Showing posts with label Christology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christology. Show all posts

Monday, January 7, 2013

on intellectual honesty

A number of months ago a kind reader introduced himself. He let me know that he was particularly interested in watching how I would be affected by the claims of critical biblical scholars (a.k.a. "liberals"). He's writing a book about how evangelicals respond to what he calls "extensive data that seems to pretty clearly rule out the traditional Christian dogma about the inspiration and authority (not just inerrancy) of Scripture, the messianic fulfillment of prophecy, the writing and canonization of the NT, etc." His big question is this: "how can one stay 'orthodox' and be intellectually honest?"

His question is a good one, and deserved a thoughtful response, so it took me quite some time to reply. You can read my full reply in the comments section here (which I deleted and reposted because I found some typos), but I came across two statements yesterday that speak to this whole issue. Both are from an essay by V. Phillips Long introducing the book Windows into Old Testament History: Evidence, Argument, and the Crisis of 'Biblical Israel.'

Long says this: "who we are as whole persons affects how we approach and assess evidence" (8).

And this: "we shall make little progress in understanding one another and in intelligently debating our competing historical judgments until we are willing more openly to explore how our judgments are fundamentally affected by our core convictions" (10). In other words, it goes both ways.

The beauty of Postmodernism is that it has made (almost) all of us aware that we speak and listen from a particular vantage point. What we find persuasive largely depends on what we already believe is true and what counts as evidence in our way of looking at things. I'm not saying there is no absolute truth. I'm simply pointing out that our disposition towards it is very much determined by where we begin.

Intellectual honesty is important to me. For that reason, I have changed my views on a number of things since I started out in seminary seven years ago. But my faith is stronger than ever. Take "messianic prophecy," for example. Meeting with Jehovah's Witnesses helped me to realize that my simple, connect-the-dots understanding of prophecy was not robust enough to account for Trinitarian doctrine. I was forced to go back to the Bible with harder questions, and I was profoundly awakened to the radical claims of the New Testament. The New Testament authors really "got" who Jesus was and what his coming meant for world history. They were not just connecting the dots. They saw Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of what Yahweh himself had claimed to be and do. (You can read my posts on that topic here.)

I'll never forget my summer job after my senior year of high school. I was a "cast member" at Incredible Universe in Denver, where I welcomed "guests" for a shopping experience. One of my fellow cast members was a middle-aged man who worked in Software. We often talked about God in the break room. As I recall, he was not a Christian, but he admired my faith. He became concerned when he learned that I was going off to Bible College in the fall. He talked about how so many lose their faith in seminary (a.k.a. "cemetery"), and he didn't want the same to happen to me.

That was 1995. And here I am, more than 17 years later, still studying the Bible in academia and still loving Jesus. I do think about the Bible differently than I did in high school. My faith has been stretched and deepened in important ways. Some of my naivete about the Bible has been replaced, thanks to a better understanding of the ancient world and more time spent in the text. Its terrain is more exciting now than it was then, and I'm better prepared to pick up nuances in its message than I was before. Meanwhile, some of my "easy answers" about God have been replaced, thanks to the struggles of life. I no longer see him as the "anesthetist-in-chief" but my trust in Him is deeper than ever.

Wheaton is a place where students can engage openly with tough questions and other points of view and learn from critical scholarship . . . alongside professors and other students who are committed followers of Jesus, people who see the Bible as their authority for faith and life. Together we wrestle with the text and we wrestle with ourselves, seeking to live faithfully in light of what we learn. If Long is right that "who we are as whole persons affects how we approach and assess evidence," then approaching the Scriptures as believers will make a difference. It has for me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Tidbit: Gospel Coalition interview with Daniel Block

The Gospel Coalition recently interviewed Dr. Block regarding some of the controversial statements he makes in his recently-released NIV Application Commentary on Deuteronomy. For the full text of the interview, click here.

