Thursday, March 3, 2011

Out to Lunch now

Thank you for all your interest in Out to Lunch.

While this site will remain up to maintain access to prior posts, all new posts and materials will appear at

Biblical Theology Chapter Two: Covenants, &tc

Here Lawrence introduces the "tools" of biblical theology and how to use them.

Lawrence gives an example of the different "horizons" of a person's life: the public, personal, and private horizons. Each is true about the person, but doesn't give the entire picture. As you view the person from each horizon, you learn something more about who he is.

Similarly, we view God's revelation of himself in different horizons: the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons.

The textual horizon, per Lawrence, is the closest view and consists of what the text actually contains: its language, verbiage, and terminology. The epochal horizon and canonical horizon seem to overlap somwehat in Lawrence's description.

Epochs are sometimes delineated by the presence of a new covenant -- or promise by God -- for instance. Epochs seem to be turning points at which at bit more of the revelatory curtain is pulled back to expose God's design and plan of redemption (called "progressive revelation" by some). Lawrence cites the division between the Old and New Testaments as an obvious epochal division.

Covenants are God's promise to men regarding future salvation and blessing. These are ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Adressing a passage of Scripture this way would initially reveal the textual horizon -- what the text actually says -- then the reader would "back out" a bit and view the epochal horizon -- what stage of redemptive history the text was given -- then assess the covenantal horizon and how this particular text might have been fulfilled in the first coming of Jesus, or how it will be fulfilled in his second coming.

Lawrence uses as an example of this process a text that fits all three horizons, but there are some passages for which the "horizon" view might not work so easily, and Lawrence gives no guidance at this point regarding how to treat those passages.

Even so, Lawrence's description is useful, and helpful to emphasize the importance of viewing each passage of Scripture no only in isolation, but in connection with other teachings of Scripture; in considering, as it were, the stage of redemptive history in which the passage was given.

Lawrence's next chapter addresses prophecy and typology, among other things.

Westboro Baptist Church & the Supreme Court

One would be hard-pressed to find in the rantings of Westboro Baptist Church picketers anything resembling the biblical gospel.

[As Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer) said, the only thing correct in the name is the congregation's location.]

Even finding an example of biblical prophecy -- the "forthtelling" which indicted God's people for violations of the covenant relationship -- in Westboro's picketing seems an effort in futility.

Yet as much as biblical Christ-followers cringe at the apparent distortion of the biblical gospel, the abuse of the prophetic role in society, and the consequent maligning of the gospel and God,the Supreme Court is right.

Under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, the government has no right to decide what constitutes a true church, what constitutes a biblical -- or even true -- message, or what people claiming the name of Christ can shout from a street corner.

In short, the Supreme Court is not a "repugnance cop."

If it were, we would look much more like the Middle East despots who are even now being toppled in part because of such behavior.

And, given the world-wide tenor of attitude toward Christian belief, American believers should be thankful that for now our government protects the right of believers not only to practice their faith free of public intrustion, but also to talk about it openly.

This is good news in light of the problems that open-air evangelism is experiencing in Michigan, outside an Islamic festival. Good news in light of the United Kingdom's disqualification of foster parents because of their biblical belief against homosexuality. Good news in light of the killing of a Pakistani minority minister who refused to prosecute Christians. Good news, indeed.

So while Christ-followers pray for Westboro members to examine their hearts and words, we express our thanks to God that Westboro is still able, in this country, to reveal even uncharitable hearts and express even hurtful words without repercussion.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Biblical Theology Chapter One: Exegetical Tools

As Lawrence points out, his book is a practical tool for pastors. In many respects, though, Biblical Theology is also useful for every believer, because we are all called to be "theologians": thinking rightly about God.

In Chapter One Lawrence begins a discussion of a method of interpreting Scripture so that we can be reasonably assured that we are understanding the meaning of Scripture. Whatever method we use, our system of interpreting Scripture is called "hermeneutics."

Lawrence states the fundamental principle that we as readers of the Scripture text can understand what God is saying to us in it, and that there is a correct meaning: not what the text "means for you," or what it "means to me," but, simply, what it "means."

The method Lawrence proposes is the "grammatical-historical method," a key component of which is the understanding that we are not -- primarily -- seeking to understand what a particular word means, but what a sentence means, as the author originally intended it. Though understanding words is important, "context is king," and we ignore the context in which the word is found at our own peril.

