Book Review: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth

In How to Read the BibleHow to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart attempt to help the reader understand and interpret the Bible with particular consideration of the genre of each book. They explain that the “Its” of the title is deliberate, rather than “It Is,” saying, “‘Its’ is a deliberate wordplay that works only when it appears without the apostrophe; and in the end our own emphasis lies with this possessive. Scripture is God’s Word, and we want people to read it because of its great value to them. And if they do it ‘for all it’s worth,’ hopefully they will also find its worth.”

The first chapter covers general principles for reading and understanding the Bible: exegesis, “the careful, systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended meaning,” which involves learning “to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text,” questions of context (historical and literary) and content; interpretation, and hermeneutics, learning “to hear that same meaning in the variety of new or different contexts of our own day.” They insist, several times over, that we must understand what the text meant to the original readers before attempting to apply it to ourselves.

The concern of the scholar is primarily with what the text meant; the concern of the layperson is usually with what it means. The believing scholar insists that we must have both. Reading the Bible with an eye only to its meaning for us can lead to a great deal of nonsense as well as to every imaginable kind of error—because it lacks controls. Fortunately, most believers are blessed with at least a measure of that most important of all hermeneutical skills—common sense.

Whether one likes it or not, every reader is at the same time an interpreter. That is, most of us assume as we read that we also understand what we read. We also tend to think that our understanding is the same thing as the Holy Spirit’s or human author’s intent. However, we invariably bring to the text all that we are, with all of our experiences, culture, and prior understandings of words and ideas. Sometimes what we bring to the text, unintentionally to be sure, leads us astray, or else causes us to read all kinds of foreign ideas into the text.

Let it be said at the outset—and repeated throughout—that the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before. Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to “outclever” the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong. This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not often seem unique to someone who hears it for the first time. But it is to say that uniqueness is not the aim of our task. The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text.”

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it has eternal relevance; it speaks to all humankind, in every age and in every culture.

The second chapter deals with the different translations of the Bible. You may not agree with the one they feel is best (I later learned one of them was on the translation committee for it), but this chapter will help you appreciate the difficulties involved in translating and the reasons there are so many translations, but will also reassure you that we have a few today that are especially accurate and trustworthy. There are a number of considerations, but the main differences in translations are those which use formal equivalence, “the attempt to keep as close to the ‘form’ of the Hebrew or Greek, both words and grammar, as can be conveniently put into understandable English”; functional equivalence, “the attempt to keep the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek but to put their words and idioms into what would be the normal way of saying the same thing in English” at the time of the translation, and free translation (or paraphrase), which is more concerned about translating the ideas rather than the “exact words of the original.”

The problem with a “free” translation, on the other hand, especially for study purposes, is that the translator updates the original author too much…On the one hand, these renditions often have especially fresh and vivid ways of expressing some old truths and have thus each served to stimulate contemporary Christians to take a fresh look at their Bibles. On the other hand, such a “translation” often comes very close to being a commentary, but without other options made available to the reader. Therefore, as stimulating as these can sometimes be, they are never intended to be a person’s only Bible; and the reader needs constantly to check particularly eye-catching moments against a true translation or a commentary to make sure that not too much freedom has been taken.

The rest of the book’s chapters discuss the different genres of literature in the Bible: epistles, narratives, Acts, the gospels, parables, the law, the prophets, the psalms, wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon), and Revelation.  They apply the principles they discussed in Chapter 1 to each and also discuss their forms and the particular difficulties or concerns in reading and interpreting each one. For instance, concerning the epistles, the authors  “offer the following guidelines, therefore, for distinguishing between items that are culturally relative on the one hand and those that transcend their original setting on the other hand and are thus normative for all Christians of all times.” Of the OT narratives, they say:

Our concern in this chapter is to guide you toward a good understanding of how Hebrew narrative “works,” so that you may read your Bibles more knowledgeably and with greater appreciation for God’s story. Unfortunately, failure to understand both the reason for and the character of Hebrew narrative has caused many Christians in the past to read the Old Testament story very poorly. If you are a Christian, the Old Testament is your spiritual history. The promises and calling of God to Israel are your historical promises and calling. Yet, in our experience, people force incorrect interpretations and applications on narrative portions of the Bible as much as or more than they do on any other parts. The intended value and meaning are replaced with ideas read into rather than out of the text.

Old Testament narratives are not allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings…[and] are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose of the various individual narratives is to tell what God did in the history of Israel…

However, even though [they] do not teach directly, they often illustrate what is taught explicitly and categorically everywhere.

