One professor in this school playfully describes the birth of Jesus this way.
There is Jesus, lying in the manger and looking out through the doorway of the stable at the stars in the night sky. I made all those stars. The baby then has another sensation alongside this new experience of seeing His creation through eyeballs, and it’s uncomfortable. I’m suddenly wet all through my diaper, and it’s getting cold! A normal infant would scream at this point until mom showed up. But not Jesus. He looks over at His teen-aged mom and thinks, I’d like to have this wet diaper changed, but Mary’s had such a hard night after so long of a trip. I’ll wait a few hours until she’s had some more rest. And so, baby Jesus, the pint-sized God-man waits until His mom has gotten the rest she needs.
Probably not. It strains at plausibility to think that Jesus lived with His full divine consciousness from the beginning of His human life. We can be sure that Jesus knew His unique identity and relationship to God as His Father when He was twelve, having declared as much to Joseph and Mary in Jerusalem (Luke 2:49). Luke adds, “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (v. 52, NASB). Jesus certainly knows who He is when He begins teaching, but beyond these details we don’t have revelation how much He knew before age twelve, or when.
by Josh Crutchfield, Pastor of FBC Trenton, Texas
In 1974, Pastor Estus W. Pirkle created a film entitled The Burning Hell. This film was circulated throughout many churches in the U.S. and around the world, with the sole purpose of scaring people out of Hell. In this movie, Pastor Pirkle sought to portray the horrifying realities of Hell so that people would turn to Jesus and be saved from such a horrid place.
Numerous people have seen this movie and have been impacted by the message conveyed. Similarly, many today share the Gospel by describing the terror of Hell in hopes that the people who will listen, will trust in Christ for salvation. Yet, is such a presentation of the Gospel accurate? Did Jesus come to save us from Hell or from sin? There appears to be a distinct disparity between the two presentations and a difference between those who are saved from Hell and those who are saved from sin.
I’m sure by now you might have said “Both! Jesus saves us from both!” While I would agree with you that Jesus does indeed save us from sin and ultimately Hell, many only proclaim that Jesus saves us from Hell. This type of Gospel presentation neglects to mention that Hell is the consequence for our sin and not the purpose for which Jesus was crucified. This stems from an inaccurate understanding of how to present the Gospel or the Gospel message entirely.
The Purpose of Hell and the Result of Sin
Let’s be clear, Hell exists because sin exists. As Satan and those who followed him rebelled against God’s rule, the place of eternal judgment was created for their banishment from God’s presence (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 19:20; 20:10). This same place is meant for those who follow the example of Satan and live a life of lawlessness (Matt. 7:23; 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:14–15). Hell then, is the place of eternal judgment as a result for those who refuse to cease their rebellion and submit to the rule of God.
Hell embodies God’s wrath towards our sin. In his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards describes vividly this fact. “It is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, over which you are held by the hand of God.” He goes on to describe that God’s wrath is “provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in Hell.” Due to our sin, God’s wrath burns. Should we refuse to turn from our sin, the result would then be “that God will execute the fierceness of His anger…He will inflict wrath without any pity.”
The Purpose of Christ and the Result of Salvation
With the fiery wrath of God set ablaze by our guilt, it is not Hell that we need rescuing from, but our sin. It is for this very reason that Jesus took on flesh, suffered, and died—so that He could “save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).” The message proclaimed by Jesus, and the subsequent messages proclaimed by the apostles was not “Trust in Jesus and be saved from Hell,” but rather, “Repent (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:14; Acts 2:38).” Furthermore, it was not by the shedding of the blood of Christ that we would be delivered from Hell, but that our sins would be atoned for (Isa. 53:5; Acts 10:43; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and thus the wrath of God would be satisfied.
Salvation is then the transformation that takes place within an individual who has been so ruined by his sin that he cries out in desperation to God, pleading that He would deal mercifully with him. In his desperate estate, overcome by the holiness of God and repulsed by the vileness of his transgression, he repents of his sin and places his trust, loyalty, and hopes in Christ. It is the conviction brought by the Holy Spirit that makes him aware of his guilt. This awareness leads him to repentance, not the awareness of Hell. He realizes that the consequence for his rebellion is eternal judgment in the lake of fire, and that it is a judgment he deserves. Still, he cries out that God would deal mercifully towards him, confesses his sins, and then trusts that God will be “faithful and just to forgive” him of his sins (1 John 1:9). Upon falling at the feet of Jesus, grace is found, sins are forgiven, and true life begins.
Hell and The Call to Salvation
While it is important that we as believers share with others the reality of Hell, a person can be truly saved without the mention of Hell. However, it is impossible for a person to be truly saved without the confession of sin. Being saved from Hell requires no admission of guilt, but terror of the world beyond. Being saved from sin requires that a person not only recognizes his guilt, but that this recognition would lead to a confession, and ultimately a life that appreciates the forgiveness found in Jesus. A person who seeks to be saved from Hell is more concerned about saving himself from eternal torment. A person who is saved from sin is more concerned about offending Christ and the desire of enjoying His presence forever.
In the distinction between the two methods of sharing the Gospel (i.e. being saved from Hell or saved from sin), you will find two differing types of disciples, those who live like they are going to Hell because they believed they have been saved from Hell and those who live their lives meekly and humbly because they know that even though they deserve Hell, “The wrath of God was satisfied; for every sin on Him (Jesus) was laid (In Christ Alone).” A call to salvation is not a response to escape Hell, but a deliverance from the reason for which Hell exists—our sinful rebellion.
The hymn “Joy to the World,” published by Isaac Watts in 1719, is one of my favorites. But it’s not my favorite Christmas song—because it is not a Christmas song at all. The hymn is instead based on Psalm 98 and conceived by Watts as a proleptic anticipation of the premillennial Second Coming of Christ. The song details the arrival of Christ in glory as the Millennial ruler (vv. 1–2), highlights his sovereign power to remedy the meteorological, geological, and agricultural deficiencies of the physical earth in the aftermath of Adam’s curse (vv. 2–3), and exults in the mass conversion of both Israel and the nations at the close of the present age (v. 4).
Soon after Watts wrote the song (and perhaps in part because Watts wrote the song in the present tense), it was adopted by postmillennialists and reinterpreted as a hymn about the first advent of Christ. When Christ came to earth 2000 years ago, it was supposed, he established a kingdom in seed form that would gradually grow to envelope the whole world as its residents collectively began to “receive” him. After the demise of postmillennialism around the turn of the century, various proponents of realized eschatology adapted this second vision of the hymn, reconceiving the hymn further as one about Christ’s ongoing lordship over every sphere of life.
