CSBS

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

How God became King – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans: Not what I expected

paulRomans is not at all what I had always thought of it as. When I began by School of Biblical Studies in YWAM 8 years ago I thought that Romans was the book I needed to know because this was the most theological book of the bible. I will not doubt in the strict sense of the word that Romans is a book that reveals more about who God is and is therefore a book about theology. However I always felt that how the theology of Paul worked was based around how to get Saved as an individual.

Of course this was of huge concern to me coming into the school because I had encountered some very strong (and I mean hyper) Calvinistic folks right before coming to do my CSBS. So I wanted to be sure Salvation was in fact by faith. Strangely my dilemma with Salvation by Faith was that I felt that there must be some kind of importance in my own heart, and mind, regarding the decision to actually have faith. I was shocked really after getting to Romans and after spending a few years coming back to Romans to the same issue.

Romans was a book written to a specific community of Jews and Gentiles in the first century AD. It was not written directly to me about Salvation. In fact it was not even written to them simply about how individuals get saved. Though there are passages that can be used to clarify how Individual Salvation works. I was shocked to find that it is a book written to groups, groups that Paul wished would learn to have fellowship together and call themselves the true Israel of God.

So then, the book references so much from the OT, stories, symbols, practices. It is a book certainly written with the Jewish people in mind. They are one of the communities he is speaking to. He uses the stories and symbols not at random to prove theological points. Instead he uses them (often in order) to show that there is an ongoing story of Gods redemptive work in the world. How that plan started when the race of man fell, or rather rejected God and his original plan. So God starts with plan two so to speak. Abraham, the rest of the patriarchs, Exodus, Law, Land, Temple, Exile, and eventually he climaxes with Christ. He retells the story to show that God had a plan to use the family of Abraham, to give him land, law, influence. But that just as Adam rejected Gods plan so Israel rejected Gods plan, they embraced pagan lifestyle. But what about the Jew during the time of Paul. They did not reject Gods Law. Some say they made an idol of it. That is very simplistic. However, I think it is not far from what Paul himself thinks is the problem in his own day. Paul’s thoughts on the Law are not limited to such a simple reduction. Its perhaps one of the most perplexing parts of Paul. I have written at length in other posts about that specifically. But in summary here I think Paul believed there were multiple functions that Law played both pre-Jesus and post-Jesus.

It did pronounce judgement. It did serve as revelation of God and witness to surrounding nations. It did intend to shape identity of Israel. Some focus in on specific uses of the Law because so many wish to simplify what Paul says about the Law. But to ask Paul to give one purpose for the Law would actually be very crude. Paul was a Jew. Jews in the first century saw a great many uses of the Law. One of which was that by paying close attention to it, study, and practice would bring about Gods blessing in the form of his deliverance and vindication of Israel. In short, Law brought salvation. Paul because of his faith in a faithful Jewish Messiah believes this has already taken place in Jesus. But of course Paul’s twist is that when God did what he had always promised to do in the Messiah he did it not just for the vindication of Israel in the Flesh but for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Passages that always terrified me in Romans could be narrowed down to two references to the OT. First is when Paul is telling the story of the Exodus and Pharaoh and the second is when he is talk about how God had always made distinctions between the people of Jacob and the people of Esau. The combination of God hating Esau, and God manipulating the heart of Pharaoh made me scared to press in any further. But why did Paul use those quotes of OT passages? Pharaohs heart was in fact hardened by God to bring about his salvation for all people, Jews and Egyptians alike. And God did not actually hate Esau or his family. Paul quotes this as a reminder that God simply made a distinction between Israel in the Flesh and its fleshly enemies. God had a plan for ethnic or fleshly Israel. That is why there is a distinction. They are being called to account for why they failed to carry out Gods plans of blessing the nations around them. Thus, the reference to Esau and Jacob is not about blind favoritism. It is about who had the greater responsibility. Paul goes on to say that it is in fact these tribes and nations that are coming into the Israel of God by faith, that they are being grafted in.

In short one of Paul’s most profound points is that being the people of God, the Israel of God, the Elect, is not just about privileged but it is about responsibility. This is my summarizing title for the book of Romans.

“The Story and the Future of the People of the One God”

Thus Paul is not doing Theology so much as he is implementing the use of Jewish story telling, with the key themes being eschatology, election, and monotheism.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why Covenant: Some new thoughts on the purpose and reason for the Covenant

Why did God make a covenant with Abraham and his family?

Three Good Reasons:torah1

  1. Revelation
  2. Relationship/Partnership
  3. Redemption

Often the last two are emphasized by people doing bible overviews or speaking in general about the purpose of scripture. We (in CSBS) put a heavy emphasis on the work that God is doing from beginning to end is a work of Redemption.

Some draw up these ideas together or play them off of each other. Some think that Its primarily about one or the two together. However, all three together really have a lot of merit and can help us understand better the use of scripture. Redemption is the work of God throughout scripture from beginning to end. Revelation is the initial means on Gods part in doing that work. By way of Gods revelation people can be restored to Relationship with God and join his redemptive project.