One crucial thing to keep in mind as you read any Hebrew narrative is the presence of God in the narrative. In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story.

Even though the chapters on the different genres make up the bulk of the book and I have multitudes of places marked in them, for the sake of space and time I’ll stop there.

They have an appendix for “The Evaluation and Use of Commentaries” and their recommendations for good ones.

Overall, though I would not agree with every little point, I found the book very helpful. Though there is value in reading it through as a whole, I think there would be more value in reading the chapter on a particular genre just before reading that genre, and I may try to do that, or at least refresh myself on some of the applicable points, on starting a new genre in my own reading.

The authors are scholars who try very hard to make their points readable and understandable to the average layperson, and they mostly succeed. I don’t know if this is a book I would give to a brand new Christian right off the bat, though. It might be overwhelming, like trying to get a sip from a fire hydrant. But maybe not. Maybe it would help people get off on the right foot.

One frustration was that the authors often referred to what they called “How to 2” for further reading or for information they evidently didn’t want to reprint here. Since this is a third edition of the book, I thought they were referencing the second edition, and wondered why they didn’t just include that information here. But as I reread the first part, “How to 2” is referring to a different book of theirs, How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

I got this book on a Kindle sale because I had seen it referred to often, and it happened to be the third edition, which apparently is no longer available in the Kindle format. There is now a fourth edition, though, available both for print and ebook form.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Principles For Interpreting the Bible

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Have you ever wondered why two people can take the same Bible passage and come up with different meanings for it? Have you ever heard anyone say, “Oh, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say,” especially when you’re trying to bring spiritual truth to bear on a situation? It’s true that people wrest Scripture to make is say something it wasn’t meant to say. Whole false religions have been created by doing just that. How can we guard against doing that ourselves? By applying good principles of interpretation, called hermeneutics.

 “Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from misapplying Scripture or allowing bias to color our understanding of truth.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/Biblical-hermeneutics.html).

Some of you might think something like, “I will never be a preacher; I’m not even a teacher—so what does it matter how I interpret Scripture?”

It matters, first of all, because we’re instructed to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15). Even though that verse was written as instruction to a preacher, it’s also God’s inspired Word to us. Really, is there anyone who shouldn’t rightly divide the Word or study it aright? We want to understand what God said to us and not be led stray by misunderstanding His Word.

It matters, secondly, because each of us has a sphere of influence. Whether we ever stand in front of a classroom or audience or not, we come across people in our daily walk, we have relatives, friends, neighbors. What we read and how we read Scripture forms our understanding of spiritual matters (and our spiritual understanding of practical matters) and will influence our views, which in turn will affect our conversations and character and witness and influence.

Besides paying attention to the words themselves and how they are put together grammatically, like you would do with any reading, here are a few principles for rightly interpreting Scripture:

  • Pray. In Psalm 119:18, the psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Several times he asked for God to give him understanding or teach him. In How to Master the English Bible, James Gray said, “The most important rule is the last. Read it prayerfully. Let not the triteness of the observation belittle it, or all is lost. The point is insisted on because, since the Bible is a supernatural book, it can be studied or mastered only by supernatural aid. … Who is so well able to illuminate the pages of a given book as the author who composed it?” (I don’t know anything about the author or book than this, but thought the last two lines especially good.
  • Take the passage literally unless it’s obviously not meant to be literal. Someone once said about understanding the Bible, “When common sense makes good sense, seek no other sense.” There are some who “spiritualize” much of the OT, saying that the creation account, among other things, is just a myth and there was no real historical Adam. But the Bible presents creation and OT history as literal events in the lives of real, literal people. In Genesis 1, there is no reason to interpret the days of creation as anything other than 24-hour days. But when Jesus speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, we know He is speaking figuratively, partly because of the reaction of the disciples—or lack of reaction they would have had if they thought he was speaking literally.
  • Context, context, context. Taking a verse or passage out of context is one of the biggest violators of its meaning. Just one example: You can find nice plaques or Pinterest quotes that take Exodus 14:13-14 (“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace”) and condense it down to a pithy saying like, “Be still! Your God will fight for you.” But in the very next verse, God says, “Wherefore criest thou unto me?” And then He tells them what to do. Later, though there were times God supernaturally gave Israel the victory, most of the time they had to take up swords, spears, and shields, and fight. They still couldn’t win unless they were depending on Him rather than their own strength, but they trusted God to work through them.

