Category Archives: Interpretation

Two Conferences of Interest

One on John Bunyan in Whitlinsville, MA:

“A John Bunyan Feast”

October 22-23. Joel Beeke and Derek Thomas are the speakers.

Friday, October 22, 2010
12:30 PM Book Table Opens
1:30 PM Registration Opens
3:00 PM First Session: Pilgrim’s Progress: from the City of Destruction to the Cross Mr. Thomas
4:15 PM Dinner Break (at local restaurants)
6:00 PM Second Session: Bunyan’s Preaching to the Heart Mr. Beeke
7:20 PM Third Session: Pilgrim’s Progress: from the Cross to Vanity Fair Mr. Thomas
Saturday, October 23, 2010
8:00 AM Registration and Book Table Opens
9:15 AM Fourth Session: Bunyan on Justification Mr. Beeke
10:15 AM Coffee break and fellowship
10:45 AM Fifth Session: Pilgrim’s Progress: from Vanity Fair to the Celestial City Mr. Thomas
11:45 AM Questions and Answers
12:15 PM Lunch Break (at local restaurants)
1:30 PM Closing Session: A Bunyanesque Sermon on the Holy War Within Mr. Beeke

The other at Princeton Theological Seminary:

“These Speak of Me: The Glory of Christ in All of Scripture”

November 5-6. David Helm and Kent Hughes will be the speakers at this second conference.

PrCRT 2010

 

1 Comment

Filed under Christian Living, Current Events, History, Interpretation, Theology

The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism : A Book Summary

41mKuUdnXTL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA115_

The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority by G. K. Beale. Crossway: Wheaton, 2008. 300pp. $20.00.

Beale’s monograph is in fact a conglomerate of articles (with minor revisions) that had been previously published in response to Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.. Beale wrote the articles to respond to the moving tide of evangelical OT scholarship away from the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy toward a limited authoritative model (as displayed in Barth).

The strength of Beale’s book resides in his ability to distil Enns’ thesis and main presuppositions that lead him down the road he has taken. Particualrly, Enns’ takes the Incarnation of Christ as the main analogy for Scripture (27). It is, however, this very model that is not supported with tangible examples that makes Enns’ thesis remain ungrounded. As Beale says, “Enns never spells out in any detail the model of Jesus’ incarnation with which he is drawing analogies for his view of Scripture” (54). It is telling that within the biblical narrative, prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah were esteemed as communicating God’s very words with his covenant community – as distinct from words they inevitably spoke that were not enscripturated.

Unfortunately, the dialogue between Enns and Beale becomes divergent when it comes to the audience of Enns’ book. It appears that instead of interacting with Beale’s criticisms, Enns has opted to take offense that his book is written for a popular audience rather than a scholarly audience. This appears to be an effort to excuse his uncareful language – as charged with Beale’s arguments (64-65).

Beale helpfully has his assistant Mitch Kim summarize Enns’ arguments (so as to help ensure more balance than one who is involved in the debate). This evinces humility and gains the reader’s confidence that Beale is not picking fights about semantics.

The strength of Beale’s book lays in his positive apology for the Bible’s inerrancy as historically understood from Isaiah’s authorship (ch. 5) to ANE cosmology (chs. 6 and 7). At the end of the day, Beale makes it clear what is at stake: “If [the biblical authors] imbibed the pagan mythological assumptions about the cosmos, then their unique theology would have been mixed with mythological notions” (217). In this way, the exclusive, unique religion of YHWH would be nothing more than a revision of Ba’alism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books & Media, Interpretation, Theology

Don’t Just Talk About Christ’s Sweetness…Taste It

I have been steeping myself in Augustine over the past four weeks for a paper I am doing on Augustine’s view of Scripture – particularly inspiration. From his second exposition of Psalm 18 (19), this hit hard:

Verse 12. The sweetness of the commandments

12. Indeed your servant keeps them. Your servant tests their sweetness by keeping them, not merely by talking about it, and keeps them because they are sweet even now, and will bring him everlasting health in the future; for in keeping them there is great reward. Heretics are so attached to their rancor that they cannot see this brilliance, nor taste the sweetness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Christian Living, Interpretation, Quotations, Theology

The Drama of Doctrine: A Book Summary

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2005. 493pp. $39.95.