For years I have been taught (correctly I believe) that Genesis is a book of Beginnings, the beginning of the world, humanity, purpose, sin, and the beginning of Gods redemptive plan. God initiates his redemptive plan by revealing himself to Abram, and then by way of a covenant relationship with Abraham and his family his redemptive plan takes another step forward. When we understand this the rest of the OT falls into place, and Christ and the New Testament falls neatly into place as well.

The Covenant itself is captured in the Torah, and then played out in the historical narratives, then reflected upon in the wisdom literature, then the prophets comment on Israel’s history with a Covenant lens. Understanding covenant will help you understand the whole bible.

Covenant functions as Gods revelation of himself, as well as details how relationship with God work, and demands a participation with Gods ongoing redemptive work.

John Walton believes that before God fixed the problem of human sin he set out to fix the problem of falsely constructed deity or The problem of Babel. [1] This works for continued context of Genesis 11 and then reading Genesis 12 as part of Gods response to Babel. He spreads everyone out giving them different languages and then revealing himself to them specifically like in the case of Abraham. God wants Abram to have a right view of God. Fair enough, I just do not buy into the idea that Covenant is primarily about Revelation. I will conceded that it precedes relationship, and redemption. It was perhaps a large part of his means of building and reconstructing relationship with man.

That said, I believe that Revelation is a key part of what God is doing with the Laws and Narratives of Torah and Covenant. For many Christians there is a sharp dichotomy between Law and Grace. It is a accurate dichotomy for salvation being based on Grace not obedience to Law. But there can be detrimental effects of drawing out the dichotomy to sharply and to often. How did the ancient Israelite’s speak of the Law? They loved it, they desired it, they were grateful for it, and yearned for the Law (via David). It was not a burden to the people of the OT. The pieces fall together when we see Law and its interrelationship with Covenant and revelation. If the Law was part of the Covenant, and the covenant is part of Gods revelation to men then Law is Revelation. If Gods revelation of himself is seen as an essential part of his redemptive work of salvation and Grace then Law can = grace. The point is that basic, Gods Law was his grace to the ancient people. That is the way they saw it. They were extremely grateful for Gods revelation of himself through the Law, and through the entire covenant. To further illustrate this point I want to draw from a creative dialogue from Professor John H. Walton between two ancient Babylonians on pilgrimage the Temple of Shamash in the 2nd Millennium BC.

“Ayyab sees Rab-ilu approaching the crossroads, so he stands to the side and lets others pass while he waits for his friend. Perhaps some conversation will help pass the time. So Ayyab asks Rab-ilu, “Come now, my friend, why so glum? This is feast day, and the great city awaits our arrival. How can one look so sad with the gleam of the temple of Shamash already practically in sight?”

“Perhaps joy comes easily to you, Rab-ilu; your seed coffers are filled and your patch of ground bursting with Shamash’s favor. Your family is well also?”

“Indeed, my downcast friend, the gods do smile on me. Galatu has presented me with another fine son this year, and the others have grown since we last spoke. I do believe my gifts to the gods have been gratefully received.” Rab-ilu’s smile stretched from ear to ear as he reminded himself of the many pleasures of life.

Rab-ilu is startled when Ayyab suddenly exclaims, “The gods! Pah!! I despise them! My gifts to the gods have been no less generous than yours, Rab-ilu! I have been no stranger to the temple. I have poured out my libations daily and offered my prayers. What complaint, then, do the gods have against me that my harvest these past two years together has not equaled even one harvest of the previous years? And my children, Rab-ilu. Why do they take my children from me? What do they want, these gods? What does it take to earn their favor? Surely you must know, Rab-ilu; do not hide it from me.”

Rab-ilu allowed the question to hang dangerously in the air as the two trudged on toward the city, caught up in the milling crowd of festive pilgrims. What did he know? He knew what the priests told him, that the gods demanded care. The people of the city and the surrounding villages had the privilege of providing food and a splendid temple for Shamash. In turn, they expected that his favor would shine on them. But how much was enough? How did the priests know what food the gods enjoyed? How did they know what rituals calmed their hearts? What could anyone do to assure that the gods would not strike them? Yet all knew that there were no guarantees. “Then why do you go to temple today, Ayyab, if the gods have earned only your spite?”

“Alas, Rab-ilu, as cruel as the gods have been, it would be folly to ignore them. Better to set fire to my own fields and murder my children in their sleep. The gods would do that and more. No, I come with a gift to ask an oracle of the priests. Perhaps they can instruct me concerning some little detail that I have missed. I want to please the gods; I must find a way to please the gods. We will starve next winter if the late harvest does not improve.”

As they pass through the gateway and on into the temple complex, Ayyab and Rab-ilu stand gazing at the gold-gilded temple reflecting the splendor of the sun god, Shamash. They both think of how little they knew of the gods despite the high price they pay to them. Then they each go their separate ways: Rab-ilu to offer his sacrifice of thanks for the gracious blessing of the gods, and Ayyab to join the long line of petitioners seeking anything that might offer them hope. “Till next year, Rab-ilu.”

Hope is a commodity in short supply in a world without revelation. In the ancient world there were few atheists. Their primitive understanding of the natural world allowed no option such as naturalism to fill the gaps left if deity were eliminated from the picture. Everything was attributed to the favor or anger of the gods. With no revelation, however, there was no way to know what pleased and what angered them.

