I had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue Reading
A friend pointed me to Tim Challies’ recent interview with John MacArthur in which MacArthur doubled down on the claims made in his Strange Fire conference condemning the charismatic movement in Christianity. While I don’t have time to consider MacArthur’s scriptural arguments exhaustively, one of the passages he used to support his cessationist view that the Holy Spirit has stopped revealing things to people in the way that happened in Biblical times is Ephesians 2:20. I find his use of this passage providentially ironic and a good opportunity to illustrate how differently we read the Bible.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the disconnect between our public posturing as Christians and our actual behavior. I wrote last week about the difference between talking tough about sin in our public gestures and actually having tough conversations about our own sin in accountable relationships. Well today I’m confronted by the gap between the way I talk about reading the Bible and what really happens when I read it. Or at least today when I read all 8 of the weekly and daily Lectionary passages (Old Testament, Psalm, gospel, and epistle for each), God didn’t give me a word in any of them and that makes me doubt not God’s existence per se but whether I have the right expectations for what His book actually does. Continue Reading
It’s probably not best practice for a preacher to say this publicly, but my sermon this weekend was pretty awful. I think it’s because I’ve psyched myself out thinking that my congregation isn’t interested in the esoteric, mystical theological nerdiness that I care about, so I got tangled up in knots trying to figure out how to craft a relevant message instead of listening to what God had given me to say, which is why it never came together. So first I wanted to say I’m sorry to anyone who was there. And I wanted to try to write now what I should have pulled together more coherently before I stood up in front of God’s people. What I wanted to say in my sermon is that the Bible is so much more than a reference manual or a rulebook; the reason it’s called “God-breathed” is because God wants to use it to make our existence inspired, which means to live in the freedom and delight of His breath.
Two weeks ago, Jonathan Martin kicked off his “Both And” sermon series on Biblical interpretation by looking at the story of Acts 15, when the Jerusalem church officially decided that circumcision would not be required of the Gentiles. Jonathan titled his sermon “Spirit, Word, Community” after the three components of spiritual discernment that are in play in this passage. These are similar to the four aspects of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. What is interesting and scandalous about Acts 15 is that the charismatic witness of the Holy Spirit (i.e. experience) has a much greater role to play for the church than scripture itself. Continue Reading
The latest movement in neo-patriarchal evangelicaldom is a call for women to return to covering their heads in worship per the instructions of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. The movement’s website features a quote from neo-Calvinist scholar R.C. Sproul: “The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?” Do you think Sproul is right? If not, what would you say to Sproul and on what authority would you justify your response? Continue Reading
Renovatus Church has just started an awesome sermon series on how to read the Bible that will be either tremendously liberating or offensive for you to hear, depending on what kind of Christian you are. This week, Jonathan Martin shared the pulpit with Dr. Chris Green, a theology professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, to talk about what ought to happen to us when we read Bible stories that make God look ugly and arbitrary, like when He chooses one brother over another in the Old Testament or orders genocide. Jonathan and Chris argue that we’re reading it wrong if we don’t feel any sympathy for the people who get hurt, because the point is not merely to learn information about God but to gain the heart of Christ.
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “weightier matters of the law”? It sounds like they would be the parts of the Bible that are hard for a modern world to accept. Evangelical Christians in our time tend to litmus-test their faith according to their loyalty to what they see as the “weightier” parts of the Bible that clash with modern sensibilities, whether it’s young Earth creationism, the eternal conscious torment of hell, a complementarian account of gender, or opposition to homosexuality, to name the top four. But what does Jesus say are the “weightier matters of the law” in Matthew 23:23? Continue Reading
The latest theater in the Methodist proxy war over homosexuality has involved attacks here and here on the “so-called” Wesleyan quadrilateral. It’s really painful to me to see the “so-called” adjective being added to it.To me, the quadrilateral is one of the jewels of Wesleyan theology regardless of its derivative status. I don’t see it as a method of Biblical interpretation per se, but rather open honesty about what everyone really does when they interpret the Bible using the plain meaning of the text itself, the church’s interpretive tradition, our deductive reason, and the meta-rational intuitions of our experience. The conservatives don’t like “experience” because it’s not something they can pin down and adjudicate decisively. But to drop-kick “experience” from Biblical interpretation is really to say that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to speak to us outside of the Biblical text. It’s very apropos for us to be having this conversation on the eve of Pentecost.
The 2nd century Gnostic heretics were very good at constructing airtight, scripture-based arguments for their beliefs. In response to this, church father Ireneaus wrote that the verses in the Bible are like a mosaic of painted tiles that can be arranged in any order. He said that the same set of tiles that ordered correctly create the mosaic of a beautiful lamb had been reordered by the Gnostics to make a fox. This is a very important point about the problem of proof-texting Bible verses out of context and the naivete of assuming that we can or should give perfectly equally weight to each verse. In Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible, he takes this metaphor a step further. Continue Reading