Perspicuity and Presuppositions

The authority of Scripture is an issue of massive importance for Christians, whether we realize it or not. As culture has continued to flirt with the notion that objective truth is unknowable (unless it’s the truth that truth is unknowable), we find ourselves in a really weird place:

Can we really know with any certainty what the Bible says or are we just dealing with questions of personal interpretation?

There are a number of people who would argue that we cannot know with any degree of certainty what the Bible teaches. This group would include Barth Ehrman (author of numerous critical popular level works including Jesus, Interrupted and Forged), as well as authors such as Brian McLaren. McLaren, incidentally, recently wrote that “no articulation of the gospel today can presume to be exactly identical to the original meaning Christ and the apostles proclaimed.”

Those who would say that we cannot know with certainty what the Bible teaches suggest that we’re dealing with—at best—personal interpretation, and to say that one view is correct over another would be arrogant.

In contrast to this view, Protestants have historically held a very high view of the Bible which is best explained by the doctrine of sola scriptura—that is, Scripture alone is our sole authority for doctrine and life. Other authorities, such as tradition and church leadership are not invalid according to this doctrine, but must always be subordinate to and corrected by the Word of God.

Recently I’ve read in a number of places statements similar to the following:

Sola scriptura is a nice idea, but it doesn’t work in reality—we all come to the Bible with our own baggage and presuppositions.

I can definitely understand this critique. I agree, we all approach everything with our own baggage and presuppositions. We all have implicit assumptions that are shaped by our experiences and worldview.

But this doesn’t mean that we have to fall into the error of relativism. We don’t do it at the bank, and we shouldn’t when dealing with the Bible.

Sola scriptura presupposes that the Bible is basically clear in what it teaches, although some passages are certainly less clear than others. This is what is known as the perspicuity of Scripture. Again, Christians have historically held that the God we worship has a desire to make Himself known. And because He wants to make Himself known, He is not going to shroud Himself in mystery.

In other words, God is not a beat poet.

But this doctrine isn’t simply about communication; it’s also about submission. When a Christian says that he holds to the doctrine of sola scriptura, he’s saying that, regardless of his own baggage, he is submitting Himself to the authority of Scripture and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through the Bible to transform him into the image of Christ.

Seems like a presupposition every Christian would want to have, doesn’t it?

Do you believe that the truth of the Bible can be known with reasonable certainty? If so, how has the Holy Spirit been working to conform you to that truth? If not, what determines your knowledge of Christ, salvation, and your purpose for being?

Archaeology and the Seven Churches

This is a fascinating interview with Mark Driscoll and Dr. Andrew Jackson, one of the foremost authorities on biblical history in the country of Turkey.

In the first video, Dr. Jackson explains the history and importance of the city of Ephesus:

In the second, Dr. Jackson discusses the seven churches of Revelation:

The interviews above are well worth your time and provided some particularly interesting nuggets for me. For example, the order of the seven churches listed in Revelation 2:1-3:22 is deliberately organized for the travel circuit through each region is a very helpful bit of information as it means there was a specific reason for why the books were placed in the order they were.

Most of all, the videos remind me just how important the study of history is to our understanding of Scripture. Archaeological expeditions allow us to get a much better sense of what the culture was like, to see some of the remains of the cities where the gospel first went forward and bring believer today that much closer to our earliest counterparts.

And it’s all the more reason to give thanks.

Do you look into archaeological expeditions of biblical sites? If so, what’s been the most interesting you’ve learned?

Sermon Audio: Delighting in Devotion

On Sunday, February 20, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario. The message, “Delighting in Devotion,” was preached from Psalm 1:1-6:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seats of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The complete audio is available here:

:

You can also download to listen later.

My original sermon notes are available for download here.

I’d love to get your thoughts on how this message has impacted you (if at all). Looking forward to hearing from you!

Around the Interweb

The Osteen Moment — Your Own Moment Will Come Soon Enough

Albert Mohler:

What happened last night on Piers Morgan Tonight is a sign of things to come. After this interview, Joel Osteen will never be seen in the same way by the secular media and a good segment of the public. His efforts to avoid talking about sin failed him, and he ran out of options. Thankfully, he did not deny that homosexuality is a sin. We can only have hoped that he would have given a more bold answer, followed by an equal boldness in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read the rest.

Also Worth Reading

Writing: Top Five Things You Hear as a Writer/Editor

Ministry & Criticism: Not Radical Individualism: A Reply to Dr. John MacArthur

Politics: In His Own Words: A Radical Pro-Abortion President

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

The Arrogance of Youth and the Subtle Danger of Experience

Book Review: Reclaiming Adoption by Dan Cruver

All Who He Has Saved Are His Brothers

David Powlison: Is God Disappointed?

My Memory Moleskine: Philippians 1:27-30

Mark Driscoll: Your Cause Can’t Be More Important than Christ

Douglas Moo, the Updated NIV and Jesus' Sense of Humor

Last September it was announced that the rather poorly received TNIV translation would be discontinued and that work would begin on an update of the widely regarded NIV translation for release in 2011. As of November 1, 2010, the updated NIV text has been made available online at BibleGateway.com.

