He Has Spoken, Part 4

This is part four of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by the Colson Center.  This post discusses the third presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.  This lecture is titled “The Big Picture: Grasping the Purposes of Scripture.” 

Any lecture which opens with a T. S. Elliot quote gets my attention, and this one is no exception.  Elliot said there were two questions we ask when we find something new: what can I do with it, and what is it for?  Of course, what is it for (what is its purpose) is the most important question.    This reminds me of Captain James T. Kirk’s comment in The Wrath of Kahn: “You have to know why things work on a starship.” 

To me, the Bible answers the “what is it for” question for itself in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  The Bible is for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. 

John Stonestreet’s answer is that the Bible is a unique interpretation of historical events that shows history is about God, not us.  All of reality is about God. 

According to Stonestreet, the big picture of the Bible is contained in three great truths: God Exists, Humans answer to God, and  Jesus Christ is King

His discussion emphasizes that we are responsible to God for our behavior, we have sinned against God, and Christ has made a way for us to be forgiven. 

Stonestreet’s discussion with T. M. Moore centers on the Christian life as a war, and Scripture as a chief weapon in that war.  The Word of God is “the Sword of the Spirit.”  It helps us to “make progress” in the cultural war we find ourselves in.  This is a spiritual war.

The purpose of this curriculum is not to defend the propositions, just to explain them.  We already saw in an earlier article that they referred us to www.str.org (Stand to Reason) for that defense.  STR is a great resource for Christians.   I find that I spend much of my time presenting arguments for the veracity of Scripture. 

This is important because our culture increasingly does not treat the Bible as any kind of authority.  We must learn to present the clear, careful arguments that demonstrate Scripture to be true (I have presented some here.)  We cannot ‘lose the war’ by allowing our chief weapon to be disabled in the eyes of our culture. 

Of course, the Bible is never really disabled.  The Holy Spirit can always use the words of Scripture to melt the most hardened heart.  But we cannot neglect our responsibility to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 15-16). 

Stonestreet notes that our culture also sees the statement of truth that is true for all people as a “violent” activity.  He is right about our culture.  Moore says we are simply stating what the Bible says, not imposing our values or forcing them down other’s troughs.    We stand in a powerful tradition that sees the Bible as true.  Of course, we should expect those around use to use other ‘weapons’ against us in this war of words. 

We should expect to be maligned, even persecuted, as we affirm the truths of Scripture.  We can prepare for this by getting some good Christian friends around us.  We “need the strength of our communities.”  We must always show love to those we confront with the truth of Scripture.

The next post in this series will follow soon.  We will look at the next lecture and discussion in this curriculum.


Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

I have taken several months off from blogging.  I have used the time to prepare a series of Sunday School Lessons on J. I. Packer’s wonderful little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.  I will lead a discussion of this book at my little church in Troy, TN.  I want to put in a plug for this book.

One of the things that put me off of Calvinism when I was first introduced to the doctrines of grace was the idea that Calvinism destroyed the motive for evangelism and missions.  It took a long time for me to come around.  There are many others who reject Calvinism for the same reasons.

Packer is clear in his book that the “antinomy” between God’s sovereignty (God’s control of all things) and man’s free will (man’s freedom of choice) is a mystery that will not be completely sorted out in this life.  Along with others, (see John Piper’s short article here, and a discussion by R. C. Sproul in Chosen by God), I am somewhat troubled with the use of the word antinomy because it implies a contradiction in the ordinary use of the word on this ‘side of the pond.’  

It is comforting that Packer says there is no contradiction between the two when he states:
What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it.  Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put down the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as not rival alternatives but, in some way that at the present you do not grasp, complementary to each other…It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other.   (P. 26, 28)
That seems clear enough.

Along with John Piper in the reference above, I am not entirely sure there is even the appearance of contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  I can see how they would both be true at the same time.  John Gerstner was also helpful to me on this issue in his little book A Primer on Free Will.  Both Piper and Gerstner depend on Jonathan Edwards for their views in this area.

Packer’s detailed analysis of the proper motives for evangelism is much appreciated.  The motive that has kept me going in the twin tasks of evangelism and missions is the thought that I can be successful because God can change anyone’s heart.  Many of my attempts have seemed to fall on deaf ears, and this has been very discouraging to me.  This truth is comforting. 

