Two More New Features This Week.

Podcasts of Lecture Series. Once again, click on the menu page above entitled “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime.” I’ve uploaded a pod cast of Lecture One, Part Two of the lecture series given at the Evangelical College of Theology, near Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 16-19, 2016.

“The ‘Many-Splendored’ Wisdom of God. Monday and Tuesday I have the privilege of doing the Tishomingo County Pastors School at the First United Methodist Church in Iuka, Mississippi. Our study is entitled “The ‘Many-Splendored’ Wisdom of God: Studies in Ephesians 1-6.” If you click on the Ephesians page above, you can download the note-taking guide for these studies. Pastors receive one CEU for participating.

Two New Features: “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime” and “What is the Bible?”

Two new features for you to explore.

Podcasts of Lecture Series. Click on the new page in the menu above entitled “An Invitation to the Journey of a Lifetime.” That page is dedicated to a series of lectures given at the Evangelical College of Theology, near Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 16-19, 2016. You will find a description of the lectures and a podcast of Lecture One, Part One.

Video on the Bible. Click here to view the video, “What is the Bible?” on Youtube.

“People of the Lie.” Further Thoughts on Holiness.

(I have moved the pod casts about holiness that were posted to this home page on March 8 and 15 to a newly created page entitled “Holiness.”

  1. If you want to access those podcasts, click on “Holiness” in the menu bar above.
  2. If you want to access the blogs of February 15 and 22 to which this post refers, click “Holiness” in the “categories” list to the right. Clicking there will show you the posts for February 15, February 22, and March 2 along with this post for April 26.)

Unconfessed Sin . . .

Scott Peck’s article “People of the Lie,” in The High Calling (pages 2 and 5 of the March-April issue, to access this issue click here ) recalled the concern I expressed in the February 22 blog about the tragedy of unconfessed sin in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. In that blog I suggested that the claim to be “without sin,” though nuanced, has often, in fact, led to unconfessed sin in the lives of people who professed to be holy.  In Peck’s article, which is taken from his 1983 book by the same title, he argues that refusal to admit that we have sin allows sin to go unchecked and produces wickedness. Peck writes as a psychiatrist, but his insight rings true in Christian experience.

produces wickedness . . .

It was Peck’s use of the word “wicked” that got my attention. When I began to reflect on my life-long experience within the Wesleyan-Holiness movement, it appeared that much behavior had been motivated by un-crucified self-centeredness. This seemed to be true not just in one context or institution, but in a broad range of contexts. Even when maintaining certain standards pertaining to matters of dress or entertainment, we have often let things like criticism of others, intimidation, flattery, manipulation, shading of the truth to protect our own image, insistence on one’s own way (often invoking “Biblical” authority), refusal to be reconciled, and refusal to ask for or give forgiveness, go unchecked. Does this list remind you of the “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21? We have also often failed to be “deeply kind, tender hearted, graciously forgiving one another and making allowance for one another as God in Christ has forgiven us” (Eph 4:32). We have not been “imitators of God, as dear children, walking in love as Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us . . .” and thus we have not been “an odor of sweetness” before God (Eph 5:1-2, my own translation of these verses).

which leads to hypocrisy and abuse . . .

Indeed, Peck is correct. Our failure to admit the presence of sin has led to “wickedness.” In our case, often to a hypocrisy in which holiness was defined by certain external standards while sins of the flesh and spirit were ignored provided people used the right words when talking about “holiness.” As per the February 22 blog, this situation has been exacerbated by a superficial approach to sanctification which prematurely called people to a “second experience.” The result was the short-circuiting of a true death to self-centeredness and thus failure to experience genuine fullness of the Spirit and surrender to the lordship of Christ (blog of February 15). When leaders have acted in this way there has been much harm to the body of Christ and to the people under their care, sometimes causing them to turn away from the Lord. One might dare to use the word “abuse.” Scot Peck’s article helped me see the seriousness of this situation, which my former colleague, Dr. Carey Vinzant, has been raising for several years.  We have too often claimed holiness, while actually practicing wickedness.

and calls for true repentance.

