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50 Days of Easter?

8:55 AM My good friend and fellow New Testament teacher Allan Bevere asks:

On Ash Wednesday we are invited to observe a holy Lent for forty days. Why are we not similarly invited to observe a joyful Easter for fifty days following the morning the empty tomb is discovered?

In one strand of Protestantism there are traditions involving holy days: the 40 days of Lent, the 50 days of Easter, etc. Allan argues that Easter is the most significant of these holy days. If this is true, then why, he asks, do we not celebrate “the full fifty days of the Easter season?”

For me, a Baptist, I suppose the first answer that comes to mind is, “Where is the biblical requirement that I do so?” But such cynicism can often be an obstacle to real understanding. Methodists observe holy days, and they obviously do so for legitimate reasons (at least in their minds). So Allan’s question is a legitimate one. He raises a good point that deserves serious consideration.

My guess is that the current generation of youthful believers is not likely to pay too much attention to it, however. They are too busy screaming, “Why are Christians so mean and angry? Why do they insist on putting Christ in the White House when Jesus used to hang out with lepers? Who do churches spend so much money on themselves? Why do so many strands of Christianity smack of power and hubris when Jesus humbly served others?” If we’re not careful, we Christians (Methodists and Baptists alike) can easily prioritize tradition over engagement. Still, Allan’s essay is worth careful study. It seems to me that a good place to start is Paul’s teaching in Rom. 14:1-12 (The Message).

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

Paul seems to be making three points here:

1) Whether or not we follow any particular “holy day” is a matter of personal conscience and conviction.

2) Either way we choose, we are to live each day for the glory of God and in cooperation with those with whom we disagree about such non-essentials.

3) Jesus died and rose again not only so that He could save us from sin but so that He could “free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.”

Believe it or not, this is a matter I want to discuss with my students next fall as I teach Romans and 1-2 Corinthians. Let’s put the difficult questions before our students. Let’s teach them to ask hard questions about why they do what they do in their churches. Let’s stop patronizing them because — let me tell you — millennials are very capable of thinking for themselves. Lest you think that Allan’s question is irrelevant to Baptists, think of all of our own “holy” observances — from the “annual revival meeting” to the “Christmas cantata” to “youth Sunday.” Good friends can discuss such matters without getting put out with each other. Jesus can handle it. When Paul says, “One person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other,” I tend to find myself in the latter camp. And yet I see the logic behind the church calendar. As Methodist New Testament scholar Ben Witherington puts it in his essay Happy New Year!!:

My suggestion to us all is to live in the Christian moment for the entire year to come— Advent leads to Christmas, which leads to Epiphany which leads to Lent which leads to Easter which leads to Pentecost which leads to Kingdomtide and then we start the cycle over again. The cycle begins with the story of Christ, moves on to the story of the church, and returns once more to the story of Christ’s Comings on the first Sunday in Advent. We are on a pilgrimage with Jesus and then on our own until he returns. His story is the story we must recite and retell until it becomes our story. My suggestion is that whenever we are in danger of getting caught up in the non-Christian moment with its own urgencies that we say to ourselves ‘all in God’s good time’. God’s good time and timing is what we should be living by.

For Ben, the church year is all about Christ, about His story, about a kingdom of God that is tangible, about living in the midst of a ridiculous pagan culture that tailors its calendar to retail sales. No, I don’t think Allan or Ben or any other Methodist scholar I know of is trying to impose a new set of legalisms on the church. Customs are fine as long as we attach no salvific significance to them. Perhaps, in the end, the real question is the evangelistic one. Secular culture recognizes our holy days, but people seem woefully confused about our love. Which is why Paul concluded (NLT):

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating.

This is the kind of scandalous love that drives the world crazy — or should I say sane? Followers of Jesus (of whatever denominational stripe) live by an “others-first” credo that only people who are secure both in themselves and in their Savior can pull off. Perhaps when not-yet-believers see this kind of love in action they’ll stop and ask, “Maybe this kind of love is for me too?”