An important component of the grammitcal-historical method is recognizing the different genres in Scripture -- poetry, history, prophecy -- because how we arrive at "units" of teaching and preaching will depend in part on what sort of genre we are dealing with. For instance, a unit of teaching from the epistles will be much shorter than a unit of preaching from the book of 2 Chronicles.

Lawrence gives a brief description of the way to interpret each genre, for which he gives seven categories. Though a serious student of Scripture will want to explore more thorough treatment of interpreting each of the genres, Lawrence's summary is a good illustration of the importance of recognizing Scripture genres before we set about the task of interpretation.

Giving the example of teaching a group of sixth grade boys in Sunday school, Lawrence demonstrates that every believer -- given the proper exegetical tools -- can rightly understand Scripture, in a way that comforms us into the image of Christ.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Biblical Theology, Introduction

In the "Introduction" to his Biblical Theology, Michael Lawrence tackles the foundational issue of what the Bible is, after all. Lawrence says that we need and understanding of the Bible that "doesn't reduce it to life's little answer book, but keeps the focus on God." Additionally our definition shouldn't "reduce it to the story of how we get saved and go to heaven."

According to Lawrence, biblical theology is the attempt to demonstrate what systematic theology assumes, that the Scriptures are a single, unified narrative of God's message.

Lawrence identifies four characteristics of divine revelation: it is 1) progressive -- revealing God's truth over time; 2) it is historical -- dealing with real events in history; 3) it is organic -- more like a growing plant than constructed building; 4) it is practical -- useful for pastoral counsel and believer-to-believer admonishing.

He also identifies five characteristics of the Bible, which task itself is a bit confusing and overlaps somewhat with his description of divine revelation: 1) historical/human; 2) divine; 3) narrative; 4) structured by covenants; 5) centered in judgment.

Lawrence gives a bit of insight to his description of Scriputre as "narrative" when he explains that this "story doesn't just interpret us, it exercises authority over us. ... The narrative of Scripture has a normative, or authoritative, function in our lives and over our churches.

This is the point at which Scriptural narrative looks much different from other historical accounts or stories (in the sense of true events, not "fairy tales"). Yet Lawrence perhaps confuses the issue when he contrasts a Christianity of "a limited set of doctrinal propositions" with one that "claims the totality of our lives."

He is not quite clear, here, of how the normative nature of the biblical narrative dispels dry orthodoxy with vibrant orthopraxy. Perhaps this will become clearer.

Lawrence does make a good point in re-emphasizing what he calls "salvation through judgment." This is an echo of Romans 3:26, in that we are not saved when God's just wrath is neutralized, but when it is cast on One able to endure it in righteousness, God's own Son. This makes God both just and justifier.

Lawrence's premise -- that proper theology is also imminently practical -- is correct. I look forward to discovering his demonstration of this truth in the remainder of the book.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Smorgasbord of Dysfunction

Wisconsin has been known in the rest of the country for one particular foodstuff: cheese.

Now it is not so much one homogeneous block of curdled milk product (whether hole-y, or bleu, or moldy), so much as it is a veritable cornucopia of public dysfunction.

A buffet of buffonery, if you will.

The dust-up caused by Governor Scott Walker's attempt to reign in public spending has revealed in one place, at one time, the virtual inanity of thought in no less then four (4) separate spheres: State legislature, unions, public education, and the media.

Democrat legislators fled the State to avoid giving Republicans -- who hold the majority after recent elections -- the ability to vote on legislation that the Democrats don't like. They have, in effect, blocked the democratic process, while at the same time they and their supporters in the streets claim to be promoting the democratic process.

Unions representing public employees are encouraging the defeat of Gov. Brown's collective-bargaining restrictions, asserting that they are interested in "working people" -- working people who, with salary and benefits, reportedly earn over $100,000 per year on the public dole.

Teachers claiming to do nothing but labor "for the children" are calling in "sick" -- complete with faked doctor excuses -- to join street protests and State capitol sit-ins, apparently unaware that the act of abandoning the classroom to argue for salary and union power is not quite consistent with an interest in kids' learning.

The media, reporting on the kerfuffle, describes the event as "Cairo coming to Madison" (if your teacher was 'sick' that day in your Government class, Madison is the capitol of Wisconsin). Really?