According to the author, “The present book sets forth a postconservative, canonical-linguistic theology and a directive theory of doctrine that roots theology more firmly in Scripture while preserving Lindbeck’s emphasis on practice”  (xiii).  On the whole, this work is a fascinating piece that helps theologian and layperson grasp the energetic nature of Scripture. Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic approach de-emphasized the autonomy of the exegete while heightening that of his enveloping culture – “the experience and the reasoning of the individual human subject is always already shaped by a tradition of language use” (10). By replacing “cultural” with “canonical,” Vanhoozer is able to say the same of Scripture – namely, it is the shaping subject for humanity. In this way, Vanhoozer reorients theology from theory to wisdom (13).

The author aptly shows how drama is a correcting foil for the theological endeavor. God is both the script(ure) writer and player in the drama. Humans are actors following a script. Theologians are the dramaturge for humanity.  Regarding the script, Vanhoozer makes it clear that this is a not a wooden mimic of the script. Rather, it is likened to a dinner theater, where the audience plays a part in the action and shaping as well. The actors are given roles, and they are so intended to enter into the ethic of the role that their actions and words will reflect the kind of person the playwright intended. Further, the Church acts out her parts in front of the surrounding culture and draws them into the drama that God intended them to live. Poignantly put, “Neither the pastor nor the magisterium should be allowed to become the sole voice or actor in the church. On the contrary, the whole people of God is responsible for participating in and continuing the action. Only an active rather than passive audience can turn deadly theater into ‘ a rehearsal of revolution.’ At its best, the church, as the theater of the gospel, is revolutionary, overturning idols and ideologies alike as it displays the first fruits of eschatological reality” (404; original emphasis).

Vanhoozer’s work should be read by all those who seek to bring doctrine and practice together. While this is not the only model by which we can organize Scripture’s teaching, the author has powerfully argued for it as a major contender. Unlike Michael Horton’s work regarding Divine Drama, Vanhoozer helpfully incorporates the surrounding culture in his model of theology. That is, rather than just saying that he will organize his theology around an analogy that follows the Bible’s own intrasystematic categories (when drama itself is not a category given in Scripture), Vanhoozer helps further theology’s enterprise of incorporating culture and Scripture together.

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Books & Media, Christian Living, Ethics, Interpretation, Pneumatology, Post-Modernity, Theology

Augustine’s Divine Accommodation In Natural Revelation

The divine scriptures then are in the habit of making something like children’s toys out of things that occur in creation, by which to entice our sickly gaze and get us step by step to seek as best we can the things that are above and forsake the things that are below {The Trinity, I. 1. 2}.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Interpretation, Quotations

Preaching and Power

I just finished listening to Piper’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the 1991 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. In a section of the biography, Piper elucidates Lloyd-Jones’ view of continuation of the spiritual gifts for the post-apostolic church.

I am a member of a relatively small group of Reformed people who believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a distinct work of God from the incorporation by the Spirit at the moment of faith and repentance. In other words, I believe that God unusually blesses people with an enflaming passion and boldness for his glory at peculiar times. It is true, we are baptized into Christ at the moment of conversion (Rom 6:3; 1Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27).

