture–Musical or Comedy,” and he took the liberty of saying some profound words, which I think he ad-libbed. He wasn’t reading off the teleprompter. He introduced himself, saying, “I am two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey. You know, when I go to sleep at night, I’m not just a guy going to sleep, I’m two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey getting some well-needed shut-eye. And when I dream, I don’t dream just any old dream. No sir. I dream about being three-time Golden Globe-winning actor Jim Carrey. Because,” he said—and pay attention to this—“because then I would be enough. It would finally be true. And I could stop this terrible search.”

Because then I would be enough. Notice he doesn’t say, “It would be enough.” John D. Rockefeller was once asked how much money is enough? And he said, “Just a little bit more.” That’s partly what Carrey is saying. “How many Golden Globes are enough?” “Just one more.” But what he said was even more profound than that. He said not “it would be enough,” but I would be enough. This Golden Globe trophy, this Golden Globe idol—it proves that I’m valuable; it proves that worthy—that I’m worthy of other people’s love, that I’m worthy of loving myself; of being O.K. with myself; of not hating myself. If I had one more of these trophies then I wouldn’t be missing something important, which makes me a whole person; I would be fulfilled and satisfied and happy. If only I had one more of these trophies, then I would be enough.”

What is your Golden Globe? What is that thing in your life that you think you need to fulfill you, to complete you as a person, to make you whole? Anything or anyone other than God is an idol that’s crowding out that place in your heart that belongs to God!

When Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll rebuild it,” he’s reminding us that through him we have enough; in him we are enough. Because he’s done everything for us. Because he’s given us everything we need!

Sermon 01-17-16: “My Hour Has Not Yet Come”

January 21, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

The miracle of turning water into wine is the first of Jesus’ “signs” in John’s gospel, literally the first miracle that Jesus performs. Why does he start with this one? What does it mean? And what do his strange words to his mother mean? This sermon will address these questions and show how Mary’s attitude, expressed in her words to the servants, is one that all of us disciples can emulate.

Sermon Text: John 2:1-12

[To listen on the go, right-click on this link to download an MP3.]

The Republican candidates for president debated last week in prime time. Well, seven of the eleven remaining candidates debated in prime time. The other four were forced by debate organizers to take part in what’s called the “undercard” debate, which takes place earlier in the evening—during “happy hour”; it’s the “happy hour” debate, as at least one person complained. Sen. Rand Paul, who was one of those four, boycotted the undercard debate. He said, “It isn’t about viewership. It’s about being designated as part of the people who aren’t going to win. There is only one debate tonight, let’s be honest about this.”

Sen. Paul understood that the undercard debate symbolized something: Here are the candidates who don’t stand a chance; they don’t deserve a place on the “big stage.” No wonder Paul didn’t want to be part of it! Rightly or wrongly, the undercard debate is a sign that says, “It’s time to think about dropping out of the race.”

It’s a sign… Interestingly enough, in the gospel of John, all of the miracles that John makes reference to are called “signs.” Jesus doesn’t perform these miracles as “brute displays of power,” as one commentator said, to impress people, to dazzle the masses; no, he performs them because they communicate something important about meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are signs. They point something deeper. Notice verse 11: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.” Read the rest of this entry »

About those water jars in John 2:6

January 21, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

I’ve been facilitating a Bible study on the gospel of Mark on Sunday evenings, using a curriculum from Asbury Theological Seminary. Last Sunday, our scripture included Mark 7, and the controversy surrounding Jesus and his disciples not washing their hands “according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5).

The Pharisees weren’t referring to washing hands for hygienic reasons, the way we might before a meal; they were referring to a religious ritual, whereby people washed their hands to rid themselves of spiritual contamination. Righteous Jews in the first century were required to observe these practices (later written down as part of the Mishnah), even though they weren’t spelled out in the Old Testament.

Jesus, in response, tells the Pharisees that the problem isn’t what goes into someone—from outside of themselves—but what comes out. Jesus then gives examples of sinful actions that indicate that the problem is within the human heart (Mark 7:14-23). These, he says, are the things that defile a person.

So our problem with sin isn’t outside of ourselves; it’s within ourselves. No amount of washing with water can fix that problem. The only solution is to be washed in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).

This relates to last week’s scripture, John 2:1-12. Notice the “six stone water jars” in v. 6 were for “Jewish rites of purification.” The water in these jars was for the same ritual to which the Pharisees in Mark 7 had referred. Before eating, the wedding guests would wash their hands in order to be spiritually “pure.”