In truth, the spheres of life that Watts mentions have little to do with present realities. The rocks and hills do not shout for joy today, but groan in anticipation of the Resurrection (Rom 8:22–23); thorns not only continue to “infest the ground,” but served during the first advent as instruments of torture against our Lord; and the nations are surely doing a poor job today of “proving the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”
But all this will one day change—and we glory in the prospect. So perhaps it is not so irresponsible of us to sing the song during this season. It is, after all, the grand conclusion of Christ’s work on earth that was so humbly set in motion those many years ago. I will gladly sing the song with anyone who asks me to do so during this festive season. But I for one will be looking forward in history as I sing and not backward. Even so come, Lord Jesus.
“The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts. They are without error or defect of any kind.” Thus reads Biola University’s (and Talbot School of Theology’s) Articles of Faith—a document that remains unchanged since it was written shortly after the turn of the century. As the Dean of Talbot and as one who has been on the faculty for 27 years, I can say that this is a conviction that runs very deep in our faculty. We believe that the Bible is the Word of God and, as such, is truthful in what it affirms and can be completely trusted.
The journey into the ‘interpretive perspective’ of the biblical authors: A conversation with Dr. James M. Hamilton Jr.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, James M. Hamilton Jr., associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, discusses his new book, What Is Biblical Theology?, with Towers book review editor Matt Damico. A brief review of the book can be found here.
MD: Why did you write this book?
JH: I wrote the book because I perceive that there’s a general interest in biblical theology but a lack of clarity on what it is. So, if you ask someone, “What is biblical theology?” the answer is likely to trail on for several minutes. And I wanted to come up with a way to say what biblical theology is that could be put into one phrase and articulated cleanly, crisply and hopefully clearly so people could really get their hands around it, lock in on it and understand it.
MD: For whom did you write this book?
JH: I wrote it for anyone who’s interested in the Bible, whether that’s a housemaid or a professor who’s in another discipline, or maybe it’s a professor who’s in biblical studies and he wants to know exactly what biblical theology is. Anyone who can read, I hope, can read and appreciate what’s in this book. I hope people will always be growing in their understanding of Scripture and in their ability to interpret what’s going on in the Bible.
MD: What is biblical theology?
JH: In my opinion, biblical theology is the attempt to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors.
MD: What do you mean by “interpretive perspective”?
JH: By “interpretive perspective,” I mean this shared set of assumptions and notions that are taken for granted when one communicator speaks to an audience or when a writer communicates for someone to read. For instance, in our culture, if we start talking about this football game that’s going to happen with a lot of commercials, and it’s going to be the N.F.L. championship, everyone knows we’re talking about the Super Bowl because the Super Bowl so pervades our culture. You don’t even need to explain the relationship between commercials and the Super Bowl; it’s just information that saturates our society. And, what I’m trying to draw attention to is the way that there are many truths and many ideas that saturated the world of the biblical authors, things that they took for granted, and things that, if we don’t understand what they’re talking about, it’s going to be very difficult to understand what they’re saying in their books.
MD: If this perspective is 2,000 years old, why should we try to get back there?
JH: We should try to get back to this perspective because God, by his Spirit, inspired these authors to communicate these truths within the context of this story and with these assumptions that they make. So, there are some people who want to argue that some of those assumptions the biblical authors make are actually wrong. This is in some ways the gist of Peter Enns’ argument, that people like Paul the apostle have assumed mythology that is false and incorrect and, therefore, you cannot understand the Bible. But I would argue that God so worked in the inspiration of the Scriptures that anything the biblical authors thought that was mistaken was not brought to bear on what they were writing. So God superintended the process, and as they wrote they were borne along by the Holy Spirit, and what they’ve communicated and what their writings reflect is all true and good for us. So, this is what we need to know and understand in order to be saved and in order to live lives that are pleasing to God.
MD: How does an average Bible reader adopt this interpretive perspective?
JH: The most important thing anyone should do in trying to become a biblical theologian is simply read the Bible a lot. Constantly immerse yourself in the Scriptures. And as you do this, if you read the Bible from a believing perspective, the assumptions the biblical authors make will begin to become your assumptions. And, if you’re reading it prayerfully, submissively, humbly and asking the Lord to renew your mind, you’ll begin to look at the world the way the biblical authors do. It will happen instinctively, even in situations where you might not expect it to.
For instance, when I lived in Houston, our next-door neighbors went to Lakewood Church, where Joel Osteen is the pastor. My next-door neighbor was a Christian, and he said to me one day, seeming like he had come to a profound conclusion, “You know, the Bible has good news, but there’s bad news in there, too.” He felt the need to articulate that because the Spirit had worked in his heart and because he was approaching the Scriptures humbly and submissively. Even though only one side of it was being emphasized where he went to church, he was able to see there’s more to this story than what he was being told. So, I say just read the Bible.
MD: How has your background as an English major influenced how you read and
JH: Well, at one level, being an English major could be a detriment because of the range of ways people are taught to read. But, by God’s grace, influences on me have pushed me to the view that we should try to read to understand what the authors intended to communicate. So, in other words, we should pursue the intent of the author of this text. And, from that perspective, having read a lot of literature and having seen the way stories work in fiction or the way poetry works, I think all of that is like being a baseball player who runs track in the offseason to try to gain speed, or being a football player who does ballet to try to increase his balance and his core abilities. What these things do is hone and strengthen and sharpen your capacities. And hopefully the exposure to other kinds of stories helps me to see the way authors portray things and help me to understand the way stories work. So, hopefully there’s a well-roundedness to reading that has come from other literature.
I would also say that the best authors in the western literary tradition are the authors who best imitate the biblical authors. For instance, in a book like James Joyce’s Ulysses, I think he’s imitating the big, ramshackle, connected — though not on the surface — narrative of the whole Bible. And who is more revered in terms of English literary figures than James Joyce? And what I think he’s trying to do is what the biblical authors have done.
MD: What role do the non-narrative books play in the Bible’s big story?
JH: I think what you have in the narratives is the basic storyline, and then in the poetry and in the wisdom, you have poetic commentary on that storyline. So it would be wrong, in my view, to read the book of Proverbs, for instance, as this sort of abstract wisdom that comes down from on high. Much better to look at, for instance, the book of Deuteronomy, where fathers are commanded to teach the Torah to their sons, and then come to the book of Proverbs where this father is saying, “Hear, my son your father’s instruction” — and often that word “instruction” reflects the word “Torah” — so essentially what the father in Proverbs, whom I take to be Solomon for the most part, is doing is teaching the Torah to his son in obedience to Deuteronomy 6.
It’s the same with things like the Psalms. These are not abstract installments in the world’s poetic register, these are summaries and interpretations of the stories that we find in the narrative.
MD: Where does biblical theology fit among the other theological disciplines?
