Roger Olson, James White, and the Problem of Old Testament Ethics

So a couple days ago I posted a critique of a recent debate over Calvinism vs Arminianism: Old Debate, New Day: Calvinism.

I ended my critique by pointing out that one of the debaters from the Arminian side, Brian Zahnd, clearly denied the inerrancy of the Bible, and therefore read his view of Christ into the scriptures. He denies the inerrancy especially of the Old Testament, because of it’s violent history. And of course, a violent God is in no way congruent with his idea of a peaceful Jesus. 

Recently, James White brought up this same problem with another theologian named Roger Olson. While I like much of Olson’s books, especially on church history, I think White hit the nail on the head. Olson denies inerrancy, and therefore denies much of the Old Testament’s “terror texts” (as he calls them, referring to violent texts he perceives God would never condone). It is the same issue I saw in Brian Zahnd, to a tee. White calls it a new form of Marcionism (which he will define).

Listen to White’s commentary below from 40:30 on (keep in mind, White can be colorful!)…

 

Old Debate, New Day: Calvinism – My Thoughts

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So recently, there was a debate between two Calvinists and two Arminians about the subject of predestination and God’s role in salvation.

The Calvinist debaters were Daniel Montgomery, pastor a Sojourn Church in KY, and Timothy Paul Jones, a professor at Southern Seminary. They recently published a book together called PROOF, which was a rehashing of the TULIP acronym. I read the book, and would encourage anyone to read it.

The Arminian debaters were Austin Fischer, recent author of Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. His partner was an odd fellow I had never heard of named Brian Zahnd. I have followed Fischer for quite some time, and have been fascinated by his very quick transition from Calvinism into a liberal type of Arminianism, following the likes of Roger Olson et al.

You can watch the debate here:

I will give a commentary about the debates below the video links

Strengths on each side?

I want to start by commenting on the strengths of each side, then the weaknesses. First, the Calvinist side clearly used much more biblical texts to back up their claims than their opponents. I mean, it was ridiculous how much scripture Daniel Montgomery brought into his arguments. Timothy Paul Jones did entire expositions of texts. This encouraged me, being a Calvinist myself. It was encouraging to see each of them not only mentioning texts, but also explaining and interpreting them for us.

However, the Arminian side had some strengths too; though they had less scripture, the Arminians had better rhetoric and responses. What I mean is that both Fischer and Zahnd were able to respond to and critique the Calvinist side in a very persuasive manner (of course, persuasion doesn’t make you right — but it helps!). Contrastly, the Calvinist side didn’t really respond much. Instead, they mainly posited their positions. And for a debate, you have to be able to critique, pick apart, and see the arguments behind the arguments.

Weaknesses on each side?

As I said above, I thought the Calvinist side should have responded and critiqued the Arminian side much more than they did. There were several times when Fischer would contradict himself, or say something wrong, which the Calvinists never picked up on. For instance, Fischer asserted that none of the early church fathers were Calvinistic. This is a sore overstatement. The theological nuance of the early church fathers is still debated today. However, neither Montgomery nor Jones critiqued Fischer for that. Also, Fischer asserted that the only way Calvinists can believe that God is both good and completely sovereign is to ascribe mystery to the doctrines instead of explaining how they work. However, when Fischer described his doctrine of synergism, he repeatedly said it was a mystery, and never completely explained it! This, to me, was a sore misstep for Fischer. But, the Calvinist side never picked up on that either. I think Montgomery and Jones should have been much more critical of both Zahnd and Fischer.

The biggest weakness I saw on the Arminian side was the lack of scripture used in their arguments. What I mean is that they never really explained any biblical texts in depth. They may have spouted out a few texts here and there, but they never really considered the meaning or the context. For instance, Fischer started the first video by denying pretty harshly that God decreed or predestined anything. But for all the time he argued against predestination, he rarely brought in scripture. Also, when Zahnd began critiquing the idea of predestination, he insisted that the doctrine was inconsistent with “the revelation of God in Jesus Christ”. To him, Jesus’ teaching, life and death, (all those red letters … getting it?) was a more sure word then the Bible (in fact, he pitted the Bible against Jesus, which Jesus himself never did). Soon into the debate, it became obvious that Zahnd either questioned or denied the infallibility of the scriptures. Of course, I do want to recognize, Fischer did quote some texts here and there, especially during his synergism explanation. But he never really got deep into the texts. It’s easy enough to spout out a few verses that sound like they support your position. It’s altogether different to do an exposition of those verses, which the Calvinist side did a few times.

