Mar 10

IS STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT? (Part Three)

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here) The previous two posts have given us a reason to look

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here)

The previous two posts have given us a reason to look to the Old Testament as a place that shaped Jesus’ own perspective and one that could help us ground our own narratives on the character of God. Now we look at how the Old Testament can help us to identify–and join Jesus in living according to–God’s plan and purpose, thus bringing glory to “God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds)

God’s Purpose

One of the crucial elements of Jesus’ teaching is His proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. In the Kingdom of God the purpose of God is fully expressed and fully achieved. Jesus begins and ends the Beatitudes in Matthew mentioned with statements regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, 10, NAS95)

Jesus’ reshaping narratives in this initial element of the Sermon on the Mount serve as a focal point for the many kingdom of heaven parables found within this Gospel. The words, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, are familiar to many as the announcement of Jesus in Matthew 4:17. Many don’t realize they are also the words of John the Baptist and Jesus’ command for his disciples’ proclamation (3:2, 10:7). Where does Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of heaven originate if not in His Scripture? The Old Testament is replete with descriptions of what God’s kingdom is to be like and how those within it are to live.

Many individuals who read through the Old Testament are often attracted to the stories of terror and horror inflicted by the Israelites on their surrounding nations. Other readers focus narrowly on the David and Bathsheba story or that of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11. But such a focus misses the point of the Old Testament, to recount the activity of Yahweh, God of creation among humanity. The more important passages often seem to be less frequently proclaimed than the scandalous many, but remain more important nonetheless.

There are several key passages of the Old Testament that encapsulate the timeless purpose of God.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NAS95)

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

“[T]hey will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

It would appear that the purpose of God is for humanity rather than against it. It would also appear that the purpose of God encompasses blessing for others through the very ones who are in relationship with God.

Two narratives intertwine throughout the Old Testament regarding God’s purpose. The first informs us of God’s relationship with humanity and the creation. Despite attempts to narrowly limit the use of Genesis 1 to scientific debate, it serves a larger purpose, especially when cast against other stories of creation. One element of the creation is that the world; the land, the seas, the birds of the sky and the animals of land and even male and female, are viewed through God’s perspective as “very good.” The later scandalous stories of disobedience and discontent accounted in the Old Testament are unable to mask the reality that God looks upon all that he has done with great delight and pleasure. This attitude of God is not solely toward humanity. When we attempt to live like Jesus in our relationship to creation we must take God’s perspective into complete consideration.

The second narrative relates to God’s intended consequences for humanity. From Adam through Noah and vocalized clearly with Abram, God seeks to bless the nations of this created world, who one may recall are separated by discord at Babel. God is not looking for reasons to destroy but to preserve, not to keep in poverty but to distribute bountiful blessings. The sin that separates humanity from God is being addressed by God so as to tear down the walls of separation. Selfishness rears its ugly head in our lives as often as the dandelions of spring, summer, and fall appear. The Old Testament consistently reminds the people of God that they do not own or possess God, but that God possesses them. He is not for their use, but they for His.

In 539 B.C. the covenant people of God were permitted to return to their land from exile. Not all returned, but those who did reflected many false narratives. When 17 years had passed in the land, God spoke another message of reminder through the prophet Haggai.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “ Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “ You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11, NAS95)

These people of God looked for God’s blessings in life while ignoring God’s purpose. The Old Testament continues to communicate clearly that God is to be glorified among his creation. When we remember and our lives reflect that narrative as a driving purpose, then God works through creation to multiply our efforts and provide bountifully for our needs. When we forget and seek to glorify the work of our hands, then those same provisions can wither and disappear.

No one reflects the purpose of living to bring glory to God the Father better than Jesus the Son. His life activities are reflected best in the prayer recorded before his arrest.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:1-4, NAS95)

Jesus understood His purpose because his narratives were formed and shaped by study of His Scripture, our Old Testament. He understood God’s character and taught God’s character to those following Him. He kept God’s purpose central in His own life, understanding the folly and failures of past generations who departed from this path. If we are to be apprentices of Jesus, we would do well to reshape our narratives concerning God’s character and purpose until they rested on solid foundations and could not be shaken, despite the storms of life.