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

Sniffing Out What Is Real vs Spiritual Smoke

6:04 PM While looking for an Easter Sunrise Service I ran across a church in a major U.S. city that will be serving food to the homeless this Sunday under an Interstate overpass to celebrate a Risen Savior. I’d really love to attend but the city is 1,400 miles away. Let’s face it: It’s been a long time since I went to church for the sermon. Not that I don’t mind a good sermon. But it’s sacrificial service that holds the body of Christ together. That’s just plain good doctrine, by the way. (“Faith working itself out through love,” is how Paul puts it.) That’s what’s so remarkable to me about the messy, mixed-up church that Christ died for. The New Testament church was so basic and so lovely. They assembled for togetherness — and service. Sure, there was solid biblical teaching (there had to be), but teaching that drove the people back out into the world to be Jesus to their neighbors, even under an Interstate underpass. (Just between you and me, I’m becoming a Jesus Freak again.) Give me a scrappy, tough-minded, doctrinally sound AND practically engaged church any day. A church that actually resembles the ministry of Jesus. A church where apathy is exchanged for authenticity. It’s as if God were saying, “Church, do with your ‘body’ what My Son did with His — He gave it away for others.”

Oh how I wish Becky were still here. She could sniff out what is real and what is spiritual smoke much better than I ever could. But I’m learning. I find it strange that the focus this Sunday in so many of our churches will be on getting people who rarely (if ever) attend to show up in our sanctuaries for an hour when we could be exploding Jesus’ love in our dirty neighborhoods. Listen, church. The best thing we can do for others is give them Jesus — plain old Jesus — not entertainment, and most certainly not church culture. He trumps everything. Because He is the only constant in life.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

Gloom and Doom? Not Worried!

8:14 AM Oh my. Here we go again. Gloom and doom. America is going down the tubes. Especially if you vote for the other guy, who is a despicable fraud.

Quick, Dave, check your insurance premiums!

Frankly, I’m not worried. Not one bit. It’s the same old ads. Just different names. It reminds me of an operating room. The surgeons and nurses are clothed immaculately and the instruments are sterilized. But they refuse to wash their hands. “All that matters is that you trust us. I am a surgeon. See my diploma? I don’t have to worry about keeping clean. Condition is of no importance.” The result? Pseudo-politics, pseudo-Christianity, pseudo-orthodoxy, and pseudo-piety. “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, and they will believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:11). I’m not expert in eschatology, but it seems that Paul is talking about how God is preparing the world for Antichrist, the Big Lie, the final embodiment of all that is opposed to Christ. We are being primed for the final delusion, and as a result we accept cheap substitutes for the real thing. People believe the lie rather than love the truth.

I believe our Father would be pleased to give us much more if we had faith to ask for it.I’ve been rereading Elton Trueblood’s classic book, The Company of the Committed.

company of the committed.jpg

Trueblood was a lifelong Quaker, educator, and author. (He was also twice widowed.) His book is about Christian living, and the author wants to encourage a deep conversation about church and society. His main point is that the church as it exists today is ill-suited to fulfill its basic redemptive function since it has compromised itself in so many ways. “The movement we need is a movement in depth,” he writes (p. 10). This question is especially relevant in light of the fact that the line between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is becoming increasingly blurred in this election year of ours. While on the one had I have no problem with people being passionately involved in politics as they feel God is leading them, I simply maintain that politics should be kept strictly separate from what we are about as churches, and that no one should label their position as the distinctly “Christian” way of doing politics. Remember, in most wars in history, both sides firmly believed that their “God” was on their side. The unique call of the Christian is to pursue the kingdom, and this is accomplished in counter-cultural ways, including our willingness to sacrifice ourselves and even our very lives for others.

Trueblood gets this. He shows that many of the most “successful” programs in our churches will not bear up under close examination. “It is hard to exaggerate the degree to which the modern Church seems irrelevant to modern man” (p. 17). From my own experience, I can tell you this is very true in post-Christian Europe, where I have lived. To be a Christian in Switzerland was the equivalent of putting your brain in park or neutral. But not only does Europe suffer from this malaise. I live in the rural South, and here the church often has only marginal relevance. To be sure, people are willing to put up with it as long as it does not require anything of them. Hence, writes Trueblood, the question today is not one of whether Christian fellowships exist. Rather, the question is what kind of character these fellowships have (p. 21). I personally think this distinction is very helpful. The Gospel is not the true Gospel unless it is about transforming people, one life at a time. I deeply appreciate Trueblood’s attempt to call the church back to its militant stance, which produced “the amazing vitality of early Christianity’ (p. 28). On p. 31 he writes:

It is perfectly clear that early Christians considered Christ their Commander-in-Chief, that they were in a company of danger, which involved great demands upon their lives, and to be a Christian was to be engaged in Christ’s service.

