The Importance of Capturing the Imagination

I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons people aren’t interested in church is that they don’t see how church engages them in the deepest levels of their identity. The way to re-engage people is to engage their imagination again. Some people lose their imagination due to rigid traditionalism sucking it out of them. Other times it happens when churches go into maintain mode…just get through it, make sure the sermon is preached and the songs are sung and the Supper is taken and everything is good. Little time gets spent on engaging the imagination.

Before you think I am just talking about fostering an attitude or culture of consumerism I want to point out that in scripture we see over and over again God capture the imagination of His people…giving them a glimpse of how things could and should be and inspiring them to live up to a new vision of reality. In scripture God does it through theophany (an encounter with the living God), through the miracles, through dreams and through imaginative teaching. In the Gospels we hear over and over that Jesus preached about the kingdom of God. Jesus was expanding people’s view on what God was up to in the world and it gave them great hope. The parables are a great example of Jesus capturing the imagination of the people and inspiring them to see life and live life in new ways. God did this with the Old Testament prophets and some of the odd tasks and symbols God had them use to get their message across. We see this in John the Baptist and the preparation he did for Christ. The list goes on and on…Once you have captured someone’s imagination they start seeing everything in new and powerful ways. That is transformative and powerful!

This is true of preaching, church events/activities, teaching, and just about everything else we do together. So start asking yourself how a given event, class you are teaching or sermon you are preaching might better engage the imagination and go from there.

A Patriarch, A Judge and a Prophet Walk Into a Bar

I have been studying Gideon and I ran across some really interesting parallels he has with Jacob and Elijah.

They all were called on by God.

They all had personal encounters with God.

They all built altars to the Lord

Jacob and Gideon had their names changed.

Gideon and Elijah had encounters with the prophets of Baal.

Gideon and Elijah had their offerings burned up with divine fire.

Gideon stands at a point in Israel’s history that points back to the first Israel (Jacob) and forward to the prophet Elijah. In Gideon’s story we are reminded that God can do great things with weak people (Judges 6:15) and severely limited resources (7:1-7). We are also reminded that God is incredibly patient (the offering made sure it was God’s voice, the fleece made sure it was God’s will and hearing the dream of the enemy confirmed God’s will) and graceful (6:17)…and that God hears the cry of His people and is a divine deliverer. Last, we learn that God is present even when it doesn’t seem like he is (6:13).

Jesus in Context – One of the Most Helpful Biblical Background Books Around

JesusInContext-BockI recently came across the most helpful resources on the historical backgrounds to the Gospels that I have ever seen. It is called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study by Darrell Bock. This book works through the synoptics and John and pulls just about any relevant extra-biblical text in full quotation to help you see what other ancient writers said about a topic, a city, a custom, etc. Reading the geneaology of Jesus? Look and see how other ancient Jewish writers did genealogies. Studying Jesus’ turning water to wine at Cana? You go to that miracle in this book and it first gives you a bit of historical background on eschatology and wine followed by relevant quotations from 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, Tobit, and the Talmud on wine and quotations from Josephus on Cana. Combine the content with Logos Bible software and you have an unbelievably powerful resource for your studies. This book concludes with multiple indices that include index by topic, by scripture, by extra-biblical reference and a huge list for further reading broken down by topic, If you are a student of the Gospels and want extra-biblical references all in one place this is the book for you. If you would use Logos and would like to have it at your disposal in a fully searchable, indexed format with clickable links with full references for you to use in your study or writing, you can get it here.

Jesus Healed Them Anyway

In Luke 6 we get three groups of people. It starts with Jesus’ disciples. From that group Jesus selects the 12 apostles. After that selection, Jesus and all his disciples go out to the plain to preach. When he gets there the crowd grows from just being Jesus, his apostles and other disciples to also including people from surrounding towns and regions. There is the third group, the crowd. They aren’t Christ-followers. They show up when convenient and when Jesus is done or they find it convenient, they go back home. Luke tells us the crowd came for three reasons: to hear Jesus, to be healed of disease and to be delivered from evil spirits.