JH: I prefer to think about the disciplines — whether we’re talking about exegesis or systematic theology or historical theology or whatever — as tools that we use the same way I would use tools to work on my lawn.
So, for instance, I have a riding lawnmower, and I have a weed eater, and I have a rake, a shovel, a hoe, trash bags, trash cans and I have all these different tools – and as we try to do the work of the ministry, as we try to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and bring everyone up to the measure of the stature of Christ, we want to bring all these tools to bear in their understanding of the Scriptures and their knowledge of God.
So I don’t think of a process where you go from exegesis to biblical theology to systematic theology. I think it’s better to come at it like, well, if I’m just doing biblical interpretation, I’m going to use the lawnmower – exegesis – to cut the grass, and then if I want to do some real deep digging and plant a tree, I’m going to use systematic theology for that, and then if I want to somehow put the whole thing together and get all the edges right, I might get the weed eater out and use that tool, which in this analogy would be biblical theology, to bring everything into line. So, I think it’s best to think of them that way rather than think of them in a process, at least that’s what I prefer.
What role does biblical theology play in your preaching?
JH: Well, I tend to think most in terms of biblical theology. So, connected to the previous answer, some people speak as though they want to start as a text critic, then become an exegete, then become a biblical theologian and then some day, at the end of their life, they’ll be a systematic theologian. I don’t have that goal. I don’t see myself ever really thinking the way systematic theologians think, and I don’t see myself wanting to approach questions the way systematic theologians approach questions. Nothing against systematic theologians, I’m grateful for what they do, I’m thankful they have the background that I don’t have in philosophy and other ways of thinking about knowledge, but I would prefer to think in terms of the Bible’s story. And I would prefer to think in terms of the way the biblical authors are thinking about the questions they face.
So, basically, when I’m preaching, for the most part I’m doing biblical theology. I’m approaching the text, or trying to, from a perspective that’s sympathetic to what the author is saying and then I’m trying to exposit the text from that perspective.
MD: What’s your next project?
JH: Right now I’m working to finish a book on the theology of Daniel. Then, Lord willing, when I have that done, I’ll continue to work on an ongoing project on the Gospel of John and then, eventually, I have a contract signed to do a commentary on the book of Psalms from a biblical theological perspective.
by Kirk Spencer
The other night, I was checking doors before I went to bed. All the doors were locked and the lights were off. I made my way through the dark house, to each bedroom to check on my kids, to stand in the doorway, to walk to their side, stand over them and catch a glimpse of that most peaceful thing in all the world—a child’s face in peaceful sleep. But this night my youngest was not in his bed… So I went looking for him. I found him asleep on the futon upstairs. The stairs creak, and at the top there is a loose board that pops. My son half-opened his eyes and looked at me, still mostly asleep. For just a moment, it was as if I was looking through his eyes, at my father who would come looking for me too. I remembered the feel of his arms around me. His sharp whiskers on my cheek. His aftershave. Carrying me from the backseat, or living room floor, or the course rug just outside his closed bedroom door—carrying me back to bed. As a child, I just assumed that was what all fathers did: They find their children and carry them to where they need to go. Somewhere softer and safer.
Skeptics make much of how similar the beginning of the Bible is to certain ancient Near Eastern texts. And there are similarities, at times… But here is one very important and different difference: In the pagan stories, we were created by warring gods, from their blood, to be their slaves; however, in the Bible we are created in peace, with the breath of our Creator, who made the world as a place to be with us. God is with us, “Immanuel.”
And this difference is something to think of in this Advent season. God made a place for us, came to live in it with us (and now even in us)—and one day He will come back for us and carry us somewhere softer and safer.
My Beloved created me for the display of His glory through a relationship with me. He created me in love, He redeemed me in love, and He pursued me in love. Because He first loved me, I loved Him. Our relationship was consummated. He “knew” me the same way Adam “knew” Eve. For a time I was moving toward loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Early on, He introduced me to Blessings. He introduced me to Blessings (family, status, prosperity, etc.) as an expression of love toward me. Blessings was exciting and attractive.
Over time I spent less and less time abiding with Beloved. Self became my greater love. Not abiding left me plenty of time for daydreaming. My thoughts increasingly turned to Blessings. Finally, I acted on the temptation. I slipped around behind Beloved and started an affair with Blessings.
I had no interest in a divorce so I tried to keep up both relationships. I grudgingly gave money to Beloved, but I lavished gifts on my illicit lover. I served Beloved to keep up appearances, but it always felt like a duty. At the same time, making any sacrifice for my secret lover was a delight.
Mostly out of guilt, I tried to be amorous to my Beloved. But He saw through my deception and said my lukewarm love made Him sick to His stomach.
Increasingly, the affair began to resemble a handful of cotton candy. It appeared sweet, but when you squeezed your hand, there was nothing there. My emptiness grew.
Finally, the Spirit of my Beloved made the preaching and teaching of His Words come alive. Suddenly I could see my Beloved, not as our church mascot, but as the Monarch of the universe. As I knelt in awe of His power and majesty, I also got a new glimpse of the depth of His love for me. I celebrated the power of the gospel that had rescued me from a wretched life on earth and for eternity.
Now I could see the horror of my condition. As an expression of His infinite love, my glorious Beloved had introduced me to Blessings. Then, in order to satisfy Self, I gave my chief affections to the gifts rather than the Giver.
I went to my Beloved and confessed everything. I held back no detail of what I had done. He took me to the cross, where He had first redeemed me. Infinite grace flowing from His sacrifice washed away my adultery. He lifted me from the ground, looked deeply into my eyes, and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Things were a bit awkward at first. But increasingly I feel as if my Beloved and I are starting on a second honeymoon. I am learning to be intimate all over again. Not only do I spend luxurious time enjoying and adoring Him in the early morning, but now I am chatting and abiding in Him all day long. He now is the one who makes my heart beat fast. He now receives my extravagant gifts. He now is the topic of conversation when I am with those who do not know Him as well as with those who do. In fact, my adoration of Him makes me long for His adoration among all peoples. Even dying for Him would be my highest honor. I am His and He is mine forever.
A couple days ago I was reading Ephesians 1 in Greek during my morning Bible-reading time. As I read, I was drawn to two phrases that are clearly present in Greek but are often eliminated in English. The two expressions that get removed are “into him” (εἰς αὐτόν) in the middle of verse 5 and (“in him”) (ἐν αὐτῷ) at the end of verse 10. Presumably these expressions get cut because they are deemed unnecessarily repetitive.