Yet Jesus tells his disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes upon them in power for witnessing. There are two arguments against affirming a special unction by the Spirit. First, people argue that to say power encounters accompany preaching detracts from the power inherent in faithful Gospel preaching (Rom 1:16). Lloyd-Jones commented that if the pre-eminent preachers of the Church (Peter, Paul, and Stephen) were endued with power in their preaching (in a way explicated in the Scriptures), then why should we not expect such power to come for present-day “average” preachers of the Gospel

Second, people have argued with me that there was a special authentication given to the Apostles to solidify their preaching in the beginning of the Church. This seems precarious because it raises the question as to how such primitive Gospel preaching is different than today’s situation within the context of a pluralistic society? Or even reaching back a few centuries, how was the authentication by Spirit-wrought power not necessary during Columba or St. Patrick’s ministry among the blood-saturated culture of the Celts? Is it not a problem to say that such pentecostal blessing was only necessary during the inception of the Church? Is that inception not still going on in Papa New Guinea or the Amazon or China?

I found that my bristling at such mention of the Spirit was rooted in my ignorance. I was far too worried about what people thought about Christians rather than longing for such blessing to be showered down from heaven. What magnificent things would happen if God brought revival to our world! Is your inclination to fear what people would think rather than seeing conversions?

Let me explain. Christians have so sought to be accepted by the world around them by planning financial seminars and community clean-ups – which are important to loving our neighbors – that it seems that to stick out like a sore thumb is a curse and not a blessing, Among those that have over-reacted to fundamentalism have we forgotten the strategic blessing of standing out? Have we married grass roots evangelism to the detriment of power encounters with the Holy One? It appears so.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Interpretation, Pastoral, Pneumatology, Theology

The Lure of Opposition

One of the traps I have seen set for me while studying – not that it has not been set before and not that I have not tripped it – is the desire to be a contrarian. You read all these books and you want really bad to make a name for yourself or show that you know the intricacies of an argument so you’ll say something like this: “I liked the book, I think I would have explained things a little differently.” Or, “I can’t stand so-and-so, he doesn’t articulate x as well as he should.” 

This betrays two things (as I see it): 1) my lack of charity; and 2) my laziness.

1) Lack of Charity: If my first inclination is to pick apart someone’s writing and view, then I have not truly listened. Therefore, I am in no position to respond. This is an issue in epistemology where our presuppositions can keep us from gaining knowledge. The wider culture calls it being close-minded. And while most people ruffle at the idea, it is, more often than not, true. Although I may believe what I know to be true, I should bite my tongue and repeat the cpnversant’s argument in my head to make sure I have really listened. My first response should be a question rather than a statement. “Did I hear you right?” “Do you mean this?”

2) Laziness: The times I have quickly responded to someone I have read or listened to with a rebuttal as noted above, I have drifted off into imprecision and laziness myself. That is, I hear so many people say, “Yeah, I heard the speaker but he was a little soft on this.” I have been challenged several times in my short tenure as a theologian by someone when they ask the question: “How would you have said it differently?” So my question to you is: What precisely do you disagree with?

I think many times I have heard someone I respect give such a response to an opponent, but I forget that they backed up the assertion with a list of reasons. My ears keyed in on the “I disagree,” but not on the “why.” So many of us, I fear, want to appear like we know what we are talking about – that we are privy to knowledge unbeknownst to our hearers, when, in fact, we are blowing fluff. May God help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

2 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Christian Living, Counseling, Evangelism, Family | Parenting, Interpretation, Pastoral, Post-Modernity, Sanctification, Theology

Dwelling through the Text

Mark Driscoll

Nehemiah

This is a story about Nehemiah planting a church in the city of Jerusalem.

Mark suggests that a church planter should write in a journal. He has been strategically prepared (in education, commerce, etc) in the capital of Susa by God for the re-building of Jerusalem. The information was not new to Nehemiah, but it hit him in the new way.

In the same way, the need for church planting in the city is not new information. There is a need – dead church buildings, apostate seminaries, etc. How will this hit you?

Four or five months after the Lord broke his heart he risked being killed by sitting in front of the king. He is willing to lose his high position (he lives in the palace and has much power) so that he can re-build that which has been torn down.