For the apprentice of Jesus the Old Testament is a rich depository of narrative changing accounts. Many of these narratives teach positive lessons while others teach using negative example. An apprentice of Jesus ignores these teachings to his or her own peril. The normal result of minimizing the writings shared by Jew and Christian is to somehow perceive God in this world through a warped lens. If I truly wish to live like Jesus I must think like Jesus, who “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself” so that “God highly exalted Him” above all those “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and in so doing all Jesus does is “to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11).

 

Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

 

 

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Kingdom of God, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / /

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Feb 20

IS STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT? (Part Two)

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here) Learning to think like Jesus thought is a difficult task. It is made more

...
Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here)

Learning to think like Jesus thought is a difficult task. It is made more difficult if we are unfamiliar with the Scripture of Jesus!! The Old Testament has much to share with us in the challenges to following God, both the positive outcomes and the negative consequences. Jesus’ thinking was shaped by these writings about his ancestors’ covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

How does the Old Testament help us live as Jesus lived?

For all the attention given in various Christian circles to returning to the “New Testament period” or to following the teachings of Jesus, too often little attention is paid to the source of those teachings. Remaining in the Gospel of Luke for examples, we find in the Temptation account three quotations by Jesus of Old Testament passages, and two more by the tempter: from Deuteronomy by Jesus and Psalms by the tempter. Later in the same chapter, the Gospel records the passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 read by Jesus, which he then describes as being fulfilled in their hearing. (Luke 4:4-12 and 18-21) Yet despite these clues many followers of Jesus profess ignorance of, or else devalue, the Old Testament while seeking in their own life to “have the mind of Christ.” As the song Old Time Religion” goes, “it was good for [Jesus] and it’s good enough for me.”

So, how does the Old Testament help us live as Jesus lived? I would propose two main thoughts for consideration: It helps transform and shape our narrative about God’s character and God’s purpose.

God’s character

There is probably no greater narrative that can negatively affect our apprenticeship with Jesus than our narrative concerning God’s character. The first of the Apprentice series, The Good and Beautiful God, wrestles with many of those. Our modern world often has a schizophrenic perspective on the God of the Bible, viewing the Old Testament and New Testament as portraying two distinct deities. Yet it is the God of the Old Testament whom Jesus calls Father and urges his audience to follow and love! The word schizophrenia comes from the same Greek word Paul uses in encouraging his audience to have, not a mind divided from Christ but rather, a mind united with Christ. So what does the Old Testament teach us about the character of God?

One of the key attributes of God in the OT is that of hesed, frequently translated as “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.” It appears over 200 times in the text. The first appears within the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the words of Lot.

Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; (Gen 19:19, NAS95)

Over half the total appearances of this word are in the Book of Psalms. This “hymnbook” of the people of God returns time and again to the theme of God’s character.

For the king trusts in the LORD, And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken. (Psalm 21:8, NAS95)

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 36:7, NAS95)

Yet, the word is also translated as “righteousness” as in Psalm 5:8. O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; Make Your way straight before me. (NAS95) Interestingly, the next verse of the psalm is referenced by Paul in Romans 3 as he demonstrates that there is none righteous, no not one! There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue. (Psalm 5:9, NAS95)

Who is the God Jesus proclaims if not the God described in the “Writings?” One of the favorite texts to utilize in reshaping narratives–indeed that is what Jesus was doing at the time!–is the beatitude section of Matthew 5. If we think Jesus found his teaching within the Old Testament, we would be right. The central portion of the Beatitudes, 5:4-8, consists of Jesus rephrasing teachings from His Scriptures.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, (Isaiah 61:2)

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

But the humble will inherit the land, And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. (Psalm 37:11)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk, Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm. (Proverb 11:17)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, And has not sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)

One trap followers of Jesus are prone to stumble into is the trap of substitution. We consciously or subconsciously replace Yahweh, God the Father with Jesus, God the Son, and remove God the Father from our world of thinking. This is easy to do based on some statements of Jesus.

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. (John 5:19)

Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

Yet John’s Prologue ends with No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18) This, and every other reference to “God” in the New Testament writing references the God presented in the Old Testament. Jesus is portrayed throughout John’s Gospel as explaining this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Greek word used for “explain” is the word lying behind the preaching word, hermeneutics. Jesus is presenting the God of the Old Testament in a way that those around him might see the truth of God’s character and experience the steadfast love of this very same God. The stories found within the Old Testament testify to the hesed of God, the lovingkindness, the steadfast love dependent not on the actions and attitudes of the humans but on the character of God! One example will suffice.

