A Brief Word on Hermeneutics

24 January 2018

Conservatives usually learned to read the Bible from hermeneutics books, not from the examples God gave us in the biblical authors themselves. This is a serious mistake, and despite the fact that most modern conservatives make it, Our People have not always been so willfully thick.

For a brief and helpful look at medieval hermeneutics, see Peter Leithart’s brief article on the Quadriga. If you want to go deeper into Leithart’s approach, he has an excellent book, Deep Exegesis.

My most detailed take on this can be found in a course called Living the Living Word. I’d teach it differently — and probably a lot more simply — now, but the basic strategy is the same: study the biblical authors as they read the text. Follow their example.

Go practice.

 

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Subjective Spirituality: The Tacos Question

9 January 2018

In the previous post, we looked at how Romans teaches us to expect direct divine intervention in our hearts. This is a scary prospect for a lot of Christians, and I get it. Doctrine is public; we can discuss it, show how a doctrine is, or isn’t, founded on Scripture, and so on. But this subjective stuff doesn’t work like that, and it’s scary.

The question people often ask is, “How can you tell it’s really God? I mean, maybe that burning sensation in your heart is just the Taco Bell you had for dinner last night.”

This question reminds me of a frightened virgin asking how you can know for sure you’ve had an orgasm. Of course we could get technical, but the first answer is “Trust me, kid, you’ll figure it out.” For most of us, most of the time, I think that’s true. The people who ask that question are mostly just scared and inexperienced. On one hand, they don’t know what it’s like, and on the other, maybe they’ve seen people do some really stupid things and say “But God told me to!”

The scared and inexperienced just need reassurance that God can make it clear, and a steady diet of stories like the ones in the last post, to help them grow. We grow in faith and wisdom through reflection on the acts of God. So I tell the stories, and I clap them on the shoulder and say, “When it happens, you’ll know it.”

But there’s more to say, for those that need more. We don’t always recognize God’s voice. Samuel didn’t, the first two times. Fortunately, he had someone to disciple him who realized what was happening. That’s recommended. Jesus was a big fan of that whole “make disciples” thing. How do you know it’s God? Maybe you won’t. Get help. Even the prophets have to submit to the judgment of the Body (1 Cor. 14).

The next part of the answer is to use actual discernment, and this is important. When someone reflexively meets all subjective spirituality with a reflexive “tacos” question, that’s not discernment; it’s a trick for avoiding discernment. It’s like the Saduccees—if you reject all claimants to Messiahship, you don’t get fooled into believing the wrong one. Of course, you also miss out on the real thing. Discernment is the ability to tell good from evil. If you can’t recognize good, you don’t have real discernment; you’re just scared and cynical.

Moses and Aaron and the Egyptian magicians all turned water into blood and staffs into snakes. But there was a crucial difference between the two groups: one was walking with God and doing what He told them to do, and the other was working against Him. If we say they were basically doing the same things, we miss the whole point.

This is a key point of biblical discernment: the fact that there’s a bad guy doing something similar means nothing. When is there not? Elijah goes to the king, and there’s 400 false prophets already there. That doesn’t invalidate prophecy; it invites a contest. There are always counterfeits; we don’t determine whether something is good or bad based on guilt-by-association tactics. We work with the criteria the Bible gives us. Jesus taught us to watch the fruit: good fruit, good tree. Bad fruit, bad tree.

The thing is, that’s hard work. We have to pay attention to what God is actually doing in the world outside our heads. And the results aren’t always obvious right away, which means that real discernment takes risk tolerance and sustained attention. It’s a lot easier to just run scared from anything unfamiliar or unexpected.

But God has not given us a spirit of fear.


Living at God Speed

16 September 2017

Once upon a time, a fast-paced American moved to a little village to learn what it meant to really know people, and be known by them. He had no idea of the journey he was beginning. As one of the villagers put it…

Godspeed

The film is 40 minutes long, and you should watch it.


Can You Be A Christian And…?

3 August 2017

When you’ve been in the ministry as long as I have, you find that there are certain questions that come up over and over. This post is about one of them. I’ve heard it in all kinds of different forms.

  • Can you be a Christian and commit suicide?
  • Can you be a Christian and homosexual?
  • Can you be a Christian and an alcoholic?
  • Can you be a Christian and commit murder?
  • Can you be a Christian and a witch?
  • Can you be a Christian and believe ____[fill in the blank]___?
  • Can you be a Christian and not believe __[some basic Christian truth]__?

