evangelicals and Scripture

Richard Foster in his book, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith celebrates the evangelical tradition for its emphasis on Scripture. Of course we can and should celebrate what all the great traditions of the Christian faith contribute to the whole.

It is common nowadays for evangelicals to be criticized left and right, for this and that, and almost everything else. I almost feel like I have to duck anymore when I get on social media and note the criticisms leveled by other Christians. A lot of it concerns how white evangelicals voted in the past election. We need to think long and hard on things like that, all of us. I agree with something John Dickson said in reference to his nation, Australia, that we best be careful on that score, or else it’s likely we’re not thinking hard enough, whichever way Christians might vote.

Another common criticism is how evangelicals fail when it comes both in not appreciating the tradition of the church, or the importance and place of philosophy. Again, evangelicals return to Scripture, but I do think we try to do so with more of an appreciation for church tradition and philosophy than in the past.

I for one both accept the label “evangelical” which essentially means gospel-oriented, and the emphasis on Scripture which comes with it, all things tested by Scripture, including the tradition of the church, and philosophy. But my manner and own concern is far less ambitious. I want to simply plod along, hopefully faithful to the high view of Scripture I hold, which I believe is taught in Scripture itself: that the Bible is indeed the word of God written. Of course we have to read it as a whole, and consider all the parts with reference to the whole. When we do that, most any criticism against our view of Scripture I think rings hollow.  Something ongoing for me and many others. In and through Jesus.

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the tried, tested and true

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:38-40

It’s not like we don’t need to be stretched, and test and try different things. That can be part of our growth process, and is surely needed. It’s rather that when push comes to shove, we can get back to what we’re grounded in, what we’re used to in our walk in God. I’m referring to habits of life that keep us grounded in the faith, in our faith, in God and God’s good news in Jesus.

For me quite simply that’s being in the word and from that, prayer. And everything else is evaluated from that, so that there may be something quite valuable to gather besides: the wheat, and other stuff to ignore: the chaff.

I think it’s good to try new things. But I also think it’s important to develop habits through which we live, even approach the new things we’re doing. I am not one for big breakthroughs. I look at life more in terms of incremental ongoing progress in a process. Of course with steps backwards as in “three steps forward, two steps backward.”

And all of this in the underlying reality of realities: God is love. Learning to find and live in that love, and invite others indirectly and directly into that same life. In and through Jesus.

dial down and accept the ordinary

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

Psalm 119:92

I’m more and more convinced that one formidable enemy of the good is misplaced expectation. This is probably true across the board, but I’m thinking of the spiritual life of a Christian, or the spiritual lives of Christians.

I’ve lived as a Christian several decades, and from early on was inundated with “deeper life” teachings. And I’ve witnessed some of emphasis on the Spirit in individual lives and in the church. And I’ve partaken of a few unusual experiences and participated in some of that myself. And we all as Christians have experienced the closeness of the Lord, which I believe is actually something for us daily, but probably not in the way we expect.

I want to say and even emphasize that it’s of the utmost importance for us to dial down and accept the ordinary. That most of our lives are going to seem mundane, boring, lonely, difficult, etc., you fill in the blanks. As soon as we get away from ideals, immediately we’ll be better off. We’ll then and only then begin to be able to appreciate the good from God that’s right in front of us, and actually everywhere. Until then we’ll miss the good that’s right in our face.

Scripture doesn’t present an easy, feel good existence. Just begin to read on almost any page. But as the psalmist says, Scripture as God’s written word not only can keep us grounded, our feet on the ground so to speak, but can actually be our delight even in the midst of the ordinary and difficult aspects of real life.

When we realize that our expectations are simply unmet, then we’ll be able to see and accept the actual blessings God is giving us, but not until then.

Am I suggesting that God can’t bless the socks off of us, of course to not only bless us, but bless others through us? Of course not. But only as we accept the reality of our own brokenness, that the kingdom in its fullness, while present now in Jesus by the Spirit is yet to be fully present in the finished transformative way. Until then, we’re set up for disappointment and disillusionment.

Which is why we need to remain in God’s word, in Scripture, so that God’s Word, Christ himself can touch and begin to transform us now. Yes, in the midst of the ordinary and difficult. In and through Jesus.

not acting on emotions

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

I think one of the greatest problems we have in not really following through on wisdom as we would like is our habit of acting on impulse. Somehow we proceed on how we feel, our emotions, rather than on good thinking based on understanding considered in the light of what is good for others and ourselves, in the fear and goodness of God.

It is almost a given that if we feel a certain way, then corresponding words or actions will follow. For example, someone cuts us off on the road, or sits at a light. At best we might utter a relatively mild word under our breath, at worst we remark that they’re dumb. Or I might just think they’re on their cell phones, and shake my head in disgust.

What Scripture calls us to is not some stoic resolve and refusal to acknowledge what is happening and how we feel. I’ve seen people act like everything is okay when it’s not, and keep doing that only to explode at a certain point later. It’s better to shake one’s head right along, while keeping oneself mostly in check, not flying off the handle. But better yet is the refusal not to act at all on our emotions which we would call negative. But rather, to keep working through things in a thoughtfully wise and understanding way. And many times along the way that will involve prayers to God and seeking help from others, as well as simply persevering in what we need to do.

