22 November 2010

Evidential Christianity: We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard…

Yesterday, Phyllis and I were at New Covenant Church in Valdosta GA.  My good friend Randy Stephen spoke briefly from the following passage chronicling the growth of the early Church.

I was reminded of the power of Evidential Christianity – faith that demands an explanation.  It is this kind of faith – and God’s gracious response – that makes following Jesus so irresistible.

This is the follow-up story to Peter and John bringing healing in Jesus’ Name to a lame beggar after citing physical poverty but freely giving what they had – a deep and genuine faith in the resurrected Christ.

(Acts 4:7-22) They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: "By what power or what name did you do this?"

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. ' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. "What are we going to do with these men?" they asked. "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name."

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.  (NIV)

Of course, when Christianity becomes mere religion – observing rituals devoid of meaning – and/or mere morality – doing right things just for the sake of being right – then we might not have much to talk about.  Having not seen anything or heard any Good News, we might just have to be silent.

Evidential Christianity cries out for explanation! 

09 November 2010

Hermeneutics… 10 Commandments (Can you say hermeneutics??)


My friend Skye Jethani (I quote – with his permission - big chunks from his book The Divine Commodity in my book Why God Thinks He Can Use You. That makes us close, right?) just did a cool Ten Commandments of Hermeneutics… Worth reading and thinking about.

10 Commandments of Scripture Interpretation

My (Skye Jethani) simple guidelines for engaging the Bible and avoiding unhelpful controversy.

I. You  shall not make for yourself an idol out of Scripture.

This is a particular temptation among evangelicals who hold a very high view of Scripture. We forget that our highest calling is not to have a relationship with the Bible but with Jesus Christ of whom the Bible testifies. (John 5:39)

II. You shall honor the Scriptures as sufficient.

We have a common temptation to get “behind the text” or discover what “really happened.” While archeology and other disciplines are incredibly important, we must not forget that what God has given in the Scriptures is enough for life and faith.

III. You shall remember the metanarrative and keep it wholly.

In my experience more Christians can recap the meta-narrative of the Star Wars saga than can recap the biblical meta-narrative. It’s not enough to know the stories and events in the Bible. We must know how they fit together to tell a single story.

IV. You shall honor the Church as the recipient and the guardian of the Scriptures.

The books and letters in the Bible, with a few exceptions, were not written to individuals but to communities of believers. We must be careful not to read everything through the lenses of Western individualism. And we are wise to listen to how Christians in ages past have understood the teachings of Scripture.

V. You shall not neglect the context.

Proof texting (finding verses to make your point), isolating (removing a text from its surrounding material), and synchronizing (taking different gospel accounts of the same event and smashing them together) are all ways of abusing the text and landing on bad interpretations.

VI. You shall not ask questions the text does not want to answer.

Almost every nasty debate about Scripture results from forcing answers from the text it never intended to answer. Debates about creation in Genesis 1 and 2 fall into this category as do most other scientific issues. Avoid a “morbid interest in controversial questions” (1 Tim 6:4).

VII. You shall embrace both the form and content of Scripture as inspired by God.

When teaching the Bible we often retain the content or message but give little attention to the genre or style of the text. We lose something when we teach narrative as didactic truth, or when we ignore the poetic structure and beauty of a Psalm. And there’s a reason God said “You shall not murder” rather than “You will love life.” Do we see that?

VIII. You shall study Scripture for wisdom and not merely knowledge, and never for pride.

I’m really impressed that you’ve memorized 400 verses and took first prize in your Bible Quiz league. Not quit being such a jerk. (1 Cor. 8:1)

IX. You shall exegete your culture and not merely the Scriptures.

The goal is not merely to understand what the Bible said to those who live centuries ago, but hear it anew today. Proper teaching requires that we bring the Word of God into our world and help people feel the gravity and beauty of it for their lives and context.

X. You shall remember that the simplest interpretation is usually, but not always, correct.

There is no Bible Code! And if you have to do all kinds of contortions with Scripture to get it to fit into your theological framework, you’re probably guilty of something bad. Paradoxes abound in Scripture. If your theology doesn’t allow for that kind of ambiguity and mystery I suggest you try Deism.