a gospel bigger than I, me, mine, and even us- the only gospel there is

When we open our Bibles, the beginnning is Genesis, for a reason, and the end is the Revelation for a reason, and everything in between counts, every book and for that matter, every line, has its reason and place in the whole.

It is daunting, and takes commitment over time, but we all need to be in the entire Bible, as challenging on many levels as that is, and read it through again and again. When we do, we’ll come to see that the story of Israel picked by God to be a blessing to the world is a central theme. And how that is fulfilled through them, but mainly in anticipation of the true fulfillment in Jesus.

While this is certainly for each person in our relationship to God, it is for every other person, as well, and for the entire world. It’s a good news in and through Jesus which affects everything and is therefore worldly in that sense, or one could say earthly. But in another sense it can’t be worldly at all since it can’t participate, except insofar as it influences the change of worldy structures. This is the case, because the difference is in and through Jesus, and God’s redemption, salvation, and kingdom come in him.

Only when Jesus returns will all things be changed, the god of this age gone; the world, the flesh and the devil being a thing of the past. But until then, we witness not only to a gospel for each individual, but a gospel which is to begin to demonstrate the alternative to what is necessarily in place, in this present evil age and world.

And so we live in the in between times when God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus is beginning to break in through the gospel into the church, and out from that into the world. As we look forward to the end of this age which will bring in the fullness of what has begun now in Jesus, when he returns.

do we have confidence in God’s word, or not?

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

2 Timothy 4

The NIV‘s heading for this section is entitled, “A Final Charge to Timothy,” and includes this well known important passage:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Something I’ve noticed in my lifetime is that often the word isn’t preached. I think I’ve been blessed with the churches we’ve been a part of to be used to the exception. But as a rule, it seems like an appeal to the word is only from something other than the word itself. Somehow there just doesn’t seem to be adequate confidence in scripture as the written word of God.

I’m not referring to a lack in expository preaching. That can be good, but it’s interesting when you read the sermons in Acts, that actually none of them is preaching a text expositionally as at least was popular in many evangelical and fundamentalists circles, and you still find a few holdouts here and there. I think it’s alright. In fact I think it’s probably safe to say that such a method is much better than much of the pablum which passes for sermons today. Somehow it seems like the goal is to get people’s interest and keep it, and somehow through that, get in something of the word of God.

My question becomes, Do we really have confidence in the word of God itself, because it is God’s very word? And is that a measure of our confidence in God?

Scot McKnight has an excellent post that hits on this very subject in what is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (“The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?“). He states that the Reformers were marked by their deference to scripture, by opening the Bible and reading it. I think it’s good to refer to theological concepts which point to the truth about scripture (or what Richard Wurmbrand said is “the truth about the truth.”). And there’s no doubt that the art of biblical interpretation, which includes kind of a science to it, as well, is important. And we need to reject the Cartesian Modernist, scientific approach (Rene Descartes) as in relentless examination and induction of the biblical text (see John Locke). I am rusty when it comes to philosophical figures, not that I was ever heavy into them, but they are important in helping understand the times in which people live.

Our appeal must be to scripture, and it must start with ourselves. If we don’t see it as vital, and of central importance in our own lives, then we certainly won’t see it that way for others. Of course it points us to God’s final word in Jesus, and the good news in him. But we must be in the written word itself to find the Word himself.

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

1 Timothy 4

And so the measure of our actual faith and confidence in God will in large part be our confidence in scripture itself, the word of God. To be biblical we must get back to the Bible like the people of God in the Bible did, including even Jesus himself. We need to have the utmost confidence in scripture as God’s word first for ourselves, and then for everyone else. And live with that in hand, in and through Jesus.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

the Revelation: judgment and salvation

Revelation, the last book in the Bible, is a book which seems to have been more or less a quandary to many Christian theologians over the centuries, and a book which misinterpreted lends itself to quack theology. A book filled with symbolic, meaning, an apocalyptic, end of the world vision to be sure. It is not an easy book to interpret, though must be done so with a sensitivity to genre.

In it, God’s judgment against an evil world system and salvation in replacing that system with God’s kingdom come in King Jesus is front and center. And in the struggles in which we live, especially so in our following of Jesus, and this is so very true in so many parts of today’s world, and relatively completely unknown where I live, we are to see everything we are going through in terms of this Revelation.

Eugene Peterson has said that this is a book for worship (see his helpful rendition/paraphrase in The Message). The Lamb seated on the Throne with God and the seven spirits representing the seven-fold Holy Spirit are front and center in the book. And judgment like the rest of the Bible is primarily in terms of getting rid of the evil in this world. Such is always necessary for the salvation which follows, which in this book is about the bringing in of true shalom, peace and prosperity, true human flourishing when God’s kingdom takes over earth in the descent of the New Jerusalem. So that evil is vanquished and replaced with what is truly good in the new creation from God in which God’s Trinitarian love will have full sway in a world renewed to fulfill God’s original intent in creation.

