Doctrine On Tap » Bible http://doctrineontap.com God...I thirst for you ~ Ps 63 Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:59:21 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.com/ http://0.gravatar.com/blavatar/072bfa2dc4713c8061113defe94b99e5?s=96&d=http%3A%2F%2Fs2.wp.com%2Fi%2Fbuttonw-com.png » Bible http://doctrineontap.com Book Review ~ The King In His Beauty, by Thomas R. Schreiner http://doctrineontap.com/2013/11/11/book-review-the-king-in-his-beauty-by-thomas-r-schreiner/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/11/11/book-review-the-king-in-his-beauty-by-thomas-r-schreiner/#comments Mon, 11 Nov 2013 19:00:06 +0000 http://doctrineontap.com/?p=5916 ]]> I had this book on my wish list the year before it came out. 

For the following reasons. First, Dr. Thomas Schreiner is one of my favorite scholars. I read through his prestigious commentary on Romans, and developed a deep appreciation for his scholarly writing voice, and well as the sheer width of his focus. Second, Biblical Theologies are a favorite area of study for me—at least for the last year. It is often entrenched in complexity, so Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition will serve the purpose of this blog post well: Biblical Theology is “the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible” (Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, 40). To boil it down further, it’s the unifying storyline of Scripture, which I address more in this blog postThird, the name alone is awesome: The King in His Beauty. This just makes me want to pick it up and swim in glorious truth!

Now that I’m done with this hefty book (700+ pages), I’ve provided a not-brief summary of what it’s about, some reasons for reading it, potential drawbacks, and a few concluding remarks. Let’s go for a swim!

SUMMARY

The King in His Beauty is foremost a Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Biblical Theology (BT) may sound confusing if you’ve never heard the term before, because we sometimes use the word “biblical” when referring to something correct or orthodox; so it may sound like we are talking about a theology that is orthodox. But that’s not what we are talking about (although it assumes the theology is correct!). BT is an area of study, dealing primarily with the story of Scripture, a search for the “center” to that story, and the process of how God reveals that story. Think of it as a view of the Bible from 30,000 feet: you are taking it all in at once.

Schreiner’s intent with writing a BT is simple: to focus on a prominent Biblical theme as it is unfolding so that the average, non-academic reader can understand and enjoy. As Schreiner moves through Scripture, he does so in segments which I’ve found very helpful in following both his train of thought, and the storyline of Scripture. The segments are as follows:

  • Creation to the Edge of Canaan (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
  • The Story of Possession, Exile, and Return (Joshua-Esther)
  • Israel’s Songs of Wisdom (Job-Song of Songs)
  • Judgment and Salvation in the Prophets (Isaiah-the Twelve)
  • The Kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke-Acts (Matthew-Acts)
  • Eternal Life in the Gospel and the Epistles of John (John, John’s letters)
  • The End of the Ages Has Come according to the Apostle Paul (Paul’s 13 letters)
  • Living in the Last Day’s according to the General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter-Jude)
  • The Kingdom Will Come (Revelation)

As Schreiner moves through these segments of Scripture, he shows them all anchored in the prominent theme of the Kingdom of God, or as he refers to it, The King in His Beauty. He argues that the Kingdom of God, defined as the rule of God spanning the cosmos, including human beings, by means of covenant, and expressed in judgment, “thematically captures the message of Scripture” (xiii-xv).

The book was not written for scholars, but is scholarly (the footnotes are a feast!). So as he teases out the theme of God’s Kingdom in the Bible, he stays out-of-the-way, yet within close distance to the events as they happen, speaking with a depth of clarity and simplicity even in such seemingly abstract books as Amos or the Psalms. It is this simple clarity on complex topics that makes Schreiner magical. Here are a few other delicacies in the book…

STRENGTHS

Humility.

The first thing that caught my eye with Schreiner is his hesitation to claim that his methodology is the only one worthy of consideration—although, this would be forgivable given his extensive research in the field of BT. Yet his humility also comes with a firm conviction from years of research.

Canonical.

I love that Schreiner breaks the Bible into sections which is how he arranged his own table of contents. As a result, you know exactly where Schreiner is taking you in this dash through the Scriptures. 

Divisions.

A great amount of attention is given to the divisions of Scripture as well as the storyline of Scripture. The story shows the unity of the Bible, but the divisions show you the process of the story’s revelation—think of it as the structure of the story. Schreiner explains these carefully, especially the covenants as they are revealed in history, an important element in understanding BT.

Conclusions.

