Archive for category Theology
Once again, Tom Wright brings wisdom and reason to a hot topic. Toward the end, he addresses the Enlightenment arrogance of those who say, “We know more about homosexuality” or “We have evolved from the ignorance of the ancient world”. While Wright does not come down on one side or the other in this video, he brings up a lot of points that people refuse to consider in this debate (or rather argument). Chief among the issues worth considering is Wright’s point about differentiation in creation.
That the disciple of Jesus taught his resurrection was a revolutionary concept. Here is Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham and one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our day, explaining why the resurrection must be true.
“The only way you can explain why christianity began and why it took the very precise shape it was is – let’s say cautiously first – they really did believe he was bodily raised from the dead…the only way you can explain the rise of the early Christian belief that Jesus was raised is if there really was an empty tomb, and they really did meet jesus alive again in a transformed body.”
In the United States, violence is something that used to happen to someone else. It was something reserved for urban areas and gangsters or third world countries and oppressive regimes. But in the midst of the suburban American dream, violence was something you observed on television or in the newspaper.
All of that has changed in recent years. Violence has come home.
There has been a lot of bizarre news in the United States in 2012, and all of it has been violent. During the summer there were two – TWO! – strange stories of cannibalistic violence with people actually attacking and eating others. At the opening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, an insane man loaded all the weapons he could find and just started blasting away in a theater, killing a dozen people and injuring another eighty-five.
The past week has seen two very violent mass shootings in two suburban settings not usually associated with violence. In Happy Valley, Oregon, a lone gunman walked into a shopping mall and with apparent abandon, started blasting away at holiday shoppers. Then yesterday in Connecticut, a twenty year old man shot his mother and then went to the school where she worked and mercilessly killed her kindergarten students – her kindergarten students. Both shooters then turned their weapons on themselves.
The scope of these tragedies cannot be overstated. It simply boggles the mind that someone would be so messed up that slaughtering children seemed like an appropriate response to – well, anything.
A lot of people have been asking where this impulse of violence is coming from, and they have been coming up with all kinds of answers. Perhaps it comes from not having strict enough gun laws, or perhaps it comes from banning the Ten Commandments in schools. Perhaps it is a sign of the end times, or perhaps it is because of violent video games.
No one seems to be taking any time to consider what the Scriptures have to say about man’s violent nature.
Let’s consider for a moment just how violent human beings are.
It certainly is nothing new.
In Genesis 2, God creates man. In Genesis 3, man sins. In Genesis 4, man begins to murder his brother. In Genesis 6, we read these words:
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
Genesis 6:11-12 (ESV)
Mankind fills any situation with violence, and the more of us there are, the more potentially violent we become. This is something that the author of this part of the Genesis narrative knew over 6,000 years ago at the beginning of human recorded history.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.
Psalm 7:14-16 (ESV)
Violence is part of our sinfulness. It is multiplied and magnified in the “wicked man” but the potential exists among all of us. We need to understand that violence is part of the human experience – a natural consequence of the sin nature that lies within all of us.
And what does God say to all of this? The words he gave to the prophet Jonah echo his desire for mankind to lay down his violent nature:
Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jonah 3:8 (ESV)
Jonah was speaking to the Assyrians in Nineveh in the 8th century BCE. This was a culture that used violence to good effect. They were renowned for cruelty and destruction. And yet, God points out to Jonah that there are at least 120,000 children in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Judgment would have come on these children as well as their parents, and why? Because of their violence?
One of the promises God gives to David (around 1000 BCE) about the kingdom of Israel is that “violent men will waste them no more.” (1 Chronicles 17:9)
The reality is that violence is simply a matter of our existence here on earth. It is part of life. It has been a part of life for a long time.
We Americans seem to view violence from a distance, believing that somehow we have bettered human nature and have overcome the innate violence of our nature. Sometimes it seems like we have the underlying belief that we are better than those “other” people who are so violent.
Christians tend to think we have done this through moral law codes and sermons. Humanists think we accomplish it through just “being” better people.