You need to pray and fast and articulate your plan. You better be able to articulate your plan of action before you go and try to gather finances and people. It should be written down. Everything he does is bathed in prayer. There are times that you will have to be confident and bold enough to ask for policies to be changed (Nehemiah asked for a law to be changed).

He asked the king to vouch for him. When you go out, you need to be able to say that there is a group supporting.

You need to continually look for evidences of God’s grace to encourage and keep you from discouragement. Every time Nehemiah’s prayers are answered he gives glory to God for the provision.

There will be those who will oppose you. How do you deal with criticism? Remember that criticism these days is instant, constant, permanent, and global. You need to flee to the Gospel to get through. Criticism will happen. You must assume that this will happen. Set up strong accountability structures around you so that you can give an answer to anyone that will make a charge against you. If Satan can’t make you sin he will make you busy. If he can’t make you fall, he will make you preoccupied with myriad of things. You will emotionally die as people you love will turn against you.

You must learn to let your critics to be your coaches.

Verse 11: He surveys the city at night so that he will be anonymous. He is doing a contextual survey of his city.

He does not tell anyone because he is motivated by a pervading call in his life. If you do not have a sense of calling, then you will give up.

Chapter 4:9 – The trowel is for building and the sword is for defending what you build. Do you know how to defend your people (theologically, physically, legally)? The job of the pastor is to shepherd the flock of God. You must be cautious to not think that you should shepherd wolves that will break into your fold. You have to get rid of them. The heretics that will sneak into your church will rip your church apart – even more probable than the critics from the outside.

Chapter 7 – You need to surround yourself with men of great character. You need to have a priest, prophet, and king who will meet the needs of your congregation.

Chapter 8 – The word is preached and then priests are released into the congregation to care for those who have confessed and believed in the word preached. This is analogous to small group ministries.

13:8 – Underlying much urban ministry is anger. You need to understand godly-motivated anger so that you do not sin. When you see sin, you should be compelled by anger and compassion to be a change agent. Verse 23: There is no room for cowardice in leadership. You need to take action rather than debate about issues too long. You have to be careful the example that you set for your people. 

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Books & Media, Church, Culture, Dwell Conference, Interpretation, Pastoral

Dwelling in the Text

Mark Driscoll

This is the hardest thing for him to talk about since much of it is intuitive. You have to know and love Jesus. To do this, you need to spend time in the text. It will impact your life and, subsequently, your marriage.

Six questions he asks himself when he is studying:

  1. What does the Bible say? Prov 35:6. The Bible is verbal plenary inspiration. The Bible is the primary means by which God uses to speak to us. He encourages us to fast a few days a month in order to simply read the Bible – fasting from internet, cell phones, e-mail, meetings, etc. Jesus often drew away from busy-ness
  2. What does it mean? Letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Use commentaries, other people, resources that will help you get in the life of the original hearers.
  3. What is the take away point? Perhaps it is a word, an image, a doctrine (i.e. providence, atonement), an emotion (Naomi changed her name to Mara), or a life study of a person (i.e. Nehemiah).
  4. Why/how is there resistance to what is true? We have a proclivity to suppress the truth. We need to be honest in our own lives (as we prepare) as to whether we have applied this text to our lives. “Before we can live a life, lead a family, lead a church, we have to acknowledge some of our own resistance.” How do we respond to those who will defend themselves. The Puritans would assume a resistance in their hearers, this is why they spent a considerable time preaching (not because they were merely verbose).
  5. Why does this matter? As my witness, my fathering, my husbanding, my pastoring. There are several layers to everything we learn and apply. Our life will affect our families, churches, and culture. The Gospel will be magnified and spread by our faithful application of this text. “The Bible is not just true, it is helpful.” It’s not like the phonebook that is true, but it helps people live better lives. It’s true that it leads to eternal life, but it is also the way to a better life here on earth. One of the worst reductionisms in our Bible reading is that it is just for me. We need to evaluate our lives one these several levels so that we can make an impact on our culture and spread the fame of Jesus.
  6. How is Jesus the hero? When you talk about Jesus, the Holy Spirit likes to show up to do a work on your hearers’ ears. We cannot merely use the Jesus exemplar so that we tell people to live like Jesus. He is the hero and Savior of men, not merely a model on how to be a better businessman or even pastor (though this is an aspect of Christ’s life).
    1. 25% of the OT is prophetic, which are tied to Jesus’ fulfillment
    2. Christophanies

