Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't Preach the Bible like a Cookbook!

In a previous post I briefly expounded on 2 Tim 4:1-5 and touched on the significance of faithful pastors who study the Scriptures and teach/apply them appropriately.  Soon after this post, I read a brief post by Dr. Rodney Decker about the subject of preaching in particular.  Dr. Decker responded to a comment I made about the post saying:  
Josh, I hope God raises up many young men with the same concern for biblical preaching. Not just preaching about the Bible, or using the Bible when preaching, but actually preaching the Bible–what the Bible says. 
These words express a great concern of mine in regard to popular preaching today, specifically in Evangelical churches.  I would like to briefly discuss what I feel is necessary for faithful, effective preaching.

The Bible is not a Cookbook.  My wife uses cookbooks to prepare some of our meals.  She flips through it, finds something she thinks looks good, reads a recipe, applies it (follows the instructions), and then we enjoy a nicely cooked meal- life is good.  

But the Bible is not a cookbook.  Now there are times when I have indeed flipped through the Bible, found something interesting, read it, applied it, and 'life was good'.  But there is a significant difference between a cookbook and the Bible (besides the greatest difference, inspiration!): Recipes by and large are a-temporal, while the Scriptures, each book of the Bible, are set in time, space, culture, etc.  

The circumstances surrounding the author of a recipe usually do not inform the meaning (and interpretation) of the recipe.  Who cares if Aunt Edna wrote a recipe while on vacation?  The circumstances of Edna, the occasion of writing, the intended reader(s), etc., do not really change the meaning (and understanding) of the recipe.   Assuming a knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar and syntax, Edna's recipe is quite straightforward.  In fact, in 2000 years, I assume that so long as a person could accurately translate Edna's recipe, they could follow the recipe without regard for the occasion of writing, readers, etc.  

But this is not the case with the Scriptures.  The original languages are dead.  Vocabulary, grammar and syntax, cultural backgrounds, occasion of writing, original readers: these are all essential factors to consider when determining the authorial intent (meaning) of a passage.  For instance, if the ancient city of Laodicea indeed imported water from a hot water source and cold water source miles away, than "cold" means something different than most preachers think in Revelation 3.  After all, why wouldn't Jesus spit out those who are 'cold' when he spits out those who are 'lukewarm'?  Or how about 1 Cor 3 and our the classic 'wood, hay, and stubble' passage?  According to Dr. Tomlinson, MBTS, these building materials made a sort of dry wall which was tested by fire by building inspectors.  These materials did NOT burn up if constructed correctly.  It is actually the precious metals that might melt.  If this is true, how does it change our understanding of this passage and the prospect of rewards at the judgment seat?

So is it really a big deal?  Well, in a sense, I think that most Christians can read the Scriptures without a great knowledge of Bible backgrounds, original languages, etc., and understand significant truths that God has revealed to us.  Thank the Holy Spirit for that, along with faithful translators.  But some of the finer details, which often can be mined for precious nuggets of profound truths, are overlooked.  Precious insights which enable the believer to see coherence in a book, to see the argument the author is attempting to make, are only rarely stumbled upon without digging deep (or having a teacher-pastor who digs deep) into the text.

Faithful, Effective Preaching.  I believe with my whole heart that the most faithful, effective preaching takes place when, as Dr. Decker said, the preacher expounds what the text actually says.  Thus the illustrations, the explanations, even appropriate humor, EVERYTHING in the sermon has as its main goal to shed light on what the inspired text actually says and its proper application.  But this entails that the preacher must be a true student of the text itself.  He is not a clever orator.  He is not a stand-up comic.  He is not a motivational speaker.  And he is certainly not just a good dispatcher of 'Bible-material' (i.e., good at taking what others have said about the Bible and 'sermonizing' the content for a congregation).  The preacher must dig, and dig deep.  For me, it is those weeks when I have wrestled to the point of fatigue with the meaning of a text that I have felt the Spirit's most powerful influence during the sermon on Sunday.  

If this is true, it simplifies the role of the preacher, but also makes the burden to preach heavy.  On the one hand, the preacher need not worry about catchy, lengthy introductions, tear-jerking illustrations, and flashy powerpoints.  But on the other hand, he must be concerned with what the Bible actually says, and this takes hours of labor.  I fear that it is to some extent laziness that prevents many preachers from laboring heavily in the Word of God.  

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Freedom is Not Free

This is a picture at the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. The phrase, "Freedom is not free," is certainly applicable to more than just the cost of establishing and maintaining a free nation; something about which I will speak in a few moments. But for now, if you are an American, take a moment and consider the cost at which your freedom was purchased.

To the left, you see part of a Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. You could hardly count the casualties. You see the field from the vantage point of the Union soldiers who defended this hill from the larger confederate army attempting to scale the hill. This was just one battle of many, but a large one, indeed.
The Civil War eventually led to the abolition of slavery in the U.S., although more work was to be done in the realm of societal issues relating to slavery and civil rights.

