Entries Tagged as ''

Application: The Hardest Part of Interpretation

As a follow-up to Jon's fine post on Christocentric interpretation, I wanted to point readers to a recent blog post by Andreas Kostenberger at Biblical Foundations. The post, entitled "Application: The Hardest Part of Interpretation," offers some very sane thoughts about the oft-abused practice of making practical application in sermons. Pastors, heed this wise advice!

Reading the Bible Christocentrically

Ark and Dagon Interpreting OT history is often a confusing task for the church. How do you apply Israelite history to the modern church? There have been two dominant attempts to resolve this tension: allegory and historical-grammatical method. Allegory arose mainly with people who deeply believed the OT was of value to the church and about Christ, so they struggled to read it as Christian scripture. Their difficulty over the literal sense of the text led to an allegorical, spiritual interpretation of the text that sought to raise the literal sense to a higher plane. Historical-grammatical method deeply values the literal sense of the text, employing a kind of scientific method to read the text and find out what it meant in its own time. Neither adequately accounts for the complete message of the Bible as a work about Christ. A Christocentric hermeneutic should be used instead of allegory or just historical-grammatical method.

 Both the allegorical approach and the historical-grammatical method generate similar outcomes for the application of OT history. An allegorical approach basically de-historicizes the OT. On the other hand, the historical-grammatical approach can cancel out the OT as Christian scripture because its history meant something to Israel at the time, but it is difficult to see how it applies today. Those who subscribe to this kind of method usually only see application as learning from history so you do not repeat it (i.e. moralism).

 Can the Old Testament be read in its literal sense and still be of value to a Christian audience? Allegory says, "No," and historical-grammatical method does not know. The Bible answers this question with a "Yes," and that yes is Jesus Christ. The entire OT is about Jesus (Luke 24:27), and all of history points to Jesus (Eph. 1:10). This means that OT history is about Christ and moving towards Christ. Christ is Abraham's seed, so those in Christ are offspring of Abraham, heirs of the Israelite promises, and part of the vine of Israel (Gal. 3:29; Rm. 11). That means that Israelite historiographic literature is Christian historiographic literature. Jewish heritage is Christian heritage in Christ. Therefore, Christians cannot read Israelite history as if they are reading someone else?s mail. In order to read OT history as Christian scripture, the reader must read the narrative Christocentrically. All of the Old Testament is pointing to Christ, and if we are in Christ then it is pointing to us mediated through Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). The Old Testament does not first and foremost apply to the Christian; rather, it first applies to the Christ, and then it is mediated to the Christian. This means a typological, Christological reading of the Bible as a whole. The Bible is one book, and the Old Testament is the first part of that book. The little narratives should not be examined apart from the big narrative. Jesus and the apostles seemed to use this strategy. An analysis of the ark narrative of 1 Samuel 4-7 will demonstrate the deficiencies of allegory and historical-grammatical method, as well as the value of Christocentric reading. 

A. THE BATTLE (4:1-18)

 Israel goes to battle with the Philistines at Ebenezer and is defeated. In Deut. 28 there is a warning of cursing for disobedience. Israel's routing at the hands of the Philistines is described in terms of a covenant curse. How had Israel broken the covenant? In the context of 1 Samuel, the gluttony and sexual immorality of Hophni and Phinehas and Eli's failure to restrain them was one cause for the defeat (3:12-13). Another reason was idolatry (cf. 7:3, Psa. 78:58ff.).

 The Israelites propose to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of Yahweh, into the battle in order to be saved. The ark was there for the victory at Jericho (Joshua 6), so the people try to use it here as a good luck charm. The ark does not help. The Philistines win, take the ark of Yahweh and kill Hophni and Phinehas. Yahweh is being led away captive by a foreign army, and his priests lie slain on the battlefield. When Eli hears about the capture of the ark he falls over backwards and breaks his neck because he is so fat and old. God's judgment has fallen on Eli for his sins.

