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Archive for the ‘bible’ Category

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

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The Romans 1:1-17 targum wasn’t enough…

…I had to post this one as well…

Again, I advise reading these two simple verses in an easy-to-read translation before reading the targum…

In case it’s not obvious, Walsh is anything but a typical ‘republican-style’ Christian…

If this doesn’t stir your heart, check your pulse… (more…)

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Read Romans 1:1-17 (in a good, easy to read translation like NIV or CEV), and then check out Brian J. Walsh’s ‘targum’ (an interpretive ‘modernisation’ of a given passage) of it… (Copied from here)

I just love this stuff…
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‘Targum’ (plural is ‘targumim’) is a literary genre in which parts of the Hebrew Bible are ‘modernised’ and/or re-interpreted for the current time (specifically, it means an Aramaic translation.). This genre has been around for at least 2000 years, because some of the writings from the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls‘ consist of ‘targumim’ fragments. Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, in their book ‘Colossians Remixed: Subverting The Empire‘ use this genre quite well – I think – to suggest how the message of certain parts of Paul’s letter to the Colossians might be heard in modern, western culture.

Anyway, our church is almost finished teaching through the book of Amos, (I’ve just recently finished a course called ‘Prophets in Context’ by Tim Bulkeley at Carey Baptist College and his Amos commentary is – in my humble opinion! – the best fully-online commentary on this book.) and I recently preached on the text of 5:18 – 7:17. Here, for your enjoyment, discomfort (or both!?) is my ‘targum’ of this passage… (more…)

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three paths

Being followers of Jesus means, of course, that we follow Him on His way, His path…

So what does the ‘way’ or ‘path’ of Jesus look like?

I want to describe three ‘paths’ that Jesus faced, which I also think life presents us with. Of course, I’m not suggesting that we will always have exactly 3 choices for every decision, but I think all of the choices we encounter in life can be boiled down into three ‘directions’, three ‘ways’, three ‘paths’…

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The other night, I went to a lecture by John Shelby Spong, an Anglican Bishop and popular author.

The title of Spong’s lecture was this: ‘The Bible is not the solution – it’s the problem.’

Wow.

In one point I agreed with, he criticised those that pick their most favourite verses here and there from the Bible; but then he did precisely that in his lecture – except the verses he picked here and there were his least favourite…

I would like to suggest what I see as a spectrum concerning views of the Bible. At one end, you have Spong’s view on scripture, and at the other end you have various teachers of what I like to call ‘biblianity’. It may not be a perfect analogy, because I think the issue is more complex and multi-faceted than a simple spectrum can show, but it may be helpful.

What I’m talking about here, has to do with what I think are false choices being presented everywhere you look. The obvious example being the false choice between worshiping the Bible (hailing it as pure, un-defiled and able to do your laundry) on one hand, and on the other hand treating it as a ‘sinful’ thing, perhaps useful for gleaning a few nice sentiments or putting under a short leg of a table.

I don’t want to use the phrase, ‘middle ground’, as that conjures up images of compromise, but there is certainly a third option other than those two.

Directly or indirectly, we’re talking about the Bible’s trustworthiness. Can we trust the Bible? Spong would not hesitate to say, ‘Not at all.’ Most Christians would say, ‘Yes.’ Now, I agree with the latter, but I want to comment on what this ‘trusting the Bible’ might look like…

The problem is the vagueness of the question – ‘Can we trust the Bible?’ A better question is, ‘What can we trust the Bible for?’ To forgive my sins? As a flotation device? I certainly trust the Bible, but what do we mean by this?

-I don’t trust the Bible to cook my food.
-I do trust the Bible to tell how to eat responsibly.
-I don’t trust the Bible to teach me how to play guitar.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that music is a gift from God.
-I don’t trust the Bible to explain dark matter in the universe.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that the heavens declare His glory.
-I don’t trust the Bible to explain micro-evolution and macro-evolution.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that God is the creator of all things.
-I don’t trust the Bible to make my website look cool.
-I do trust the Bible to say when to turn off the computer and sit face-to-face with others.
-I don’t trust the Bible to fix my car.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us walking might often be a better option for many reasons.
-I don’t trust the Bible to contain secret codes that the Bible itself says nothing at all about.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us about life.
-I don’t trust the Bible to be a spooky magic trick kind of book.
-I do trust the Bible to be a down-to-earth real kind of book.
-I don’t trust the Bible to provide convenient proof-texts to randomly affix to life.
-I do trust the Bible to provide wisdom and orientation to all of life.

The Bible that Spong hates is the same Bible of biblianity. It is a Bible that was handed down on a cloud, leather-bound and ready for quoting-battles. Ready to be chopped up into bits and stuck ‘on billboards and backs of cars’ (from the lyrics of Derek Webb). Ready to be defended by ‘deep-sea-fishing’ (term from Hank Hannegraaf) code-finding methods. Ready to be worshipped.

I don’t love that Bible of biblianity. I love the actual Bible. I can trust it. Not to answer any silly question I wish to ask of it, but to answer the most important questions.

