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.

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Tom Wright on “What is the Gospel?”

If the video doesn’t play for you click here. I love Wright’s focus on Jesus. A couple of years ago there was a lot of discussion regarding where to start with people when sharing the Gospel. The point was made (at the Pepperdine lectures, online and elsewhere) that older generations tend to start with the New Testament epistles, while younger generations tend to start more with the Gospels. The approach of those with a more modern worldview is to teach people about Jesus through books like Romans. Younger people (post-moderns) would rather cut to the chase and go straight to the Gospels, preferring to learn from narrative.

Where you start should depend on where the seeker is starting from and what might draw them in better. Typically young people are more drawn to narrative than they are to diving in to doctrine (at least at first…always time for that later). They are going to connect more with watching and hearing Jesus teach and minister through reading the Gospels. They will connect less with the heady teachings of Romans or Galatians). Some of the older people, who may have more of a church background, are often more interested in doctrine and will be more interested in learning about Jesus through the teachings of Paul.

The good news is, Jesus is central in both approaches. Both approaches are helpful and effective. The main thing is that we are out there teaching people about Jesus, no matter what our approach, and let God work on their hearts.

Taking Risks for the Kingdom

The New Testament is a continuous story of risk takers. John the Baptist is killed because he called out Herod on his sin. Jesus is crucified because the religious authorities thought he was a blasphemer. Paul was killed in Rome because of his preaching the Gospel. Stephen was stoned because of his testimony. Peter and John were arrested because they healed a man. Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned for casting out an evil spirit. Timothy had to stand up against false teachers. James had to make a bold decision regarding how to treat the Gentiles who were coming to Christ. Barnabas and Ananias took a chance on Paul.

These men took risks for the kingdom. They didn’t settle for comfort. They didn’t settle for staying home. The very word apostle literally means someone who is sent. These guys were out on mission, taking risks and expanding the kingdom. The question for us is this, how much risk are we taking? Look at your church budget and ask if any of it reflects any level of risk for the kingdom. How many of our programs and ministries are aimed at keeping the mature Christians comfortable and how many are designed to take the message to those who need it most?

Before we launch out, it is important to make sure we are doing these things for the right reasons. We don’t do it to be trendy. We don’t do it because it is a fad. We do it because God has called us to it and we want to be faithful to our calling. Most risks aren’t taken sitting in front of a computer but being in the presence of real people, those who need God and those who have the potential to lead but need someone to equip them.

Kids, Play and the Power of Narrative

millionmilesI have been reading Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, highly recommend it. This book is Miller’s reflection on working with producers on the movie version of Blue Like Jazz. Turns out, life isn’t like the movies…most of us wouldn’t make good movie characters. As Miller reflects on their take on his life and the producers’ need to spruce up his story a bit he realized his own need to live a better story than he had been living. Great book. I will share more thoughts on it later.

While reading this book I have been more in tune with the power of story.Turns out, it’s everywhere…everyday. This evening the our boys, ages 2 & 4 were playing. As I listened to the imaginative things they were saying, it dawned on me that when children play they create stories. Play is their work and that work often involves one of two things: the construction of false play narratives that are impractical and impossible. Second, play often co-opts existing narratives and changes some of the essential components of the narrative to be more appealing to them or try things out…like when they say things to their stuffed animal or younger brother that they hear their parents say.

So I hear the boys playing in Elijah’s room. Elijah is standing on his big firetruck. It was parked up against the wall, right under a brown tree we had painted in the nursery. Missy painted this tree when we set the room up for Jonah as a family tree, to be able to teach the kids where they came from. After we painted it, we hung pictures of family members on its branches so we could teach them who they (the kids) are, who their relatives are and where they came from.  So back to Elijah. He is perched up on the side of his firetruck, his back to the wall and says…”I’m Jesus!” Jesus on a tree, right? He is playing Jesus. Jonah says, “Put out your arms.” It was stunning. We painted that to show them where they came from. The tree hasn’t ever shown it more clearly than today when looking at that tree reminded me that God put his own Son on the cross for us. It is where we came from. It is part of who we are.

What happened next was play that was a reflection of real life…it wasn’t meant to be that but it taught me something important that I won’t ever forget. Moments later, Elijah got into a plastic bin and Jonah proceeded to push and pull Elijah around the house in that bin. He said it was Elijah’s car and he proceeded to “drive” him around the house. Aren’t we like that? One moment it is about the cross and identity and things of great significance…the very next we are back to our silly and senseless games! It is like going to church on Easter just to go back to life as usual on Monday. One moment, we are attentive to the story of the cross and the next something mundane and silly doing some sort of adult equivalent of pulling a 2 year old around in a plastic bin.

ElijahBin

Do We Recognize Redemption When It Happens Right in Front of Us?