B. ICHABOD (4:19-22)                                                                                                           

 Eli's daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, is pregnant. When she hears the report she goes into premature labor and gives birth. She dies as a result of the birth, but before she does she names the boy "Ichabod" because the "glory has departed from Israel." The ark, the presence of God, has gone into exile (galah). This word for "departure" is a word used often for the exile of Israel and Judah (2 Kg. 17:6, Isa. 5:13, Jer. 1:3, Ezek. 12:3, etc.). Yahweh is in exile.

D. GOSPEL (5:1-12)                                                                                                               

The Philistines place the ark in Dagon's temple before Dagon, as if to say Yahweh is bowing in defeat to worship Dagon. The next day the Philistines enter the temple to see their god lying prostrate before the ark of Yahweh. Dagon is worshipping Yahweh. The Philistines have to pick their god up (cf. Psa. 115; Isa 46:1-4). When the Philistines enter the temple early the third morning they see Dagon has fallen to pieces. His head and hands are cut off, and he lies on the ground defeated before Yahweh.

Within the larger narrative of the Bible the ark narrative is clearly a foreshadowing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The warning of the covenant is exile for disobedience (Dt. 28:41-64). The people of Samuel's time deserve captivity and exile. But what happens is surprising. The people are not taken into captivity, but Yahweh himself goes into captivity to "serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known — wood and stone." Yahweh takes the curses of the covenant on Himself. This is a pattern recognizable within the larger narrative. He has been defeated and is forced to serve a foreign god as a captive in exile (i.e. Samson, Manasseh, Israel in Babylon, etc.). Yet, the gospel truth of the New Testament is seen here because Yahweh is a God who brings victory out of defeat and life out of death by substituting Himself for His people. 

 The gospel promise of Genesis 3 is being carried out in a foreign temple. God promised in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent while at the same time bruising his own heel. From that point forward God started crushing heads, and this points to God's salvation through the seed of the Woman and His victory over the serpent. In Samuel the Philistines wake up on the third morning to the crushed head of Dagon, and in the context of Samuel this anticipates another Philistine head crushing. The seed of the woman, the Messiah, is prefigured in a little shepherd boy who puts his hand in a bag and slings a stone that crushes the forehead of the Philistine champion Goliath (1 Sam. 17:49-51). The humiliated shepherd boy defeats the exalted giant just as the humiliated Yahweh defeats the seemingly victorious Dagon.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. God takes on himself the covenant curses and judgments. He substitutes himself for his people. Jesus is taken captive by a foreign army. Jesus is humiliated by the Gentiles. Yet, what seems to be a defeat for Jesus ends up being his victory. He dies on one day. He lies in the tomb on the next. And early in the morning on the third day he is raised from the dead and crushes the head of the serpent. Humiliation leads to victory which leads to exaltation. If one reads the Bible holistically, centered on its fulfillment in Christ, then the ark narrative clearly foreshadows the gospel event. In isolation this passage may look like an historical event that simply shows Yahweh's superiority to the gods of the nations, but in the grand storyline of the Bible this event is much more than a demonstration of Yahweh's superiority. This victory of Yahweh over a god of the nations points forward to THE victory of Christ over the gods of this age at his crucifixion and resurrection. And it is no coincidence that Yahweh gains his victory on the morning of the third day. After the defeat of Dagon, Yahweh attacks the Philistine cities with plagues, tumors. This is a recapitulation of the Exodus. Captivity in a foreign country brings plagues upon the enemies and their gods. The Philistines devise a plan to send the ark away.

F. EXODUS (6:1-18)                                                                                                            

After seven months they decide to send the ark back. The priests warn them not to send it back "empty." This echoes the language of Yahweh's promise to Moses concerning the Exodus, "And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed (Ex 3:21)." They decide to send it back with five golden tumors and five golden rats because the Philistines have five major cities. They send the ark back, and it comes to Beth Shemesh.

G. CONCLUSION (6:19-7:17)                                                                                             

Yahweh strikes the men of Beth Shemesh because they look "in the ark of Yahweh." They get rid of it, and the ark ends up staying in Kirjath Jearim for almost a hundred years before David brings it up to Jerusalem, after defeating the Philistines (2 Sam. 6:2). The ark stays in Kirjath Jearim for twenty years until Samuel issues a challenge and the people actually turn back to Yahweh. They do battle with the Philistines and win because Yahweh fights for them.