Schreiner knows how to get an idea stuck in your head. He does this particularly well in the summaries at the end of every section. In addition to this, he inserts “interludes” to recapitulate sections and divisions of Scripture. This makes for a clearly developed thesis running through the entire book, which is constantly dripped down into the readers mind as the book progresses. The King in His Beauty even progresses in the same way as the Bible does! Brilliant.

DRAWBACKS

There aren’t many, but here are a few things I wouldn’t mind changing.

Overlap

The King in His Beauty has some similarities to the recent book by James Hamilton, The Glory of God in Salvation Through JudgmentBoth of them, though not explicitly mentioned in their titles, are largely about the Kingdom of God (Schreiner emphasizes the King, while Hamilton emphasizes the King’s rule). I understand that there is overlap of topics and themes in the realm of BT, so this isn’t a significant obstacle to an otherwise wonderful book. And even though a few similarities in themes exist between Schreiner’s book and James Hamilton’s, there are also noticeable differences that set them apart. For example, Schreiner seems to focus more on the King Himself, than on the King’s rule. I love this! The centrality of Christ in this tome is what illuminates it most brightly.

Writing voice

Schreiner writes to show the “majesty and beauty” of the Biblical storyline while keeping a distance from “technical work for scholars” (x). While the substance of what he writes about is enough to cause one’s heart to soar, the technical language sometimes affects that experience. For example, I would have loved to see more over-the-top adjectives in his descriptions, since his stated desire is to show the majesty and beauty of Scripture (although this may be a faux pas in the academic world, I’m not sure). This is not to detract from Schreiner’s writing style or wording—he is a great writer, and he makes the concepts he is championing absolutely clear—rather, it seems a gargantuan piece to bite off: writing as a scholar, with scholarly material, but for the average person. At times, I wish he wasn’t trying to write to so broad and finicky an audience, as his understanding of BT is captivating. I say, write like a scholar—because you are a fine one, sir.

CONCLUSION

Thomas Schreiner needs very little introduction in Biblical studies. The King in His Beauty exemplifies his ability to take deep, complex truths and explain them in a way that the average person can understand, all without the ever-present danger of dumbing everything down. Reading this book immediately brings the reader before the person and work of Jesus Christ as presented through the entire sweep of the Bible’s storyline. All the while, Schreiner shows how Scripture interacts with various details of God’s story, such as the fascinating emphasis on King David and the promises associated with him. Schreiner’s navigation through the Christian Bible is wonderful, simple, and clear. Partly, because he doesn’t waste time interacting with critical thought (not the book’s intent), although the footnotes alone will keep you embroiled in book purchasing.

Intended audience.

The King in His Beauty is not a book you grab off the shelf to skim through while sipping your morning tea—it’s for serious students of the Bible. Specifically, non-academics who want to enrich their understanding of the Bible’s unity, see the Kingdom of God unfolding in Scripture (even books that do not mention “kingdom” explicitly), or want a starting place for enjoying Biblical Theology. Yet, it is so clearly and simply written, that it can also serve the average person as they move through a one-year Bible reading program, for example.

Make no mistake, the church is better off for having Thomas Schreiner, his broad scope of theology, and his love for the Bride of Christ. All of which is made more evident in his latest book on the true Protagonist of the Bible.

Find the book on Amazon here: The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.


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Finding Yourself in the Story: The Importance of Biblical Theology http://doctrineontap.com/2013/08/23/finding-yourself-in-the-story-the-importance-of-biblical-theology/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/08/23/finding-yourself-in-the-story-the-importance-of-biblical-theology/#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 14:00:01 +0000 http://doctrineontap.com/?p=5675 ]]> 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.


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James Abbreviated: Chapter 3 http://doctrineontap.com/2013/07/18/james-abbreviated-chapter-3/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/07/18/james-abbreviated-chapter-3/#comments Thu, 18 Jul 2013 14:00:00 +0000 http://doctrineontap.com/?p=5605 ]]> Continuing our series, James Abbreviated, let’s tackle chapter 3!

You should read the first post in the series because it sets up every chapter to come. The intent is to show God’s desire for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all seen in the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something only the wisdom of God can help us navigate.

James chapter 2 and 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” We saw in the last blog post that chapter two is an exposition of the command to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. Interestingly, as the chapter progresses, it emphasized this call to show mercy, specifically on those in the family of God. A good summary of chapter two is, “If you are a Christ follower, you will love all of Christ’s people”

Now, in chapter 3, James gives an explanation for the first half of v 27, namely, “to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

There are many great points made in James chapter 3, but I suggest one that emerges as the most definitive of the chapter (in bold). As usual, I will offer what I think are the supporting verses, with key verses in italics.

