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Written by Dr. David Dunbar Wednesday, 11 January 2012 00:00

Recently I have been thinking about the early kingship of Solomon.  He is at his best in the early days.  Particularly attractive is his request for wisdom:  “so give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.  For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kgs. 3:9).

Now if there was anyone who didn’t need to ask for wisdom, it would seem to be Solomon.  Genetics were clearly on his side.  Remember that his great-grandfather was Ahithophel one of King David’s greatest counselors.  Of Ahithophel it was said, “. . . the advice Ahithophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God”! (2 Sam. 16:23). I have no doubt that Solomon’s reputation for sagacity was part of a legacy derived from his mother’s grandpa.

But here is the fascinating point:  where Solomon might be expected to rely on his natural (inherited) ability, he asks for divine assistance.  Not the way we usually function right?  Normally we ask the Lord’s assistance only when we feel weak or vulnerable, when our feet are slipping, or we have already failed.  Grace is what we ask for when we finally decide we can’t do it in our own strength.

Solomon, however, seeks the Lord’s help for what is already a sharp tool in his personal tool box.  The result was God’s blessing on his leadership and the world-wide renown of his wisdom. Question: might the Lord choose to do through his people if we sought his gracious help for our strengths not merely our weaknesses?

 
Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand children.

  

 

Written by Dr. David Dunbar Tuesday, 10 January 2012 00:00

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on the subject of "incarnational ministry," see the blog of Dr. Kyuboem Lee yesterday {January 9}.

The mission statement of Biblical Seminary says that we exist to prepare “missional leaders who incarnate the story of Jesus with humility and authenticity and communicate the story with fidelity to Scripture . . . .” Of course technically and theologically we may only speak of one unique incarnation—that of second person of the Trinity who in the fullness of time was born a man for our salvation.  “The Word became flesh,” as John tells us (Jn. 1:14).

So when we speak of preparing leaders who incarnate the story of Jesus we are speaking metaphorically.  We are saying that as the invisible Word took visible human form and concretely demonstrated the power, truth, and goodness of the coming Kingdom, so today we need more Christians who are committed not merely totelling the gospel (as important as that is) but also to  embodying the gospel.  There are two obvious reasons for this.

First, we live in a very cynical age.  We are surrounded by hype; we are used to being over-sold. People are suspicious that the good news just sounds too good.  And if truth be told, Christians are sometimes guilty of unrealistically positive presentations of what is means to follow Jesus.  In other words, we are the source of some of the anti-Christian cynicism we deplore.

But the second reason we talk about incarnating the gospel is that Christians, particularly those of a more conservative stripe, have allowed a disconnect between word and deed. While paying lip service to the importance of obedience and discipleship, we have focused more of our attention on the correct form of word and doctrine. The tendency has been to value the message more highly than the messenger.

When we talk about preparing leaders who incarnate the gospel, we remind ourselves that in Jesus there was no separation of the message from the messenger, no disconnect of word and deed. We want to prepare leaders who look more like Jesus.

 
Dave Dunbar is president of Biblical Seminary.  He has been married to Sharon for 42 years.  They have four grown children and six grand childreen

   

Written by Dr. Kyuboem Lee Monday, 09 January 2012 00:00

EDITOR'S NOTE:  For more on the subject of "incarnational ministry," see the blog of Biblical's President David Dunbar tomorrow {January 10}.

Among urban mission circles, there has been a history of utilizing the phrase “incarnational ministry” to speak of re-neighboring as a mission strategy. Christians who have sought to serve impoverished inner city neighborhoods would move into those communities to not only minister to those communities, but also to become a neighbor in every sense of the word, and minister with the community. Christian community developer Robert Lupton has termed this re-neighboring strategy: “return flight.”

The theological impetus was found in the Incarnation--the central Christian teaching that the eternal Word of God, the second Person of the Trinity, became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. God the Son took on the human condition fully by fully becoming human yet still remaining fully God. By the time you read this, Christians worldwide will have recently celebrated the Incarnation at Christmastime. And thus, as Christians, we follow Jesus, the eternal Word, who “became flesh and blood, and moved into our neighborhood” (as Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 in The Message).