Still, it is a sobering thought: tens and tens of thousands of bodies lay in this field, American men who willingly sacrificed it all when called upon.

To the left, you see a very small section of Arlington Cemetery in D.C. Countless soldiers have been laid to rest here - more men who sacrificed much for the sake of freedom. As my family and I approached the site, we heard parts of a "21 gun salute" - a funeral going on near by. I couldn't help but feel indebted to those who had shed their blood (or exposed themselves to the risk thereof) for my sake.

As we visited the Iwo Jima Memorial, the following

sight (left) was a nice reminder that freedom is not free.

Three of the six marines commemorated in this picture died at Iwo Jima. They join those who have sacrificed much to maintain the freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom to fly (notice the plane flying high above beyond the memorial).

At one point during my visit to D.C. and the surrounding area, I was afforded the rare opportunity to be inside the chapel at Camp David where the Commander in Chief attends the Sunday Worship services when visiting. Inside, my wife played, "How Great Thou Art" on the piano as I sang the first verse. I prayed (and now pray) that our nation, beginning from the top and trickling right down to all of us, might turn to our Creator which we often acknowledge, and turn to our Redeemer in whom (as a nation) we rarely trust and that we would submit ourselves wholly to Him.

I'm thankful for the freedoms afforded me by this United States of America, but how much more I long that God would grant us revivals in which the Holy Spirit might quicken men and women to repent and trust in Christ. All this for the sake of God and of Christ, for God's honor and glory.

Believers, regardless of nation, race, and language have been granted by God salvation: a unique freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and a freedom to live in submissive obedience to the Creator and Redeemer of our Souls, Christ Jesus. His blood was of greater value than all other blood which has been shed upon the earth, and for the incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and salvation I am eternally grateful.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hebrews 1:1-4

In anticipation for an exegesis course I hope to take this Fall, I began translating in the book of Hebrews.  I outlined the passage elsewhere and will share two insights here:

(1) In verses 1 & 2, there is a comparison of the agency of God's revelation, in times past through prophets, in times contemporaneous to the readers of Hebrews (then and now), through "the Son."  The author then attributes qualities of deity to the Son and says, "[The son has] become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."  The rest of the chapter, as well as the rest of the book, contains arguments that Jesus Christ is better than a number of things related to the Old Covenant: Prophets & angels (cf. v1, both of whom were mediators of the Old Covenant), priests/Levitical priesthood, OT Israel (in regard to the 'rest' they never quite received from their enemies), etc..  This superior person, Jesus the Messiah, the high priest and the offering, has all authority and he is worthy of our allegiance, even in difficult times.  Dr. Alan Tomlinson (MBTS) has suggested that a central imperative of Hebrews is to hold the confession that Jesus Christ is indeed the high priest, he is the offering, and one's legitimacy as a believer is proved by faithfully enduring to the end.

(2) Hebrews 1:2-4 makes the following assertions about "the Son":
a. Agent of God's revelation
b. Appointed heir over all things
c. Agent of creation
d. Deity, having the glory and nature of God
e. Carries all by his powerful Word (cf. creation)
f. Sat down and the right hand of the Majesty on high (i.e., authority and completion of earth-mission).
g. Made purification for sins (before 'sitting down')
h. Became 'much better' than angels and inherited a 'greater name' (probably refers to his ascension/exaltation: cf. 2:5-10 - Christ became lower than the angels at his incarnation in the sense that he took on the nature of a man, man who was made 'a little lower than the angels', thus at his ascension he "became as much better").

I would appreciate some discussion, especially on the parenthetical comments of letter 'h'.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why a PhD?

The more I read Dr. Rodney Decker's blog, the more I find I have in common with him.  I was surprised to find that he taught at Calvary Bible College in the early 90s (my undergraduate institution), did not pursue a Ph.D. at a 'prestigious' university, and yet he has proved that good scholarship makes a difference without regard to the location of one's doctoral work.  He has contributed to D.A. Carson's Studies in Biblical Greek series of scholarly monographs, Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect produced a Koine Greek Reader: Selections from the New Testament, Septuagint, and Early Christian Writers,  and has a forthcoming work on Mark and Biblical Greek.  Further, Dr. Decker has a helpful website and blog.  (Read more about him here.)

I mention this because I have personally struggled with what I am to do in regard to further education.  Ph.D.?  If so, where?  MBTS?  St. Andrews?  How big a megaphone will a degree give me?  Or must I attempt to develop a sphere of influence?  Where does this drive to influence others come from?  Is it from God, self, or worse?  These are some of the questions I feel I must answer.