Holiness is manifest in your speech

James 1:1-12 “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, 2 for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body. 3 Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. 4 And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. 7 Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. 10 Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. 11 Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water” (HCSB).

While this section of Scripture is easy enough to understand on it’s own terms, I always wondered how it fit in to the rest of James.

For example, how does “experiencing trials” (1:2) relate to the tongue? Or “keeping oneself unstained by the world” (27b)? Or the sin of favoritism (2:1)? Fortunately, chapter 3 is easy enough to understand that most people can apply it to their life niche. Pastors and school teachers may think of their vocation when reading the stern warning of “stricter judgment” found in vv. 1-2. Some are reminded of the fiery hell that is our tongue in vv. 3-6 when we gossip or lash out verbally. Maybe others just think of the zoo when they read of horses (v 3), sea creatures, reptiles, and birds (v 7) :-) But verse 11 sharply refocuses our attention by providing us with a summary of chapter 3:

“Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (v 11)

I’m bringing our attention to verse 11 as the key verse because it unifies the first 12 verses of James’s warning over the destructive nature of the tongue, words, and speech. James defines the tongue as lit by hell itself—it’s not on fire, it is a fire (v 6); he implicates anyone that teaches verbally (v 1); he describes the tongue’s ability to destroy other people (v 8); and after launching into more analogous indictments against human speech, his deep theme emerges: “Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” (v 11). James is prosecuting the human heart as the real culprit behind our sinful speech, for if we were holy, only sweet water would pour out of our springs; likewise, bitter waters flow from dead faith (2:26). These first seemed like a bunch of unrelated proverbs, but from a bird’s-eye view of the text, James’s point is overt: holiness of heart is manifest in holiness of speechOur words do not save us, but they do identify us.

This, of course, flows seamlessly from chapters one (God matures our faith with trials, in and through right relationships with Christ’s people) and chapter two (Christ followers love all of Christ’s people).

Now, this brings us to the sudden shift at the end of chapter 3:

Who is wise and has understanding among you? He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom’s gentleness. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

James is setting up an ultimatum.

This may seem disconnected from the rest of the chapter, but remember, we are looking at everything from a view of 30,000 feet so we can leave with a broad and unifying theme that holds these chapters (and book) together. With that in mind, read that paragraph again (vv. 13-18) and see if you can spot some repeating words, phrases, thoughts, or themes. The first thing that stood out to me was “wisdom” used four times throughout the paragraph. Where have we heard “wisdom” mentioned before? In chapter one! James exhorts,

“Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (1:5).

The wisdom of which James speaks is more than a psychic way of making decisions or finding your future spouse; rather, this is the wisdom of God to navigate perilous situations, and comes upon a Christian who trusts in God in those hard times. As a result, the Christian matures in Christ. Now, in chapter three, God’s wisdom is brought up once again, but this time, in contrast with counterfeit wisdom, which James describes as “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition” (3:14).

Why do I bring up this contrast?

Because while God’s wisdom causes you to trust in him in difficult circumstances, and consequently, to treat unlovable people with grace and mercy; counterfeit wisdom consists of only person-destroying vices! To cultivate relationships marked by envy and selfish pride is to create “disorder and every kind of evil” (16). Once again, the evidence of knowing God is in how you treat people, especially people in your own family, the family of God.

James’s essential argument in chapter 3 is that holiness of heart is manifest in holiness of speech.

Before, verses like James 1:27b (“to keep oneself unstained by the world”) seemed so disconnected to chapter 3, but now, we can see the connection; if keeping oneself unstained by the world is another way of describing the holiness of God’s people, then holiness is directly connected to sins of speech, especially since this entire book is set in the context of the church community. How do we sin against each other? Usually through what we say (or don’t say!).

Have you been making any fun connections in James? Please share!


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James Abbreviated: Chapter 2 http://doctrineontap.com/2013/07/02/james-abbreviated-chapter-two/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/07/02/james-abbreviated-chapter-two/#comments Tue, 02 Jul 2013 14:00:59 +0000 http://doctrineontap.com/?p=5533 ]]> This is the second post in our series, James Abbreviated!

This one shouldn’t be as lengthy as the first one, but you will need to read the first post in the series because it sets us up for every chapter to come. The summary of chapter one went something like this: God desires for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all of which is the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something we need the wisdom of God to help us navigate.