This would be quite amusing, if it did not spell such trouble for public life. It seems that integrity and honesty are in short supply, while greed and self-interest are abundant.

Biblical Theology by Michael Lawrence

This is neither a new idea, nor a new book, nor a new idea about a new book.

Biblical Theology by Michael Lawrence was released in 2010 as a 9Marks product (Crossway: Wheaton IL, 2010). Many others have proposed to blog through a book as they read it, so my attempt to do so is not a novelty.

So, there is nothing new to see here, except for my take on things, so if I haven't successfully persuaded you to stop reading and go to a better-looking site with a younger, hipper blogger, then read on, my friend.

Lawrence writes generally to propose how biblical theology leads directly to effective -- some might say "faithful" -- pastoral ministry in the church. He even proposed that he is writing a "how-to" book, and that learning "to do biblical theology will help you learn how to pastor well" (p15).

Expanding on this idea, Lawrence says "our theology determines the shape and character of our ministry. Theology is how we move from the text of Scripture to how we should live our lives today. This is a book about theology. But it's really a book about ministry, because I'm convinced that if we want our ministry to have a lasting impact and our churches to be healthy we must first do our theology well."

Lawrence refers to this approach as "word-centered ministry."

Indeed, for any congregation of Christ-followers, ministry should be nothing but word-centered. As Lawrence suggests, a gospel minister isn't simply reciting a washing machine manual, but is delivering the life-giving, life-changing Word of God.

This Word is powerful to actually change people. I fear that in some respect we as believers have forgotten this, or don't truly believe it. I must confess that though I engage in ministry with a Word-centered frame of reference, and trust God's Word to accomplish his purpose in changing the lives of men, I am still -- in my sinful and doubtful condition -- surprised when I observe that what God promised and what I profess to believe actually happens.

Yet it is better to be pleasantly surprised at the efficacy of God's Word than to avoid opportunity for God's Word to be efficacious.

Hopefully, Lawrence's book will be a much-needed corrective to ministry centered on things other than the Word.

Join me in finding out.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Seek Risk or Seeking Christ and Putting All "At Risk"

Dear Pastor,

I'm looking for your guidance and direction in leading me, my family and the other sheep of the church from a comfortable life of Christianity into one with risk and adventure

Dear Church Member,

Hmm...I know what you mean. But we should not seek risk and adventure for its own sake, but instead seek to follow Christ. What I mean is, following Christ is sometimes mundane. That is, your following Christ at this point in your life includes working to provide diapers and bottles, and late-night feedings.

Others following Christ might include helping children with math, offering guidance in dating relationships, or the seemingly unfruitful exercise of leading the family in home devotions.

It might be better for us to speak of putting all we have "at risk" for the sake of following Christ. That is, should following Christ require it, we are willing to lose reputation, standing, security, possessions.

Risk and adventure for some might mean travelling to a closed country to establish a Christian church, where what is placed at risk is the attachment of head to body.

We might be able to do some of that. But to be faithful with big risk far away, we should be faithful with smaller, "less risky", risk close at home.

For instance, adventure might include opening your home to troubled kids in your neighborhood, inviting skeptical and critical neighbors over to eat, going door-to-door to meet your neighbors and tell them why you are on earth living down the street from them.

Risk might include forging relationships across racial divides, providing mercy relief to homeless or jobless or thankless or those society deems 'worthless', and repeating the gospel to those we know think they know or don't want to know.

Risk, as it were, might be leaving a large church with all the amenities to be part of a church plant with nothing but borrowed hymnals, the preached Word, and love for the lost.

Your desire is consistent with Christ's admonition that whoever wishes to follow him must "deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow" Jesus. So much of culture, our flesh, and the devil instead suggest that we affirm ourselves, protect our lives, and control Jesus.

Lay your life -- with all that it means -- at the foot of the cross and he will direct your steps, whether they lead next door to face the ridicule of the village atheist, or around the world to face executioner's blade.

Your Pastor

Monday, January 17, 2011

Interpreting parables: the prodigal

In Luke 15 Jesus tells the famous parable of “The Prodigal Son.” The younger son demands his inheritance early, wastes it, then returns to the father, groveling to be treated like a servant. The father welcomes him lovingly, returning honor to him, while the older son grits his teeth in anger that the younger son was accepted.

