Posts Tagged With: Genesis

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

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

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

Genesis Book Overview

So for the Teaching School (Tutus Project) I am doing a decided to do some Book Overview’s. Starting with Genesis I will be working with some friends producing 20-30 minute book overviews for each book of the bible.

Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Context, Doctrine, Egyptian Mythology, Genesis, Old Testament | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plato, Epicurus, and the New Testament

What is the importance of Philosophy for the Average Bible Student?

Ancient Greek Philosophy of Plato, Epicurus, the Stoics and rhetoric of Cicero have massive implications for the world of the first century church, the writings of Paul and the rest of the apostles and in particular the Gospel of John.

Greek Philosophy that started maybe even before Judah went into exile to Babylon had been developing and built upon until the time of Christ and his disciples.
images
We know well that today the western world has been massively influenced by greek philosophy. Early church leaders such as Philo and Origen were massively influenced by Plato. Some with later Bishop of Hippo Augustine and the 6th century philosopher Boethius who’s work along with Augustus and early church leaders was influential throughout the Middle Ages in Europe until further greek learning continued with the enlightenment and renaissance period.
The explosion of philosophy that was built most heavily upon Greek and Roman learning. Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus among the many to be rediscovered by so many. It was in the 15-16th centuries that western history turned back to the ‘wisdom’ of the Greeks. Perhaps the reason it was so popular was that very nature of Plato and Epicurus’ dualism. Under Platonism the soul or spirit world was always superior. Epicurus set out to disprove the stoics on their eschatology. He foresaw nothing after death as opposed to world destroyed by fire and born anew like the phoenix. Death was nothing to him as expressed in his famous line, Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care).

His view of anthropological dualism was to exalt the physical over the human soul. Giving credence to philosophy and ethics of characterized by an absence of divine principle. The Epicureans believed in the existence of the gods, but believed that the gods were made of atoms just like everything else. It was thought that the gods were too far away from the earth to have any interest in what man was doing; so it did not do any good to pray or to sacrifice to them. The gods, they believed, did not create the universe, nor did they inflict punishment or bestow blessings on anyone, but they were supremely happy; this was the goal to strive for during one’s own human life.
Epicurus
Epicurean belief is now characterized in the “enlightened” philosophies of modern deism/atheism or humanism. The Platonic belief are now characterized in a large portion of evangelical christianity. The answer is not a stoic attitude of balance. Nor do either of these positions get it right then or now. It is important to realize the nature of these dualisms of man, dualisms or cosmology in order to rightly grasp the NT’s gospel. It is the philosophy of modern evangelicalism and modern humanism that our western students are likely most influenced by in their thinking.

Essentially the essence of Plato and Epicurus lingers on heavily in Christian thinking and throughout any culture that might call itself modern. It has crept along not only through the western world by through the principles of materialism. It has crept up from its Platonic origins into full fledged gnosticism that threatened to permanently distort Christian orthodoxy. Gnosticism was snuffed out and rears its head but Platonic dualism of man and cosmology subtly continues on in christian theology. It was Plato who taught us that the soul or spirit is superior to the body or mind. It was Plato who taught us that the physical world is only a dismal shadow the bright heavenly afterlife. And we believed Epicurus’ eschatology about the destruction of the world by fire. It helps to be able to distinguish Plato and Epicurus from Paul and John. To accept the hebrew view of cosmology, anthropology, and eschatology as something touched, breathed, and created by a personal infinite God who redeemed and recreates things visible and invisible.

At risk of over simplification Plato and Epicurus and their philosophies were prevalent in the time of the original audiences of the books of the New Testament. Their dichotomy of man and cosmos and elevation of either spiritual or material realities does damage to the way we live out our lives in this world. The teachings of Epicurus are prevalent in modern philosophy of materialism and humanism. Plato’s influence is equally prevalent in and around the world of Christian worldview, particular areas of eschatology, anthropology, and cosmology.

If we are aware of these things the gospel would seek to break down then we can find a way to live today without these dualistic views of ourself, of all of reality, and of the future.

