Monthly Archives: June 2016

Reading the Bible on Norwegian Roads

USA

Some long, sleepy road in Arizona

After a wedding in January ’13, my friend Elliot and I drove from Tuscon, AZ, to Houma, LA in 19 hours. With no need to watch out for party vans, alligators, or drunk cajun drivers, driving through Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas quickly became a long, dead-boring journey home.

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Trollstigen (above) is part of a Norwegian road that connects the town of Åndalsnes in Rauma to the village of Valldal in Norddal Municipality.

This picture above is Norway. Besides ice, mountains, and moose, Norwegian roads aren’t so scary (they’re the safest). After learning stick shift, these roads have become a little fun. What’s more, if you’re going to drive for 5 hours, many roads will keep you focused and awake while you drive.

Speaking generally, the straight roads that run throughout much of America are easy; the spine-bending roads of Norway take more focus. When it comes to reading the Bible, we tend to treat the Bible as if all doctrines and ideas (the ones we accept) are an easy straight line from Point A -> Point B.

We give the “I-can’t-believe-you-don’t-understand-my-position” argument while our readiness to pull out our “Haven’t-you-ever-read-the-Bible?” card looms in the background.

We want our interpretations to be more like Arizona’s roads than the Trollstigen (pronounce it before you drive it). We prefer simple, straight answers over nuance. Why? Because it’s easier. It requires less thinking. We can sleep better at night because we have a firm grasp on all the Bible has to say, even though when when we crack open our Bibles we still don’t understand… what it has to say. We don’t know the story or the framework, and looking at timelines and prophecy charts aren’t helping.

We must remember that reading the Bible is no easy journey. We are thousands of years removed both from the New Testament and even more so the Old Testament. These books were written by people who did not have a western mindset. They spoke differently. They argued differently. They told stories differently. They used wordplay, allusions, irony, and humor (and humor, and humor…). But interpretation takes work. Peter Leithart explains how reading and interpreting the Bible is like catching a joke:

I tell a joke, and you get it. I include a veiled allusion to, say, [“Shrek”] in a casual conversation, and you catch it. Whenever the hearer “gets it,” he establishes a sometimes thrilling bond with the speaker. They exchange a mental wink.

This is how revelation works, too. God speaks and writes, and the more we “get” the inside jokes, the more inside we get. Having the mind of Christ is like sharing a joke that outsiders never understand. The Spirit who gives the mind of Christ is, after all, the Spirit of joy, the Mirth-Master, who makes fisherman preachers sound like early-morning drunks. The Church is not merely an “interpretive” or “hermeneutical” community, it’s a communion in humor.

Proper interpretation of Scripture ought to lead us not to think too much of ourselves, but to know God more. It should lead us to love God and serve each other, even to those with whom we disagree.

  • Is hell a literal place?
  • Will there be a millennium? Why?
  • When will the seven-year tribulation begin?
  • How literal is the Bible… and how can I know?
  • Flesh, blood, wine, bread, crackers. Why communion?
  • Babies, adults… does baptism really matter?
  • If a Christian commits suicide, would they go to hell?
  • Can I believe in evolution and still be a Christian?
  • Why should I evangelize if God is sovereign?
  • Why should I pray if God is sovereign?
  • Will there be a rapture?
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  • Explain this whole Trinity thing to me again.
  • Are spiritual gifts still around today?
  • Is Genesis 1-11 historical?
  • Now that I’m a Christian, I don’t need to read the Law, right?
  • Did Jesus die for everyone?
  • Should Christians observe the Sabbath?
  • How much of this really affects my every day?

This isn’t to chuck anxiety-stones at your life. I do have my own opinions on these questions. Some I hold firmly, others are up in the air. This isn’t to say that there are no answers, but that we mustn’t play so hard-and-fast with the biblical text that we break fellowship with those who interpret a text differently than us.

“But that takes too much work.”

God gives us work not to keep us busy, but that we may work alongside him. God created, and Adam was a “son of God” (Lk 3.38). Adam and Eve pro-created, and Seth was a “son in [Adam’s] own likeness” (Gen 5.3). God showed his authority by naming the light and darkness “Day” and “Night.” Adam named the animals (and Eve too, but they would work in tandem with each other). God laid out the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were to fruitfully multiply and expand the garden as their family grew, teaching their children to glorify God until the earth would be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2.14; cf. Num 14.21; Ps 72.19).