These guys came, got their healing, heard a little preaching and went home. They didn’t immediately follow Jesus. Jesus healed them anyway. I can’t tell you how many times that I have reached out to people I initially encountered through benevolence ministry. In the back of my mind I am always wondering if this person will become a Christian through our acts of compassion. Most of the time they don’t. Most of the time they just want a bill paid or some food and then, like the crowds Jesus healed, they leave. But Jesus healed them anyway. Jesus showed compassion and mercy to people who would never become disciples and so should we.

Two Great Deals: One from N.T. Wright and One from Logos Bible Software

Two great deals you don’t want to pass up…

N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope is on sale for Kindle for $1.99

Today is the last day to get Logos Free Book of the Month – The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol 5

Bible Class Archive: 1000 Free Bible Study Lessons, Over 3000 Pages of Free Material

I haven’t mentioned the Bible Class Archive in a long while. It is a page on the blog where I compile many of the lessons for Bible class and small groups that I have written over the years. I have also included some of my co-laborers in the kingdom in the collaborative process and have added in their lessons as well. So if you haven’t ever been on that page of this blog, have a look…

Bible Class Archive

To date, over 70,000 pdf’s have been downloaded! I intend to add more material very soon.

Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 4

OutOfContextThe 4th and final review of Logos’ “How to Read the Bible” Collection is a review of “Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible” by Richard Schultz. This was the best book in the whole collection. There are a lot of books that cover similar content to this one but this one has two things going for it that the other’s don’t. Books like D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies are excellent but pretty academic. This book can be read and understood by everyone from a beginner to a scholar. That is hard to pull of.

The second thing that makes this book stand out is that Schultz has hundreds of examples of interpretation errors from familiar books and familiar authors. He touches on everyone people like Rick Warren, James Dobson, John Piper, Larry Crabb and many more. What is so great about this is that in no way does Schultz come across like an attack dog. He is very, very humble in his presentation and even concludes the book with a section on his own care for those who make these mistakes in interpretation. The book really makes you respect and admire Richard Schultz.  He does it so well and his examples are so good that I am considering buying this book for my Christian Basics class.

The first section of the book deals with some of the most popular works that relied on misinterpreting scripture. Any guesses as to what his main example is? The Prayer of Jabez! He thoroughly and respectfully dissects that book and shows which principles of biblical misinterpretation went into the writing of that once extremely popular book. Second, he deals with the underlying misconceptions of scripture that lead to the common misinterpretations.

Schultz doesn’t just discuss how to do it wrong. Along the way he finds moments  of opportunity to introduce correctives to the problems he is outlining. So when he discusses proof texting he also discusses the different types of context and how to identify and use context to assist our interpretation. Here is one example where he emphasizes the use of historical-critical interpretation scripture,

What is important to note here is that biblical interpretation can go wrong at various points. When interpreting textual details, we can adopt a questionable translation of key words or phrases. Furthermore, we can ignore both the historical and literary contexts of the passage, which largely determine how the passage should be understood and how it functions within Scripture. We can also pay too little attention to the formal, structural, and stylistic features of a text and how these shape the communication of divine truth. Further difficulties are involved in the process of application, as we bridge the gap between the world of the Bible and our contemporary world and recommend concrete steps toward affirming and living out the truths and lessons of the Scriptures. Here we can move too quickly in universalizing a specific action or instruction, assuming that what one ancient Israelite experienced can and should be experienced by all contemporary Christians. – Schultz, R. L. Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible p. 19

He deals with so much more…common problems with word studies, understanding genre, failure to read prophesy in its original context (aka finding Jesus everywhere), and errors in application.  If you haven’t ever read a book on common ways to misinterpret scripture you really should get this book. So many of the discussions I have seen online would be cleared up if more people understood the even half of the principles laid out in this book.

The Difference Between Eisegesis & Exegesis – Sounds Boring but It is Something Every Christian Should Understand

sherlockholmeswatsonA crime has occurred. The investigator arrives on the scene. He sees the body, the weapon and the footprints leading away. This is nothing new. He has seen similar scenes a million times and knows exactly what has happened. Without any further questions he determines exactly what all of this means, exactly how it happened and the identity of the killer.

