Monday, November 27, 2006

Sola Scriptura--The Prey of Cultural Influence--Part II

As discussed before, the goal of these next few posts is to expose those things which most often hinder our ability to have unbiased interpretation (of the Bible). The last post was aimed at those who interpret scripture in light of culture. This post will have the same purpose, however it will be aimed at those who let culture interpret scripture in ways that are not quite so obvious.

Many may say to me at this point, "Jimmy, do you have a chip on your shoulder or something? I mean, you seem to be knocking on everyone. Give us a break, no one is perfect. Do you expect everyone to be COMPLETELY unbiased in their interpretation?"

Of course I do not expect everyone to be completely unbiased, even I am full of bias. What I desire to see is a Christianity that desires to be rid of their biases so that they might be shaped and formed solely by the word of God. The more we rid ourselves of those things which keep us from correctly interpreting Scripture, the more formed by Scripture we will become. The problem is that most Christians today are being formed more by their culture than they are by the Bible. This is not even necessarily because they are not reading their Bibles, but rather because when they do read their Bibles, they are throwing their cultural biases on the text.

My goal is that I will become completely free of bias when reading the Bible. That should be everyone's goal. We should all desire that our desires, thoughts, beliefs, fears, joys etc. be conformed by the Scritpures alone. This is the call of Sola Scriptura. This is what Luther was fighting for (don't be conformed by church tradition, but rather be conformed by the Word of God).

This is for my fellow Evangelical Fundamentalist Bigoted Christian Brothers and Sisters: How much do you fall prey to the influences and norms of our culture? How much do you allow these influences and norms to effect your interpretation? Let me just expose one area of cultural bias that can be found even in my own circle of fellow believers.

Where do you stand on the issue of divorce and remarriage (yes, I do realize that I am opening a huge can of worms)? I am not here pushing for any of the views. In fact, I will not make known where I stand on this issue. Now, What drove you to come to your position? Was it the result of struggling with the texts as they are presented in context? Is your position the result of unbiased interpretation?

One of the hardest things to get over when studying divorce and remarriage is cultural bias. How many (Christians) would ever consider the thought that those who have been divorced can never remarry (at least until their divorced spouse has died), even if they were the innocent party? Most Christian's already have their minds made up before they even start looking at the pertinent Scriptures. AFTER their minds have been made up, then they go to the Bible and lay their preconceived-culturally-shaped ideas upon the Bible.

Here are some commonly held objections to the view of divorce and remarriage I just laid forth, "Are you going to tell me that a 19 year old girl who was just wrongfully divorced cannot remarry until her X is dead?" I am not going to stand here and make it sound better than what it is, but if that is what the Bible teaches... then we must submit to it. Do you like the sound of Hell? Of course not, then why not reject that doctrine? Because it is in the Bible.

"I cannot believe in a God who would not allow the innocent party of a divorce to never remarry until his/her guilty X dies." Well, I never would have believed in a God who destroys sinners in hell for an eternity unless I was leaning upon the Bible. In fact, I would not believe much of what I now believe if my beliefs were not shaped by the Bible.

"What are you going to do with the great majority of those in our churches who have been divorced? Are you going to tell them that they sinned when they remarried?" Well, what are you going to tell the even greater majority of Christians whose lives are marked by gluttony? Why are you going to tell them that they are sinning? Because the BIBLE says they are.

These three objections certainly are important and need to be addressed, but these objections mean nothing if the Bible teaches this certain view of remarriage.

I am not pushing for this view of remarriage (or am I?). I am exposing the reality of how shaped we all are by our culture, yea, our Christian Culture. If you disagree with this view of remarriage than that is fine (or is it--if it is in accord with the Bible it isn't). BUT if you are going to disagree with this view of remarriage then you answer had better be, "I disagree because I have searched the Scriptures in context and have heavily considered each view in light of Scripture. I have come to a different position because the Bible teaches a different position and the Bible is what shapes my idea of divorce and remarriage."

