With All Our Minds

I admit I enjoy learning. I liked reading the encyclopedia when I was a child. When I was in college, I once remarked that I could be a professional student. I loved taking classes, and as graduation came, I lamented that I couldn’t get to all of them that I wanted to. But I had a huge college debt already and needed to actually get on with life beyond college.

However, I’ve known women whose eyes glaze over when a pastor or Bible teacher mentions verb tenses or Greek words, things I love because they help me understand the text better. I’ve known some women to fidget, sigh, squirm, and make funny comments during a more academic Sunday School lesson and then become thoroughly engaged listening to a speaker with more froth than substance.

Sometimes these women are gifted in other ways. Some are more outgoing, easily engage with people socially, and are great at making people feel welcome – all things that don’t come naturally to me and that I have to work at.

Just as those of us who are introverted and do not easily begin conversations have to go outside our comfort zones sometimes, so those who are not naturally academically inclined have to go beyond their natural grain sometimes. By “not academically inclined” I don’t mean not smart. There are different kinds of smart, “book smart” being just one of them.

And granted, there are some speakers and writers who overdo the academics with a plethora of multi-syllabled theological terms that only a seminary graduate would know. I’m not talking about that kind of academics. I’m talking about this:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Mark 12:30, ESV.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2, ESV.

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13, KJV. (The ESV renders “gird up the loins of your mind” as “preparing your minds for action.“)

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14, ESV.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15, NASB.

God doesn’t want to touch just our hearts from His Word, He wants us to use our minds, to engage our brains.

I think one reason that so many spiritual books marketed to women are so shallow, as Aimee Byrd wrote, is that we tend to want to be spoon-fed processed “inspirational” food without having to think too much about it. And, as I wrote recently in regard to doctrine, sometimes we approach the Bible just wanting “something to get me through the day” or something uplifting rather than wanting to study it.

There are times, like when there are young children in the house, or during times of illness or exhaustion, when there is not as much time or our brains aren’t quite as up to exercise as usual.

And we have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul.

But next time we pick up our Bibles or listen to someone preach or teach, let’s seek to be taught, to think, to learn.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11, ESV.

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! Psalm 119:29, ESV.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Psalm 119:33, ESV.

Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Psalm 119:66, ESV.

Thy Word is Like a Garden, Lord

Thy Word is like a garden, Lord, with flowers bright and fair;
And every one who seeks may pluck a lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine; and jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths for every searcher there.

Thy Word is like a starry host: a thousand rays of light
Are seen to guide the traveler and make his pathway bright.
Thy Word is like an armory, where soldiers may repair;
And find, for life’s long battle day, all needful weapons there.

O may I love Thy precious Word, may I explore the mine,
May I its fragrant flowers glean, may light upon me shine!
O may I find my armor there! Thy Word my trusty sword,
I’ll learn to fight with every foe the battle of the Lord.

Words: Ed­win Hod­der, The New Sun­day School Hymn Book, 1863

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday)

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Here are a few of the good reads discovered lately:

The Greatest Work You Can Do, aimed at college students but good for all of us.

Fictitious Forgiveness: Why We Cannot Forgive Ourselves, HT to Challies. “Feeling bad about ourselves over undealt with offenses is God’s objective expression of love, not a feeling to be drowned out by self-actualization and self-pampering.”

Implications or Applications: Biblical Narratives, HT to Proclaim and Defend. Written for preachers but good advice for reading and knowing how to apply Biblical narratives.

Altar of the Feels.

Act Your Age. This is aimed at young men needing to “grow up,” but has some good thoughts for all of us.

Go to Bed for the Glory of God.

6 Surprises Every Premarital Counselor Should Cover, HT to True Woman

Dashing Little Ones Against the Rock HT to Challies. Thoughts on one of the most difficult passages of Scripture.

A few about parenting:

What Your Kids Need Is Your Authentic Christian Life.

Spurgeon’s Secret for Raising Godly Children, HT to Challies. I’d disagree with #8, but otherwise agree with the list.

Teaching Our Children About Work.

And finally, this from Pinterest made me smile.

Happy Saturday!

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Book Review: No Little Women

No Little WomenAimee Byrd takes the title of No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God from 2 Timothy 3:6-7:

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Other translations use the descriptors “gullible,” “foolish,” “idle,” “silly” women. She says the literal translation is “little women” or “small women” and “was a term of contempt” (p. 23).