What is the problem with this? The problem is, there was more investigating to be done of what this specific crime scene was trying to tell him. He already has his conclusions in mind before he has all the information. The biggest problem was either ignorance or arrogance…he assumed that based on past experience that he would be able to figure all this out based on a cursory glance of the scene. If he really wanted to know what happened, he would be asking more questions, finding more evidence and not assuming that he already had the answer. Remember, a lot is on the line here…an innocent man may get convicted and a murderer walk free! It is important that he gets this right. That is eisegesis.

A second investigator arrives on the scene. She doesn’t come to the scene thinking she already knows what happened. She takes each crime scene (text) by its own merits, requiring a careful study of the background of the crime through asking good questions (as any good investigator knows how to do): Who was this person? Who did they know? Who were they talking with moments before the died? Those things are not readily apparent just glancing at the scene/text. It takes work. It takes an investigative spirit. It all starts with humility. There is a humility that comes when you believe that Scripture is God’s Word to humanity and if we are to understand it and faithfully apply it, it is going to take some work. Remember, there is a lot on the line here. In Biblical interpretation that is called exegesis.

What I have laid out here is the background for biblical “Exegesis”, a Greek word that means “to draw out” or “to guide/lead out”. When you read scripture, you are drawing the meaning from the text into your life. Eisegesis, on the other hand, means “to guide/lead in”. The thing that is being lead in are your own presuppositions, preconceived ideas, biases, culture, etc. Eisegesis reads Scripture solely through what those words mean, stripped out of their historical context (point #3 below) and plopped down in front of someone, pointed whichever way they want to point it and do with it what they want to do with it. Here is how Mark Strauss puts it,

“In the same way, every time you read the Bible you are already interpreting it. The only question is whether you will interpret it well or poorly—that is, whether you will hear the text as the author intended it to be heard, or whether you will impose your own ideas onto the text. Exegesis means drawing out the author’s original meaning. “Eisegesis” refers to the opposite: misinterpreting the text by reading into it your own assumptions and meaning.” – Strauss, M. L. How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today, p. 44.

None of us can read Scripture in a vacuum that is able to remove all preconceived ideas and culture from our minds. It is just impossible. But we must be aware of that potential and recognize it when it influences us strongly enough that we might be missing the actual meaning of the text. When we read scripture we should always come to it with a few things in mind:

  1. Scripture is the Word of God. That means it has authority over us and it is truth.
  2. Scripture has an absolute meaning and intention by the original author that he wanted his audience to understand.
  3. In order to get to that meaning you have to understand the context of the passage (audience, occasion/situation, author, etc).
  4. Because God’s Word is truth and we need that truth to inform our lives, the purpose of Bible study is determining what God’s Word means and applying that to our lives to partner and participate with God in spiritual transformation and renewal.
  5. We do not come to scripture to bend it to our desires or predetermined ideas. That would undo #1 by giving us authority over scripture rather than the other way around.

The Holy Spirit’s Role in the Coming of Jesus

We often associate the Holy Spirit with the beginning of the church in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. What is interesting is that the Holy Spirit also played a key role in kicking off Luke’s first volume, the Gospel of Luke:

  • Luke 1:15 – John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit before he is born
  • Luke 1:35 – The Holy Spirit will take part in the conception of Jesus
  • Luke 1:41 – When Mary and Elizabeth meet, both pregnant, John jumps in Elizabeth’s womb and it is Elizabeth who is filled with the Holy Spirit! It prompts her to speak a blessing on Mary.
  • Luke 1:67 – The Holy Spirit fills Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, and he prophesies. I am really unsure why this prophesy always gets the heading “Zechariah’s Song” when it is a prophesy.
  • Luke 2:25 – Simeon had been promised that he would see the Messiah before he died. He also had the Holy Spirit on him.
  • Luke 3:16 John the Baptist tells the crowds that the one who comes after him will baptize people in the Holy Spirit
  • Luke 3:22 – the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism (interesting that Luke says this happened “as he was praying” at his baptism)
  • Luke 4:1 – Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit as he went out into the wilderness to be tested.