The “service” he’s talking about is a far cry from the typical worship service or political rally one attends today. As in an army, every soldier has his or her own duty to perform.

The key words are “one another” [he writes on p. 32]. There are no mere observers or auditors; all are involved. Each is in the ministry; each needs the advice of the others; and each has something to say to the others. The picture of mutual admonition seems strange to modern man, but the strangeness is only a measure of our essential decline from something of amazing power.

Christ, says Trueblood, is organizing a genuine band of brothers, a company of the committed. Jesus wasn’t asking for people to go to church. “He was, instead, asking for recruits in a company of danger. He was asking not primarily for belief, but for commitment with consequent involvement” (p. 34). “We cannot understand the idea of of a company apart from the concept of involvement” (p. 38). The soldier’s one desire is to please their commander in everything.

The undeniable reality is that many of us today are both under-trained and uninvolved. The easiest way to undermine Christianity is to appoint someone else to do the work for us. During the American Civil War, if you had enough money you could purchase your way out of the draft and let someone else do the fighting for you. The simple fact is that we have been called — all of us — to follow Jesus Christ in acts of radical Calvary-love, not someone else’s good ideas or movements or strategies, however good we may think they are. Whether you are a Republican Matthew or a Democrat Simon the Zealot, we can all get along just fine as long as we follow Jesus and stop making our political ideals the bullseye.

The Company of Jesus is not people streaming to a shrine; and it is not people making up an audience for a speaker; it is laborers engaged in the harvesting task of reaching their perplexed and seeking brethren with something so vital that, if it is received, it will change their lives (p. 45).

This is the kind of lay ministry that I have long espoused and have argued for in my various publications. In the words of Trueblood, “…in the ministry of Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, neither layman nor cleric [italics his], but all are one in Christ” (p. 62). If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you support my work? Not financially of course. Will you join me in praying for the church in North America in 2016? Pray that God will help us wake up to the political delusion that has descended upon us through well-meaning people. Pray that we start caring more about sacrificing for the country than controlling it. To me, the most basic and most difficult challenge of being a Christ-follower is what Trueblood addresses in this marvelous book. It’s becoming completely sold out to the Commander-in-Chief and living under His authority and in His love on a moment-by-moment basis. I want to encourage us to cultivate a surrendered attitude toward God. By all means, let’s express our opinion about politics. Let’s vote for the person of our choice (or not vote at all if our conscience prohibits it). But let’s never, ever forget where the hope of the world lies. Let’s obey Jesus and love others as He did.

You want security? Love each other and the world well, and your house will stand.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

The Lord’s Supper and Worthiness

8:14 AM In Greek 2 class this past week we talked about the Lord’s Supper because I had included the Greek adverb “worthily” (and its antonym) in our vocabulary for the day. (Isn’t it so unlike me to go on rabbit trials in class?) I stressed that there’s a world of difference between an adjective (“unworthy”) and an adverb (“unworthily”). You will recall that the Corinthian church was behaving rather badly when they came together to share the bread and the cup. Paul quotes Jesus’ own words after Jesus had broken the bread: “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Paul’s point is that we come to the table, not to remember our sins, but to remember our Savior. And yet how many of us can attest to being asked whether or not we are “worthy” to partake of the elements that day? We are requested to have a time of introspection to see whether or not we feel worthy enough to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Boy are we good at complicating the ways of Jesus. I have nothing at all against a time of introspection, or a time of confession, but that need not be left for the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Jesus never invited anyone to His table. His words are a command in the imperative mood: “Do this in remembrance of me.” As I said, we do not come to the table to remember our sins but our Savior. This focus, unfortunately, is often blurred. Remembrance is at the heart any true observance of the Lord’s Supper. Through the bread and the cup we participate in Christ. So the service is a communion as well as a commemoration. Our common participation in the meal is a sign of our fellowship and unity. Indeed, the earliest Christians took the bread and the cup as part of a communal meal. As I argued in my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, there is much to be gained by this practice. Fellowship is a vitally important aspect of the Lord’s Supper. Rather than the pulpit being the center of attention, the elements (Christ and His death!) are. As we partake with others, we are united with Christ as one body. That’s why there is only one table of the Lord. There’s not one table for the rich and another for the poor; one for slaves and another for the free; one for Jewish Christians and another for Gentile Christians; one for the educated and another for the uneducated; one for men and another for women; one for Calvinists and another for Arminians; one for clergy and another for laity; one for homeschool families and another for families whose children attend public school. The entire focus is on Christ, on whom we feast together. That’s why I called my chapter on the Lord’s Supper “Christ-Centered Gatherings.” It is Christ we celebrate! “This is our Servant-King-Savior. This is our Senior Pastor. And now He calls upon us to follow Him. Yes, we will follow You, King Jesus!” The closer our relationship with our Head, the better we will be able to spur one another on in the Christian life. We should go to every church gathering not just thinking, “What can I get out of it?” or even “What can I contribute to it?” but “How can I acknowledge what Jesus has done for me?” One way to do this is by lifting Him up and giving Him central place every single time we gather, as He commanded us to do. Jesus never commanded His followers to observe Christmas. He never told us to celebrate Easter. He said, “Keep on doing this in remembrance of Me.” Unless the entire church has been directed back in remembrance of the cross, no true Lord’s Supper has taken place.

