Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Christ at the center of Scripture

For the past few months I have been studying how the Bible interprets itself, especially how the NT interprets the OT, but also how later parts of the OT interpret and apply earlier parts. While it may sound boring to many, it has opened up new windows of insight into how the apostles, even how Jesus, understood themselves to be heirs of the Old Testament story and how we are connected to that story as well. It has shown me how true it is that Christ is the center of Scripture, something I've known and taught, but now feel even more deeply.

Understanding this really does effect how we read our Bibles. There are two schools of thought on this topic: one is that we read the NT in light of the Old; the other is that we should read our OT in light of the New, especially the 'Jesus event'. Which is it? I think it has to be both - which requires multiple readings and rereadings of Scripture. First we read the Old Testament as if we have never heard of Jesus, which requires an active imagination! Then when we get to the new we are stunned at how Jesus steps into the stream of Israel's history. Jesus is like David. He's like Moses. He's like Joshua. He's not like Adam. Like but also unlike Israel herself. He's a better prophet than the prophets. He's a better priest who offers a better sacrifice than the priests. He's the own who ushers in the Day of the Lord with all its terrors and blessings.

Then, having read this, we go back and reread the OT and see all the ways it points us to Jesus. Adam failed to keep the law - someone must come to keep it for us. Melchizedek is a type of Christ, David is too. The tabernacle and especially the temple are types of Christ. The sacrifices prefigure the ultimate sacrifice of Christ. The exodus is a type of the salvation offered by Jesus. So is the return from exile.

Too often we leave off one of these readings. If we forget to read the OT in light of the New, we'll treat the OT as though it's sub Christian literature, like Marcion. If we forget to read the NT in light of the Old we'll neglect the stream of history into which Jesus stepped. We'll neglect the actual importance of events like the exodus and the calling of Abram and the exile and return and end up spiritualizing them or turning them into some wild allegory. We'll miss out on the significance of what it meant for the early church to call Jesus 'Lord' and 'Christ' and 'Son of Man'.

Schleiermacher, the founding father of modern hermeneutics and also the father of liberalism, urged the readers of the Bible to read the parts in light of the whole, the construct the whole from the parts. Know the whole story and read the parts, especially the unclear parts, in light of the whole (also Luther's analogy of faith). When you do this, the ways in which the NT reads and interprets the Old don't seem nearly so weird. On a first read, it doesn't seem like the NT writers always care about the original context or the intent of the author. However, when you see that a passage from Exodus has an immediate context, the verses and chapters immediately surrounding it, and a larger context, the whole sweep of redemptive history, many problems solve themselves.

Did NT authors take things out of context? Maybe out of the immediate context, but not the whole context. They had read the whole story and saw how the parts fit together even better than Moses or David did. Did they NT authors then violate the authors intent in writing a particular passage? If by author you mean Moses or Joshua or the prophet Joel, then you could make a case for that (not one I would agree with, but you could make the case). However, while David and Joel were the human authors, they were only the human authors and the Scripture are not product of only human activity, but of divine revelation. They true author is God - what else could it mean to call the Bible God's Word. The NT authors, while they may appear to violate the original intent of the OT authors DO NOT violate the intent of God, the divine author. Moreover, I don't believe they violate the intent of the human author either. If Moses saw how John used Genesis 1 in the first chapter of his Gospel and knew the whole story of Jesus, I think he'd nod and say, 'yeah, didn't see that in what I wrote, but you're right.'

Thinking through what this means for our hermeneutic is challenging and important. How we interpret Scripture has become an issue of ambivalence to many ('oh that's just your interpretation'), though through history it has often been a matter of life or death. Luther, with his head on the chopping block:
Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe neither in the Pope nor Councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures adduced by me and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen

Another Perspective on Gay Marriage

I stumbled across this article today which offers a very different perspective, one that I'll need to mull over more thoroughly, on the same sex marriage debate. Summary: Prop 8 in Cali. is more tolerant and liberal than laws in Mass. demanding same sex marriage be recognized. Hmm.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Calvin's Institutes

I decided to start reading The Institutes today. I've actually never read it and I know it will take me a long time, especially since I have a ton of work due mid December, but first impressions are good. I've really only read the preface, but he's much more readable than Edwards, my other hero. Here's a paragraph from the preface:

Let our doctrine be tested by this rule and our victory is secure. For what accords better and more aptly with faith than to acknowledge ourselves divested of all virtue that we may be clothed by God, devoid of all goodness that we may be filled by Him, the slaves of sin that he may give us freedom, blind that he may enlighten, lame that he may cure, and feeble that he may sustain us; to strip ourselves of all ground of glorying that he alone may shine forth glorious, and we be glorified in Him?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Clarification on Previous Post on Gay Marraige

In the comments on my previous post, SEG asked for some clarification on why I am for using the legislative process to put an end to abortion but not a fan of the ban on gay marriage. First, let me say that I am not for gay marriage and do believe homosexuality is a flagrant sin (one of many). But I think there is a difference between the two issues, abortion and gay marriage.