Sometimes even good people will defend a stand or draw a good principle from a passage that isn’t teaching that principle. If the person you’re speaking with then does go back to look up the passage mentioned, your whole position is weakened if the context doesn’t support it. If the principle arises from the context, however, it is all the stronger and more enriching.

  • Don’t imprint your thoughts onto the text, but let the text reveal its meaning. A former pastor used to say that when he first started preaching, as he studied the passage he was going to preach on, he would ask himself, “What can I say about this passage?” After some time he realized that was the wrong question. The right one was, “What does this passage say?” For example, for years I heard that the people’s surprise at Peter’s release at the prayer meeting in Acts 12 was evidence that they weren’t praying in faith. But Dr. Layton Talbert, in his book Not By Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, brings up a different viewpoint. We don’t know that they were praying for Peter’s deliverance from prison. He points out that the text doesn’t say. James was killed by Herod earlier in the chapter: since he was not delivered they may not have expected Peter to be, either. “The only precedent we have for the church’s prayer under similar circumstances is in Acts 4:23-30. There, in the face of recent imprisonment, persecution, and renewed threats, the church made only one request. And it wasn’t for deliverance from prison or persecution; it was for boldness in the face of both (4:29)” (p. 203).
  • Compare Scripture with Scripture. The Bible is the best commentary on itself. One of the most important reasons for reading it through is to keep balanced and to keep the “big picture” in mind. A lot of theological error comes from emphasizing one part of a truth and neglecting or deemphasizing of the rest of it. Sometimes seemingly contradictory passages balance one another out or present different sides of the same truth. For instance, Proverbs 26:4-5 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Those sound like two different instructions, but there is a time to answer and a time it would be unwise to answer, and we need God’s wisdom to discern when and how.
  • Consider the genre. Though all the Bible is inspired and true, we would read Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Romans, and Revelation all a bit differently, taking into account the different kinds of literature each is as we seek to understand them.
  • Consider the historical setting or culture of the passage. Understand that OT Israel was under a theocracy and was given specific promises (like the promise of a particular piece of land) and were under certain restrictions that New Testament believers are not (Acts 15:1-31). Even though some situations discussed in the Bible, even in the NT, are not ones we have to deal with today (like eating meat offered to idols), it’s still important to read them and discern the principles involved.
  • Note the difference in passages of direct instruction and passages of example. I once heard a message that used Abraham’s seeking out a bride for his Isaac as a springboard for telling parents how to find spouses for their children. While there are good principles to glean (like seeking a godly spouse, praying, seeking God’s guidance, etc.), it doesn’t mean that since Abraham found a wife for Isaac, parents today need to find spouses for their children. That was the culture then (see #7), but nowhere in the Bible are parents instructed to find spouses for their children in this way.
  • Note what is said to whom, determine what it meant then, and then determine how it applies to us today. For instance, as a younger Christian I wrestled with whether what Jesus said to the “rich young ruler” in Matthew 19:16-26 about selling his possessions and giving to the poor was something every Christian should do. But then I realized no on else wads told to do that. Though the Bible has a lot of instruction about our possessions (“compare Scripture with Scripture”), that particular admonition was to convict that particular man about his core problem.
  • Don’t “surface” read. Take time to read carefully and meditate on the passage. Biblical meditation isn’t an emptying of your mind, but rather thinking over and over a passage and “chewing” on it.

There is much more that could be said. In fact, every time I come back to this post I think of something else to add. Whole books have been written about this, so I can’t possibly cover every aspect in one blog post. But this gives us plenty to ponder.

Even with these principles in mind, sometimes good people can differ in their interpretations. There are some mysteries that we won’t be able to resolve until we get to heaven. We need to pray, study it out for ourselves, and consult commentaries of those who have had more time and tools to study. Where the Bible speaks clearly, we need to stand firm. But in those areas that are less clear but aren’t a matter of heresy, we need to give grace to those who might not see it exactly like we do.

I’ve wondered through the years why God did not spell everything out so there could be no mistaking the meaning or application of it. Perhaps one reason is to test our own hearts, to encourage our study, our dependence on Him, and grace toward each other.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Literary Musing Mondays, Works For Me Wednesday, Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Thought-Provoking Thursday)

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Help for Changing Thought Patterns

Have you ever found yourself stuck in thought patterns? Fear, worry, and anxiety can easily set up camp in our minds, but so also can selfishness, greed, hatred, discontent, covetousness, jealousy, lust, and others. Many times we don’t even realize just how entangled our thoughts have become; sometimes we’ve just gotten so used to them that we have forgotten any other way.