But the reality is that we are not any different from Cain who killed his brother in an envious rage. We are no better than the Assyrians. We are still violent, and violence will continue to happen. Human beings don’t evolve and improve. We’re still just as sinful as Cain was.
A world without violence is an illusion. We can clean up the streets and pay more police officers, but we cannot get rid of the violence that resides in the heart of sinful man.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates our need for a Savior, for someone to take our violence upon himself. Christ’s crucifixion was a cruel, awful death; and yet it was a death invented by man to be inflicted upon man. What better way to illustrate how our violent and sinful natures torment the heart of God? What better way to show us the violent grace we receive through Christ?
Does Christ remove the violence of the world? His own words indicate that persecution and violence will continue until his return (Matthew 24:6).
If there is a theology of violence, it is that violence will always be present in sinful man.
If there is an answer to our violence, it is Christ.
No laws will change that. Teachers can’t change it. We cannot improve ourselves enough to eradicate the darkness of the sinful condition.
So, what to do?
We must answer violence with compassion, war with peace. The Church must be the peaceful rocks of truth that the waves of destruction crash upon and we must continue to love.
We must not be a marching army, determined to conquer the violence of man’s heart. Instead, we must become the heart of society – the clear voice of the gospel in the midst of voices of chaos, rage, guilt, fear and pain. To be the body of Christ is to be the peacemakers.
We must do this although the strength to do it is not present in our own spirits. We must rely upon the Spirit of God, upon the direction of our grieving Creator who wishes to see His creation reconciled. It is not enough to mourn injustice or to lament violence. We must become the agents of His peace, in whatever ways we can.
Violence will not cease as long as their are sinful human beings.
So, grace must not cease. The Church must never cease to be Christ’s peace and grace.
Among students of the Scriptures, it is often hard to discern the theories from the facts. Someone in one generation develops an idea, and the next generation – who learned the idea in their college classrooms – teaches it as fact.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than the theory of the “historical Jesus” which fuels so many of the articles about Jesus that appear every year in mainstream magazines around the time of Easter. The same theory fuels almost every History Channel and PBS documentary about Jesus as well.
But the theory – which briefly states the that Jesus of history is very different from the Jesus of the Bible – is just that, a theory. It is a theory first clearly and plainly articulated around 1900, although it had been discussed at great length by German theologians at the close of the previous century. Two works – Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, first published in English in 1910; and Albert Kalthoff’s The Rise of Christianity (1907) – made the idea somewhat mainstream. Both owed an enormous debt to an earlier book, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, written in 1846 by David Friedrich Strauss.
The themes were taken up in the 1950′s and 1960′s, and then became a part of pop culture with the formation of the Jesus Seminar in 1985. Almost all of the mainstream authorities on the “historical Jesus” – Robert Bonk, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg – first gained notice outside of academia because of it. Infamously, in the Seminar, members voted on the historicity of Jesus’ sayings by putting colored beads in a bowl – red meaning Jesus said it, black meaning he did not, and a range of colors between indicating various probabilities.
Although opposed by some of the greatest theological minds of the 20th century – Karl Bath and Rudolf Bultmann both opposed it – the idea has gained traction in popular culture and is taken as a given by almost everyone, including Christians. People just assume that the gospels present Jesus differently than he actually was in life.
But the theory hangs on the slender threads of assumptions. The assumptions are simple ones:
- Jesus was illiterate because he came from Nazareth and therefore would not have
- Jesus was poor because he came from Galilee and therefore resented the rule of the Romans
These two notions should bother the student of history. They are the Marxists ideals. Jesus is a poor, illiterate carpenter who rises up against his bourgeoisie Roman masters and is crushed for trying to lead a rebellion. They are not representative of first century Palestine, but they are representative of an ideal that existed in Europe at the time that the historical Jesus quest took root.
Everything about Jesus’ teachings is rephrased into a class struggle, and because it was convenient to the struggle of the day, people followed it. It should not surprise us that it gained popularity again in the 1960′s when Marxist ideals – repackaged as communal living and the oppression of “the Man” – became an academic norm again.
