Prepositions

I am getting really tired of the theological misuse of prepositions. Today I listened to a theologian tell me yet again that the Bible is not about me. Correct: I am neither a character in scripture, nor am I personally a major theme. The Bible is not about me; it is for me. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction…”  “Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” Etc.

We get the same problem with “for” and “to.” “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous…”  “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace…” Jesus came for sins, for adoption, to praise. The glory is an after effect, not the primary purpose. Was God short of glory and praise, that he created the world?

Then again, maybe it’s just the word “for” that theologians have trouble with.

On that point, probably not much

2 Peter 2:1

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bringin destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

I take this to mean that false teaching in the church replaces the danger posed by false prophets in the old covenant. From that premise, I think it’s safe to conclude that teaching in general replaces prophecy as God’s primary means of communicating to his people. You can see this in church history: where prophecy has been practiced, its influence has been insignificant compared to teaching in the church.

However, you can’t conclude that therefore prophecy has ceased. Was there no teaching in the old covenant? I think a better conclusion is that prophecy and teaching switch places in terms of relevance. Formerly, false teaching was relatively less significant, because any new doctrine would have to be ratified by prophecy, or it would be considered prophecy, and subject to prophetic tests. Now, any prophetic word has to be ratified by the guardians of church doctrine, or it is considered teaching and is subject to doctrinal tests.

The result should be that we are relatively free with prophecy and relatively reserved with our teaching. Suppose a man prophesies that it will rain on Wednesday, and lo! it doesn’t rain. Is he a false prophet? Not really. He’s a silly man, attempting to be obedient to the scripture that says to pursue prophecy. He should be advised that he blew it, but to keep trying. Suppose again that a man teaches that no one may prophesy regarding rain on Wednesdays. Well that man might well be on his way to becoming a false teacher. He should be answered directly, on doctrinal grounds, paying close attention to how great a risk, really, he poses to the life of the church.

That famous bugaboo

1 Peter 1:3 –  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

I know a number of catechisms and various resources, all of which teach that holy scripture gives us everything that we need pertaining to life and godliness.  But if you look at the text in scripture where that teaching comes from, you see that it says nothing of the sort.  Peter says that His (that is, Jesus’) divine power has given us everything we need, but he doesn’t tell us the exact mechanism.

The key difference is that the point of the text is to give you confidence that you have everything you need, and to place that confidence in the appropriate object of our faith: Jesus Christ.  The point of the teaching is to narrow the means that Jesus has of giving you what you need to a specific source of information – scripture.

Now I want to affirm all the usual assertions about the authority and inerrancy of scripture.  All those things are true.  But we don’t bolster the authority of scripture when we go beyond the text to reach for an assertion about it’s authority.  That actually undermines the text, because you are asserting something extra that you didn’t exactly get from scripture.  Worse, that little extra piece doesn’t even come from some extra-biblical source that is actually recommended in scripture, such as church leaders, or a prophetic word.  No, that extra bit came from that famous bugaboo of theological error, “your tradition.”

No Tresspassing!

Aaron Denlinger on John Calvin on Theological Trespassing.   I don’t know that the term “trespassing” is helpful – it carries with it the image of someone sitting on his front porch with a shotgun – but the concept is useful.

It’s no sin to ask questions about things which scripture doesn’t clearly answer.  But the answer should take the form of, “Maybe X, maybe Y, maybe Z, but scripture doesn’t say.”  That’s basically what Paul does in Romans 9:22.  It’s helpful to dip your toe in a couple of theological maybes. It expands the imagination and reminds us that God has his reasons, which are perfectly good, whatever they are.  But moving from “maybe” to “clearly” generally results in us saying something foolish and insulting about God.  My mom always says that all heresy involves taking what is clear in scripture to its obvious conclusion.  I have no idea who she’s quoting.

(HT: Challies)

Theology Ruins Everything

I was just listening to a very nice worship song that I’ve had for a while now, when the line comes up that says, “I’ve been looking for a deeper place when we can finally be as one.” And I thought, really?  when we can finally be as one?  You haven’t found that deeper place yet?  Are you in Christ or aren’t you?  What was your baptism for, then?  Look, mate, you have the Holy Spirit, the first fruits of your identity in Christ. You’re supposed to take the rest of it on faith.  That’s why the feeling of intimacy isn’t always there – so you can lean on His word instead.  Look man, you only undermine your faith when you look to the wrong things to sustain it.  The Christian walk is designed to thrive on a taste and a promise.

Consequently, this song, or at least that line, has been ruined for me.  Thank you, theology.

Tongues and Interpretation

I’m not sure what brought it to mind, but I’ve been thinking lately about the best example I ever saw of tongues and interpretation in a church setting.

In the church I went to in high school, we usually had a few pauses in the worship service that were sort of designed for an interruption from the congregation.  I’m pretty sure they were put there on purpose, but they always seemed like a natural selah in the singing.  That was the designated time for prophecy.  Sometimes it would be the pastor, or another elder, sometimes a member of the youth.  They would speak, the elders would lead the congregation in response if it was necessary, and the music would resume.

Occasionally, from the last or second to last row, this couple would rise, holding hands.  It was very striking, because he was a black man, with great bright eyes and a beaming smile, and she looked as though she might have been a combination of Inuit and Welsh.  First she would speak, in a tongue that sounded something like Chinese, her closed eyes rapidly fluttering, her hand clamped hard on her husband’s.  When she was done, there would wait a second or two, and then her husband would open his eyes and begin to give the interpretation, always comfort and encouragement, with a voice on the verge of rejoicing.

I always thought how convenient it must be, to always bring your interpreter along with you.  Paul doesn’t give the prophets any favors in his passage about decency and order.  If a person prophesies and another person interrupts him, the one who was interrupted should give ground to the person who so rudely interrupted.  The one who speaks in tongues, apparently, has the responsibility of ensuring that an interpreter is there.  No interpreter?  He should keep it to himself.

I think this places an even greater burden of charity on the congregation (and thereby on the elders as well) to plan ahead.  Do you believe that these Spirit-led utterances are supposed to be a normal part of the service?  You do well to set parameters and practice.  Without parameters, you will get chaos, and your primary means of guiding the church in these things will be stamping out the disorder.  Without practice, having stamped out the disorder, you get… nothing.  Your service will be identical to our brothers in the cessationist camp, broken up by six-month swings into Pentecostal hysteria.