For more, please read Howard Marshall’s classic essay Some Considerations Regarding the Lord’s Supper Today. I am fully convinced that God is big enough and good enough to lead us back into a biblical observation of His Supper.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Linguistics and Interpretation

8:15 AM I’m taking a scheduled break from writing. (Okay, okay, so I didn’t really schedule in this break. I’m really a pretty spontaneous guy.) Anyhow, I’ve got a couple of thoughts roaming around in my brain right now — not that there’s anything earth-shattering about them. First of all, I argued in our LXX class this week that if anyone should be interested in linguistics — the art and science of how language works — it should be students of the Bible, and especially students of the biblical languages. Not all would agree, of course. To some, linguistics remains a “secular” science, one that can hardly be “evangelicalized.” Not surprisingly, I’ve been taken to task for suggesting that biblical scholars have much to gain from the science of linguistics. But when I study Paul, I do not see him despising or excluding the world of creation from his theology. A dualistic tension between faith in God and the scientific perception of the nature of creation has no place in his thinking. God was responsible for creating heaven and earth, and He made all things good (Gen 1:31). Far from being a threat to modern exegesis, I believe the facts show that the immense problems facing modern exegetes are sometimes best resolved when they are treated from a linguistic point of view. The discourse structure/theme of Philippians is a case in point (see my Novum Testamentum essay called The Discourse Structure of Philippians: A Study in Textlinguistics). Hence Paul’s juxtaposition of worldly and divine wisdom in 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16 need not be construed as a contrast between faith and reason. What Paul is fighting against in this passage is not science per se but man-made religion and hubris. Translated into modern diction, though all human endeavors can clearly become futile and hostile to the honor of God, they are not necessarily evil.  I’d like to think that my students would be open to learning a thing or two from modern linguistic science. If you would like to as well, there are a number of places where you can start. My own Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek will give you a basic overview of the field, while Logos has bundled numerous resources that will help you dig a bit deeper (Studies in New Testament Greek). If you take me for Greek 3, we take a linguistic approach to exegesis and work though some of the major works in the field. Steve Runge’s On eclecticism in linguistics is also very helpful. Listen, some trends in biblical studies, like some fashion trends, are questionable. I suspect that you, like me, are cautious about new approaches to anything. Still, there’s some good work being done today by New Testament scholars in the field of linguistics, and I’m fairly sure you can benefit from being exposed to it.

Alright, now let’s talk about the letter to the editor that’s been making the rounds on the ‘net. You can read about it here. The letter gives a very realistic glimpse into a slice of America many people are perhaps unfamiliar with. The only question I would ask is, Do we see the face of Jesus in the homeless and refugee population (Matt. 25:34-36)? Few things capture the spirit of Christ better than the way we welcome the stranger into our midst. After all, God is a God who is beautiful not because He’s cutesy and looks like Santa Claus. He’s beautiful because He adopts into His family His enemies and then lovingly transforms them from the inside out. Personally, I think I’ve had enough of cries for vengeance/caution/national security to last me for at least a couple of million years. Let’s try taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and loving our enemies and then watch what God can do. If you share this vision of the kingdom, will you join me in praying for the Syrian refugees who come to our country, praying that God will use us Christians to follow the example of Jesus and be willing even to give our lives for the sake of the gospel? Yes, I know that this model of transformation I’m calling for doesn’t exactly fit the politically-oriented paradigm of modern social conservatism. But if significant numbers of Christians were to engage in this kind of sacrificial service, I believe that the church could have a transforming impact on our culture that social activists could only dream of having.

