"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The purpose of preaching

“All our sermons are made to set forth and magnify Christ the Lord...Some men think that they preach Christ gloriously, because they name him every ten minutes in their sermons. But this is not necessarily preaching Christ...We must not therefore force unnatural interpretations on Holy Writ for the purpose of constantly introducing the name of Christ...Only let us be careful, that his name throws life and glory upon all our Ministrations, and that every sermon tends to draw sinners to him...But let not this exclusive scheme be supposed to cramp our system within the narrow range of a few points in theology. We might as well speak of a village that has no road to the metropolis, as of a point of Christian doctrine, privilege or practice, that has no reference to Christ crucified.”

-Charles Bridges, an Anglican priest in the 1800s in The Christian Ministry. Pg 240-241

Monday, April 27, 2009

The cult of "historical-gramatical"

A presumption today is that an historical-grammatical approach to Biblical interpretation translates into solid, healthy, orthodox Christianity. Such is the assumption in evaluating sermons, constructing small group Bible studies and teaching college and seminary level courses on the Bible. In all these venues, one's exegesis is deemed "conservative" and orthodox if it relies on the grammatical structure (looking at how the words function in a particular Biblical passage) and the historical context (looking at the historical background and original understanding of a text when the Biblical book was written). These are the two elements of interpretation, and no others, for many exegetes.

I would, however, like to suggest that the historical-grammatical-only approach is not only not the only valid approach to interpretation, but when used by itself is anemic to Christian growth and a truly Christian and biblical reading of Scripture. But before you label me a liberal, let me explain:


The historical-grammatical-only approach to Scripture has problems which mitigate against it.

1) It is wholly modern and novel

Though many respected teachers argue that an exegetical approach to the text of Scripture derived from historical-grammatical principles alone are the basis of correct interpretation, such an approach is very new in Christian Biblical interpretation. Even those seen as reading “close to the text” like Chrysostom did not employ this method alone. Old puritans, who one would think would teach the Scripture this way, teach the Song of Solomon as ultimately about Christ, something teachers ranging from Mark Driscoll to Tommy Nelson mock.

Yet, it is not merely because my beloved "Dead Theologians" don't use historical-grammatical alone, therefore I won't do it. There are even bigger reasons.

2) Historical-grammatical-only is a method not draw from Scripture

"Biblical Preaching" should at some point have a claim to "biblical" justification. Yet, our search of the Scriptures find no such thing. When Paul instructs Timothy, though Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is "God-breathed" and useful in all sorts of ways, no instruction is given to be careful only to teach Scripture as it was historically understood when it was written and how it is grammatically constructed. Paul's specific instructions, though lacking this, DO have instructions for Christian preachers.

Paul repeatedly gives the criteria for judging a Christian, biblical message: Christ is preached (1 Cor 1:23, Eph 3:8, Php 1:15, Rom 15:20, etc). This is the consistent content of the message of bible teachers for Paul.

But are these two things (historical-grammatical-only, and preaching Christ) opposed? Yes, for

3) Historical-Grammatical-only argues against a Christotelic reading of Scripture

Since reading it in several sources (Peter Enns, and G.K. Beale) my favorite example to display the unscriptural nature of an historical-grammatical-only approach is Matthew 2:15, where Matthew says that Christ fulfilled what is written in Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt, I have called my son."

Here's my challenge. Read Hosea 11. Show me how this can be read in an historical-grammatical-only way to see Christ. The passage actually speaks of Israel, not Christ. Historically, no Jew had read this passage as being about Christ. Grammatically, it makes no sense to see Christ in Hosea 11:1. We now have two possibilities: We can say that Matthew is a poor exegete of Scripture. Or, we can say that we have a flawed method of interpretation.