In Luke 7 Jesus is in the house of Simon the Pharisee. While they are reclining at the table a “sinful” woman comes in and anoints Jesus, first with her tears and then with some perfume she had brought with her. Luke tells us she had learned that Jesus was in the house and she knew exactly where she needed to be and what she needed to do. We know that because she came prepared with a bottle of perfume. First she wept at his feet and began putting her tears on Jesus’ feet. Then she started kissing his feet and poured perfume on them. I am sure this was quite uncomfortable for those who were there watching this unfold but what made it even more difficult for them was who the woman was who was doing all of this. She was a “sinner”. The worldly part inside us tells us that sinners and Messiah’s shouldn’t mix. But the part inside us that says things like that has it all wrong. There was no better place for her to be, in all her sin…in the messiness of her life than in the presence of Jesus Christ. What as happening was redemption right in front of their eyes but they were too blind to see it.

In order to open their eyes to the significance of what was happening before them, Jesus tells them a story about two men who had much debt. One guy owed a year and a half’s wages and the other guy a month and a half. The lender forgave them both. Jesus asks them, “Now which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer is the one who owed more. It seems like Jesus is saying that this woman actually loves Jesus more than they do. Ouch. In the story, Jesus doesn’t get into why they owed all of that or all the bad decisions they had made that led up to that point. The lender doesn’t owe explanation to anyone when it comes to forgiving debt because forgiving debt rarely makes sense from a worldly perspective. From Jesus’ perspective it makes all the sense in the world because Jesus came to bring redemption to a world full of the debt  and weight of sin and death and release us into a great freedom that we find only through Christ.

What is most frightening about this story is that all of this was unfolding before Simon and company but they couldn’t see it. Jesus was trying to open their eyes so that they could understand the significance of it all. Are there things Jesus is trying to open our eyes to see accurately? There are a few questions for us that come out of all of this. The first question we must ask ourselves is this, are there times we pre-judge people? Second, are you currently holding someone’s past against them? Third, how do we make our attitude toward people we have a hard time with the same attitude Jesus would have toward them?

Let us have eyes to see things clearly like Jesus did so that we can rejoice when Jesus rejoices and mourn when he mourns. Let us never get the two confused so that we weep when Jesus rejoices or rejoice when Jesus mourns because that means we are seeing things from a worldly perspective and not as Jesus sees them.

Simply Accepting God On God’s Terms

Roland Murphy wrote that the Teacher in Ecclesiastes “simply accepts God on God’s terms.” As simple as that sounds it is quite another thing in practice. We often already have our terms in place when we come to God. We are like Jacob who tells God straight out that if he is going to follow the Lord, God is going to have to bless him first. Otherwise, no dice. When we approach God on our terms we fail to recognize the vanity of our own lives. The word vanity in Ecclesiastes literally means a vapor or breath. Our vanity is more than materialism or being dressed in a gaudy way. Our vanity is the haughty arrogance of ephemeral beings approaching God like we are his equal.

His conclusion – Fear God.

Once you fear God…accepting God on God’s terms will come naturally to you. Once you fear God, placing your own terms and demands before God will seem foolish and vain. In all of our study and pursuit of wisdom and knowledge we often reduce God and his Gospel down to a list of bullet points. It is hard to fear a list. God isn’t a list. The Gospel isn’t a series of verses to memorize and know the historical backgrounds of. That is too small. That reductionism has converted God and His Gospel from the biggest and most powerful being in the world to an intellectual pursuit or game of trivia where the one who knows the most, has the best doctrine, and attends the most services wins. God doesn’t play by those rules.

Maybe if we were really honest with ourselves we don’t fear God and we don’t really want to accept Him on his own terms. That is a dreadful place to be. If that is where you find your heart after reading this post I would encourage you to reconsider.

No New Ideas

How is it that all of a sudden old is new? All you have to do is look at the movies that came out in the last couple of years and the ones currently advertised to see that nostalgia is big. We have seen every possible concept from the 80’s made into a movie except for the flowbee and the chia pet. While I won’t cross my fingers on those being made into a movie it is interesting that remakes, sequels, or comic book characters who have been waiting to be made into a movie for decades finally get their chance. Solomon said it best when he said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Are there any decent new ideas out there? What new concept being written in the last five years will be remade twenty years from now?

We live in a world that is constantly searching for the next new thing but often the most powerful and significant things are old things that have been around since the beginning. The truth is many of the best ideas are old ideas. The best storylines have been told for millenia. What makes a good story hasn’t really changed either. You have some guy going along doing his thing when some sort of tragedy hits. The tension builds. You wonder how it could ever get resolved. Things seem bleak, even impossible. Then through some twist of fate or providence things work out and the tension gets resolved. Life is better than ever and every winds up living happily ever after. It doesn’t matter if it is Transformers, the Terminator, or the Gospel…that’s how good stories are supposed to go.

The importance of narrative/story has grown. We realize that good stories aren’t just in books and don’t just happen to someone else. We are in the middle of a story as well. Our lives are narrative. You see this reflected in everything from psychotherapy to biblical theology. As Christians we know that story is God’s story and it gives us identity and direction. While that is not a new idea, it is a powerful idea. What is more, God is in the business of taking old things and making them new. I like that because we are all growing old and that our lives are on a march toward the grave but God shed new light on that through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God took and old story and gave it a new twist and out of the tension of sin and death came new life, not just for Jesus but for all who believe. While that story is now 2000 years old it is lived out in our lives in new ways each and every day. Praise God for that!