“Of course, Paul is not making a blanket statement about all women” (p. 21). “Paul isn’t soft-pedaling the issue here. And he isn’t being chauvinistic. His writing in Scripture shows a high view of women and much appreciation for their service. I wish we could all be the kind of woman who is praised in his writing. And Paul is not saying men are never gullible. He is saying that a particular type of immature woman was being targeted by false teachers looking to manipulate and infect households” (pp. 23-24).

In pondering why women would be such a target, she discusses the value of women, first of all from having been made in God’s image, but also in having been created as a helper. Sometimes we bristle at that word “helper,” but the word is also used of God “as a ‘helper’ to Israel throughout the Old Testament” and this word “communicates great strength” (pp 24-25). She quotes one author’s interpretation of the word for helper, ezer, as a “necessary ally”  which “brings into view the joint mission for which the male and female are created to rule God’s earthly kingdom” (p. 26). It emphasizes their relatedness to each other and dependence on each other.

To get to Adam, Satan went after a target of value to him. It is no surprise, then, that he is still relentless in trying to deceive Christ’s bride, the church, through false teachers, ill-placed priorities, felt needs, fear tactics, and coping mechanisms, to divert them from resting in Christ and in God’s wisdom, provision, and sovereignty” (p. 26).

In these days, this often happens via women’s ministries and books targeted to women.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? Have we made any progress in equipping our women to distinguish truth from error in what they are reading? Do the women in your church actually have the skills to lead a Bible study? Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives?” (p. 22).

No matter what our different circumstances and vocations may be, every woman is a theologian. We all have an understanding about who God is and what he has done. The question is whether or not our views are based on what he has revealed in his Word about himself. And yet many women are either turned off or intimidated by doctrine” (p. 53) (emphasis mine).

Further complicating the problem is that sometimes pastors are unaware of what is being taught in women’s Bible studies, or, in some cases she cites, concerns women bring up to pastors about the books they’re reading are dismissed as if they don’t matter. I appreciate that she encourages pastors and leaders not just to give women’s ministry leaders lists of approved and disapproved authors, but to engage their questions and concerns and teach them how to be discerning in their reading.

Aimee delves further into what it means to be a “necessary ally,” why women should be theologically robust, how church leaders can help, how to be more discerning in our reading. She goes into church and feminist history to a degree. She demonstrates that, though a woman is not to hold an authoritative office over men, that doesn’t mean men can never learn from women (e.g, Hannah and Mary’s prayers are theologically rich and recorded as inspired Scripture, Priscilla is named with her husband Aquila as having “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more accurately,” Abigail reasoned with and appealed to David, diverting him from killing her household). She discusses different levels of doctrines: there are core ones that not to believe is heresy, such as the inspiration of the Bible, who Jesus is, how one can be saved, etc. But there are secondary ones that we might disagree over yet acknowledge that the other person knows and loves God, and we might benefit from their teaching while not necessarily agreeing with every little point. She has one section where she takes excerpts from popular books for Christian women and shows how to ask questions of them to discern what they are saying and how it lines up with Scripture.

I very much appreciate that she summarizes well after a section of writing. Not many non-fiction authors do this any more: maybe they feel they’ll bore the reader. But it helps me for the author to step back every now and then and review in a more concise form what they’ve just been talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to keep in mind the flow of the book and the connection between individual chapters and the overall point, so it helps when an author does that occasionally.

I have multitudes of places marked, much more than I can share in this already-long review, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

The reason why so many people have an aversion to theology may be that it takes fitness. Returning to Hebrews 10:23, holding fast to anything requires fitness. It requires exercise, conditioning, stamina. We are exhorted to hold fast to our confession of hope because there is always something working against our fight for spiritual health and growth. John Owen picks up on this, saying that these two words insinuate an opposing force–we could even say a “great danger.” “To ‘hold fast’ implies the putting forth our utmost strength and endeavors in so doing.” This is going to take awareness and a real fight. Faith is a gift of God, but it is a fighting grace. To be fit theologically, we must be conditioned by God’s Word, exercising this gift actively by living a life of faith and obedience (pp. 57-58).

Sometimes we get so invested in our favorite authors and teachers that we have trouble separating their personalities from the content of their teaching. How do you handle it when your favorite books or speakers are challenged by constructive criticism? Do you take it personally? Do you think you have any blind spots when it comes to reading with discernment? (p. 64).

