Archives For Bible

Renowned Old Testament scholar, Dr. Bruce Waltke, in his critically-acclaimed An Old Testament Theology, suggests five different prepositions describing how professing Christian groups understand the Bible. It won’t be surprising, as an evangelical Christian1, that the last view is presented as the one preferred. Still, while admitting the breakdown may represent a “cartoonish presentation” due to its hard distinctions, Waltke hopes these generalizations will help us “recognize and remember the various, and sometimes confusing, approaches ‘Christians’ take to the Bible.”2 Maybe you surprise yourself in seeing where your view of the Bible fits?

Liberals Stand ABOVE the Bible

Makes reason, including experience, the ground floor of theological reflection. Reason is placed above revelation and, as they embrace historical criticism, liberals set another “bible” above the Bible. Liberals read the Bible under the canon3 of skepticism, coherence (only “natural” explanations of biblical events), and analogy (this assumes nothing happened in the past that doesn’t happen in the present). With these assumptions, liberals read the Bible to discover what they believe “actually” happened once they strip away what is believed to be tradition or mythology.

Neoorthodox4 Stand BEFORE the Bible

Believes the Bible becomes the Word of God as the listener encounters them in the written “witness” to Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Bible isn’t the locus of revelation as much as how it meets the human audience.  Waltke writes that, according to neoorthodox thinkers, “one hears the Word of God in the Bible as one hears music on a scratched record. In this way they tend to set up the canon of the message of Jesus Christ (i.e.– The music) as more valuable then the whole canon of Scripture (i.e. — the record); a canon within the canon. This dichotomy creates an unstable theology — evangelical and unorthodox regarding the authority of all of Scripture. A canon-within-a-canon theology ultimately places authority in the audience.”5

Traditionalists Place Traditions ALONGSIDE the Bible

Finds authority in the text and the tradition that accompanies it. For example, in Roman and Greek Orthodoxy, it is commonplace to affirm that revelation is understandable only through the authoritative tradition of interpretation. Can place systems of doctrines, confessions, or creeds over the Scriptures themselves. While deeply appreciative of written formulations of the Scriptures, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, Waltke concludes, “When dogma rules, the church is in danger of ceasing to be self-critical.”6

Fundamentalists Stand ON the Bible

Presumes the biblical writers, though writing in an ancient environment, will not have any different or stray thoughts, ideas, or concepts from their modern understanding of the way things are (especially in matters of science and historiography7). For the fundamentalist, the only qualified standard for which the Bible can be measured is the logic of contradiction. Walke writes, “What I have in mind here is that fundamentalists do not ‘stand under’ the Bible long enough to ‘understand’ it.”8

Evangelicals Stand UNDER the Bible

Accepts the inerrancy of Scripture as to its Source and its infallibility as to its authority. Needs the inspired revelation of the divine reality to judge wisdom or folly, right or wrong. Waltke writes, “I dare not presume to understand what this revelation means before coming to it on its own terms. I must allow the Bible to dictate how it seeks to reveal God’s truth. I study how it writes history; I examine and learn to recognize the different forms of literature: poetry, narrative, prophecy, and so on. I consider the Bible utterly trustworthy and I commit my life to it, but I do not presume to know beforehand the exact nature of its parts. With this posture, I must allow myself to be taught and corrected by the Bible.”9

If I could give one piece of advice to spiritual seekers (or believers for that matter) who have nagging questions about Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity which keep them from embracing Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity, I could summarize it in two words: work hard. If there are troubles, doubts, or a lack of clarity keeping you from a deeper engagement or commitment to knowing and following God as revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ then I would encourage you to be industrious about finding the answers. If you attend a local church you might utilize her leaders or journey along with a small group of believers for help. Furthermore, you could read books from the best and brightest biblical scholarship over the decades if not the centuries. You could also see if the Church Historical has already encountered and answered your questions (I mean, we’re talking roughly 2,000 years here). Regardless how you pursue the answers to your questions, the point is to actually pursue them.

Far too often when I hear of someone’s journey for answers it seems less a journey and more an extremely abbreviated stroll…to their computer to google a question. Unfortunately for many, the “search” amounts to finding within the first page or two of results an answer which merely serves to reaffirm biases and preconceived notions1, and that’s it, they’re done. Back to binge-watching on Netflix. Or maybe the journey abruptly concluded because of a Facebook fake news post blasting long-held truths of orthodox Christianity that the reader assumes is legitimate simply because it’s on a webpage. Hear me, both illustrations are examples of those who aren’t looking for answers as much as wanting to retain excuses for unbelief. Real searching takes real work. Frankly, how hard we work at our search tends to indicate how genuine our search really is. In other words, working hard can be a litmus test for what constitutes a real question we’re hung up on versus something we just tell people we struggle with because we don’t want to come across spiritually shallow or lazy.