Before we move on, I want you to take special notice of the underlined sections of that summary towards the end. I got these two ideas from James 1:27,

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The first half of James’s sentence (“to look after orphans and widows”) suggests the immersion in the world to love our neighbor, while the second half (“keep oneself unstained by the world”) is where I got the setting apart for holiness unto God. I’m bringing this up, because I think James chapter 2 and chapter 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of these two concepts. James chapter 2 unpacks the imperative to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. What is interesting is that as the chapter progresses, it focuses our call to show mercy specifically on the family of God.

Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter two (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with key verses in italics.

Christians must look after their own poor

vv.1-8 “My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. 3 If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? 6 Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that was pronounced over you at your baptism? 8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself , you are doing well. “

This lengthy paragraph suggests three things:

  1. James addresses a church of believers (not just anyone). He uses Mediterranean strong-family terminology: “My brothers” (v 1, 14); “my dear brothers” (v 5); “a brother or sister” (v 15).
  2. James brings up a specific discrimination in the church. He points out that certain believers were giving preference to other believers based on their affluence; and points out the irony of the act, accusing the discriminate believer of “dishonoring that poor man” (v 6).
  3. James condemns discrimination in the church. We see this in his quotation of the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v 8), and roundly exposes favoritism as the antithesis of the Law (v 9).
  • These three points show us that favoritism in the church, especially in relation to those who are poor, lowly, or discriminated against, is a shameful transgression of God’s heart.

But watch how James connects this ongoing thought to the rest of the chapter…

Generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith

vv. 14-17 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him ? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.”

James is not just suggesting that we come to the aid of the less fortunate in our church; he claims that the gospel demands it! In fact, your faith is dead unless you prove it by the way you treat your brothers and sisters in your local church, especially those who are less fortunate.

Here is how I’m seeing the flow…

  1. James starts the chapter by condemning favoritism. Before we move on, I should explain James’s definition of “favoritism”: it is the giving of preferential treatment to those in the church who can return the favor, while neglecting the needs of those who cannot give you anything in return.
  2. James ties favoritism to dead faith!! Dead faith is another way of describing a false conversion: you aren’t really saved!
  3. (This is so brutal, I don’t even need a third point)

This is James’s essential argument in chapter two; but remember: it stems from James 1:27a (“to look after orphans and widows”)

Just to jog our memory, James has all along been telling us that when we trust God as He takes us through trials, he will bring us to completion as followers of Christ, part of which involves our immersion in the world to love our neighbor. And this is most beautifully exemplified by loving those who are the most inconvenient to love in our own church family.

If James were to condense chapter two into a tweet, I think he would say this:

“If you are a Christ follower, you will love all of Christ’s people”

So how does this overarching theme affects our reading of a single verse within that same chapter? Take this verse, for example:

Verse 5: “Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?”

After our traverse through James 1, we can make a connection between the faith given to the poor in 2:5 with the faith required to navigate hardships in 1:3. You know what both of these have in common? They are the property of that person whose salvation and completeness is beyond them; whose hair is about to be pulled out; who’s about to scream from utter despair: they must place their faith and trust in God alone. You know who is often in that place of despair? The poor. The downcast. The neglected. The oppressed. It’s usually those who have nothing that consider the gospel to be of incomparable value. Perhaps that’s why James follows up the beginning of chapter two with this exhortation: “The brother of humble circumstances should boast in his exaltation” (1:9).


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James Abbreviated: Chapter 1 http://doctrineontap.com/2013/06/26/james-abbreviated-chapter-one/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/06/26/james-abbreviated-chapter-one/#comments Wed, 26 Jun 2013 14:00:54 +0000 http://doctrineontap.com/?p=5471 ]]> This is the first in our series, James Abbreviated, blogging through every chapter in James to determine the overarching themes of this wonderful book.

Since every book of the Bible has a point, we should start by identifying a basic flow, argument, or exhortation as we read along. Don’t worry about finding the meaning behind every verse yet, but do use key verses to help you put together that flow. A key verse is an emphatic point or crux buried in the chapter, supported by a lot of the surrounding paragraph. To use another example, news articles and blogs often emphasized their main points in bold lettering above the rest of the text.

Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter one (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with the key verse in italics.

Christians trust God in difficulties

vv.2-6 “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. 5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 An indecisive man is unstable in all his ways.”