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I recently went to a Benny Hinn ‘Holy Spirit Miracle Crusade’. (Yes, me.) I could, of course, share many thoughts about that, but I simply wanted to mention a flyer I received while waiting in the crowd/throng/line/queue/mob to get in… It was an advert for a local church. It had these words/phrases on it: ‘signs & wonders’, ‘healing’, ‘anointed’, ‘miracles’, ‘fire’, ‘deliverance’… and my personal favourite… ‘the gifts.’

Now, that’s a bit of an extreme example, perhaps, compared with other views of ‘spirituality’, but I think it may reflect what happens when popular ideas/assumptions about ‘spirituality’ are taken to their eventual end point. Before addressing a few of the Scriptures which are relevant to the topic of ‘spiritual gifts‘, I want to point out a key difference between the ways of thinking in our world and the world of the New Testament.

You see, we live after a period in history known as the ‘Enlightenment‘, from which much of the world has inherited (among other things) a view of the world in which the ‘natural’ is sharply contrasted against the ‘super-natural’.

In this view, things like grass growing, rain falling/evaporating, babies being born, working, eating, sleeping – in other words normal life – are quite simply natural. In the case of ‘supernatural’ things, these consist of things such as ‘miracles’, ‘divine intervention’, ‘providence’, etc. As the definition of ‘supernatural’ suggests, the world is bound by ‘natural laws’, so therefore a ‘supernatural’ agent/force/event has to break those ‘natural laws’. This shows up in all kinds of ways, which I won’t go into here to keep this short.

In contrast to todays popular post-Enlightenment view of the world, the 1st century Jewish view of the world (though there are, of course, differences about this and that) was not divided this way. The Jewish God was Lord over all the earth and heaven. Nothing happened or was done apart from His permission, providence and power.

This God was a God who was not detached or distant from creation (like the deist version of ‘god’), but rather, is passionately interested and personally present in it (however, not to the degree that creation itself is itself god’, as in pantheistic worldviews). This God was not simply present when ‘big’ or ‘miraculous’ things ‘happened’, but was always present in His world; and in the case of ‘miracles’ or ‘big’ things, they were times at which God was present powerfully (and with purpose, I suggest; not simply pulling ‘god-stunts’).

This, I think, is how miracles are to be understood. Some, in their adverse reaction to what happens in some more ‘lively’ church contexts have suggested that ‘miracles ceased’ once the Bible was finished and/or when the last Apostle died. There is no warrant for such a view. No, not even 1 Cor. 13:10…

At any rate, we should be aware of how various views of the world affect our reading of Scripture (by the way, there is not one person who doesn’t have any views/experiences/traditions/etc. that affect his/her reading of the Scriptures…) not least when we approach the topic of so-called ‘spiritual gifts’.

One tendency in Christian circles is to start with an assumption that something is true, and then read that assumption into various Scriptural passages. We may, as a result, feel as though we have much more biblical support for a position than we actually do have. In my view, there are only 3 passages that could even possibly be about ‘gifts’, according to the popular understanding: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

Sadly, the ‘gifts’ in these passages are often ‘lumped’ together in order to arrive at ‘Paul’s doctrine of gifts’ or something… as if he was at all interested in ‘building’ a systematic outline of ‘things’ God may or may not choose to ‘give’ you, and thought it best to provide this outline in 3 separate letters and in obscure fashion. Even more sadly, many a weekend-conference has been developed to ‘help’ people ‘discover’ what ‘gifts’ they have and which ones they don’t. (I need to say here that my thoughts here are following on from that of Mark Strom.)

These 3 passages have their own contexts, and ought not be ‘lumped’ together sloppily. The Romans 12 passage instructs on how each ‘gift’ is to be handled, which is (in context) to be in service of others! The 1 Corinthians 12 passage is (again, in context) seeking to undercut pride in the Corinthian community (the implications of Paul putting ‘miracles’ and ‘helps’ in the same ‘list’ is simply brilliant!), and again, the things listed here are not for the individual, but for the growth and edification of the community. The Ephesians 4 passage (within the context of unity, growth and maturity), is describing, not individual ‘gifts’, but roles within the body of Christ (again, these roles are for the service of others – to produce unity, growth and maturity).

Not only is each and every ‘gift’ featured in all these passages (have a look for yourself!) intended for service of others (not so you can have a nice, comfortable, individual private prayer experience or whatever…), I also have yet to see anything in Scripture that demands the common sharp distinction between ‘natural abilities’ (which you ‘get at birth’) and ‘spiritual gifts’ (which you ‘get at conversion’). To show how I see things, let me use the ‘mind’ as an example.

You don’t get a mind at conversion. What happens is this: the mind God gave you (and everyone!) at birth gets renewed by the Spirit of Christ. The mind that was formerly hostile to Christ now bows in allegiance. (Baptism may be a good metaphor, in that the mind (in a sense) ‘dies’ and ‘rises anew’.)

This, I suggest, is precisely what happens with our so-called ‘natural abilities’ (which, in a sense, are not ‘natural’ at all!). Everything about us (bodies, minds, abilities, etc.) is God-given. The spiritual person sees themselves this way. Our whole, interconnected selves are spiritually tempered renewed and reborn by the Spirit of Christ – not so we can ‘enjoy our gift’ or be ‘spiritually fulfilled’, but to form us (heart, soul, mind and strength) into the likeness of Christ.

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