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Posts Tagged ‘context’


I don’t think I’ve read anything by J.V. Fesko before. I thought I’d start with a book carrying a lighter price tag before I started investing lots of money. As a result, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied has been sitting in my ‘to read” pile for some time. After reading a number of larger volumes I thought I’d go with a shorter book like this.

For those not familiar with Fesko, he is an OPC pastor and associate professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.

It is common for people who deny the on-going authority of the moral law to use terms like the rule of love to describe how God reveals His moral will to us. Fesko is not one of those people. This book is an exposition, however brief, on the Ten Commandments. He does treat them within their historical, covenantal and redemptive contexts. Too often people look at them in abstraction. We must remember they were given to the people of Israel, but YHWH who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after He delivered them from Egypt and slavery. We must understand this original historical and covenantal context to properly understand them. But as Christians we also view them through Christ’s redemptive work in which He fulfilled them for us, and by virtue of our union with Him works in us so we keep them in increasing measure. As a result, the Ten Commandments are not some religious artifact from some bygone era. Neither is our obedience to them the ground of our justification. Christ’s obedience is the ground of our justification. We also remember that while they provide the direction of our sanctification (the 3rd use of the law) they do not provide the power for it. That comes from the Spirit by virtue of our union with Christ (which he mentions quite often).

“The Law is not merely a legal bond; it is also a rule of love between God and His people.”

It would be easy to see the book are formulaic because he works through these three categories for each of the ten. But you should see this as good pedagogue. Being obvious is not a problem particularly when the lack of obviousness creates great misunderstanding.

The chapters are not very long, and he provides some study questions to help you think through and apply the material. Fesko begins with the prologue which stresses the covenantal and historical context for the rest. The Law was given to them, not to save them, but to know how to live together with God and one another. They were never to forget that He rescued them from slavery. As we read them we remember the greater redemption to which this great redemption pointed to. As Christians we hear them as people who have been justified, not those seeking justification. It is precisely when we ignore this, including when we put them up on courthouse lawns or walls, that we begin to turn it into a ladder.

“We cannot manufacture images of God because Jesus Christ has already taken that role. Only Christ can do what no man-made image can, namely, perfectly reflect the image of God. …. We do not make images of God, for He is making images of Himself in us!”

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I’ve tried to become less reactionary in my blogging. I might have made some progress, or perhaps I’ve just been busier and don’t think about it very much. Sometimes there is an article or blog post that comes to my attention that is so annoying that I feel compelled to consider it for blog fodder. This morning I read one of them called 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible. I suppose I am tempted to read too much into his Patheos post, but aware of this and will try my best to interpret his words well.

He is Roger Wolsey, a “progressive” United Methodist pastor. What he does is helpful because he does lay out his assumptions when he interprets the Bible. He doesn’t defend those assumptions, he just assumes they are superior to the assumptions held by “Fundamentalists”. By the way he articulates his argument you’d think there were only “Fundamentalists”, “Atheists” and “Progressives.” I am part of the great unknown (perhaps not to him but at least “Sir Not-Mentioned-in-this-Article”) that would fall under the category of Conservative and Confessional.

“All Christians pick and choose which portions of the Bible (to interpret) literally, progressive Christians simply admit this and share how we discern.”

Not sure I’d agree with that statement. Most people I know admit this and talk about how they discern the difference. Progressives are not superior to anyone in this matter. They don’t have “interpretative righteousness” as a result. I am bringing my men’s study through the book Bible Study that addresses many of these issues and I often verbalize these things as I preach or teach SS (the Revelation series was not an exception). I suggest he doesn’t give those pesky Fundamentalists enough credit. So much for the love (or charity) he talks about later. He seems to always paint them in a most negative light.

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Any conversation about homosexuality inevitably will turn to what the Bible says. There are bound to be many misunderstandings about what the Bible says, and attempts to say that it doesn’t really say what it says. This is where Peter Hubbard turns his attention in the 4th chapter of Love Into Light.

It is just a chapter, so it is a survey that focuses on a few key texts. There are whole books devoted to this singular topic. This is intended to hit the highlights.

“Real Bible study is an act of corporate execution as we die to our preferences and together stand in the counsel of the only Person Who embodies and defines life.”