 A typological, Christological hermeneutic is necessary to read the scriptures. God indeed works in patterns in history. These types find their fulfillment in the anti-type, Jesus Christ. The Bible says that all of God's promises find their "yes" in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). One huge pattern of the scriptures is the exodus motif. Israel is in bondage as captives in Egypt. In their humiliation God hears their cries. Israel is born as a nation through the plagues, the Passover and their release. They loot the Egyptians as they leave. In the wilderness they sin against God, and many die under judgment. The following generation, those twenty years and younger, conquer the land of Promise and drive out their enemies. This exodus motif is found in the ark narrative. God's presence is taken away captive to a foreign land. He is forced to serve another god. He defeats the god of that nation. He sends plagues on the land. He plunders them as he leaves. He punishes Beth-Shemesh for their sin (i.e. faithless wanderers in the wilderness). The ark rests comfortably in Kirjath-Jearim for twenty years, and then there is a new conquest of the Promised Land, in which Yahweh fights for His people. The nation is reborn. This cycle will occur again. Sometimes it happens on an individual scale (i.e. Manasseh's exile and return in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20). This motif will occur again on a national scale in the fall of Samaria and the exile of Judah in Babylon. The dead bones of Israel are captive in a foreign land, but there is promise of resurrection, rebirth, and the re-establishment of the kingdom. This fulfillment is seen partially in the return from exile. Finally, the exodus motif reaches its climax in Jesus of Nazareth. Israel continues to be under the rule of a foreign power. They are in exile in their own land. He is arrested by that foreign power, tried, found guilty, and executed. Jesus takes on Himself the covenant curses (Ezek.20:34-37). Then, three days later the dead bones of Israel are raised from the dead. The serpent's head is crushed. The power of death is now overturned. Humanity is released from bondage to death and sin. Jesus (Joshua) leads the exodus from bondage to the curse. He plunders the enemy, and uses those gifts to establish His kingdom (Eph. 4:8-12). The exodus motif will find its fulfillment when the deliverer, Jesus, returns. Even now Christians are exiles in a strange land that is ruled by principalities, powers, and the "Prince of the Power of the Air." Plagues will fall on this present world order (cf. Rev). Jesus will return for His people and lead a new exodus and conquest into a new land of Promise, the new earth. Only a typological reading sees the significant pattern that finds its culmination in Christ Jesus.

 There has always been a struggle in applying OT history to the church. Allegory cancels out history in favor of spiritual reading of the text. Historical-grammatical method analyzes what the text meant, but ends up with moralism as the only way to apply the text, which puts the scripture on same level as Aesop's fables. None of these methods adequately accounts for Jesus' claims that the OT was about him (John 5:39). If one accepts that God works in types in history, and those patterns are fulfilled ultimately in Christ, and then are mediated to those in Him, then one can seek to identify those patterns today and apply the living word of Israelite history to the modern church. Sadly, many (if not most) evangelical interpreters are held captive to Enlightenment reductionism that would elevate modern hermeneutical methods above the methods of Jesus and the Apostles.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention Coming to an End?

If you're reading this, then you probably read blogs regurlarly. And if you have been reading the blogs out there, you know that Southern Baptist life is experiencing some growing pains. If you aren't familiar with what's happening in SBC life, here is a short summary.

The first area of controversy is over spiritual gifts. What's this mean? Well some believe that all of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to the 1st century believers are still being given to believers in the 21st century. The main gift being discussed is referred to as a private prayer language. They base their belief on Romans 8:26. Others believe that this gift is no longer being given to believers. And many in this second group believe that the idea of a "private prayer language" was not even present in the 1st century church. They would say that the former group is misinterpreting Romans 8:26 and other passages.

