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

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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 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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Jan 16

How Twitter Changed the Way You Read Scripture, Part 2

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I know what you’re thinking: “How could Twitter have possibly changed my reading of Scripture a second way?” (If you missed Part 1, check it out). And you’d be right to wonder, but hang in there.       To Follow or Not to Follow:

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I know what you’re thinking: “How could Twitter have possibly changed my reading of Scripture a second way?” (If you missed Part 1, check it out).

And you’d be right to wonder, but hang in there.

 

 

 

To Follow or Not to Follow: That is the Question

Twitter is like a playground for culture makers and followers. You can find your favorite author, celebrity, tv show, school, athlete, video game, __________, and follow everything they do. Depending on their level of sharing, you can find out too much: like what they had for lunch and whether they take cream or sugar in their coffee.

By clicking the big “Follow” button, you’re deciding to follow all of that person’s (or organization) tweets.

If you’re like most people (*ahem, me), you follow the people you find interesting and the causes you self-identify with. You want to read what you’re interested in.

In most instances this is a good thing. You find informative and helpful links mixed in with updates from friends’ lives, and it can make sporting events exciting to watch.

But, all this following and un-following isn’t neutral.

The Downside

Can you think of any other area in your life where you might practice this “Follow/Unfollow” model? (*hint: it’s in the title of this post).

That’s right: the good book.

Think about it: your denomination or tradition has shaped your theological vision.

You’ve been trained to read Scripture in a particular way (which isn’t a bad thing). It does mean, after a while, it’s easy to camp out in the sections of the Bible that are the easiest or most palatable to your own theological preference.

Also, it’s easy to campout in the sections of Scripture that are “easy” or at least “easier” to read and interpret (the Gospels and Psalms).

Again, not bad. And if you’re reading the Gospel and Psalms, I’m not telling you not to read them.

But how much of Scripture gets left out of your Bible-feed?

  • If you only read the Old Testament, you’re missing 41% of the story.
  • If you only read the New Testament plus Psalms, you’re missing 42% of the story.
  • If you only read the New Testament, you’re missing 59% of the story.
  • If you only read the New Testament Epistles, you’re missing 68% of the story.
  • If you only read the Gospels and Acts, you’re missing 92% of the story.

We all have parts of Scripture we prefer, they’re the sections that encourage us when we’re down and remind us of the unfailing goodness of God when we’re tempted to lose all hope. They remind us that there is something bigger than us out there and that we’re invited into the beauty of it all.

They also support what we already believe and rarely challenge our presuppositions: good or bad.

 Soul Training

So, today the soul training exercise is: read a portion or book of Scripture that you don’t regularly read or that you purposely avoid.

Maybe you’ve never read the Minor Prophets: spend some time with Habakkuk or Amos.

Maybe you avoid Philemon because you don’t know how to pronounce it (fill-ay-mon, file-e-mon, fill-eh-mon, who knows): read it, it’ll take you 2 minutes.

Maybe you’ve never read Leviticus, or Deuteronomy, or Numbers: dive into the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible).

Maybe you’ve never been allowed to read the Song of Songs: give it a whirl.

Or, maybe you consciously select verses and chapters to support your theological agenda: fine and good. But for this exercise, read a verse that supports the other side of your debate. I can’t anticipate all of them, so I’m assuming if you’re in this bucket, you’re able to plan your reading accordingly.

The books and portions of Scripture you “follow” will shape your vision of God, God’s story, and your place within that story.

Don’t settle for less than the whole.


Which parts of Scripture do you “follow?” What books or passages are your standbys? Share in the comments.
 
 

 **Featured Image Photo Credit: Shawn Campbell, Creative Commons

Posted in Blog, Soul Training | Tags: / / / /

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Jan 14

How Colossians 3 Changed My Life

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Colossians 3 changed my life. In 2002, I began memorizing Colossians 3:1-17. When you memorize a passage rather than a random verse here or there, your mind is filled with an entire system of thought, not merely an idea. Colossians 3 is a very rich

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Colossians 3 changed my life.

In 2002, I began memorizing Colossians 3:1-17. When you memorize a passage rather than a random verse here or there, your mind is filled with an entire system of thought, not merely an idea. Colossians 3 is a very rich passage, comprising a complete picture of our life in Christ, so it made an ideal choice to memorize.

It takes me a while to memorize a passage. I printed a few verses on a note card and carried it with me everywhere I went. I said it over and over in the morning, and throughout the day.

Each night I fell asleep reciting as many verses as I could. In about a month or two I had it memorized. I continued to recite it as often as I could each day, and soon the ideas and images in the passage began to permeate my thoughts. Each day, I found a new application for some part of the passage….

One of the things you notice when you memorize a passage is that single words stand out.

In the classes we found ourselves saying, “Why does Paul say Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in verse 1? Does that word matter? It must, because Paul never wasted words. So, what does it mean? What does it mean in my life?”…

Words are powerful. We are shaped by words. Words contain ideas, and they shape the way we see God, ourselves and all of reality.

Single words from Colossians 3 began to bounce around in my mind, forming a new understanding of the gospel, a new awareness of who I am, and who my brothers and sisters in Christ are.

I began to love the words in this passage:

  1. raised
  2. hidden
  3. wrath
  4. knowledge
  5. affections
  6. peace
  7. gratitude
  8. name

As I probed into these single words, they began to yield a deeper understanding of what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus. I found them to be a kind of corrective to many of my false ideas.


 Soul Training – Take it Deeper:

Start memorizing Colossians 3.

  • Write down the first 2 verses on a small notecard to help remind you.
  • Each week write a new card with 1-2 additional Colossians verses.
  • Consider memorizing this passage with your family.
  • Tip: Reviewing your notecards during meals is a good way to stay consistent in this soul training practice.

 

Taken from Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2013 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

Posted in Blog, Soul Training | Tags: / / / / / / /

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