Some years ago I shared reasons to read the Bible. One reason among the many is that we’re told in Romans 12:2 to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word for “renew” there means, “renovation, complete change for the better.” God changes us when we are saved but it takes the rest of our lives, continually spending time with Him in His Word, to “renovate” our thinking and make it more in line with His.

Part of that transformation comes through regular time in the Bible personally and with other believers in church. In a blog post titled “‘You Have Cancer’: When Theology Meets Your Fears,” Tina Walker wrote:

Soon I discovered that cancer was not the enemy – my flesh and Satan were. I wasn’t fighting breast cancer so much as I was fighting myself. And, although I wouldn’t have articulated it this way at the time, my theology was going to determine the outcome.

By theology, I mean the type of practical theology that doesn’t always take the form of a chapter and verse memorized just for the time of need. I’m referring to the accumulation of things learned about God over time. It’s the impression, the viewpoint we have about our God.   It frames the way we think and the way we react to everything that happens around us and to us.

We also need to ask Him to “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). We need for Him to alert us to our blind spots and make us aware of wrong thinking.

But what do we do when we are plagued with thoughts we know are wrong, and even prayed for deliverance and victory over certain wrong thought patterns? I used to pray, “Lord, change my thoughts.” That’s not entirely wrong, because we can’t do anything without Him (John 15:5); however, He has given us tools in His Word to help us combat wrong thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Someone once said that the best way to deal with a wrong thought is to replace it with another thought. If we just chant to ourselves, “Don’t think that, don’t think that, don’t think that,” we’re going to be stuck. Erwin Lutzer, in his book How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit, says that if someone tells you not to think of the number 8, then suddenly that’s all you’ll be able to think of. So rather than passively wishing and hoping our thoughts would be different, we need to actively turn our minds to right thoughts.

Sometimes that will happen during the regular course of our Bible reading: I don’t know how many times God has led me to help right when I needed it at that time. But sometimes it does take “chapter and verse for a time of need.” It helps to take a concordance and look up verses related to the problem we’re having. I’ve had the experience of angry feelings just melting away after reading verse after verse about anger. It helps to write them out, both so that they can work themselves into our minds while we’re writing them, and also so we can have a handy list to refer back to. Sometimes it helps to look up a number of verses; sometimes it helps to just take one especially helpful verse, write it out on a small card, and take with us everywhere to refer to often, pray through it, soak ourselves in it until it becomes a part of us. The more we are in God’s Word, the more the Holy Spirit can “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

It helps, too, to concentrate not just on the negative thought you’re trying to change or eliminate, but also on the positive one that needs to take its place. Ephesians 4:28 says don’t steal any more, but rather labor. Verse 29 says don’t let corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but rather that which is edifying. Verses 31-32 say, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” So when I am angry, I need to focus on love, forgiveness, and forbearing instead. When I am anxious, I need to remind myself of God’s sufficiency for whatever I am anxious about.

A few other considerations help in transforming our thinking. Recently I was talking with someone about a matter weighty on their heart, but they didn’t really want to listen (evidenced by their interrupting me in mid-sentence). I know at times I have experienced anxious thoughts frothing and spilling over like bubbles in a fountain. Jesus said to His disciples once, ” I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. (John 16:12). Sometimes we need to ” Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a) before we can even hear or receive what He is trying to tell us. There are many verses about inclining our ears or heart to Him. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15a: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” The more time we spend in His Word, the more we learn of Him and trust in Him, the more we rest in Him and quiet ourselves before Him, the more we can receive the ministry of His Spirit conveying His truth to our hearts.

I don’t mean by any of this that our sanctification or victory over sin is all in our hands. As I said earlier, we can only accomplish anything for God through His grace and power. But He has instructed us to read and meditate on His Word for this and many other reasons.

The ultimate means of change comes from beholding Christ: II Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. II Peter 1:3-4

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(Sharing with Literacy Musing Mondays, Inspire Me Mondays, Me, Coffee, and Jesus, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesdays, #TellHisStory)

Finding Time to Read the Bible

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In a recent blog post I read (I’ve forgotten where), the blogger mentioned that the book she was reading on Bible study didn’t discuss where to find the time. I had the same thought with a book I am reading on the subject. I guess the authors feel that once we are assured of the importance of Bible reading and study, we’ll make it a priority and make time. And I think that’s pretty much what it comes down to. If by finding time we mean we want a time that magically opens up with the solitude and inclination we need without a dozen other things crowding in…I just don’t think that’s going to happen, at least not regularly. Years ago our assistant pastor spoke of struggling to make time for Bible reading, and said to our senior pastor, an older, godly man, “I guess you don’t have trouble making time for Bible reading any more, do you?” He just laughed.