That clearly hasn’t happened yet, but God has deemed us responsible to work for and with him. Working hard and working well as Christians glorifies God before the world. Working hard to understand the Bible glorifies God as we understand the one who loves his children as he loves Christ (Jn 17.26).

It isn’t enough to know about God. We must know him. Facts may help you win Sunday morning Bible Trivia, but mere facts don’t tell us about God’s character as he works with his people. How do those facts fits within the larger portrait of God’s story? How do we discover the Bible’s storyline, and how can we use it to make sense of both our own individual lives and our corporate life with the rest of the Church?

How does Numbers 8 help me to love Christ more? How do I find God’s character in Nehemiah 4? What does Lamentations tell me about God’s mercy and patience? What, if anything, does Isaiah 36-39 tell me about Isaiah’s message that Yahweh is King? Does it matter whether or not I ever read Obadiah? (At least I read Jonah). How does Revelation teach me how to interpret the world around me? Or to help those who suffer? What does it mean to be in Christ, and how am I different because of it?

Reading, studying, and knowing the Bible isn’t driving down a straight two-lane highway in a Tesla. It’s driving up, down, and around a one-ish lane mountainous road in Norway in standard transmission in an old jalopy. In the snow. With a moose.* Inside the car.

Conclusion

The Bible is difficult, and we should be humble over our interpretation of the many texts we hold in our hands. We should continue in the truths of the Gospel and study to know God through his Word, even if there appears to be no immediate applicational value. Just because we didn’t “get” anything out of what we read, or because what we learned seems to be purely information, it doesn’t mean we’ve wasted our time. All that we read helps to reinforce the broad storyline of Scripture, its deep treasures, and the unfathomable love of our faithful King and Savior.

At no point am I suggesting we must sit around and read theological books all day. While I enjoy reading, I can’t (nor want to) read every biblical book and commentary out on the shelves. We have jobs, hobbies, and off-time. But we must be willing to discuss matters without treating each other as imbeciles. There are core Gospel issues, secondary issues, and the rest. Don’t berate someone just because they don’t see things eye-to-eye with you.

You’ll never know everything in this life, but you can still enjoy the view.

Prekestolen (The Preacher's Pulpit) Prekestolen (The Preacher’s Pulpit)

*I’ve seen only one moose in Norway thus far. I saw it last summer while driving home from Oslo.

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Review: Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock

Is it possible to be objective about the truthfulness of the copious amounts of religions surrounding us in the world today? Doesn’t the poem about the blind men and the elephant teach us that everyone is right because no one knows what the elephant truly is? Can Christians rightly claim that not only does the elephant speak, but that we truly know the Elephant?

Daniel Strange, Academic Vice Principal and Lecturer in Culture, Religion, and Public Theology at Oak Hill College, London, has written a hefty theology of religions for the Christian church. Strange says that “this is a book for evangelical Christians, written by an evangelical Christian,” (33) and especially for Reformed Christians (written, you guessed it, by a Reformed Christian).

“In your light do we see light” (Ps 36.9).

Strange summarizes the theology of religions he seeks to defend:

From the presupposition of an epistemologically authoritative biblical revelation, non-Christian religions are sovereignly directed, variegated and dynamic, collective human idolatrous responses to divine revelation behind which stand deceiving demonic forces. Being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ (42).

As dense as this statement is, the rest of the book doesn’t get much easier. At 338 pages, Strange’s book is large, dense, and it will require time. I went through the book pretty quickly, reading more than half of it on my Denmark bike trip. But a quick read isn’t recommended (unless reading the above summary was a breeze for you). Strange’s theology of religions is to be read slowly, taking the time to understand the big concepts he writes about.

Summary

After Strange introduces the heavy task that lies before us, chapter 2 presents the homo adorans (“the worshipping man”) to us. Made in the image of God, mankind is made to worship, but after the fall mankind follows a “false faith.” Mankind thinks they are independent from God, but instead they “are just as dependent as they ever were, but will not accept it” (93). Chapter 3 covers “remnental revelation” and gives an explanation for the commonalities between religious traditions. This leads into chapter 4, how religions and the religious Other developed after the Tower of Babel. Chapters 5-6 survey idolatry in the Old and New Testament. Chapter 7 shows how the Gospel of christ both subverts other religions and and fulfills them. Other religions merely piggyback on the worldview of the Bible, riding the wave that is truth. Chapter 8 gives implications for missions and in chapter 9 Strange presents a pastoral perspective which wraps up the book. In Judges 3.1-4 God allows idol-worshipping Canaanites to remain in the land to test Israel’s faithfulness. Might other religions  also be a test to the church’s faithfulness?