Of course with any of these issues there’s a lot to talk about, and the pastoral situation in which the question comes up is often very delicate, and calls for a nuanced approach that has little to do with answering the question as asked. Very often the stupidest thing I could possibly do is just answer the question, and the best possible answer is to drop whatever I’m doing, focus my whole attention on the person who asked, and say, “What makes you ask?”

All that to say that there’s a whole pastoral angle to addressing such questions that is an entirely different discussion from where I’m going today. Today, I want to talk about what all these kinds of questions have in common.

One of the things such questions have in common is a presumption that there’s a line you can cross somewhere that makes you not-a-Christian. Let’s talk about what that might look like.

Based on the evidence in the New Testament, it’s possible to be a Christian and deny Jesus (cf. Peter). It’s possible to be a Christian and commit murder (as some of the addressees of the epistle of James had done). It’s possible to be a Christian and an adulterer (as had some of the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and so abuse the poor at the Lord’s Table that God actually kills you over it (the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and a deny the resurrection (Corinthians again — they were a mess!) And so on. In none of these cases does the writer say that they have somehow crossed over and are no longer Christians. In fact, in each of these cases, the writer rebukes them as Christians and calls them to repent and return to faithful practice.

Is it possible to be a Christian and _______?  Yes. Whatever you’re filling the blank with is either sin or it’s not. If not, what’s the problem? If it’s sin, then Jesus died for it, precisely so that such things cannot define you out of the family. God is a better Father than that, and He has already prepared for every sin and mistake you could ever make.

Is it possible to be a faithful Christian and ________? That’s a different question, and a lot of the time, when we’re asking the question, we already know the answer is no.


Dust and Breath Podcast Episode

25 July 2017

I had an opportunity recently to be the guest on Eden to the City of God for a discussion of the creation of man. We could have talked for hours, but had to cut it off after one. Check it out!


Fey?

20 July 2017

I have recently run back across an older post by Doug Wilson that is simultaneously one of the more sensible things I’ve seen on the cessationism issue, and in another way, pretty silly.

“I don’t want a deep chasm between natural and supernatural. They are both part of the universe that God made, and they are woven together. So the fact that something is “spiritual” doesn’t make it inspired. Inspiration, of the kind described above, has ceased. But we still have spirits and souls and bodies, and the way they all are connected (within each man and between all men) is not something that we should allow materialistic atheists to define for us. The revelatory gifts have ceased. That does not mean that it is impossible for a man to be fey.”

Let’s grant all that for a second. If a man is fey, he ought to be fey subject to the Scriptures, in the service of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God’s kingdom and the benefit of the Body. He ought — not to put too fine a point on it — to behave generally in the way described in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the same way anyone should use any ability. That is, he should use his gifts lovingly for the edification and growth of the Body.

And what might such fey-ness look like? Well, it might look like…

  • knowing things about people or situations that the person “shouldn’t” know
  • preternaturally deep understanding, knowing what to do when the person shouldn’t have that kind of insight
  • an unusual degree of trust in God for improbable things to come to pass…but they usually seem to
  • an ability to make people feel better by touching or spending time with them, a pattern of people getting well with unusual speed around him/her
  • an accrual of other inexplicable happenings around him/her
  • a spooky ability to call out the secret desires and longings of a person’s heart

In other words, it might look like something you could describe as a word of knowledge, word of wisdom, gift of faith, healing, or prophecy…hmmm.

So when Grandma always seems to know when one of the grandkids gets hurt, even though she lives 900 miles away, what are we to call that? When a lady in the church is able to deliver on-target encouragement consistently to people whose life circumstances she could not possibly know, what are we to call that? When a man is able to identify the internal makeup calling of people he’s just met, turn them to living in the kingdom of God, and leaves in his wake a trail of transformed lives, what are we to do?

I submit we should kick the failed cessationist theological project to the curb and admit that the Spirit is doing, right in front of us, things which correspond to the words the Spirit used to describe such doings in the first-century church. Which is to say, we can either use the vocabulary God gave us, or we’ll have to make something up. Like “fey.”


Strong Magic Takes Blood

14 July 2017

My essay, “Strong Magic Takes Blood” was published at Theopolis Institute.  Take a look.