Everyone focuses on the younger son and the father’s love for him.
It is a great picture of a father eagerly accepting a son he thought was lost, even though the son’s actions caused him great pain. We like to imagine this is how God receives sinners. And, to a degree, our imagining would be accurate.

There are two problems with our typical treatment of the story.

First, we leave out the older brother. A key component of interpreting parables is to look for the reason Jesus told them. Though it doesn’t happen always, on many occasions the author who recorded the event tells us why the parable was given. In Luke 15:1-3, we are told why Jesus told the parable of “The Older Brother.” Scribes and Pharisees were out of sorts because Jesus ate with ‘sinners.’ Verse 3 says ‘so he told them this parable.’

Luke actually records three: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and “The Older Brother.” All three emphasize that there is joy when things thought to be lost were found again. But the point of the telling is in 15:25-32, where the actions and attitudes of the older brother are recorded. He despised his father for glorying in the younger son’s return, because he (the older) had always been there, dutifully obeying the father though he apparently did so with no love in his heart.

Jesus was equating the older brother’s hatred with that of the scribes and Pharisees, who thought that ‘sinners’ were not worthy to receive grace. The parable is still hard-hitting today, when many of us look down on those we think are not worthy of mercy, or to hear the gospel, or to receive our time and energy.

Second, we treat the story as an evangelistic tool. That is, we tell the story of the younger son with a view to persuading men to repent and return to God. It is true that the story contains a marvelous picture of a loving father who welcomes home a wayward son, with all its facets of unconditional love and forgiveness. But a crucial element is missing: substitution.

Our sin separates us from God, like the younger son’s greed and waste separated him from the father. But even if we recognized that fact, and wanted to return to God, God would not — indeed, could not — accept us merely on our desire, no matter how sincere. In God’s economy, our sin incurs a debt against his honor that must be satisfied, and because we cannot satisfy it, there must be One who can. In fact, God provides One who can, and Jesus lived a substitutionary life and died a substitutionary death to provide a life of obedience we couldn’t live and to die the death we couldn’t survive.

Is “The Older Brother” a good story of forgiveness? Sure. But the point of the story, as told by Jesus, was to jab us in the eye and make us repent for feelings of superiority over those we consider worse ‘sinners’ than ourselves.

Watson on meditation

Yoga was recently criticized by Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler because Christians suppose that they can employ some of its techniques without jeopardizing the faith.

Mohler correctly points out that if by that we mean we can practice the physical exercises of Yoga without the meditative elements, then, yes, we can, but it is then not really Yoga, but stretching.

A Christian cannot employ the meditative elements of Yoga — or any other system — and remain true to the Christian faith. The reason is that Yoga requires the “emptying” of the mind, whereas Christianity requires its filling, and transforming. And other systems, if they meditate on anything, meditate upon those things that are contrary to God’s revelation of Himself in nature and in Scripture, and Christian must meditate only upon the truth of God.

But most of us don’t need to worry about improper meditation, because we can’t be still enough with our own thoughts long enough to call it meditation. Our error, instead, is that we don’t meditate at all.
One reason is that it seems to be hard work.

But when we consider our behavior in other areas, maybe it is not so hard as we think. For instance, consider the behavior that prompts someone to say that you are “dwelling” on some thing, or “obsessing” with some person. When we think that we have been wronged, it is not difficult at all for us to “meditate” on the event: the precise order of events surrounding the personal insult; who else, other than the offender, knew about the act, helped plan it, secretly enjoyed it, talked about it behind our back; how we might react to save face, show strength, get revenge, protect our own. We meditate, after all, on those things that we value.

Thomas Watson defines meditation as a “holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” To help with the subject, or object, of meditation, Watson suggests:

1. meditate seriously upon the corruption of your nature.
2. meditate seriously upon the death and passon of Christ.
3. meditate upon your evidence for heaven.
4. meditate upon the uncertaintly of all earthly comforts.
5. meditate on God’s serverity against sin.
6. meditate upon eternal life.

These are certainly not all of the things we can meditate upon, but give us a good guide. Scripture itself should be the foundation for meditating upon any of these subjects Watson mentions, and God’s word is always conducive to meditation.

So, while we don’t sit in the Lotus position repeating ‘ohmmm,’ Christians should meditate, upon the reality of God’s character, our nature, His redemption, and our future state in glory.

