Archive for June, 2017

Was the older son really the “good” son?

June 30, 2017

The older son from Rembrandt’s painting.

In my second of two sermons on the Prodigal Son last Sunday (I promise I’ll post them soon!), I preached on the older son. He was, as I said on Sunday, at least as lost as the younger son. Yet we usually consider him the good son: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.”

Is this true? Was the older son truly serving his father? Tim Keller doesn’t think so, and he uses the following story to illustrate why:

Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, “My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.” And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this. And he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot–what if you gave the king something better?” So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.”[†]

The older son, of course, was serving himself—giving to his father in order to receive. It was as if he were saying, “Because I’ve been faithful to my father—unlike my no-good brother—my father ought to reward me. I deserve to have the fattened calf killed; I deserve to have a party.” So when he hears that his father has instead thrown a party for his wayward brother, he’s filled with resentment: “What has he done to deserve that? Why not me?”

As I said in an earlier blog post, I am the older brother. Resentment and self-pity have harmed me badly over the years. They still do.

These feelings long predate my answering the call into ministry. But I now see that in answering the call, sin seized the opportunity, and I made an implicit agreement with God: “Because I’ve done this for you, Father, you’ll now do this for me. After all, look at how I’ve sacrificed for you! Why haven’t you killed the fattened calf? Why haven’t you thrown me a party?”

And like the older son, I have a difficult time, figuratively speaking, attending parties for others.

This Sunday, I’ll have the opportunity to explore the proper motivation for serving our Father, and how we achieve it, when we turn our attention to the apostle Peter’s words to slaves in 1 Peter 2:18-25.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (New York: Dutton, 2008), 69-70.

Tell me again why the issue dividing the UMC isn’t “essential”?

June 28, 2017

Last April, I publicly disagreed with James Howell, a United Methodist pastor and Duke Divinity School lecturer (who used to write a column in the liberal mainline journal Lectionary Homiletics, to which I subscribed early in my ministry), over the issue that threatens to divide our denomination in 2019. Dr. Howell wrote a blog post in which he said that, irrespective of our convictions on the subject of human sexuality, it isn’t a question of “essential” Christian doctrine. Therefore, why should the UMC divide over it?

He never responded to my objections, unfortunately.

Yesterday, in an unrelated Facebook thread, we disagreed on a different matter. He wrote the following:

I thought about ignoring it, but why? Do I believe that unrepentant sexual sin risks excluding someone—eternally—from God’s kingdom? Do I believe that to whom much is given, much will be expected, and that it’s better for us pastors to tie a millstone around our neck and throw ourselves into the sea than to cause believers to stumble?

So I wrote the following (no response yet):

If that’s true, then I trust that you’ll search the scriptures and understand why our church’s doctrine on human sexuality is, indeed, a non-negotiable “essential” of the faith—just as it was for the Jerusalem Council when the church retained the Bible’s proscription against “porneia” [translated “sexual immorality”], even as they ruled that Gentiles didn’t have to be circumcised or follow other ceremonial aspects of the law.

If we don’t disagree on the authority of scripture, then surely you’ll agree with me that our church can’t place the need for “unity” ahead of holiness, just as Paul himself refused to do in 1 Corinthians 5, for example, when dealing with the man committing incest. Since incest is condemned in the identical context alongside homosexual behavior in Leviticus 18 and 20, it’s difficult for those of us who embrace the authority to scripture to believe that one is a serious enough sin to divide over but not the other.

If we don’t disagree on the authority of scripture, then you’ll understand why appeals to the Articles of Religion or the creeds or anything outside of scripture ring hollow when determining what is “essential” and what isn’t. Unrepentant sexual sin, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 6, risks excluding someone from God’s kingdom. Nothing less than heaven and hell, therefore, hang in the balance. That being the case, surely you and I agree, committed as we both are to the authority of scripture, that the issue that is dividing our church counts as “essential.”