The Holy Spirit played a huge role in the coming of Jesus and the beginning of his ministry. What is more, the Holy Spirit was present in the ministry of Jesus as well:

  • Luke 10:21 – The Holy Spirit wasn’t just present at Jesus baptism and temptation. The Holy Spirit was upon him in this verse as well
  • Luke 11:13 – Jesus says God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask
  • Luke 12:10 – a warning against blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. This warning means the Holy Spirit was a driving force in Jesus’ ministry and miracles. That is clear because Jesus is warning them against calling his miracles from the devil and saying that to deny his miracles is to blaspheme the Spirit, which means the Spirit was at work in the ministry of Christ.

It is easy to think the Holy Spirit was absent from all of this because we spend more time on Jesus’ promise of the coming of the Spirit from verses like John 16:7,

“But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Some then assume the Spirit wasn’t much a part of anything until after Jesus ascended to heaven. As you can see from all the verses above, the Holy Spirit played a central role in the coming of the Messiah from before he was conceived, through Mary’s pregnancy, to his birth and through his ministry and then, finally, to the church. The Spirit’s involvement in the start of the church wasn’t anything new. It was very much in line with everything the Spirit had been involved in up to that point.

Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 3

AllJesusAsksThe third book in the Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection is Stan Guthrie’s All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us. Guthrie takes the majority of questions Jesus asked during his ministry and weaves them into an investigation of the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. In later chapters he turns to questions that explore our identity as disciples (character, (in)competency, attitude, etc) and finally concludes with some apologetics.

After being fairly critical of the other book he did in this collection, “A Concise Guide to Bible Prophesy“. I am really happy to say that this book was excellent. It is thorough. It is insightful. The illustrations are excellent. If I had to compare this to something, I would call this book “Jesus’ Questions for Everyone” as his style reminds me of N.T. Wright’s “For Everyone” Series of New Testament commentaries. He touches on the relevant verses, illustrating and commentating along the way.

I would recommend this book not just to people who want all of Jesus’ questions in one place but to people who enjoy investigation. He doesn’t just linearly and analytically make a list of questions and address them. He weaves the questions of JesusI really love that because any book about questions should feel like an investigation…it is just being fair to your subject…and Guthrie really does pull it off.

There are only three criticisms I have of this book. First, he admits that he is no biblical scholar so there are times I think he missed the point. One of those times in in Chapter 4, “His Humanity” where Guthrie interprets some of Jesus questions to mean that Jesus asked certain questions because he really had no idea of the answer. Here is one example,

When Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, and a Roman execution for sedition looms large, the procurator asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus is not concerned with saving his own skin, but learning whether this brutal Roman official might be a spiritual seeker, one in whom the seed of faith is likely to grow. “Do you say this of your own accord,” he asks, “or did others say it to you about me?” Jesus genuinely wants an answer because he doesn’t know. – Guthrie, S. (2010). All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us (60). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Jesus was making a point in asking the question that goes beyond him just being ignorant of the answer (much like God asking Adam and Eve “Where are you” after they sinned – Gen 3:9). Of the recorded questions of Jesus in the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t normally ask questions out of ignorance. His questions make a point. This entire book was about how Jesus taught through questions, so I am not sure how he missed it on this one.

The second criticism I have of the book just comes with the territory. Any time you deal with passages out of context and develop a whole book that strings together related topics and verses out of context you run the risk of missing some of the meaning. Like the above examples, that happened a few times in the book. Again, that is to be expected due to the way the book is laid out. Third, when you take out of context verses and force them into a self-made framework you run the risk of twisting some passages to fit your topics. That doesn’t come across too much in this book but it does happen. (See Procrustean bed)

Overall, great book and one I would recommend. What the book lacks in scholarship (which overall is pretty insignificant) Guthrie makes up for in his journalistic style, engaging commentary, and ability to connect the reader to the thrill of the investigation, relevance and application. Questions are powerful and Guthrie does a great job of handling the questions of Jesus from his own perspective without getting in the way.