Near the end of his life, the pioneer American missionary, Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), returned to America for the first time since he departed nearly 35 years prior. The twice–widowed Judson along with his children came in need of recuperation and rest and were welcomed with virtual celebrity status all along the Eastern seaboard. Instead of rest, Judson was shuttled from meeting to meeting speaking to churches both north and south.During his stay, Judson met and married his third wife, secured care for his children and prepared to return to his Burmese home to finish the gospel work he started. Before leaving America, he gave a parting address on June 30, 1846. Surrounded by a new generation of church leaders and senders of missionaries who were not present when he left in 1812, Judson indicated he felt out of place. Yet, this did not deter him from challenging his audience to take up the mantle and press forward.
Judson’s self-portrait here actually describes quite well his lifelong courageous perseverance in the missionary task and in one way calls to mind the Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 16:13 for believers to “act like men.”
At the start of the address he likened himself to “a steersman in a storm” who “must keep a steady eye to the compass and a strong arm at the wheel.” Judson’s self-portrait here actually describes quite well his lifelong courageous perseverance in the missionary task and in one way calls to mind the Apostle Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 16:13 for believers to “act like men.”
This three–word phrase “act like men” in English actually comes from a single Greek word and thus can also be translated as “be courageous.” Standing the midst of four other commands that convey a military theme, Paul is directing the believers how to live as spiritual warriors (see also Eph 6). To “act like men” is a call to an offensive maneuver prompting the believer to engage not as fearful children but rather as courageous men. Judson’s life very much is a testimony to this type of courageous engagement, and it is there we see a fitting model of biblical manhood though not exactly in all the ways one might expect.
The pairing of courage and manhood is a natural one for which even those not viewing the world through biblical spectacles can resonate. Yet, biblical courage is distinct and more defined than a typical rendering of a simple self-sacrificial action or standing to speak when everyone else is silent. To be sure, biblical courage contains these noble feats but is also marked by acts that are less visible. Noah’s ark-constructing obedience to God in the midst of an age of great defiance (Lk 17:27) was courageous, but so was Job’s private covenant he made with his eyes (Job 31:1). Stephen preaching and falling before Saul of Tarsus was brave (Acts 7), but so was the steadfast intercession of Epaphras on behalf of the Colossians (Col 4:12). Biblical courage manifests itself in forms both visible and invisible, arrives on the biggest stages of cataclysmic events and resides in the quiet decisions of the mind. But the call to “act like men” is ever present and requires the gift of supernatural vigilance from the Spirit of God, a gift that Judson received in droves. While much is known of Judson’s remarkable courage in the face of deep tragedy, personal loss, and physical trial, here are two examples from Judson’s life of his display of significant, biblical courage in less visible areas:
- Adoniram Judson helped form the first missions sending agency in American history. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions arose out of a network of New England Congregationalist churches of which Judson’s father was a pastor. However, while en route to Asia, Judson became convinced that the practice of infant baptism by those churches did not fit with what he came to see as clear teaching from the Bible on the matter. Thus, when and his wife arrived in India, he sent word that he could no longer serve in good conscience with the very mission board he helped found and on whose financial support he depended. When the Judsons joined the Baptists, they did so without any clear path of financial security or even a plan to carry out their missionary task. He cut off the only lifeline he had and trusted the Lord to provide. Judson could have asked for a short-term provision from the ABCFM until they landed on their feet or arrived at their destination. He also could have downplayed the issue as a mere ecclesiological variance, not a major departure of doctrine. But, here Judson’s biblical courage appeared as he moved forward by faith in his new-found convictions even though, like Abraham, “he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8).
- In 1832, Judson responded to an inquiry from the States to provide his advice to those considering missionary service. In his seventh of ten provisos, he stated, “Beware of pride; not the pride of proud men, but the pride of humble men–the secret pride which is apt to grow out of the consciousness that we are esteemed by the great and good.” Judson knew that survival on the mission field did not solely come at hands of physical health, wise diplomacy, and dogged commitment to the task. Here he spoke of another internal battle just as draining and every bit as dangerous. For even though the missionary may walk at the ends of the earth, he can neither escape the Spirit of God (Ps 139:9) or the prowling adversary (1 Pet 5:8). To serve with faithfulness in that place requires the biblical courage of self-control and the hunting down and harvesting of sins, like pride, that can easily entangle (1 Pet 2:24).
In that 1846 parting address to the next generation, Judson reminded, “The obligation, therefore, on the present generation, to redeem the pledge given by their fathers, is greatly enhanced. … Look forward with the eye of faith.” The missionary father was pointing a way to the future, and his life and legacy left a model of steadfast biblical courage. Like a steady steersman in a storm, Judson was calling the next generation to “act like men” both in visible displays of timely heroism and perseverance as well as in the less visible but still vital battles of the mind and heart.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on the blog for The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).
*Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwritter and author based in Nashville, Tenn. You can learn more about his music and books at Andrew-Peterson.com
How did you come to weave stories into the music you write differently from other contemporary Christian music artists?
There’s an earthiness in the songs that I loved when I first started writing. I listened to James Taylor, Marc Cohn and Paul Simon — guys like that, whose lyrics drew me in with stories, with little details that got my attention and grounded the song in real life. It wasn’t until I heard Rich Mullins that I realized you could write about the Bible in the same way. Sometimes there’s a temptation for a song to stay up in the clouds somewhere, to generalize the content for the sake of mass appeal. But I’d rather try and write a song that’s incarnational, something that brings the heavens down to earth, where people can look it in the eye.
What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?
Well, for most of the last 14 years, my Christmas tradition has been to collapse. A group of friends and I do a Christmas tour every year (called Behold the Lamb of God), which is usually about 18 shows every December. By the time I get home, I’m walloped. When I get home I do a lot of sitting around, recovering with my family, a lot of crying during It’s a Wonderful Life and a lot of eating. Sick or not, I’m happy as a jolly old elf.
What can we expect from you in 2014?
I’m finishing The Warden and the Wolf King, the final book in the Wingfeather Saga, to be released in April of 2014. It’s a project that’s been nearly ten years in the making, and I’m so pumped to finally finish this story. After that, I’ll turn my attention to my next album, which will probably be about the resurrection of Jesus.
One of the lingering questions I have about Wellum & Gentry’s (W&G) remarkable book Kingdom through Covenant has to do with their view of Rom 9–11. They argue that Rom 9–11 promises the future salvation of a lot of ethnic Jews (see 501; also their response to Darrell Bock here). On this point, among many others, I entirely agree. What I’m not quite sure about, however, is why W&G think Paul holds out this promise for his kinsmen according to the flesh. After all, in W&G’s metanarrative Israel (comprised of ethnic Jews) is simply a type which Jesus fulfills, just like David, Abraham, Noah and Adam were. Why then does Paul show so much interest in Rom 9–11 in the future of an already-fulfilled type? It would be like Paul maintaining a place for Levitical sacrifices after Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. (Let this one slide TD brothers!) I’ve tried to probe around for an answer—even chasing down a few progressive-covenantal friends at ETS a few weeks back—and, as yet, I’ve not found an answer. I think one is possible, but, before I propose it, let me offer one that is not.
