Reading Companions?


This is an excerpt from a lecture at a local Christian College class taught by community pastors – my assignment was Neo-Orthodoxy to what is going on now!  The following introduction has to do with our reading companions – who do we consciously or subconsciously rely on to interpret the scriptures?


Theology is written by very human theologians.  The truth of God is eternal and unchanging but our understanding is often tied to the other things we know, or think we know.  We interpret the Word of God by our world, our experience and through our culturally conditioned eyes.  We read the Bible through cultural lenses.  So we see that:

  • The Church Fathers were very influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thought.
  • The Medieval theologians were influenced by Aristotle.
  • Modernist Theologians were influenced by science, Darwin and a view of human progress.
  • This is seen in how we view Creation, for example. Galileo did not so much challenge the Bible, but a consensus view that was based on Aristotle, Ptolemy and the Bible.
  • This is seen in how we view Revelation – is the Bible a Divine Book only (Neoplatonic church fathers), a human book only (higher critical modernists) or both ( Evangelical – e.g. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)
  • This is seen in how we view Salvation – The Christ pictured in the Sistine Chapel is unapproachable and busy sending sinners to hell and saints to heaven (is it any wonder that the people turned to Mary?); the Christ of Liberalism is kindly and humane. Albert Schweitzer said of the “quest for the historical Jesus” that European scholars searched carefully and found that Jesus was just like themselves.

C. S. Lewis said that one should alternate reading current books with old ones. This is one way we help see the trap that is the world view of our own times. Reading church history raises this question for us.  Who or what do we use to stand next to the Bible to interpret it?   Tradition (officially co-equal to scripture in Catholic Theology); Theological schools (Calvin v. Arminius); Popular Culture (church should entertain); the Business world (Pastors are CEOs); Social Media; Psychology (as practiced by Oprah, Dr Phil);

Question: What lens do you use to understand the Bible?

(Full notes – NeoorthodoxyEtc.notes )

10 Commandments – Plus and Minus

10Com This is from last Sunday’s message:

The Ten Commandments have a positive and a negative side.

Most of the 10 are written in the negative.  “Thou shalt not…”  Yet when we think of them, we need to consider them to have a positive and a negative side.  Take each commandment and think of it like a coin. There is a head and a tail. There is a negative “do not do this” and a positive “because you should do this instead.”

John Calvin said this:

“Thus in each commandment we must investigate what it is concerned with… until we find what the Lawgiver testifies there to be pleasing or displeasing to himself….from he same thing we must derive an argument on the other side, in this manner:

            If this pleases God, the opposite displease him;

            If this displeases him, the opposite pleases him;

            If he commands this, he forbids the opposite;

            If he forbids this, he enjoins the opposite.


            “Therefore in the commandment, “you shall not kill” men’s common sense will only see that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so.  Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbors life all the help we can….God forbids us to hurt or harm a brother unjustly because he wills that the brother’s life be dear and precious to us.”

(Calvin, Institutes 2:8.8)

Is it Real or is it…?


If you are old, like me, you remember the ad for cassette tapes which asked, “Is it real or is it Memorex?”

Sometimes we have to ask if something in the Bible is real or symbolic.

This week I am thinking about Babylon and Jerusalem.  These are real places.  The Biblical story of Babylon begins with Babel in Genesis 11.  The real city/state/empire of Babylon was a looming threat for much of Judea’s history.

And yet Babylon takes on a symbolic role.  St. Augustine spoke fo the City of God and the City of Man.  The City of man is where people deny God and love themselves.  The city of God is where people deny themselves and love God.  Babylon becomes a symbol of this “city of man” in scripture.  The Fall of Babylon in Revelation 17-18 is not just about the location in present day Iraq, but about a world system of government and living that is hostile with God.  Babel/Babylon is symbolic of this stemming back to the goals formed on the Plains of Shinar (Genesis 11:3):

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…”

Jerusalem was a Jebusite city taken over by King David and selected because of it was a place where wrath was stopped by Sacrifice.  It is also identified with the location where Abraham was to offer Isaac in Genesis 22.  There we find a pregnant promise, “…on the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