Finding the time is always going to be a struggle. There are always duties, distractions, and people clamoring for that time, and even an Enemy of our souls fighting against it. Instead of getting discouraged about it, we can just accept that it is a common problem and  prayerfully seek ways to deal with it. Perhaps reminding ourselves of reasons to read the Bible will renew our motivation.

We need to remember, too, that making time to read the Bible isn’t just about ticking off another duty. Every relationship thrives on communication. If we went for days without talking with our husbands except in the briefest necessary exchanges, we’d feel the effects pretty soon and realize we need some time alone together. Though sometimes we need to set up routines to establish good habits, taking time to read the Bible shouldn’t be a matter of rigid schedules, but rather of taking time to meet with the One Who loves us best.

So with these things in mind, here are some suggestions for carving time out to meet with the Lord:

1. Get up earlier or stay up later. I can hear you groaning. But for many of us, that’s the only way to get some time alone.

2. Keep the Bible handy. One friend with three small children close in age kept her Bible out in her kitchen. She couldn’t set aside a longer period of solitude, but she could read in smaller snatches through the day.

3. Listen. Some people like to listen to recorded versions of the Bible while driving, exercising, making dinner, etc.

4. Plan for it after a natural break in the day. It’s hard for many of us to stop in the middle of a morning or afternoon and put everything aside to read, but a break in the routine, when we’re shifting gears anyway, can help us work in some time for reading, like after a meal, after taking the kids to school, etc.

5. Meal time, especially if you eat alone.

6. Waiting time. We usually pull out our phones or a book if we have to wait at a doctor’s office or in car line at school, but that can be a good time for some Bible reading.

7. Establish a routine. Once we get used to setting aside a certain time for Bible reading, it’s not such a scramble to look for that time every day.

8. Don’t wait for perfection. One problem with a routine is that we can’t always figure out how to function when the routine is disrupted, like when we’re traveling or someone is sick or we have small children at home. I wrote a post some time back called Encouragement for mothers of young children about the topic of trying to find time for devotions with little ones in the house. Though I normally like getting up early and having solitude and quietness for Bible reading, that just didn’t work with little ones. Yet God enabled me to read and profit from it while they kept me company or played near me, even though usually I couldn’t concentrate under those circumstances.

9. Anything is better than nothing. Normally I like a good amount of time for Bible reading or study, but when a few moments was all I truly had, God often gave me just what I needed in those few moments in just a verse or two.

10. Talk with your husband, roommates, siblings, whoever you live with. Years ago I caught part of a radio program where the preacher was scolding women who wanted to spend early morning time to have devotions, saying the husband as the leader should have that time, since the wife had “all day” in which she could have devotions. The man obviously had not spent a whole day at home alone with kids. That mentality is so wrong on many levels. Not long after that a missionary speaking at our church mentioned protecting that time for his wife, a much better example of servant leadership and love. If the only way either parent can have devotions is for one of them to watch the children, then they can do that for each other. If a particular time of day is the best time for two people in a house, they can work out different locations if they get too distracted in the same room. Whatever conflict there might be about time and place preferences, talk with each other to work out the best solution for both and be willing to compromise.

11. Pray. In the blog post I referred to earlier, I mentioned that sometimes I’d get to the end of the day and lament to the Lord that I had no idea when I could have read my Bible that day. I began instead to pray at the beginning  of the day for wisdom and alertness for those moments when I could, and that made a profound difference.

12. Set something aside. If we have times to read other books, peruse Facebook, watch TV, or play games on our phones, we have time to read the Bible. I admit, if I sit down to relax for a few minutes with a book and realize I haven’t read my Bible yet that day, I don’t always have the best attitude about laying down my book and picking up my Bible. But when I confess that to the Lord and then go ahead, He graciously speaks to me through His Word. We do need time to relax as well, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of time in God’s Word. He knows our needs, and we can ask Him for both time to spend in His Word and for some down time.

What about you? What ways have you found to make time for Bible reading?

Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday and Works For Me Wednesday.

When the message isn’t for me

Courtesy offreedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

A week or two ago I came across a blog post that got me to thinking about how we respond when a meeting, church service, or even a Bible passage seems to apply to someone other than myself. When there is an ordination service or a Mother’s or Father’s Day message or children’s program, do I skip them because I am not a part of any of that?