Most Christians are very Catholic on this issue. Rather than coming to the Bible to be told what to believe about divorce and remarriage, we come to the Bible with our minds made up. We come to the Bible with our ideas being shaped by the culture and then we lay this already discovered truth on the Bible. We need to have a Bible bias and let it (the Bible read in context) solely shape our understanding of remarriage. Rather than having our understanding of divorce and remarriage shaped by Church Tradition (as the Catholics) we are having our understanding of divorce shaped by the Christian Culture. Both are just as bad, because neither of them are leaning solely upon the word of God. Do you see how much even we Baptists are much like the Catholic Church. We need to heed the call of Sola Scriptura. We need the Bible to inform us of what is right. We need the Bible to be that which informs our idea of divorce and remarriage. Not our culture. Not are already held theology. Not Church Tradition, but the Bible.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sola Scriptura--The Prey of Cultural Influence

As said before, these next few entries will be aimed at exposing those things that most often hinder our ability to read the Bible in context. They will hopefully shed much light on how we often force the Bible to say what it is not saying.

The first barrier to correct interpretation that I want to talk about is cultural influence. This may take two or three entries. Christianity has been effected in a great way by the culture in which it exists. Some of it's effects have been wonderful and some of it's effects have been awful. Each culture brings both good and bad to the table.

One of the great new movements that is sweeping across the country is the Emergent Church movement. This movement is way too large and diverse to make any general characterizations, but a few things can be said for sure. The Emergent type churches see the need for Christians to engage their culture in greater and more profound ways. The culture has changed much over the past few decades, and therefore our approach to the people in our culture ought to be different than it was before. For example, you would approach evangelism much different if you were in China than you would in America, because China's culture is much different than America's.

I am not part of an Emergent Church, but I do see the value of much of what they are pushing for. I also see many (at least) potential problems with this movement. I recently read Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell and was not overly impressed (Not all Emergent types are like Bell). Bell had many positive things to say, but many of His statements were informed more by culture than by Scripture. In fact, it appeared that his view of Christianity has been shaped, in a great way, by culture.

It appears that culture has so influenced Bell that he looks more to what culture is saying, than he does to Scripture, to judge what is best and most important for 21st Cent Christianity.
For example, on pg 167 Bell informs us that if we have an agenda, when talking to non-believers, then we cannot truly love them. He says, "we have to surrender our agendas." Bell could not be further from Biblical truth. The 21st Cent culture teaches that love (go ahead and give it [love] your own definition) is to be the only agenda. The Bible teaches that the Gospel is to be the agenda. The Gospel then produces love. Paul, in Col 4 tells us to "make the most of every opportunity." We are to let our speech be seasoned with salt and grace so that we might be able to know how to answer every man. You are disobedient if you are agendaless. Culture has so shaped Bell's ideals and practices that he has missed the primary role of the community of faith, which is intentional evangelism.

Bell's problem is much like the RCC's (Roman Catholic Church). The RCC interpreted the Bible in light of Church tradition. Bell interprets scripture in light of 21st Century Postmodern Cultural influences.

This Catholic tendency in much of the Emergent Church has caused them to go so far that many (not all) of them question whether or not Homosexuality is a sin. Mclaren even questions the Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which is the heart of the Gospel. Why does he reject the Biblical view of the atonement? Well, why do the Catholics believe in purgatory (something that cannot be found in scripture)? Because they are not heeding the call of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone).


Christians of all sorts: Doctrinal types, Practical types, Charismatic types, Arminian types, Calvinst types, Denominational types, Introspective types, Emergent types, Emerging types, Democratic types, and yes even Republican types, see the need for change to occur in modern day Christianity. All agree that Christianity is in need of change. What we cannot find agreement on is what needs to be changed, and how that change needs to be brought about.