Christian Philosophy begins with a good God creating a good world. The good dichotomy is that God is God and creation is creation. But both are good and one is not merely spiritual and the other material. The material is good, it is touched, breathed, or spoken into existence by a good God. Christian philosophy ends with recreation. After man has fallen, though he to was made good, in Gods image, his sin has effected all of nature. The incarnation, inauguration, resurrection, and ascension of Christ reflects his ongoing work of recreation. His new covenant is a new creation the mirrors the first one. Its important then to see that the bible gives answers for the most profound philosophical questions of origin, ultimate meaning, reality, morality, and destiny. Things started somewhere and are going somewhere. And in between we are somewhere and not nowhere. Man made in Gods image has a job. He gets to make, and nurture life. This meaning or purpose given in the beginning is again picked up on in the new covenant. Go and make disciples of all nations. Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all of creation.

 

 

Categories: Anthropology, Bible, Context, Cosmology, Culture, Enlightenment, Eschatology, Ethics, Genesis, History, Modern, Modernism, New Testament, Old Testament, Origins, Philosophy, Post-Modern, Renaissance, Society/Culture, sociology, Spiritual, Supernatural, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Origin Hopes: A poem for a change

pan4Well as long as I live I’m drawn to this

page one of the book

my feeble hands to the crest

my broken mind heart body knows

and senses this

 

that hope is not lost

 

its senses this

this tired body misses youth

this wounded heart clings to his

this perverse mind wishes well

that on page one i’ll find

without ceasing I am drawn to this

 

 

*** About the Poem. This is a reflection of what i feel is going on when I sit down to open up the bible. Im always drawn to Genesis 1 or somewhere in the beginning. I feel like God has given me so much from that point and by nature I return to it continually finding new hope and insight.

Categories: Bible, Genesis, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and the End of Christian Gnosticism

mountainflowersI want to begin this blog with a reminder that the bible affirms environmental stewardship and the sanctity of human life. Gods created order in Genesis one and two reveal a God who created man to partner with God in the good care of all forms of life.

The rest of the bible makes a strong case that man not God brings harm to the many forms of life. The fate of man us intertwined with the treatment of all other life forms.  So man not God hurts God created order.

The other biblical reminder is of Gods Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. His incarnation initiates the redemptive work in nature and humankind. The idea that the all mighty, powerful, creator putting on human flesh transforms our idea of a distorted humanity. He continues this redemptive work when he is killed, buried and then resurrected. He is reversing what Adam had broken in humanity by taking on death, and overcoming it for all mankind. That he would take on the flesh of a sinful race, die, and be resurrected confirms that Gods creation is still worthy of preservation.

We are challenged to be better caretakers of our environment, because God has carried for it, because he created it, because he incarnates it regularly, because he has future plans for its full restoration.

His plans for the future restoration includes the present. Right now God’s Word is to be incarnate in our lives. We are to follow the model he sets, the job he gives in creation, the job he gives, “go make disciples of all nations” and again in Acts “to the ends of the earth”. So all nations, all people, all lands, all of nature is to be touched by people of God bringing reconciliation and trans-formative restoration. His holistic approach reminds us when we attempt to evangelize a man that we treat him as a whole man. We make our appeal not simply in mechanical terms of truth but in the spirit of Love. We are not appealing simply to a soul without a mind or a body. Love means physical emotional connections must be made. When appealing to the mind we must bring some facts, some reason, some absolute certainty. Yes, and the third, man is a spirit and not just a mind with a body. Man is a metaphysical creature.

Just as our appeal is not only to on part of nature, or one nation of people. It is also to all of creation, all of humanity, and all of what is human. Jesus came to bring back to life all that is dead in his created order. trinity-172175215_std

The Doctrine of the Trinity affirms these many beliefs. That God is in some way inseparable from his creation by the three facts; that it is his creation, that he acted by his word to protect and guide the future redemption of all of creation and that he has taken on flesh and entered into creation. That man is made in Gods image affirms the three part of man that are to be redeemed. Non Human nature also bears the mark of trinity in Protons, Neutrons and Electrons. These three particles are the building blocks of all physical substances. Protons have a positive charge, electrons are negative and neutrons are neutral. In the same way we have the basic particles made up of Hadrons, Leptons and Bosons.

So how is it that we can get the trinity right without getting rid of Christian Gnostic attitudes towards creation. So much negativity has been built up towards the natural order. We are ready to see it all come crashing down. We are ready to see Jesus come back and save it all. But why are we not ready to defend the earth, to defend what God made in humanity.