Strange uses many excellent sources in his book (Van Til, J. H. Bavinck, Leihart, Block, Frame, and I was happy to see Strange used Mike Heiser’s work in his study too) in the form of block quotes. In fact, one of Strange’s main purposes has been to “spotlight . . . those forgotten figures such as J. H. Bavinck” (335). Unfortunately the excessive use of these block quotes hinders the book. Most of the book is not an easy read. Out of 338 pages, 92 pages do not have block quotes. Or, in other words, roughly 246 have a full or partial block quote.

Though many were dense, all of the quotes were good, however the quotes often broke up Strange’s argument and made it difficult to follow. More often than not it was tiring to read the quotes, and I often read Strange’s concluding thoughts to understand the main idea. That is, when I could find Strange’s concluding thoughts. My biggest complaints with this book are the length and the density of Strange’s writing style. I would often find myself neck deep in text wondering how I got here, what I’d just read, and what it meant. Strange wanted to be thorough, but this can be done without explaining everything you’ve done, are doing, and will do.

Recommended

On the upside this book is written from a Reformed perspective, and many of the quotes and ideas are from Reformed apologetic and systematic thinkers. I look forward to a future book on the practical use of this work for missions which will hopefully give more examples of how non-Christian religions are “subversively fulfilled” by the Christian gospel. This book needs time if you’re going to work through it. It’s dense and it’s tough, but it deserves the time and you’ll be a better thinker for reading it. You will have a better understanding of the other religions around you and a way to grow in your understanding of them as being parasites on the Christian gospel.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Daniel Strange
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (February 3, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon or from Zondervan!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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Biking in Denmark and Seminary

For the last 9 days (or from Sunday June 5th to Monday June 13) I’ve been biking in Denmark. I believe this was the sixth time Mari has biked Denmark, and it was the fifth time (or so) for her sister. It was the best time of the summer for the three of us to go together. Mari and Ingliv hadn’t started working yet, and the weather in Denmark was pretty perfect. There was no rain at all until we left Denmark. Then it was supposed to rain for a week.

As you can see on the map, we drove from our town Risør to Kristiansand (red), then took a ferry to Hirtshals (green), three trains south to Struer (blue), and biked back up to Hirtshals (purple). Unfortunately the picture can’t be made any bigger, so you may have to squint a bit.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 5.57.02 PM

The pictures below reflect the better times we had (though the memories might be better than what happened in the actual pictures, like biking against the wind). I have left out pictures of my week-long allergic reactions, blood, and tears.

Place: Denmark:
Length of Stay: Nine days
Bikers: Three
Distance Biked:
300 km/186 mi
Days of Rest
: Two
Ice Cream: Lots
Best Ice Cream: Mint Chocolate Chip (still haven’t found this in Norway)
Theme Park: Fårup Sommerland
Allergies: Grass
Good Nights of Sleep: 1?

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Oh! You mean it goes through that hole!

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Cotton Candy / Candy Floss

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Hey, Spencer! Do you like spiders?!

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We slept poorly, but we were together

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What happens when they give me the map… kidding!

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After 9 days, it was very, very nice to get home. Now one of our Bible college friends is visiting us for three weeks. It’s great especially since I’m finished with my Norwegian language course and my schooling. Now with all of this free time I have (not exactly), I have more reviews coming up. Zondervan has some new online classes up, and I’ve been blessed to be able to review Basics of Biblical Greek 1 by William Mounce and Basics of Hebrew 1 by Gary Pratico and Miles Van Pelt. These classes will be great, and they will prepare Mari and I for our classes at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’ve already gone through a bit of both of the online classes, watched some of the videos, I’ve done a few of the exams, and it works out really well. I’m really enjoying it, and it’s nice to have someone teaching the material alongside the books.