I don’t think so. Here’s why:

1. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” II Timothy 3:16-17. It is all profitable for me in some way even if the particular passage doesn’t seem to apply to me.

Some years ago the pastor of the church where we were at the time read a few verses from Exodus with instruction about oxen. He asked, “Do any of you own an ox?” No one raised their hands.

He then asked, “How many of you have even seen an ox?” One or two raised their hands.

“So,” he said, “We should just turn the page and skip this passage, right?” No, we didn’t think so, but what do we do with that passage?

He then brought out several applications from the passage. For instance, someone who owned an ox that was known for trying to push people with its horn was more liable if it injured someone. So if we have, say, a dog with a tendency to bite, we are even more responsible to keep it from people it could hurt. Or, to apply it further, if our tail lights are out on our car, we’re liable if someone crashes into us because they didn’t know we were stopped or slowing down to turn, so it behooves us to keep up with those things.

2. It helps us understand our brothers and sisters in the Lord. I may not be a pastor or a husband or a mother, but the passages that talk about them help me understand their roles, not so I can form a checklist and note when they’re not getting it right, but so that I can pray for them, understand their problems, needs, and temptations, and encourage them. The Bible says the church is the body or Christ, and “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (I Corinthians 12:26).

3. Their position is under attack. Satan is not omnipresent, but he does get around, and he seeks to undermine everything God calls good. Any role or function within the church, home, or family as designed by God is under attack in some way or another. The blog post I mentioned at the beginning was complaining, in part, that the focus on married women and mothers in some women’s ministries left single ladies out. I do think that is a valid point: not all women are called to be married, not all mothers are able to stay home, and we need to find ways to minister to the whole scope of womanhood. However, there are particular ways marriage and motherhood are being particularly attacked and undermined in the world today, so we need to help support those roles.

4. I can learn something that applies to me even though the particular focus of the passage or sermon is for someone else. Loving one another as Christ loved the church is something that applies to us all, not just husbands, so I can take an illustration that may be particularly about husbands and learn something I need in loving others. Years ago in college we were encouraged to read a particular book about leadership which I gleaned a lot from even though I was not a leader at the time (and still don’t naturally feel inclined to be now).

This is not to say that I should attend every focus group within the church since we’re all part of the body of Christ. Some of those were created to handle specific concerns in a smaller group setting. But when a Bible passage or sermon or ladies’ meeting seems to apply to someone else, there is still much I can learn and benefit from if I have ears to hear and a heart to receive.

Book Review: Why We Are Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be

EmergentThose of you who read here regularly and have seen Why We Are Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck on about five different Nightstand posts are probably thinking, “Yes! She finally finished it!” When I was trying to read a bit here and there in 10-15 minutes offhand segments, it wasn’t working, but then I committed to trying to read a chapter, or at least a section, as many mornings as I could right after my devotional time. Once I really got into it, I loved it.

I would say this is a highly valuable book to read even if you don’t know (or aren’t interested in) what the emergent movement is all about, because there are tendrils of it popping up all over the place, and it is good to have Biblical thinking about these issues.

This book caught my eye because some years ago, when I first heard anything about the Emergent or Emerging church, I was active on a Christian message forum online and asked if someone could tell me in 2 or 3 sentences what it was all about. No one could, or at least, no one did. All I got were book recommendations. I wasn’t interested enough to read a whole book about it at the time. Fairly recently I saw this mentioned somewhere with the comment that it was a fair treatment, so when it came through on a Kindle sale, I got it. But then it sat there until the TBR challenge motivated me to add it to my books to be read this year, and then until just recently.

I don’t know much about either author except that DeYoung is a name in the “young, restless, Reformed” crowd. None of those adjectives fits me, but I do enjoy reading some of those folks and can work around those areas where I disagree with a Reformed view of things.

The Emergent movement or church is kind of hard to pin down, because it is not a denomination and there is no national spokesperson. But DeYoung and Gluck have done extensive research into the books and messages of those who identify themselves as  emergent and addressed some common themes (there is a distinction between those who would call themselves “emergent” and “emerging,” but for the purposes of this book the terms are used interchangeably). They discuss, from emergent writings, the good points, the valid concerns the emerging church has, and the problems they see with some of the emergent viewpoints and practices and why.

I have so many areas highlighted that it is going to be hard to share just a few things.