In my blog of February 22, I suggested some changes in the way we think about and articulate God’s call for holiness in order to address these concerns. I am still convinced that we need to do some hard re-thinking, re-examining of Scripture, and re-articulation along the lines suggested. However, now I am also convinced that something even more radical is necessary. Sin requires repentance, restitution, and change. (That sentence is intentionally redundant for emphasis—restitution and change are part of true repentance.) God calls us (I’m including myself) to humbly seek His forgiveness and, by the power of His Spirit, to change and to bring healing and restitution to those who have been hurt. Did not the Asbury revivals come when people who claimed to be holy repented of their sin? It is time for triumphalism to end.

Peck’s article was the final link in a chain that has clarified my thinking. Many thanks to the Francis Asbury Society, and to the editor Stan Key, for publishing this article in The High Calling.

 

 

 

The Conquest of Canaan. Adam Hamilton, Peter Enns, and Others.

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Listen to this Podcast or read the text below. They are identical.

 

Introduction

Many within the Church today wish to pick and choose the teachings of Scripture that they accept and those they reject. There are two issues in particular that these people often mention as objectionable: the “violence” in the Old Testament, especially the Conquest of Canaan, and the Bible’s teaching on sexuality. One often gets the impression that the second of these, sexuality, is their main concern, but the first is where they begin because they believe that they can use it to discredit the Bible’s authority. They appeal to our age’s sensitivity to “genocide” (Despite the fact that we are the most violent period in the history of the world and that we kill millions of the unborn). One thinks immediately of Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton, pastor of the largest United Methodists Church in America, and The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, who was dismissed from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Books like these focus on the “violence” of the Conquest and conclude either that ancient Israel misunderstood God’s instruction and/or that, in fact, the conquest never happened.

Usually the people who follow this line of thought take the Conquest out of its Biblical context. If we would address this matter fairly, there are several important considerations that must be mentioned.

(1) The Conquest and the New Testament Writers

Neither Jesus nor any New Testament writer critiqued or denied the Conquest.

(2) The Conquest and Biblical Support for “Violence.”

When taken as a whole, the Bible affords no justification for “genocide.” In fact, its teaching that human beings are made in God’s image and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves stands as a firm bulwark against the mistreatment, much less the killing, of innocent human beings. Even the Old Testament specifically includes the foreigner, the stranger, and even the enemy within the bounds of those who are to be so treated. From the earliest centuries of the faith Christians have reached out to helpless elements within society.

(3) The Conquest and Biblical Theology

We must pay close attention to the role that the Promised Land and its conquest by the People of God play within the message of the Bible. The Promised Land was not just a piece of real estate. It was the place God chose to dwell in the midst of His people in order to make His name known to the world. It was “holy” because it was the place where God’s people lived in fellowship with their “holy” God. He delivered them from bondage in Egypt and made covenant with them at Sinai so that He could bring them into this place of fellowship with Himself. As His covenant people they were to live in fellowship with Him in this land in such a way that their new kind of life reflected His holy character before the nations of the world. Their common life was indeed to reflect their love for God and for their neighbor. The Promised Land, then, became the new “Eden,” the new place of fellowship with God, and the type or picture of the ultimate eternal dwelling place of God with his people in the New Heaven and Earth. Thus, to remove the Conquest /Land is to tear the fabric of Biblical teaching. God’s people today are called to a conquest of sin and evil through the power of God and to a life of faithfulness lest they lose their inheritance as did Israel of old.

(4) The Conquest and God

Furthermore, the Scripture is clear that Israel did not conquer the Land by its own strength. In fact, the Bible makes it very clear that Israel’s attempt to take the land on its own was an utter failure. The Land was God’s gift to Israel which Israel claimed by trusting God in a conquest that was the work of God, who was the Conqueror. The Conquest was not so much God’s judgment on individuals, as on oppressive, corrupt, idolatrous, Canaanite society. Furthermore, Israel itself, when it became corrupt and godless, received the same judgment at the time of the Exile. The Bible is clear throughout that the eternal Creator God has the right to judge nations and peoples for their wickedness by the use of other nations or through natural disasters. It would be improper to demand proof that class-oppressive, sexually perverse, child-sacrificing Canaanite society was “worse” than some other societies before “approving” of God’s judgment. The Bible is clear that the eternal God is not subject to such exacting finite, fallible, but hubristic human accountability. This was the Land the omnipresent God had chosen for His special presence on earth and no unholy thing was to pollute it.

