Monthly Archives: August 2013

James Abbreviated: Chapter 4

We’re approaching the end of James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)

Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:

As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.

A shorter version of this might be:

True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity together.

Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.

James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. AdulteressesDon’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (HCSB).

First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below… Read the rest of this entry

Reasons to Read the Bible

Originally posted on conversant faith:

As the conclusion and telos of the Bible, the book of Revelation is a book of divine blessing to believers.

Blessed is he who reads… –Revelation 1:3

The first blessing mentioned in Revelation is bestowed on readers. Blessing begins with reading. In light of the following apocalyptic blessings, I think it’s appropriate to say that overcoming also begins with reading. The word ‘blessed’ appears seven times in the book of Revelation, and every instance seems to apply to the overcomers (Rev. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14).

To read the Bible is a great blessing because the word of God reveals and imparts God for our apprehension of God as truth and enjoyment of God as grace.

In one sense, the Bible is God’s seminal blessing to humanity, for without it we would have no record of or access to the person and work of Christ, God’s…

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Finding Yourself in the Story: The Importance of Biblical Theology

Almost a decade ago, Lost, the TV series on ABC hit America like a storm. I never caught on because I didn’t have television, and Netflix was still a dream in Marc Randolph’s mind; eventually, I stopped by a friend’s house who was deeply entrenched in one of the episodes, but by this time, it was several seasons in. I tried to catch on. I saw that everyone else in the living room was deeply entranced by the show. But sitting on that sofa, I just wasn’t interested, much less fascinated, with Lost. You know why?

I had no idea what was going on.

Lost hit the airwaves during a time of massive change in the way television presented its content. No longer were shows sectioned off into bite-sized, thirty-minute sitcoms (situation comedies), but they were now linked by a metanarrative that stretched for seasons–even the entire series. Lost was one of the originals. You had to start watching it from the beginning; if you stepped in on an episode halfway through the season, you would be, well…lost.

That moment helped me make another connection: people will get lost in the details unless they understand the unifying narrative. It’s that storyline that helps make sense of all the little vignettes. This forced me into a further realization about the Scriptures.

It’s hard to read the Bible when you don’t know what’s going on.

Picture this…

What happens during your daily devotions, when, after waking up uncomfortably early, you roll out of bed, half-awake, and open your Bible to the book of Obadiah? Or Leviticus? Or Chronicles? Perhaps you read along, assuring yourself that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable” (2 Tim 3:16); but soon enough, you turn to the easier, more self-explanatory Proverbs, or perhaps you just reach for the John Eldridge paperback. I have had these moments too. I have sometimes felt that sinking feeling that I did not understand certain books of the Bible enough. We certainly know that all the Scriptures are important, but sometimes it may feel as if there were a deficiency in our understanding of certain parts, like some of God’s Word is out of our reach. For many people, this happens with the Old Testament. We love reading the simple story of the Gospels, or the propositional statements of Paul, because it feels as if they apply directly to our lives; but how in the world are we supposed to handle the book of Amos? It seems archaic, contextualized, and far removed, a very discouraging thought when we realize that two thirds of our Bible is Old Testament.

My hope is to draw you back to the Scriptures with joyful anticipation; but first, allow me to explain why they often don’t make sense to you.

You jumped into part of an episode of the Bible and got lost.

For example, the Bible may initially appear as if curated from disconnected books, but these books work to form a cosmic story only when considered together. As T. Desmond Alexander describes, “There is not a book within the whole collection that can be interpreted satisfactorily in isolation from the rest. Each book contributes something special to the meta-story and, in turn, the meta-story offers a framework within which each book may be best interpreted” (From Eden. 10).

This means, it can get very confusing when you just pop in to taste-test single verses without the rich context of Scripture surrounding them. It’s appropriate to digest single verses at once, but only if you understand the framework in which they belong. Studying this grand tapestry is an area of theology called Biblical Theology. And this is where the Bible gets very exciting! But don’t confuse Biblical theology with the way it sounds. Whenever we use the term biblical we generally refer to something “orthodox” or “correct”—it may sound like Biblical Theology is speaking about orthodox theology. But we are speaking of something entirely different (although it assumes orthodox theology!).

What is Biblical Theology?

Geerhardus Vos, the acclaimed theologian on this area of study, defines Biblical Theology as “the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historical continuity” (Idea of Biblical Theology15).

Thomas Schreiner defines Biblical Theology as focusing on “the historical timeline of biblical revelation and the distinct contribution of each author. There are different facets, of course, but the focus is on the timeline as a whole and the unfolding of God’s plan” (www.sbts.edu)

James Hamilton describes his own book on Biblical Theology as an attempt to highlight a “central theme” by describing “individual books in canonical context with sensitivity to the unfolding metanarrative” (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 44).

I know some of these definitions are dense, but hopefully my italicizing highlighted a key point which will emerge in my definition:

Biblical theology involves reading the Bible as the unfolding revelation of God in history.

Lessons in not listening pt.2

I shared some personal discouragements with someone the other day, only to have them present me with a long string of Bible verses, pat answers, and Christian clichés; it came so quick, that I wonder if the person was ever listening to begin with.

On another occasion, I was with a friend who disclosed to me a lot of their weaknesses and failures. They confessed faults that you would not expect from a person of such “spiritual stature.” There was no real resolve, or Christian “zinger” to make the story end well. Just an old-fashioned complaint, couched in real angst, almost permitting me to feel human. Imagine that.

I long for my conversations to look like the latter example. Sometimes they don’t. There are a lot of ways to “bless” someone into a deeper grief; I am beginning to realize more and more that what I crave most in difficult times is two-fold: a listener, and a safe environment to be real.

How about you?

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