If you're surprised to hear that Block does not see Moses as a "lawgiver" and that he thinks those who see Jesus as a "new Moses" have a "low Christology," then be sure to check out the interview!

Monday, June 11, 2012

seeing Jesus in 3-D

Almost a year ago Gordon-Conwell asked if I would contribute to a weekly e-devotional celebrating 20 years of ministry at the Charlotte campus. I was honored to have this opportunity to reflect on how my studies at Gordon-Conwell transformed the way I see Jesus. The devotional was released today, but you can read it right here:

[Jesus said], "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he [smeared over] the man's eyes with the mud and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam." So he went and washed and came back seeing.... They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" Then they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened."...Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."
John 9:1-39, selected

I first saw Jesus in 3-D at Gordon-Conwell—Charlotte. Just as Jesus appears to be stepping right out of "The Sower" fresco and into the chapel, so he stepped off the pages of Scripture during my studies.

Again and again I found the key to understanding him was the Old Testament. Most of Jesus' life and teaching is unintelligible without it. With the Old Testament close at hand, Jesus' identity comes into sharp focus. He intentionally does things to fulfill prophecy and signal that he is the long-awaited Messiah. Not only that, he does what God alone is expected to do!

An example is found in John 9. The story there is familiar—Jesus heals a man born blind and the Pharisees are disgruntled. How does the Old Testament help us understand this event?

Jesus announces that he is the light of the world.
     We know from Isaiah that Yahweh is the light dawning (Isaiah 60:1-3).

Jesus smears mud on the blind man's eyes.
     Isaiah, too, was told to besmear the eyes of Israel as a picture of God's judgment (Isaiah 6:9-10).

The blind man sees.
     Isaiah tells us the blind will see when God's kingdom is established (Isaiah 35:5).

In this event we encounter Jesus as a prophet who brings judgment on unbelieving Israel. But he is more than a prophet. He inaugurates the kingdom of God the prophets only foretold, and claims to do what Yahweh alone can do: illumine the world.

Our response can go one of two ways. We can accuse him of blasphemy like the blinded Pharisees or we can worship him like the man who can now see.

May we have eyes to see Jesus clearly today!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

3 New Testament scholars who make me want to study the Old Testament

N.T. Wright
R.T. France
Richard Bauckham

All three of these men are brilliant thinkers, clear communicators, and committed Christians.  They also share in common piercing insights that come from reading the New Testament in light of the Old Testament.  I'm so thankful for their work.  All three have opened the Scriptures for me in life-changing ways.

I just read through Richard Bauckham's 60-page essay entitled "God Crucified," which can be found in the volume I mentioned yesterday (Jesus and the God of Israel). There is so much I'd love to share from his work, but I'll choose just one example.  His big idea is that Jews during the first century had a concept of God that allowed them to include Jesus in the "divine identity" without compromising what they already believed about God.  They did not view Jesus as an exalted angelic being or a remarkable man, but as somehow one with Yahweh himself.  Their view of "one God" (which we call monotheism, a somewhat misleading term) had room for personifications of aspects of God, such as His Wisdom or His Word (Prov 8) that were in a sense distinct from him, but not altogether separate. This made it less of a stretch to worship Jesus as God. The line between who God is and who He is not included at the very least His identity as the Creator and the Ruler of all.  When Jesus was identified as present and involved at the time of creation and all things were said to be under his authority this was a clear indication that the NT writers saw him as included in the divine identity (see Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 2:9-10 for two early expressions of this).

One particularly cogent example of why we simply must read the NT in light of the OT is found in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Ironically, this was one of the few passages that the Jehovah's Witnesses showed me just yesterday.  They saw it as proof that Jesus was not God, while I took it the other way.  Unfortunately, I had not yet read Bauckham's explanation of this verse, which is far more compelling than my feeble attempt to explain it yesterday.  There it reads:

"But for us [there is] one God, the Father
     from whom [are]all things and we for him,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
     through whom [are] all things and we through him."