The controversy has intensified through events involving the trustees of the International Mission Board and a trustee of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary. About a year ago, the trustees of the IMB moved to make it impossible for a believer who practices a "private prayer language" to go onto the mission field through the IMB. The problem came about when one of the IMB trustees, Wade Burleson, voiced his disagreement to this line of action on his blog, thereby betraying a confidentiality agreement he had made. Since then, he has apologized and continued to voice his disagreement through his blog. The other event took place when pastor Dwight McKissic, a trustee of SWBTS, spoke about his support for "private prayer languages" in SWBTS's chapel. His message was censored by SWBTS because they did not want to provide a message that was advocating something that they believe to be errant. They did not want people to think that they supported McKissic's position.

Recently, the Criswell Theological Review, a publication of Criswell College, devoted a whole issue of their journal to this topic. Along with this, across the blogosphere, there has been much discussion over the issue and the actions taken surrounding the issue.

The second main area of controversy has to do with a view of salvation called Calvinism. Calvinism is a set of beliefs that looks at Scripture and concludes that God chose certain people to trust Jesus before the foundation of the world without looking at anyone's actions, that man is unable to believe in Christ without God's help because of his sin, that the death of Christ was intended only for those whom God chose to save by faith through Christ, that man cannot ultimately resist the work of the Spirit when the Spirit wants to regenerate him, and that those who truly believe have a salvation that is secured by God so that they are unable to turn from him ultimately. Those who hold these beliefs are called Calvinists. Their beliefs are not at odds with evangelism and missions. In fact, some of the most missions minded Southern Baptists have been Calvinists. Then there are those who reject some of these beliefs. Usually, Southern Baptists who reject these beliefs only reject to one, two, or three of them. Next, there are the Hyper-Calvinists. This is a group that rejects evangelistic and missionary efforts because they believe that they conflict with God's work in the world. Finally, there is a group called Arminians. They reject all five of the points put forth by Calvinists. For them, the believer's salvation is never secure and man does not need any help believing in Christ.

Most of the people caught in this controversy find themselves in one of the first two groups mentioned. And even though this is true, many times people from both groups will accuse the other group of holding to the non-biblical views of Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism. This, of course, makes neither party very happy.

Finally, there is the controversy surrounding the blogosphere. While it is not inherently wrong to keep a weblog, many "bloggers" use their blogs for wrong. And so you'll find many bloggers slandering their brothers in Christ on their blogs. Along with this, you'll find ranting, bitterness, and anger on these blogs. One such example comes from Memphis, TN. At one of the most prominent churches in the SBC, Bellevue Baptist Church, which has 30,000 members, a deacon has used his blog and many other venues to voice his problems with the pastor of the church, Steve Gaines. So, like many other bloggers, he ignores Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 6:7, 8, and shames the church in the world's eyes. Why? In disagreement with Paul, he'd rather make the church of Christ look like a bunch of lost people than suffer wrong.

And because of all of this, many are throwing their hands up and leaving the SBC. This has left many scared about the future of the SBC. Many are worried about what the future looks like like for the SBC. Are you? Are you thinking about leaving?

Let me just say that I am not. I'm not scared and I'm not leaving. And, no, I'm not saying this because I come from a family that is Southern Baptist. I'm not saying this because I think the SBC is perfect. I'm saying this because I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is the best thing going. It is the most biblical thing going. The missions effort is not the best possible effort there could be, but it is the best thing around. The seminary effort is not the best possible soluation for theological education, but it is the best around. And while many will continue to scream and complain, I know that they will continue to go and study at Southern Baptist seminaries. I know that they will continue to send their children to Southern Baptist seminaries.

And I also think it is important to point out that most Southern Baptists, young and old, aren't going anywhere. You don't hear about these guys and girls. They just wake up each morning and go out and do their best to point people towards Christ. You won't hear about their faithfulness on most blogs. You won't read their every decision on the news. But one day, as we stand with our Christ on a new creation, it will be clear that no disagreement, no controversy, could stop God from bringing about his promises in Christ. And we'll know who these brothers and sisters are. 