Do you see how I developed a short, five-word point (Christians trust God in difficulties) from an otherwise sweeping paragraph? I’ll show you my train of thought…

  1. The Christian’s trials can result in an endurance that makes us “complete” (v 2-4)
  2. For this completion to happen, one must ask God for wisdom (v.5)
  3. Faith–which in biblical terms often refers to trust–defines the wisdom we receive.
  • These three points show us that we must ask God for wisdom in difficult situations, while responding to that wisdom with faith in God! This is what separates those who know God, as shown in verses 5-8: the person who trusts in God (“asking in faith”) is saved, and the person who does not (“an indecisive man”), will “not receive anything from the Lord.” (v. 7)

Woo! Let’s move on to the next emphatic point that James makes (I will be gliding over many supporting verses)…

God’s Word renews the way you think

vv. 21 “Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you. 22 But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works —this person will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

This is a powerful followup to the beginning of the chapter. Essentially, James is commanding us to let the Word of God renew our minds (vv. 21) so that we can navigate trials with our faith in God (vv. 2-6).

Here is how I’m seeing the flow…

  1. Receive the Word of God that saves you! (v 21b)
  2. New behaviors are the evidence of receiving God’s Word (v 22)
  3. Since no behaviors are left unaffected by the faith mentioned in verse 6, a Christian cannot find confidence in a mere profession of faith unless they are living according to God’s Word (v 25)
  4. Sin manifests itself in hurtful words (v 26a). Therefore, the evidence of a sincere faith manifests itself in how you treat people in your local church (v 26), since sin and faith both show their face in community.
  • These four points show us that what James has in mind is a faith in Christ that proves itself by good works. These good works are manifest in community.

That’s it! We moved through the first chapter of James already!

Now, we didn’t get every nuance of every verse, but we did get the basic point of chapter one in two different headings; now that we have that, we can go back and look at every verse in light of these overarching points! That is letting Scripture interpret Scripture. But before we go there, let’s look at our two main headings, and close with what James says in the first chapter.

Heading 1:Christians are made more complete when they endure difficulties by trusting in God

Heading 2: God’s Word is the way to experience more faith, because it renews the way we think

Put these two headings together, and it leaves you with what I like to call a golden thread that weaves James 1 together into a rich tapestry. If James were to condense chapter one into a tweet, I think he would say this:

“Trust in God through Christ, proving your faith by thinking and conforming to His Word; this makes you complete in Him while enduring trials.”

Now here is where contextualization matters. To whom did James write this letter? He wrote it “to the 12 tribes in the Dispersion” (v 1). You do not need to have many scholarly study tools or resources to know that “dispersion” probably refers to some type of exile with an identity crisis! Since a basic task of Bible Study (exegesis) is to discover what the author was conveying to a people, we have at least one HUGE clue on our pallette: James was writing to a group of exiles trying to keep up their identity as Christians in a culture that was very different from their way of life and belief! Does this sound familiar?? Well, yes, it sounds like my city, Santa Barbara. And perhaps your city, since most of us live in wildly post-Christian environments that are hostile and foreign to our way of life as Christ-following men and women. James is more relevant to our lives than yesterday’s newspaper.

Before I wrap up this (very long) post, I just remembered that we should look at how an understanding of the overarching theme affects our reading of a single verse within that same passage. So let’s interpret a famous proof-text in light of the entire chapter…

Verse 27: “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

This verse stands on its own as fairly self-explanatory. However, we can exegete a powerful, nuanced, and very applicable meaning now that we understand its surrounding context. James is holding two (seemingly) conflicting ways to relate to culture:

  1. be compassionate and make a difference (e.g., “to look after orphans and widows in their distress”, 26b), or
  2. be holy and keep a distance (“to keep oneself unstained by the world” 26c).

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Memorizing long Scripture passages http://doctrineontap.com/2013/02/12/memorizing-long-scripture-passages/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/02/12/memorizing-long-scripture-passages/#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 13:04:16 +0000 http://christopherlazo.com/?p=4921 ]]> This past Sunday, our church announced a plan to begin memorizing Scripture corporately again.

We will memorize and recite Matthew 28:1-7a (HCSB) as a church over the Santa Barbara coastlands on Easter morning! But we will start by working on it in bite-size chunks, starting this week with the first verse…

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb (Matt. 28:1).

If you’ve never memorized a large passage of Scripture, this is a great time to give it a shot, even if you are not part of this particular congregation. It may seem daunting, but I am about to show you how it can be done, and once you tackle a large passage, you will surely want to memorize more. The experience of retaining Scripture to dwell on in the heart brings with it eternal blessings to which no other spiritual discipline can compare. I wrote about some of these blessings here.

I wrote this post to share with you two tips that have helped me with retaining Scripture: repetition and review.

An immersion in Scripture (repetition) coupled with constant practice (review) is extremely effective in getting the word of Christ to dwell within you richly (Col. 3:16). And even if you do not feel like you’ve got a great memory, you can still do this. In fact, I implore you to try.