Dr. Douglas Moo, the head of the translation committee for the New International Version, introduces the updated translation in the following video:

The press release follows:

The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) is the body of scholars with responsibility for overseeing the text of the New International Version of the Bible.

The Committee was established in 1965, and we continue to meet every year, under the terms of the NIV charter, to monitor developments in biblical scholarship and English usage and to reflect these developments in periodic updates to the text.

The Committee is made up of leading evangelical Bible scholars drawn from various denominations and from some of the finest academic institutions in the world. We are passionate in our pursuit of the NIV’s core philosophy – the desire to mirror, as closely as possible, the reading experience of the original Bible audience. When the books of the Bible were first written, they let people hear exactly what God wanted to say in language that was natural and easy for them to understand. Standing with our predecessors in the work of translating the NIV, this is the experience we strive to reproduce for the Bible readers of our time.

Over at his blog, Darryl Dash had the opportunity to interview Dr. Moo about the updated NIV. Here’s an excerpt:

What are some challenges to being on a Bible Translation committee of which those who have never done it would not be aware?

First, I should say that I consider it to be a tremendous privilege to be on the CBT: my work on the committee is the ministry that I have most enjoyed in the course of my life. Imagine sitting around a table with 14 other scholars talking about the Bible and what it means and how to say it! There are, of course challenges. We don’t always agree and, because we are all passionate about our work and the text, our disagreements can be strong. But in the midst of these debates, there is at base a sense of unity around our common passion and common task.

I’ve been checking out the update and for the most part, it’s very close to the 1984 edition; sadly, they kept one of the TNIV translation decisions that winds up masking Jesus’ sense of humor in Matt 4:19:

ESV: And he said to them [Peter and Andrew, who were fishermen], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

NIV 2010: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

It’s a minor thing (bordering on irrelevant), but it’s kind of fun to see Jesus make a pun. :)

That said, I hope that the update will be a blessing to all its readers.

Questions:

What translation are you using?

If you’re an NIV reader, will you be getting a copy of the updated text?

John Flavel: The Wheat and the Tares

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

It is Jerome’s observation, that wheat and tares are so much alike in their first springing up, that it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish one from the other. . . . The difference (saith he) between them, is either none at all, or wonderfully difficult to discern, which those words of Christ plainly confirm. Let them both alone till the harvest; thereby imitating both the difficulty of distinguishing the tares and wheat; as also the unwarrantable rashness of bold and hasty censures of men’s sincerity or hypocrisy, which is there shadowed by them.

How difficult soever it be to discern the difference betwixt wheat and tares, yet, doubtless, the eye of sense can much easier discriminate them, than the most quick and piercing eye of man can discern the difference betwixt special and common grace; for all saving grace in the saints have their counterfeits in hypocrites. There are similar works in these, which is a spiritual and very judicious eye may easily mistake for the saving and genuine effects of the sanctifying Spirit…

And this difference will yet be more subtle and undiscernible, if I should tell you, that as in so many things the hypocrite resembles the saint; so there are other things in which a real Christian may act too like a hypocrite. When we find a Pharoah confessing, a Herod practising, as well as hearing, a Judas preaching Christ, and an Alexander venturing his life for Paul; and on the other side, shall find a David condemning that in another which he practised himself, a Hezekiah glorifying in his riches, a Peter dissembling, and even all the disciples forsaking Christ in an hour of trouble and danger: O then! how hard is it for the eye of man to discern betwixt chaff and wheat? How many upright hearts are now censured, who God will clear? How many false hearts are now approved, whom God will condemn?

Men ordinarily have no clear convictive proofs, but only probable symptoms; which, at most, can beget but a conjectural knowledge of another’s state. And they that shall peremptorily judge either way, may possibly wrong the generation of the upright; or, on the other side, absolve and justify the wicked. And truly, considering what hath been said, it is no great wonder that dangerous mistakes are so frequently made in this matter. But though man cannot, the Lord both can and will, perfectly discriminate them…

He will have a day perfectly to sever the tares from the wheat, to melt off the varnish of the most resplendent and refined hypocrite, and to blow off the ashes of infirmities, which have covered and obscured the very sparks of sincerity in his people: he will make such a division as was never yet made in the world, how many divisions soever there have been in it. “And then shall men indeed return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked; betwixt him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not.” Meanwhile, my soul, thou canst not better employ thyself, whether thou be sound or unsound, than in making those reflections upon thyself.

John Flavel, Husbandry Spiritualized; or The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things in Which Husbandmen Are Directed, p. 95-97

Genuine Humility

When is humility genuine? How do you know the difference between pride and loving correction?

James MacDonald and C.J. Mahaney sit down and discuss how to offer guidance and correction to those we love in a way they can receive—and how we can do so with godly motives.

HT: Collin Hansen

Lay Your Burden Down

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Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Get Serious About Your Studies: Choosing Your Digital Tools

Over the last few days, we’ve looked at study Bibles, a great reference tool, systematic theologies and reading plans. But what about the internet?

