Surprised by a Book

I am reading “King, Priest and Prophet: a Trinitarian Theology of the Atonement” by Robert Sherman, T&T Clark, NY, 2004.  sometimes I am surprised by a book. This is one of them.

First, I never heard of Bangor Theological Seminary, where Sherman teaches.  With a little help from Google I learned that it is a long-established seminary that grew of the New England congregational churches over 200 years. ago.

Second, academic inspiration is a bit oxymoronic, but not in this case.  The author from a “post-liberal” standpoint presents a very interesting case that Trinitarian theology grew naturally out of the witness of the scriptures and the experience of the believers, and in fact was set on this trajectory by the Risen Lord.  He says that “trinitarian” is not exactly accurate as that word developed in the 3rd century, but that the three-fold personhood of God and the role of this “triad” in salvation is pervasive in the NT.

Third, his chapter on the trinity in Scripture (chapter 3 ) is a delight, and there are at lest 3 classes or sermon series there waiting for the exegete.  Especially rich is his treatment “in passing” of John 13-17.

Fourth, all of this and I have not gotten to the meat of the book.

I am on the cusp of a discussion of how the Baptism exemplifies the ministry of Prophet, Priest and King, and then how the temptation of Christ, challenged each of those three offices.

Now I admit to geek-ish tendencies, but this is as good as a new Harry Potter book.

Stay tuned.

Farewell John Stott

John Stott has gone ahead of us.  Just a few words.  While this blog is dedicated to taking a Fresh Read of scripture for ourselves, that does not preclude comparing notes with other writers and teachers.  The point is to Read it and read it Freshly.

Stott was a very thoughtful writer, who combined scholarship and pastoral leadership in a rather unique way. He was greatly committed to training leaders and equipping pastors all around the world.  He made a few errors, who has not. I do not follow him in a few points, but here is my short list of Stott works worth reading.

“The Letters of John” in the Tyndale series, is a short commentary on I, II ad III John.  His analysis of this rather elliptical book is excellent – and we learn that not all outlines are linear.  It is not an expensive or a long book, but it is worth reading along with the text.

“Romans” published by IVP and “The Spirit the Church ane the World” are excellent commentaries on Romans and Acts.

“The Cross of Christ”  is a very good exposition of the cross from various angles.  It is interesting in particular how he says that much of popular preaching is off base – when Jesus is presented as sort of the good cop against God the Father as the bad cop.  His view of the text and of trinitarian theology in general safeguards us from setting one person of god against the other.

“Basic Christianity” and the booklets “Becoming a Christian” and “Being a Christian” are classics for thoughtful presentation of the Gospel.  I heard Stott agree with a speaker in Milwaukee that these are books from before the post-modern mindset of our times, so they may not be the best presentation for our times.  Stott was not at all offended but rather agreed with the comment.

He brought together “The Bible Speaks Today” series, which is a serious but accessible set of commentaries on various Biblical books.  His own “Guard the Gospel” and “Sermon on the Mount” are good examples of this series.

John, my library and my sermon notes from the last 25 years say, “well done.”

Sing that Sermon, Brother

 The “hymn” is a literary form, not a musical style.  It is a poetic form of praise to God.  The Bible has many of them, some of which are imbedded in the text.  This week I am thinking about the fruit of the spirit translated “gentleness” or “humility”.  the same word is used in the Sermon on the Mount as “blessed are the meek.”

What has come to mind are several “hymns” or “songs” in scripture.  The thing is these Hymns may have been said, not sung.  Just as our hymn books (if you remember those) contain words in meter that can be sung to a variety of tunes.  One fun exercise with a hymn book is to find the meter of the hymn (eg. 8888) and try it with another melody that has the same pattern.  for fun, try singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “the House of the Rising Sun”.  Back when I was in a youth group we did that.

We are having a hymn sing at Bethany this Sunday, so the sermon this week will be based on 3 “hymns” that operate on the theme of gentleness/humility.

Isaiah 41:1-4(12 verses in 3 stanzas that don’t quite match the verses) how the Servant will come gently to redeem.

Isaiah 42:1–4 (ESV)

 42 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,

or make it heard in the street;

3 a bruised reed he will not break,

and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.

4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged

till he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his law.   

Luke 1:46-55 – the Magnificat and it’s theme of God casting down the proud and exalting the humble.

Luke 1:46–55 (ESV)

 46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”   

Phil 2:6-11 – where Paul used and possibly tweaked an existing “hymn” of the early church to teach us about humility by imitation of Christ.

Philippians 2:6–11 (ESV)

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,

taking the form of a servant,

being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,

even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.   

If I add Romans 12:9-21 the Sermon could be titled “Three Hymns and a List of 21”.   Methinks that is too much to digest on one Sunday in July.