Am I saying we shouldn't engage thoughtfully in these controversies? No, of course not. But I am saying that as do engage, we should do so remembering that our ruling king Jesus has his eye on every word we write on our blogs. He has his eye on every step we take. And at the end of the day, because of Christ everything will be alright. Put your alarm away. Put your bitterness away. And let's seek to lift up the name of Jesus in our neighborhoods and our villages. The Southern Baptist Convention has seen something like this before. Unfortunately, I'm sure it'll see it again. But somehow, out of God's grace, the SBC continues to be a means by which God is saving the world. and that's worth blogging about.       

Georgia Elisabeth Finn has Arrived!

Georgia was finally born in the early hours of Saturday morning, at about 4:18 AM. She weighed 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and was 20.5 inches long. She is also drop-dead gorgeous. We appreciate all the prayers over these past several months. Parenting is an awesome responsibility, and we look very forward to leaning on God's grace in the coming years as we seek to raise little Georgia in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I will try to post a picture or two in a few days.

Criswell Theological Review and Tongues

As evidenced by events of recent months, the nature of Charismatic gifts has become a front-burner issue in Southern Baptist life. Dozens of scholars, bloggers, and others have publicly weighed in on the issue. Now the good folks at the Criswell Theological Review throw their hat into the ring.

The Fall 2006 edition of CTR will be released next week, but the journal's website already has a couple of the articles available. Of particular interest is an interview with former IMB trustee chairman Tom Hatley, wherein he discusses his perspective on the rationale for the new IMB policies on prayer languages and the controversy surrounding his fellow trustee, Wade Burleson. No doubt there will be a variety of opinions about both the interview and the scholarly articles in CTR, but every Southern Baptist who cares about the present and future health of our denomination should avail themselves of these resources from the folks at Criswell College.

Bill Curry on the Miami-FIU Brawl

brawlAs a lifelong fan of the Miami Hurricanes I was disgusted with the actions of this past Saturday night. I am embarassed by the response of the school, the school's faculty (President and AD), the school's coach, and the ACC. The punishments given to Miami players is a joke at best and almost criminal at worse. Larry Coker could earn my respect without another win by cleaning house (right before he is swept out of town at the end of the year for losing, not this fight). If Coker, Shalala, or Dee do not step up and do more, then all should be fired. There are many commentators in the sport's world who are making similar statements. They are blasting the University and it's response to this event. Few offer any reasons as to WHY this happened, other than the cliche that "Miami is Thug U." In the midst of this Bill Curry, former college coach and current analyst for ESPN, has offered a great analysis in my opinion. He says some hard and direct things that touch on family-life, leadership, and response to authority. His analysis is excellent and should be read by everyone in my opinion, especially fathers.

Curry says, "We live in a culture that celebrates belligerence like we once celebrated religious holidays. We live in a culture in which a large percentage of fathers have abdicated responsibility to raise their children. We live in a culture in which many parents would rather be friends with their children than disciplinarians of their children." Outside the setting of theological education or the church I have seen few who have the guts to make statements like this or even agree with its analysis. I respect ESPN for allowing it to be on their website, and I respect Coach Curry for writing it. I pray that God will use my wife and I, and many others, to teach the next generation what it means to respect authority.

 Jon Akin   

Thanking God for Our Trustees

Earlier this week the trustees held their semi-annual meeting at Southeastern Seminary. It is that time of year at all of our seminaries and many state Baptist colleges. At Southeastern, our trustees are among some of the godliest men and women I know. Some of them are faithful pastors in pulpits large and small. Some of them are godly laypeople who are faithful ministers of Christ in their "secular" vocations. I had a conversation yesterday with a man who has given sacrificially of his precious time and great wealth to support our ministry at Southeastern. He is a model of both genuine generosity and running a very successful business for the glory of God.

As Southern Baptists, we utilize a trustee system whereby the convention chooses men and women to speak on behalf of the whole convention in providing leadership to our agencies and institutions. The same thing also occurs on a smaller scale in our state conventions. The trustee system can only be as effective as the trustees themselves are godly, gifted, dedicated Southern Baptists. At Southeastern and other agencies all over the SBC, the system works well because our trustees serve with integrity and godliness.