In a well-known Assyrian prayer entitled “A Prayer to Every God,” the worshiper seeks to appease a deity from his anger over an offense that the worshiper has committed. There are only two problems: He doesn’t know which god is angry, and he doesn’t know of anything he has done wrong. He therefore addresses each confession he makes to “the god I know or do not know, the goddess I know or do not know.” He is ready to confess ignorantly eating forbidden food or invading sacred space—anything to appease. His frustration overwhelms us with sympathy as he expresses his hopelessness:

Although I am constantly looking for help, no one takes me by the hand;

When I weep, they do not come to my side.

I utter laments, but no one hears me;

I am troubled; I am overwhelmed; I cannot see.…

Man is dumb; he knows nothing;

Mankind, everyone that exists—what does he know?

Whether he is committing sin or doing good, he does not even know.14

This is the plight of those who live in a world without revelation. That is why the covenant is so important to us and why the law was such a treasure to Israel. God had spoken. In grace, he condescended to communicate concerning what pleases him and what angers him. We don’t have to guess. He has opened to us his character, his attributes, his heart. How sad it is that the reality of revelation has become so commonplace to us. What a tragedy that we take it for granted. Though we have every reason to revel in the thrill of our eternal destiny, we would be terribly remiss if we failed to realize that greater than the privilege of living forever is that of knowing God because, in the end, our faith is about God, not about us.

We need be wary, however, for in today’s world there are many who seek to neutralize the revelation that we take for granted. From critical scholars who consider the Bible no different from any other ancient literature to the pluralistic demagogues who tell us that one religious book is as good as another, many discount the Bible’s status as God’s revelation. We cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that without the Bible, we would know nothing about God.15 It is only through his Word that we learn the extent and nuances of his holiness, his sovereignty, his justice, his faithfulness, his grace, and his love.” 2

I love this little story. Creatively it captures the need the ancient people had for the revelation of the gods. Most sacred ancient literature does not even claim to be a revelation from God. Sacred texts are written by priests who were skilled enough to crack open the realm of the gods to determine some kind of meaning or purpose or message for their lives.

Christians in our modern age are typically not known for being people of Grace. Though one of the most well known and embraced doctrines of Christian Faith is “Salvation by Grace”. These passages about the covenant point to part of the problem even in our 21st Century world. While Christians believe themselves to be the recipients of grace they do not always see themselves as dispensers of Grace. And sadly the world does not see Christians as this either. The typical view of Christians is actually the opposite of people who extend grace to others.

The contemporary significance of the passages comes alive quite well when we consider the original meaning of the covenant. God set out to reveal himself clearly to those ancient people. We wanted them to rediscover relationship with the “All Mighty” God. We also wanted them to be a partner with him in his work. That work post Eden, is about redemption of all families, and all of creation. If we want to be like God we need to go beyond people who are ‘saved by Grace’ to being a people who are ‘characterized by grace”.

Summary Statements:
Overall this has been a paper on Covenant as Gods self Revelation. Although I personally believe in looking at the law as being specifically about both the man-God relationship and partnership for the redemptive project of God. I want to continue exploring how to tack on this key emphasis as well, having to do with Revelation. So much of the content of the Covenant is about Revelation or self disclosure of God. Or I will also tell people that once you get into the details or when you say how God articulates how the covenant works then you begin to understand that its about Relationship and Redemption. But this is actually something God reveals, discloses, articulates in the details of the Covenant. So really all three of these “R’s” are helpful for understanding the covenant, its purpose and characteristics. The more that I clarify this the more I feel this has been there all along in the CSBS’s I have been a part of. It is one of the reason students feel a strong confidence in the use of the Law beyond a purely soteriological reading of Paul and the Torah. There are reasons beyond how to and how not to be saved. Law and Torah has to do with being a dispenser of Gods grace via revelation within the covenant details.

ταῦτα ἀνακρίνω

1. The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis by John H. Walton – Page 400-402

2. The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis by John H. Walton – Page 406-408

Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Context, CSBS, Culture, Egyptian Mythology, Faith, Genesis, History, Modern, Old Testament, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38

tamarIs also the story about family dynamics and a prerequisite story for understanding the specific Laws of Moses about family life. The story should also include three other key figures. The sons of Judah and Tamar’s rightful husbands; Er the firstborn, Onan the second, and Shelah the third.

The problem begins when the first born dies and leaves Tamar without a husband. The duty of the second son was then to go and provided offspring for Tamar and for the dead brother and the children of Tamar would inherit their rightful portion or blessings of the firstborn son. This displeased Onan and he refused to have proper sexual intercourse with Tamar thus; “emptying his semen on the ground” (v9).

So then comes the death of Onan as it says ‘because of his wickedness’. Judah then sends Tamar back to live with her father until Shelah is of age, he was afraid of Shelah dying and leaving himself without an heir. Next we see that Judah’s wife dies and he wants to go hang out with his good friend. Tamar hears of this, and also hears of Shelah being old enough but not given in marriage. Judah is in a predicament because his wife is now gone, and only has one son left.