A Wrong Turn. Perhaps W&G would argue that Paul holds out hope for ethnic Jews based on the fact that their typological role plays such a fundamental part in the Bible’s story. Israel was, after all, the family through whom the antitype’s lineage was traced (Rom 9:4–5). What this explanation fails to take on board, however, is the “mustness” of Jewish salvation in Rom 9–11. It’s not simply that God has decided to be merciful to ethnic Jews, even though their typological role has expired. Rather, Paul seems to suggest that if God didn’t save Jews—a lot of them—then his word, his promise, would fail. There is for Paul, in other words, a Scriptural obligation that requires Jewish inclusion in God’s new covenant people. What else are we to make of Rom 9:6, 11:28–29 and, especially, of Paul’s citation of Isaiah (Isa 59:20–21; 27:9) and Jeremiah (Jer 31:33) in Rom 11:26? In this case, the future salvation of a large number of Jews—which W&G acknowledge—is said to be according to Scripture. “All Israel will be saved,” Paul says, “just as it is written.” If all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ in the way W&G could be read to suggest (see, e.g., 690), then Paul has misread his Bible and is wasting his energy.
A Way Forward? A more plausible solution would be to say that Israel’s mediatorial role—her role as God’s son (Exod 4:22–23) and priest (Exod 19:5–6)—was typological and, therefore, fulfilled by Jesus, but that her promised experience of restoration—her experience of salvation—was not. And, it is these promises that underlie Paul’s argument in Rom 9–11. (For possible hints in this direction, see, e.g., 604 and 707). Perhaps W&G could even appeal to Isa 49:1–6 where the Servant takes on/over Israel’s mediatorial role and mediates blessing to the world, while also bringing Israel back from exile. I think this may be their most plausible option. But, we’ll have to wait and see to know for sure.
Southern Seminary students and faculty of contemporary times understand the temporary reprieve that comes at the end of the fall semester, perhaps using the extended Christmas break to travel and visit family or catch up on personal reading and research. The campus is a virtual ghost town in the days leading up to and following Christmas. This was not always so.
One hundred years ago, in 1913, the campus was in the heart of bustling downtown Louisville, Ky., and students were three full weeks into their second quarter. It was the custom for many years not to break for winter holidays, instead offering a prolonged summer vacation of four months, an “opportunity for the students to engage in colportage [selling Bibles] and missionary work.”1 A report from 1893 relates that “a few among [the seminary students] tore away to sit again around Christmas fires … but the larger proportion of students held closely to their work, as though nothing unusual was happening.”2 Not until 1917 did the seminary’s leadership add a two-day break for Christmas.
With most students on campus on Christmas day, the New York Hall dormitory and Norton Hall classrooms would have been buzzing. The seminary community was nearing capacity and plans for a new campus were already in motion. Students living in New York Hall might have found comfort in the steam-heated facilities, but the downtown area in general was plagued by soot and smoke. President Mullins had already moved his family to an eastern suburb out of concern for his wife’s health.3
Students with a full slate of classes would have started their Christmas feast with a helping of Hebrew, courtesy of William McGlothlin (beginning) or John R. Sampey (advanced), followed by New Testament with A.T. Robertson or missions with William O. Carver. At 10:30, during the usual chapel time, the campus was undoubtedly nourished with a special time of worship and celebration. A four-course meal followed: church history with McGlothlin, homiletics with Charles Spurgeon Gardner or biblical introduction with George Eager, Sunday school pedagogy with Byron DeMent, capped by a special treat of systematic theology with president E.Y. Mullins, working through chapters six through nine of James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology (Kerfoot revision, 1899).4
Gaines Dobbins, who had graduated with his master of theology degree in May of 1913, was hard at work on his doctor of theology dissertation, Southern Baptist Journalism. He may have spent some of his Yule time reading and writing in the Memorial Library at Fifth & Broadway. He graduated the following May, then served as editor of the SBC’s Home and Foreign Fields periodical before returning to Southern Seminary in 1920 to teach church efficiency and Sunday school pedagogy. Dobbins helped to manage the seminary’s debt during the Great Depression, served as interim president, 1950-51, retired in 1956, then returned at the age of 90 to give lectures at Boyce College in 1975-76. He is credited with pioneering the study of church growth in the SBC.5
Unfortunately, some of the mystery of Christmas was lost on the seminary’s more progressive professors; Carver was chief among them. In 1913, American novelistWinston Churchill published Inside of the Cup, a criticism of church corruption drawing its name from Matthew 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Among other ideas, the book had a particular obsession with refuting the virgin birth.
Carver penned a response in which he at first condemned Churchill’s “violent opposition,” but then conceded, “As a dogma I would, perhaps, care no more for the virgin birth than would Mr. Churchill. As an explanation and a proof of the divinity of the Lord it is both insufficient and needless.” Carver doubted the veracity of the biblical accounts, explaining that they were probably “wrought into the text” at a later time. Carver nonetheless insisted on his belief in the virgin birth, if only as a matter of inspired historical tradition.6
A more lasting and significant legacy of that winter came via the work of A.T. Robertson, who was putting the meticulous final touches on his widely influential, Grammar of the Greek New Testament (1914). His manuscript measured three feet tall. The enormity and complexity of the task drove Robertson’s publisher to insist that he pay for the typesetting, a huge sum that nearly drove him to bankruptcy, until George Norton and E.Y. Mullins stepped in to create a publishing endowment on his behalf.7 The seminary recently recognized Robertson’s 150th birthday (Nov. 6) and his contribution to the study of Greek, a blessed fruit borne out of the studious Christmas of 1913.
1 Seminary Catalog, 1912-1913.
2 Southern Seminary Magazine, January 1893.
3 Greg Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009, p. 302.
4 Seminary Catalog, 1913-1914.
6 Review & Expositor, April 1914, pp. 290-295.
7 Wills, 268-270.
by Winston Hottman
At a recent fundraiser, President Obama claimed that he is not a “particularly ideological person.” Though passionate about particular issues, he claimed that he is “pretty pragmatic as to how we get it.”
I agree with the president’s sentiments about ideology and the need for a pragmatic approach to politics. If only he didn’t contradict himself moments later:
“The biggest barrier and impediment we have right now is the Congress, and in particular the House of Representatives, that is not focused on getting the job done for the American people and is a lot more focused on trying to position themselves for the next election.”