The bottom line: who won?

Here’s the issue with a debate like this. At the end of the day, the Calvinists (with whom I agree) held to the biblical inerrancy of scripture. And because of this, they argued not only from the red letters, but also in the rest of the Bible. And so they brought in a myriad of texts which supported the idea that predestination was in fact true. They brought in texts from the Old Testament, New Testament, epistles, and so on. They brought the whole gambit. And for that, they had a doctrine that really was supported by all of scripture. In the end, the Bible was their primary source.

However, from the Arminian side, it became more and more apparent that the Bible was a secondary source for them. For them, the true and trustworthy source was “the revelation of God in Jesus Christ”. Over and over, you would hear, “The God of Calvinism is incongruent with God as revealed in Jesus Christ”. However, and here’s my rub with the Arminians, they never really dug into the texts to support this idea. They never in-depth scriptural support, especially from the Old Testament, that the God as revealed in Jesus Christ was Arminian. Instead, they imported their own understanding of Christ into the Bible. They never considered texts like John 6, 8, 10, 17, and others, in which Jesus himself teaches predestination. They never considered the fact that Jesus came to do the will of his Father in heaven (Jn 6:38), which presupposes that Jesus came to accomplish a predestined redemption. The Arminians never brought these texts up. They couldn’t. Instead, they continued to repeat, “the God as revealed in Jesus Christ is incongruent with Calvinism”. To me, that really weakened their arguments. And it’s because their understanding of Jesus came first, and the Bible second.

Brian Zahnd says this much in a very eye-opening post, in which he says outright,

“The Old Testament is the inspired telling of the story of Israel coming to know their God. Along the way assumptions were made and they didn’t get everything right. Keep reading the Bible until you come to Jesus and then center your reading of all Scripture in the light of Christ”.

Do you see what he’s saying? It’s subtle, but here’s what he’s saying: If the Old Testament disagrees with your understanding of Jesus, reject it; it’s not reliable. Because after all, Israel made some bad “assumptions” along the way that we now know are wrong. Zahnd rejects the infallibility of the scriptures, and that affects his theology, including his theology of Christ and salvation. He imports an understanding of Jesus into the scriptures, picks and chooses what he likes from the Bible, and forms a theology from that. This is not healthy exegesis. Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s another post by Zahnd where he allows his understanding of Christ to lead to an utter denial of substitutionary atonement.

It’s pretty obvious to me that the Calvinist side won, no problem. If you don’t use the Bible to form your doctrine, your doctrine will always inform the way you read your Bible. What’s at stake in this entire debate is the Bible, not simply Calvinism or Arminianism. And I’ll side with the Bible all day long.

Revival vs. Revivalism

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Doug Wilson contrasts the difference between what a revival is, and what revivalism is. He says,

Revival, which is a gift of God, has been turned into a work of man through theological confusion. The result is revivalism, not revival…

In a true revival, doctrine is the emphasis, and the doctrine is God-centered. In revivalism,… man is [at] the center, [and] feelings are emphasized. In [true] revival, truth overwhelms the mind, resulting in an emotional response — inexpressible joy. In revivalism, the emotions are excited directly, and any number of teachings, true or false, can do that…

In a true revival, the change in the moral behavior of those blessed is significant and lasting. With revivalism, very little is done to teach the people to restrain their passions. In fact, because the “revival” encourages a lack of restraint in the church, it is not long before a lack of restraint is evident elsewhere, usually in the area of sexual immorality (1)

I couldn’t agree more with Wilson. Revivalism is about emotions, the show, the lights and the smoke. But it is all mustered up. It is all planned, without any consideration that God’s Spirit is the One who brings about real revival.

But, in true revival, God is at the center, with healthy teaching, and a biblical emphasis. And true revival is brought about through the Word and prayer by God’s Spirit, bringing about conviction, salvation, and passionate repentance. 