Tamar then takes matters into her own hands as she probably does not want to be a widow the rest of her life. She changes from a widows garments to some prostitute garb and goes to hang out somewhere she will be seen by lonely Judah. (For ancient wifeless men a prostitute would be a potential option for producing a son, not just a opportunity for pleasure. However, he was under the impression probably based on where she was hanging out that she was a cult prostitute and not just a women looking for a man.) Anyway, she and Judah do the deed and she convinces him to leave with her some collateral until other means of payment can be made.

Later Judah learns of Tamar’s pregnancy and assumes that she has been immoral and has rebelled against her rightful household and played the whore. Once she proves that it was with Judah himself that she conceived a child he realized that it was actually himself that was immoral and wrong for not given his rightful son to. In Judah’s mind and everyone else she had not acted immoral or whorish but that she actually did what was right. Its just that she had to do it in a sneaky way. In the end because she was cleaver, she pulled it off and revealed that she had done what was within her right. To bear a child within her rightful place in Judah’s family.

The original question on the passage had to do with the “wasting of semen”. Onan in particular acted wickedly because he refused to acknowledge the right of Tamar and his dead older brothers heritage to go on and claim their inheritance. The story acts as a reminder to the later people of God that the family of God is a special thing. That each member has a special part to play in the story of Gods people. That they are to work as a family honoring the place of women within the family dynamic as well as the common tradition of honoring the first born.
The story is a reminder for Israel that women and not only men have the responsibility to be the people of God and take pride in their place in the family of God, not despising it or despising the place of others within it.
The passage therefore is not originally intended to be about ‘birth control’ as we may read it in our 21st century way of thinking. However, birth control is a 21st century social issue. Perhaps the passage in a timeless way reminds us at least that we are not to have selfish motives when it comes to child bearing. We do it out of a recognition that it is Gods divine plan for us to bear and raise children for Gods glory, to occupy his creation, and accomplish his goals. We should do it willingly, and remember that relationships are not about what we can get out of it but about what we can give and what we are passing on. Onan was selfish and wanted blessing for himself. Judah was lonely and may have simply wanted pleasure and company. Tamar wanted a place in the family of God, and to be faithful to her commitment, and to pass on to the next generation another child of God to accomplish his will on the earth. That is why she is the real hero here. Lets follow her example in our own relationships and future families. Lets adopt her selfless attitude and create and nurture life that brings glory to God.

This timeless principle is all throughout the book of Genesis. We are reminded that God created man and women in order to continue to create new life in order to occupy his world and accomplish his goals on the earth. Onan’s is unwilling to do this because he will not get the goods he wants and they will pass to his children receiving the blessing of Er the oldest brother. Onan takes control of new life and wastes it, for that God takes his life. Seems harsh but the lesson is clear. That said, I don’t think it is best to use this as a passage directly dealing with the debate on birth control today but it should at least inform our sense of why we do it and why we don’t. What are our motives? Are we willing to play a part in Gods original design for co-creation?

Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Context, CSBS, Culture, Genesis, History, Old Testament, Society/Culture, Theology, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

These Dry Bones

bonesThe book of Ezekiel is a really strange book. Outside of Daniel it may be the weirdest book in the OT. The three main visions of the book that act as the pillars of the book are about the presence or absence of God. In chapter 1-3 it is the introductory vision of the glory of God by the river Chebar in Babylon. In chapter 9-10 Ezekiel sees how the presence of God leaves Jerusalem and why. Then in chapters 40-47 he sees the return of the glory of God to Jerusalem or the new Jerusalem. The question for the exiled community in Babylon is about whether or not God is present with them in exile. Is God still powerful and worth devotion if they have been removed from the land? Mid-way through the book the exiled community in Babylon learns of the fall of Jerusalem. Now they realize for the first time that they really are dead and finished as a nation and a people. The destruction of the temple sends a strong signal that they really are done for. Thus Ezekiel’s most famous vision in chapter thirty-seven affirms the feelings and of the exiled community that they are really really dead. But perhaps the most powerful message not only of Ezekiel but of the entire biblical narrative is that death is not the end.

Sin and death entered the world in Genesis chapter three but that was not the end of the story rather the beginning of the redemptive nature of the entire story. And similarly to chapter three of Genesis Israel needs to look outside of themselves for life. Only one source for life exists. Chapter thirty-seven of Ezekiel is meant to remind us of Genesis two when out of the dust of the earth God makes man, and from his own breathe he gives him life. Ezekiel reminds the OR that it is God who does this and that soon he will restore Israel just as he has sought to use Israel to restore life and breathe into all his children.

If nothing else Ezekiel powerfully affirms two things about God and his plans for humanity as a whole as well as Israel. The death and devastation that Israel is going through is not an indicator of Gods absences. This is what the exiled community felt it was. Instead its meant to remind us of our own sin and guilt, or the simple biblical fact of a world that has been seriously infected by the sin of others. Israel desired no doubt to throw God under the buss, so to speak. We also are tempted to continue doing this. However, the second thing that is clear and powerful in Ezekiel’s message is that death is not the end, pain, and suffering are not signs of the end but signs and reminders of the beginning when sin and suffering entered the world through mans rebellion. It can simultaneously remind us of a bright future in which God will restore life and bring the really dead bones back to life.