In a decidedly non-pragmatic approach, the president castigates Congress (presumably Republicans) for impeding the nation’s progress. What does this progress look like? I think it’s safe to assume he’s referencing the administration’s vision for what is good for the country. But somehow that’s not ideology…
Of course, this is just politics as usual. Ad hominems and character assassinations are part and parcel of the game. The president’s comments are certainly not unique to him. Maligning the activities of opponents as nothing more than electioneering is an accusation you’ll hear from all ends of the political spectrum. As with any situation where civility and meaningful dialogue are absent, comments like those above only serve to incite and shut down open, honest conversation. But there is something more dangerous in statements like these. Let me explain.
The genius of the American system of government is the checks and balances inherent to it. For the past two hundred years, these checks have created a balance of power between competing visions for the nation that have prevented any single ideology from tyrannizing. In this system no single ideology – whether of an individual, administration, or party – has been able to completely run the show. People with different opinions of what is best for America eventually have to compromise and strike an agreement as how to proceed. The balance of power has necessitated a pragmatic approach to politics.
The president’s statements not only cloud the nature of the conflict between the administration and much of Congress as a clash of competing ideologies but can potentially denigrate the balance of power that has helped to protect the country. The implication of his statements is that his administration knows what’s best for the nation, and if the pesky Congress would just get out of the way the American people would be a lot better off.
Obviously, the president isn’t saying that the dissolution of our system of checks and balances is desirable. But statements like those above can have the unintended consequence of portraying our balance of power as an impediment to progress, a debilitating side effect of an otherwise commendable system of government. Such statements easily resonate in a society that is accustomed to and prizes efficiency. But there are more important values than efficiency.
Perhaps, in a system like ours, we do end up missing out on some policies that would be good for the nation. And sure, sometimes political wrangling gets bad enough that we have to shut down the government for a few days. And admittedly, the mud-slinging and name-calling of Capitol Hill can be pretty pathetic at times. But it’s unavoidable in any context where men and women are jostling for power.
Despite all its weaknesses, we need to be reminded that the jostling is something for which we can be thankful. Our system of checks and balances is something to be celebrated rather than bemoaned. The last thing we need is a president, or Congressman, or judge, or any other ideological social planner – whether conservative or liberal or anything in between – given free rein to pursue a vision for this country.
As Christians, we should never approve the lack of civility and honest dialogue of modern politics, much less participate in it. But we can affirm a system of government that is aware of the nature and limitations of humanity and the dangers inherent to power, especially when one person or group has too much of it. A biblical view of humanity demands us to distrust any human ideology that would attempt to stand above critique and revision.
A couple years back my wife Rolane and I visited ten of our wonderful Midwest Talbot alumni. What a joy to see them all thriving, finding God faithful, and knowing days of effective and challenging ministry. While we were in the area, we took the opportunity to visit my hometown of Hospers, Iowa and spent a little time with my cousins living there. Some of them I hadn’t been with in over 30 years - so long that we all wore nametags to keep from getting confused!
While I only spent the first seventeen years of my life on the farm, it played a significant role in who I am today. In going back home, certain impressions left their mark on my mind and heart. Let me elaborate ...
Recently, the New York Times ran an article citing scientific evidence that demonstrated that attending church is good for your health. The study revealed that people who regularly attend church, on average, live two to three years longer than non-attenders. This was one of a number of studies recently with similar results.
Perhaps it is this realization that has led to a recent phenomenon of Godless churches. Originally created by British comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, a new international movement of atheists and agnostics, called Sunday Assembly, is gaining popularity. Some have dubbed it, the “Atheist Megachurch.”
The Sunday Assembly began as an attempt to recreate the church experience, minus a belief in God. The Assembly, which began in London, has now spread to New York City and Melbourne, Australia, with 18 other openings planned by year’s end.
The organization is planning their first event in Dallas on December 8, 2013.
On their website, they define themselves as “a godless congregation that celebrate [sic] life.” They further explain,
“Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more.
Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential.
Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.”
Attenders seek such benefits as “a sense of community,” “a thought-provoking (secular) sermon,” “group singing” and an “ethos of self-improvement,” exemplified by the motto “live better, help often, wonder more,” and they hope that eventually Sunday Assembly will organize Sunday school, weddings, funerals and “non-religious baptisms.”
My first thought about Godless churches is that I don’t think this idea is all that novel. I think Godless churches have existed for a long time. Some just don’t practice honesty in advertising.
My second thought is … Why? Everything of God that the world tries to replicate is ultimately empty and powerless! Remember Dagon? The severed head and disembodied hands of a false deity prostrate before the Ark of God were poignant reminders of how God views godlessness.
When we take God out of the family, it leads to broken homes, rising crime rates, sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality, along with cataclysmic increases in abortion and suicide. When we dislodge God from marriage, homosexual unions masquerading as the institution God created erupt. When we remove God from our entertainment, profanity and immorality clutters our airwaves. When we extricate God from our schools, violence increases to epidemic levels. When we ban God from our government and laws, moral decay escalates to such a level that cries out for divine judgment.
We know this. It’s happened on our watch.
I wonder what will happen when we take God out of church? It’s another institution God created from which He is being ripped away. It’s another term (like marriage) that God coined that is being conscripted for pagan use. To be sure, God is patient. But, He will not be mocked.
The Sunday Assembly may be Godless, but they’re not a church.
Christian hip hop artist Marcus “Flame” Gray, a 2012 graduate of Boyce College, released his seventh album, Royal Flush, earlier this year. In the following, the native of St. Louis, Mo., answers questions about the new album.
How does this album fit with your other albums?
Sonically, the album is a return to the raw hip hop element my core fans want from me. Heavy 808 drums, hard smacking snares, electrifying synthesizers — things that the Midwest and Southern regions of hip hop offer.
Theologically, I maintain the closed fist of truth that comes from the Bible, coupled with the practical advice and implications that my degree in Biblical counseling forces me to consider. The gospel message still dominates and informs my subject matters and conclusions. This is what my fan base has come to expect and appreciate about me. I’m honored to serve them with that consistency.
Overall, it’s a fun record. One of my best, in my humble opinion.
What was your inspiration in writing the song “Believe?”
The song reminds me of a brief creed or doctrinal statement. I wanted to affirm Christian orthodoxy. As I look at the trajectory of American and hip hop culture, I see a straying away from and a lack of tolerance for New Testament Christianity. The temptation is to tweak the gospel message so as to remove the offense. I realize that our faith is countercultural in many ways and can be offensive. However, without adding to the offense, I believe it’s necessary to encourage the body of Christ to stand firm and to be bold about declaring the truths of the gospel. As long as we communicate with love, gentleness and respect, we can say hard things to people and let the Holy Spirit do the persuading. People are really resonating with it.
What do you hope your listeners take away from your new album?
