Friday, July 30, 2010

The Exegetical Challenges of Preaching From the Psalms

If you haven’t listened to the latest White Horse Inn broadcast, I recommend that you do. It is entitled, “How Not to Interpret the Bible.” The basic gist of the discussion boils down to the redemptive historical hermeneutic. Essential the guys show the flaws in any other way of interpreting Scripture.

This is true for the historical narratives, but especially for the Psalms. The proper meaning or application of each Psalm hinges upon its place in redemptive history. If one ignores this or does not take it into account, all sorts of confusion will ensue.

Think for a moment of the Messianic Psalms or the Imprecatory Psalms. The important principle to remember when interpreting any portion of Scripture is its relation to Christ. I have always liked Augustine’s writings on the Psalms for this reason. Sometimes he seems to be straining the text to see Christ in it, but surely it is better to err that way than to not use Christ as the interpretive key.

This presents a challenge for the preacher. First of all, it requires much more work on his part. The congregation has to be made biblically literate. How can the preacher expound a passage’s place in redemptive history if the whole congregation is virtually ignorant of the over-arching narrative of Scripture? Using the Psalms to analyze David psychologically – to get inside his head – as he wrote his various songs is to horrendously mistreat Scripture. The characters of Scripture are not our examples of Christian character. Christ and Christ alone is the model. Abraham lied about his wife, as did Isaac. David spied on the neighbor lady while she was in the shower, slept with her and then killed her husband. Judah – well let’s not go there… Christ alone was perfectly obedient to God’s law and only His finished work on the cross savingly applied to the believer by the Spirit effectively changes a person’s life.

Trying to find lessons on friendship, loyalty and courage from Israel’s history is to miss the point entirely of the Old Testament. Culling every passage for some moral application denies the Spirit’s ability to powerfully impact the hearer with the meaning and implications of the passage being studied, plus it turns Scripture into little more than a manual for behavior – slightly more spiritual than Emily Post.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Scripture Trumps Experience

Question 3 of the Westminster Larger Catechism asks, “What is the Word of God?” To which it answers: “The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, 1 the only rule of faith and obedience.” 2

A lot of things can be said about this, but the point I wish to draw attention to is this: sola scriptura means that the Bible trumps everything, including experience.

I have known many people throughout my life that were at one point skeptical, even cynical, of Charismatic experiences, but who now believe in them – not because of explicit scriptural teaching and clear exegetical treatment of the relevant passages, but because they, or someone they know, has experienced something. I don’t know how to put this charitably, so I’ll say the only way I know how: this is pantheistic self-deifying mysticism. Harsh words? I think not.

First of all, all mysticism, regardless of its religious affiliation, is pantheistic in nature. It is a looking within oneself to find the divine spark or some other equally blasphemous term for the god within us all. The Reformers call this Enthusiasm. The word comes from the Greek words en and theos, meaning the “god within.” If your personal experience leads you to believe things contrary to Scripture then you have made your experience more authoritative than God. What else is this if not self-deification? Is it any wonder then that so many of the Word Faith heretics claim to be little gods running around on earth?

In Acts 3:21 Peter informs his audience, and us, that Christ must remain in heaven until the time of the restitution of all things. Along comes Benny Hinn claiming that Jesus appear bodily tp him and walked around the room leaving footprints in his carpet. I have every Scriptural reason to call him a liar. Peter’s statement precludes Jesus bodily appearing to anyone before His second advent. Therefore whatever left footprints in Benny Hinn’s carpet was NOT Jesus. End of story.

Actually calling Hinn a liar is the nicest thing that could be said about him, because it could be much worse. He could’ve had a real “spiritual” experience where a force masquerading as Christ walked around his room. The Charismatic world would be far better off if Hinn were simply a liar than if he were spiritually deceived and purveying this deception to millions of his viewers. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.

Scripture gives us a pretty clear idea that the dead go to their respective destinations immediately. They do not roam the earth as disembodies souls searching for justice or looking after loved ones left behind. Yet I can’t tell you how many stupid ghost stories I’ve heard. Now either the ghost in the picture is real and therefore Scripture is wrong or the Bible is right and there was no ghost. Yet people routinely place more stock in their experiences, or imagined experiences, than in Scripture.

I used to be impressed to the old saying attributed to Leonard Ravenhill that “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.” With all due respect to the late Rev. Ravenhill, I have to state that that saying is hogwash. Truth must be objective or it is inconsequential. If my experience trumps the propositional truths of Scripture, then I might as well throw my Bible away and start attending the local Vineyard church!

1 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21

2 Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 22:18-19; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Galatians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 3:15-16

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not EVERY Promise In The Book Is Mine.

One of the hermeneutical principles of the Reformers was the idea that we are not warranted to universalize Biblical promises without clear revelation to do so.

This is why Reformed theology has always insisted that Jesus’ promise in John 16:13 was specifically for the Apostles as a promise regarding their writing of the New Testament. (1) When one looks at the context, it is very clear that these statements were made specifically for the Apostles.

I could appeal to the general experience of the Church throughout history to back this up. Who else in the two millennia since Christ’s ascension has been able to claim perfect doctrinal accuracy and total recall of Jesus’ teaching? No one but the Apostles can claim this, and they can only claim it in regard to the canonicity of their theopneustic writings.

A more general example is the common appeal to Romans 8:28. We are gravely mistaken when we apply this verse willy-nilly as if everything will always work out fine for everyone. This promise is given specifically for the elect: those called according to God’s purpose. No one else has any business claiming this promise.