Revelation will remain a challenge to wrestle through. While it is part of God’s written word to us, just what that word means, why it was given I don’t think we should begin to think we can pin down entirely. God’s written word, of course fulfilled in the Word, Jesus, has its purpose, and will achieve its goal. But part of that is surely to help us toward a healthy dependence on God and interdependence with each other in and through Jesus. Knowing where our ultimate hope lies. The end determining the means in which we live, in and through the Lamb, Jesus.

keep on reading the entire Bible

I don’t think I’m good with titles. Yesterday to me (ha) the post was interesting. When I had my blog on BlogSpot (or was it Blogger?) for a good number of years before it was lost for a year and a half, I had no statistics, so I wasn’t sure how many hits and reads I would get in a day, and I didn’t want to know. But WordPress, to which I switched, automatically provides that. And though perhaps it doesn’t catch everything, my blog is quite humble even in comparison to blogs like mine, I think, and exponentially so in comparison to ministry blogs, or blogs by scholars. So I will try to do better on titles (knock on wood), but today, related to yesterday, I want to emphasize one thing:

Keep on reading the entire Bible.

We need to read (or listen, both are good) scripture through, over and over again. The end all of scripture is to lead us to Christ and see it in terms of the gospel, which means, the good news in him. And that good news will inevitably challenge us in our thinking, in our living. How do we measure things, what value do we place on this or that, and why? If nothing else, it will humble us into realizing that we simply don’t know on a host of matters, even while we try to hold on to what we are beginning to understand to what might be called core values of God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

The gospel is as big as all of life, since it’s God good news in Jesus, not only for the reconciliation of sinners to God, but also of all things to God. So that a new order ultimately is put in place, the beginnings of which are found humbly in the church, in and through Jesus.

Which for us ought to put in bold relief the lie of the power of this world, and how even the best of it will fall short and fail. That doesn’t mean such doesn’t have its place and value, but that our hope is in King Jesus, and the good news in him, a good news at its heart- for the poor, which is to be expected by those who keep reading their Bibles (Matthew 11:4-5). Helping us look forward to a time we can hardly imagine now, even if we begin to see inklings of it both in actual life changes, and in our imaginations, and in what is on our hearts to pray.

the Bible and real life

Some of the critics of the Bible, and some of its most vocal critics nowadays are professing Christians, just don’t think it all sits straight with their view of the world, or what the world should be. It is true that it reflects a different time, which even within its pages changes, the change along with further change anticipated.

The naysayers perhaps fail on at least two counts. It’s a hermeneutical problem, that is an issue of interpretation. And it’s a theological issue, one that has to do with God and judgment. As N.T. Wright points out, we have to read the Bible as a Story with (I think) four chapters, or parts (perhaps he says five). The first chapter is part of the Story, but is not completely germane to the present chapter the Story is in. I see failures to take that into account again and again. Either by people who want to defend something which is part of a bygone era and is not sanctioned as a part of God’s kingdom in Jesus, or by others who want to explain away in some sense what is part of the Story, maybe a truly ugly part such as we find in the book of Judges, or what they consider a character defect in God himself as given in the narrative, and therefore, in their view, a human construct.

We have to read the Bible in terms of the life that once was and that continues to this day. While the culture was markedly different at certain places than our own today, underlying heart issues are the same. So that the problem today is strikingly similar to the problem we see throughout, the New Testament pointing to the Old Testament to underscore that idea. And the solution is played out in a real world, anticipating a fulfillment which can’t really be fully imagined until the King, Jesus, appears. Jesus comes not to take life, but to give up his own life, not to judge the world, but to save the world. Yet in the end, we end with a book, in the Revelation, which doesn’t let graphic judgment, albeit in symbollic imagery, so that we’re not sure precisely how that plays out or what that is supposed to mean precisely in terms of final events, but the Revelation does not let the God of the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) go free for a better or “true” vision of Bible. So that if one is to find the God of the Pentateuch to be in some measure a mistaken conjecture of people’s, even the faithful’s minds, then we can say that arguably that could be said for the God of the entire Bible. And then where would that leave us?

So this is an issue of how we read the Bible, and an issue of how we read life itself. What does the Bible say and what does that mean in its own context as well as in the context of life itself are good questions to ask. And we need to consider that not just in terms of our own culture, but taking into consideration the entire world. And we need to consider the complexity of life, which I think the Bible also reflects.

We, and this involves the reading of the church, not only us as individuals, have to keep going to the Bible, to let the Bible as God’s written word help us get the Story, see the point of it, and begin to live in accord with the God of that Story. And to do so we have to take in the entire Story as a whole, as it is, in the world and life as it is. In and through Jesus.