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.

What Does It Mean To Lay Down Your Life for Your Brother? 1 John 3:16-18

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:16-18

When we hear Jesus laid down his life for us, usually the first thing that comes to mind is his crucifixion. Jesus died for us on the cross…that is what laying down his life looks like. I think John is letting us in on a little more to the story than just the crucifixion. Notice what he says next, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

John tells us that, like Jesus, we ought to lay down our lives for others. No surprise there, but notice the example he gives of what this looks like. He doesn’t tell of a Christian dying for another Christian. John’s illustration of how to lay down your life for others is to help someone in need. The truth of the matter is, few of us will ever die for another person, while all of us have the opportunity to put others first on a daily basis.

That brings us back to Jesus. When did Jesus lay down his life? It started well before the cross. It started when he invited a tax collector to follow him, even though he knew people wouldn’t like it. It started when he got an adulterous woman out of being stoned, even though he knew it would cost him. It started when he raised Lazarus from the dead and the plots to kill him started to swirl. It started back when he told them he would tear down the temple and raise it up again in three days but they didn’t understand him and were angry with him for saying such things.

The point is, Jesus laid down his life all along the way. The ultimate demonstration was in the cross but the reality is, it started way before that. The cross was the natural progression of a life that was already given up for others. So when we are called to lay down our lives for others, don’t get all focused on dying for someone else and never put this into practice for lack of opportunity. Realize that laying down yourself for others is about how you value people and how you see yourself.

Church Growth is Like Planting Flowers

HibiscusWe spent a lot of time in the flowerbed in front of our house over the weekend. We transplanted a few hedges into a new location and added a few hibiscus. My routine usually goes like this: I hit the plastic temporary pot a few times, slide the bush out, and the claw at the roots to break them up a bit and put it in the ground and water it.

After about the fourth hibiscus, something hit me. I was reminded of the church. Some churches are like the hibiscus in the temporary plastic pot, content with staying small, content with its roots being bound up in that little cheap pot. Not having a vision for anything greater. Plants aren’t meant to stay in those little pots…they are meant to be transplanted into bigger pots or even into your yard where the roots can spread and grow.

Transplanting a plant can be traumatic but it is necessary because in the little pot, a plant will only grow so large, but in the ground plants can grow much larger. Healthy growth requires tearing. It requires breaking. It requires disturbing the soil a bit. Instead of capturing a view of the church that is broad and big and expansive, I am afraid much kingdom growth is missed out of an avoidance of the pain that comes from being removed from the pot and placed in the ground, the very place God has called us to be. So let us trust in God. Let us take chances. Let us not be afraid of failure but be filled with the assurance that comes out of a life that is partnering with God to bring growth to the kingdom.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
32 
Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree,
so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” – Matt 13:31-32

Two Realizations That Help Christian Unity

In Luke 14 Jesus tells the parable of an influential man who throws a dinner party. He sends out the invite to all the choice people, the in-crowd. As the RSVP’s come back he gets nothing but excuses…One guy says he just bought a field and wants to go look at it. Pretty lame…don’t you think he has already seen the field and don’t you think it will look pretty much the same next week? Another guy says he just got married and can’t make it…wise fella right there…still another guy says he just bought some oxen and wants to try them out. You know people couldn’t care less about you if they don’t come because they are test driving their oxen. Oldest excuse in the books. None of the people you might have thought would have been first in line come to the banquet.

So what does the man do? He sends out a second invitation, “‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’” Bring them in. Bring in anyone who will come! The servant goes out and brings in all who are willing. There is still room at the banquet. So the man sends out a third invitation, “‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”

Why does God fill his banquet with such a motley crew, such a rag-tag bunch of unworthy people? Not only does he invite them…he orders his servant to compel these people to come to the banquet. This is a big deal. These people have nothing to offer the man. They won’t increase his status or make him look good. When you look at the room and see who is there you can’t help but realize the man who is running the banquet is full of grace and compassion. The shocking thing is this, these people are you and me. We are the ones who don’t deserve to be at the banquet. We are the spiritually crippled and lame and poor and blind. We have been given a seat at God’s banquet table. We have gone from the margins to the inner circle.