But is such language legitimate? After all, the Incarnation is a never-to-be-repeated event centered around the one and only God-man Jesus Christ. We declare that there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved. We believe in the utter uniqueness of the one Mediator between God and humanity. Who could be like him, and who could do what he has done? If we talk about “incarnational ministry,” doesn’t it take away from the once-and-for-all nature of Christ’s Incarnation and his utterly unique nature as God-man (his hypostatic union, in the language of the creeds)?

A very good question, and one that needs to be answered much more fully than a blog post is able. But let me offer just a couple of beginnings and sketches of ideas in response which deserve much further treatment.

One, the nature of the church is unique in a way that is analogous to the unique nature of Christ. New Testament at various places calls the church “the body of Christ.” This is more than a figure of speech--it speaks of the unique nature of the church as the bodily presence of Christ in the world now. Christ, the Head of the church, resides physically in heaven, but his body, the church, imbued with his Spirit, lives and acts as Christ in the world. That’s why Luke can say as he begins the Book of Acts,“In my former book [the Gospel of Luke], Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”

The implication, of course, is that the subject matter of Acts is what Jesus continued to do and teach. But Jesus doesn’t make a physical appearance in Acts save in a few short paragraphs here and there. What could Luke mean? He is referring to what Jesus continued to do and teach through the church and through his Spirit who descended on the church at Pentecost and continues to indwell his body of believers now. The creation of the church, it could be said, is the whole point of Jesus’ work of redemption--so much so that Paul in Eph 3:8-10 declares that the work God is doing in and through the church is the mystery which has been hidden in the ages past but is now being revealed.

The church is indeed a marvelous creation. It is a group of fallen and fallible sinners, marred image-bearers, that is nevertheless indwelt by the very Spirit of God. It could even be said that the church has these two natures in hypostatic union, in much the same way Jesus was both fully God and fully man. The church is, in other words, a mystery that elicits the same kind of wonder and awe that Paul demonstrated in the Scriptures.

Two, the church is commissioned and sent into the world in the same way that Christ was commissioned and sent into our world. In John 20:21, the resurrected Christ breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples (the church) and declares, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” The mission of Christ continues in the ongoing mission of the church. And the way he was sent is to be Immanuel, God’s very presence with us--in other words, Incarnation. There is an analogy here for the church’s own sentness. As Jesus was the Word of God made flesh among us, so the church is Christ made flesh in the world.

To be sure, the church is not Christ himself... but we represent him; we are his ambassadors; we mediate the Lord and his revelation to those who need his redemptive work to be operational in their midst. So we cannot to carry out our mission in the ways that seem best to us. Rather, we are to carry out our mission in a way that is analogous to how Christ carried out his mission while he was bodily present on earth. In other words, we are to be incarnational. Thus we do not broadcast words only; in order to proclaim the gospel, we move in and get close to those we seek to serve and reach. We establish friendships and we participate in the life condition of those we have been sent to. We establish solidarity. We weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We become all things to all men so that by all possible means we might save some (1 Cor 9:22). That’s incarnational language.

One of the implications is that the church is commissioned to practice contextual theology. Because the God of the Scriptures is not a God who dictated his revelation from his heavenly throne room but rather a God who revealed himself in the most intimate way, by becoming one of us and embodying his revelation in the person of Christ, we as Christ’s body must go to the world and seek to theologize from within the cultures and neighborhoods and social groups, not dictate what God is like from the outside.

Much more needs to be said--the implications are tremendous!--and hopefully I will have more opportunities to do so in the future. But for now I hope I have demonstrated grounds for the legitimacy of “incarnational ministry.” And more than that, I hope I have whet our appetites for the manifestations of such wonderful theological treasures becoming enfleshed in our own churches and in our own lives, so that the mission of God may be realized among us to his glory. 

Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).