Maybe we need to set our eyes anew on the last book of our sacred library. Maybe Revelation has something to say. For isn’t it this book that many think confirms our fears, that it is all coming down. That when it does then the rescue comes. Why not just hold on until the end, be raptured, be rescued, and forget about trying to make a pathetic effort to fix any of it.

Just as Jesus left it to his church to go into all the world and disciple nations. Revelation 21 reveals the climax of this work. That when Jesus kingdom comes in full the kings of the nations will bring into the kingdom of God the glory and honor of nations. (verses 24-26). How sad it will be for those who simply held on until the end. There will be no glory and honor being brought into the kingdom of God. There will be no part in bringing in the kingdom of God. Discipling nations to walk in holistic renewal, not just their churches, and the souls of people. But whole people,  whole nations, and the whole of creation. Only this work will be brought into the kingdom of God when it is in its fullness.

My friend Ron Smith, says that “The trinity, is a theological hill to die on”. I think I get what this means when I consider that God also has a certain kind of wholeness. We can distort his image to being parts of the trinity. When we do this we are vulnerable further to distorting the parts of man, parts of nature, and the nature of the Christian mission. A single crack in the trinity can wreck the churches witness.

 

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Eschatology, Mission, New Testament, Old Testament, Orthodox, Salvation, School of Biblical Studies, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Divine Human Nature

What does it mean to get saved according to Genesis one through three?

This is a term I heard so much growing up in the Baptist Church. Its a term I still use on occasion. It is a word that starts to sound really weird after hearing so much.

“Do you want to get saved?”   “Are you Saved?”    “Am I Saved?”

Now nearing about 7 years of being part of the School of Biblical Studies in YWAM, I have taught Genesis 1-3  more than any other passages in the bible by far.

For the past few weeks I have been talking about the book, going through the first few chapters, with about 10-15 youth here in Mexico. All of the kids would say they are Christians. By and large, Mexican people would claim Christianity more than most Americans. It is a very religiously minded culture. Some of the boys are actually seeking discipleship and have began a real relationship with God that is evident in their life. But some of the boys are not in that place.

So I have been doing these bible studies for a mixed group, some of the boys have not been “Saved”.

So my thought has been, “what would that look like according to Genesis one through three”?  What is it to be saved?

First I have decided that its nothing to do with religion. No religiousness is needed to begin. In fact there is very little that is religious at all about these few chapters. If religion involves rules, than there was only one. Enjoy everything do everything your were created to do, just don’t eat of that tree. It brings death.

Of course God is involved. So if God = religion than maybe this is religious. But according the the great dreaded biblical scholar, Jesse Levi Evans, Genesis one, two, and three is not about religion.

It is about being a whole person. It is not until after man freely chose death for his race that man became somethingda-vinci incomplete. Before his choice, he had work that was fulfilling and meaningful. God had delegated to him the of job running everything he had set up. Not only meaningful work, but meaningful sex and relationships, and family. The very breath of the creator filled your lungs and gave you your full existence. Life was very good. Life was full. Man was whole. Man knew God. Man knew nature. Man knew himself.

What does it mean to be saved according to Genesis one through three? It means that being made whole again is possible. You learn what it means to be a person.

Though chapter three brings death, -death to the whole man, death to fulfillment in work, relationships, and mans relationship with his creator, man begins to set his eyes on a resurrection, on a recreation.

Studying the bible has become I hobby and a deep love affair for me. I still cry just reading specific passages. I get excited about the connections. Studying the bible is not a religious endeavor but me 1)becoming a whole person, 2) knowing the whole story, 3) knowing my environment and my role in it, 4) gaining perspective on Gods whole character.

In other words being saved is not religious nonsense found in a religious book created by fanatics. In fact that’s why I don’t use that phrase much.

Being saved becomes becoming whole, knowing myself, my environment, my friends and family by way of revelation from God and not being left to deal with only my bad choices that lead to death, frustration, toil, anger. The bible is not about becoming more religious its about become more human, which according to Genesis one through three is in the image of the divine.

Categories: Anthropology, Bible, Church, Context, Cosmology, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, Genesis, Mexico, Old Testament, Origins, Orthodox, Philosophy, psychology, Salvation, School of Biblical Studies, sociobiology, sociology, Spiritual, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Surviving University: A Brief History

1. Universities are a Christian Invention

That’s right, Christian Scholastics invented the university.