For more consideration of this, here is a great conversation between Keller and Carson on revival. Some great thoughts here:

(1) Easy Chairs, Hard WordsDoug Wilson

Gluten-free Intolerant?

Here’s a fun little video to start the discussion found below…

This video is hilarious. And it really does represent a growing trend among people trying to eat healthier. There’s this thought that going gluten-free will somehow make you healthier. Gluten does not make you fat (although pastries with gluten can!). It’s a myth.

But this does not mean that all people who eat gluten-free are just ignorant foodies who’ve been duped by yet another diet trend. I want to be very clear: some people cannot eat gluten. And it’s not that they don’t like gluten. It’s not that they are just trying to be healthier. It’s that their body simply cannot digest it.

But as a result of these two types of people, there’s been this mixed community of people that eat gluten-free. Some are fad-foodies that don’t even know what gluten is (much like the other food trends: low-fat, no-carb, etc). But others have been diagnosed by real doctors, have a legitimate issue, and / or need to eat gluten free.

And what I’ve noticed is that non-gluten-free people have begun to bash the entire gluten-free community because of the “food-fad” group. And while the aim of this “bashing” is toward the fakers, I’ve also noticed that people with real dietary issues have come under fire too. Some people legitimately cannot process / digest it, and it causes all sorts of problems with their bodies. And now they have to, because of no fault of their own, eat gluten free. Why must gluten-intolerant / celiac people come under fire because some within the group are fakers?

Here’s my point: if you have been bashing the gluten-free trend, you are not only accusing the fakers; you are also being intolerant toward those who are legitimately gluten-intolerant.

For instance, my wife is highly gluten-intolerant. When we were first engaged, if she ever ate gluten, she would turn pale-white, have flu-like symptoms, and be restricted to her bed for a day or two. She spent months going to doctors, trying to figure why in the world her body would react this way. Finally, after a myriad of tests, the doctors told her to take gluten out of her diet. There was a 100% difference in just a few weeks. As a result, it’s pretty clear she has real issues with gluten. And when you make accusations that gluten-free is just a fad, you are inadvertently being insensitive to her (and others like her) real struggles. This is why I’m so passionate about this. My wife is so much better simply because she stopped eating gluten. It turns out her body just cannot and will not process gluten. Why? We really don’t know. But I know that her strength is back, her symptoms are gone, and she has a normal life (apart from being gluten-free of course) because of it.

And here’s another thing. I simply do not understand why Christians are getting all up into arms about the gluten-free stuff. What does it matter? For instance, there’s this incredibly strange article telling all gluten-free dieters that they worship a false god. And while I can appreciate that the article is aiming to expose companies looking to make a pretty penny off of the gluten-free fad, it is still lumping gluten-intolerant people into the discussion. And to make it worse, the author downplays those who legitimately suffer from gluten-intolerance: “Celiac disease affects about one percent of Americans. Even the more murky ‘gluten sensitivity’ applies, at best, to six percent of the population”. This article ends saying, “we’re just being sold products…In truth, all we’re getting is something that looks like a bagel but tastes like false hope”. Wow — gluten-free false hope (well, except for 1% of the population). Or, just maybe, there are legitimate issues that people have with this protein called gluten? I think so. 

And as a Christian, here’s my rub. There are several instances where dietary issues and the like are addressed by Paul. And in none of these instances does Paul denounce any type of diet. While Paul does admit that all food is made by God and profitable for eating (1 Cor 10:26), he also tells Christians that some won’t want to eat certain foods for various reasons, and that it’s ok for them not to (Rom 14:6)! And this means that if someone wants to eat gluten-free, let them! Just because you realize that eating gluten-free is pointless for some doesn’t mean you should dictate their diet. In fact, Paul tells us that when it comes to dietary issues like this, Christians should neither judge nor despise their brother (Rom 14:10). Besides this, does it really matter if eating gluten-free really only benefits a small percent of the population? Aren’t we all free in the Lord with regard to conscience issues? What point are we really trying to make here?