One more thought on Wonderful Life

June 24, 2017

Please see my previous post if you haven’t already.

In the last minute of It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey seemingly gets the happy ending that he thought he deserved earlier in the film: grateful townspeople, former classmates, and even his younger brother express their gratitude and love to him in heartfelt, tangible ways.

But not so fast…

In the clip above, George’s salvation comes before that last minute—as evidenced by his elation at the prospect of going to jail. When the sheriff tells him he has a paper for him, George says, “I bet it’s a warrant for my arrest. Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!”

As far as George knows, something far worse than hating his job or “playing nursemaid to a lot of garlic eaters” has befallen him. Yet how does he respond? Wth pure joy. Like the younger son in the parable, George has passed from death to life.

The fact that his friends saved him from prison was good, but his true salvation happened before that.

It’s hard not to think of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8:

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.

“Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?”

June 24, 2017

A couple of years ago, the copyright gods removed a few video clips from my Vimeo account—my “fair use” defense notwithstanding. (Ask me what I think about the sad fact that no song, movie, book, or play falls into public domain anymore! 😡) Still, I’m happy to report that no one came after my clips from It’s a Wonderful Life (which itself became an evergreen classic only after it fell into the public domain, and UHF TV stations could show it for free on their late-night airwaves).

In tomorrow’s sermon, I’m preaching on the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or, more accurately, the Parable of the Lost Sons). As I’ve been preparing for it, I’m reminded of this unforgettable scene between Mr. Potter and George Bailey: having been unable to beat Bailey, Potter decides to join him—or at least have Bailey join him. (Lionel Barrymore’s performance here makes me wish he had been able to play Scrooge, as originally planned, in an MGM adaptation of A Christmas Carol.)

George, the older son in the Bailey family, is also the older son in the parable—or close enough. (It’s not for nothing that earlier in the movie, when George hears that his brother has returned to Bedford Falls, he says, “Kill the fatted calf!”) All these years, he’s been “slaving away” (Luke 15:29) for his father, who, though now deceased, once asked young George to take over the family business. Like the older son, George resents the fact that others are celebrating his younger brother, whose good fortune—whose very life—was made possible by George’s sacrifices. (George, you’ll recall even saved his brother’s life, at great personal cost, when he was a boy.)

Like the older son, George resents that his years of hard work have amounted to so little; he hasn’t received the recognition to which he believes he’s entitled. Until Potter seduces him with this job offer, no one in George’s life even gave him the equivalent of a “young goat to celebrate with his friends”—or so he thinks.

Potter, as smart as the devil, correctly diagnoses George’s problem. 

Now, if this young man of 28 was a common, ordinary yokel, I’d say he was doing fine. But George Bailey is not a common, ordinary yokel. He is an intelligent, smart, ambitious young man, who hates his job, who hates the Building and Loan almost as much as I do. A young man who’s been dying to get out on his own ever since he was born. A young man—the smartest one of the crowd, mind you… A young man who has to sit by and watch his friends go places because he’s trapped—yes, sir, trapped—into frittering his life away playing nursemaid to a lot of garlic eaters.

And this is my problem, too—as I’ve talked about a lot recently. Frankly, I’m writing and preaching about it because I’ve only recently become aware of the extent of my resentment.

God help me, I’m the older brother! I want more than my Father has given me!

I’ve probably felt this way since I was 19 or 20 and discovered within myself an ambition for something other than God’s kingdom and his righteousness. Like the older son, I didn’t leave home—I didn’t drop out of church or abandon the faith. I became a pastor instead. “He’ll have to give me what I want now. I’m the good son!”

Like the older son, I left my Father by staying home. (For more on this, see this post: “To find God, go back to where you lost him.”)