Here's the difference as I see it, and I am open for correction and input. First, I see nowhere in scripture where I am to crusade in the larger society for morality. We should be moral people and salt and light that change society from the inside out. I do see, however, where we are called to stand up for the weak, the powerless, to care about justice, etc. In most ways, the gay marriage issue is a victimless issue. We obviously can't say the same thing about abortion.

Secondly, changing the terminology from marriage back to civil union is semantics - just wording. Now I really haven't spent time reading the legislation, but I am under the impression that virtually all of the rights extended to gay couples under the umbrella of 'marriage' will continue to be extended under the umbrella of 'civil union'. No matter what you call it the sin remains. To change that, you'd have to outlaw homosexuality (sodomy laws, etc.) and enforce it. I don't know many people who are in favor of this, and I certainly am not. On the issue of abortion, I'm not advocating action to protect a word or concept, but lives.

Hope the clarification is helpful.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gay Marriage and Constitutional Bans

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I'm not one who supports amendments to the Constitution banning gay marriage. Yesterday three states passed amendments to their state constitutions banning it. Here's a quote from William Duncan on marriagedebate.com:
Voters in California, Arizona and Florida approved constitutional amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman yesterday. This is great news for marriage.

The California victory is especially important since it reversed the California Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage in May of this year. The Florida victory is significant because the amendment there needed sixty percent approval to be enacted. The Arizona victory reversed the very narrow defeat of a slightly more complicated marriage amendment in 2006.


First, I should say I'm not necessarily opposed to constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, I'm just not for them. I'm very ambivalent, but do think advocacy for and money spent to promote such bans are a complete waste.

Going back to the quote I can explain why. First, Duncan says this is great news for marriage. I really and truly fail to see how such amendments will make make marriages better. Will they lower divorce rates, increase fidelity or anything else that could be considered good news for marriage. Secondly, I don't get the personification of marriage - as if marriage is now celebrating.

More importantly, I don't see how this truly changes anything except in name. Civil unions are still protected legally and gay individuals in civil unions are still provided the same rights, essentially, as married couples. Frankly, a rose by any other name is still as sweet. I don't care if you call it a civil union or a marriage. Civil unions are marriages in all but a legal sense.

Now please, understand I'm not advocating a gay lifestyle. I think its sinful, but lets work at addressing the sin and stop quibbling over words.

Finally, I question why Christians care so much about how the state defines marriage. Will I allow the state to define for me or my kids how we should understand marriage. Until the day the state tells me I have to perform gay marriages, I just don't care if a gay couple gets hitched at a courthouse. 'Whatever' I think is the proper response.

Wonderful insight from Riddlebarger on President Elect Obama


Kim Riddlebarger is one of the men who has shaped my theology and my view of the world significantly over the past 5 years (yes, both are still taking shape even after seminary). He's brilliant, got some flair, can be punchy, likes to drink and smoke cigars (I prefer my pipe), and is remarkably level headed. In other words, he's the perfect Calvinist.

Anyway, check out his President Elect Obama. Very good.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Why I'm not lockstep with anyone - everyone is just stupid sometimes!

I remember my mom asking me once during a strong Piper phase I went through if I disagreed with John Piper on anything. Even back then I didn't agree with Piper on all points theological. Today, that disagreements are more numerous. For example, he recently posted an article "Why Women Shouldn't Run for Vice President, But Wise People May Still Vote for Her". Wow.

In actuality, I can't think of anyone I'm lockstep with - not Calvin, not Edwards. I'm a nomad theologically. I don't fit in any denomination that I know of, except maybe the EPC. Makes it hard to find a job (!), but thankfully I'm not looking. I think there is a wisdom in not being overly worried with consistency (it is the hobgoblin of little minds), and being humble in our approach even to our own beliefs. I honestly disagree with things I believed even a year or two ago. I learn, I grow, I rethink, and I think it's good. I love being at a place like ECC where I'm constantly exposed to people who disagree and with a staff who is open to thinking and rethinking things.