Another passage that comes to mind with this whole thing is Matthew 13:24-30. This is a passage where Christ reveals that within the church there will inevitably be fakers; some professed Christians will simply be pretending. In the passage, Christ tells a parable, comparing the church to a field of wheat mingled with weeds. What makes it more complicated is that the weeds look all too similar to the wheat. In the parable, the farmers ask each other, “should we try to pick out the weeds amongst the wheat?”. To this question, another farmer says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Mt 13:24-30). I find so much wisdom in this parable. If we aim for the fakers, we will do harm to genuine. This is what I find happening so much in whole gluten-free debate. I know my wife (and others) has often been offended by people’s insensitivity to her real issue, simply because they are after the foodies.

I’m all for constructive critique of food fads. I myself get annoyed at all the low-fat foods I see all over the place. But I really want us, especially as Christians, to be sensitive to the real needs of gluten-intolerant people. If we aren’t sensitive to their needs, we easily compound the entire issue, and become gluten-free intolerant.

The Three Conversions: Christ, Church, and Mission

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Jonathon Dodson, in his book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship*, says, “churches today have more in common with shopping malls, fortresses, and cemeteries than they do the church of the New Testament. They have become consumerist, doctrinaire, lifeless institutions, not Jesus-centered missional communities”.

Dodson goes on to correct this approach toward the gospel, saying, “when we are converted, we not converted to Christ alone…It is also important to consider what man is converted to. When we are converted, we are converted [to three things:] to Christ, to church, and to mission”.

What Dodson wishes to communicate here is that often churches preach a gospel that is all about individual conversion rather than Christ, his people, and his mission. Often, churches cater only to the personal experience of salvation. But the gospel is so much more than that. When we are redeemed by Jesus, we are not simply saved from our sin to Christ — we are also saved to Christ’s people and to His mission. 

Dodson calls this a three part of conversion: we are converted to Christ personally, to the church communally, and to Christ’s mission vocationally. And he says, the gospel by nature entails all three of these things; not just to one-third of the gospel. “Failure to convert to the church and to mission is a failure to grasp the [entire] gospel”.

Dodson talks about conversion to Christ’s people: “The gospel reconciles people to God [but also] to one another, creating a single new community comprised of an array of cultures and languages to make one new humanity”. It is important to realize that when we are joined to Christ through faith, that we are also joined to one another. Peter says that the church of Christ is like a temple of “living stones…being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:4-5). Peter gives the imagery of a temple, being built on Christ as the cornerstone (1 Pet 2:6). And each person placed on the Cornerstone is also placed next to one another. And we cannot be the temple that God has called us to be unless we are converted to one another! We are meant to live for Jesus with each other. 

But also, as we are converted to Jesus and to his people, we are also converted together to his mission. Jesus has a mission, and he has given us the task of accomplishing it. Dodson says that “when anyone becomes a disciple of Christ, the temple expands and a living stone is added. [And] God’s grand plan, from the beginning, was for the garden-temple of Eden to expand throughout the whole world, to be populated with new stones who worship Jesus Christ, the great Cornerstone”. As living stones, we as participants in Christ’s kingdom now go out to continue to populate his glorious temple, made of peoples from all nations. This is indeed the church’s mission: to be ever expanding, ever heralding Christ’s redemptive work on earth, and declaring that He is King.

“When we believe the gospel, we are converted three times”, not just once. We are given to Christ, to his people, and to his mission.

 

*Quotes taken from chapter 6, Communal Discipleship: The Three Conversions

 

Why are there so many Protestant Denominations Part 2: Interdenominational Ministry?

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In my last post, I considered exactly why there were so many denominations within the Protestant faith. I concluded first that while there is much diversity, there is also a lot of unity. We agree on essentials of the faith, and we gather around the Bible as the Word of God. Because of the reality that we are fallible (and sinful) humans with lenses that cloud our interpretations of unclear texts and doctrines, we will by nature differ on doctrines that are not essential for salvation (and to be evangelical). This is why we have a number of different doctrinal differences and ecclesiological differences — and at the same time, we have much in common that unites us as Protestant Evangelicals.

