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.

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!

Review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins (Part 2)

Bell begins Love Wins by laying out some common ground with some thoughts few would disagree with, “First, I believe that Jesus’ story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us. It is a stunning, beautiful, expansive love, and it is for everybody, everywhere.” (p. vii) Next, he gives us the overarching problem the book will address, “there are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories that Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.” (p. vii-viii). He goes on to say that this book is written as a response to a false gospel that would make anyone with common sense respond with, “I would never want to be a part of that.”

Most of you have probably experienced what Bell is talking about here. You have heard people make mountains out of mole hills on either end of the liberal-conservative spectrum. We know this happens. We can all agree this happens. The question is, which stories is he saying are the false ones? Which stories was Jesus not interested in telling? Which insignificant things have we made far too significant? Bell gives us a preview of what he thinks the false Gospel narrative includes on page viii-ix laying out two reasons he wrote this book. The first has to do with which story some Christians are telling and the second has to do openly and honestly dealing with the story we believe is central to the Gospel:

Reason #1:
“A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”

I agree heaven and hell as realities has been taught extensively and rightly so, Jesus taught about them as well. I agree that it has been taught that heaven will be joyous and hell will be a place of torment. Unless I am mistaken Jesus taught about that and that is the picture we get in Revelation 20-22. So if those parts of his statement are being taught then I don’t see any problem with that. But he couches this picture of the saved as a “select few Christians” and those in hell as having “no chance for anything better.” There is the part that will get most people. That is the part that sounds angry, arrogant and judgment. That is the part that will make many want to say it is all too exclusionary and hopeless and that God must be a bitter and angry tyrant to lay out a plan that results in something like that. Since we know God is a God of love our logic would lead us to believe you can’t have both a God who loves everyone so tremendously but who set up a system that would result in the vast majority of those he loves going to hell forever. That is a difficult thing to sort out. If it is going to get sorted out, we have to let scripture inform our understanding of these difficult issues. Bell says he is going to dive into what the Bible has to say about these things and not skirt around it. I hope that turns out to be true!

Reason #2:
“Second, I have written this book because the kind of faith Jesus invites us into doesn’t skirt the big questions about topics like God and Jesus and salvation and judgment and heaven and hell, but takes us deep into the heart of them.”

He goes on to say that many have avoided these issues by discouraging open and honest dialog about some of the most important aspects of our faith. The result of that approach can be devastating to people’s faith. That is true and unfortunate in some, but not all, places. So I am glad Bell is willing to take on some really big issues. I am glad that he is willing to step out there and try to broaden our view of what God is up to. However, I am concerned by the way he couches these questions because it seems to me that he has already began hammering the nails to construct the frame he will erect his straw man onto in the chapters that follow. One of the ways Bell makes some of the points in this book is to point to an extreme example of what he thinks misses the point and then discredit anything that is even remotely pointed in that direction.

He concludes by saying nothing he presents in this book is new, radical, or unorthodox. Several others have done a good enough job critiquing this last point in his preface that I don’t need to re-hash it but point you to their thoughts. See Witherington’s post (3rd paragraph) for more on that. I think it was Rex who pointed out that it wasn’t really accurate to sum up a universalist perspective as orthodox as many of those who held that view were condemned as heretics at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

John Piper on What One Must Believe to Be Saved

Have a look at this video of John Piper telling what he believes one must believe to be saved. To read a transcript click here.

He includes the following:

  • Believe and confess his Lordship and his resurrection
  • Recognition that we sin
  • That God exists and that he created a world where sin is a possibility
  • That God has expectations for mankind – to trust, love and live for him
  • That we fail in those three things
  • God is holy and we are not
  • God is judge
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Jesus lived a perfect life
  • Substitutionary atonement, basically – he died in my place
  • Jesus’ resurrection
  • We receive salvation from Jesus Christ’s work on our behalf

A few things I would like to point out. The first is where is baptism? When the Ethiopian asked what he needed to do to be saved Philip didn’t give this list of core beliefs he must first understand. Undoubtedly he understood many of these things. All of these things? We don’t know. But he knew enough to realize he needed God and that what he needed to do in response was to be baptized. That is biblical but it didn’t make the list. Before you say this is a list of beliefs so no wonder something we do isn’t on there. He did mention the need for faith and for confession. To be fair to Piper, I don’t know what his view is on baptism but I suspect if he had much of a view of it being a part of what God expects of us he would have included it here.

Second, notice at the end he says God causes people to believe by the work of the Holy Spirit. I would say God certainly plays a role in our faith by revealing himself to us through the Word and in some way the Spirit plays a role in our faith. But to say God causes our faith is missing out on our responsibility to believe and have faith…two things he pointed out in his answer to the original question.

Last, his list is very logical and if you really examine the core truths of the Gospel you understand why he logically pulled these points together. At the same time he is leaving out some very plain biblical teaching that doesn’t take any logic to expand upon or to be elaborated upon. Baptism really is important not just because I attend a Church of Christ and have heard that my whole life but because God clearly teaches us that in scripture. So my list would include,

“Part of God’s expected response would include repentance (not included above), belief/faith, confession, and to submit to his will by being baptized for the forgiveness of my sins.”

Wouldn’t it just make sense those things would come ahead of understanding the nature of substitutionary atonement?

How Much is There Left to Say?

With thousands of Christian blogs, thousands of sermons, classes, and lectures being presented every single week, small group studies, personal studies…is there anything left to say? Blogging ideas used to jump into my head all of the time and it seems like lately they are fewer and further in between. I am sure that has something to do with trying to balance having a 15 month old, a marriage, a job/ministry, and just life in general that I haven’t had enough “left over focus” to put into the blog. I am sure that old pace will return and in some ways maybe you never even noticed it, but I have.

While I know there are still many more things to say, hundreds more blog posts to write, and profound insights being shared, more in the comments of the blog than the actual posts, of course. Today I just feel like resting in the simple yet not so ordinary words of the Gospel that most of us have already heard thousands of times that its almost like you eventually get this John 3:16 callous on your heart. But maybe there is a reason some things get repeated so often. Maybe they are some of the most valuable truths the world has ever heard and they are worth repeating. Actually, there is no maybe about it. The core of the gospel is the best thing the world has ever heard.

So in the race to find something new to write about I will instead mention something old and maybe we can hear it again not with new ears with new perspective but with old ears and old perspective, timeless perspective that reaches back before how old a scripture or a song was could even be considered. Here are a few I personally need to be reminded of”

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him
will not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” – 1 Cor 13:4-8

While it has already been said before, what simple truth do you need to be reminded of today?