My purpose in all of this is not to critique the Jesus Seminar. I have done that elsewhere. It simply illustrates the weakness of the theory, which unfortunately is taught in even some of the most conservative colleges and churches.
For example, almost everyone who attends a basic Bible study or New Testament Survey class is told that Mark was the first gospel written. But why is this taught?
Because the historical Jesus people say so. Mark has the fewest miracles, reports events in the tersest terms; and since Matthew and Luke contain many of the same events, it became popular to conclude that it was the first gospel written.
This, of course, moves the core of the gospel out a generation from the life of Jesus and it makes Matthew and Luke derivative works.
In historical fact, however, most of the Church Fathers believed that Matthew was the first gospel written. It is 1) the most Jewish of the gospels and 2) reflects very little of later events. This is why Matthew appears first in the canon lists, and in your own Bible if you have one.
The argument that Mark was written first was created to justify dissecting the others, eliminating the miracles and the divinity of Christ. The Jesus Seminar people then decided that Mark was actually a composite of an imagined work called Q (from the German for source) and the Gospel of Thomas. They extrapolate Q from Mark by simply removing anything miraculous, supernatural or divine.
The theory, and it is was nothing more than that, became presented as fact and now, virtually everyone in Western Christianity adheres to it when in fact the Church has not adhered to that position for nearly 2,000 years.
All of this is just an illustration.
When something is presented to you as if it is facts, ask where the facts come from. Assume nothing. Alone, we won’t always catch everything; but as a community, we watch each other’s backs. We keep each other straight.
Don’t be afraid to question things, especially when those things are presented as undeniable fact without substantiation.
Last night, we read 2 Samuel 9 with our daughter. It is the account of King David taking his successor’s grandson Mephibosheth into his care. It is a beautifully composed story that transcends times and cultures.
Here is David, king by divine appointment and public acclamation. He has successfully defeated or pacified all competitors. He has established his capital at Jerusalem and is working toward unifying the religious life of the Hebrews for the first time in their history. And yet his chronicler devotes and entire section of the story to his care for Mephibosheth.
According to 2 Samuel 4:4, Mephibosheth was crippled at the age of five. Hearing the news of the death of Saul and Jonathan (Mephibosheth’s father) at the Battle of Gibeah, his nurse was carrying him away when she fell on him and most likely broke his back and left him a perapaligic.
Although we cannot be completely certain, the story in 2 Samuel 9 takes place at least seven years later, and probably closer to twenty years later. David has the time to seek out Saul’s family, and he finds out that a servant named Ziba has been secretly sheltering Mephibosheth. David sends for the young man and seeing him, he grants him a special place in the kingdom because of the love David had for his father Jonathan (2 Samuel 2:25-26).
It is a truly touching story – one that is worth far more than the couple of minutes it will take you to read it. David extends something more than grace to someone who he could, by rights, have killed. Mephibosheth was a potential rival.
But David’s love for Jonathan overrode any thoughts of succession and rule. When Mephibosheth came before him, David did not see the grandson of his enemy Saul. He saw only the broken body of the son of his greatest friend. For Jonathan’s sake, David gives Mephibosheth far more than he should have expected from him.
In the same sense, God gives us grace for Jesus’ sake. The Great King forgives the sins of the many who deserve nothing from Him – but not for their own sake. It is the Other’s merits that God sees when he looks at our broken bodies and shattered existences. Although we are damaged and in hiding, he exalts us to his table.
When we read the words of Psalm 23, we should see this moment.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
For some reason, when I read that line about “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” I always thought it was some kind of boastful moment. I saw it as God feeding me in front of people who hate me, and I would be able to look across at them and say, “I win.”
But that’s not what is in view at all. We are Mephibosheth – unworthy of a seat at the table. But God invites us to eat there, as one of the many gathered there. My enemies are not those who have something against me, but those I had something against. I was God’s enemy; and he invited me to His table.