Anyway … like I said, I’m taking a break from writing and my “schedule” says I need to get back to it. Trying to write a book about my life is not an easy thing, so keep me covered, will you?

And start studying linguistics!

Peace,

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Reading Hebrews in the Good News Bible

8:06 AM I was reading Hebrews 1 this morning in the Good News Bible (TEV).

book jriririroiroParts of it are truly outstanding. The translators render “Thou are my Son; today have I begotten thee” as “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Great so far. And then there’s this footnote on v. 8: “or, God is your kingdom.” The text of the Good News Bible, of course, reads “Your kingdom, O God, will last forever and forever!” The confusion here stems from the Greek: Is theos nominative or vocative? The translators have taken it as a vocative (correctly, in my view), but at least they note the alternative. Good for them. But here’s what puzzles me. Notice that they begin a new paragraph in verse 4.

book hbeyeueieieThis is impossible. It contradicts the Greek text. Verses 1-4 are all one long sentence in the original. Making a new paragraph in verse 4 is just not empirically possible. It’s completely illogical — like asserting “married bachelor.” This sort of inconsistency drives me nuts. (People sometimes tell me I’m too OCD about these kinds of things but it’s part of my temperament.) I really, truly, sincerely believe we can do better. And yet, these kinds of oversights are hardly exceptional. Am I hereby trying to make a case for the study of Greek? In one sense yes. But at least you can compare other English translations before arriving at your conclusion as to the paragraph structure of a New Testament book. Again, I deeply appreciate the translators who produced the Good News Bible. When I was a teenager I literally could not put this book down. The text was readable, and the line drawings were fantastic. But our focus should always be on faithfulness to the text as the Holy Spirit inspired it — and this includes matters of syntax and structure, not just words.

Finally, as an aside, I had to smile when I realized (again) how Hebrews is placed after Philemon in our English Bibles. This wasn’t always the case. In our earliest manuscripts, Hebrews comes after Romans or between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. (Both codex Sinaiticus and codex Vaticanus place Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians.) In other words, Hebrews assumed a prominent position in the Pauline letters at an early date. It was only in the fourth century that Hebrews began to consistently appear after Philemon. My point is that, according to the earliest manuscript evidence, Hebrews was an integral part of the Pauline collection. David Trobisch, who is an acknowledged expert in all things canonical, has argued that the placing of Hebrews after Philemon was a distortion of the original canonical edition of the New Testament. (See The First Edition of the New Testament, p. 25.)  Needless to say, these facts are not sufficiently heeded by today’s New Testament students, in my opinion.

All of this is relevant to our LXX class, because one of the earliest questions we will face is: “Which books should be included in the Septuagint?” It’s necessary to raise this question because there is no one indisputable “Septuagint” but “Septuagints” (plural). Ralhf’s edition of the LXX even contains the Song of Mary from Luke 2!

9781938434730mThink about this: If Hebrews is genuinely Pauline, this would change everything about the way we interpret Paul. Hebrews would be included in our New Testament theology books, and when we wanted to study, say, Paul’s view of church leadership, we’d have to include such passages as Heb. 13:7 and Heb. 13:17. The undeniable reality is that questions of canon and authorship matter. Of course, both sides demonize the other. Proponents of Pauline authorship are dismissed as obscurantists, while proponents of Hebrews’ non-Paulinity are accused of succumbing to the spirit of the age. But why should we tolerate this kind of judgmental divisiveness? Maybe we need another conference on campus to discuss the issue!

Anyhow, that’s my take on Hebrews for today. The fact is, all of us have biases and presuppositions. Many issues we have never personally studied. We tend to rely too heavily on the work of others. I know I do. So whether or not you espouse the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, prayerfully consider looking at the evidence yourself before making up your mind.

And do be patient with me when I chase rabbit trails.