So what are the two realizations that help develop Christian unity?

Realization #1 – None of us deserve to be Christians. That should humble us and bring us to our knees. So much disunity springs out of a since of spiritual entitlement and arrogance. The truth is, none of us deserve any of it. Yet God, in his infinite mercy is the one who brings us together.

Realization #2 – When you really understand you have been saved by God’s grace, it should make us graceful toward others. Grace is a key ingredient to unity. Arrogance and pride magnify mistakes and differences. Grace helps us iron over differences and mistakes in healthy ways. So much disunity comes from having an ungraceful attitude. Being ungraceful and ungrateful leads to unforgiveness that often leads to unending, bitter disputes that tear brothers and sisters in Christ apart.

Try this: The next time you are feeling disunity with another Christian picture you and that other person as blind, crippled beggars eating next to each other at God’s banquet and see what is left that is still worthy enough to tear your relationship apart. Not too many things will pass that test.

The Book of Acts And the Shaping of the Church

Ever since I can remember growing up I have heard that the book of Acts is the model for the church. A lot of people say (correctly) that we are a 21st century church in a 21st century world and that means there are going to be some differences between the church we read about in Acts and the church of today. That is fair. I do think, though, that there is so much in Acts that we really do need to take notice of and emulate.

When I read Acts I read about the church away from the assembly. They are out there on a mission. They are seeking lost people and intentionally reaching them with the Gospel. They are prayerful about their direction and focus. They are relying on God in so many ways and for so many reasons. It is really pretty humbling. When I have heard people express the sentiment about us being like that church it worries me just a little bit because it is often implied that we are already there when the reality is we still have much to learn from their example.

Here are a few areas that I think they had right that are still helpful today

Mission
How much has the book of Acts shaped the one thing that stands out the most in the book of Acts? Our mission. If we are that church we read about in Acts, are we sending people out to reach lost people? I don’t mean sending checks (that is important and essential to many good works continuing). I means people…do the people who attend know they are a part of a mission, what that mission is and how they contribute to it?

Boldness/Zeal
Do we share their boldness and zeal? They took on the world. They spoke with kings. They upset the status quo and had meetings with rulers and authorities and found themselves in conversations with prominent people because what they were up to was significant enough to get them in trouble with certain groups.

Dependence on God
Do we mirror their full out dependence on God for direction? These guys trusted God. They didn’t always get it right but it always came back to what God wanted and trying to be pleasing to God through fulfilling the work He gave them to do. I am afraid there are some Christians who have learned to depend on doctrine rather than God. Again, doctrine is important, even essential but we must always remember who the doctrine points us to.

Imitation & Maturity
The point here is that being a church like that is more than form. It is about our heart. It is about our view of God. It is about our mission and our attitude. It is more than imitation. We can imitate someone else all day but it doesn’t mean a whole lot until we make it our own and grow to maturity. Strict imitation can be a real sign of immaturity and can reflect a real lack of dependence on God in favor of a dependence on form.

Focus on Discipleship Has Created a Resurgence in Baptism

waterheartIt used to be pretty unusual to hear people teach the importance of baptism. In Churches of Christ it wasn’t unusual. We talked about it all the time but outside our fellowship it was pretty infrequent. If you did hear it, it was one of those things done to infants or done to join a specific congregation. All of a sudden I am hearing more and more people teach the importance of baptism. Where is this renewed interest coming from? It is coming from all the interest in discipleship. Once you emphasize following Jesus and obeying His teaching, even if doing so goes against tradition…baptism jumps right out for two reasons: 1) Jesus commanded us to do it, so if you are going to follow Jesus and take his words seriously you will take baptism seriously and 2) in the BIG discipleship verse of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 he even tells us how to go about making new disciples and it involves baptizing people.

I am so happy to see people re-emphasizing and teaching the importance of baptism. I believe it is important because Jesus could have brought up all sorts of things just before he ascended to heaven but this is one of the most important things he said – go and make disciples and do it like this…teaching them, baptizing them, etc.