Due to a famine throughout the regions of Egypt and Canaan, the descendants of Abraham leave the land they were given and go to Egypt for nourishment. They become comfortable in that new place and remain several generations, prospering on their personal connections to a previously important individual, now deceased. Their political fortunes change, as do their financial affairs. Soon, their physical freedoms are removed and they are situated at the bottom rung of the social ladder. After many decades of seeming forgetfulness, the Old Testament records that they “cried out” and their cry “rose up to God” and “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Exodus 2:23-24, NAS95) It does not say that they cried out to God, only that they cried out because of their bondage and God heard their groaning.

Many are familiar with the stories of Moses, that God called him out of the wilderness and sent him to confront the ruler of the land and to rescue His people. God’s hesed does not permit leaving his people in suffering. The book of Judges repeats this cycle, but makes clear that when the generation that knew the deliverance of God died, their progeny forgot and turned away from God. Yet, when they cry out in their suffering, God delivers them through one he sends. What a different narrative than one that reads, “unless I am really good and do everything I am supposed to do, God will not help me at all.”

In the next post I will explain a second element of Jesus’ thinking we can learn in the Old Testament, that of God’s purpose.

 

Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Kingdom of God, Narrative | Tags: / / / / /

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Feb 13

Is Studying the Old Testament Worth the Time and Effort?

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(Part one of a three part series on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation) I had a conversation recently with an individual reading a 20th century foreign author. In essence he said, this guy’s writing is really dense. The voice inflections were those of

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(Part one of a three part series on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation)

I had a conversation recently with an individual reading a 20th century foreign author. In essence he said, this guy’s writing is really dense. The voice inflections were those of one exasperated by the inability to easily master the thoughts of this writer placed on the printed page. Yet, behind the exasperation was steely determination to keep at it until those thoughts had been mastered. Both the exasperation and determination are common for those who attempt to understand the Old Testament. Is it really worth the time and effort?

Some writings tell us stories; some of those stories cause us to think differently. Other writings seek to instruct us and improve us in some particular area; cookbooks immediately come to mind. From these writings we tend to pick and choose, we grab what we can immediately and then place it on the shelf. Are instructional writings worth the time and effort?

The answer to this question is found in our motivation for picking them up and reading them. If I just want to add trivia to a collection kept in my brain, then they are probably not. If I want to become better at something, then definitely!

The question for this blog, “Is studying the Old Testament worth the time and effort?,” likewise depends on our motivation. As followers of Jesus, hopefully the answer would be a strong and solid, “YES!” One of the first attributes for any apprentice is to study what the skilled craftsman does. The relationship between doing and thinking is much like that of the chicken and the egg.

In his letter to the believers in Rome Paul provides many instructions on what his listeners should do.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13, NAS95)

Yet, before telling them to do anything, he encourages them to submit to God and have their mind changed.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2, NAS95)

The word translated as “prove” is identified in classical Greek as meaning “to think fit to do.” Paul thus links the transformation of our thinking as a step toward understanding God’s will directs us to actions that are actually good for us to do. In other words, as our thinking changes so too do our actions. Paul uses this same word for thinking/understanding in 26 different verses throughout his letters. Although this word appears five times in Romans 12, perhaps Paul’s most famous use of the concept is developed in Philippians 2 where he introduces his grand statement about Jesus’ humanity with “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” (NAS95) or more literally, “You (all) are to think just like Jesus thought.” (Philippians 2:5)

For those who wish to follow Jesus as an apprentice these words provide excellent guidance. At the Apprentice Institute we refer to the way we think in life about the various situations in our lives as our narratives. Our goal as apprentices of Jesus is to replace a False Narrative with a True Narrative based on the truth of God. Where then do we get these true narratives? How do we come to understand the false narratives in our life?

Fortunately, these answers need not go unanswered. Paul provides us the answer; we are to take on the narratives of Jesus himself! It is such a simple answer, but the question remains for many who would wish to be apprentices of Jesus, how is that even possible since Jesus is God?