Peace out,

Dave

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

No Lord but Jesus

9781893729568m(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission. Dave Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm.)

2:08 PM Hey there, internet warriors!

Just kidding.

Sort of.

You’ll notice a dearth of blog posts here at DBO about politics of late. That’s pretty intentional on my part. Oh, I peruse the same political websites you do and I watch the debates and I read the daily news. But honestly, so little of what you read nowadays is trustworthy. Take this headline I saw today: “US blocks UK Muslim family from boarding plane to Disneyland.” Okaaaay. Last time I checked, there is an airport in L.A. and an airport in Orange County and an airport in Ontario, but not one in Disneyland. As for the reason, it was never stated in the article, though one MP in Great Britain is trying to blame it on The Donald. Who knows what went down in the airport? Maybe one of the family members is not a U.K. citizen and didn’t have a visa to enter the U.S. (U.K. citizens don’t need a visa to fly to America.) Maybe one of them is on the no-fly list. That happens, folks. (Senator Ted Kennedy was once stopped for being on the no-fly list by mistake.) Maybe airport security knew something we don’t know. Who knows! This I do know. Every nation I’ve ever visited (and that’s a ton of nations) is a sovereign country and as such can allow or deny me entrance at the drop of a hat and without any explanation. And why blame it on Trump? You’d think that maybe president Obama made Trump acting president while on vacation in Hawaii. That’s just insane. At the same time, let’s say real discrimination was involved. In that case, I would hope that someone would get into trouble, big time. But folks, I can’t with integrity say who’s right and who’s wrong in this case and neither can you. For my two cents, I can’t see how politics and Christianity are compatible. The church is set apart precisely because it’s not a part of the world system. At the same time, I grant that immigration is indeed a question of justice. But whose view of justice are you talking about: the left’s or the right’s? The Christian “cultural revolution,” it seems, is backfiring. Let me ask you: During the Reformation, whose view of justice was at work when Christians of all stripes were literally killing their enemies, including their fellow Christians? I’d like you to consider something else too. As Christians we have an obligation to distinguish between what is a kingdom issue and what is not. The Anabaptists refused to recognize a state church and, as a result, were sent to their deaths by the thousands (without fighting back, mind you — except for a loony who thought he was ushering in the Last Days). Paul’s “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) is not wishful thinking on his part or an outlandish platitude. The context here is the key. Paul is contrasting those who set their minds on earthly things (3:19) with those who focus their attention on their heavenly citizenship (3:20). As Christians, our executive authority is not on earth but in heaven. We are nothing but resident aliens here on earth, from which “we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:20). Now that will preach at Christmas! “Caesar Augustus is our savior,” boasted the Romans. Christians, however, have experienced a radical change in allegiance. Listen to Rush or Shawn and will you hear that message? Not on your life. You see, if your hope is based on an earthy agenda, you look to Caesar (government). But if your hope is based on your heavenly citizenship, you’ll look for the coming Savior from heaven. The essential difference between the risen Christ and all those who would “save” us is Christ’s unrivaled sovereignty, authority, and power. Christ, not Caesar, controls all things. Christ, not Caesar, displays the power of God. To Christ, and not to Caesar, are subjected all things. Therefore, Jesus Christ alone deserves acclamation as “Lord.” It’s just that simple.

Then what about justice? Notice how Jesus Himself protested against injustice when He was here on earth — not by advising Caesar (or Pilate) but by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of government. Please don’t misunderstand me. I most certainly do believe in human rights and political freedom (democracy). But I do so not because I’m a Christian but because I’m an American. So let Christians continue to debate the virtues of this or that candidate. Let’s celebrate and be grateful for the religious liberty we enjoy in the U.S. But did you know there are probably more born-again Christians in China than in any other country, including the U.S.? Most of them are meeting in illegal home churches. For the most part, they have no church buildings, no sanctuaries, no religious freedom. Are they missing out on something important? Of course not. Naturally, if you do have freedom and the right to build church buildings, then give thanks to God. Let’s just be careful about investing any of these blessings with Christian significance. Actually, God does not live in our buildings. It would so helpful if we could avoid using terminology that implies that He does. Christ has brought an end to religion. So let’s not go back to the old covenant. The New Testament’s emphasis is always on one thing: Let the followers of Jesus Christ imitate His selfless love to all people and at all times.