The authors begin by acknowledging that defining the emergent church or movement is like trying to “nail Jello to a wall,” but after reading some 5,000 pages of writing on the topic, they’ve identified some basic trends. They’re quick to acknowledge that not everyone who calls themselves  emergent will agree on every point and that they even share many of the same concerns as those in the movement, but while they “affirm a number of the emergent diagnoses, it’s their prescribed remedies that trouble us the most.” The emergent church is basically what postmodernism looks like applied to church, valuing questions more than answers, mystery more than authority, Christian living more than doctrine.

Here are some quotes that stood out to me:

For emerging Christians, the journey of the Christian life is less about our pilgrimage through this fallen world that is not our home, and more about the wild, uncensored adventure of mystery and paradox. We are not tour guides who know where we are going and stick to the course. We are more like travelers…the destination is a secondary matter, as is any concern about being on the right path…The journey is more wandering than directional, more action than belief, more ambiguous than defined. To explain and define the journey of faith would be to cheapen it.

[To the emergent] Christian life requires less doctrinal reflection and more personal introspection.

The emergent view of journey…undermines the knowability of God…emergent leaders are allowing the immensity of God to swallow up His knowability.

 Mystery as an expression of our finitude is one thing. Mystery as a way of jettisoning responsibility for our beliefs is another thing. Mystery as a radical unknowing of God and His revealed truth is not Christian, and it will not sustain the church.

One emergent leader writes, “Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument – and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search.”

There is a place for questions. There is a time for conversations. But there is also the possibility of certainty, not because we have dissected God…but because God has spoken to us clearly and intelligibly and has given us ears to hear His voice.

It is not a mark of humility when we refuse to speak about God and His will except in the most ambiguous terms. It is an assault on the Holy Spirit and disbelief in God’s ability to communicate rational, clear statements about Himself in human language.

The mantra “God is too big to understand and the truth too mysterious to know with certainty” is not just a confused humility. It has dangerous pastoral implications…Uncertainty in the light of our human limitations is a virtue. Uncertainty in light of God’s Word is not.

[Emergent leaders] confess to having “mixed feelings” about the Bible…They don’t want to use the traditional terms – authority, infallibility, inerrancy, revelation, objective, absolute, literal…They would rather use phrases like “deep love of” and “respect for.”…[To them] the Bible is not the voice of God from heaven and certainly not the foundation (foundationalism being a whipping boy among emerging Christians of a philosophical bent). Rather, the Bible “spurs us on to new ways of imagining and learning.”

[Emergents] pit information versus transformation, believing versus belonging, and propositions about Christ versus the person of Christ. The emerging church will be a helpful corrective against real, and sometimes perceived, abuses in evangelicalism when they discover the genius of the “and” and stop forcing us to accept half-truths….Our fullness of joy is dependent on believing, embracing, and treasuring the sentences that Jesus spoke. The sentences do not save us. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus save us. But without truth-corresponding propositions like “this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3) and “I have manifested your name to the people” (v. 6) and “I am praying for them” (v. 9) and “all mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them” (v. 10) – without these precious theological statements communicated and understood by verbal utterances, the joy of Jesus will not be fulfilled in us.

It simply isn’t true that orthodoxy as a right belief is nothing but a perverted Greek idea. John wrote his gospel..that people…might believe that Jesus was the Christ and by believing have life in His name (John 20:31)…There are certain truths that must be affirmed in order to be a Christian…There is no question that Paul believed in orthodoxy. “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” he told Timothy (II Timothy 1:13).

If the good news is an invitation to a Jesus way of life and not information about somebody who accomplished something on my behalf, I’m sunk. This is law and no gospel.

Yes, we do see through a glass darkly; we do not fully understand God…God is greater than we can conceive – but what about the 1,189 chapters in the Bible? Don’t they tell us lots of things about God that we are supposed to do more with than doubt and not understand? Aren’t the Scriptures written so that we might believe and be sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see and even proclaim this faith to others?

To the Emergent, Christianity is a story from which ethics are gleaned, rather than a life-saving proposition.

Christ was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. That is the heartbeat of the gospel. It is not the heartbeat of the emergent gospel.  Rather, the cross is a moral example.

Forgive me for not putting notations of where those quotes were: on the Kindle app is just says “Location 250” or whatever, and I started out putting that, but it was just too clunky.