                     i. “the angel of the Lord”

Types

 i.     Figures and institutions (Adam, priest, prophet, king, sacrificial system)

    Events

       i.     The Exodus, Passover, Day of Atonement

    Titles

       i.     Suffering Servant, First and the Last, Shepherd

     

    What is sad about so many in the ministry is that so many pastors use the Bible for other means other than for knowing Jesus. They go to the Bible for approval, self-exaltation, material gain, puffing up with knowledge, for comfort for our spouse. If you do not go to the Scriptures for Jesus, he will oppose everything you do. He will not be content with being a means to an end.

    Bottom Line:

    The Bible’s true, it’s about Jesus. 

    Table Talk

    Church planting is what happens when a man gets excited about Jesus and tells others about Him. What are ways we can get excited and stay excited about Him?

    Are you a closet light beer drinker? No. I am not a hypocrite.

    Why have you changed from being angry to being heart-broken over those who teach false doctrine? What I perceived to be false teaching knew what they were doing. Now I realize that there is demonic deception so that these people do not know they are teaching false doctrine (who believe they are teaching rightly). Also, I think I have become a pastor (as opposed to merely a prophet) to help people think through issues.

    How can a preacher get better at answering objections in a sermon? Preach more than one sermon (get feedback in between services). Ask for feedback among your elders. Bounce ideas off them. Have an on-line discussion board so you can see questions people have. For those who are getting ready to plant a church, it would be wise to plan your first year of sermons in ministry.

    How do we talk about Jesus being helpful without falling into pragmatism? We need to be afraid of compromise not pragmatism. We want to use our doctrine because it works. We do not want to denigrate our doctrine so that something works. He draws a metaphor of prophet, priests, and kings for our present-day context. Prophets want to have doctrinal solidarity. The priests want to minister to the needs of the people. Kings organize well. We need to learn from each of these offices. Finding out what works best is not a sin but compromise is.

    How do you structure your study time? Office at the church and a study at home. (1) saves on commute time. (2) I can study whenever I want. (3) My wife and kids have access to our libraries. (4) Your family see us studying the Bible. You’re integrating your study into your life. You need to set aside a few days a month to get away and spend time alone with God.

    What is the most-effective way a wife can encourage her church planting husband? [Gracie, Mark’s wife responds] That is husband-specific. I erred in trying to answer that question before I asked him; ask it often since the seasons change, Lots of encouragement even though you think he doesn’t need any help, advice, or encouragement. Even correction is encouragement. Keeping your husband a priority. [Mark resumes] A missional thought pattern should also be utilized when we minister to our spouse.

    Apart from the Bible, what are your top three resources? Biographies are huge. You don’t really know if he knows what he is talking about until he is dead and the full effects can be seen after their dead.

    From your own disciplines, how have you used them to meet with Jesus? I am a constant reader.

    How do you intentionally develop your staff? Set up a culture where we really trust the Bible and love Jesus. So much of what becomes the culture of the church is modeled by the pastor.

    We take responsibility even when you don’t feel like it’s your fault. This is seen in the life of Jesus who took our sin upon himself even when it was not his fault to own. Driscoll would discourage building ministries that will allow them to abdicate their duties to their families and the church. Possibly bring all the families together on Wednesday nights, teach them, and equip them to teach their families.