One obvious question is raised in light of this observation; How are we going to discern that which is most in need of change for Christianity here and now? In answering this question it is most important to start with what the Word of God has to say. Only after the Bible has been consulted can we then look elsewhere to find help. Our search for what needs to be changed must begin with the Word of God so that we may have a sufficient rule by which to discern those changes which would be helpful for Christianity, and those which would be destructive.

For example, suppose we were to seek to change the face of Christianity for the sake of reaching those in a culture which hated absolute truth (which is true of much of our radical postmodern culture). If we were to start our search for change by first consulting the culture, which says that absolute truth is bad, then the Bible would become useless (since it is full of absolute truths). Is there a problem in this? Of course there is. Why? Because the Bible is the very Word of God given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteous (1 Tim 3:16). And because the Word of God is the revelation of who God is and what He expects of us. God’s will is revealed in the Bible, not in the culture. Therefore, if one were to set out to change Christianity to better reach a certain culture, it must first start with the Bible so that it may discern those aspects of the culture which are not right.

What would be the purpose of reaching the culture in the first place but to change that which is bad about the people and make it good. But if we use the culture, which has many areas of weakness, of discerning what is bad in the culture, will we be able to discern what is in need of change? Of course not, because we will be using the flawed culture as a standard to decide what is flawed about the culture so that it can be changed. The reason why the Bible must be the starting point is because it is the only perfect standard. The Bible does not need to be changed, but the culture does. If the standard we use to decide if something is flawed is flawed in and of itself then we can have no assurance that our standard will be able to accurately detect that which is flawed in the thing being tested. If a perfect standard is used however then anything that does not agree with that perfect standard can immediately be seen for what it is–a flaw that needs to be changed. The reason the Bible is the standard is because the Bible is not in need of change, therefore the agenda’s set forth by the Bible (i.e. intentional evangelism, seeing homosexuality as a sin, upholding Penal Subsubstitutionary Atonement etc.) are to be that which we use to discern what is good and bad about culture.

All changes, therefore, must be grounded first and foremost on the Bible. The problem with much of the American church is that it does not begin with the word of God, but rather with the culture. Therefore it morphs Christianity to look just like the culture since the rule and standard is not the Word of God, but the culture itself. Christianity then begins to be tested by the truth claims of the culture and there you have it, Christians begin to speak more about the changes that need to take place within the church than they do about the changes that need to take place within the culture. I do not deny that Churches are always in need of becoming more conformed to the Bible. But the NT emphasizes the fact that Christians are to go out and effect and change the culture more than the culture is to come in and effect the church. The goal of the church becomes to look more like the culture rather than more like the NT church. Much of the church therefore adopts the agenda’s of postmodern culture rather than the agenda’s of scripture, which are to be what informs us of what agenda’s are most important. Culture cannot inform us of what is most important, only the Bible can do that.

These misunderstanding of how to assess the problems of Christianity, at the outset, may not seem like all that big of a deal. Many conservative fundamentalist Christians find it hard to speak out against the average church in America because they have not completely rejected the Bible. No, the majority of churches have not rejected the Bible, but they have distorted the Bible, because they force the Bible to cater to the agenda’s and slogans of
post modern culture, in much the same way that the RCC has distorted the Bible because they force it to cater to the agenda's and slogans of Church Tradition.

It is of utmost importance that Christians do what they can to find ways to cater to the needs of the culture in which they are presenting the Gospel, but it is also of utmost importance that these same Christians do not learn more from their culture than they do from the Word of God. Christians are to inform the culture of what is most important, the culture is not to inform Christian’s as to what is most important. Christians are to go forth and do what they can to meet the felt needs of their culture, but this is never to take precedence over what is most important. Meeting the felt needs of a certain culture is to be the platform upon which the Christian works to meet that cultures true needs–those needs which are revealed in the Bible.

I have much more to say about cultural influence. The next post will be more geared toward how culture influence hinders even non-emergent types to not heed the call of Sola Scriptura.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Let us Cry With Luther--Sola Scriptura! Sola Scriptura!

The Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century was the result of a hot-headed monk (Martin Luther) who got a hold of Erasmus' translation of the Greek NT. Erasmus' translation was full of many naughty footnotes which exposed a few of the major scriptural abuses misuses of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). No one challenged Erasmus because he, being what we would call a chicken, left the controversial information in the footnotes. The more Luther began devoting his life to reading the Bible (in its original languages... hmm...) the more he began to see how the RCC was reading the Bible in light of church tradition. The Bible, according to the RCC, could only be correctly interpreted when seen through the lens of Church Tradition. Church tradition was not to be considered wrong whenever it contradicted scripture, rather scripture was to yield to church tradition.

Many wrongly assume that Luther's problem with the RCC was how they were oppressing and misleading the poor and uninformed. The movie "Luther" very accurately portrays the circumstances of the reformation, however one could go away from that movie with a wrong impression. Luther was fighting against the RCC's abuses of the poor and uniformed, but there was much more to it than that. You see, if SCRIPTURE taught that one could buy their family members out of purgatory then Luther would have had no problem with this practice of the RCC. In fact, he would have plead with utmost passion for the poor and uniformed to give more of what little they had for the sake of their family members. Luther did and said many many offensive things that caused many people a lot of pain and depression (one of the most depressing things a person can hear is that they are going to Hell). So you see, Luther's battle with the RCC was not so much about how they abused and talked to ordinary common folk, rather his battle with them was how they abused and misused Scripture. The result of their misuse of Scripture was how they wrongly approached the poor and uniformed.

Luther's most influential and foundational plea was SOLA SCRIPTURA SOLA SCRIPTURA (SCRIPTURE ALONE SCRIPTURE ALONE). Without the plea of Sola Scriptura there would have been no reformation. Soli Deo Gloria (The Glory of God Alone) was the result of Sola Scriptura. If scripture would have taught any thing other other than Soli Deo Gloria then Luther would not have included it in the five Sola(s).

Sola Scriptura is what drove the Protestant Reformation. The RCC rejected Sola Scriptura by placing Church tradition on par with Scripture. Luther was convinced that all things were to be tested by the Scriptures. Nothing was to stand above the Scriptures. Only those ideas, doctrines, and practices which conform to Scripture were to be considered right, true, and good. Those ideas, doctrines, and practices which could not be aligned with Scripture were to be considered as false, misleading, and dangerous.

What things do we put on par with Scripture? What informs your ideas, desires, practices, and values? What is it that informs your interpretation? The RCC interpreted Scripture in light of Church tradition. What helps you interpret Scripture? It may not be church tradition, but does that necessarily mean that you are not prone to error. Church tradition is not the only thing that can skew ones interpretation. Do you interpret scripture in light of your experiences, feelings, desires? Do your experiences, feelings, and values hold more weight than does Scripture read in context? Does culture inform your interpretation of Scripture? I don't know how many people I have heard say, "I can't believe that! It goes against everything I have been taught my whole life." Does what you have been taught your whole life effect the way you interpret Scripture. O, be careful my friends. We are not to force our ideas on the Bible, rather the bible is to form our ideas. How many times have you heard something similar to this, "The Bible cannot mean this or that because this or that goes against what I have experienced." This statement reeks of Catholicism. The only difference is that experience rather than church tradition is that which is being put on par with the Bible.

Lord willing, in the next few entries, I will be writing about those things that most commonly hinder our ability to heed the call of Sola Scriptura.

Sola Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, Sola Scriptura. The Scriptures, The Scriptures, The Scriptures. We do not worship the Bible, but we trust the Bible to be the only infallible reliable way of coming to truth. The Bible is the word of God. Heed the reformation cry of Sola Scriptura. Reject your Catholic tendencies. Throw them to the wind and be conformed to what God has said in His word.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Treating the Bible as THE Authority

I know it has only a been a few hours since my first post, but I feel the necessity to take a few minutes to explain a little bit more about my blog site. I want to explain why I use the phrase "exegetical student" for my web address, and "Context is King" for the title of the blog site.

