Thursday, May 28, 2009

About being literal again – hermeneutics

Over at Michael Patton's Reclaiming the mind forum there's a discussion about Steve Gregg and his views on different topics.
In his article at his site Steve has the following observations.
It seems people continue to be confused about what literal means when doing hermeneutics.

Consider Ryrie’s comments and then Steve Gregg's in response.

In discussing the angel fallen from heaven to release the locusts from the pit, Ryrie writes:
“Sometimes the word "star" refers to a heavenly body (as in 8:12). But the word is often used to refer to some kind of intelligent creature, usually an angel (cf. 1:20; Job 38:7). Both meanings are perfectly consistent with plain, normal interpretation. In English we use this word in the same two ways. Literally, a star means an astronomical entity; and equally literally, though as a figure of speech, we use the word to mean a person, like the star of a football game.”
Gregg comments:
"One is tempted to ask whether there is any method of interpretation that would be regarded by such an interpreter as recognizably non-literal, since the use of "a figure of speech" is regarded (when convenient) to be "equally literal" as the ordinary lexical meaning of a word. The applicability of the term "literal" to such usage suggests an almost infinite flexibility in determining what may be called "plain," "normal," and "literal" interpretation.
I have frequently heard teachers claim that, when convenient to their interpretation, "literal" interpretation does not preclude the use of symbolism, parable or figures of speech. I think these people are giving the word a novel new flexibility. I am using the word "literal" as the dictionary and most people understand it, i.e. as meaning "according to the exact meaning; not figurative" other words, I am using it literally."

Here we need to observe that Ryrie was speaking about literal in regard to a word. It is quite a different thing to be speaking about being literal in regard to the meaning of a sentence. It is the context, that is the sentence that provides whether something is to be taken as a metaphor, or figurative, or symbolism and so on. eg “like Bethlehem” the word “like” indicates figurative. So Ryrie is quite correct when he says one understands the word star literally and in it’s historical sense, and then understands the phrase “the star of a football game” as figurative.

Take Gregg’s comments focusing on Revelation.

1. { Dispensationalists speak of } The law of frequent mention:
“All agree that [the number 1000] is used symbolically in Psalm 50 [v.10], but the phrase ‘a thousand years’ occurs six times within the narrative of Revelation 20.”
Then we have Gregg’s comment:
The term “the Lamb” occurs 22 times in Revelation, but this does not make it a literal description of Christ.

This really is nonsense. Of course the mere frequency of a word does not make it a literal description of Christ. Behind the statement of numerical frequency of the title is the Biblical understanding of the Title in regard to Jesus.

The word Lamb is taken literally. It means an animal. However further hermeneutical investigation based on the grammatical historical method tells us that in the Bible a lamb was used in the sacrificial system, so when John the Baptist points to Jesus – clearly a man , a person, as 'the lamb of God' he is pointing to the sacrificial nature of the Son of God here on earth.

We need clarification in these issues, not muddled thinking.

In Christ,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Great Commission - putting the emphasis where it ought to be

In Matthew 28:16-20 we have what is commonly called the Great Commission. Some Preachers have spoken of it sometimes as the Great Ommission since it is often neglected by many Christians.

Of course we don't do that do we? Yet before we can answer that question we need to make sure we have understood it correctly. Where is the emphasis in "Therefore Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."

There's a really poor translation around, which isn't really a translation at all but a paraphrase, sadly used by preachers in their teaching and writing of books. It says "Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you." MSG. But this scuttles the impact of the Great Commission.

It's not about merely having head knowledge, having a few instructions about practices Jesus wants us to do but in putting this truth into practice in our very lives.

The central focus is the three verbs, making disciples, baptising and teaching. not in the "go".

What "Going" tells us is that it's to be taken in the sense of "as you are living your lives", not as in the sense of many missionary preachers who use this passage to call people to become missionaries and go overseas to some other culture. As you live your life, going to the supermarket, meeting the neighbor over the fence, getting petrol at the Petrol Station, going to playgroup, at work, having lunch ..

This is like witnessing, as a Christian you are a signpost - the only question is whether you are a good signpost or a bad one. Perhaps the signpost is chipped, it's writing isn't clear, it doesn't clearly tell people the directions, or perhaps it points the wrong way? A Christian by their very lives is a signpost, a witness. And so it is with the Great Commission. As we go about our lives, which have been impacted by Jesus, we are to make disciples, baptise and teach them to obey.

How I need to rely more on God's grace and power through His Spirit as I live my life.

In Christ,

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The No Metanarrative Fallacy

Some of you may have read of the view of many emergents who reject metannaratives, the view that there is one overarching view of the world that is true and correct, claiming it to be abusive and a power trip. They do this having taken on board uncritically the view of postmodernism.