    Your goal should be to see all your men become elders. You want them to be at that level of elder in their doctrine and life. They all won’t get to there, but that is what you aim for.

         Best advice he has received as a church planter:

    “Be a sanctified version of yourself” (John Piper) – advice given to Driscoll he considers the best advice he has received as a church planter.

    1 Comment

    Filed under Bible, Church, Culture, Dwell Conference, Interpretation, Pastoral

    Where are the Prophets?

    First Things put up an article by Peter Leithart that provokes and informs. I may write more later regarding prophets and prophecy – as this has been a focus of my studies this semester. But for now, read this snippet and pick your jaw up from the last sentence:

    Far from simplifying prophecy, the Bible greatly complicates it. It’s as easy to denounce from a distance as it is to launch smart bombs from a command center on the other side of the world. Gestures of repudiation cost little, and adding the term prophetic lends an aura of piety to our reputations.

    Prophets in the Bible, though, cannot afford gestures. They are called to speak the word of the Lord from within the court, mounting an internal critique. The pressures on Nathan to keep silent after David seized Bathsheba and sent her husband to his death must have been enormous. He could have vented himself in a scathing editorial and then kept his head down. From all appearances, though, Nathan had free access to the court, was a friend of David, and a close adviser. It is said that prophets spoke truth to power, but that goes beyond cliché when we realize that prophets spoke the truth face to face with power, to powerful men and women whom the prophets knew intimately, frequently from their own position of power.

    Power corrupts, and it always has. Court prophets were often pusillanimous yes-men like Ahab’s four hundred, who dramatized Ahab’s coming victory over Aram by shaking around iron horns. But power doesn’t always and necessarily corrupt, and the company of priestly and court prophets also included spokesmen of Yahweh. Faithful “insiders” were always a minority, but the biblical picture shows that we can’t tell a true from a false prophet simply by answering the question, Where is the prophet? Not all prophets are in king’s houses, but some are.

    Judging by the biblical evidence, though, we are as likely to find a prophet in a presidential Cabinet, at the Hague, or roaming the halls of WCC headquarters as we are in the mountains of Northern Idaho or the deserts of Arabia or the desperate ghettos of Chicago. God is no respecter of persons, and a Karl Rove or a Paul Wolfowitz, as scandalous as the suggestion may be, is as likely to be a prophet as a Jeremiah Wright. 

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Bible, Charismata, Culture, Current Events, Ethics, Interpretation, Pastoral, Politics, Social Justice, Theology

    …Dividing Mere Academy and Spiritual Capitation

    “It is not moral education, even if it includes Bible study and memorizing Scripture verses, that makes people member of the kingdom of God. Nor is it personal reflection, a road travelled by Luther and Wesley in their early years. Instead, it is supernatural regeneration brought about by the Holy Spirit but always in conjunction with the reading or hearing of the word of the gospel as given in Holy Scripture. The Bible saves and converts not even because of its unique inspiration but because it is the sword of the Spirit, it is the sword that slays the demon of pride, it is the fire that consumes the old nature” (Donald Bloesch, “The sword of the Spirit: the meaning of inspiration” in Themelios 5(3, 1980), 19).

    1 Comment

    Filed under Bible, Interpretation, Pneumatology, Quotations

    E-Fellowship of the Arc

    For those of you who have heard of tracing, arcing is an interpretive tool to help you slow down and evaluate every phrase in a passage. It works especially well for the epistles. It’s a little more difficult with narrative. It is now possible to arc without pencil and paper. Bible Arc Website 