Conclusion

In light of these considerations it is clear that to represent the Conquest of Canaan as simply an example of Israelite ethnocentricity and Canaanite ethnic cleansing is to grossly misrepresent the Biblical account. I’ve spent most of my life studying Scripture and trying to help others understand its teaching. My book Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014) shows how each part of the Old Testament fits into the entire Bible. Yet Adam Hamilton and others may have gone too far in their attempts to “make sense” of Scripture. Christian faith has always affirmed that God has truly revealed Himself in Christ and in the Scripture. But it has also insisted that God is greater than His self-revelation, that His ways are not our ways, that we will never fully understand the infinite God. There will always be the Divine Mystery that surpasses human comprehension. If, then, we insist on making everything in Scripture conform to our modern, finite prejudices and sensibilities, we will end up worshipping an idol of our own making rather than the living God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. Christopher J. H. Wright’s book The God I Don’t Understand is an effective antidote to our overconfident conformity of God to our own image. And, by the way, Dale Ralph Davis’ Joshua: No Falling Words (Christian Focus, 2000) is an excellent exposition of the book of Joshua.

What is the Bible?

Hi, everybody. Thanks for patiently waiting. I’ve postponed my promised posts in order to learn how to make videos using Camtasia. Check out my first video on You Tube, entitled “What is the Bible?” You will find it by clicking here   What is the Bible?. This video explores the nature of the Bible as God’s interpersonal self-revelation. God did not give the Bible merely to give us facts or laws but to bring us into fellowship with Himself. Some of you will recognize this material as an adaptation from class lecture. I hope this presentation will encourage ministers of the Gospel and help lay people get a deeper understanding of the nature of the Bible. This video features the following “wheel”:

Wheel

the Bible as God’s Interpersonal Self-Revelation

Thinking about Bible Translations? Part One

(I’ve decided to take a break from the pod casts on holiness. Will be back with more on that subject later.)

Bible Translation 2b

An old Christianity Today article, entitled “We Really Do Need Another Bible Translation,’ by Raymond Van Leeuwen, (Oct. 2, 2001, pages 28-35) has stimulated my thinking about Bible translation and ministry.  People often begin by asking, “Well, what Bible translation is best?” or “What Bible translation do you use?” or “What Bible translation is best for Bible study?” or “What Bible translation is best to read in public?”

“What-the-text-says” Translations:

Let’s begin by talking about the two basic kinds of Bible translations. We often refer to them as “literal” and “figurative.” “Functionally equivalent” is actually a better term than “figurative.” By “literal” we usually mean that the translations in question follow the Greek or Hebrew word order and the syntax of the Greek sentence as closely as possible.  Of course, no translation can follow the order and syntax of another language exactly. Greek, for instance, often puts a predicate noun at the beginning of a sentence (John 1:1, “God, was the word”), while English puts it at the end (“The Word was God.”) Van Leeuwen calls this type of translation a “what-the-text-says” translation. The New American Standard, the New King James, the English Standard Bible, and the Revised Standard Version tend to be “what the text says” translations.

“What-the-text-means” Translations:

A “functionally equivalent” translation, on the other hand, attempts to reproduce the impression of the original on a modern reader. Thus, in order to make the meaning or significance clear words and structure may be significantly changed. Van Leeuwen helpfully calls this kind of translation a “what-the-text-means” translation. The New International Version, Revised English Bible, amd New Jerusalem Bible tend in this direction. The Good News Bible, New Living Translation, and the New Century Bible certainly fall in this category, as do paraphrases such as J. B. Phillips and The Message. I have not used the relatively new Common Bible enough to evaluate it.