Bauckham points out that this is an allusion to the Shema' of Deut 6:4, which reads:

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD, our God, the LORD is one." 

This sentence is arguably the most important one in the entire OT. Jews would have repeated it twice daily, seeing it as the central expression of their faith. The word LORD, which appears in all caps, is a translation of God's personal name, Yahweh.  When the Hebrew Bible was first translated into Greek, the translators used the Greek word kurios ("lord") to represent both LORD (Yahweh, God's personal name) and Lord (adonai, the generic word for a lord).  For Hebrew-speaking Jews, there was no confusion. Yahweh was the one, true God who deserved their worship and devotion.  He was the creator of all things and the one who sustained the universe and ruled over all.  In the NT, however, the only way to refer to Yahweh is by using the Greek word kurios, which is not a personal name but nevertheless the only option they had.  It is remarkable how often the NT authors make a point of telling us that Jesus is kurios.

Paul, in the example above, uses the identical language from the Greek translation of Deut 6:4 and divides it between God the Father and Jesus Christ.  As Bauckham insists, "Paul is not adding to the one God of the Shema' a 'Lord' the Shema' does not mention.  He is identifying Jesus as the 'Lord' whom the Shema' affirms to be one." (28) The "one God" and "one Lord" created the universe.  Yahweh has now revealed Himself in His fullness in the coming of Jesus.

This is why I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to focus on the Old Testament at Wheaton.  The New Testament is very, very important to our faith and we just cannot afford to get it wrong!  With the OT clearly in view, we have a much better chance of understanding the NT in the ways that the writers (and Writer) intended.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

bringin' in the big dawgs

I've been meeting with some Jehovah's Witnesses off and on for about 17 months now.  We met regularly for 6 months and then took a break for the summer. We met a few more times and then I asked if we could wait until April and meet to talk about the Trinity.

I have learned a lot from Lula. She is a godly woman, dedicated to the ministry, who really knows her Bible.  She has refused to be intimidated by my 6 years of formal Bible training and knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew.  Though not formally educated herself and not paid a dime for her ministry, she has continued to come week after week to meet with me and study the Bible.  Each time we meet she brings along someone different, always another woman volunteer. Can I make a confession?  For a long time now I've wondered when she would call in her supervisor. Today she finally did.

Kevin is the district substitute superintendent for the entire Charlotte area all the way to Spartanburg.  Like Lula, he is mystified that anyone could actually read the Bible and persist in believing in the Trinity.  Often I tell them that I can see how they could read the passage in the way that they do, but that I understand it differently. Today Kevin finally asked me (in exasperation?), "If a straightforward reading of the Bible implies that Jesus is not God, but sent from God as his representative, then what would motivate you to elevate him further?"

I was so glad he asked.  I pointed immediately to a brochure Lula had given me last year entitled, Should You Believe in the Trinity? They do a good job of introducing the topic, and I especially like this: "If the Trinity is true, it is degrading to Jesus to say that he was never equal to God as part of a Godhead. But if the Trinity is false, it is degrading to Almighty God to call anyone his equal ..." (3). This is why it matters: because right worship depends on knowing God as He really is.

Though there is a number of passages that seem to suggest that Jesus was not equal to the Father (John 14:28; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:27), there are many other indications in Scripture that Jesus was more than just God's representative (John 1:1; 17:21; Acts 2:21 with 4:12). Jesus did things that only God can do.  He forgave sins, he raised the dead, he healed a man blind from birth. Jesus also made claims that were tantamount to claiming deity.  He called himself the "light of the world" (John 9:5 with Isa 60:1-2), the "good shepherd" (John 10:11 with Eze 34), the "son of man" (Matt 17:9 with Dan 7:9-10, 13-14; Rev 1:12-18), and the "I am" (John 8:54-59 with Ex 3:3-4). These claims caused great consternation among the Jewish leaders, and in several cases they tried to stone him for blasphemy! His followers worshipped him (see John 9:38), and he did not object.