Fortunately, reading the New Testament with “ears to hear” opens the door for these narratives of Jesus. Matthew 21 reports Jesus visit to the Temple during the week before his crucifixion. It is a relative short account. And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. (21:12 NAS95) This action of Jesus seems out of character with the teacher of parables. What could have motivated Jesus to do what he did? Perhaps it was his understanding of the Old Testament!!! Matthew continues And He said to them, “It is written,‘ MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” (21:13)

Direct quotations in the New Testament are intended to call to mind a larger passage from the Old that provide context for understanding their usage. In the case of the first here, Isaiah 56 is the context.

      “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,

      To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD,

      To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath

      And holds fast My covenant;

      Even those I will bring to My holy mountain

      And make them joyful in My house of prayer.

      Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;

      For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

      The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,

      “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” (56:6-8, NAS95)

This context tells us that behind Jesus’ action of clearing the Temple lies an understanding of the purpose of God: to bring others to his House. His action is against a practice that is preventing “others” from coming to the House of the Lord. Jesus’ action is motivated by His thinking, which is based on His understanding of the Old Testament.

The second passage from Jeremiah 7 is even more descriptive. The basis of Jeremiah 7 is a call to repentance, a call to change their behavior patterns. Jeremiah proclaims that those who come to the House of the Lord do so with unclean deeds in their past and future, yet think that this Holy location will somehow prevent them from facing punishment. This action of Jesus, which precipitates his arrest and death, is based firmly on the Old Testament teaching. A follower of Jesus should take Jesus’ Bible seriously!

 In the next two posts I will discuss two topics where the Old Testament can help us build True Narratives about God the Father.

 


harstineAn educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Narrative, Spiritural Growth, Uncategorized | Tags: / / / / / /

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Sep 22

The Bible: Infallible, Inerrant, Other?

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Bible

Control came up a lot in Sunday School yesterday. What was the theme? We like to be in control. Understandably, no one wants her car to careen off the highway and spin into a field or ditch. No one wants to sign off his decision

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Bible

Control came up a lot in Sunday School yesterday.

What was the theme? We like to be in control.

Understandably, no one wants her car to careen off the highway and spin into a field or ditch. No one wants to sign off his decision making to another for major life choices. We like control.

Even when it comes to Scripture, we like control.

Control can mean keeping Scripture at arms’ length, never cracking the cover. Or control can mean memorizing a lot of verses so as to immediately squash your conversation partner in a theological debate.

Or, control can mean putting claims on Scripture that Scripture doesn’t make of itself. You (may) know the ones: infallible, inerrant.

Those claiming the infallability of Scripture most often mean that while it may contain errors it is doesn’t fail in achieving its goal (however they define that goal).

While inerrancy supporters claim an even stiffer line that Scripture contains no errors, about anything. Everything in Scripture is absolutely and definitively without error, even the years in those pesky chronologies. (It should be noted there is a wide gap in the way inerrantists define their own position).

For most of my life, I didn’t know what I thought about those terms, for most of my life I didn’t know those terms.

But once I cut some theological teeth, I scoffed at the idea of infallibility or inerrancy.

Maybe it’s because I come from a denomination that says only this of Scripture: “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement for infallibility or inerrancy.

But last week I received an email, wondering if the Apprentice Institute affirms the inerrancy of Scripture.

And in my search to respond, I changed my mind, sort of.

See this Karl Barth guy popped in my head.

Barth has this idea that the Bible is not the Word of God (capital “W”), instead it’s the word Karl Barth--Wikimedia commonsof God that points to the Word of God (that is Jesus–“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” –John 1.1).

The Bible isn’t revelation, the Bible is witness to revelation.

Think about it, when you read the Gospels, or Paul’s letters, or the Old Testament, all the authors are telling you about someone or something else: God.

They’re not the revelation, they’re not the big show, they’re pointing you toward that revelation, toward the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But my question is: if the Bible as witness points us to Jesus Christ without fail, then is the Bible infallible because it points us to the One who alone is inerrant? I’m playing fast and loose with that term, so forgive me.

The problem (we have) with Barth’s position is that we like control.

Inerrancy and infallibility are ways to put parameters on the Bible, to be able to cooly and calmly defend the authority of Scripture with unbreakable locks.

But what if the Bible doesn’t need all that? What if the goal of the Bible isn’t the Bible itself? What if the goal of the Bible is teaching you what it means to be part of this community called the body of Christ (the church)? And the way the Bible does this is to point away from itself to the One who calls you to be part of his body?