What’s the Difference?

Let us clarify the difference between “what-the -text-says” and “what-the-text-means” a little further.  “What-the-text-means” translations aim to make the significance and implications of the text, determined by its background and context, immediately accessible to the reader.  On the other hand, “what-the-text-says” translations aim at giving readers the material to make those implications themselves.  “What-the-text-says” translations are not aiming at unintelligibility and their language need not be wooden or archaic. It is time for an example of the difference between “what-the-text-says” and “what-the-text-means”:

An Example:

In Mark 2:16 the Teachers of the Law who were Pharisees question Jesus’ actions when they say to the disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (NASB).  This translation accurately gives us what they said.  The NLT, on the other hand, has them say, “Why does he eat with such scum?”  The text has already identified these people as “tax collectors and sinners” so the NLT is free to use the term “such scum” so that the modern reader immediately grasp the scorn and distain in the Pharisees voices. On the other hand, the modern reader will have to study the context and look at related references to tax collectors in order to get this same understanding from the NASB.  The NASB gives us accurately “what the text says.”  The NLT gives us immediate access to at least one aspect of its significance. In the next verse Jesus says, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Again the NLT says, “I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.”   Jesus said, “righteous.”  Context, however, shows that he was using this word ironically and thus meant something like, “those who think they are already good enough.”

“What-the-text-says” is Best, Right?

So, obviously, since we want to know what the Bible “says,” a “what-the-text-says” translation is best? Not so fast. We will begin to answer this question next week! See you then!

Holiness Unto the Lord. Part Three: Hope for the People of God.

“Made for Holiness,” podcast #1 in the series on the Biblical Basis for Christian Holiness

“Lord, you have removed sin’s guilt from us so that we will not die for it as a crime. Now break sin’s power in us so we do not die from it as a disease. Help us put sin to death. Rom. 8: 13.” (Matthew Henry, A Way to Pray, edited and revised by O. Palmer Robertson, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2010, p. 91). What a wonderful prayer for the people of God!

This prayer shows awareness of sins debilitating power and expresses urgency for deliverance. How the contemporary church needs to regain this awareness and urgency. Many seem to feel that, provided one has made a “decision” for Christ, sin doesn’t much matter. This situation is little different from the abuse of indulgences that Martin Luther faced in the sixteenth century—except then people actually had to pay something for their false assurance. Is it any surprise that the behavior of Christians differs little from that of unbelievers or that Christian leaders fall into open sin?

The Wesleyan movement has the potential to proclaim an alternate, more Biblical vision of salvation that offers health to the church at large. A small and ever-shrinking minority from our movement still clings to the formulaic understanding described in my last blog. Their approach has little that is attractive for most people seeking to know God more deeply. One student from a non-Wesleyan background told me that they were attracted to Wesley Biblical Seminary by disillusionment with the cheap grace they had been taught and by a desire for holiness, but were then alienated by the formulaic approach to holiness that made claims not reflected in the life of the community. The rest of the Wesleyan movement speaks with an often confused and ambivalent voice.

Several years ago, I was talking with a very distinguish and capable leader of one of the Wesleyan denominations. He told me that his denomination had abandoned the old way of looking at holiness but had not found a new or effective way to communicate the message of God’s transforming grace in the modern world. He also told me that many people viewed Wesley Biblical Seminary as an advocate for that old, ineffective way. I assured him that I followed a different approach and shared with him material from my course “The Biblical Basis for Christian Holiness.”.

Since I am retired, I can no longer speak for the leadership of Wesley Biblical Seminary, and the views I am expressing may not represent their views. However, I began to articulate what I believe to be a Biblical and effective understanding of holiness in the first of these three blogs. I attempted to address some errors in the second. God willing, I plan to continue this teaching with a series of short, 8 to 10 minute podcasts, beginning today. These podcasts will take those interested through the essence of that course on Biblical holiness. Look for a new podcast each Thursday. Be prepare for a fascinating journey through Scripture. You will find the first of these podcasts, “Made for Holiness,” at the top of this blog. Listen today.