My hope is that 2 Peter 1:3 would become further realized in each person’s life and practices (including mine) as he or she repetitively listens to the album. I want people to leave with the understanding that in Christ, God has set us up to win. He’s given us the highest hand. He has equipped us to live a holy and successful Christian life in every area.
I’m finding myself somewhere between pity and embarrassment as I watch otherwise respectable middle-aged white men tripping over one another to be first in line insisting that they’re not racist because they’re OK with Reformed Rap and Holy Hip-Hop as valid worship forms. Not everyone is riding the wave (see esp. Darryl Hart’s comments here), but I’m definitely feeling inundated right now. How did we get here? Let me suggest three culprits:
- Evangelicalism: In one sense I am forced to concede that I am an evangelical, because I affirm tenaciously the central tenets of the Gospel. But while evangelicalism is ever concerned about the practical success of the Gospel, the movement has never really been about the “central tenets” of anything (indeed, the admission standards to the Evangelical Theological Society have absolutely nothing to do with the evangel). Evangelicals place primary concern on horizontal interests (how to successfully connect with the people we need to reach and the people we need to keep). Whether people are properly catechized to live and worship in the right way is secondary to whether they are being touched by the Gospel.
- Neo-Kuyperianism: There is nothing profane in culture, so everything in culture can and must be redeemed. We must eliminate explicitly sinful deeds, of course, but those are incidental intrusions into culture—the culture itself is a product of people in God’s image variously and creatively fulfilling the dominion mandate. Every culture is equally good or at the very least equally neutral. To affirm otherwise is racist, which is probably the worst possible label you can affix to an evangelical.
- Celebrity: Christianity is, to a greater or lesser degree, publicly performed by celebrated individuals and subsequently experienced by worshippers in the form of personal admiration, pleasure, and ecstatic experience. Though these experiences may be felt in a group setting, the experience itself is individual, not corporate.
Since I am not a card-carrying evangelical, am not a Neo-Kuyperian at all, and am contemptuous of celebrities, every possible reason for embracing Reformed Rap and Holy Hip-Hop as a worship form disappears for me. Note the following:
- Since I despise Christian celebrity, I cannot fathom how rap or hip-hop can find a place in public worship. At this point I am saying nothing about the credibility of the art forms in general, only that some forms are totally non-conducive to biblical worship (see, e.g., Eph 5:19; Col 3:16). Congregational rap does not and cannot exist. No rap exists other than celebrity rap.
- Since I reject Neo-Kuyperianism emphatically, I do not define culture as neutral people in God’s image variously and creatively fulfilling the dominion mandate in neutral ways. At the very root of every depraved human culture (no discrimination here) lie elemental principles and philosophies that are woven into the very fabric of its cultural expressions (Col 2:8, 20). I do believe in common grace, and thus that all people are not equally evil or as evil as they can possibly be, but the fact remains that common grace often functions more as a brake on a runaway train than as the track on which the train runs. As such, (1) some cultural expressions are so hopelessly interlaced with depraved assumptions and associations that they are irredeemable (eating meat in a cultic context); (2) others are so closely connected with depraved assumptions and associations that they should be politely declined (eating meat that is perceived by pagan community itself to be evil), and (3) still others must be eaten (eating meat after it has been successfully extricated from depraved assumptions and associations so as to be profitable for the cause of Christ) (1 Cor 8–10). From where I live in a semi-rural suburb of Ann Arbor, the cultural forms of rap and hip-hop hover somewhere between (1) and (2). It is possible that my evaluation is wrong and that the evaluation of my own particular pagan community is likewise wrong, but I do not see how the use of these media could ever be justified in my context.
- Since I do not self-identify primarily as an evangelical, my first question in matters of corporate worship is not a horizontal one (i.e., how can the gathered church successfully connect with the people it hopes to reach and the people it hopes to keep): a great many other questions precede this one, and none that impel me to use rap or hip-hop. That is not to say that I eschew evangelism or tear 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 from my Bible; however, (1) I do not see the context of this passage as one of worship, and (2) I find qualifications placed on the sentiment of this passage elsewhere in Scripture.
Is it possible that I am a self-deceived racist. I truly hope that this is not the case. I take solace in the fact that for 20 years I’ve been a fairly aggressive equal-opportunity critic (more so, I admit, than my colleagues, and at times more than has been wont—please see this as a personal reflection, not as an institutional one), and during those years my targets have overwhelmingly consisted of very white musical forms. In questioning the use of rap and hip-hop in worship I am not demeaning the race or tastes of those who embrace the forms, much less calling them “disobedient cowards” (which, by the way, was way out of line); instead, I am doing my best to make a biblically-informed judgment of the propriety of these forms in worship. And at the end of the day I don’t find a place for them.
The Pew Research Center released the results of a recent study on views of end of life medical treatment. Among the more interesting findings is how different faith groups view the morality of ending life. In an analysis of the findings, Christianity Today reports, “About a quarter of evangelicals believe that a person has a moral right to suicide if he or she is ready to die because living is now a burden, or if that person is an extremely heavy burden on his or her family.”
When the situation is escalated to an incurable disease, 36% of white evangelicals believe a person has a moral right to suicide. If the patient “is in a great deal of pain” with “no hope of improvement,” the percentage increases to 42%.
Should we be surprised by these increasing numbers? Is it concerning that growing percentages of evangelicals (and every other religious category) view suicide as a moral right?
When I was a seminary student, I took a class on the ethics of life and death. One of my classmates made a presentation asserting that he would rather take his life than live through a difficult disease. He based his conclusion on the words of Philippians 1:21,
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
My classmate rebuffed any attempts to be talked out of his view that his moral right—even his biblical right—was to take the supposed perspective of Paul and seek death in order to be united with Christ.
While the Pew Research Center did not equate the changing views of faith groups with the Pauline declaration of Philippians 1:21, I cannot help but think that is at least in the background. Is this what Paul meant? Did he really intend to encourage Christians to seek death over life in difficult circumstances?
Let’s take a moment and consider what was happening in Paul’s life.
In Phil 1:7, we see that Paul has been imprisoned. He is fighting for his own freedom (and possibly his life) in front of the Roman authorities. Even though Paul was a Roman citizen and may have spent some of his imprisonment in house arrest, the Roman authorities were still not known for making the lives of their prisoners as comfortable as possible. In fact, it is likely that Paul considered his own life to be at risk from the Roman government. His spirits are buoyed by the love and affection of the believers in Philippi (Phil 1:3–11), but life is still hard.
Taken out of context, Phil 1:21 seems to be Paul’s final desire for death in the face of his circumstances. But we need to take a closer look. He goes on to say, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose” (Phil 1:22). Verse 22 puts Paul’s struggle in context. He knows that if he continues living he will be fruitful spreading the gospel, but if his life ends he will be united with Christ. We then read the following:
But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. (Phil 1:23–26)
Paul sets aside his own personal desire to be united with Christ and sets his sights on living for the benefit of those he loves. He considers it to be more necessary that his sufferings continue for the sake of the Philippians so that they will progress in their faith.