I want to ask another question concerning this issue though. Is it possible for Protestants who differ doctrinally and ecclessiologically to work together in the same congregation? Could a charismatic and a cessationist work together as pastors over a congregation? Could a Calvinist and an Arminian preach the Bible as a team? I want to give a qualified “yes”.

Here’s my qualification:

There are two main ways I see pastors who differ either theologically or ecclessiologically working together. The first would be that one pastor concedes his theological preferences to the leadership of the other. What I mean is this: Most churches want to be clear on where they “camp” on theological issues (and for good reason). For instance, is speaking in tongues biblical? Should it be practiced in the congregational worship meeting? Cessationists give a resounding “no”, while Charismatics affirm the biblical practice of tongues (and of course, interpretation). Well, if those two were to work together, one pastor would have to concede to the other in terms of how they worship in congregational meetings. Another issue is women in the ministry. One camp may hold to an egalitarian mode of pastoral ministry, while another may be against it. What if two pastors work together, and they differ on this issue? Well, one will have to confer to the leadership of another. I personally would not be able to work in a church that ordains women as pastors, not because I don’t want women using spiritual gifts, but simply because I believe that biblical eldership is a position given to men. But, I would have less of a problem differing to the preference of a charismatic pastor on the issue of tongues. The reason is that I’m simply not dogmatic on that issue. I personally don’t speak in tongues, but I have known many who say they do! I prefer to be non-dogmatic on the issue because of it.

Another option that I see is if a church is open to theological variety. Let’s say for instance that a calvinist baptist and an arminian baptist pastor the same congregation together. How should they teach the Bible? Well, one option would be that either the arminian or the calvinist confer to the leadership of the other. But the church could also leave the issue open to their congregation. For instance, when teaching on the subject of election or the issue of sovereignty / providence, the pastors could simply list off the viable theological interpretations on the subject, and just leave it open to interpretation. This would of course require a lot of purposeful open communication on each stance, and a certain non-dogmatism that would allow the congregation to make their own decision on the issue. This could work if each pastor were open to it. They remain open on dogmatic theology, and precise on the essentials. Having come from reformed backgrounds, I find it easier to work within theological similarity. However, I have friends with different theological backgrounds, and one thing we do agree on the centrality of the gospel, and the supremacy of Christ — and so in that light, we can work together.

Even within my own marriage, my wife and I disagree on a certain theological principles — we don’t disagree on large issues, but there are still certain small nuances that differentiate us. And we are still very apt and ready to minister the gospel to and with one another. So I can see this happening on the vocational level as well, though many think it is easier to stay within a certain denomination. What do you think?

Why are there so many Protestant denominations?

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I’ve thought over this question for quite some time. Within Evangelical Protestantism, there are myriads of denominations. There are so many, that the Catholic Church has given many spurious critiques of modern Protestantism. They argue that there is such disunity among the church that we can hardly call ourselves the true church. In fact, Catholics really do consider themselves to be the only true church!

But are numerous denominations within the evangelical church necessarily a bad thing? I really don’t think so. In fact, as opposed to the Catholic church, I think that denominations enable unity within the larger body of Christ. And I want to consider a few reasons why.

First, Protestantism, even with all of its differing denominations, agrees on the essentials (if you can’t agree on certain essentials, you would be considered unorthodox or heterodox as opposed to “evangelical”). All Protestants agree that men are saved by Christ alone through faith alone. They all agree on the Trinity. They all agree that the Bible is the Word of God. They uphold the life, death, and bodily resurrection of Christ. These (and more) are essentials that all evangelicals must hold to in order to be considered orthodox. And because of this, there is much more unity than diversity. Even with John Wesley and George Whitfield’s massive differences (and although they parted ways eventually) concerning the order of salvation, they both heartily agreed with one another on the condition for salvation — faith alone in Christ alone. This is what binds all of Protestantism together!