The theological term here is resurrection. We can ask how the Jewish community thought about the resurrection of the dead. But really it helps just to know it was a topic of discussion for Jews and when Jesus came he spoke of it, he raised people from the dead, he did it himself, and then his apostles were witnesses of it. Actually the first apostles were women, they were the apostles to the apostles. (Women apostles is a topic for another time). Often enough these passages in Ezekiel are thought of in terms of the restoration of Israel as was part of the intended message. But they have a more far reaching fulfillment. First of when we keep in mind the resurrection and redemption narrative beginning in Genesis, and when we recall the importance of the resurrection Christ. In other words the resurrection of Israel after their exile was part of the picture of how God actually intended to bring resurrection to the whole of creation, a theme stretching back to the garden. And when in Romans 8 Paul talks about the revealing of the sons of God he is not speaking merely of Israel but of the church and all of Gods redeemed. The precursor to full restoration and resurrection of Gods creation is the revealing of the sins of God. Which was the whole point of Israels election. A chosen people for the purpose of turning all peoples to the creator. This is a very key element to grasp, it is a true resurrection of Israel when not just ethnic Israelite’s are preserved in the land of Israel, but when Israel has effectively taken part in the purpose for which they were divinely elected when the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

Categories: Bible, Context, CSBS, Genesis, Old Testament, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art and Bible: Part 2 (JEWS IN ROME)

In Part 1 I began to mention some important background information about the church in Rome. Something else interesting and unique among Paul’s letters is his personal greeting of twenty six individuals in Rome. Why are so many people mentioned in detail. Most likely it has to do with the disunity that exists among the Christians in Rome. I think it is likely and maybe more helpful that we would consider the church in Rome to be many individuals who perhaps have little to no dealings with each other whatsoever. This could be a merely racial issue. As many of the early Christians in Rome were likely Jews who heard the gospel from those at Pentecost. These Jews being filled with the Spirit and beginning to place their hope in Christ as Messiah probably continued to meet in Synagogues and carry on being Jews in the normal sense. They needed the presence of one of the apostles to bring more clarity about what is happening. Jews without the presence of an apostle in Rome may have continued to hold Gentiles at an arm length even if they professed faith in God and now the messiah. Even though they were being filled with the spirit they may not have been welcomed so readily. No doubt this was part of the issue in Galatia. But how did Paul go about addressing issues in Rome. The other issues as I mentioned in ‘Part 1’ was that Jews had recently been expelled and then brought back to Rome. Gentile Christians in Rome had a chance to be the ‘church’ without ‘pesky’ Jews around telling them what they can and can not eat and so on. Having them back to Rome was not sitting well with some of the Gentile Christians in Rome. What is the responsibility of the apostle in this situation? How is he going to address this and bring unity and truth to the situation. Its clear that there are some potential errors on either side of the racial divide.  Jew In Rome

The picture today is interesting to me. After I finished I became aware of how extremely out of place the Jewish man seems with the Colosseum in the backdrop. This is how it must have felt for the Jews. Very out of place. And for Gentile Christians, is this how they saw them. Is this what part of what lead to the judgements and divisions between Jew and Gentile believers in the Messiah.

An interesting dilemma is brought up when we consider the earliest Jewish believers. Was it wrong for them to feel an obligation to maintain the traditions they had learned from youth while wholeheartedly embracing the messiah? I don’t believe it was. Take a look at the section in Romans when Paul addresses the area of practice. Jews maintained practices that set them apart. It is more obvious when you observe the early part of the book to see that Paul is pointing out essential areas of truth about God and what he has done to provide salvation for ‘his people’ (Jews and Gentiles). Then in the end he teaches them to learn to honor each other practices and the convictions they live by. Unity and Diversity. Something the church should always remember well.

For anyone interested by current reading list for the book of Romans is;

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

NIV Application Commentary – Douglas J. Moo

Eerdmans Introduction to NT – Joel B. Green, Paul J. Atchtemeier

Commentary on Romans – Ernst Kasemann

Categories: Art, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Ethics, Faith, New Testament, Romans, School of Biblical Studies | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Art & Bible: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts on Theology, World View (both ancient and modern, east and western), and my own Art. I would not consider myself an artist really but I enjoy it. I’ve no training or art classes. But sometimes I will be spending hours studying and the urge to draw something comes over me and once I actually sit down and draw or maybe paint something my brain feels better and I am able to continue working. So I have two projects. One of them is an Old Testament project to teach the book of Genesis in Salem Oregon in the spring of 2015, and then to teach the book of Romans for the first time in Tijuana, and in Honolulu with the CSBS in the spring of 2015 as well. I have piles of resources I will be going through and projected hours of time in study. I want to make a plan now to produce no less then 20 posts here on bibleontap over the coming months that include my art and theological and cultural ramblings from this or that area of my study in both Genesis and Romans. These two books I believe are two of thee most essential texts of scripture one could set out to study. Please join me and give your feedback along the way.