But thinking this way may mean we’re not as in control as we’d like to be.

 

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Aug 06

Gospel, Salvation, and Vampire Christians: You’re Not One, Are You?

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“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Bumper sticker theology on the blog today. But seriously. God said it–in other words, “it’s in the Bible.” When you hear those words some claim about the Bible being sufficient isn’t too far behind. If not

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“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.”

Bumper sticker theology on the blog today.

But seriously. God said it–in other words, “it’s in the Bible.”

When you hear those words some claim about the Bible being sufficient isn’t too far behind. If not audibly, it’s implied.

There’s an inherent claim being made: “I don’t need tradition or creeds or other stuff people made up, just the Bible for me, thanks.”

There’s a simple beauty in that phrase, even if it’s impossible to maintain.

In chapter 5 of The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight argues people set up a false choice when they choose the Bible instead of the creeds.

For McKnight, there’s a direct line of development from 1 Corinthians 15 to the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.

You’ll recall that the apostolic gospel of Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 15. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the post.

Quick refresher: Paul received the Gospel and passed it along; he didn’t make it up.

Here’s a sketch of McKnight’s argument in the chapter:

First Corinthians 15 led to the development of the Rule of Faith,
and
the Rule of Faith led to the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed.
Thus, 1 Corinthians led to the Nicene Creed.
Thus, the Nicene Creed is preeminently a gospel statement!” (64)

Ok, I’m assuming a good bit of knowledge here, so let’s define some terms:

Rule of faith–don’t think of it as a disciplinary rule. It’s more like a rough outline of what it means to follow this God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Apostles’ Creed–developed over time, affirms belief in the Trinity–Father, Son, Holy Spirit–and the work of the those three persons in history.

Nicene Creed–product of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. outlining belief in God. Also Trinitarian in nature, but focuses primarily on the Father and the Son.

Whew, good? Enough church history for one blog post.

To boil it all down: “Denial of the creeds is tantamount to denying the gospel itself because what the creeds seek to do is bring out what is already in the Bible’s gospel.” (65).

The creeds are an attempt to clarify the gospel conversation. (Not the salvation conversation).

For the early church and much of church history–it was all about the gospel. If you read the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed you’ll Nicene Creed Icondiscover those common points about events in Jesus’ life:

Nicene Creed:
“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.”

Apostles’ Creed:
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

If that’s all true, when did the focus shift from gospel to salvation?

McKnight contends: The Reformation.

In true Protestant spirit a couple confessions (Augsburg and Genevan) shifted the church focus. (You’ll have to read the chapter or Google for more on those confessions, or ask your Lutheran/Reformed friend, respectively)

What changed? An intense emphasis on personal salvation.

Personal salvation became the goal, and the gospel was the road you traveled to get there.

The whole conversation switched from telling the story about Jesus’ life (gospel) to narrating points about God and you (salvation): “God loves you, you are messed up, Jesus died for you, accept him and (no matter what you do) you can go to heaven” (73).

Heard that speech before? Me too.John Wesley

McKnight gets bonus points for referencing my boy, John Wesley. Wesley is a poster child for this evangelical salvation thing. He was unsure about his standing with God, until one night on Aldersgate street when, in his words:

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (74)

Salvation = J Dubs and God.

A beloved figure around the Apprentice Institute Dallas Willard put it this way,

“‘Gospels of sin management’ presume a Christ with no serious work other than redeeming humankind…[and] they foster “‘vampire Christians,’ who only want a little blood for their sins but nothing more to do with Jesus until heaven” (76).

“Nothin but the blood,” indeed.

To McKnight’s credit, he doesn’t put the early church on a pedestal as some perfect period of church history. Nor does he deny the positive impact of the Reformation. Instead he helpfully traces the arc–admittedly with broad strokes–of the change of culture in the universal church from one of “gospel” (telling about Jesus) to “salvation” (telling about how you get saved).

If you had any doubts about the importance of the creeds, hopefully those are fading fast. And hopefully you see the broad movement from a gospel centered church culture to our current salvation centered situation. And hopefully you’re beginning to realize the gospel is bigger than salvation.

If you’re not there yet, you can always hum this little ditty:

What do you think about the book so far? Or, if you’re not reading, what do you think about the content you’ve seen here? Curious enough to check the book out?

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