If you will commit to spending 10-15 minutes a day for the next six weeks, you will be able to recite this resurrection passage with ease.

Here’s how I memorize large paragraphs of Scripture…

  1. The first thing I do is read the verse over and over. At least 10 times. This is old-fashioned repetition, and there’s no substitute for it. It is important that you actually read and speak the words because the visual will burn a snapshot of the page into your memory and speaking the verse out loud will help you learn. If the verse is particularly long, I sometimes break it up into phrases made by the commas. 
  2. Then I shut my Bible, and recite the same phrase from memory 10 more times. Remember to actually speak the words, not just think of them. This will reinforce your memory. So by this time, I have only spent about 10 minutes in Scripture! Not bad. But the verse is not permanently engrained. I know this because 3 hours later, I have to look up the verse again! That’s ok. The form and feel of the phrase is somewhere in my memory. All I need to do at this point is drive it deeper through review.
  3. It is important to review memorized portions of Scripture. EVERY DAY. If you don’t do this, you will forget everything you’ve learned. So continue rehearsing and reciting what you’ve already learned at least 10 times a day. You will begin to notice after a few days that lines becomes easier to remember. After a week of doing this, it will become second nature. And this only requires about 10 minutes a day.
  • One last tip is what some call “cleaning up the weeds.” When you are memorizing large swathes of Scripture, you might recall most of it, but sometimes get a pronoun or a preposition wrong. Don’t be discouraged. But also don’t let those wrong words become engrained in your head! It’s important to clean up those weeds. I do this by periodically referring to the Bible, checking to see if I am reciting the Word of God accurately or not. If I found I have made a mistake, I quickly correct it by going over steps 1-3 again.

Here’s how I did this with the verse we are memorizing this week.

  • I broke verse one into sections, and started with the first phrase, “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning”. I read this phrase 10 times, then shut my Bible, and recited it from memory 10 more times. I did this periodically throughout the day until it stuck. The next day, I did the same thing with the next phrase in the verse, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to view the tomb.” Finally, I put the two phrases together, and worked on reciting the verse from memory 10 times (sometimes double-checking my Bible to make sure it was right). After I was fairly familiar with the verse, I simply recited it 10 times a day through the week. Even though I have a horrible memory, simple repetition and consistency helps me to retain the holy and precious words of God.

You can do all of this in about 10 minutes.

After a week, you’ll have deeply memorized a short text of Scripture. Now you’re probably wondering what happens when we start adding more verses. Well, more on that next week!

Do you have any Scripture memorization techniques you can share? Have you been greatly blessed by memorizing Scripture? Are you going to try this? I’d love to hear from you.


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Scripture Memorization: why? http://doctrineontap.com/2013/02/09/why-scripture-memorization/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/02/09/why-scripture-memorization/#comments Sat, 09 Feb 2013 13:30:11 +0000 http://christopherlazo.com/?p=4888 ]]>

In the last blog post, I put forward the ancient practice of memorizing God’s Word. Many of us, if we’re Christians, might find this easy enough to ascend to if only because God tells us to do so. But, perhaps in the back of your head you are still wondering, “why devote so much time and energy to memorizing Scripture when I can just look it up on my smartphone?” It certainly does seems like the Christian climate is saturated with an eclectic array of spiritual disciplines. I can’t count how many times I’ve inundated myself with trying to keep up with all the latest spiritual fads promising freedom from sin, eternal joy, and sanctified living. I don’t think the fads will ever taper-off. As long as there is a consumeristic demand for easy spirituality there will be a supply of products to meet the insatiable thirst for Christian nominalism. If you’re tired of the noise…I would like you to consider going back to the timeless practice of memorizing and meditating on Scripture. But this brings up another objection…

Why devote yourself to memorizing the Bible (which is old) when there is so many other contemporary techniques (which are new) to choose from?

What is the value of memorizing Scripture? We need only look to the Bible itself to find it wrought with testimony of the effect it has on the believer’s soul. Allow me to share a few…

What does Scripture do for us…

As good as these disciplines can be, Christian bestsellers, worship music, devotionals, being in nature, and sermons (among others) just cannot match the supernatural weight allotted to the Word of God by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, not the least of which is the divine guarantee that if you give yourself wholly to memorizing the Scripture and letting the word of Christ dwell within you richly, you will be transformed.

What would you add to this list about Scripture?