Our evangelical culture is one that promotes tolerance and love. But it isn’t loving to tolerate bad teaching in the church. Love requires the work of guarding the Word of the One who is truly loving. He loves us enough to be direct about holiness, sin, and the way to everlasting life. We have a responsibility to discern the teaching of those who eagerly wish to disciple others (p. 87).

We need to be careful not to be led by our sentiments to the detriment of our competency in God’s Word (p. 166).

Discernment is necessary in our relationships and in all of our learning. We are to pursue truth, and that means we have to distinguish truth from error (p. 201).

Aren’t we striving for unity? Of course we are! But what is it that unites us? We have a beautiful prayer recorded in Scripture, offered by Jesus for the unity of his church (see John 17:11). In it, he prays for his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). To sanctify means to set apart. So we see that Christ’s disciples were to be set apart by his word….We can be united only by the truth; anything else is superficial. God’s Word is the truth! And yet there is a setting apart, as truth needs to be separated from lies and errors (pp. 221-222).

But isn’t love the most important thing? [Quotes Jesus from Matthew 22:37-39, ties back to Deuteronomy 6:4-5.] So yes, love is of extreme importance–not only with our hearts and souls, but with our minds as well (p. 222, emphasis mine).

[After quoting Galatians 1:6-9 about letting those be accursed who bring a false doctrine] Those are very strong words. But they are loving words! It isn’t loving to accept any teaching in the church that is damning to our souls (p. 229).

What they believe to be true about God and themselves will shape their everyday decision making and behavior. But, more than that, it is an eternal matter. Impress the truth upon both the women and the men that they are theologians. We all have some sort of knowledge about God. The question is whether we are good theologians or poor ones. We are called to a life of faith and obedience. How does the knowledge of who the Lord is and what he has done on our behalf affect us? (p. 269).

If you’ve read here long, you know I take sound doctrine seriously, and I agree with what Aimee says about the need to read, understand, believe, obey, and teach what God says. I, too, have been saddened or dismayed by some of the problems in some of the most popular Christian books marketed to women. So I am very happy to see the emphases in this book on robust theology and discernment.

However, there are a few areas where I’d disagree with Aimee, though they all fall under secondary issues.

She wonders if there is any need for separate women’s ministries at all, and if there is, she feels they should be called initiatives rather than ministries. She feels that calling every other endeavor in church a “ministry” takes away from the ministry of the preaching of the Word of God, from which everything else we do in church should flow. I agree that the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry, but I have no problem with a women’s ministry or children’s ministry or prison ministry. The Bible does teach that we are all supposed to minister to others, and I have never had the example or even the thought that these other ministries of the church are competing with or downplaying preaching.

Somewhat connected with that, she quotes Hannah Anderson’s Made for More as saying, “When we craft our learning and discipleship programs around being ‘women,’ we make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.” I have not read Hannah’s book, but I don’t have a problem with a women’s ministry’s focus primarily concerned with Christian womanhood. A lot of what older women are instructed to teach younger women in Titus 2 has specifically to do with their womanhood, yet it is all within the context of sound doctrine (verse 1). I’ve been involved with women’s ministries for most of my adult life, and they’ve mostly been set up with monthly or quarterly meetings built around fellowship and outreach with occasional Bible studies at other times. The preached Word that we receive in other services during the week (4 or more for many of us) forms the basis and context for what we do in the women’s ministries. Having a women’s ministry built around Christian womanhood does not necessarily mean that we’re elevating that above knowing Christ: we’re seeking how to be the kind of women He wants us to be under the leadership of Titus 2 older women.

In a section about Adam and Eve, she states that “They were to expand the garden-temple, and therefore God’s presence, to the outermost parts of the world” (p. 68). I have a question mark under “God’s presence.” He is already everywhere. I’ve never heard this as a part of their instruction to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Later in this section she faults Eve for being “hospitable to the enemy, allowing the Serpent to converse with her in the garden-temple” (p. 69). Is talking to him being hospitable? And did she even know he was an enemy at that point? I’ve often wondered about this scene. She shows no surprise that a serpent speaks to her. Did all animals speak then? I don’t know. It seems to be a real serpent as opposed to a figurative one (like the dragon or beast in Revelation. We take them as figurative representations of real people with dragonish and beastly characters) because the curse in Genesis 3:14-15 has him crawling on his belly like a snake. Granted, when he started questioning and twisting God’s Word, that should have raised a red flag for Eve, and maybe that’s all that Aimee means, that Eve should not have kept listening to the snake at that point. But she seems to find a lot of fault with both Adam and Eve long before the Bible charges them with sin.