Now, I picture David singing this song with Mephibosheth sitting beside him. He sings it knowing that he is as unworthy to be king as Mephibosheth is to sit at the king’s table. It becomes a celebration not of victory but of our humbled circumstance - paraplegics sitting at the table of the Mighty King.
It is a powerful story indeed.
Jesus’ encounter with the demonic forces on the Lake Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) occurs as he is trying to get to the region of Gedara. The name of the city itself means “border country” and it is essentially the eastern edge of Jewish influence.
Beyond Gedara was the Decapolis, an entirely new municipality founded by the Greek rulers who followed Alexander the Great and then rebuilt and expanded by Pompey, the Roman consul. The Decapolis had no historical precedence, and as such was not tied to the ancient traditions of the region.
No self-respecting Jew or Galilean went to the Decapolis even though it bordered Galilee to the east and the north. It was a wholly Greek region and therefore, in the minds of Jews and Galileans alike, was a pagan place. They welcomed the Romans and as a result, the Empire invested heavily in the development of the region. Throughout the Decapolis, local deities had been fused with the Greek pantheon and even the Roman reverence of the emperor as a god.
Invading the Pagan Stronghold
According to Luke, Jesus sailed for the Decapolis. He was intentionally headed for enemy territory.
Luke is the only writer to refer to Jesus as epistatē, a Greek title for a military commander. There are only two reasons a commander heads for enemy territory – to surrender or to invade. In this case, Jesus was headed to the Decapolis to invade it.
Standing on the shores, the demoniac saw Jesus coming his way and the demons called Legion (which means there were thousands of demons) is set to stop him from invading their turf. They send a raging windstorm that Luke calls lailaps.
In Greek mythology, Lailaps was the name of a dog that hunted the Teumessian Fox. The name came to be used as a metaphor for something inescapable, an inevitable disaster. It was sent by the gods.
In the same sense, Luke sees this windstorm as inescapable and supernatural. It is opposed to Jesus coming to the Decapolis and has been sent to prevent Him – to destroy Him.
When Jesus stands and rebukes the wind, he literally puts it in its place. The Greek word is epetimaō, which is again a military term. In this case, Jesus the epistatē tells the wind to get back in line. The demons of Legion have attempted to overstep their bounds against the commander of all, and at his command, the lailaps cowers.
According to the Greeks, not even Zeus could command the lailaps. Instead, he had to turn Lailaps and the Teumessian Fox into stone – freezing their struggle for all eternity. But Jesus can simply command and lailaps must obey.
This is why the demoniac comes to Jesus asking, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” (Luke 8:28) The demoniac knows the tortures that the demons have put him through and he assumes that Jesus must then be the demons’ master and assumes he is just as cruel as the demons. He is commanding the demons, silencing the lailaps. Nothing the supernatural powers of the land throw at Jesus has any effect on Him.
Jesus is YHWH
I have to be honest. This entire scene gives me goosebumps.
This is one of Jesus’ most powerful moments in the entire gospel of Luke. This moment reveals true power and absolute sovereignty. He is, in this moment, revealed to be something OTHER – absolutely and entirely. He is greater than the natural and supernatural forces, greater than the pagan gods, greater than the demonic forces.
And that is Luke’s intention. Throughout his gospel, he has been revealing Jesus as Savior of all mankind. Now, he reveals Him as Master as well. He is the master of all the gods and forces of any culture or religion and again asserted as YHWH, the God of Israel (Psalm 95:3).
According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Studies, here are the top ten largest churches in the United States:
- Lakewood Church, 43,500 (Joel Osteen)
- LifeChurch, 35,000 (Craig Groeschel)
- Fellowship Church, 24,000 (Ed Young, Jr.)
- Willow Creek Community Church, 23,400 (Bill Hybels)
- North Point Community Church, 23,375 (Andy Stanley)
- Second Baptist Church, 22,700 (Edwin Young, #3′s father)
- Saddleback Valley Community Church, 22,400 (Rick Warren)
- West Angeles Church of God in Christ, 20,000 (Charles Blake)
- Southeast Christian Church, 17,250 (Dave Stone)
- Fellowship of the Woodlands, 17,150 (Kerry Shook)
The list consists of 1,416 congregations with more than 2,000 members. (Not remarkably, there is only one in New Hampshire.) The top ten alone represent nearly 250,000 people who not only claim to be Christians but have also taken the step of church membership, however that works in that particular context.