ST.Paul

This particular drawing is one I did in just a couple of minutes and it is what gave me the idea for this blog roll. I had already spent about 4-5 hours grinding away and then I just thought I want to draw a picture of the Apostle Paul. I have done this sort of thing before in prep for teachings as it helps me focus and connect more with the particular author or character I am studying.

When the church first reached Rome it was mostly a Jewish thing. The first churches of Rome were likely held in Synagogues and I doubt we would be able to tell the difference between a strictly Jewish synagogue in ancient Rome and a Christian one. Crazy thought. But then in 49 AD Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. The church in Rome, in a blink of an eye, now becomes a mostly Gentile church. Then during the reign of Nero in 54 AD they were allowed back into Rome. It is a post 54 AD church in Rome that Paul writes his famous epistle to. The disunity of the church is apparent in his writing. His central focus is the work of God throughout history climaxing in his work of Christ. Though Romans is one of the most generally theological books it is not a book in which he specifically set out to be theological, or to write a letter about how to be saved. Many going along the whole “Romans Road” concept with Romans believe it to be a book that one would study to be sure how to be saved. The typical answer for many is now a compact definition based off of the passage in Romans, “Saved by grace through faith…”. Though this can often mislead folks. You might say to some one, this is how you get saved. Have faith. Someone might respond, “well, I’m not sure if I can right now. I don’t think I am ready to have faith.” In other words, just that line stripped out of context gives no hope to mans situation. Paul did not set out to give the church a simple formula for salvation. He set out to tell the story well. He begins in Adam, and explains Abraham, Moses, Egypt, David, Prophets, Exile, and more climaxing of course in the part of the story where God shows up and finishes the great work of salvation for all. This is less likely to mislead folks today. People need to know the story of how God did the work of salvation. Faith then is not a human effort to believe in something. It is simply what happens when people are confronted with the wonderful story of Gods work of salvation through out history and in Christ. Faith happens when people gladly receive and believe in the wonderful story.

Often the approach to a book like Romans (or the bible for that matter) goes like this; “What must I do to be saved?” And we force the conversation with scripture and the interpretation of it around that question. But that is really the wrong question to begin with. Many well meaning theologians all across Christian history have attempted to give answers to that question rather then present a better question as a starting point. The right question might then be; “How has God brought Salvation?” Coming at it in this way opens the door to really see the power of what Paul is doing throughout the book. More then ‘theology’ as we think of it Paul is being sort of Hebrew. He is telling a story of the one Gods redemptive work in the world.

Categories: Art, Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Genesis, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Living with Evil, living between the Cross and the Resurrection, and actively anticipating a New World.

Devotion to Saint Death in MexicoSo I’ve been reading steadily again. Also we are in full swing of things here at YWAM San Diego Baja. We have DTS running with 30+ students. We have the CSBS starting its 4th school now here with 15 students. And we have the brand new Titus Project running with nine students of which I am one.

I’ve been learning to improve my own teachings with more practical skills and a lot of good reminders and heart checks along the way. Also I read through the book “The Seven Laws of the Learner” by Bruce Wilkinson. Its been a great start to these new challenges I am excited to face over the next few months.

I’ve also begun to read the book “how to read the bible for all its worth” by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. I read it for the first time 7 years ago when I was accepted to do the CSBS in LA. I’m enjoying it even more then I did then. I also just finished reading a wonderful short book by Richard Bauckham called “Bible and Mission”. What I wish to comment on though in this post is a topic I plan to read into further. Evil-and-the-Justice-of-God-0

I just finished the book “Evil and the Justice of God” by N.T. Wright. It is a basic 180 page run through on an intense topic. He quickly introduces the current problem of Evil that continues to be a relevant issue with the ongoing issues with the terrorist group Isis. There are other sensitive issues as a missionary that I am aware of but would rather not going into. Along with those sensitive issues there are some of my good friends who work down in the Red Light district of Tijuana. While people tell us we are foolish for being here and no matter how hard we try to convince them that we are safe. We also recognize with Samwise Gamgee that,

“It’s a dangerous business… going out your door.”

Truly anything can happen but more then that a good many things could happen. We don’t have to try to hard to use our imagination because the reality is that people often disappear in Mexico. People disappear in the USA. Big cities are a risk in general. So with all the potential for evil that looms it is for sure the because of the Grace of God that we step foot out our front doors and proceed to get in cars and drive down to the Red Light area to work with homeless men and women and attempt to bring some light, love, and life.

I am challenged to be proactively thinking about what the nature of evil really is. To write the word, to say the word, and to use it in a way the is consistent with the way scripture uses it and how God has dealt with it and plans to eradicate it. Beyond that I am challenged not just to have thoughts, or philosophies about evil but that when I come face to face with it I will have a response that is consistent with Gods own model. So how then should we be preparing ourselves. A couple months ago i finished listening to the dramatized version of the book by C. S. Lewis, “Screwtape Letters”.  In the preface he describes two wrong approaches to the demonic. One, an over emphasis on the power of demons, and dark spiritual forces of evil. Two, to not give a proper acknowledgement to the world of spirits and demons. So I feel no hesitation to prepare my own philosophy on evil, and to prepare myself for right actions or responses to the evils that may come. Of course we never fully know what we will do until such moments come.