I suppose I haven’t announced this yet, but it is now official that Mari and I have been accepted into Southern Baptist Theological Seminary! We’ve been praying about this for a while and we are excited over our acceptance. Mari will be taking a Master of Divinity degree in Biblical Counseling, and I will take mine in Biblical and Theological Studies. We’ll be living in Louisville, KY for 3 1/2 years, and we’re praying for a car so that we can get around town (400 sq mi with 1.2 million people) and hopefully see some friends around the country. I was able to receive a need-based grant for my first year, and Mari will receive an international student grant (both will be a big help).

We’re working on getting Mari’s international student (F1) visa right now, finding a place to live, a possible car, and the money to cover everything. We would appreciate your prayers now and throughout our time at SBTS. We’ll need it!

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Review: What About Free Will?

what-about-free-will

Can we reconcile our choices with God’s sovereignty? I utilized my free will to write up this review. I chose what words to write, if and how many times I would proofread this, when I would post this, and even if I would read the book (which, by the way, I did). Did God force my hand (literally)? Was my little review in his broader plan? Was it predetermined? Am I merely a marionette puppet? Did I only think I had free will?

When it comes to the hopeless arguments on free will, some people feel like they are mice running around the labyrinth trap. There is no answer. It can’t be found. And if it can, it can’t be reached.

Christensen’s goal is to clear the swamp that flows from these discussions on free will and divine predetermination. God controls the big picture of history, but what about our actual choices (3)? Christensen lays out his goal early on in the book,

“If the libertarian definition of free will is correct, then God is limited in his sovereignty. On the other hand, if the compatibilist view of man’s will is correct, then it not only is compatible with a robust view of divine sovereignty, but also preserves human freedom and responsibility. I will seek to show how the libertarian view of free will falls short of making sense of human experience and what Scripture teaches.” (7)

Layout

Christensen begins his book with the main issue: either “God determines the choices of every person, yet every person freely makes his or her own choices,” or we are truly free “when we have the ability to choose contrary to any prior factors that influence our choices.” Either everything freely acts in accordance with God’s predetermination (somehow), or we are able to make our choices freely despite “our motives, desires, character, and nature, and, of course, God himself” (6-7).

In the first two chapters Christensen lays out the ideas and the faults of the libertarian positions. After that he charges ahead with the compatibilist position, showing how it explains why good and bad things happen (chapters 5-6), what it means to be free (ch 7) and how this affects what we do (ch 8). He explains how we do what we want to do because of our nature (ch 9), and he gives his best shot at explaining why only some, and not all, come to faith in Christ (ch 10). A Christian’s new nature now wants to serve God, but it has to battle with the sin that remains (Ch 11). “True freedom consists in knowing the best and right choices, in being unhindered in making them, and in experiencing the greatest joy when we do make them. The right choices are the ones that God has prescribed through the morally binding instruction of his Word” (ch 12).

There are two appendices at the close of the book: In the first Christensen charts the “Libertarian and Compatibilist Beliefs on Free Agency.” In the second, he reviews Randy Alcorn’s, “hand in Hand: The Beauty of God’s Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice.” (Yes, that “hand” is lowercase).

The Chocolate Milk

At the end of each chapter is a chapter summary, a glossary (found also at the book’s close), study questions, and/or resources for further study. Depending on your past interaction with the free will arguments, you may first want to slowly read through the definitions that are found at the end of each chapter. After you read the definitions found at the end of chapter one, then go back and read chapter one. This is especially important for the first two chapters which I found to be pretty difficult to get a handle on. I had to reread much of it before I could begin to understand what Christensen meant, but as you read on the rest of the book gets easier and helps explain these more difficult chapters.

Conclusion

Though difficult, it is important to understand the libertarian position given in those first two chapters. Though I would have liked to have seen more information about the beliefs and pitfalls of the libertarian position, one book can’t do everything. I’ll just have to pick up a book by Roger Olsen to see the libertarian view from his Arminian perspective.

I was already convinced of the compatibilist position, but now I understand more about the downfalls of libertarianism and the biblical support for compatibilism.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Scott Christensen
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: P & R Publishing (February 29, 2016)

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“But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For Titus not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord (2 Corinthians 8.16-17).

Resources:

Buy it on Amazon or from P&R Publishing!

Disclosure: I received this book free from P&R Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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