But my case is not hopeless. In fact, what gives me hope is what I shared with you a couple of days ago:

What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

I am not my own. I do not live for myself or my own glory. I belong, body and soul, to God. I have what I have because he gave it to me. I am where I am because he wants me to be here. I am who I am because he wants me to be this person—minus my sin. My sole purpose in life is to glorify him, and I always have the opportunity to do that, no matter what I’m going through.

This thought brings me great comfort.

Lord, give me the grace to believe it. Amen.

Our only hope in life and death

June 22, 2017

Recently, I’ve become interested in catechesis, the instructions that the church gives to people who are going to be baptized or confirmed. Our church’s confirmation class, for example, is one form of catechesis: “Here are the essentials of the Christian faith and our Wesleyan movement. Here’s what it means to be a Christian. Here’s what it means to be a Methodist Christian.”

A couple of centuries ago, churches often expected confirmands and converts to memorize catechisms, a series of questions-and-answers about the doctrines of the faith, along with scripture references. Some churches still use these. Earlier this year, I began studying one famous catechism, which John Wesley adapted for us Methodists, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The well-known first question and answer is the following:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Drawing upon classic Protestant catechisms of the past—like the Westminster Shorter and Heidelberg Catechisms—Crossway, publisher of the ESV Bible, recently produced The New City Catechism. Pastor Tim Keller, one of my favorite contemporary preachers, helped to put it together.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the version that included devotionals—one historical and one contemporary—for each entry. John Wesley is one source for the historical devotionals. I’ve been reflecting on the first question and answer, which you can see in the photo above:

What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.[1]

The scripture reference is Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

I’ve written and preached before about my sinful tendency to compare myself to others. Even last Sunday, describing my experience the week before, I said the following:

I can hardly enjoy Annual Conference without looking over my shoulder at what my fellow clergy have—how prestigious their appointment is; how high their church’s steeple is; what awards and recognition they’ve received. And I compare myself to them, and I’m miserable because I worry that I’m falling behind.

Why do I do this? In part, it’s because I don’t believe that my only hope in life and death is that I belong to God and his Son Jesus. I place my hope in many other things: in career success, in other people’s opinions of me, in physical fitness, in my enjoyment of leisure time and hobbies. How do I know I do this? Because if something threatens any of these things, I fall apart. I’m filled with resentment.

Even last week in Athens, tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon (which is itself an “overuse” injury from trying to get in shape for an upcoming beach trip) prevented me from running in a 5K with my son Townshend. And I was so angry about it! Why? Because I derive some measure of my self-esteem from being able to compete (and beat) other people in 5K races. I place some measure of hope in this kind of success. And now—suddenly—my body tells me I can’t do that? Then what good am I? How will others know I’m valuable?

Yes, I know it’s ridiculous.

By contrast, suppose I believed—really believed—that my life was not my own; it belonged solely to the Lord. Suppose I believed that every moment of every day was his to do with as he pleases. Suppose my chief concern in life was pleasing the Lord and not myself?

“What a wonderful world this would be,” as the song says.

Are you like me? Are you placing your hope or hopes in something or someone other than Christ? Where are you placing them?

Here’s the prayer that accompanies the New City Catechism’s first devotional:

Christ Our Hope, in life and in death, we cast ourselves on your merciful, fatherly care. You love us because we are your own. We have no good apart from you, and we could ask for no greater gift than to belong to you. Amen.[2]

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 17.

2. Ibid., 19.

Sermon 05-28-17: “What Is Jesus Worth to You?”

June 22, 2017

“Long for the pure spiritual milk,” Peter writes—by which he means the “milk of the word,” as the King James puts it. In other words, as God’s children, we should long for the gospel, for God’s Word, and for God’s kingdom. As I discuss in this sermon, we can’t fake “longing for” something. Either we do or we don’t. And if we don’t, then that’s a symptom of a spiritual problem. See, when Peter tells us to “put away” these various sins in verse 1, my temptation is to preach a “try harder”-type sermon: “Try harder to be a better Christian. Work harder on the ‘spiritual disciplines.’ Pray more. Study the Bible more.” But as I make clear in this sermon, our problem isn’t that we’re not trying hard enough; our problem is that we’re not believing the gospel wholeheartedly enough. We need to learn to apply the gospel to the problems in our lives. This sermon talks about how to do that.