That is awesome, and I believe that megachurches have a place in the kingdom. I say that so people who think megachurches are wonderful will not be offended by what I have to say next.
This kind of church has no appeal to me anymore.
There was a time in my life when I believed I could build a megachurch, that I would be the “next great thing” in American Christianity – like Bill Hybels was in the 80′s and Rick Warren was in the 90′s. But you know what? The appeal of that kind of thing has worn off.
I could cite lots of reasons, but the number one reason is that BIG just does nothing for me. In fact, it scares me a little bit. Almost every week, we have Christians drift in (and often out) of our doors who were part of a big church (larger than 300 congregants for the immediate purposes), and I see there is just something sadly lacking in their church journey. They might have gotten great music and wonderfully crafted sermons, but at a scale required to maintain these large congregations, they lost something far more important – intimacy.
I refer to churches under 200 congregants as intimate congregations. They are on a scale that allows people to interact on a personal level across a broad spectrum that embraces a majority of the other congregants. Sure, even at 100 people, our congregation can be easy to get lost in. We had a wonderful guy who came to worship gatherings for weeks before I had a chance to meet him, but others had. And here’s the big, I was only one relationship away from someone who had met him.
In an intimate congregation, people are never separated by more than one relationship. They know someone who knows someone else, and at that level they can be interconnected with the rest of the congregation. This level of separation is easily overcome in conversation over coffee or at a church dinner.
Relationships can remain intimate up to about 200 people, then things get messy and there are a lot of people that become two or more layers removed from others. This allows for a lot of division and the development of subcongregations.
I should emphasize as a last thought that this is not about the level of separation from the pastor. It is about levels of separation from each other. It is easier to lead people who know each other – at least for me.
I am not impressed by large congregations. They have their place, but I don’t hold them in awe as effective on the personal level because they are tend to be far less effective than intimate congregations.
The BIG QUESTION about intimate congregations is how we use the intimate relationships effectively. Far too many church leaders fail to understand how these relationships work, and (if we’re honest about it) were never taught how to work within those kinds of relationships. As a result, intimate congregations are often anything but.
One of the key reasons I don’t do conferences is that inevitably someone wants you to do some kind of “learning exercise.” I am a high-brain, verbal learner which means that I learn best by taking in information and teaching others, and most “learning exercises” do nothing for me. At the Biblical Imagination Conference we attended this weekend, we were asked twice to put our feelings on sticky notes and post them on a board. The first time, I actually wrote, “I don’t know what to write because the Gospel isn’t about me.”
Seriously, I wasn’t there to learn about myself. I was there to absorb the Gospel of Mark, to look at it in a different way; and that’s exactly what the teacher did. I felt engaged in Mark and felt that he really took the book to a fascinating place that will have me thinking, praying and changing for weeks. But it wasn’t about me. It was about Jesus. I wanted to learn about Him – from Him; and that was enough for me.
Anyway, the final “learning exercise” was to place ourselves in the place of Bartimaeus on the road out of Jericho. (Bartimaeus’ story is in Mark 10:46-52.) I think the purpose of the exercise was for us to think creatively about how the Gospel pertains to us. In reality, we are all blind like Bartimaeus; and the only thing we can ever ask Jesus for is mercy, which is what he does.
I get the idea. I really do. And when people started standing up and reading their “paradigms” as they were called, there was definitely a vibe of “Jesus saved me from ______.” I did not write about that at all. I think being “saved” is easy; but being transformed and remade is not.