There’s my “political” reflection for the day.

Cheers,

Dave

Using Greek in Sermons

(From Dave Black Online, Used by Permission)

9:18 AM Good morning, bloggerdom! Greek teachers love to debate the marks of a good sermon. Some say it’s perfectly okay to use Greek from the pulpit. Others (myself included) think it’s quite unnecessary. Sproul’s famous dictum (“A great preacher is like an iceberg: you see only 10 percent, but underneath you sense the 90 percent”) suffices for me. Last night I was listening to a sermon on the radio. As the speaker began to use Greek in his sermon, he excused himself by saying, “Greek is far more expressive than English” (which it is not). At one point he “corrected” the translation he was reading from, noting that “here the Greek has ‘He emptied Himself'” — which is precisely what many English versions have as well.  Unreflective use of Greek can emasculate the message to the point of ineffectiveness. It can make you look foolish and pedantic, and can lead people to distrust the usefulness of their own English Bible translations. Not long ago I served as the editor (along with my colleague Allan Bevere) of a book called “In the Original Text It Says.” The publisher’s blurb reads as follows:

When you hear the words “in the original text it says” or “in the original text this means,” it’s time to be wary. Those words often provide the introduction to misleading information. But how can the hearer discern just what is correct and what is misleading? How can pastors avoid giving their congregations misleading information?

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I could write at length about all of the exegetical fallacies unearthed in this marvelous little guide to exegesis. I must also mention the ground-breaking work by my friend Moisés Silva called Biblical Words and Their Meaning. Incidentally, such books can be marvelous ways to nurture younger Christians. But one thing is sure: Those who may know very little about the Christian faith will not be helped very much by over-exegesis.

True Saving Faith is Manifested

 

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

5:22 PM Today I’ve been working on the new syllabus for my Greek 2 classes this spring semester. I’ve done my best to figure out what needs to be covered, now that so many of our students fail to go on to Greek 3. I think one of the best moves I can make is to introduce the basic principles of exegesis in Greek 2 and then walk everyone through the interpretation and application of one entire New Testament writing. Our textbook already covers major portions of 1 John but I will also be taking the class through the book of Philippians in its entirety. Of course, the themes of both of these books are very similar. 1 John teaches two things:

1) True saving faith is manifested in those who practice the truth (and not just know it).

2) True saving faith is manifested in those who possess a genuine love for other believers.

As 1 John 3:7 puts it, “It’s the person who acts right who is right.” I don’t think it’s possible to over-emphasize this teaching of John. The early church actively expected and anticipated that the Holy Spirit would change the lives of believers.

What, then, of Paul — the apostle of salvation by grace through faith apart from works? Many Christians consider that conversion — forensic justification — is the climax and consummation of Paul’s teaching. From the study of Paul’s letters we know this is most definitely not true. If ever a person knew of God’s saving work by faith through grace, apart from works of any kind, it was the apostle Paul. His supernatural encounter with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus is all the proof we need. But accompanying this work of salvation came another supreme step in Paul’s life — surrender.  As the objective accomplishments of the cross and the resurrection of Christ became realities in Paul’s life experientially, he was completely changed. In view of the mercies of God, he surrendered totally to the One who had forgiven and cleansed him. Little wonder that Paul always called Jesus “Lord,” for he indeed did have a new Lord and a new life as well as a new service and a new business — the Gospel business. This is the message of Philippians in a nutshell. The same Voice who spoke to Paul on the Road to Damascus now reveals Himself in the blazing light of a magnificent little hymn recorded for us in Phil. 2:5-11. A whole lifetime would not be sufficient to unpack the theological gems found in this profound passage. The revelation of Christ’s humility in service to others can only come gradually, like the dawn breaking over the wide-spreading landscape. Once Paul had surrendered to the all-powerful Jesus of Nazareth, for the rest of his life he served Christ in humble obedience, as did his friends Timothy and Epaphroditus. This is the outstanding need of the church today — people who are not only saved but who recognize the Lordship of Christ and yield to His mastery. This new mastery does not come easily. Evangelical hero worship is alive and well in our churches today. The way up is up, we are told. Bigger is better. Powerful is in. We love that smart jock exterior. Folks, many things in our churches are not fine, but there is only one proper place to place all of our evangelical superstars if we profess to love Jesus, and that place is dead last. True pastors will not object. They’ve read Phil. 2:5-11. It’s so maddening that Christians fail to see what Paul is teaching us here. I’ve been part of the problem, believe me. I wish I could go back to my twenties and thirties and deal with my own ignorance and selfishness and ego. Even today I still find myself having to overhaul my personal priority system. Ugh. But you gotta start somewhere.