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

There was a lot of heartbreaking news last week: First, there was the terrorist bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England—an attack designed to kill children, and  teenagers, and their parents. Twenty-two people died. Many more were injured. President Trump referred to the terrorists as “evil losers,” and I couldn’t agree more! Evil losers. I like that. When we hear about this sort of thing, it is perfectly good and even Christian for us to remind ourselves of Paul’s words in Romans 12: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”[1] We can thank God for that.

We can also thank God, especially on this Memorial Day weekend, that God has called men and women in our armed forces to be what Paul describes in Romans 13 as “God’s servants”—avengers, he says—who carry out God’s wrath on wrongdoers.[2] And on this weekend especially we thank God for those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

By all means, we Christians are supposed to live our lives as peace-loving and peace-making, inasmuch as it depends on us, but we do so with the certain knowledge that in the end, God will ensure that no sin, no evil, will ultimately go unpunished. There will be a Day when justice will be done—completely and perfectly. God will see to it! And for those of us who have trusted in Christ, we are thankful that on the cross, God in Christ has taken the punishment that we deserve for our sin and our evil. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 05-21-17: “Craving the Pure Milk of God’s Word”

June 20, 2017

In today’s scripture, the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40: “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass…” We Christians are often distracted by things in our lives that don’t last. Yet Peter is calling us to build our lives on a foundation that which lasts for eternity: the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s Word. How do we do this? That’s what this sermon is about.

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 1:22-2:3

One of my all-time favorite TV shows is Parks & Recreation, which features a character named Ron Swanson. In one episode, Ron gets taken to court. A couple of his friends who are called to testify on his behalf lie under oath—in order to protect their friend. Ron says, “Tom and April were excellent witnesses in my defense. Unfortunately every single word out of their mouths was a lie. There is only one thing I hate more than lying—skim milk, which is water that’s lying about being milk.”

My favorite character on my favorite TV show, Parks & Recreation: Ron Swanson. He’s famous for knowing how to be a man.

When did we all switch to skim milk? For my family, it was back in the early-’80s, when I was a kid. And I distinctly remember how, when I poured it over my Rice Krispies, it looked blue. Do you know what I’m talking about. I did not want to drink blue milk. Well, eventually I got used to it; and I bet many of you did, too. We got used to it because skim milk was supposed to be good for us.

Well, I read an article not long ago that said that we were sold a bill of goods. That long-term studies show that whole milk—milk that stays white when you pour it over cereal—might actually be better for you than skim milk, and help you lose weight more effectively than skim milk. For one thing, the article said, it helps you feel full, so you eat less.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, and I’m not recommending that you make the switch without consulting with your doctor, but that was just the excuse that I needed. So I switched back to whole milk. And I’m much happier. And my cat, too. He’s always at my feet at the breakfast table when I eat cereal. Because he loves whole milk and expects me to put the bowl on the floor when I finish up.

So, accept no substitutes: I don’t want water that’s lying about being milk; I won’t settle for watered-down milk; I want milk. Pure whole milk.

And in today’s scripture, Peter makes a similar point: Accept no substitutes, he says. “Long for,” or crave, “pure spiritual milk.” Don’t settle for anything less than that. Read the rest of this entry »

Should we say, “The Lord told me”?

June 19, 2017

I recently discovered a podcast produced by serious students of Wesleyan-Arminianism called “Remonstrance.” (For some reason, I’m unable to copy and paste a link to the podcast URL. You can search for it in the iTunes store or wherever fine podcasts are distributed.) It’s been a godsend for me: I’ve been slightly concerned over the past few years that my theological convictions have moved too far in a Reformed direction, especially as it relates to God’s providence and sovereignty. Also, it doesn’t help that my two favorite contemporary preachers are Calvinists.