    2 Comments

    Filed under Books & Media, Interpretation

    Doing & Wooing

    I was helped by a comment a friend made regarding my post on Hosea’s purchase of Gomer. He mentioned that God does not merely buy us, he does woo us. He said that God “effectually woos us.” When God speaks to his people that he will take her to the wilderness for a second honeymoon (Hose 2.14-15), he does so based upon the purchasing.That is, the text seems to teach that the ground of the bride going out to the wilderness with her bridegroom is due to the change that he has done in her heart. Surely he sings to us and loves us tenderly. There is no doubt to this. But we would not go with him. If he merely sang and tenderly spoke to us, we would not come. But he causes there to be an inner change in us.God does not drag us to the altar as we kick and scream. He is not a tyrant. Rather, he gives us a new heart so that we want to  run to the altar with him. He gives us new tongues to taste the sweetness of his Word. He gives us new eyes to see the beauty of our king. He gives us new skin to feel the warmth of his embrace. As a Calvinist, I disavow any notion that God coerces people against their will to come.God’s grace is made irresistible because our hearts have been transformed by his love and power so that we want to come to him. My friend is right that God sings to us…but it is only effective because he has first purchased us.

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Bible, Interpretation, Theology

    Innocent Until Proven Guilty

    “If we are to use the American system of jurisprudence, the claims of the text must be held to be innocent until proven guilty by evidences to the contrary. Unfortunately, the reverse system seems to be in vogue in scholarship at the present moment: the text is guilty by virtue of its divine claims, miracles and talk about God. The scholar is judged. in this case, to be innocent of any false motives, but the text is impugned as full of all sorts of impossibilities due to its very nature of claiming to be from God himself. In an indictment of this so-called objectivity, the judgment of history has caught up with that bit of Enlightenment hubris and has exposed such claimants to objectivity as a plurality of subjective relativizers. And the rest, as they say, is now history.” Walter Kaiser, The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001) 27-28.

    Leave a comment

    Filed under Bible, Interpretation, Quotations

    What is the Goal of the Strong?

    I have heard a lot of folks talk about the issue of drinking alcohol as a matter of conscience. They appeal to Romans 14 to show that the Kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking. There is nothing inherently sinful in drinking alcohol. While this may be true (and I believe it is), too many times the implication seems to be that Paul wants to weak to become strong. More than this, it seems that the strong brothers in this area want the goal to be something that Paul does not. That is, it appears that many times in my conversation with folks (myself being included in this tendency!) is that the goal is that weak brothers will be drinkers. While this may not be on the forefront of the mind, it comes out in subtle jokes and not-so-subtle arguments.

    While some have argued that Paul does not care whether the weak become strong, I believe he does want the weak becoming strong due to his desire that people emulate his devotion and way of life – which includes his being strong in matters of food and drink and days. With that said, how many times have we thought that if a brother is weak (the one who refuses to drink and believes others should not partake) then our goal as strong brothers is to have him be willing to pick up a pint?

    We need to keep in mind that the goal for the weak brother – to become strong – means that he should have the same freedom in Christ to declare that the Kingdom of God is more important than eating and drinking and such. That is, he does not have to advocate drinking a beer with his other strong brothers. Rather, he very may well take the position that drinking is not the issue but his witness is more important.

    Before you cry ‘Foul,’ you need to keep in mind context. In a conversation with a good friend of mine last week we were talking about this issue. If I were a Presbyterian minister this would not be an issue because there is not the baggage that comes with being a Southern Baptist evangelist. Those who claim that as the strong brother I have the obligation to drink in front of the weak to model fo them their freedom play too fast and loose with their freedom. Paul seems to be strong enough to carry the inaccurate understandings of his disciples (in Rome, Corinth, Colossae) so much that he is willing to forego his liberty of drinking alcohol if it causes them to stumble. If you say that he was dealing with a specific context of idolatry and it won’t trasnfer to our context, I would argue that the issue is not idolatry but stumbling due to a misunderstanding of Christian freedom – the common denominator with our present-day context.

    More than anything, we want to aim for the weak brother to say not ‘Pass me the stout not the O’Doul’s,’ but ‘It’s okay if you drink alcohol because the Kingdom of God is larger than such law.’

    1 Comment

    Filed under Christian Living, Interpretation, Sanctification