In a discussion of our unity with Christ, with His being the head and we His body, she makes the statement, “Christ has united himself in such a way to his church that we can be called the total Christ, or the one Christ!” (p. 171). While I agree with everything else she said about our union with Him, this statement bothers me, but I would need to ponder it more than I have.

Aimee writes from a Reformed perspective, and I am not Reformed, so we would have some differences there. Some day I really should write out why, but it would take too long to get into all of it here.

There are a couple of areas I wish she had gone into more, such as why we believe the canon of Scripture is closed and there is no new revelation at this time and hermeneutics (principles for Bible interpretation), as those are two areas of error in a lot of popular books.

But overall, I found much food for thought and much I agreed with thoroughly. I thought this was a very helpful book and I highly recommend it for every woman who wants to be strong in the faith rather than a spiritually immature or “little” woman.

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Wise Woman, Carole‘s Books You Loved)

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Why Study Doctrine?

Doctrine can seem like a cold, dry concept, something stuffy theologians fuss over when they should be trying to reach others. We’re more excited by a group study on relationships or parenting or womanhood or just about anything rather than a doctrinal study. We don’t usually approach our time in the Bible or church rubbing our hands eagerly anticipating what doctrine we’ll learn about today. We’re usually looking for help, encouragement, affirmation. We want to feel something. But feelings don’t last. If I get a warm fuzzy spiritual feeling in my devotions, that can dissipate in seconds when someone crosses me or something goes wrong. Winsome sermons and books may inspire me for a short while, but unless there is meat to them, that inspiration won’t last.

But doctrine is vital. You can hardly read a NT epistle without coming across a mention of doctrine and warning against false doctrine. If we think of sound doctrine as a manifestation of God’s truth and character, we can in turn worship Him by knowing and sharing the doctrines of His Word.

A.W. Tozer once wrote that “there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.”

So what are some advantages to studying right doctrine in the Bible?

Doctrine leads us to true worship. When we don’t worship God for Who He truly is, then we are worshipping a god of our own making, and that is idolatry. Now, of course, all of us are imperfect in our knowledge of Him and are, or should be, ever growing in Him, and He’ll correct our understanding along the way. But that is different from not knowing Him for Who He is due to neglect or misapplication of the Word.

Doctrine increases our intimacy with God. We can’t know Him aright apart from what He has revealed of Himself in His Word. As we learn more of Him, we love Him and worship Him more, and what seemed like “dry doctrine” then does become something that warms and thrills our hearts as the Holy Spirit brings that truth to mind.

Doctrine protects against error and therefore the wrong path. For example, years ago when cult leader David Koresh was in the news, I watched an interview with someone from his compound. I was shocked to hear her say that she was impressed that he knew his Bible so well. Nearly everything he brought from the Bible, he twisted. Knowing doctrine would have kept this person and others from being deceived by him and others like him.

Doctrine bolsters our faith and confidence in God.  Recently I was troubled by a question I had no answer for that cast doubts on God’s character. I still don’t have an answer for it, but I rested on the previously studied truth that He is good, righteous, kind, and merciful.

Doctrine meets our deepest needs at the most basic level. If I am feeling lonely, what most helps except the truth that God is present everywhere, even with me? If I am afraid, what helps most but meditating on God’s power? When a trial comes and people feel forsaken, what most comforts but the precious truth that God will never forsake us? If I am feeling ashamed, sinful, and unworthy, my only help is turning to the only One who can wash away my sin and remind me that I am in Him and beloved by Him.

Doctrine is stabilizing. “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV). I’ve known women and read women who do just this, float around with whatever is popular with little discernment. 2 Timothy speaks of “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” who are “lead captive” by a whole host of wrongdoers in the “perilous last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-7, KJV). By contrast, Titus 2 exhorts us to “speak thou the things which become sound doctrine” (v. 1, KJV).

Doctrine determines deeds. Our beliefs affect our behavior. When a lie seems the only way out of a tough situation, what keeps us from it but the knowledge that it will displease a God whose essence is truth? Even the Titus 2 admonition to older men and women is couched in the context of sound doctrine.

Doctrine honors God. He is the one who determined what sound doctrine us. If we love Him we should want to know what He says and live accordingly. It’s so important to Him, He inspired John to write, “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (1 John 1:10, ESV).

Doctrine is not an end in itself. If it is, then it does become dry and stale. The point of doctrine isn’t to line up our beliefs in neat, orderly systems and leave them there. The point is to know God better, serve Him in the ways He desires, and minister His truth to others.