Another example is when people try to apply the Old Testament historical narratives to their own personal situations. We’ve all heard the goofy applications: We all have our own personal Goliaths to slay, etc. Pulling those stories out of their redemptive history evacuates them of all their true meaning. Understanding Scripture in any other way than in its redemptive history is to misinterpret it. The stories of Saul, David, Samson, Gideon and Joshua are not given so that we can follow their examples. Christ is our example. Christ is not one among many good characters. He is the only one that matters. All of the Old Testament narratives lead up to Him.

That is why it is wrong for people to try to get guidance from God via a “Gideon’s fleece” experiment. Scripture nowhere tells us that this is how we are to seek the Lord’s guidance. I have know many people who have devised some sort of “Gideon’s fleece” to seek answers to their questions, but I have never known anyone to actually put out a real fleece and test it with dew! Now if they were really sticklers about following Scripture, that’s what they’d have to do.

The story of Gideon shows us how God preserves His covenant people, for His own sake, despite their backslidings, in order to fulfill His ultimate purposes in Christ. Joshua teaches us this same message – not that we are to march around our problems seven times, or some other equally idiotic thing.

The story of Samson is not about how we can make Nazarite vows or grow our hair. It is about God's sovereignty and control over the plight of His covenant people even when their leader are reprobates. Samson was a very sinful man. Whether or not he was a true believer is perhaps debatable, but God overruled his lousy character for His own divine purposes.
(1) Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The United Work of Son and Spirit.

One of the dangers of the Pentecostal/Charismatic emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit is that it overshadows the work of Christ. Better yet, it puts asunder two things that God has joined together. If one read the New Testament carefully, he will see that the work of the Holy Spirit is never presented on isolation. It is always tied to Christ’s work. Moreover, the Spirit’s work IN us is never made to outweigh the Son’s work OUTSIDE of us. This cannot be overemphasized.

In his book, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, George Smeaton (1814-1889) deals with this very thing. He points out that one of two possible types of theological error always arises when, “THE SPIRIT’S WORK WITHIN is made to eclipse or overshadow THE REDEEMER’S WORK WITHOUT.”

The first type of unsound doctrine is defective views of Christ’s imputed righteousness. The Wesleyan and Holiness Pentecostal forms of perfectionism are good examples of this. The adherents of this view always downplay imputation and speak of righteousness that is infused. Instead of preaching the surety-righteousness of Christ, they exaggerate their own sanctification and deprecate imputed righteousness. They ignore the law-magnifying obedience of Christ as “the Lord our righteousness,” and place all their attention on attainments in personal piety.

The second error is a misapprehension of the double being of a Christian. A Christian consists of flesh and spirit warring against each other during this lifetime. Emphasizing one side at the expense of the other, leads to terrible confusion of thought. All the screwy dualistic Gnostic heresies of the early Patristic age testify to the truth of this assertion.

In a previous post, I wrote about Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit. I mentioned repeatedly his constant habit of tying the Spirit’s work to the mediatorial work of Christ. It is important to remember that the good news of the Gospel is not about what God has done inside me; it is about Christ has done outside of me. The Spirit applies Christ’s finished work to the believer and everything Christ did was external. It is vital that we don’t separate these two things which God has put together.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back With a Vengeance! Well, Sort of...

The week or so break I anticipated has turned into a month! Being reunited with my family has kept me very busy. I have had many good ideas (good by my estimation, anyway), I just haven’t had the time to write them down and work them out into a form I could post.

This post comes straight from something that I experienced a couple of weeks ago. My family and I have done a lot of visiting with friends and family to get caught up with everyone. So a couple of weeks ago, we were invited to attend a church so that we could meet the people there who knew of us through mutual acquaintances and had been praying for us.

The church is a Pentecostal church. It is, in my estimation, a very traditional Pentecostal church. The pastor frequently blasts the Word Faith heretics from the pulpit. Nonetheless, they are still Pentecostal. Twice the service was interrupted by a so-called “word.” I listened very carefully to what was being spoken and, as a disinterested visitor, I could determine no reason why the “word” was even needed. Nothing of any substance was said.

But the thing that stood out in my mind is the burning question no one in Pentecostal circles ever asks: If these “words” are truly from God (which makes them God’s words), how and why are they any different from Scripture. If I can ignore them without consequence, then they have no authority. If they have no authority, they can’t be from God. God’s word is God’s word. Moreover, if they are from God, why are they not additions to the complete revelation of Scripture? Why isn’t the speaker guilty of adding to God’s revealed Word? The same could, of course, be said of tongues-speaking, but I digress.

This simple logical conundrum weighed very heavily upon my mind the whole time I was a Pentecostal. I could never figure out how we could read Revelation 22:18, and then with a straight face blurt out some “word” and expect no confusion. I found out very early that such prickly questions are not welcome either.

If I claim to have a “word from the Lord,” how is that any different from the Scriptural declaration “Thus saith the Lord”? I don’t see how you can argue that one word of God is more “real” or binding than another. If my “word” is really a Word from God, is it a sin to disobey it? If it is a sin, then my “word” is identical to Scripture, at least in its authority. In fact, it is even more authoritative than Scripture because it carries more immediate influence. And it makes me just as much a prophet as Jeremiah, Daniel or Elijah. There’s just no way to get around this. If God speaks, we must obey or perish. Can we honestly say that our eternal souls hang in the balance based on our obedience to all of the various “words” that are given every Sunday throughout the Charismatic world? I think not. If we can’t say this, then how can we say that they are really words from God? God’s word is God’s word, right?

Visitor Counter

Flag Counter