 

   

Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 04 January 2012 00:00

In Biblical's classrooms on its main campus in Hatfield and at its other location in North Philadelphia you can see diversity: men and women, various generations, multiple ethnicities, and more. You can hear diversity, too: in theological discussions, practical applications, case studies on justice and social issues, doctrinal perspectives, church traditions, and ministry contexts. These various kinds of diversity represent a slice of the diversity that is present in the worldwide expression of the Christian church. But sometimes diversity, especially theological and doctrinal diversity, can be uncomfortable for some Christians.

In October, Biblical's board of trustees approved a statement on men and women in theological education, which was earlier approved by Biblical's faculty. The purpose of the statement is to capture an ethos for theological education that is conducted in diverse classrooms. This ethos flows from the first learning goal of all of Biblical's degree programs: Students will cultivate grace-based, missional lives characterized by the fruit of the Spirit and love for God and others. The statement calls the Biblical community to respond to sometimes uncomfortable diversity among Christians with wisdom: respecting persons, seeking to understand, and desiring unity. The following is Biblical statement on men and women in theological education, crafted by a committee comprised of women and men from Biblical’s community: a board member, two faculty members, two staff members, and several women MDiv and MAC graduates. This committee found The Cape Town Commitment (Lausanne Movement) to be helpful in developing this statement.

Biblical's statement on men and women in theological education

As the Biblical Seminary community continues to live out its mission, it has become a diverse community of men and women of different races and from a variety of social, cultural, and denominational backgrounds, who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Within this diverse community there is a spectrum of views on the role of women in the church and a spectrum of practices. Some of our women students are missional leaders in their churches already—and at all levels. Others are pursuing theological education to prepare for such leadership responsibilities. For these, as for all of our students at different points on the spectrum, the Biblical community aims to be a place of respect and affirmation where students can flourish and increase in the wisdom and knowledge of our God, His mission, and their part in it. We have found the Lausanne Movement’s statement entitled "Men and Women in Partnership," [found on pages 45-47 of The Cape Town Commitment, below] to be a helpful expression of the charitable and grace-filled attitudes we seek to cultivate in our life together.

Men and women in partnership (from The Cape Town Commitment, drafted at the Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, October 2010)

Scripture affirms that God created men and women in his image and gave them dominion over the earth together. Sin entered human life and history through man and woman acting together in rebellion against God. Through the cross of Christ, God brought salvation, acceptance and unity to men and women equally. At Pentecost God poured out his Spirit of prophecy on all flesh, sons and daughters alike. Women and men are thus equal in creation, in sin, in salvation, and in the Spirit.

All of us, women and men, married and single, are responsible to employ God’s gifts for the benefit of others, as stewards of God’s grace, and for the praise and glory of Christ. All of us, therefore, are also responsible to enable all God’s people to exercise all the gifts that God has given for all the areas of service to which God calls the Church. We should not quench the Spirit by despising the ministry of any. Further, we are determined to see ministry within the body of Christ as a gifting and responsibility in which we are called to serve, and not as a status and right that we demand.

  1. We uphold Lausanne’s historic position: We affirm that the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to all God’s people, women and men, and that their partnership in evangelization must be welcomed for the common good.‟ We acknowledge the enormous and sacrificial contribution that women have made to world mission, ministering to both men and women, from biblical times to the present.
  2. We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men [1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35; Titus 2:3-5; Acts 18:26; 21:9; Romans 16:1-5, 7; Philippians 4:2-3; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 11:5; 14:3-5]. We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:
    1. Accept one another without condemnation in relation to matters of dispute, for while we may disagree, we have no grounds for division, destructive speaking, or ungodly hostility towards one another [Romans 14:1-13];
    2. Study Scripture carefully together, with due regard for the context and culture of the original authors and contemporary readers;
    3. Recognize that where there is genuine pain we must show compassion; where there is injustice and lack of integrity we must stand against them; and where there is resistance to the manifest work of the Holy Spirit in any sister or brother we must repent;
    4. Commit ourselves to a pattern of ministry, male and female, that reflects the servant hood of Jesus Christ, not worldly striving for power and status.
  3. We encourage churches to acknowledge godly women who teach and model what is good, as Paul commanded [Titus 2:3-5], and to open wider doors of opportunity for women in education, service, and leadership, particularly in contexts where the gospel challenges unjust cultural traditions. We long that women should not be hindered from exercising God’s gifts or following God’s call on their lives.

