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