When Jesus healed Bartimaeus, he literally remade him. Jesus did not simply make the man’s eyes work. He reactivated, repathed and reconnected millions of neural connections in his brain. Jesus implanted in Bartimaeus’ mind, body and soul the ability to not only receive light through his eyes but also how to interpret that light in meaningful ways. Jesus imputed into Bartimaeus a wholeness that otherwise would have been absent.
But there’s the thing. Bartimaeus was not the blind guy on the road. That was not the true Bartimaeus. When Jesus comes along and Bartimaeus cries out for mercy, Jesus recreated Bartimaeus as he was intended to be. For the first time, Bartimaeus was wholly Bartimaeus.
Too many of the “paradigms” I heard were essentially, “I AM the blind beggar, but Jesus made me a better version of that blind beggar.” This is the way Christians often share their testimony, and it is not an indictment of anyone who was there. They dwell on the person they once were – that broken, sinful person, and they imagine that Jesus somehow just improved upon that person.
Jesus does not improve or renovate. Jesus recreates. Bartimaeus was no longer the blind beggar. He was the seeing disciple. And when we cry out to Jesus for mercy and he recreates us, he does a NEW thing. He makes us as we are meant to be, the new creation. He is the NEW ADAM, the one who gives life.
We need to shift our thinking and stop defining ourselves as what we were before Jesus showed up with a little extra that Jesus is doing. We need to realize the new creation he has done and embrace the present reality of his workmanship in us. We must no longer be defined as ME+something Jesus did, but rather as Jesus+A NEW CREATION.
It is hard to communicate the emphasis, but consider it as if we mumble that we were blind and then SHOUT that we can see. The NEW CREATION is the reality, and the old broken person was just the shadow. The people who would not follow Jesus were those who embraced the lie of their current reality, who could not imagine that Jesus could make them truly new (the rich young ruler, the Pharisees, etc.). Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you ARE the sinner, the broken, the defeated. That is not who you ARE. You ARE who Jesus, in his mercy, makes you.
Those things have passed away, and BEHOLD he makes all things new.
Does that make sense?
Recently, I spoke on Luke 8:4-18 – what is known as “The Parable of the Sower.” The passage deals with the complex issue of why some people are “saved” and others are not, and as I expected there were a lot of questions about the nature of salvation.
Particularly, someone asked about the meaning of “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart” in verse 15. The actual question was:
What will be the results of those who have never heard The Word or care to abide by it but are “decent” people. Will they be “saved”? And we all know that no one, outside of the Trinity, is perfect and can put The Word into “perfect practice”. I know I need to work a lot harder to be a better listener and see-er. I really have no idea if some people will never be saved.
This is a great question, and it is also a very common one that believers struggle with. If I might rephrase the question, it is something like this:
Is there any hope of salvation for those who do not receive “the Word”?
To answer the question, we need to make sure that we carefully define the term The Word. According to the Gospel writer John, The Word is Jesus himself, revealed as a part of the divine godhead – the Creator and Redeemer of all things (John 1). The Scriptures themselves reveal to us the Living Word, and I would go as far as to say that if Jesus is not the Living Word then the Written Word is empty and meaningless. As Paul points out:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)
The Scriptures, Christianity – they have no meaning without Christ, and therein lies the answer to the question. At its core, the Christian faith is grounded in the idea that Jesus is the living Word. He is the written Word’s fulfillment (Matthew 5:17) and the satisfaction of all earthly requirements of salvation (Galatians 2:22-29. He is, as the author of Hebrews put it, “the author and finisher of our faith.” Without him, there is no salvation. (Acts 4:12)
The Christian faith is inherently exclusive. This offends some people, but there is no way around it. Christianity not only excludes those who have no exposure to the Scriptures but also those who look to the Scriptures but deny Christ.
Jesus’ parable of the sower was addressed directly to those who claimed to the know the Scriptures but denied Him as the Word of God. It is a universal statement, pertaining to those who appeared to be His disciples as much as to those who would never be exposed to His Word. While one of the soils he mentions in the parable never receives the Word, two of them do receive it but then let it die within them – burnt up and dry because of the rock or choked out by the weeds.