http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/men-and-women-in-theological-education

Dr. Sam Logan wrote an earlier blog post on the missional implications of Biblical’s statement here

Susan Disston is the assistant dean of curriculum and assessment at Biblical Seminary. She teaches project courses in the doctor of ministry program and in ESLPLUS. http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/adjunct-faculty-theology

   

Written by Dr. Charles Zimmerman Tuesday, 03 January 2012 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now? 

I thought that for my blog entries, I would contact former faculty members and provide an update on what they have been doing since they left Biblical and how they spend their time these days. 

Gary Cohen was the only member of the founding faculty that I never had as a teacher, in fact, I have never met him.  However, I have heard on good authority (Wayne Davidson) that he was not only good in the classroom; he was Wayne’s favorite seminary teacher. 

What years did you teach at Biblical? 

I taught at Biblical Sept 1971 to May 1976.  

What have you been doing since then? 

I spent 1976 -1981 as president of Graham Bible College, then at Clearwater Christian College.  I taught and served as Academic Dean at Miami Christian College, which became Trinity International University-Florida Regional Center, from 1981 to 2011.  There I was privileged to be voted in various years by the students as Most Merciful Professor and Most Humorous Professor.  I had the privilege to write eight books, be one of the translators of the NKJB, be a contributor to the OT Theological Word Book and the Christian Life Bible, as well as the Kirban Bible and the Red Letter Bible, published by R. Turner. I had the joy for about a dozen years to be a speaker for the Moody Prophetic Conferences held in churches around the United States.  The Lord allowed me to be an Army Chaplain (I joined as a private E-1 after college) and retired as CH (Colonel) USAR in 1992, and was also a graduate of the USAF Air War College. 

I have been connected to a zealous Korean work for some 20 years which has some 65 branches today. I have had the joy of speaking at their graduations in Osaka, Japan; Lima, Peru; Sao Paulo, Brazil, and other places as well as to teach in Miskolc, Hungary and Hong Kong.  With my family, we designed and built the prototype of the Jerusalem model which is at the Holy land Experience in Orlando.    I today have the joy of serving on the Boards of South Florida Bible College & Theological Seminary and of Zion's Hope, Clermont, FL. 

My wife Marion and I have been blessed with three fine Christian children and six grandchildren.  We now live in Clermont, FL near Disney World and I speak in churches and annually in Glendale, CA and at the Park of the Pines Bible Conference, between Seattle and Tacoma, WA. There, of course, have been difficulties, but we thank the Lord for His gracious presence through the years. 

Tell a favorite memory from your Biblical days

When I taught Introduction to Greek at Biblical, I would ask students to put an assigned sentence, English to Greek, from Machen's text on the board for the class to examine. We had two major rules: viz., once you put your marking pen down and took your seat, you were not allowed to return to the board again to make any changes, and the sentence had to be your own work. I would often offer some small award to any student who placed a sentence on the board with no mistakes. This was a rare feat as the sentences in Machen could be tricky, and for instructional purposes, we only asked students to put the more difficult ones on the board.  One day one of the students, as he took his seat, boldly declared to the class that he had put a mistake-free sentence on the board.  To that I raised the offered reward, which was an automatic 'A' for the next quiz and you didn't have to take the quiz. With clapping of hands and broad smiles the student glowed with joy and assurance.  I still recall, however, that I had spotted a misspelling, of all places, in the last letter of his last word! As I publicly analyzed the sentence, our confident student, with boastful words, took delight as I commended his work word by word as we progressed. Then as we came to the final word, he gave what sounded like the howl of a wounded wolf!  He saw it at the end of his last word. I still recall the shouts of the entire class at that "learning moment."     