The main reason I picked the address and title that i did was because of my great passion for the Bible. Well, not just my great passion for the Bible, but, more specifically, my great passion for treating the Bible correctly. Treating it as the inerrant, infallible, authoritative word of God.

Many today proclaim the Bible to be the word of God. Many today even claim that to disbelieve or disobey the Bible is equal to disbelieving or disobeying God Himself (Grudem). I would agree with them on this. I love to hear the people of God say such things, BUT it always grieves me when the same people who make such great assertions about the Bible then turn around and thoughtlessly use it.

I do not want to discourage people from quoting the Bible, but I do want to discourage people from quoting it carelessly. The fact that the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative word of God should not just lead Christians to conclude that it should be read and obeyed, it should also lead them to a healthy fear as to how they use it.

It is not enough to simply memorize the Bible. The printed words on the page hold no sacred power in and of themselves. Printed words when strung together make printed sentences. A string of printed sentences make printed paragraphs. A string of printed paragraphs make printed books. The individual words in the Bible are only useful and helpful in so far as they are seen within the context in which they exist. Therefore, the words of the Bible themselves are not powerful by themselves. Where then is the power and effect of the Bible if not in the words? The power and effect of the Bible is found in the ideas that are made up by the individual words. In other words, the usefulness and effectiveness of the Bible is found in the ideas that come from the individual words when they are seen and understood within their context.

The word "exegetical" simply means the art of interpretation. If we are going to view the Bible as the authoritative word of God, we must learn how to read it correctly. We must learn how to do correct exegesis (interpretation) so that we do not twist what God is saying, and thus misuse and misapply it.

The title of the blog (Context is King) is one of the most important aspects of correct exegesis (interpretation). I see that one of the greatest problems with the way most Christian's interpret the Bible is how their presuppositions (preconceived ideas) inform their interpretation more than does the context. When people interpret a certain verse in the Bible without examining the context in which that verse was put, they are not using it correctly. The Bible is full of abstract words (words like love, faith, hope, believe etc) that can mean almost anything if not seen within their context. Almost anyone in the world would say that "love" is the most important thing. The funny thing is that almost everyone has a different definition of what love is. What does the Bible mean when it commands you to love the brethren? You had better not force your understanding of what love is upon that command. How then can you know what it means to love the brethren? You will need to look at the context. In some verses love simply means "affection," in others it means love expressed in good deeds, in others it may mean telling someone the truth even though it hurts them. Only context can help you come to any sort of helpful definition when reading the Bible.

I so badly want to see the people of God treat the Bible correctly. I want to see a passion not just for the Bible, but for using the Bible correctly.

This really is the purpose of this blog. Most of what I say will be to this end. God has given me a passion for His Word. He has given me a reverence for it, and a desire to use it correctly. I pray that the passion He has given me would spill off onto others.

My Introduction to the World of Blogging

I have a few words for those few precious moments (people) who might be interested in keeping updated on my latest thoughts.

First of all, i want you to know that I have not been all that good about being super consistent about these types of things.

Second, not everything in this blog will be theological or biblical in nature, although most everything I write will be biblical or theological in nature.

Third, much of what I write will be offensive to most people. I do not enjoy offending people, but I am more concerned about being faithful to God and His word, than I am about protecting the emotions of men. The Word of God, when read correctly, is very offensive.

Fourth, my goal in writing this blog is threefold: 1. I write so that God may be Glorified, 2. I write so that Christians might better understand the Bible, 3. I write so that Sinners might be convinced of their need for Christ. Please feel free to comment on my blogs.

Fifth, please feel free to ask questions. Please feel free to disagree with me. Don't be afraid to bring your disagreements up. We do not become more conformed to the Word of God when we act like we agree with everyone on everything, rather we become more conformed to the Word of God when we challenge each other and work together to come to a better understanding of what is true.

Enjoy the blog and engage in learning with me!!!