Still, I’m only “slightly concerned” because, like Wesley, I’m a “man of one book”: I don’t invest anyone’s theology with any authority that doesn’t derive from its concordance with what God has revealed in scripture.

So what’s a Methodist pastor like me to do?

How about digging more deeply into my Wesleyan-Arminian roots and seeing if my current convictions are in line with what Arminius and Wesley actually believed (rather than what modern-day descendants of their tradition believe)? If you’re a layperson, you might wonder why I should need a podcast to help me with this. Didn’t I learn this stuff at my Methodist-affiliated seminary?

And the answer is “no.” While I knew that Wesley was an outspoken Arminian, we studied no original writings of Arminius himself. Moreover, while we read about the disputes that Wesley had with Calvinists like George Whitefield, we didn’t dig deeply into the theological ideas that undergirded those disputes—beyond shallow discussions about free will and double predestination.

And, no, none of us read Calvin’s Institutes, so who among us even knew what we were supposed to be rejecting and why?

Mostly, what we Methodists learned from mainline seminary is that theology isn’t something to get hung up about. (And we wonder why our United Methodist Church is on the brink of schism?)

All that to say, the purpose of the Remonstrance podcast is to dig deeply into the primary sources (and trusted secondary sources) to recover true Wesleyan-Arminian thought. I was relieved to learn, through a series of podcasts, that both Arminius and Wesley embraced meticulous providence and penal substitution. (Neither, by the way, believed in the “governmental theory” of atonement, which is popular in some Methodist circles today.)

So, with that in mind, I want to draw your attention to this blog post from fellow Arminian Roger Olson. He shares a personal experience that (he believes) was supernatural. He worries that too many of us evangelicals (maybe himself included) too quickly reject the supernatural.

I wrote the following comment (now awaiting moderation).

As for the apparent “coincidence” of thinking about your friend, I have no problem whatsoever believing that it’s supernatural. If we believe in the providence of external events (which I most assuredly do)—that God is constantly working through events in the world for his purposes—why wouldn’t we also believe in the “providence of our thoughts”? This is why, by the way, I don’t have a problem (with a few qualifications) with people who say, “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord showed me…” What they usually mean is, “I have an intuition, which I believe comes from God, that I should do this particular thing.”

Here are my qualifications: that we don’t elevate these intuitions to the same status as God’s revelation in scripture; that the intuition doesn’t contradict scripture; and that we recognize that we may be wrong or misinterpreting what the Lord is telling us.

What about you? How comfortable are you with Christians saying, “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord showed me…”?

The temptation to “go from house to house”

June 15, 2017

My friend Leslie got ordained last night. I met her on my first day of class at Emory in 2004. She often elbowed me awake in John Hayes’s 8:00 a.m. OT class.

Last night at Annual Conference, our bishop, Sue Haupert-Johnson, preached a message to our conference’s newly ordained, commissioned, and licensed pastors and deacons. Her text was Luke 10:1-12, where Jesus commissions 72 disciples to proclaim the gospel and heal the sick in the towns around Galilee. The bishop related Jesus’ instructions to these disciples to our role as clergy.

Prior to her sermon, I’d never thought about the meaning of verse 7: “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.”

Do not go from house to house.

In other words, Jesus says, when the disciples come into a town, and someone offers them a place stay, they should avoid the temptation to seek more comfortable, more spacious lodging in someone else’s home, even if it’s offered to them. Stay where you are and be content, Jesus says. Don’t look for something better.

It’s easy to see how this applies to us United Methodist pastors, who are itinerant. Each year the bishop either reappoints us to our present church or sends us to a new church (or churches). In theory, we go where we’re sent; it isn’t up to us. Whether we “like” our appointment is beside the point.