Contact information:  drgarygc42@yahoo.com

Cordial regards to all at Biblical.  May our Lord continue to bless you!  Gary Cohen, Mark 10:45

Please add a funny or serious story that you have that includes Dr. Cohen. 

Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.  See alsohttp://biblical.edu/index.php/charles-zimmerman

   

Written by Professor Steve Taylor Monday, 02 January 2012 00:00

Note to the reader: This is the second in a series of blogs on reading the Bible as a biblical theological unity. I will be arguing, in the series, that the most stable foundation for a biblical- theological use of the Bible is a missional hermeneutic shaped by “Christotelic”vision of God’s ways in revelatory and redemptive history. These and other terms and concepts will be defined, described, and illustrated in subsequent posts; but now some historical context is in order:   

 
Most Christian who are able to spend extended time in the scriptures sooner or later experience a kind of bafflement. Passages like Psalm 89, discussed in the previous post, throw us for a loop. A careful and honest reading of such passages—and there are many of them—reveals tensions, twists and turns that seem incompatible with a high view of the Bible as God’s perfect word.

An Old Perplexity

You and I aren’t the first to feel such tensions! The issue has actually dogged the Christian community almost from the very beginning. While we will be devoting several later posts to the question of how New Testament writers experienced and dealt with the cognitive dissonance born of this Biblical diversity (whew, that’s a mouth full), suffice it to say now that the earliest “Christians,” who were all Jews or very much aware of being part of a Jewish movement, all assumed that the God who raised Jesus from the dead was the same God who had acted in the story of Israel and spoken through Moses and the prophets. Tensions between biblical (=Old Testament) texts or surprising developments in God’s story with his people (e.g., who would have thought that the Davidic Messiah was to die a cursed death on a Roman cross?) were held together or resolved literally in God’s climactic action in Jesus Christ. In Jesus the Messiah, the disparate plot lines of Israel’s story were seen to converge. Indeed, Jesus was understood to be Israel herself in some eschatological sense. As Paul put it to the Ephesian Christians, God had recently, “in accord with his gracious plan put forth in the Messiah, revealed the mystery of his will as a climactic strategy to gather up all things in heaven and on earth into one head, namely the Messiah!” (Eph 1:9-10). The earliest Christians, then, interpreted their Bibles within a narratival unity underwritten by the breath-taking climax of that narrative, a climax that in one way or another “gathered up” all the loose strings and  mysterious pieces.

Second Century Complications

This interpretive consensus was sorely tested after the first couple of generations, however. During the last decades of the first century, the Christ-movement underwent a massive demographic shift; what had been a primarily a Jewish movement became a Gentile one, and the conviction of one story lost some of its luster. The Psidian stonemason in the house church  in Iconium could hardly relate to Israel’s story and the intellectuals in his culture quested for a more stable and enduring unity than that offered by contingent events of history.

Moreover, the Jews who met in the synagogue down the street weren’t about to give up ownership of their story or of their Bible. They argued, with some persuasiveness (which we will have to feel later), that the Bible was about them and for them not about Jesus the crucified Nazarene or for his pagan acolytes.  When an early second century bishop named Ignatius passed through Asia Minor (the areas reached by Paul’s mission) on his way to an appointment with Roman executioners, he met church members who were confused by Jewish claims. They challenged him with the following argument: “If is not in spelled out in the founding documents (i.e., the Old Testament) , we won’t be believe it as part of the gospel!” Ignatius’s “Well, it is in the founding documents” received the sarcastic retort, “That’s precisely the question, isn’t it?” Baffled by this attitude, Ignatius proclaimed, “For me, the ‘founding documents’ are Jesus Christ!” There is something properly compelling in his answer, but it needed fuller articulation given the pressures of the times.

A Heretical Response

The Christian use of a unified Bible was indeed under intense pressure on all sides. Some within the broader Christian movement simply gave up: they concluded that the scriptures embodied no unity at all, that they actually stemmed from two different gods!  This is the route taken in the second century by a teacher in the church of Rome named Marcion. He was thrown out as a heretic!