From the idea that Jerusalem was the home of the King and the location of the Temple, we have a combined hope of glory and grace.  Jeremiah’s the historic city has never lived up to that promise. Consider the description of Lamentations 1:1-2

How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherousl

Isaiah 2 and Revelation 21 share a vision of Jerusalem as a place for the Nations to live in the knowledge and blessing of God.  The citizens of that City of God are those who are born there by faith – as we find in Psalm 87 (NIV)

He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are said of you,
    city of God:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon
    among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
    and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her,
    and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The Lord will write in the register of the peoples:
    “This one was born in Zion.

As they make music they will sing,
    “All my fountains are in you.”

So when you read Babylon or Jerusalem, ask if it is Real or Symbolic.

Some Bible Reading Links


Daily Reading  Online resources that you can get to your email inbox every day. a regular reading that can be gotten on line, by email or get the book  a Daily Reading with a Read through the Bible in a Year plan.  several devotional reading plans to choose  Several Reading Plans to choose.   Daily Readings with short introduction.

Get the App Top Ten Bible Apps:  I use this one

Commitment and Guilt – those reading plans


New Years.

Yes it seems like a good idea to make a great plan.

Read through the Bible in a year.  However, we tend to shipwreck somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers.

I have a plan to read a chapter of the New Testament and a Psalm in my Spanish/English Bible.

Yet I have already fallen off the wagon.

Alas, I have experience with commitment and guilt.

Here is my advice

  • Avoid over eager plans.
  • Avoid plans with boxes to check off.  All those un-checks stare ate your with outstretched fingers of accusation. Who needs it.  Just read the next chapter whenever you do get to it.
  • The Sabbath is God’s idea, so build in some days without Bible Reading work in it.
  • Remember the point is to learn and internalize.
  • If you are going to try to read the whole Bible, try a plan that mixes OT and NT and a Psalm each day is nice.
  • Reading a genealogy is usually a matter of skimming (but not always as Matthew 1 attests).
  • Reading a parable or proverbs requires that you stop reading and think it over.
  • You did not fail if you fell a few chapters short; think of what you did read.
  • Next year will come soon enough.

Meditation – minding my mindfulness

what I was thinking about during the mindfulness lecture.

what I was thinking about during the mindfulness lecture.

I was just at a lecture on mindfulness meditation. That form of meditation is built upon Buddhist teaching. Its goal is to quiet the mind so that it is not thinking about anything at all, but is at rest. The presenter defined it as “being fully present in the moment.”

This can be a good exercise for a Christian as well. I remember when I was in college and I used to go and sit in the church sanctuary that was near campus. After a half hour of sitting and resting my mind and my ears, I was in a much calmer frame of mind. Sometimes I take a walk outside and enjoy the world that God has made.

Meditation as described in scripture is something different. Rather than clearing the mind, it seeks to fill the mind. Rather than emptying the mind, it seeks to fill it with the scriptures. And rather than being a thing I do alone, it is something I do in fellowship with God. We do not meditate about God, we can meditate with God.
We are out of shape. We are out of practice. Many of us do not know how to do biblical meditation.

There was a study reported in the news. Three fourths of men and 1 third of women in the study could not even tolerate 15 minutes of silence without a book a radio or the internet. When given a chance to think about nothing or receive a small electrical shock, they chose to be shocked! We have so much outer life, that we neglect the inner life.

I sometimes preach a sermon in the form of a congregational meditation. It takes this shape.

Read the verse repeatedly.
Observe each word and phrase.
Connect the verse to your world.
Commit yourself to obedience.

A Proverb is like a Punchline



One scholar said that a proverb is like the punch line of a joke where the rest of the joke is missing.  So you have to think of what kind of story fits the punch line.

Here is a punch line:  “Pastor Dave’s feels longer.”

That does not make a lot of sense.  But when it comes after the first part of the joke it does.


Q: Which is longer, a World Cup game or Pastor Dave’s sermon?

A:  Pastor Dave’s feels longer.