Studying the Bible is painful for all of us because it doesn’t say what we wish it would. Each of us may have a different topic with which we disagree with the Bible. But, as he notes here we have to wrestle with it or we have made ourselves to be autonomous.

Many, like Matthew Vines, will accuse us of misinterpreting the Bible. They will accuse us of mishandling them to issue a blanket, absolute condemnation of something the Bible never condemns. I think Hubbard makes a good point about this.

“Who wants to misinterpret the Bible at the expense of hundreds of thousands of people who feel condemned to lives of shame and loneliness? Who has the time and the desire to dream up sexual prohibitions that God hasn’t created?”

In other words, those with whom we disagree seem to paint us in the worst possible light: homophobes, bigots etc. I understand the desire to avoid guilt and shame. I ran from God for awhile, wanting to enjoy activities that the Bible says are immoral. We all have those things, and they are pretty important to us at the time.

The first charge made is that the prohibitions against homosexuality were temporary. Some of the prohibitions are found in Leviticus with a number of other immoral sex acts (Leviticus 18). People like Jay Bakker and Jack Rogers say it was wrong for the Israelites, but not for us today. Jay, like many today, will point out that Leviticus mentions they shouldn’t eat shellfish, wear clothing made of wool and cotton, getting tattoos and other such far less important things. The argument is that we have evolved past things.

Okay, some of those things were about how Israel was set apart ceremonially from the nations around them. What you won’t find is a penalty for eating shellfish. At most, you wouldn’t participate in corporate worship as being ceremonially unclean.

The penalty for all those sexual acts (which they neglect to mention include incest and bestiality) is death. This are how Israel was set apart from the nations morally. This was a severe penalty. We are talking about two fundamentally different things. Are we to assume that we have evolved enough to say that incest and bestiality are okay too? Or are they the only permanent prohibitions in that exact context? See how misleading their argument is?

Hubbard argues (the above was mostly mine) that Jesus affirmed and fulfilled the Old Testament. He fulfilled the ceremonial laws in such a way as to render them obsolete (read Hebrews for example). He fulfilled the moral law for us, but not in a way that renders it obsolete. We see that the New Testament affirms the Old Testament prohibitions on numerous sexual sins, including homosexuality. That brings us to one of the controversial texts in this debate: 1 Corinthians 6:9.

That passage includes an original term by Paul- arsenkoite. It is a debated term, claimed to mean “male prostitute.” How does Hubbard respond? “The Apostle Paul coined this term from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. He was pointing back to Leviticus 18:22.”  It is the combination of arsenos  and koiten. It is not connected to rape, or prostitution, but of having intercourse with another man as if he were a woman. He is restating the OT prohibition against homosexuality.

Another claim is that the prohibitions are misunderstood. The claims regarding 1 Corinthians 6:9 is such a case. Another is Sodom and Gomorrah. They, supposedly, were judged for being inhospitable. Yes, they were that. But the original story in Genesis 19 makes clear that they wanted to engage in homosexual activity with the men. As Jude 7 notes, they were immoral. That it manifested itself in attempted homosexual rape is pertinent. Both Philo and Josephus interpret this to mean it refers to homosexual acts, not simply sexual violence.

A third claim is that such prohibitions are rooted in ignorance. Mel White is one man who puts this forth, as though the homosexuals then were very different from the loving, committed homosexuals today. This argument is a form of chronological arrogance, for there were committed gay and lesbian relationships in Paul’s day. It assumes we are more enlightened and wiser than those blood thirsty primitives. If only they understood that some are homosexual by nature. Romans 1, they claim, refers to those who are heterosexual but engage in homosexual activity. The point of Romans 1 is not to isolate homosexuality, but to show homosexuality as one of the results of exchanging the truth for a lie. Sin manifests itself in many ways, as Paul mentions in Romans 1. Homosexuality is one of them.

Others, like Luke Timothy Johnson, place our experience above Scripture. The commands of Scripture, he argues, are fallible. Paul was subject to his personal prejudices and preferences. It assumes that the Bible is merely a human document and that it also is fallible when it says that the Spirit inspired Scripture. The Scriptures are authoritative, my experience is not. I am to judge my experience by Scripture, not Scripture by my experiences.