Second, the reason there are so many denominations is not because we simply can’t get along. Rather, the reason there are different denominations is because we all treasure the Word of God. We all agree that God has revealed himself to us by his Word (I recognize that within Protestantism, the doctrine of inerrancy, which I hold to, is debated — however, that God inspired the Bible is not argued). We have unity on the source of the scriptures — however, we do not have unity on the interpretation of certain scriptures. Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, will all have differing views on controversial passages. For instance, while we all agree that Paul is speaking of election in Ephesians 1, we cannot all agree on the meaning and nature of election. Calvinists argue for unconditional election, Arminians argue for condition election, and others (some Arminians and Methodists) argue for corporate election. What none of us disagree on is that Ephesians 1 reveals to us God’s saving intentions for mankind — instead, what we disagree on is exactly what Paul is saying. Because of this, while there is much difference concerning specific doctrines, we have agreement on the Word of God: that the Bible is inherently divine revelation.

Third, while differing denominations can agree and have unity on essentials, we also must affirm that because we disagree on some things, it is not inherently wrong to serve in a church with which you agree. While a Methodist Church and a Baptist Church can work together to reach a community with the gospel, it could also be a challenge to work together within the same congregation (I’m not saying it’s impossible, but there are challenges — some churches are interdenominational and work together well!). Many Methodists, for example, ordain woman pastors, while many Baptist congregations see it as biblical to only ordain men pastors. It would be quite a challenge for complementarian Baptist pastors to work alongside some egalitarian Methodist pastors. The same is true when it comes to doctrinal issues. If a Prestbyterian and an Arminian Episcopal work together, how will they teach Romans 9? While they can agree that it is part of the canon, they disagree on the interpretation. For this reason, operating within a certain denomination isn’t wrongand in fact it is practically helpful to the progress of the gospel. Denominations don’t affirm disunity within Evangelicalism; actually, denominations exist because we agree on essentials, and uphold the Bible as the Word of God! 

For this reason, I am pleased when I see a fellow brother in the Lord standing on biblical convictions —  as long as they affirm essential biblical doctrines. I may disagree on certain other doctrines, and this may cause us to desire to work within differing denominations — but we can both agree on the essentials of the gospel, and that God’s Word is true.

One day we will all find out who was right. The Lord will clarify our misunderstandings, and we will worship him forever. Until then, we must stand on his Word, and wait for his coming.

How do you Interpret the Bible? The Two-fold Process (part 2)

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I my last post I described a two-part process by which to arrive at an interpretation that applies to our everyday lives. I compared interpretation to a two-story house, in which the first story is the historical context of the biblical book. In order to arrive at the second story of universal interpretation, you must first understand what the author intended to write to his original audience. This is by and large a contextual venture. We must understand contextual meaning before we can arrive at a meaning that applies to us today.

But how do we understand the first story of the house? What contextual clues do we look for when venturing toward the second story?

Within any given book there is going to be 5 layers of context. Some of these layers may require a commentary or two, but a few will just require that you read a bit more and dig further.

The 5 layers of context are…

1) Verse

2) Chapter

3) Book

4) Bible

5) Author / audience

1) Verse context is fairly simple. How do the verses before and after help give meaning to the verses at which you’re presently looking? For example, Paul says that “there is…no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” in Romans 8:1. While this statement seems pretty straightforward, we can find greater meaning if we look a few verses back into Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”. Paul had been frustrated over his inherent inability to obey God — he found only sin within himself. Who can deliver him from this sinful body? Christ can! By simply looking to one or two verses ahead or behind the passage you’re studying, you can find a wealth of helpful information. 

2) What about chapter context? This simply means to look at the chapters before and after the verses you are studying to give a better understanding of the author’s argument. We have already looked at Colossians 2:16-17, in which Paul tells his audience to reject any teacher telling them to add works to their salvation. How does Colossians 1 and 3 help us understand his argument? Colossians 1 explains Christ’s supreme rule over the church (Col 1:15-20), while Colossians 3 explains our position in Christ (Col 3:1-3). Consequently, we should trust in Christ alone for righteousness! Studying interlocking arguments within chapters is so helpful. How does chapter 1 connect with 2? How does 1 relate to chapter 4? etc…Tracking arguments and thoughts across chapters can be surprisingly enlightening.