Two Texts, Two Reasons to Rest

The two times the 10 commandments are given, in Exodus 20 (the first time) and in Deuteronomy 5 (re-stated) contain some differences. One is the evident different reason given for the Sabbath command.  Read for yourself:

Exodus 20:8-11 ESV –  8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but theseventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Deuteronomy 5:12-5 – 12“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Genesis gives a Creation-related explanation and Deuteronomy gives one related to the Exodus.  In the first case, we rest because God “rested” from his work of creation.  In the second case, we rest because God’s salvation liberated them from the bondage of oppressive work under the hand of slave-drivers.

Since God’s rest is not caused by the Almighty growing tired, we look for a reason.  John Walton suggests that when a god rested, in ancient near east religions, it meant that he took his place in a temple.  Genesis then is saying that the Lord on the 7th day was done with the initial creative act, and that he fully inhabited his universe as the One who is in charge.  We Rest then not in imitation (bc our “rest” is different that God’s “rest”), but in trust.

The oppression of work was the life of the Slaves in Egypt – the very concept of slavery is that a person is only meaningful so far as his or her work provided value.  Now Israel has a newer Master, it is no longer the Pharoah.  This new Master gives them one day in 7 without work.  This is a reminder that life is more than work and the things that work produces.  Note that servants and aliens in Israel were also to keep the Sabbath rest.

We should observe the Sabbath, because it goes back to the beginning, beyond the covenant law of Israel.  Since we know the Lord is Lord, we can rest.  We should observe it also because life is more than work, food, clothing and money.

The Lord Rested….in a hammock?

On the 7th day the Lord rested from all his work.  On the basis of that, Exodus 20:8 says that we ought to rest.

Now is this because God somehow needs to rest as we do?  It seems contrary to the uniform description of God as the Almighty who does not grow tired (Isaiah 40, Psalm 121).  Most of us have read this at a simple level.  From the greater to the lesser: If God has to rest, so should you.

What if we apply the concept that John Walton suggests.  In Ancient Near East culture, a “god” rested in its temple in the sense that it took possession and assumed control.  So the rest of God is not that he is akimbo in a hammock.  It is rather that on the 7th day (which is not terminated in Genesis 1 like days 1 through 6) God assumes possession and control of the heavens and the earth as his dwelling place.

We then rest, not in imitation, but to show that we trust that the Almighty can in fact take care of us on that one day in seven when we do not work, or the one year on 7 when the land rests or the one year in 49 when debts are forgiven.  Our rest is not imitation but response.

This makes more sense theologically.  It fits the core meaning of the word for sabbath, which means to stop or cease.  God stopped creating (because he was done, and the world was “very good”); we cease from working to rest and to enjoy life with our Creator.

Summer is for Planning – Preaching and Study list for the year

So one year, the very first Sunday was cancelled for snow, throwing off a carefully balanced sermon schedule.  The church chairman laughed, but the preacher did not.  With that caveat, here is the topical list of preaching that I have planned.  as the Proverbs say, “a preacher decides on his schedule, but the Lord sets the weather.”  (maybe that is not in the Proverbs.)

  • Jesus as Prophet, Priest, King and Sage.  The first three “offices” have been assigned to Christ in theology, I am suggesting the fourth as an “office” suited to our times.
  • First Steps, topical passages on beginning the Christian life
  • Advent – following the lectionary as special events allow
  • Power in Weakness, a study of 2 Corinthians 1-6
  • Spiritual Wisdom from the book of James
  • Scenes from the Victory, with fear and trembling we will explore Revelation
  • Names of God as a Summer Topical series, with tie ins to the Lord’s Prayer.
  • the Sunday evening group will study Ephesians with colored pencils
  • and GATEWAY II will cover the topics of Bible Interpretation, The Kingdom of God, God the Father and Foundations for Christian Leadership.
  • And I am still reading in Genesis with Walton, Collins and others.
OK, let it snow.

Faith/Faithful – Semantic range

This venn diagram relates to the idea of semantic field.  A word has a range of meanings.  It seems the more common the word the wider its range of meanings.  The challenge this creates is to determine what is meant by a word.  Dictionaries are helpful for discovering the options, but it takes a reader to decide what meaning fits the context.

In the Fruit of the Spirit list of Galatians 4:22,23, the 7th word is “pistis” which is translated as “faith” in older versions and “faithfulness” in newer.  It seems as if the passage is not talking about the initial response of faith that starts someone on the road, but the ongoing quality of faithfulness that guides her on the path.

Yet is there a strong distinction in quality.  In church language we want to differentiate “saving faith” (the start up kind) from “living faith” (the ongoing kind.)

Is there any real distinction between the two words?  Or is it the same function in different times.

Is the Fruit of the Spirit called “faith” or “faithfulness” the initial act of believing, or the daily act of believing and obeying?

The classic passage on faith that was important in the Reformation is Romans 1:16-18

16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.  (NIV)

Notice that it is “by faith from first to last” which translates the more literal “from faith to faith”.  This indicated that “faith” is not a mere initial step, but an ongoing and inclusive attitude.  And so it seems that there is not real distinction in the quality of the thing we call “faith” or “faithfulness.”  Both are trusting reliance on God.  There needs to be a place in time where faith begins, and there needs to be a duration when faith continues.