In fact, it would appear that the claims are merely projections of their own arguments which take texts out of context, misunderstands the words used and are filled with ignorance of history as well as Scripture. If we have the opportunity to talk through these texts with a homosexual or an advocate for them, we can use the material here to address those concerns and show that the problem is not the Scriptures or our fundamentalist interpretation.

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As a movement, the “Young, Restless & Reformed” crowd has some issues.  They are, after all, young.  They are on the road to maturity.  Technically I’m a tad too old, I think, for the moniker but I appreciate what most of them are trying to do.

John MacArthur is not so appreciative.  As part of the generation before mine, he’s been quite critical of them in a series of posts.  Some of them have made the circuit.  I’ve stayed out of it.  I don’t want to contribute to a blog war- see, I’m getting older and maybe even maturing.  (comments have been closed, so I can’t respond there.)

I am not writing to defend the YR&R movement.  I’m not even going to point out the inconsistencies of John’s argument (a blogger friend who was unjustly singled out has done a good job of these things).  What I want to do is address his selective use of Scripture.  JM, in writing this critique of the movement, is also acting like a role model of sorts.  How he handles the Scriptures is VERY important.  He deeply cares about the Scriptures and expositional preaching has been a hallmark of his lengthy ministry.  But here he does not handle the Scriptures well, and we need to help see why.

Taking Texts Out of Context

Contrary to the current mythology, abstinence is no sin—least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4; Luke 1:15). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to the influence of alcohol or to bedeck one’s reputation with deliberate symbols of debauchery. As a matter of fact, drunkenness and debauchery are the very antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (Ephesians 5:18)—and men who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.

JM rightly notes that abstinence is not a sin.  At times it may be wise, but that doesn’t mean it is always wise.  His claims go beyond the text however.

 8And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. Leviticus 10

It was not an absolute prohibition.  They were just not to drink on the job.  In light of the recent death of Aaron’s 2 sons, you have to wonder if abusing alcohol was one reason they offered up “strange fire”.  But JM speaks of abstinence.  They were not required to abstain for drinking wine, except while serving.

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,  it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, 5lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Proverbs 31

Once again the encouragement is not absolute.  But when the king is working, making decrees or deciding cases, he should not be under the influence of alcohol.  JM overstates his case.  Oddly enough, see what the next verses say:

6Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,  and wine to those in bitter distress; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Proverbs 31

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Books on prayer are always a risky proposition.  They tend to raise some sort of controversy, whether they want to or not.  The Prayer of Jabez got lots of heat.  It was a little book, and wasn’t intended to be a treatise on prayer.  Did Wilkenson over-state his case?  At times.  But the book was not heretical like some people (at least in my circles) made it out to be.  Could have done without all the hype that spawned an industry.  Or take E.M. Bounds.  Some people love his stuff.  I just end up feeling guilty.  It only points out that facts that my prayer life is not like Martin Luther and John Calvin’s.  Not so helpful for me.

It is into this conflicted world that Will Davis Jr. released his latest book on prayer- Pray Big: The Power of Pinpoint Prayers.  I’m not sure what I was thinking when I asked for a review copy.  I guess I was hoping it would help my prayer life.  I’ve seen some reviews on Facebook- some people like this book, alot.

There were warning signs.  One of the blurbs on the back is by Don Piper.  Yes, Don.  He of 90 Minutes in Heaven fame.  The book that apparently has spawned its own cottage industry of calenders and devotionals.   Call me old-fashioned, but I’m thinking that if there is something about heaven God wants me to know, it will be … in the Bible!  So a guy who has functional issues with the authority of Scripture really likes this book.  Not a selling point for the likes of people like me.

Initially I had some agreement with Pastor Davis.  Most evangelicals are pretty superficial in their prayers.  “Bless Josh” is not really what the Father is looking for.  It reeks of a lack of thought both in knowing God and knowing Josh.  I also agree with Pastor Davis that Scripture should direct our prayer life.   Our areas of agreement began to dissipate quickly.  So quickly that I never finished the book.  The reason was there were unconstructive thoughts arising.  I felt I was being overly-critical.  Perhaps I wasn’t, but I decided for my own sake to stop reading.  Little did I realize it had it’s own cottage industry.

What was the problem?  I’ll mention 5.

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