What is our reaction and response to the crisis for Christians and citizens of Iraq and Syria under the terrorism of Isis? N.T. Wright points out that we can not draw the line with terrorists on one side of the line of evil and the innocent on the other side. Because no one is really innocent. In that he really means to say that evil is a line that runs through all men and women. Thought he avoids talking about that line running through children or infants is beside the point. All men and women from an early age develop rebellious, sinful, and yes the potential for evil. Well this is a more and more difficult thing to say in a post christian world. People used to say that divorce was a terrible scandal, homosexuality was an outrage, and pedophilia a an outright disgrace to the human race. This point Wright also pints out is interesting because perhaps the only remaining of these three in a category of ‘evil’ would be the issue of pedophilia. When we consider the line of evil and that it runs through all men we are reminded of another area of weakness in the Christian response to evil. We might go to another extreme and say since the line of evil runs through all men and I am a sinner just as Hitler is a sinner then there are no categories or varying degrees of evil action in the world. This is also a huge mistake and a huge immaturity when it comes to the issue of evil and justice in our world. While both myself and Hitler are sinners, both capable of extreme evils, both prone to hatred, envy, bitterness, violence, manipulation, hurt, and confusion. While I may have killed men in my thoughts toward them, committed adultery with women in my thoughts towards them, and even cursed God himself, I have not committed the same acts in space, time, and history, leaving my mark upon the human race and on Gods good creation. I have left a mark with my sin, my lies, my foolishness, my immaturity, my anger, and my tongue have done damage and the consequences I too must face up to. Among the consequences of my sin, an eternal death and separation from God does not have to be a reality because of Christ. Same for Hitler. Wild as that may sound it is true. But the overarching point here, though God forgives trespasses of those who have trespassed the most there is still a responsibility by authorities put on earth by God to prosecute and provide consequences for all human evil. There is a right consequence for theft and fraud and there is a right consequence for those who commit violent crimes such as murder, rape, child abuse, hate crime, bullying, cruelty to animals, and outright abuse of the environment. Only to name a fraction of crimes that do violence to Gods created order.

The consequences for such crimes ought to fit the crime done. This is a basic rule of law and order. This is at least the beginning of the way in which such a discussion must go. That evil is something found in all men also conceived of biblically as ‘sin’. But though it is in all men not all evil done to man, creation, and to God is to be considered equal not the treatment of it.

The final few thoughts on the subject come to us as we engage with the message of scripture. That all of histories evils and injustices were building up as a case not only against mankind but as a case against the good nature and purposes of God. What was Gods way of addressing in the most meaningful way the problem of evil and injustice in the world?

His own death and resurrection gives us a shocking answer if we allow it. Notice we mean to say that it is God’s own death on the cross that makes a way. For it is on the cross and in his suffering that the perfect lamb of God would take on all evil, and injustice, as a way of dealing with the case that was building up heavily against man. And In a way the injustice and evil of God. At least in the minds of men and women in his good creation does the idea of God’s evil and injustices exist. That too was however addressed also with the final act of removing all guilt from men and all possible guilt previously heaped on God by men now atoned for and finished with the work of the cross. Easter then acts not only as a resurrection of the one God-Man Jesus Christ. But as the resurrection of all men and women who receive the cosmic gift of his atoning sacrifice.

While Christ has undergone his own resurrection we await our own. For we are still hear between the cross and the resurrection. We are challenged live now with the atoning work of Christ and the secure hope of resurrection in active anticipation of the new heaven and the new earth. Just as Jesus teaches in a number of parables on forgiveness, that the kingdom of God will look like a place where debts are cleared and jubilee is at last a reality. We can actively anticipate this new world by engaging in a real kind of addressing evil as evil but then trying to help people and help ourselves take steps to forgive the debts of others.

I am extremely challenged then to live not only in between the cross and resurrection but between the resurrection and everything else before. All of the previous evils, the evils we will face tomorrow once they have been committed and even my own evil. How will I actively and honestly address my evil, the evil of others, as well as find forgiveness for my own evil and the evil of others. While I anticipate the ongoing evil works around me I am also actively anticipating the resurrection and the day when all evil, injustice, and suffering will be done with for Good. These are the wonderful challenges to both philosophy, biblical understanding, as well as current and active dealings with evil that I have received in prayer while reading a wonderful little book in the issues.

Please Read: “EVIL AND THE JUSTICE OF GOD” – by N.T. Wright

Also I suggest on Topic some more balanced reading relating to the world of spirits, demons, and devil.

C.S. Lewis “Screwtape Letters”

Dean Sherman “Spiritual Warfare”

My next Three Books on the Topic

“Exclusion and Embrace” – Miroslav Volf

“No Future without Forgiveness” – Desmond Tutu

“Raging with Compassion” – John Swinton

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Ethics, Faith, Mexico, New Testament, Philosophy, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What kind of Christian am I?