3) Book context takes into account the themes found throughout the book, and how this helps us understand a given text. For instance, Paul says in Galatians 5:1: “for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. What has Christ set us free from? What yoke were the Galatians falling prey to? From the context of the entire book, we find that Paul was writing the Galatians because they had given into another gospel (Gal 1:6-10), and thought that by conforming to certain Jewish laws and accepting circumcision, that they could be righteous. For this reason, the focus of the entire book of Galatians will be that they had submitted to a hard yoke of slavery by which they could never be saved. This level of context requires that you read an entire book, possibly several times, paying attention to repeated themes. The theme we found in Galatians was freedom from the Law. But other books have differing themes. Ephesians focuses on the body of Christ, Romans focuses on justification by faith, and Colossians focuses on the supremacy of Christ.

4) Bible asks the question, “how does my passage fit within the context of the entire story of the Bible?” Tracking back to Galatians, Paul finds himself writing to an audience that thought they still had to observe the Mosaic Law. Obviously, because Christ came and fulfilled the requirements of the law, and died for our sins, this means that we no longer have to follow the law. By simply understanding that Leviticus was given to a people before Christ came, and that Galatians was given after, this can help us with interpreting scripture. For help with this, I would encourage you to read God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts for greater insight into this.

5) Finally, by understanding who the author and the audience was, you can really get to understand your passage. For instance, the book of Hebrews was given to a Jewish audience who had struggled with lapsing back into Judaism. This really helps us when reading the book as a whole. The book of Hebrews covers the insufficiency of the Mosaic Law in comparison to Christ in salvation. Jesus is better eternally sufficient in saving, and the Law cannot save! If we understand the temptation of the original audience, it really gives deeper meaning and application. This step may require a commentary. But you can often find out much about the audience and the author just from observing steps 1-4.

All 5 of these layers of context helps us when moving to an interpretation that applies to us today. To really understand a passage, and get to the second story (so to speak), we must first understand all of these layers found on the first floor of our interpretive house.

 

 

What is the Purpose of Baptism?

Baptism

What does baptism do for believers? Since salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:25), what does baptism really accomplish? Jonathan Dodson, in his excellent book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, explains the purpose well: *

Dodson says that the primary reason for baptism is to express publicly our acceptance and understanding of the gospel. He says that baptism is a means to illustrate and express that by faith, “Jesus’ death and resurrection becomes our death and resurrection…it signifies our identification with Christ in his death as we are lowered into his ‘watery grave’, and identification with his life, where we are raised up into his resurrection life”. In that sense, baptism then is not merely a public ceremony of sorts, but rather a public confession of the gospel. This is in fact what Paul says, that “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Baptism then becomes this public declaration that we have died with Christ, and live a new life in Him

Dodson continues with a second purpose found in baptism. He says, “second, we are baptized into two overlapping communities. The first is the divine community of the Trinity: ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). The second community is the church: ‘For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13). Baptism results in our participation in a new, spiritual family–the family of the Trinity”. Baptism then is not only a public confession of the gospel, but also a public identification with the Triune God and his people. It is a joining with the divine community, and becoming one family in Jesus. Peter goes so far as to say that this one corporate body is like a temple, built together as oneand founded on the cornerstone, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). In this way, baptism is not merely a private matter, but a corporate celebration and adoption.

Lastly, Dodson says that baptism is about mission. This was something new for me to think on. As a person that has identified themselves with Christ, and with his body, they are missionaries for Jesus (John 20:21, Mt 28:18-20). This becomes part of their identity. Dodson says, “baptism is missional because it is the outcome of obedience to the Great Commission”. This is very true! Jesus sent his disciples out, commanding them to share the message of Jesus and to baptize disciples (Mt 28:19). Dodson gives good insight to this, saying, “in a sense [then], baptism is the end of the Great Commission and, at the same time, it is its beginning. Baptism begins our participation in the wonderful gospel mission. Whenever someone is baptized, another disciple is sent in the power and authority of Jesus to join the mission of making disciples…”. In this sense then, baptism fulfills Matthew 28, and also starts the process over again! As a new believer emerges from the water, they are identifying themselves with the mission of Jesus and his church.

I think this is an excellent summary of the purpose and power found in public baptism. In baptism, the Christian identifies himself with the gospel, the community of the gospel, and the mission of the gospel.

These quotes come from pages 32-33 from chapter 1, “Making Disciples: Evangelism or Discipleship?”