Reading according to the Rule of Faith

Most Christians clung to the unity of scripture and of the God who inspired it by formalizing a reading strategy. To begin with, these Christians gradually developed a summary of the highest points of the narrative, a set of non-negotiables within the plot-line: the oneness of the Creator God with the God revealed in Jesus; the major events of Jesus’ life and his second coming at the end of the story; and the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the “catholic Church.” Similarities of this summary to the Apostles’ and the Nicene creeds are not accidental! Henceforth, all true interpretations of Scripture had to be consistent with this summary, this “Rule of Faith.”

This arrangement did provide a measure of theological stability and richness for Christian hermeneutics but at some cost: the wonderful but troublesome complexity of the narrative was tamed by the Rule and frequent preemptive appeals to the Rule constituted a tacit but programmatic admission that the reading of scripture could notbe on its own terms but had to be ruled-governed . This “ruled reading” was fine as long as the “Rule of Faith” remained a summary of the narratival highpoints of the scriptures themselves, but what if the Rule developed beyond a narrative summary into a complex system of doctrine or a body of tradition? How could scripture ever correct the tradition?

Figurative Interpretation: Typology and Allegory

And there was another weakness in this arrangement. Since the Rule of Faith was a summary of highpoints, it was always vulnerable to fresh discovery of the more numerous “low points” in the story. There were many particulars within the story that this “ruled reading” simply could not directly process. How were these to be handled, if they could not be ignored? Here second century interpreters turned to the method of figurative interpretation, a method already employed by Greek philosophers seeking to mine the stories of Homer and by Jewish scholars seeking to defend the Bible. The basic idea was that the speech of the deity was by nature irreducibly rich in meaning and therefore highly symbolic. Not an unreasonable assumption! Readers of scripture had to be sensitive to the fact that they were treading through a field of symbols. Thus, in the difficult or the odd particulars of scripture, Christians could see, in symbolic form, the great truths of the faith. But what truths? Well, those already enshrined in the Rule of Faith, of course.

For as long as the Rule of Faith remained simple and narratival, the figurative reading of scripture dealt primarily with pre-figurations or types. The great expositors of scripture during the second century, folks like Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon, and Melito, the bishop of Sardis, were primarily concerned to layout how players, events, and institutions in the Old Testament pointed forward to the great archetype, Christ. But here and there, there were Christian interpreters who presaged a broader, more static, and at times, more capricious symbolic reading. For example, the unknown author of what is known as The Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 120 C.E.) found in the number of Abraham’s servants, given in Genesis 14:14 as precisely 318, clear reference to Jesus and his cross. He explains that the meaning of this and other symbols “are clear to us [Christians], but obscure to them [the Jews], because they did not hear the Lord’s voice.” This writer was less interested with correspondences between earlier and later elements in the biblical story than he was in establishing a Christian meaning for every aspect of the Old Testament. Details were to be taken allegorically, as symbols for Christian spiritual truths.

The Hermeneutical Legacy of the Second Century

Thus the second century bequeathed to the later church three powerful hermeneutical tools to stave off bafflement: a Rule of Faith, the concept of a “ruled reading” constrained by the Rule of Faith, and a method of figurative reading that encompassed both typological and allegorical interpretation. Would the later church find these sufficient or problematic? How about you? 

   

Written by Justin Gohl Friday, 23 December 2011 00:00

Perhaps it would be fair to say that evangelicals have historically been suspicious of pragmatic and/or consequentialist understandings of truth—that truth is in some significant way determined by “what works” or by the effects of a given thing. Rather, we would say, if something is true, it simply is that, and while certain effects may naturally and appropriately flow from this truth, the effects are materially separate from the “truth-status” of the content of an idea, action, etc., itself.

And this suspicion is for good reason: humans are sinful and broken, quite adept at justifying after the fact that which is in fact sinful and self-serving, with “look, it worked” or “look at the results” reasoning.