Here is something for change. I am being introspective. jesus

As I read, study, and do life with other Christians in Mexico of all places I wonder what Christian category I actually fit into in all of my beliefs. I have been a part of YWAM for the last 8 years. Crazy! I’ve been a part of the CSBS for the past 7 years. So what that means is I have been a bit of a bible nerd for all that time. Over the past 4 years I have begun to really broaden my reading and writing habits. I mean broaden, in that I have been reading more then the bible. But that is perhaps the first observation about myself. Reading the bible so much and studying it in context did something to my brain. I think perhaps seeing the bible as one story, a story that fits into real history, a story that covered centuries of history and exposed me to new kinds of literature and authors. Essentially it was a new education, using an entire library of information presented in poetic form as well as prose. For me this study sparked an interested in adding to that sacred library more and more material. I have taken a strong liking to the kind of extra biblical material that challenges and enriches my understanding of the sacred library. Books about ecology, psychology, history, sociology, worldviews, science, and an ever broadening list of subjects. Of course the list of reading material includes a ton of theology stuff. I still don’t have a large appetite for theological debates. But as I have engaged in new theologies, and old theology I have began to wonder about this question: “What am I”?

I read about Reformed tradition, Anglican, conservative evangelical, charismatic, Catholic, emergent, orthodox, neo-orthodox and on and on. Ive read and engaged with a lot of church history and history of Christian thought and still I’m wondering where someone might fit me. I feel this way in part because I serve in YWAM, an Inter-denominational organization. We have people from all traditions and non-traditions in our tribe of Jesus followers.

I come from the Baptist Tradition. GARBC to be exact. My Father, my grandfather, and my three uncles are pastors with GARBC churches in the state of Michigan. I suppose you could say I have carried my share of disillusionment with the church. But over the past 8 years things have shifted. I have sought to find a clearer head in regards to what my thoughts are about church and about the kingdom of God. I now have a stronger love for the local church then I ever have. She has her problems and people will always line up to point them out. To me this is one of the observations I have been seeing. You know it is the church because people are watching to see inconsistencies with beliefs and actions. The most common accusation of Christians may be that we are hypocritical. I think it is important for the church to recognize its inconsistencies and respond to the critics with candor and sincerity to change.

My own disillusionment with the church lead me to explore some of the “Emergent” authors; McLaren, Bell, Campolo, Rollins, McManus. I have enjoyed to some degree a lot of what these guys do and say. I have not disagreed with them on each and every point. But in the end I’m not what we are calling “Emergent”. I don’t know… I think its just not cool to stay disillusioned forever. Some of the Emergent guys are doing quite well because its sexy to be disillusioned, confused, “broken”, and uncertain. It is not cool to know something for sure, its not cool to be healthy or to want to be healthy, and doctrine/theology/history is not cool at all. Its all just power play and dogmatism. So while a agree with some of the tough criticism that “emergent” writers bring on the established church I don’t in the end wind up an emergent. I’m not emergent in the same way that I would not consider myself a modern, pure materialist, humanist, secularist, blah blah blah. I am of course a person who lives in what many consider a post-christian, post-modern world and I am effected by much of the thinking, and the style of the rest of my generation. But I suspect that In order not to be cast off as a super old school, pre-historic conservative I need to find the right brand for myself. Maybe someone can help give me some insight as to what I am.

My title suggest that I might just fit right in with the Emergent crew. Because I seem to be unsure about what I am. But I’m not really unsure about what a believe. Check out my blog. I have lots of opinions and I am under no illusion that my beliefs are wrong. I believe most of them to be correct. In all humility I hope to correct the existing mistakes. But they are either correct, or they are mistakes. The only in between for me is that I do believe things aught to be looked at from different perspectives. This is actually post-modern more then it is a modern or pre-modern way of thinking. However, it is also an ancient Hebrew way of thinking. So I would not say that this acknowledgement of the need to asses truth from different perspectives is post-modern pollution of Christianity. Its like, why did God provide two accounts of the history of Kings in Judah with Kings and Chronicles? Why are there two accounts of creation? What we end up with is further enrichment of revealed truths. We are not talking about opposing contradictory messages. What we have are two complementary views about reality. Jeremiah paints a portrait of a failing monarchy and a decaying community headed for hard times. Ezra takes the same original model and paints a complementary portrait identifying the particular features that would help the community at a much later date to put things back together. The fact that this is happening in the bible affirms the validity and benefit from seeing things at different angles for a clearer grasp of the truth.

So aside from needing to get new perspectives I feel that I am either bringing truth or stumbling through error. Feel free to read, agree, or disagree. For now Ive have enough self evaluation. Just to wrap up. I love the church. It has issues here and there, but I love the church. Whatever your creed or tribe I love to see the gathering of folks seeking Jesus ans seeking to bring him out into the world initiating a transformation that he completes. God Bless.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, History, Modern, Modernism, Orthodox, Poetry, Post-Modern | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Difficult Passages: Women & Slavery, Freedom & Family

I have begun the launching of our Chronological SBS International collaboration youtube channel. 

I will be doing this with good friends and co-workers in the bible school. Looking forward to all of the fun we will have and all of the good content we can create and bless others with.

The goal is to use youtube as a platform for biblical teaching, worldview, history, that is contextual and helps people learn. Really excited about it. Check out the first videos I have thrown together. More on the way soon.

 

Categories: Ancient Near East, Authority, Bible, Context, CSBS, Culture, Old Testament, Society/Culture, Theology, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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