By transforming the water in these jugs into wine, most Bible scholars believe that Jesus is showing us that he is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament laws. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he has accomplished for us what the Law was unable to accomplish. He has cleansed us from sin in a way that the Law couldn’t do. Our hearts need to be fixed, and that’s what Jesus’ atoning death, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, makes possible.

According to Jesus, the problem is always in our hearts. This is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, he can say those challenging words equating anger with murder and lust with adultery—because the sin points to the same “heart” condition—even though it manifests itself to differing degrees.

One question we discussed last Sunday was about tithing. Many times I’ve been asked, “Should I tithe on before-tax or after-tax income?” While I encourage all my church members to at least give a tithe, if possible, the question is flawed. God isn’t interested in this percentage or that percentage; he’s interested in our hearts overflowing with gratitude, such that we give generously and sacrificially. That can’t be reduced to a number or a percentage.

I’ve been recuperating this week from some minor surgery on my ear. This gave my cat, Peanut, yet another excuse (as if he needs one) to lie in bed and sleep all day. This picture captured him in mid-yawn! Pretty cool, huh?

FullSizeRender

Christ is the Word of God, and so is the Bible

January 18, 2016

Here we go again… In November, I voiced agreement with Derek Rishmawy over against those who draw an overly sharp distinction between Christ the Word of God and the Bible as the Word of God. For example, popular pastor and blogger Brian Zahnd put it like this:

rishmawy

As I said back then,

Notice the false choice he sets up: one has to choose between Jesus or the Bible. As if we can know who Jesus is independently of scripture! 

Honestly: What can we know about God’s eternal plan of salvation, for which Christ’s death and resurrection is the climax, apart from scripture, whose authors were inspired by God to write what they wrote? Unless I’m badly mistaken, nothing at all!

Well, the issue has resurfaced in this guest post, “Is Jesus or the Bible the Word of God, and Does it Matter?” by Austin Fischer on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog. My short answer is, “It doesn’t matter very much, certainly not as much as ex-evangelicals like Zahnd and others think.”

No one has convinced me otherwise, certainly not the commenters on Fischer’s post—a post with which I mostly agree, by the way. Subtlety and nuance are not widely appreciated on Patheos blogs, unfortunately. First, someone named Max commented, “If there is a Jesus different from the one revealed in the NT, then he is a fictional character created in the person’s own mind, a creation to affirm whatever that person likes and condemn whatever that person dislikes.” I agreed, saying:

This first sentence is an excellent point: We know of no Jesus other than the one revealed in scripture. So the primary way to know the Word of God that is Jesus is to read the Word of God that is scripture. Therefore, I’m not sure the distinction is as important as many people believe.

Where I say “primary,” I’m tempted to say “only.” By saying “primary,” however, I recognize that we come to know Jesus not just through information from the pages of the text, but also through the Holy Spirit speaking through them.

Often, I suspect that progressives are referring to mysticism when they say that Jesus rather than scripture is the Word of God—as if they’ve come to know him apart from the Bible.

Someone named Terry jumped on this, saying:

Brent, so you just read Austin’s entire essay and have concluded that he’s out to lunch? It seems he made a very solid case for the distinction having merit, in spite of some who have overcooked it. Are you indicating that Austin is referencing mysticism and is a progressive *which seems to be polemical)? Is the Scripture, and the Holy Spirit via the Scripture really the only ways to “know the Word of God”?

I replied:

I don’t think you’ve read my comment very charitably, but this is a Patheos blog. Fighting comes with the territory, I guess.

I agree with Fischer! I would, however, make the connection between “knowing Jesus the Word” and “knowing Jesus through the Word.” (Indeed, I think I blogged about this issue a while back and made that point.) And no, I wasn’t implying that Fischer was endorsing mysticism, and he’s clearly not progressive. That sentence was a response to the general tendency, as Fischer points out, to denigrate scripture by appealing to Jesus (only) as the Word of God. I do think Christians who identify themselves as progressive (whether they take that pejoratively is up to them) often appeal to a Jesus of mystical experience rather than the one revealed in scripture. Is that controversial?

Finally, to your last question, I don’t know. I’m really not into mysticism, so I’m tempted to say “yes.” What would any of us learn about Jesus that is in addition to, or outside of, or inconsistent with the Jesus revealed in scripture?

Terry again:

Brent, my apologies if I misread your initial comment. I think the connection you want to make is a valid one, but the overall content of your comment, to me, read as general disagreement with Fischer. Wrongly perhaps, but I read fight in your comment.