So as a student and employee at Southeastern Seminary, I want to publicly thank our trustees for all that they do in leading and serving us. And as a Southern Baptist, I want to thank all of our trustees at all of our agencies for their hard work and godly example. We would not be what we are if you were not who you are. So I thank God for you and pray that your reward will one day be great for the service you now render in our Southern Baptist corner of the kingdom of God. 

Russell Moore’s Confession

If confession is good for the soul, then Russell Moore has a pretty decent soul. Dr. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary, recently gave a lecture at Southern on the topic "Confessions of a Fundamissional Dean." You can listen to the talk here. Besides his uncanny gift for turning a phrase (Fundamissional? Ha!), Dr. Moore says some needed things about the ecclesiogical famine in contemporary SBC life. As an added bonus, you can also hear my fellow-blogger Jedidiah Coppenger provide a truly inspired introduction to the lecture. Then, everytime you read one of JC's salient posts, you can hear his Midwesteredneck accent in your head as your eyes scan across the page.

Baptist Colleges and What Might Have Been

There have been dozens and dozens of colleges and universities connected to American Baptists at one time or another. Some of these schools are still committed to Baptist principles to this day. Some of them closed their doors well before the 20th century. And a great many of these schools are still around, but many people have no idea that their roots are in the Baptist tradition. I was taking a look today at Thomas McKibbens and Kenneth Smith's The Life and Works of Morgan Edwards (Arno Press, 1980). In the section that discusses the contributions Edwards made in the founding of Rhode Island College (the first Baptist college in America, now Brown University) I was reminded of how important this school was to early American Baptist and even general American history. The following paragraph is especially noteworthy:

The founding of Brown University was one of the most significant landmarks of early Baptist history in America. The early graduates and leaders also made an indelible imprint upon American history. Since that story would require another book, we shall mention only the most prominent names and events. Both James Manning, the first president, and David Howell, the first tutor, later became members of the Continental Congress. Stephen Hopkins, a Quaker and a trustee of the college, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John Gano, pastor of the Baptist Church of New York City and a trustee, was asked by George Washington to offer prayer on the day peace with England was proclaimed (April 19, 1783). Isaac Backus, trustee of the college and a famous Baptist historian, helped to organize the Warren Association in 1769 and exerted great influence for religious liberty. Both Hezekiah Smith, pastor of the Baptist Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and a fellow of the college, and William Rogers, a member of the first graduating class and Edwards’s successor as pastor of the Baptist Church in Philadelphia, served with distinction as chaplains in the Revolutionary War. f648 The college was used as a barracks for American troops and as a hospital for French soldiers during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington visited the college in 1790 to offer thanks for its contributions to American independence. A later graduate of the college was Adoniram Judson, whose influence upon the Baptist denomination in general and the promotion of foreign missions in particular is universally recognized (The Life and Work of Morgan Edwards, p. 113).

What a tragedy that Brown University is no longer a Baptist college. What a tragedy that schools like the University of Richmond and Stetson University abandoned their Baptist roots years ago. What a tragedy that schools like Mercer University and Furman University remain Baptist in name only. What a tragedy that dozens of Baptist schools in America bought into a misguided understanding of Baptist freedom that sent them on a secular or post-Christian tailspin. What a shame.

Praise God for those Baptist schools that have never strayed from their gospel (which means genuinely Baptist) roots. Praise God for those Baptist schools that have been returned to their conservative roots in the last 20 years. And pray to God that as the battles rage in state Baptist conventions, that we would not lose any more of our schools to the prestige of the world but the hatred of God's word and his church.

The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

Desiring God has just hosted its annual National Conference in Minneapolis, MN (Sept. 29-Oct. 1). This year's conference, Above All Earthly Powers: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, featured distinguished speakers John Piper, David Wells, Don Carson, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, and Voodie Baucham as they addressed Christ's supremacy in this current age and how it relates to  truth, love, joy, the Gospel, and the Church. The generous folks at Desiring God Ministries have posted the conference messages on their website. These promise to be a very valuable resource for all who seek to understand and engage our culture with the powerful message of the gospel.