“We can trace the birth of universities to the magnetism of single teachers, whose skill and enthusiasm for learning attracted students wherever they happened to be”[1]

Saint_Augustine_PortraitFrom influential visionaries such as St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (AD 353-430), Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassidorus (AD 40-585), and Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (AD 480-524), some monasteries and cathedral schools grew into universities.

The development of schools can be traced back much further to the ancient world of Greece where other individuals in Athens or Alexandria, ran schools. But we are talking about the university that during the middle ages had developed into “corporations.” [2]

Universities unlike schools were not dependent on a few individuals and could survive long after the death of influential people.

These “Dark Age” universities were not as many of thought, pathetic places where Christians argued over, “how many angels could dance on the head of a needle”. Instead medieval scholastics;

“reviewed past authorities and current opinions, giving analysis of them and reasons for rejecting some and accepting others. Altogether, the methodology already in place by the early twelfth century shows the scholastics’ willingness, and readiness, to criticize the foundation documents of their perspective fields. More than simply receiving and expanding these traditions deemed to have outlived their usefulness. They also freely realigned the authorities they retained to defend positions that these authorities might well have thought strange and novel.”[3] 

“The early Scholastic scientists did not just sit in their studies and think about the world; they increasingly relied on careful observation of the matters involved, that is, on empiricism. For example, the Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Chinese mostly based their “knowledge” of physiology on philosophy and introspection, and some dissections of animals, but they rejected and condemned cutting up humans. Christian Scholastics were the first scholars to build their anatomical knowledge on human dissection!”[4] Mundinus

This was done for the first time in 1315 by Mondino de’Luzzi in front of an audience of students and faculty of the University of Bologna.

Most common histories will be very quite with regards to the Christian origins of university. It is typically said to have been developed out of Greek and Roman learning, brought about by help from Muslim lands, and the few who in Europe were brave enough to oppose the authority of the church. These ideas can be traced to men like Edward Grant, or A.D. White. In reality universities was like a child of the Papacy. This does not mean that papal control over universities existed. There was as I have already said, freedom to explore and expound theories because issues of theological orthodoxy was fixed.

It may help quite a bit to know while attending university as a Christian that scholarly empiricism, the sciences, history, grammar, and logic are actually what have brought students to the door of spiritual wisdom as well as what we deem sacred study.

The chief aim in the middle ages was the search for spiritual wisdom. But their approach to such wisdom was not confined only to the bible. The bible held each field in check. A beautiful union had taken place between religion and liberal arts. Many make this union out to be a bloody battle in which science and intellectual freedom finally broke free from when we reach the enlightenment. But this is not complete reality. Just as in any loving union, there is to be tension. So in this union of church and scholastic education which became university was an ongoing healthy tension where church 743px-Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001orthodoxy was at times stretched or readdressed and new theories had to be put in check with Christian orthodoxy.

Your struggles as a university student are nothing new. In fact there is a wonderful heritage you are walking into. The bible remains key to education simply because it is a library. A unique collection of books selected with extreme care. Sixty-six books, forty plus authors, sixteen-hundred years, three different languages, all telling a single story. Beginning with creation and ending with recreation. Offering students a expanding, progressive, and yet coherent view of life and the world. [5]

Just as monks did not study scripture because they were looking for a job, we are not simply attending university because we are seeking a job but the knowledge of truth.

Even the historical critic of the Catholic church, H. G. Wells admitted,

“The Catholic Church provided what the Roman Empire had lacked, a system of popular teaching, a number of universities and methods of intellectual communication. By this achievement it opened the way to new possibilities of human government… possibilities that are still being apprehended and worked out.” [6]

These institutions, unlike Chinese academies for training Mandarins of a Zen masters school, were not content to settle for repeating the wisdom of the Greeks. They were fully prepared to criticize and correct the ancients. Something that scholars of Islam were unwilling to do, though translation of the works of Aristotle and Plato took place in Arab lands. [7]

A final testimony to the willingness within these scholastic communities to adjust theological views was the development of the rise of Capitalism. Not something simply invented in Venetian countinghouses, or protestant banks in Holland, but within the ninth century monastic communities. Monks found it necessary to adjust their view, that “money and pleasure is the root of all evil”. They were able to see the blessing in well managed finances, mix that with their value for hard work and entrepreneurship and a perfect environment for the rise of capitalism was given to the western world. [8] This was not the same corrupted capitalism one might explore today but one based on principles of moderate living, value in work, and community building. Medieval monks were not concerned with consuming capital gains but with learning to value wealth for its proper use in community building. Monks were able to re-evaluate the passage, “the love of money is the root of all evil” and began to see the value of wealth as a service to God.