I will not attempt a detailed summary of the book because there is such a good one available here.  I just want to recommend this modern-day classic to anyone, Calvinist or not, who has the same type of questions I did.

I reserve the right to post on this book in the future as we move through the Sunday School series.


Joy to the Whole World

My favorite Christmas Carol this year is Joy to the World.  (Please note that this changes each year.)  

This hymn stands out to me as the one song we sing at Christmas time that has a missions focus and a focus on end-times.  The lyrics, with commentary inserted, are below.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

This is a straight-forward request for us to receive the living Christ into our hearts by faith and repentance.  Every heart should prepare Him room.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns.
Let men their songs employ.
While fields and floods,
Rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

This is a call to unashamed praise to the Christ, the Savior of the world.

No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make,
His blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

How far will the reign of Christ extend? As far as the curse is found.  That is everywhere on the earth.  Truly Christ will call to Himself people from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.  There will come a day when people from every family in the world will turn to Christ and His lordship and enter His spiritual kingdom.  Then He will come again to fully establish His rule on the earth.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove,
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders and wonders of his love.

At this point in the hymn, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.  Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  The destiny of all people will prove either the righteousness of God in judgement or the wondrous love of God in His mercy.

At once a wonderful hymn of praise, a testimony of the reach of the gospel to all nations, and a somber warning that God will show His righteousness in judgement; this hymn is a wonderful testimony.  


He Has Spoken, Part 3

This is part three of a multi-part series on “He Has Spoken,” a study published by The Colson Center.  This post discusses the second presentation and discussion in the five lesson DVD curriculum.  This lecture is titled “Being Biblical: How We Miss the Point of Scripture.”

John Stonestreet comments that we often hear misconceptions about the Bible’s authority, what the Bible is.  Two of these misconceptions could be called ‘the Bible as a rulebook’ or ‘the Bible as a collection of inspirational nuggets.’  But these misconceptions do not explain the Bible’s non-inspirational portions, which Stonestreet calls “scary."  Some describe the Bible as God’s love-letter to His people, but even that relatively accurate description does not account for the descriptions of God’s wrath and the stories of how that works out in history.  The Bible is also often seen as a book that tells stories about heroes of the faith, but these heroes are often flawed.  God is the hero, not men.

Stonestreet also describes miss-uses of the Bible.  We read books about the Bible instead of the Bible itself, or we “breaking it up into little fragments.”   This misses the context of the biblical passages.  We miss the over-arching story; and we also miss the immediate context, the verses that surround the section we segregate.

It reminds me of something Greg Koukl often says, “The basic unit of understanding of the Bible is the paragraph, not the sentence.”  We miss so many things with a fragmenting, atomistic approach (see here for a further explanation of atomism).  Stonestreet does a great job of explaining the controversy over atomism without using all the technical terms.

Stonestreet says, “The Bible doesn’t claim to be one story among many, but the story.”  He then gives an overview of the story of redemption, from creation through the fall of man in Adam’s sin, to God’s dealing with the nation of Israel, to the incarnation of God in Jesus, to the recreation of the world at the end of time.  These over-arching themes should inform our interpretation of the Bible.  The story centers on Jesus, and our lives should as well.

The discussion between Stonestreet and Moore that accompanies this lecture is very practical.  Basic tools and methods of Bible interpretation are described.

Moore says that a large part of our approach to understanding the Bible is shaped by the churches we have attended and the culture we live in.  The culture we live in is uncompromisingly relativistic, or dedicated to the idea that there is no absolute truth.  Moore mentions Francis Schaeffer’s phrase “true truth,” and applies it to the Bible as absolute truth that applies to all cultures, people, times and aspects of life.

Moore, aided by questions from Stonestreet, is very explicit.  The first question is not “What does this mean to me?”  The question is “What does this mean?”  What has the passage meant to Christians down through the ages?  He recommends a Study Bible, in a reliable translation, developed by a reputable panel of scholars that traces out the story line of the Bible.  A daily time of prayer and Bible study will help a person greatly.

The next lesson, “The Big Picture: Grasping the Purposes of Scripture,” will be our focus in the next article in this series.

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