You will often hear "postmodernists" explain either their rejection of a metanarrative or in relation to all religions having part of the truth by using the example of the 6 blind men and the elephant. Where one has hold of the tail and claims this is the reality, another has hold of the trunk and says this is it, another has a leg, and another the ear and so on. Or that each person has partial religious truth and is to be respected for it's their perspective.

Without going into whether this is an epistemological rejection of an overarching view of reality or a rejection of metaphysical perspective per se we can see what they are getting at. It is I believe an illustration used by advocates of religious pluralism and radical skepticism. See Greg Koukle's article The Trouble with the Elephant.

However, have they a case to argue using this illustration or analogy? One thing that is often ignored but pointed out by Leslie Newbingen is that while there are 6 blind men groping around the elephant, we and the narrator of the story actually see the whole elephant. That is, at least the person using the analogy is claiming a total comprehension of reality. They themselves claim to know it all in order to be able to use the analogy in saying each of the 6 blind men only have part of the truth but it is truth as far as it goes and true for them!

You see, the person using this anaolgy is actually usurping the place of God who is omniscient and omniresent. That is, God who is the only one in the position to know everything and know it truly. He alone knows how it all fits together. And some of this he has revealled to us in Scripture. Not every known fact there is, but how it relates to Him as Creator., as Sovereign Personal Triune God.

Grasping this will help immensly in speaking and communicating with the present unbelieving generation.

In Christ,


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The thorn in the flesh of postmoderns - death

Even though I have grave suspicion about whether there is truly a postmoden worldview, this generation has a thorn in their flesh. Despair and grief when friends die inadvertantly such as in car accidents and drug overdoses.

How do you grieve if you hold to naturalism? That all that is is matter. You repond just as the Bible says - without hope! If you believe you just came from slime by chance, then the move into dust is just something that happens.

Os Guiness wrote a great book looking at the state of man searching for meaning and value - calling it "The Dust of Death." What an appropriate title, well before the emergents examined the establishment and the [ counter ] culture.

Can we face death with a different perspective than the unbeliever? Yes.

A couple of weeks ago I had to do the funeral of my mother who died at 89. We actually had a thanksgiving because she was friend of Jesus. She was a christian. That means we don't grieve as the world does because one day we shall meet again.

Here's something I wrote for the funeral.

How do you assess someone's life?
It's got to be more than talking about a person's life from their birth to when they die. Just recently here in Australia Richard Pratt died, and the media gave you the impression that what mattered was his wealth and power.

We also have just had Anzac day where we remember our Veterans, their commitment and achievements and what they gave the rest of us.

But what about a VET's life?

How is that assessed?

Thinking about it - we see soldiers who returned emotionally scarred, others physically scarred.
Is that how you think of them?

Or do you think about their early childhood or their teenage years?

We need to reflect on this because many who are older and suffering and then die, that's the last memory we have of them!
Like some with cancer - you tend to remember their suffering, how difficult it all was.
So How are we to assess mum's life?
All of us here can agree there's much in her life to respect, to admire, to love.

She gave herself to us three children when she didn't have to! Being our stepmother and a widow she could have walked away! But she didn't.

She went without so we could have much.
She went without marrying again. Without that close relationship that's so important to our humanity. To share on an adult level what's so important.

I could talk about her childhood, at Boort, and her parents store, and her army days as a driver.

But what is important is her relationship with Jesus.
Because when we have a relationship with Jesus we have life.
Not mere existence, not scrapping by, but life. Living with meaning. Knowing that God is your Creator and that you are made in His image. That is, you are not just some concoction of chemicals which finally got together and emerged out of the slime.

No, You and I and mum are persons, able to love, care, think, plan hope and share. Mum had learned about Jesus early in her childhood. She had gone frequently to Church. But she was of that generation which saw religion, saw christianity as a private matter. Not one you talked about much with other people.

But I remember a time when all that changed.
When in her reading of some great books by Christians she saw what Christian faith was all about, how it was about being His disciple, walking with Him and doing what pleased Him and not what pleased her.

That's the high point in mums life. When she told me one day she was thinking about joining a bible study group at church.
When her relationship with God and Jesus was her Life!

Not something that we do on sundays and when we pray at night.

That life, means death, physical death is not the end. It's Why for a christian death is not something to be feared.

While alive she had meaning and purpose and value in all that she did. And now that she is passed from us, she is still alive, because she is with our heavenly Father who is Life.

Mum, your legacy to us is that God is in the business of change. He is in the business of changing people to be like his Son Jesus.

We saw you change as you walked with Him.
And you hold out the goal for us to continue to be changed by Jesus day by day.
That is how one can assess a life. One tha tis changed by God. Impacted by Jesus.


Is the emergent church really dead?