Evangelical discussions of Scripture and its interpretation have been an especially poignant expression of this set of convictions about truth. Scripture and its contents are true, it is emphasized, regardless of what we say about it or what we do with it, because of how God relates to Scripture.

And certainly that baseline can and must be affirmed by Christians: Scripture’s truth is a function of God himself, not in any way contingent upon our response.

Yet, why can prominent early church figures make statements such as these?

Tertullian, for example, suggests that, “To know nothing in opposition to the rule [of faith] is to know all things” (Prescription Against Heretics 14 [ANF 3.250]).

Augustine, on the other hand, suggests that, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them such that it does not build up the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all” (On Christian Teaching I.40).

For Tertullian, the truth of Scripture (and all things) is something discerned when the reader comes to Scripture (and reality) with the “hermeneutical glasses” of the Apostles’ Creed (= Rule of Faith). Scripture’s “content” is ultimately nothing more or less than what Christians affirm as they confess the Triune God, the redemption wrought in Jesus, the Church’s calling, the creation of the world and the consummation of all things at the end of time.

For Augustine, the truth of Scripture finds expression when we read it in such a way that we are moved to love God and our neighbors. If our readings of Scripture fail in this ultimate purpose, they are “false,” no matter the truth of the “content” of what we say about or deduce from Scripture.

What these two expressions share is the idea of participation. The truth of Scripture’s “content” is not “objectively accessible,” for if it were, then there would be no need for the Church to distinguish between orthodox and heretical readings of it—exactly what Tertullian is writing to address. Rather, accessing the truth of Scripture requires coming to it in and through what the Church together confesses (on the basis of Scripture itself, of course). So also with Augustine: Scripture’s truth is again not an objective reality but is understood in terms of how God uses Scripture—to make us lovers and seekers of God and of our neighbors. That is, Scripture’s truth must be understood in connection with the purposes for which God gave Scripture to the Church and our participation in this purpose.

Obviously, none of this is based on the assumption that there is no such thing as truth. Rather, the focus is on the fact that how we access truth is through participation in the Truth (Jn 14.6, with John 1.1-5), and that both the goal and the effect of this participation is our transformation. It is such that we can then “do the truth” (1 Jn 1.6). When our lives are shaped by both the content and effects of Scripture, as these participate in the life and work of the Triune God, we become the truth of Scripture/Law, as Origen of Alexandria suggests (Commentary on Romans 3.6.5 [Scheck]):

We have said above that God is about to enter into judgment with men (cf. Rom 3.19-20). Suppose that someone should object to us that we seem to be saying that God himself is under law. Listen to what great caution is found in this connection in the letters of the Apostle [Paul], who relates that Christ is not under the law but is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 10.4). And just as he himself is the righteousness through which all become righteous (cf. 1 Cor 1.30); and he is the truth through which all stand firm in the truth (cf. Jn 14.6); and he himself is the life through which all live (cf. Jn 1.4; 14.6); so also he himself is the law through which all are under the law. He [Christ] comes to the judgment (as Judge), then, not as one who is under the law but as one who is law. But I think that even those who are already perfect and, by being united with the Lord, have become one spirit with him (cf. 1 Cor 6.17) are themselves not under law but are themselves law. This is precisely what this same Apostle says in another place, “The law has not been laid down for the just” (1 Tim 1.9).

Or, reflecting the present season of Advent/Christmas, the famous gospel song-writer Gloria Gaither presents the Incarnation as something in which we are to participate:

My heart would be your Bethlehem
A shelter for your birth
My body be your dwelling place
A sacred temple on this earth
By holy intervention, an act of love divine
In union with mortality, make incarnation mine. 

My heart, my will, my mind, my all
I consecrate to bring
The holy Son of God to earth
O let the angels sing.

 May it be so!


Justin Gohl is an adjunct professor of theology at Biblical. He is married to Kate, his wife of 7 years, and is a full-time stay-at-home dad with two kids, Caleb (2) and Phoebe (1). He is ABD at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where he is in the latter stages of writing his dissertation on the early church’s use of the Book of Proverbs.

  

   

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