Philippians it is then — along with portions of that great book 1 John (one of only two strictly anonymous epistles in the New Testament along with Hebrews). This spring we’re going to cut to the chase. This is where the chili meets the cheese friends. Obviously, this will be tricky business. How do you cover so much in a single semester? The best way is to have the students read some good books on the topic. In addition to Learn to Read New Testament Greek, we’ll be adding my Uncle Dave’s works Using New Testament Greek in Ministry and New Testament Textual Criticism. (I have this addiction for stuff written by my uncle.) I mean, this has got to get done. So brace yourselves, my dear students. I won’t lie. This is not going to be easy. But it will be worth it. Serving others is part and parcel of salvation. What an insane truth. But I love it!

Shelf vs. Practical Ecclesiology

From Dave Black Online (used by permission):

12:40 PM Is your ecclesiology “shelf” ecclesiology or “practical” ecclesiology? In other words, is your church willing to change in obedience to truth? Henry Neufeld has a weighty response to this question in his latest post called Seven Marks: Excursus on Change. Henry suggests seven reasons why we avoid doing what we know we ought to be doing. He uses weight loss as an example. I love his reasons! They are all impeccably logical. But, as Henry notes, they are excuses nonetheless.

This leads me to add perhaps one more element into the discussion. A new lifestyle requires new people. Most of us are locked into a routine because the people all around us are locked into the same routine. Up until a few months ago I was locked into a routine that utilized only a small percentage of my muscles. I was imprisoned in a physical and professional and social existence that cared little for health and fitness. Then I began to associate with people who were health-conscious. No, they weren’t preachy about it, but the clear message they kept sending to me was: We as human beings are body, mind, and spirit. We can’t stress one function of the self to the detriment of the others. I thus began to engage in exercises intended to get the most out of the human machine and the body/mind complex.

Most of us already have this “knowledge.” But, as Henry points out, knowledge doesn’t suffice. It never has. The rules for physical fitness are well established. They haven’t changed much over the centuries. Consult any textbook or website and you’ll find the do’s and don’ts of fitness. What we need are models, people who show us, “Here is what you can become.” We need new relationships that are uncontaminated by the old guilt and unhealthy lifestyles. As I began to associate with people who were committed to physical fitness, I found a new strength in me. My new associations revived resolutions, long since dormant, and made me set my face like flint. That quality — that ability to motivate others by your own example — is what is all too often lacking today. So you believe in elders? Even, let’s say, non-stipendiary elders? Name two or three churches that practice that today. Alas, there are so few examples. But life isn’t about thinking good thoughts. Joy is always connected with action.

So, what’s on your “change agenda” for today? Maybe you were fit once but don’t exercise anymore. Maybe you are just getting started. Maybe your church is on the verge of taking a significant step of obedience. We humans are constantly resetting goals. We are always in process. Indeed, change is a good test of normalcy. The normal human being is always striving for some ideal self.

The excuse of not enough time is just that — an excuse. Never will you have enough time to do everything you want to do. You’ve got to make a choice. You have to decide what things are presumably better than all the other things in your life. But here’s what I’m discovering. Exercise may take time but it creates time as well. The more energy expended the more energy added to your machine. Likewise, when a church takes a baby step of obedience, it finds that the next step is a little bit easier to take. Above all, let’s remember that action is always impelled by some good we want to attain. The 30-some-odd books I’ve written or edited didn’t just happen. I wrote or edited them because I thought I had something of value to say to people. Fitness programs follow this line of reasoning. The long-term benefits always come from denying our present desire to enjoy ourselves this minute. Drives may push us, but desires pull us. Until you are motivated, you will never be willing to attack the problem head-on.

Thank you, Henry, for your very provocative post. Let’s all get started in the race to which Henry is calling us. When I run a 5K, I am completely unconcerned about what others are doing. I don’t care if I’m at the back of the pack. For these few moments, I am making the effort to act, and in that sense I become the equal of anyone on this earth.