Now let’s revisit the topic at hand. Do we have a moral right to suicide? The text most often employed to justify this right (Phil 1:21) actually compels us to continue living for the sake of others. No matter how bad the circumstances are, our suffering can be beneficial for the faith of others.
Suicide is often considered an escape from the pain of this world. No one desires to endure an extended bout with a terminal illness. No one wants to be a burden on family. However, claiming a moral right to suicide does not take into account the biblical understanding of the value of life and how persevering in terrible circumstances can build the faith of others and advance the gospel.
Pew Research Center, “Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatments,” November 21, 2013.
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “More Evangelicals Believe Suicide Is a Moral Right,” Christianity Today, November 21, 2013.
The text-driven preacher must recognize that there are four basic types of meaning conveyed in every text and context: referential, situational, structural and semantic. Referential meaning is that which is being talked about; the subject matter of a text. Situational meaning is information pertaining to the participants in a communication act; matters of environment, social status, etc. Structural meaning has to do with the arrangement of the information in the text itself; the grammar and syntax of a text. Semantics has to do with the structure of meaning and is in some sense the confluence of referential, situational and structural meaning.1
Most of us are trained to observe structural meaning. We are intuitively aware of referential meaning and situational meaning, but we often fail to observe the semantic structure of a text. The text-driven preacher will want to analyze carefully each one of these aspects of meaning for a given text. For example, it is important to observe the situational (social) meaning expressed in Genesis 18 in the dialogue between God and Abraham regarding the destruction of the city of Sodom. One must pay attention to the way the Hebrew text references God and Abraham. Notice at the end of the scene we are told by the narrator, Moses: “So the Lord went his way as soon as he had finished speaking with Abraham” (Gen 18:33). We are not told the Lord went His way when Abraham finished speaking to the Lord, but the other way around, because God is the most important figure in the dialogue. The narrator here and throughout Genesis carefully conveys the social status of the various interlocutors in a given dialogue or narrative by means of linguistic clues.
We are intuitively aware of referential meaning and situational meaning, but we often fail to observe the semantic structure of a text.
John 1:1 furnishes an example of the importance of lexical meaning at the semantic level. Notice the threefold use of eimi, “was,” in this verse. Here a single verb in its three occurrences actually conveys three different meanings: (1) “In the beginning was the Word,” (where eimi, “was,” means “to exist”); (2) “and the Word was with God,” (where eimi followed by the preposition “with” conveys the meaning “to be in a place”); (3) “and the Word was God,” (where eimi conveys the meaning “membership in a class: Godhood).2 Notice also in John 1:1 that logos, “word,” occurs in the predicate position in the first clause but is in the subject position in the second clause. In the third clause there is again a reversal of the order creating a chiasmus: theos, “God,” is placed before the verb creating emphasis on the deity of the “Word.”3 Lexical meaning is not only inherent in words themselves but is determined by their relationship to other words in context.
A knowledge of a text’s situational meaning is vital for the preacher because meaning does not simply reside in the words of a text themselves and their structural relations but in the total context in which an author uses them. Take, for example, the words of Tom Sawyer in the episode where Tom was told by his aunt Polly to whitewash a fence on a Saturday, a day Tom would much rather spend in play.4 On the surface, his statements appear to be descriptive of his genuine feelings about whitewashing the fence. In reality, Tom is engaging in a bit of trickery to persuade his friends to want to do the job for him so he himself can get out of the chore. The surface structure meaning in this text is actually just the opposite of the intent of Tom: the purpose of his statements in the text is not to communicate how wonderful it is to be able to whitewash a fence. Rather, his purpose is to extricate himself from work by means of verbal trickery and reverse psychology in an attempt to persuade others to want to do the job themselves so he will not have to do it.5 Commenting on Tom Sawyer’s verbal ruse, Boers pointed out:
The meaning of each of Tom’s statements has to be taken in the context in which he uses them. For example, “Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?” expresses an obvious truth in rhetorical form, but that is not its meaning for Tom. Its meaning does not reside in the words themselves, but in the meaning effect to which it contributes in the total context of the situation.6
For preachers, we are not just interested in grammar and syntax alone. We are interested in all the linguistic factors that converge in a given text to communicate meaning. If we aspire to be text-driven preachers, we must seek to convey all the textual meaning inherent in a text.
- See Beekman, Callow and Kopesec, Semantic Structure, 8-13. ↩
- See J. Waard and E. Nida, From One Language to Another: Functional Equivalence in Bible Translating (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986), 72. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (New York: Harper and Row, 1922), 16-18. ↩
- See R. de Beaugrande and W. Dressler, Introduction to Text Linguistics, in Longman’s Linguistic Library, no. 26 (London/New York: Longman, 1981), 171-79., where the authors analyze linguistically this discourse pericope in a chapter entitled “Situationality.” ↩
- H. Boers, “Introduction,” in W. Egger, How to Read the New Testament: An Introduction to Linguistic and Historical-Critical Methodology (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), xxxix-xl. ↩
I want to both inform you and ask you to spread the word about the 2014 Student Global Impact Missions Conference taking place in about one month on January 2-3, 2014 at Inter-City Baptist Church. We pack several inspiring and informative workshops and sessions on missions into these two days, for the purpose of encouraging students to give their lives for the sake of missions. The conference is for both “goers” and “senders,” so you don’t need to be a missions or bible major to profit from the conference.
Our culture tells us that we must live for the moment, seize the day, live life to the fullest. If you really want to live you have to do this, try that, have this experience, etc. But the Bible gives us a different message. Paul, the first missionary, said that for him “to live is Christ,” and that if spreading the gospel of Christ meant his death, that was okay too because “to die is gain.” We need to be reminded that real life is life lived for Christ and that death in Christ really is gain. Student Global Impact exists to remind young adults that telling others about Jesus is worth your life (and death).
On January 2-3, 2014, hundreds of young adults will gather in the metro Detroit area for the SGI National Conference under the theme “To Live is Christ. To Die is Gain.” Join us as we focus on the Word through preaching, conservative corporate singing, practical and academic workshops on missions topics, and fellowship with other young adults who love Jesus and the cause of His gospel.
If you are a pastor or parent reading this, I would urge you to send your college students to this event. This is a great opportunity for spiritual refreshing and advance. The SGI conference can be especially helpful to those who do not normally have the opportunity to fellowship with Christian students. What better Christmas present to give to them than a trip to the SGI conference! You can register here. You can share the conference Facebook page here. If you know of students in your church and family, please send them the links provided. If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.