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Scripture memorization: what? http://doctrineontap.com/2013/02/06/what-is-scripture-memorization/ http://doctrineontap.com/2013/02/06/what-is-scripture-memorization/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2013 14:55:01 +0000 http://christopherlazo.com/?p=4863 ]]> If you walk into the religious section of any bookstore, you’ll find aisles filled with how-to guides for spiritual growth. Some of them are good, and some of them…not so good. This post is going to concentrate, not on the bad or good disciplines, but on one of the greats: memorizing Scripture. For while there are many worthwhile spiritual disciplines, only a handful of them come directly from the Lord Jesus Himself: the ancient practices of prayer, baptism, Lord’s supper, and the internalization of God’s Word.

Why memorize Scripture?

For one, because God tells us to over and over and over…

  • If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples. (John 15:7-8, HCSB)
  • How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)
  • I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11)
  • I will never forget Your precepts, for You have given me life through them. (Psalm 119:93)
  • Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)
  • This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. (Joshua 1:8)
  • My son, don’t forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commands. (Proverbs 3:1)
  • Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)
  • Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
  • We must, therefore, pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)
  • So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)

We are not to settle for the mere reading of God’s Word, or even understanding His Word (though we are certainly not called to less than these!).

God calls us to know His “every word” (Matt. 4:4) “richly” (Col. 3:16) “in our hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19) and  “minds” (Deut. 11:18) so that we can “recite it day and night” (Josh. 1:8).

But why devote such labor to memorizing words that for some of us feel very archaic? Wouldn’t we be better served by memorizing one-liners from contemporary sermons, pithy sayings of wisdom, or quotes from modern authors? I will share more exhaustively in the following post the value of memorizing Scripture. But today I wish to leave you with this:

Have you ever been through a traumatic experience?

If you have, you know that in that moment time seems to blow by you without much warning. When I’m in a sudden place of distress, or I lose a loved one, or someone cuts me off on the highway, adrenaline sets in and my mind becomes discombobulated. In a moment of abrupt chaos, I’m not going to remember Wayne Grudem’s systematic chapter on God’s sovereignty over circumstances. Nor am I going to recall John Piper’s 7 point sermon on enjoying God in suffering. In fact, I believe it was Piper who once said, “You might remember a sentence.”

If I can only remember one sentence in the worst moment of my weakness, I want those words to be divine.

When Satan tempts me to despair, I want God’s Word to lift my spirit.

When my mind loses its grip on God’s faithfulness, I want God’s Word to anchor my soul.

When I am too easily consumed with the delicacies of a fallen culture, I want God’s Word to satiate my heart.

When I can’t control my bitterness, I want God’s Word to saturate my thoughts.

“All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, HCSB).

Scripture memorization is easy to cultivate in times of security and comfort. But it’s in the seasons of difficulty that the most fruit is evident. So if you haven’t experienced any setbacks in life; if you haven’t been sifted like wheat by Satan; if you haven’t trembled at the thought of eternity; if you haven’t lost anything of value; if you are too young to have suffered. Give it time, you will.

But what are you going to remember in your moment of darkness?

How will you align yourself with heaven in all the circumstances that come your way? What will be your weapon of choice to fight the devil? What will fixate your mind on Christ? But, O! Let us consider the Psalmist’s hope with tremendous confidence, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105, HCSB)


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Read through the New Testament in 2013 http://doctrineontap.com/2012/12/31/nt2013/ http://doctrineontap.com/2012/12/31/nt2013/#comments Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:54:02 +0000 http://christopherlazo.com/?p=4773 ]]>

We have gone through the Bible over the years as a church, with different reading plans that all had as their main purpose a desire to expose the Christian to the whole counsel of God in one year. Each of these has been so enriching!

What we want to do this year is to focus, not on the entire Biblical canon, but on the entire New Testament, as well as the Psalms and Proverbs. We’ve chosen a reading plan, called Project 345+, which accomplishes this in an exceptional way:

  • the weekdays are devoted to reading through the New Testament,
  • the weekends are for Psalms and Proverbs.

You’ll notice that the way this plan navigates through the New Testament is by moving through one of the Gospels (John), before branching off into the Acts of the Apostles and Romans. After a round of that…it does another Gospel (Luke), followed by a few more epistles, and the pattern continues, so that a steady diet of the New Testament is processed throughout the year. In this way, you’re getting the full realm of the New Testament throughout the year.

What I am looking forward to most in 2013, is the chance, not simply for exposure, but for marination and maturation. Going through the New Testament will allow us to take our time, and even go back and study portions of Scripture that we read.

As a church, we want to slow down during 2013, and enjoy Jesus through His Word!

