Thursday, November 18, 2010

How much of the Bible should I obey? Part 3

Is the Bible headed anywhere? What I mean is, how can something written before the Internet and iPhones be relevant in any way especially when it comes to topics dealing with culture and society? After all, the world and lifestyles of those in it looked infinitely different when Paul, Moses, David, John, and about sixty other dudes sat down and wrote the books that we now believe to be the Word of God. How does it still apply and better yet, how do I interpret in a way so that I can apply it correctly.

Here's something that will help tremendously. See the Bible through a lens called a redemptive-movement framework. Let me explain:


During biblical times slavery was common and slaves were treated very poorly. Then Moses came along and wrote down some commands from God that went against how society treated and viewed slaves. For example, the people of Israel were told to be a safe haven for run away and escaped slaves fleeing harsh treatment in some other country. Rules about how harshly you could punish a slave were put in place and every 6 years slaves were to be given their freedom back. (It's important to note that the form of slavery here was fundamentally different than the forced slavery of Africans in early America). Do you see the redemptive movement taking place. If we continue on down the path towards an ultimate ethic concerning slavery we reach a place where slavery is altogether eliminated and all working conditions are improved. Bosses (those in authority) treat their employees with dignity and respect. Employees work as if they are working unto the Lord and there is harmony at all levels of an organization.


View the treatment and rights of women through this same lens; follow the trajectory that Scripture sets out for them. From a society and culture that views women as property to and ultimate ethic of complementarianism: the idea that while men and women have equal value and status before God, they have distinct, God-given roles and responsibilities when it comes to the home, family, and the church.

So when trying to  determine which commands to obey and how they are to be obeyed given our context and culture, you have to allow the redemptive spirit of the text to carry forward the unrealized or frozen-in-time aspects of a biblical ethic" (taken from Slaves, Women and Homosexuality by William Webb. An odd title, but a book I strongly recommend.)

Holy Kisses

Let's take one of the commands from our list and apply this idea to see what "we should do with" this command.

"Greet one another with a holy kiss." Romans 16.16
"Greet one another with a holy kiss." 1 Corinthians 16.20
"Greet one another with a holy kiss." 2 Corinthians 13.12
"Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss." 1 Thessalonians 5.26
"Greet one another with a kiss of love." 1 Peter 5.14

At least five times the bible commands its reader to greet one another with a holy kiss. So where are all the holy kisses? I never get any. Why do we not obey or follow this command?

Let's look at it though our two steps: The cultural component and the redemptive-movement.

1. What is the cultural component of this text and what is the tran-scultural component? In New Testament times a holy kiss encouraged and demonstrated community and closeness within a body of believers. Paul and Peter were basically saying, "You guys should be tight. There should be obvious amounts of brotherly love in a room where you all are gathered. Lots of holy kissing!" So the cultural component of this text is the kiss. The physical act of kissing a brother (in a brotherly, heterosexual way) to manifest the love felt among believers. Fruit of the Spirit type love.

The transcultural component, the idea behind the text that transcends culture and time is that Christians should be known by their love for one another. Self-sacrificial love. Now it would be distasteful and a bit awkward for outsiders in our culture and society if they saw Christians kissing each other during church. The message wouldn't be communicated properly. Obeying this command in our context would have the fulfill the exact opposite purpose for which it was commanded. So, we read this text and apply it properly by giving out lots of hugs and handshakes. Greet each other warmly and affectionately. "After all, this is how people will know you are my disciples" says Jesus.

Be Careful

Now understand that this is just a singular example and there are many different criteria to follow as you are interpreting. I want you to understand the delicacy and precision one must operate as they apply text. The pastor I mentioned in part 1 took this idea and used it to argue (incorrectly) that homosexuality is a form of sexual expression that the Scriptures don't prohibit.

The trajectory that Scripture sets for homosexuality does not terminate to an ultimate ethic where it is permissible. It always has a negative assessment of this behavior. The redemptive spirit Scripture sets is directed toward how we as believers treat and understand those who commit this sin. We pursue them in love with the same grace and mercy that our Lord extended when he offered himself as a sacrifice for their iniquities.

Try one for yourself: "If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him." I Corinthians 11.14 What do you do with this verse?

Sorry. Just realized this was a long post. Thanks for hanging in there and I hope it was helpful.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How much of the Bible should I obey? Part 2

"The times, they are a changing." And as culture seems to be rapidly shifting around us, as Christians should we endorse these changes or should we challenge them? Let me give you some examples.