Over at Parchment and Pen C. Michael Patten wrote that after 15 years the emergent church is dead.
One could reasonably argue that the emergent church wasn't really a church at all, but mainly a group of authors and blogists who picked up on disatisfaction with some aspects or concrete expressions of those that claim to be Christ's Church in the world.
One definite reaction seems to have been against mega churches that sought to express or impact the culure from a marketing perspective, such as is seen by Willow creek in Chicago and to some extent Saddleback church in L.A.

Cetainly Brian McLaren as an author is still having a wide impact on many "christians" and Tony Jones and his friends at emergent village are likewise putting forth ideas that are far from orthodox, such as their view on hell, homosexuality and the authority of Scripture. It's not that I decry people asking questions but rather the failure of many asking the questions to do serious homework and see the answers which have already in the past of theological study been powerfully offered.

Certainly one can describe many who claim to be emergent or belong to the emergent corral as having accepted the philosophical views of postmodernism, even when they lash out at the evangelical church for having accepted without criticism the assumptions of modernism. Here they are commiting the same blunder they accused the mainstream evangelical church of doing.

However in regard to emegents many are following the mood of postmodernism which really is internally inconsistent and a worldview at odds with a Biblical Worldview.

I want to say more about postmodernism soon, but in the meantime we could perhaps descibe it as really something very old, as being self-legislating in regard to absolutes. Doing what was around in the time of the Judges, where "every man did what was right in his own eyes."

Still where does that leave people today? having moved on from postmodernism are they post-postmodern? Perhaps they are epiphenomenalmoderm? That is, valuing the experiences generated from modernism. Experiences based on the fruits of modernism.

I prefer to call then emodern. They are people who want and use the inventions of the modern era such as computors and ipods and iphones and so on and yet blithely say that there are no absolutes, but the very science which undergirds these inventions requires absolutes. The Logic used in computor hardware has the states of a 1 or a 0 or the state which can be labelled "don't care", there's no fourth option. Computer programming is fiercely absolute in requiring adherence to these laws or things don't work! Just imagine the present 16-25 yr olds reactions if their iphones and laptops suddenly stopped doing what they we designed to do.

Perhaps the generation before us us truly just a reflection of the very logic of solid state hardware, they are heading towards the "don't care", the "whatever" has become a don't care. They seek the experience for experiences sake. But even here they are usually discriminatory. They have not taken Camus or Sarte to their logical conclusion of despair. They don't normally try suicide for the experience.

But overall, is such a discriminatory response livable?

We have a worldview, the Biblical Worldview that gives account for value and meaning and truth and trust and love and knowledge and morality. When we realise this, we will be able to challenge them in their lostness.

In Christ,

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Preacher's Job

What is the main role of the pastor in a church?
In Ephesian's 4:11 we are told that God gave gifted men to be pastor-teachers. I take it as one person spoken of here, although some debate it suggesting it is two separate people being spoken of.

Sometimes I have heard the person in the church comment that "our minister is a great pastor, he really looks after his people, but he is not a very good preacher." I have also heard in other churches how people make the opposite claim. "Our minister is a really good preacher but not good at pastoring, he's hopeless at relationships and relating to people."

It really saddens me when I hear this for obviously something is wrong. And in many cases it's not the missperception of the person in the church who said this. In some cases it is that someone has been trained and given a ministry as leader in a church and they are not so gifted. It is our fault for putting them in that position.

However I think we also need to understand what Ephesians is speaking of when talking of the pastor-teacher.

It is the case I believe that an elder pastors by feeding God's people, by teaching them God's Word, he protects them, the flock by teaching the word, applying it, correcting, rebuking and encouraging the flock to obey the commands of Christ, Matt 28:20. In teaching them he pastors them, and in pastoring them he teachers them.

Does that mean he doesn't have to be all that relational? I know of a few preachers who come across as personal in their sermons, as very relational but actually find personal relationships very difficult and are rigid and stiff in relating at that personal level. There's no question about it we are all different. Some of the guys I went through college with were great at getting up front and leading singing and worship with a guitar - they were what I would classify as extroverts, whereas I would not put myself in that category. Does that mean I should not be a pastor-teacher?

The point to remember here is twofold, first God has given gifted men to his church. Second in deciding who they are God again has given requirements for such men. One of which he speaks of in Titus is to be hospitable, that is, a over of strangers. Someone who loves to care for and be hospitable to strangers. My reflection on that means that he continually battles to divide his time between the study and the market place, between studying God's Word and involvement in relationships. He will love both these things.

What do you think?

In Christ

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What is preaching?

I just read a post over at where J.D talks about Piper's views on preaching.

It's great stuff and well worth reading. Piper makes some challenging statements which you should read in the context of his article. Things like "Preaching isn't Church but serves the Church", and that he, Piper preaches 40 minutes, not aiming to be immediately practical but eternally helpful; and in preaching, he is not relaxed!

Oh for more expository preaching! Real food for the living.

In Christ,