Below, you’ll find a link that will provide for you all the resources necessary for starting this years reading! If you are on twitter, the official hashtag is #1YearBible. Feel free to post, give spiritual insights, ask questions, or just browse other people’s tweets.

Enjoy Jesus! http://www.realitysb.com/one-year-bible/


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Theology on fire [a trip through Emmaus] http://doctrineontap.com/2012/10/23/theology-on-fire-a-trip-through-emmaus/ http://doctrineontap.com/2012/10/23/theology-on-fire-a-trip-through-emmaus/#comments Tue, 23 Oct 2012 12:30:43 +0000 http://christopherlazo.com/?p=4574 ]]> On Friday, I wrote that the Bible is a healthy mixture of both Law and Gospel, which, when read in its entirety, brings a person low by showing them the impossible commands of God’s holy Law, and yet elevates the one who puts their faith in Christ. When you read the Bible with a full view of both Law and Gospel, you nourish the soul! But if these two elements are the whole of Scripture, it still leaves us wondering about the point of Scripture. We can get this by walking through the narrative of Emmaus.

Luke 24:13-25 (HCSB)…

Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. 15 And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them. 16 But they were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged. 18 The one named Cleopas answered Him, “Are You the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”19 “What things?” He asked them.So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a Prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, 23 and when they didn’t find His body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see Him.”

My commentary: The story starts with a group of discombobulated disciples, still trying to put the pieces together after Rome crucified their Messiah. In an ironic twist, they end up griping about their “failed Messiah” to the risen Messiah Himself, even dumbing down some of the first eyewitness reports of the resurrection (I’m trying to imagine Jesus’ facial expression).

Luke 24:25-27…

He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

My commentary: Jesus rebukes them for being ignorant to centuries of Scripture that foretold all that would happen. But the great part is in verse 27, when Jesus gives the disciples a Bible study through the entire Old Testament! A Jesus-led Bible study? Yes, please! (I would love to be a fly on that wall). But I want you to notice this key phrase: the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. This is our lens for reading the Law and the Gospel in the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is more than just a bunch of disconnected clippings of life in the Ancient Near East, or proverbial moral statements. It is an intricate narrative that points to one hero alone…

The point of all Scripture is Jesus.

But what exactly is the point? Some would say the point of Scripture is to be more like Jesus. Others would say the point is to pay closer attention to his teachings–while others would emphasize his actions. What do you think Jesus said to His disciples concerning the Old Testament Scriptures? He taught them that the Old Testament in its entirety pointed to His redemptive death and subsequent resurrection. The underlying question in the heart of the Torah is, “Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” (v.26).

The most glorious display of Jesus is seen in the horror of the cross.

But how should this inform our reading of the Scriptures? Surely not every obscure passage is about the cross, right? Should I read Obadiah or Philemon as though every verse and passage was a reference to the cross of Jesus? Well, no, not exactly. But yes! Here’s what I mean…individual verses deal with a scattered variety of topics, but you must see them through the narrative of Scripture–the full story–as one that is about Jesus redeeming the world through his gruesome death. Even if a verse does not directly make reference to the cross, the framework surrounding the verse is looking forward to (or looking back to) the finished work of Jesus. THIS is what Jesus is telling His disciples. But even after what must have been the most mind-blowing Bible-study ever given, these men are still not receptive of the message–proving even further that the Holy Spirit must open our hearts to understand God’s Word–but let’s finish the story…

Luke 24:28-32…

They came near the village where they were going, and He gave the impression that He was going farther. 29 But they urged Him: “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them. 30 It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight. 32 So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Wow. Just wow. At the moment that Christ gives out the sacraments, the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to recognize Jesus, not only physically, but as presented rightly in the Scriptures. Specifically, it says that their hearts were “ablaze” leading up to the full recognition of Jesus. This is profound. Yes, we need to do the hard work of studying and exegesis when reading the Bible, but we also need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the glory of Christ, or it will be nothing more than literature for us–or, even worse, a set of moral teachings–instead of broadcasting the treasuries of Christ.

This is also attested powerfully by the Apostle Peter, as he explains to a group of second generation Christians the times he has personally seen the Lord. But then he pulls an unexpected move: he tells them they are better off because they have the Scriptures.

“So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all, you should know this: No prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21, HCSB).

Based on all of this, I suggest that while you are prayerfully reading the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit might be already working in your hearts (setting it “ablaze”), even when you are struggling to understand, and that you must tenaciously continue until “the day dawns and the morning star [Christ] rises in your hearts.”

Keep reading the Scriptures until a glorious Christ emerges!

The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough to it for its sparks to fall on us. – John Stott 


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