Like the NET Bible footnote tells us, it is harder for us to appreciate the impact of this verse now, since the kind of warfare mentioned is largely a thing of the past. If we carried that forward to what we know of the military today, they’re trained not to act on emotion, but strictly on command. But in our imagination we can go back to the days when military feats we’re done in hand to hand combat.  I actually don’t think it’s so much comparing one action to the other, but rather simply saying that one mode of conduct is better than the other.

The Holy Spirit and the word helps us to avoid what is not helpful. To be patient, or slow to anger, to be self-controlled. It’s vitally important that we don’t act on negative emotions like anger or fear when we know our words or actions will not help those who hear or see us. Best never to act on such emotions at all. Part of living in wisdom, knowing what is good and right and helpful. In and through Jesus.

 

simple faith can be underrated, overlooked

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

“Yes, Lord,” they replied.

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.

Matthew 9:27-30a

I think too often we can overlook the importance of simple faith. Faith in God, in our Lord, for sure, but just pure unadulterated faith.

Instead somehow we think we have to do it. Yes, with help from God, maybe even by God’s grace, but still it’s up to us. Actually faith is up to us, the rest is up to God. Not to say that once we put our faith in God we’re automatons, passively carried along by God. Not at all. We’re active, but it’s completely different.

In the case of the two blind men, whether or not they had faith in God, in our Lord, in Jesus’s ability to heal them mattered to Jesus. It may seem that we don’t have much faith, but we’re to put what faith we have completely in God, in Jesus. And by simple faith receive what Jesus has to give us. That can make all the difference in the world.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

God’s word keeping us keeping on

Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.
Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.
Your laws endure to this day,
for all things serve you.
If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours;
I have sought out your precepts.
The wicked are waiting to destroy me,
but I will ponder your statutes.
To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.

Psalm 119:89-96

The entire passage is important of course, and we need to read any part in its context, but I want to focus especially on one part of it:

If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.

That is what I do, where I live. In the real world in all its brokenness. And what sees me through is God’s word. When I refer to God’s word, I mean Scripture, the Bible. But I also mean the gospel to which that word points, to the Word himself, Jesus.

The word doesn’t save me in ways I anticipate or come up with myself. In some intellectual sense, I might anticipate such, but when you’re afflicted and feel lost, you’re living in an experience, and what you’re thinking has limited if any effect.

I know there are people who think the Christian faith is mostly all psychological. And let me acknowledge that it’s not like one’s attitude and frame of mind isn’t important. But God’s word goes way beyond that. We are given hope in the midst of utter despair and brokenness. Belief that through God’s word in and through Jesus there’s always salvation.

What God requires is faith. And how we get faith is by hearing or reading about and focusing on the object of faith, God’s promises, and especially God’s promises in Jesus.

I can testify again and again, and actually every day that this make all the difference in the world for me. I get up with God’s word in mind, and begin to look at it immediately ideally. And going to bed in prayer ideally, after being in the word. God’s word is multifaceted, and therefore, our response to it. A response of faith. Through which God sees us through in and through Jesus.

 

when it comes to the Bible, ponder yes, and just keep reading

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

The Christian faith is centered in Jesus and God’s good news in him. And the church, the body of Christ made up of all believers and followers of Christ, made new by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Spirit on what’s essential is also an indispensable part of the faith. So when someone reads the Bible, they don’t do so in a vacuum. It is true that people can read the Bible apart from the church, and come up with all kinds of sectarian views. But the Bible is central in receiving the gospel, the truth in Jesus. And for good reason, evident when you begin to turn its pages. And the church has always regarded it as foundational for understanding the faith. Certainly there are disagreements among various church traditions, but the good news in Jesus remains central to all.

For me, the go to reality day after day is to return to Scripture. I have decided to capitalize Scripture, after years of not doing so, to mark it as distinct from all other religious and faith writings. It is God’s word written. So I return to it again and again. And in so doing, I expect to hear from God, and be changed more and more into the image of Christ. To be shaped by the renewing of my mind through Scripture.

When doing that, I often am weary through life, and most times the words don’t really jump off the pages at me. But I keep pondering. And something important to remember: there may seem to be many dead spots because of our weak reception, but we just keep on reading. We move on to the next point or part. Oftentimes that can shed light on what we didn’t understand. But regardless, we just keep moving on.

Paul’s words to Timothy tell us that Scripture is able to give us wisdom to save us through faith in Jesus. Salvation in Scripture is past, at the cross and when we believe. It’s present in the ongoing process of God’s saving work in our lives by the Spirit. And it’s future in the promise of Christ’s return to make all things new, including the resurrection of all things, not least of which, the resurrection of our bodies.

So I’m much encouraged to keep opening the Book. And keep on reading and reading, yes pondering slowly, prayerfully and thoughtfully. And not stop. In and through Jesus.