If the kingdom is "at hand" why do things look the same?

Many unbelievers point to continued suffering in the world as evidence that there is, in fact, no “kingdom” of Christ. How good can the reign of a holy God be when it is attended by oppression, sickness, disaster and continued strife between men? If a “king” has come, shouldn’t we see his throne, his castle, his fortifications and armies?

Unfortunately, many believers look at the world around us and and ask the same question, leading to doubts, insecurity, and a ministry characterized by ineffectiveness and fruitlessness.

Mark 1:14-20 addresses some of those concerns. Even though the arrival of the kingdom is not accompanied by great fanfare (castles and armies and such), it demands radical change in the lives of those who hear of its arrival.

Several conditions attend the arrival of the kingdom.

First, its Context is Immediate. Jesus says that the “time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.” Unlike ourexpressions in which we use “kingdom come” as a distant event (“you could tell him that until kingdom come”), we pray “thy kingdom come” in recognition that the kingdom is both here and is also coming: it is “already, but not yet.”

Second, its Circumstance is Normal. Mark quotes Old Testament prophets to teach that John the Baptizer was the messenger before the Lord/LORD, and that Jesus is the “one greater than” John. But with the arrival of the king, and of the kingdom, Andrew and Simon still have to fish for a living. Men still need to eat. James and John still have to mend broken nets. The earth still yields thorns and thistles from the curse of the Fall (Genesis 3).

Third, its Demands are Comprehensive. The kingdom is at hand, so “repent, and believe the gospel.” When a king has conquered territory and is establishing the reign in his realm, the occupants have a choice: join the new kingdom or rebel and face the consequences.

Fourth, its Effects are Radical. The king issues a call that is 1) to him — not to a cause or to a principle; 2) to service — to become fishers of men, not to simply know something; and 3) to fellowship — he calls men to follow among others whose names they know, not to a faith that is private or anonymous. And men leave all to follow him. Andrew, Simon, James and John left their business, their family and even those on the payroll in order to follow Jesus.

Are we, too, required to quit work? Not necessarily. But if mending nets and tending family prevent us from following him, they must go.

The fanfare of the kingdom of Christ is the radical change of nature, the wholesale reorientation of mind, will and emotions, that occurs in men when they are exposed to the arrival of the kingdom in the preaching of the gospel, hear the call of Christ, and repent and believe.
It does not matter, then, that the nets are still broken.

God sends the promised Lord

In Mark 1:1-13, the gospel writer introduces us to the “gospel of Jesus Christ.”

His first step is to recall Old Testament prophecy regarding God’s promise to send a messenger to prepare the way before the Lord/LORD (the Old Testament passages use both terms). So we have both a promise from God that he will send the Lord, and also a promise from Him to the Lord that he will prepare the way.

In comes the vivid imagery of John the Baptizer, dressed in camel fur and eating bugs in the desert. Obviously, from the text, he is the messenger preparing the way. But how? And why would the Lord come from God into the desert?

John prepares the way by baptizing people and preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. These are radical departures from the norm for Israel: baptism was for Gentiles and Israel secured forgiveness (atonement) through the sacrifice of animals. John’s preaching included the admonition that there was ‘one greater’ who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Then appears Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee: a nobody from nowhereville. He comes to the desert and gets baptized by John in the Jordan, just like everyone else. Could this be the ‘one greater’? Certainly not. But Mark confirms Jesus’ status by recording what he saw: the heavens opening, the Spirit descending, heaven talking. Then a curious thing happens: Jesus is expelled to the desert.

If everyone was in the desert already listening to John, how bad must it be if you are expelled from there to the desert?

Mark doesn’t leave us wondering at Jesus’ status, though. Even while he is in the wilderness being tempted, angels are tending to him.

So in Mark’s introduction we have Old Testament prophecy regarding the messenger and the Lord; John’s appearance and prophecy that ‘one greater’ was coming; the ‘one greater’ would baptize with the Holy Spirit; Jesus of Nazareth is baptized by John and baptized (to a degree) by the Holy Spirt; Jesus’ baptism is attended by eschatalogically significant events of heavens opening and heaven (God) speaking; Jesus is personally attended by angels.

Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah (Christ), but not only is he flesh and blood — nobody from nowhereville — he is the Son of God, a kinship confirmed by miraculous and prophetic signs