I don’t think any of us would learn about Jesus in a way that is inconsistent with Jesus as revealed in Scripture; the church being the Body of Christ puts forth at least one option whereby we could learn of Jesus outside of Scripture; God’s people could learn of Jesus, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, outside of Scripture.

Me:

But would they learn something that they wouldn’t know from scripture itself? Would they learn something that they could then write down and say, “This knowledge is as authoritative and real and true as anything else found in the Bible”? If the answer is no, then—again—I don’t see how the distinction between the Word who is Jesus and the Word that is scripture is all that important.

And on it went. You can read the comments. It’s a very important distinction, everyone seemed to say. Only no one could tell me what practical difference it made in understanding who Jesus is. All I can figure is that these Christians are coming at the question from far more conservative or fundamentalist backgrounds than myself. I’m coming from the other side—as a former progressive Christian turned evangelical. That experience convinces me that attempts to draw sharp distinctions between Christ as the Word and the Bible as the Word come from an embarrassment about the Bible and are an attempt to denigrate it and undermine our trust in it.

Rishmawy’s response to the original post was best of all. It included these words:

I’ve got little to disagree with in terms of the general points about semantic distinctions, the Image/image, etc. Indeed, part of my original post made the argument that we call the Bible the Word of God precisely because it’s a Trinitarian one, uttered by the Father, about the Son, through inspiration of the Spirit. Viewed this way, we can see that it is God’s word in terms of its origin, content, and agency. And that’s, I think, one of my points of pushback. The derivative nature of the Bible as the word comes in terms of the content. As the testimony about the Word Incarnate, we see that its secondary and derivative. That said, it’s also had through the direct, but humanly mediated activity of the Triune God. As Divine self-testimony, then, there is a sense in which it’s not derivative and secondary. It is properly God’s speech and is to be treated as such. Especially since the Scriptures as the word of God are the only way that we know anything about Jesus as the Word of God.

Carson: None of us has an “inside track” to Jesus

January 15, 2016

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As I preach through John’s gospel this year, I can already tell that D.A. Carson’s Pillar New Testament Commentary on John will be a great resource. Regarding Jesus’ words to Mary in John 2:4, he writes:

We must not avoid the conclusion that Jesus by rebuking his mother, however courteously, declares, at the beginning of his ministry, his utter freedom from any kind of human advice, agenda or manipulation. He has embarked on his ministry, the purpose of his coming; his only lodestar is his heavenly Father’s will (5:30; 8:29) This must have been extremely difficult for Mary. She had borne him, nursed him, taught his baby fingers elementary skills, watched him fall over as he learned to walk; apparently she had also come to rely on him as the family provider. But now that he had entered into the purpose of his coming, everything, even family ties, had to be subordinated to his divine mission. She could no longer view him as other mothers viewed their sons; she must no loner be allowed the prerogatives of motherhood. It is a remarkable fact that everywhere Mary appears during the course of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is at pains to establish distance between them (e.g. Mt. 12:46-50). This is not callousness on Jesus’ part: on the cross he makes provision of her future (19:25-27). But she, like every other person, must come to him as to the promised Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Neither she nor anyone else dare presume to approach him on an ‘inside track’—a lesson even Peter had to learn (Mk. 8:31-33). For no-one could this lesson have been more difficult than for Jesus’ mother; perhaps that was part of the sword that would pierce her soul (Lk. 2:35). For this we should honour her the more.[1]

1. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 171.

Sermon 01-10-16: “What Are You Seeking?”

January 14, 2016

John Sermon Series Graphic

In John 1:35-51, Jesus finds his first five disciples—Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathanael. They follow him because he offers them what their hearts desire above all else. What exactly did Christ offer them, and what does he offer us today?

Sermon Text: John 1:35-51

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

The Powerball lottery has been in the news recently. As of yesterday it was up to $800 million, the largest jackpot ever. According to a math professor at SMU, the odds of winning are “astronomically small”: one in 292.2 million.

By comparison, the odds of playing five-card draw poker and being dealt a royal flush—which is five sequential cards from 10 to ace in the same suit—is one in 650,000—which is 450 times more likely than winning the Powerball lottery. Statistically, the odds of giving birth to four identical babies at the same time are one in 13 million, which is still 20 times more likely to happen than winning the Powerball lottery.

So, all that to say, you’re not going to win the Powerball. And you may say, “Well, someone has to win.” To which I say, “Yes, but it won’t be you.”

But… if it is you, will you at least please tithe! Read the rest of this entry »