Now, having made such exclusive statements, let me offer some hope. Throughout his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul makes it plain that those who would receive Jesus as the Word will be given opportunity. Revelation will reach them, and those who will follow Him will be given the opportunity. This is why the Church has a mandate to “make disciples of all nations”. We are called to work to share Jesus Christ with as many as will hear, knowing that not all will receive.
The more we allow God to expand our vision, the greater the opportunity the Church has to be a part of the harvest he has prepared. (John 4:34-38, Acts 10:34-43) One of the great sins of the Church is that we narrow God’s vision and restrict the scope of what He can do through us. We dismiss classes of people because they do not fit our idea of “good soil.”
To bring these thoughts full circle to the original question, are there some people who will “never be saved”? I believe that from our human perspective, we do not have the right to say “never.” God’s vision transcends our ability to perceive, and those we might dismiss as “unreachable” may turn out to be “good soil”.
Jesus’ parable of the sower was not absolute. In other words, it was not predeterminative. Jesus was not saying that all people are always in one of the four categories, but rather that every time we are exposed to the Word (and remember, he meant himself) we can be one of the four. Just as Simon Peter and James could not be able to grasp that all nations could receive the gospel and needed Paul to preach the gospel to them afresh (Galatians 1), we sometimes lose sight of Jesus and our growth dries up or is choked out.
People are not in irreversible spiritual state until death. As long as their is breath in their lungs (a breath that comes from God, by the way – Genesis 2), there is hope. As long as they can be exposed to the Word, there is potential for them to be “good soil.” We must never give up the hope that God can do the miraculous thing.
Thanks to a big sale at Logos Bible Software, I got four books from N.T. Wright for practically nothing. Although Resurrection and the Son of God wasn’t on sale, I got the first two books of the series for less than $10. They retail for around $40.
Last night I started reading The New Testament and the People of God. Wright’s philosophy is familiar to me. I have listened to several of his lectures and watched a number of videos of his teaching, but I wanted to get into his books because there is often far more content in someone’s writings than they can share in lectures. Underlying premises are often unspoken or easily brushed aside in a lecture, but when they are on the page they can be examined more thoroughly.
The first thing that caught my attention in The New Testament and the People of God is that Wright provides a framework for his approach to Scripture – something that all too many popular commentators fail to do. (Bart Ehrmann, I’m talking to you!) Wright provides us with his own internal framework, but then he offers some thoughts on the tensions of reading Scripture. Although I have said the same things myself in different ways, I found his words valuable enough that I wanted to share them:
The present work, then, is an attempt to integrate three tasks often thought to be disparate. There will be times when we shall lean more heavily on questions of one sort rather than another. In a sense, the study of Jesus is first and foremost a matter of history, needing careful ancillary use of literary study of the texts and theological study of implications. I shall describe Jesus from the point of view of historical events which precipitated a theological and literary revolution. In a sense, the study of Paul is a matter of theology, needing careful ancillary historical and literary work. I shall discuss Paul from the point of view of a revolutionary theology which precipitated a historical achievement. In a sense, studying the gospels in their own right is first and foremost a literary task, but it cannot be done without careful attention to the historical and theological setting, context and implications. I shall analyse the gospels from the point of view of a literary achievement which embodied a revolutionary worldview (or several revolutionary worldviews?). And, as I shall argue in Part II of the book, none of these kinds of study can be done with a detached, positivistic ‘objectivity’. All involve, as all knowledge involves, the knower or researcher, the student or reader. Unless we are clear about this from the start we shall be labouring under an over-simplistic conception. Things might look pleasantly straightforward to begin with, but trouble would be stored up for later on.
Here, Wright outlines that any study of the Scriptures hold three different considerations in tension:
- Literary style and criticism
- Historical context
- Theological setting
For the original audiences of these texts, these things would have been a given; but removed two thousand years from the texts, it is necessary that we examine them in detail. This is why the study of Scripture is such a demanding task. One might extract some truth from the Scriptures by a brief, broad reading; but the true depth of the Scriptures requires skills that many interpreters sadly lack.