One of the best parts of the book is the epilogue, where the writer sums up by discussing some of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 and their application to us. The church at Ephesus was praised for being doctrinally correct and intolerant of those who brought false doctrine, but they were unloving. The churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were loving but tolerated false teaching.  “Their love was blindly affirming. The big problem at Thyatira was tolerance. They tolerated false teaching and immoral behavior, two things He who has eyes as piercing as fire and feet as pure as burnished bronze is fiercely intolerant of (Rev. 2:20). Jesus says, ‘You’re loving, which is great, but your tolerance is not love. It’s faithlessness.'” Each church was praised for its virtues but rebuked for its weaknesses. The need is not be be doctrinally correct or loving, but doctrinally correct and loving. We have to be careful in addressing the faults of one side or the other that we don’t magnify those and minimize the virtues and swing the pendulum too far the other way.

There is so much more I wish I could share. I’ll close with one last quote:

As a Christian man, specifically as a husband and father, I need truth. I need to worship a God who makes demands on my character, with consequences. I need to know that Christianity is about more than me just “reaching my untapped potential” or “finding the God inside me.” I need to know I worship a Christ who died, bodily, and rose from the dead. Literally. I need to know that decisions can (and should) be made on the basis of Scripture and not just experience. These are things that give me peace in a world of maybe.

An excellent review of this book is here.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

31 Days of Inspirational Biography: William Tyndale

When William Tyndale began studying for the ministry at Oxford, he was horrified to discover that his official courses did not include study of the Scripture. He began to teach and discuss Scripture in private groups. He was fluent in seven languages besides English, and while studying Erasmus’ version of the Greek New testament he came to see the need and blessing of being justified by faith alone, and he realized many errors were perpetuated by his church.

Tyndale exhorted that it was in the language of Israel that the Psalms were sung in the temple of Jehovah; “and shall not the gospel speak the language of England among us?… Ought the church to have less light at noonday than at dawn?… Christians must read the New Testament in their mother tongue.” Tyndale determined to give the English people a translation of the Bible that even a plowboy could understand.

In 1523 he went to London to seek permission from the bishop to translate the Bible into English. He was denied. He worked on the translation of the New Testament on his own with help from Humphrey Monmouth until he went secretly to Germany and finally finished it in 1525 with the assistance of William Roy. It was “smuggled back into England. It was the first translation of the [New Testament] from the original Greek into English –indeed, it was the first translation of a Greek book into English. “ The translations were condemned by the bishop, who had copies burned in public, and Cardinal Wolsey declared Tyndale a heretic. Tyndale went into hiding and began translating the Old Testament and other papers and treatises. Due to the secrecy and danger of his work, much of his exact whereabouts and the identities of those who helped him are unknown.

At one point the authorities bought as many of his translations as possible in order to destroy them, but the money actually helped Tyndale by providing the means to work on new and better translations.

The King [Henry VIII], Wolsey, and [Thomas] More all had agents on the Continent hoping to find and arrest Tyndale. In 1534 Tyndale was betrayed by a false friend near Brussels, arrested by imperial forces, and thrown into prison. He was accused of maintaining that faith alone justifies. He was found guilty and in [October] 1536 was executed.

His last words at the stake were, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”  That prayer was answered three years later with the publication of Henry VIII’s “Great Bible.”

Much of the King James Version and other translations are based on Tyndale’s work.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to this man for having the burden and vision to give English-speaking people an understandable translation of the Bible, for doing right in the face of danger to himself, for the many hours of work involved, and for “loving not his life unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).

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Sources:

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tyndale

 http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/william-tyndale.html

 http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps059.shtml (Direct quotes are from this source.)

 

Quotes from William Tyndale:

I had perceived by experience, how that it was impossible to stablish the lay people in any truth, except the scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.

I defie the Pope and all his lawes. If God spare my life, ere many yeares I wyl cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he doust.

I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me.

Christ is with us until the world’s end. Let his little flock be bold therefore. For if God be on our side, what matter maketh it who be against us…?

 The preaching of God’s word is hateful and contrary unto them. Why? For it is impossible to preach Christ, except thou preach against antichrist; that is to say, them which with their false doctrine and violence of sword enforce to quench the true doctrine of Christ.

Where no promise of God is, there can be no faith, nor justifying, nor forgiveness of sins: for it is more than madness to look for any thing of God, save that he hath promised. How far he hath promised, so far is he bound to them that believe; and further not. To have a faith, therefore, or a trust in any thing, where God hath not promised, is plain idolatry, and a worshipping of thine own imagination instead of God.

~ From http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Tyndale

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For the 31 Days writing challenge, I am sharing 31 Days of Inspirational Biography. You can find others in the series here.