I recommended two books that have been helpful for me on this issue.  One is Donald Fairbairn's Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers. Not only is it written simply and beautifully, it is changing the way I think about salvation.  I highly recommend it!  Fairbairn explains that the earliest followers of Jesus saw salvation as an invitation to share in the life of the Trinity the way the Father and Son share life together.

The other book is Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity. This one is not quite as easy to read, but terribly profound. Bauckham argues that Jesus' actions and claims about himself prompted his early followers to include him within their concept of "one God." The first century Jewish idea of monotheism was flexible enough to allow for Jesus' inclusion in the deity without seeing God as "more than one." At the end of our discussion, Kevin admitted that he needed to go back and reexamine some things in the Bible.  And that's what every good Bible discussion should do -- push us back to the Scriptures with fresh eyes to see once again what God has revealed and how we are to respond.  Please pray for Kevin, and for me and Lula as we continue to study the Bible and discuss what it teaches.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jesus and superman

Imagine you are driving along one day on the freeway when just ahead of you a driver loses control.  You brake and swerve to miss her as the car spins off the side of the road, flips and lands upside down.  In the blurr of the moment you pull over, put on your emergency lights and run back to help.  What you find is terrifying.  The woman is seatbelted in her seat, suspended upside-down, knocked unconcious, and her door is jammed shut.  Just when you start to panic you hear something.  Out of nowhere a strong man appears, dressed in blue spandex with a flowing red cape.  A great big letter S is stamped on his chest.  In no time at all he lifts the car and sets it back on its tires, wrenches the door off its hinges, snaps the seatbelt with his bare hands and gingerly lifts the woman out into the fresh air.  He nods to you, winks, and then leaps over the trees out of sight in a single bound, headed in the direction of the hospital, with the woman still in his strong arms.

Shortly afterwards, emergency vehicles arrive with the media close behind.  You find yourself suddenly in the center of a major investigation, peppered with questions from reporters, EMT's, and police officers.  "Tell us again," they insist.  "Who was the man who took the woman away?" 

"I told you already.  It was Superman!" 
Another volley of questions: "But how do you KNOW it was Superman?"
     "Did he introduce himself to you?" 
          "Did you actually hear him say his name?" 
You feel rather confused.  "There was no time for introductions.  He didn't need to introduce himself.  It was obvious.  He was wearing what Superman wears!" 
"But it could have been an imposter," they insist. "Maybe he wanted you to THINK he was Superman, but he really wasn't." 
"But he appeared out of nowhere," you remind them. "And he was stronger than any ordinary man, and I saw him leap over those trees!"  To your utter amazement they refuse to write in the police report that Superman was present at the scene, citing 'lack of evidence.'

Perhaps it's obvious to you by now where I am going with this.  As I've met with my JW friends to study the Bible they continue to insist that Jesus could not have been Almighty God because he never identified himself in such a way.  "If it was so vitally important that we believe in the Trinity," they tell me. "Then the Bible would have made it much more clear.  As it is, the Bible says NOTHING to prove that Jesus and Jehovah are the same God."  The more I've thought about this and studied it, the more I'm struck by the ways Scripture 'nods and winks' at us as it relates the ways in which Jesus came dressed in Yahweh's clothes and doing Yahweh's tasks.  No, he didn't make a public announcement about his true identity.  That would have cut short his ministry unnecessarily.  Instead, he revealed his identity through parables and actions so that those with 'eyes to see' would have no doubt who he was, and those who were blinded by unbelief would be unable to pin him down.

There is a widespread misconception about Jesus that he taught using stories because that way people would really understand him.  But in Mark 4:9-12 Jesus tells his disciples point blank that his parables are meant to veil his message from the unbelieving.  (See also John 9:35-41; 10:22-39; 12:37-41)  We must pray that the One who opens the eyes of the blind will open the eyes of our hearts as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the New Testament in 3-D

I've been reading some GREAT books on the New Testament lately, and I honestly feel like I've been handed a pair of 3-D glasses with which to read (and understand!) the Bible more profoundly than ever before.  What used to be flat, bland, or even puzzling has come alive and started to pop off of the page. Rather than keep this treasure for myself, I wanted to pass it on to you!