The danger, the bishop said, is restlessness: we clergy will be so anxious for our next appointment that we’ll fail to appreciate, enjoy, or learn from our present one. This restlessness becomes worse, of course, when we look over our shoulders at our clergy colleagues and compare ourselves to them and their appointments. “How do I rate? Am I falling behind? Am I moving ahead?”

As a naturally ambitious person, I can relate—and maybe you can, too. My temptation to compare myself to others has brought me nothing but misery.

Besides, we should avoid “going from house to house” for a deeper reason: Ultimately we’re appointed not by any bishop or district superintendent; we’re appointed by God.

In fact, wherever you are, whoever you are, you are there because God wants you to be there. You have an appointment. 

But what if you say, “I don’t like where God has appointed me”? Or, as the Talking Heads sang:

You may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house”
And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife”

Okay… As pastor and theologian Paul Zahl says: Blame God. He can take it.

But as you do so, remember this: We are “slaves of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Our life doesn’t belong to us. Our personal happiness isn’t the point of life. We are owned by the One who paid for us by the precious blood of his beloved Son. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, we live for one reason only: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Wherever God has appointed us, he has done so for his glory. The question all of us must ask is this: “Is living for God’s glory enough for me?”

What Galatians reveals about the authority of scripture

June 14, 2017

Last week, in my Galatians Bible study, we covered scripture that includes Galatians 3:16. Scholars call this a parenthetical aside on Paul’s part: while making the case that justification by faith alone was God’s plan from the beginning, Paul briefly argues that God’s promise to Abraham explicitly pointed to Christ:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

There are many scriptures to which Paul might be referring here, but he seems to have Genesis 15:18 and 17:8 in mind.

Here’s my question: Is there a problem with Paul’s argument?

Potentially, yes. The Greek word translated “offspring,” sperma, can function either as singular, meaning one, or as a collective singular, meaning more than one. Paul himself uses “offspring” in this plural sense in Romans 4:18. While many readers of Genesis might assume that the author intends it in the plural sense, Paul disagrees: in this case, “offspring” means one, and that one is Jesus.

What do we make of this?

Here’s my perspective: The word is ambiguous in Genesis 15:8 and 17:8. It could be plural or singular. But as soon as Paul, writing God’s inspired Word in Galatians, says that it is singular and it refers to Christ, the ambiguity is resolved. I feel the same, by the way, about arguments over the word “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14b: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” In Hebrew, the word for “virgin,” almah, can also mean “young woman.” (The translators of the Septuagint understood it as “virgin.”) But when Matthew uses the word “virgin” in Matthew 1:23, the ambiguity—again—is resolved.

That issue aside, I like this insight from the ESV Study Bible commentary on Galatians 3:16 (emphasis theirs):

And to your offspring Paul knows that the singular (Hb. zera‘) can be used a collective singular that has a plural sense (he interprets it in a plural sense in Rom. 4:18). But it also can have a singular meaning, and here Paul, knowing that only in Christ would the promised blessings come to the Gentiles, sees that the most true and ultimate fulfillment of these OT promises comes to one “offspring,” namely, Christ. Paul’s willingness to make an argument using a singular noun in distinction from its plural form (which occurs in other OT verses) indicates a high level of confidence in the trustworthiness of the small details of the OT text.[†]

A high level of confidence in the trustworthiness of the small details of the OT text. I like that!

Why don’t more of us let the apostle’s view of the authority of scripture shape our own?

I’m at Annual Conference this week in Athens, Georgia. This is a yearly meeting of United Methodists from the northern half of Georgia. In a sermon, one of my fellow pastors quoted a scholar who said, “God is a trustworthy maker of promises.” Of course that’s true. But given the convictions of the many progressive clergy who were in attendance, I wanted to say, “Yes, but how can God be a ‘trustworthy maker of promises’ if you don’t trust the only means by which those promises are revealed (i.e., the Bible)?”

How would progressives answer that question?

1. The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2250.