Regardless, I know others are in the same boat I am, especially in light of a couple of relatively popular posts on religious Ph.D. studies: "Thinking About a Ph.D.?" and "Interested in a NT Ph.D.?".  Why not just be concerned about the faithful study and exposition of the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2.15)?  Perhaps part of being an 'approved workman' (for some) entails the rigor of research done on the Ph.D. level, regardless of institution.  Dr. Tomlinson at MBTS, KC,  and Dr. Decker at Baptist Bible College, PA seem to be two examples of professors who are involved in local church ministry while excelling in NT scholarship, though they did not receive their respective Ph.D.'s from traditionally 'prestigious' institutions.  

Monday, July 14, 2008

1 Timothy and How to Study Greek

While I was at a camp last week, I decided I would study 1 Timothy 4:1-5 with nothing but a Greek NT (with a little vocabulary help).  Day one I translated.  Day two I outlined (sort of diagramed).  Day three I listed multiple applications for my life.  Having just three days, 45 minutes or less per day (camp is busy), and a wife who was willing to listen proved to be very profitable.  So here are a few insights I gained from my study followed by a brief reflection on how to study Greek.

Paul speaks in very strong terms (v1).  He charges Timothy under solemn oath, before God, Christ Jesus, His appearing, and His kingdom!  Paul means business.  Apparently, Timothy needed strong encouragement (and exhortation).  Verses 2 and 5 contain 9 imperative commands (in Greek) that all have to do with Timothy's ministry.  More specifically, the imperatives emphasize the significance of biblical teaching (and rebuking).  The cause for such a charge packed full of imperatives is the fact that "a time will come" when people will turn away from truth and only listen to the teaching that they want to hear (v3-4).

What is the antidote in such times?  Men who who will stand up and preach the Word, be ready whether or not it is popular, convince, rebuke, and exhort with all patience and instruction.  Further, these men must remain calm in such times, endure suffering that comes with faithful service, and do the work of an evangelist.  By heeding these commands, a man will carry out fully the ministry given to him.

Men who will heed these commands are the kind of pastors we need.  The time has come: sound teaching is not enduring.  Americans are being offered teaching 'made to order' in their churches!  I'm afraid many pastors are pursuing easy money, easy ministry, and perhaps fame, but rarely do pastors seem willing to endure suffering for the sake of faithfulness.  Yuck.  It is my opinion that what we need in our churches most is the great implication of this passage: Pastors who are given to the study of the Word and its clear teaching and application, no matter the cost.  The word of God constrains us to learn it well and teach its truths.  One cannot heed the commands of 1 Tim 4:1-5 without a growing knowledge of the Word of God.  

More to say, but it must wait ......................................

So, about studying Greek:  It was refreshing to only have a Greek NT for study.  It forces me to wrestle with the parsing, the grammar, the syntax.  One of the best Greek students I have known was a female who did not have access to any computer program to help her with her Greek.  She spent long hours studying the language with a true desire to know God's Word.  Her labors have produced much fruit.  Perhaps I should make more time for this simple (yet difficult) kind of study.

UPDATE:  It was not 10 minutes after finishing this post when I wandered over to Dr. Rodney Decker's Blog to find a better post on the same subject.  I passionately agreed with virtually every word of his post.  If you have the time, take a look.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Modern Linguistics and Biblical Exegesis

I was recently reading The Face of New Testament Studies: A Survey of Recent Research(an excellent resource for the NT student to get 'up-to-date', well at least up to NT scholarship in to 2004).  

Stanley Porter, known as one of the leading Greek grammarians today, was one contributor with a chapter on Greek grammar and syntax.  Essentially, Porter called for NT students to recognize that Greek grammar and syntax (and thus, exegesis) is an evolving discipline.  Now it is not so evolving that we must abandon all previous notions of exegesis.  But for Porter, advances in modern linguistics have a lot to say about biblical exegesis.  He seems excited about the future of exegesis, though obviously discontent with where we presently stand.  He mentions that standard reference grammars are far outdated, and too much scholarship (and exegesis) is based on outdated reference materials (e.g., grammars, lexicons, etc.).  

The chapter was packed full of subjects that I haven't studied in depth, but Porter certainly sparked my interest in how modern linguistics may help the exegete (and preacher) of the Word of God.  And that is the goal, isn't it?  So Porter delivers a wake up call to the one who thinks the biblical exegesis is a rigid discipline, the rules of which are engraved on stone.  Questions of verbal aspect and time remain unsettled.  Lexicography has a long way to go: inscriptions are being discovered all the time, many of which are documented, but few scholars are noticing.  

In the end, I am encouraged that my desire to know Greek like a native finds itself in hopeful times.  In light of all of the scholarship that has come before us, advances in computer software, and the collaboration of so many scholars on the (public) web, current exegetes have the opportunity to produce far more in the study of the NT than ever before.  One life to live - to the joy of discovering God and His will in the Scriptures.

Blog Transformation

This blog is hopefully going to begin to provide biblical language students (a few of us in particular) opportunities to interact with each other regarding our studies.  Enjoy.