If you can image a pair of 3-D glasses (at least the ones from long ago), there was a red lens and a blue lens.  With these working together, an image that was specially produced for viewing with those glasses comes to life.  Without them, the same image is rather blurry, and if you stare at it too long you get a headache.  So too the Bible for many people!  A growing number of scholars are beginning to pick up on major themes in the New Testament that were missed in recent centuries.  For some reason the lenses most scholars were wearing just didn't allow them to see what was there all along.  If the NT was written with these twin ideas giving shape to everything, then we'd better put on our 3-D glasses so we can figure out what it means!

So are you ready?  Here are the 2 major keys that have breathed life back into the pages of Scripture for me this month.  They are distinct from each other (like the blue and red lenses), but when taken together they form a startlingly clear picture.

Lens #1 - Jesus is the 'true Israel.'  A lot of what Jesus says and does makes perfect sense when viewed through this lens.  Israel was called 'God's son' in the Old Testament (Ex 4:22), but they failed to do what God designed them to do (Deut 32:5).  They were supposed to obey him fully and in that way become a light to the nations (Isa 42:1-9).  But because they rebelled and were carried off into exile, they, too were in need of salvation (Isa 49:5-7). 

When Jesus is called God's Son it should be a flashing red light that he is the one who will do and be what Israel was to do and be.  His perfect obedience is patterned after Israel's failures.  One of the most poignant examples is the temptation account (Matt 4:1-11).  There Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness being tested by satan.  He resists those temptations by using scriptures from Deuteronomy which described Israel's time of testing in the wilderness.  There could not be a more intentional parallel.  Jesus does perfectly what Israel should have done, and that qualifies him to be the light to the nations that they should have been.  Now, through faith in Jesus (the true Israelite) we become spiritual Israelites as well.  The promises made to them are fulfilled in us.  Obviously much more could be said.  But on to the next one.

Lens #2 - Jesus is Yahweh.  Much of Jesus' ministry was an acting out of what the Jews expected Yahweh (God) to come and do for them after the return from exile. The miracles, the victory over satan, the calming of the sea, the regathering of (true) Israel, and the establishment of His kingdom were all things that the OT predicted Yahweh Himself doing (Isa 52:7-10).  Jesus' deliberate journey to Jerusalem at the climax of his ministry was actually the promised return of Yahweh to fill Jerusalem with His presence (Matt 21).  But because of the failure of the Jews to recognize and believe in Him his coming was marked by judgement. 

I've only just begun to watch for the ways in which Jesus dramatizes OT prophecies or fulfills them through his actions, and my list is growing.  What excites me about this is that it is an entirely different angle from which to demonstrate His deity!  My Jehovah's Witness friends have already heard all the usual 'proof texts' about Jesus being God and they have answers for them.  But this cuts underneath all that debate to reveal the profound truth about who He is.  If we truly believe the OT prophecies, and then we see how Jesus does what Yahweh was supposed to do we have only two options.  We can suppose that God changed his mind and settled for an ambassador instead of coming Himself as He promised (NO!), or we can recognize that Jesus was Himself Almighty God.  Why didn't He just say it plainly?  Because a direct announcement would have resulted in a premature crucifixion.  All along the way He acted out His message boldly and let those actions speak for themselves.  Those who had eyes to see and ears to hear figured it out and gave Him their full allegiance.

If you want more about how to read the NT in 3-D, I recommend the following great books:

N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (he has many other books which touch on similar themes)
G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission (reviewed in more detail below)
G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (eds), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (This commentary is worth its weight in gold.  If you can only afford one NT commentary, make this the one!)