[I have shown elsewhere how we understand this passage if this problem just gave you an ulser]

Even if we say Matthew can do things differently than us, because he was inspired and had the Holy Spirit there to give him permission to do something we can never do (violate Historical-Grammatical-only interpretation) then we have done something else serious:

4) Historical-Grammatical-only undermines plenary inspiration

The Historical-Grammatical interperation is largely a modernist method for Bible study which assumes the authors of Scripture are human, ignoring divine inspiration. If we truly believe that Scripture is divinely guided, inspired beyond the knowledge of capability of human authors, then the original author and audience is not sufficient to understand all that Scripture is saying. Hosea 11:1 is understood by Hosea and Israel at the time to be refering to Israel. As Enns points out, after the Christ-event, Matthew would have to instruct Hosea on the full meaning of his words. Hosea and historical Israel are not the authority of final appeal on the meaning of Scripture. If they were the only authors and audience, then we could say so, but they are not.


Is there an alternative to reading Scripture only within a modernist Historical-Grammatical method? First we must say that, for as much as I have maligned it, the Historical-Grammatical method of inquiring into the original meaning of the text with historical and linguistic methods is not bad, and is in fact necessary to understanding Scripture. It is NOT, however, the end of our quest for the meaning of a text. Two passages come to mind on the final meaning of any major passage of Scripture.

First, Jesus appeared to two men after his resurrection:

Luke 24:44-45 - Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,

Second, Jesus also had some direct teaching for the Pharisees in John 5:

John 5:39-40 - "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."

Christ gives us the biblical approach to reading and preaching Scripture: it points to Christ. How is this done without doing violence to a text? Here are a few quick suggestions in reading:

1) Pointed reading

Christ said that he came to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17). Therefore, the Law has a particular assignment in Scripture to point to Christ in some way. If a Law is ceremonial about the sacrificial system, the sacrifice ultimately points to the need for a perfect sacrifice that did not need repeating, but is fulfilled in Christ. If the Law is civil dealing with governing or the kingdom, then the Law points to Christ as King, in His role as governing and his authority to rule. If the Law is moral, then it points to the character of Christ, a perfect moral Person, exercising justice and mercy perfectly in his Person and work.

And if it is prophetic...then hey, it's easy!

2) Typographical reading

Sometimes the Scripture will contain a narrative. There, the characters in the story will in some way point to Christ, either as type or anti-type. Even in direct typography, such as Christ as the New Adam (Romans 5) or the new David, the imperfections of the first are perfected in Christ, just as the command to Israel in Hosea 11:1 was to a disobedient son, while the command to Matthew was to an obedient son.

3) Theological reading

Sometimes a Scripture may just speak of the condition of man or the world. Such is the case with large portions of Job or Ecclesiates, where the state of man and the world are lamented. Here we see the result of Genesis 3 on everything, and we feel the angst that ultimately is resolved in Christ. We see concepts in Scripture that ultimately resolve theologically in Christ

4) Historical Redemptive Reading

The story of Scripture is one of redemption. From start to end, it is a story of sin, fall, calamity, and redemption and restoration. No matter where you are in the text of Scripture, one can find where one is in that story.

There's certainly more, but I am still a student of Scripture. I have not come to the end of how Scripture reveals Christ to the church, though I do know it is through more than a modernist historical-grammatical method.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Evangelical Liberalism

The broader I read, the more the idea crystalizes that much of American evangelicalism today is closer to liberalism than orthodoxy. I don't mean that about everyone who uses the term. To some evangelicalism means an adherence to the gospel. But more and more evangelicalism now means an emotional experience. But then evangelicalism in this instance really has no differenciation from what, in the 1920's, they called Liberalism. I'm slowly making my way through Machen's "Christianity and Liberalism," wherein Machen contrasts Christianity and Liberalism as two different religions.

There are times, however, where I wonder if Machen is talking about some forms of American evangelicalism. Today, one might just as well distinguish this "Americanity" and Christianity. Americanity is a personal emotive experience with God that is true for the person because its their personal experience, no other basis is necessary. But, as Machen tells us:

"Salvation then, according to the Bible, is not something that was discovered, but something that happened...Christianity depends, not upon a complex of ideas, but upon the narration of an event.
Christian experience, we have just said, is useful as confirming the gospel message. But because it is necessary, many men have jumped to the conclusion that it is all that is necessary. Having a present experience of Christ in the heart, may we not, it is said, hold that experience not matter what history may tell us as to the events of the first Easter morning?...Religious experience [that] may be, but Christian experience it certainly is not.
Christian experience is rightly used when it helps to convince us that the event narrated in the New Testament actually did occur; but it can never enable us to be Christians whether the events occured or not."

-Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. pg 70-71

Sunday, April 19, 2009

To Miss Ainslie

Epigram to Miss Ainslie in Church

Fair maid, you need not take the hint,
Nor idle texts pursue;
'Twas guilty sinners that he meant,
Not angels such as you

- Robert Burns

Friday, April 17, 2009

Deeds, not creeds?

"the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine...Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of Jesus; he was not interested merely in general principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us."

-J. Gresham Machen. Christianity and Liberalism. pg 21, 25

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reformed Spirituality

I've covered the introduction to Reformed Spirituality, but have yet to get to the meat of the actual Spiritual approach. I will be doing so in the next month or so, contingent on my schedule. So far, the subject and problem of Spirituality have been discussed as well as the answer given in Scripture. Still to be covered is the means through which one encounters God. But as a review, here is how the series has proceeded so far:

The class: Reformed Spirituality

1. Introduction: What is Reformed Spirituality?

2. Theology of the Heart: Man and Sin
(Reflection on Job 14 and a Fallen world)

3. Our Mystical Salvation: Union with Christ
Part 1: Answering the Problem of Sin
Part 2: Salvation in Christ
(Reflection: Justification, Sanctification and Adoption)

4. Overcoming Sin

Coming up:

5. The Community of Faith

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mark: The Resurrection

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back--it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you."

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised,
and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned--every one--to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off
out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring;
he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

-Isaiah 53:3-11

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Resource: Keller and Clowney on Preaching

Tim Keller has become a minor celebrity lately in the evangelical world with his book "Reason for God." What some people do not know is that he used to be a seminary professor. Among his courses was one on preaching. If one has ever heard Keller preach, one knows Keller knows his stuff on how to preach. RTS on itunes Univerity has recently posted the whole course that Keller taught with the late Edmund Clowney, free for download.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Augustine on Merits

"Now there was, no doubt, a decided merit in the Apostle Paul, but it was an evil one...For his call, however, from heaven and his conversion by that great and most effectual call, God's grace was alone, because his merits, though great, were yet evil...God's grace is not given according to our merits...wherefore no man ought, even when he begins to possess good merits, to attribute them to himself, but to God."

-Augustine. On Grace and Free Will. ch 12-13

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Augustine on the effectual grace of the Cross

“God, therefore, heals us not only that He may blot out the sin which we have committed, but, furthermore, that He may enable us even to avoid sinning.”

-Augustine Nature and Grace. Ch 29

Friday, April 03, 2009

Thirsting for God

I hope the suggestions under my last post yields me some new poetry reading. Until then, I picked up my volume of William Cowper. I don't know the relative virtue of his talent, but I know I enjoy and envy his honesty in composition.

"Thirsting for God" visits a heart as it is, and longs to be. It mixes hope and lament. It also makes no pretense before its reader:


I thirst, but not as once I did,
The vain delights of earth to share;
Thy words, Immanuel, all forbid
That I should seek my pleasure there.

It was the sight of thy dear cross
First weaned my soul from earthly thing
And taught me to esteem as dross
The mirth of fools and pomp of kings

I want that grace that springs from thee,
That quickens all things where it flows,
And makes a wretched thorn like me,
Bloom as the myrtle or the rose.

Dear fountain of delight unknown,
No longer sink below the brim:
But overflow and pour me down
A living and life-giving stream.

For sure, of all the plants that share
The notice of thy Father's eye,
None proves less grateful to his care,
Or yields him meaner fruit than I.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tell me: Who are your favorite poets?

In reading Gordon's "Why Johnny Can't Preach," I have found his recommendations helpful, from writing theological articles (yea for blogging!) to getting together with other preachers to compare how one organizes a sermon.

One of his recommendations I need some help with. Gordon recommends that those who wish to preach should read poetry. So, I invite comments:

1) Do you read poetry?
(and if so...)

2) Who do you recommend? (religious or otherwise)
I have done a little (very little) religious poetical reading (Donne, Cowper, etc), but are there poets that are good, for their shear skill in saying a thing well, that I should read?