Technology has made Bible study easier than ever. With many terrific online tools available, I want highlight just a couple:

YouVersion

YouVersion is an extension of LifeChurch.tv‘s online ministry, allowing men and women around the world to read the Bible online in the translation of their choice and make notes.

YouVersion.com offers you dozens of Bible translations—allowing you to pick the one you're most comfortable with!

YouVersion also offers a variety of reading plans, including Canonical (straight through the Bible), “First Steps” plans for new believers, and more. [Read more...]

Get Serious About Your Studies: Choosing Your Reading Plan

You want to read the Bible all the way through… but where do you start?

Do you read from cover to cover? Pick a book at random until you’re done? Play Bible Roulette and hope you don’t end up in Lamentations or Leviticus every day?

While any of these can work (although that last one might not be the best idea), a good reading plan can really help you out.

What is a Bible reading plan?

A Bible reading plan is a guide to help you read the Bible within a set period of time (the most common plans are in 90, 180 and 365 day increments). There are a pretty wide variety of plans that cover the Bible from start to finish (Genesis to Revelation), chronologically, literary style, and some that have you reading in both the Old and New Testaments daily.

Have you used a plan?

I’m actually about to start using the M’Cheyne plan for my second run through the entire Bible (see below for details on that). The first time, I read straight from Genesis to Revelation in about 11 months, just taking a few chapters a day. While I found it a great exercise, honestly, by the time you get to Lamentations, you can find yourself in a pretty dark place if you’re not on the look out for Christ in the Old Testament. It can be pretty depressing stuff at times!

What tools do I need to go with my plan?

The essential tools are a pen, highlighter and a journal. Make sure you’ve got a pen or highlighter that won’t bleed through the pages of your Bible (so if you use pen, use a ballpoint). Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy, just functional. When you’re reading, prayerfully be on the lookout for one or two verses in each chapter that God brings to the forefront. Write them down. Read them in context. Journal your thoughts and at least one specific way you can apply the truth of what God has shown you today.

What’s a good plan?

Probably the most popular plan is the M’Cheyne Reading Plan developed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor who ministered during the 19th century. The M’Cheyne plan takes readers through the whole of Scripture over the course of a year, with Old and New Testament passages being read daily. It’s also intended to be used for family devotions as well as personal reading. Here are the advantages of the M’Cheyne plan: [Read more...]

Get Serious About Your Studies: Choosing a Study Bible

Studying the Bible is an essential for the Christian, yet it’s something that, far too often, too many of us take for granted (myself included). If we study the Bible at all, it’s as a chore—”I have to do this”— instead of a privilege—”I get to do this!”

Through the Scriptures, we learn not how life works best, but how life really is. That there is a God who created all things and is in authority over all things. That mankind, made in His image and likeness, rebelled against Him and plunged all of creation into its current state of futility and sin. And that God made a way for mankind’s sins to be forgiven through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

This is very exciting stuff, isn’t it?

If it’s so exciting—if this is really good news—shouldn’t we want to know more about it?

Absolutely. We need to get serious about our studies. And the place to start is with your Bible; specifically choosing a good study Bible.

Why do I need a study Bible?

While much of the Bible is fairly easy to understand, there are many things that are confusing or unclear to the twenty-first century reader. Some of this is due simply to the fact that we live in a completely different context and speak a completely different language. Certain nuances get lost in translation.

A study Bible is a valuable resource to assist the reader in understanding Scripture by providing insight into words and phrases used that we might not understand, as well as historical interpretations of texts. Essentially it provides a running commentary that you can turn to should you get stuck. [Read more...]

A Precise God

I’ve been chewing on a great quote from Charles Spurgeon since reading it (of all places) on Twitter:

A Puritan was told that he was too precise; but he replied, “I serve a precise God.”

What’s specifically been sticking with me is that response: “I serve a precise God.”

How often do we consider the preciseness of God? Earlier on Thursday, maybe two hours before reading the quote from Spurgeon, I noticed a few Facebook friends “liking” a silly page called “God created men first, cause you always make a rough draft before a masterpiece!” (Yes, I get the joke.)

Thursday morning, I was reading Galatians chapter two, wherein Paul is explaining how after fourteen years of preaching the gospel, he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation that had come to him. In verse two, Paul explains that, “I went up . . . and set before them [the Apostles] . . .  the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

What struck me as I read this was Paul’s concern for precision of his gospel. He set before the Apostles “the gospel that [he proclaims] in order to make sure that [he] was not running or had not run in vain.”

Paul was desperate to make sure that the gospel he proclaimed—that Jesus Christ had lived a sinless life on our behalf, died on the cross and bore the punishment for our sins, rose again bodily from the grave on the third day and was now seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven; that salvation comes through faith alone in Christ alone—he was desperate to make sure that this was, in fact, the gospel! [Read more...]

The Bible’s Not About You…

 

…so who’s it about?

This excerpt from a message by Tim Keller (quoting from Sinclair Ferguson’s Preaching Christ in the Old Testament) was a great reminder for me as a writer, and occasional preacher:

If Jesus isn’t at the heart of the message, it’s nothing worth saying.

HT: Jared Wilson