The 1992 Academy Award-nominated Lorenzo’s Oil tells the true story of a family with a child, Lorenzo Odone, who begins to show neurological problems, such as loss of hearing, tantrums, etc. The boy is diagnosed as having adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is fatal within two years. Augusto, Lorenzo’s father, an economist who worked for the World Bank, couldn’t find a doctor to treat their son’s rare disease, so he took it upon himself to find a treatment to save his son’s life. In their quest, the Odones clash with doctors, scientists, and support groups, who are skeptical that anything could be done about ALD, much less by laypeople – remember, he’s an economist, not a doctor. But Augusto is undeterred. He sets up camp in medical libraries, reviewing animal experiments, enlists the aid of a professor, presses researchers, question top doctors all over the world, and even organized an international symposium about the disease. And yet, in spite of research dead-ends and the horror of watching his son’s health decline, Augusto persists until he finally discovers a therapy involving adding a certain kind of oil to their son’s diet. The movie ends with his son’s improvement and future brighter than when it began.2

Why all the work? Why all the blood, sweat, and tears to get the right answer? Well, for Odone family, getting the answer was literally a matter of life and death. But is our spiritual quest amidst questions and doubts any different? On the contrary, I would argue it’s even greater, for the stakes are infinite. The consequences being eternal life or eternal death (cf., Heb. 9:27). This is why each of us should do whatever it takes to reduce the doubts we have by working hard to get the correct answers, even if we don’t like the answers we find.

Don’t settle for living a life where your “doubts” are really excuses in disguise. Think deeply about the questions you have and work hard to find the answers. Run to the real “oil” of truth and be honest with what you find, even if you don’t like it. Doing so will aid you in your spiritual journey for the present and hopefully for the life to come.

Work hard.

I hear it quoted by many American Christians, especially during election seasons: 2 Chronicles 7:14.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Attached to this verse are pleas for different groups to change their wicked ways. Sometimes it’s applied to American Christians, American politicians, American politicians who are Christians, or just America in general. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. They’re all mistaken.

I know this may upset some well-meaning believers who have cited this verse time and again when things look morally bleak across the land they love. It’s all the more confusing when, say on social media, fellow Christians respond with a hearty “Amen,” retweet your post, or click the Like button in a spirit of solidarity. But it still doesn’t remove the fact the biblical text is being misapplied. To be direct, 2 Chron. 7:14 has nothing explicitly to do with the United States. Nothing.

How so? When in doubt, always look at a Scripture’s context. We first notice 2 Chronicles is an Old Testament book which deals with God’s original (or Old) covenant people, the Israelites. That should be a big clue as to why the USA doesn’t factor into this passage. It gets clearer as we examine the immediate context. 2 Chron. 7 follows King Solomon’s dedication of the Temple he built on behalf of Israel. Verse 12 says God spoke to Israel’s king in a dream saying Israel should obey the Lord’s covenant with them. If the Israelites do, they will enjoy the blessings of the covenant which includes a fruitfulness of the physical land itself.

Look at how Deuteronomy 28:1-6, 8 details Israel’s obedience to the old covenant and the physical blessings it entailed.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out…And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Clearly this is an Old Testament passage to an Old Covenant people with a call to be faithful to the Old Covenant promises in order to receive Old Covenant blessings (see a pattern here?). The King of Israel and his people are to keep covenant with Yahweh and in doing so, God will bless them, even the very land of Israel itself.  2 Chron. 7:14 is simply referring to these Old Covenant promises. Now the immediate context of v. 13 makes better sense. God says if Israel disobeys he will “shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people.” Blessing and cursing is literally tied to the land itself.

But how come American Christians don’t quote that part of the verse? In the ESV v. 13 is actually the first part of the sentence which v. 14 completes. This only demonstrates how 2 Chron. 7:14 is explictly a command and promise for Israel. They are the “my people” in context. It’s about Hebrews in ancient Israel, not modern-day Christians in America. Old Covenant people receiving Old Covenant promises, not New Covenant people receiving New Covenant promises. For the record, the Gospel of John demonstrates that for New Covenant believers, these promises and blessings are fulfilled in Jesus. Christ is the better Temple, People, sacrifice, high priest, etc. This is where, once again, Bible readers (and quoters) should understand at what stage each biblical book is in the progressive revelation of salvation history. The text at hand is Chronicles not Corinthians.

This also demonstrates that quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14 and applying it to the USA isn’t so much a historical blunder (although many would argue that as well) but a theological one. It’s mixing apples and oranges. It’s confounding two covenants that, while one builds on the other, are still different covenants – with different peoples of God that were/are dealt with in different ways by God. In the New Covenant, the church replaces ethnic Israel as God’s people. Peter refers to Christians essentially as the true Israel calling them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Removing 2 Chron. 7:14 from your quotation arsenal won’t really change much in what you hope for the United States. You can still call fellow Americans to repent of their sins. You can continue hoping and praying for a national revival where fellow citizens come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to remove the fact that our national history clearly had Judeo-Christian moorings in its founding. You also can continue to love America and think it’s a special place – one blessed by God. All of those things can still be true without quoting 2 Chron. 7:14. The only difference is you won’t be using the Bible incorrectly.

…and don’t get me started on Phil. 4:13. 😉