In conclusion; there is no need to feel like a fish out of water when stepping onto campus of secular universities. Though there is a real challenge facing you, it is not a challenge that the church is not familiar with. It is a challenge that needs really, to be meet head-on. Literally and figuratively. That brings me to theology. It is essential that for Christians we know that reason, and intellect are not something to be detached from the spiritual wisdom we claim to have gained by our faith in Christ, and scriptures.

2. More Knowledge does not need to make your Faith Smaller

A Passage for expounding Knowledge

According to Genesis 1-2, man is made in the image of God. Keep in mind the intricacies of creation. God is without any doubt an intelligent creator, far beyond what we can comprehend. However, if we are in Gods image we may begin to comprehend all that God wishes us to in this life. In other words, we are creative, intellectual, beyond what realize. Man is always pushing the limits, and finding new things. It seems there is endless potential for the human intellect. Maybe that is true, maybe that is because we are made in the image of an immensely intelligent God.

A passage “against” expounding Knowledge

According to Corinthians 1:18-31, it would seem to some that Paul is discouraging knowledge, or the pursuit of it beyond the pursuit of Christ and the foolishness of the cross. I do not however, believe this passage is meant to discourage 21st Century Christians from going beyond knowledge of the cross. Paul himself, in order to write so eloquently and convincingly for both Jews and Greeks had a large knowledge of Jewish culture, scripture, language, as well as Greek culture, language, literature, and Greek rhetoric in particular. Scholars of the Middles ages grew quite adept at understanding Greek rhetoric of masters like Cicero because Paul’s style is almost identical.

Beyond that, a full observation of this passage and you will find verses like, The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of Man (v25). All the wisdom of Jews and Greeks may have pointed to a messiah, but all pale in comparison to the revelation of Christ and his work. So it is not that God wishes man to be foolish, ignorant, intellectually lazy. In fact quite the opposite is obvious. It is considered foolishness, but it should never be considered foolishness by those who believe. It is to be considered the power of God, and the wisdom of God (v18 & 24).

A final exhortation from this passage, and something that I’m sure will prove very useful for those in university. Because your views will be considered foolish by worldly standards, the best way to move forward is in humility. We don’t get to boast before God or man because of our power and wisdom. Its been revealed to us. We did not earn it. Through humility and intellect God will reveal himself to others around you. cs-lewis-from-gospel-coalition

C.S. Lewis is a powerful reminder of what that can look like. His ‘Mere Christianity’ on display during his career at Oxford University was not just a book he wrote, it was his constant way of life among intellectuals who deemed his wisdom as foolishness. But very few today would call him foolish, or unintellectual, or unchristian.

Bibliography

[1] Church History in Plane Language; 3rd Edition: Bruce L. Shelley. 2008 – Thomas Nelsons Publishers (Ch 12 pg 196)

[2] The Genesis of Science: James Hannam,  2011 – Regenery Publishing (ch4 pg66)

[3] Medieval Foundations of Western Intellectual Tradition: Marcia L. Colish, 1997 – Yale University Press

[4] Triumph of Christianity; Rodney Stark, 2011 – HarperCollins Publisher (ch16 pg281)

[5] The Book that made your World – Vishal Mangalwadi, 2011 – Thomas Nelsons Press (ch12 pg211)

[6] The Outline of History; H.G. Wells, 1961 – Garden City Books  (pg 587-88)

[7],[8] The Victory of Reason; Rodent Stark, 2005 – Random House Publishers, (pg 52-53 & 55-56)

Disclaimer: I have not yet been to university, hopefully sometime in the next couple years. This post is for friends who are in University right now. Some at secular schools and some are in bible seminaries. I want to offer what I think will help these friends and anyone else who is facing years of study before you can get on with whatever is next. The post is particularly in mind for those attending secular universities. However, I think the principles can apply to many attending Christian Seminaries. Faith is endangered in both environments. Perhaps a follow up to this post will specifically for Christian Seminaries.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Faith, Genesis, History, Modern, New Testament, Old Testament, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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