People concerned about right doctrine can seem pesky and picky, and, true, it’s too easy to be that way. We shouldn’t be nitpicky just to be so. But we should “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB), and as kindly and gently as possible bring His truth to bear in our conversations and interactions. We have to remember to let our speech be always “with grace” (Col. 4:6) and to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We don’t need to “pounce” on every comment or reference another person might make, but graciously seek what the Lord might have us say. We also have to distinguish between clear doctrine and those areas where good people can differ or personal preferences.

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” (KJV). We “behold Him” through His Word. And, the more we behold Him, the more we are changed into His likeness.

Learning doctrine doesn’t necessarily mean digging up systematic theology books, though some might like to do so. In our everyday reading and Bible study, it means looking for the truth about God when we read. The Bible is so much more than moralistic stories (“Be like Joseph and Daniel; don’t be like Jonah and Judas”). Look at what God is doing in the passage, what we see of His character and wisdom in what He is doing.

So, don’t be dismayed by that word “doctrine.” II Timothy 4: 3-4 says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” That is a warning to us not to turn away from sound doctrine, but also possibly an admission that sound doctrine needs to be “endured.” Learning doctrine may not always feel warm and fuzzy, but the Holy Spirit will use it in our lives in blessed ways.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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Here’s some interesting reading discovered recently:

What Is Inductive Bible Study?

How To Be a Friend to Someone Who Has Breast Cancer. The tips here are great for a friend with almost any illness.

I Got Pregnant. I Chose to Keep My Baby. And My Christian School Humiliated Me. “My school could have made an example of how to treat a student who made a mistake, owned up to it, accepted the consequences, and is now being supported in her decision to choose life. But they didn’t.” This is a difficult situation. I understand Christian schools not wanting to appear to be condoning certain behaviors, but I think a girl in this situation needs to be affirmed for doing the right thing in having her baby rather than having an abortion.

A Theology of the Home, HT to Challies.

Check Your Privilege, HT to Challies.

A Patient Perseverance: a mother’s prayers for a wayward son.

And finally, this is me. 🙂

Or this is even more my style, minus the spa.

Happy Saturday!

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It’s time for another Roundup of Recommended Reading Researched from Remarkable Writers around cyberspace. 🙂

11 Questions to Ask of a Bible Passage, HT to Challies.

How to Be an Encouraging Friend in Times of Pain.

The Worst Consequence of Skipping Church.

Sister, You Can Do Hard Things.

Satan Wields Ignorance of the Word as a Weapon. “Most Christians I talk to have never read the entirety of the Bible. They may read it frequently but only parts of it. But daily reading parts of the Bible doesn’t mean you know it any more than daily reading the first chapter of Moby Dick makes you an expert on the famous novel. Ignorance of the whole of God’s Word makes us easy targets in the war Satan has waged against God. Lies can slip through undetected like poison gas because we’re just not that familiar with the truth.”

A Hill to Die On, HT to Challies. “When you’re fighting a war, there’s very rarely a compelling reason to die for the next yard of soil – but that’s how wars are won, and that is how the line is held – yard by yard.”

Beware of Broken Wolves, HT to Challies. “These are the false teachers who use their own authenticity, pain, and brokenness to attract believers who are also suffering and broken—and then using their “brokenness” to lead the sheep to turn away from God’s Word and embrace sin.”

Don’t Skim the “Minor” Bible Stories.

What We Gained When We Lost Our Hymnals. This was a follow-up to What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals. I have read online a lot of complaining about using screens vs. hymnals, but I like the advantages he brings out about using screens. There are pluses and minuses to each. Our church uses both. If a song is not in the hymnal, it is projected on the wall. If it is in the hymnal, the words are also projected but our songleader tells where it is in the hymnbook for those who prefer to use it.

Living Faithfully Instead of Fancifully in an HGTV World. HT to True Woman. “To revel in the beauty of an earthly home knowing it will never completely satisfy because there’s a heavenly one ahead”; “The pursuit of joy is good but can come dangerously close to hedonism and not the Christian kind.”

Giving Up or Giving Back. This was from the Lenten season but has some tips for “giving back” in various other settings as well.

4 Ways Satan Uses Christian Generosity for Evil, HT to Challies.

Manage profanity in writing, HT to Adam Blumer. Tips for making villainous characters realistic without filling your readers’ heads with foulness.

And, to end with a smile:

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Happy Saturday!

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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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