In 1960

Cohabitation: 450,000 thousand unmarried couples lived together. Today it's around 4.5 million.
Abortion: 292 babies were aborted. In 2005 there were 1.2 million.
Divorce: one in five marriages ended in divorce. Today it's almost one in two.
Homosexuality: the DSM (Diagnosis Manual of Mental Disorders) listed homosexuality among the sociopathic personality disturbances. Today 52% of Americans believe it is "morally acceptable"

Okay so what does all this have to do with understanding and interpreting Scripture. Well, a lot. As cultural views and norms on these issues change, so will views and thoughts about what the Bible has to say about these very issues.

Perfect example, about two weeks ago the pastor of a mega-church in Georgia came-out to his congregation and then told them the Bible doesn't condemn homosexuality. He went through every verse in the Bible that mentions homosexuality and interpreted each one in a way that permits his life-style. "Gay is okay."

Can you see how important it is to know and understand which verses "we leave behind" due to cultural components compared to those "we take with us" and continue to follow even as culture presses against them!  To do this and apply the Bible correctly, you must figure out the cultural components and trans-cultural components of any given passage. Listen people, social change will influence the way we interpret and apply Scripture. You will have to know and argue when that influence goes too far and permits behavior that trans-culturally, the Bible condemns!

Remember the list of commands from the previous blog? Some of these orders have a cultural component so we have left them behind. Some have a tran-scultural component so we take them with matter how different our world is from the world in which the text was written.

With this in mind, go through the list again and identify the ones you this we take with us and the ones we leave behind.

Good job. This is Step 1 in correct interpretation. Step 2 requires you to back up and view the entire Bible through what we call a  redemptive-movement hermeneutic framework.

I'll explain what that is tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How much of the Bible should I obey?

If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him.
Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.
Do not turn away from the one who want to borrow from you.
Be fruitful and multiply.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Women should remain silent in churches.
Go and make disciples of all nations.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

All of the commands above are in the Bible. Does this mean I am sinning if I don't obey them? Do I need to cut my hair, stop looking for a wife, and start kissing in favor of a handshake. It clearly says in Leviticus that a man shall not lay with another man, condemning homosexuality. Case closed right? But in the very same book, one chapter later, the Bible commands its reader not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. We choose to obey and preach one passage, but neglect and toss out another. Why?

It's all about Hermeneutics, baby.

Don't let that word scare you. All it means is the art of interpretation. Quick Greek mythology lesson for you: Hermes was a mythological Greek deity whose role was that of a messenger of the gods. He was a mediator between the gods and humanity. His name literally meant "to translate" or "to interpret". The idea was, because the gods were gods and man was man, they had a language barrier. A "failure to communicate" if you will. Hermes would reveal (and also conceal) messages between the gods and man. Without Hermes explaining what the gods meant in "human" terms, mankind would be clueless as to what they were actually trying to say.

So when we use the word Hermeneutics, we're talking about the art and act of studying a passage to uncover, dig up, and present the correct interpretation or meaning of a text.

Now, back to our original question. Why do we continue to apply certain biblical text in their fullness but not others? Or, how do I determine which parts of the biblical text should apply today and which should not?

Well, it's going to require you to do some homework. You're gonna have to be like Hermes. First you'll have to understand the role that culture plays in this task. Second, you'll have to ask yourself, "Self, what is the framework with which I view, read, and interpret my Bible?" You may not even realize you have one, but you do. And I believe what scholars call a redemptive-movement framework is the best lens through which to read the Bible if we want to develop an answer to the question about modern application of the Scriptures.

Tomorrow, we will pick up things up by talking about the role that culture plays in our interpretation of the Bible.

Till then, greet one another with a holy kiss.

Monday, November 15, 2010

it is finished.

...meditating on john 19 this morning. Before Jesus dies (verse 30), he cries out "it is finished". What is finished? 

Hebrews 10 gives us the answer:

11And every priest stands(N) daily at his service,(O) offering repeatedly the same sacrifices,(P) which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he(Q) sat down at the right hand of God,

I always like to sit down after finishing something. Mowing the lawn, 40 minutes of indoor soccer at AI, a P90X work out (confession-I only did 3 of these so P3X)...sitting just feels like the right thing to do after a job is completed.

Jesus finished what he came to do (John 17.4) and sat down at the right hand of God. And what a work he did! Offering himself, for all time, as a single sacrifice for sins. I think I could chew on those three words all day and not for a moment get tired of repeating them to myself:

It is finished, It is finished, It is finished.

with three words from the cross my debt was diminished
Christ breathing out his last, cries aloud "It is finished"