The Reliability and Inspiration of the Bible

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A page containing Ephesians 4:1-11 from manuscript p46. 

There is great value in affirming biblical inspiration even though the original documents do not exist today. By affirming that the original text is inspired, the believer acknowledges that God’s original revelation is perfect and inspired, despite the variations of men that may be found among the extant manuscripts. Furthermore, the believer is motivated by the assertion of inspiration to discover the original words of Scripture and to trust what God has revealed in them. This is a reasonable undertaking since we do not need the physical autographs to ascertain the original words but we do have more than adequate manuscript evidence and a proven methodology which can ascertain the original text.

While some have despaired because the original documents of Scripture are not extant today, this concern is unfounded. It is not necessary to possess the physical originals to know the original text of Scripture. God did not inspire the physical materials used to transmit His words, He inspired the words themselves. There is nothing about the original papyrus or ink which is necessary to having certainty of the words of Scripture, it must simply be demonstrated that we have access to the same words faithfully copied and preserved.

When considering the modern situation in which believers are reliant on translations from copied manuscripts, it is helpful to consider the situation of Jesus and the apostles themselves. Neither Jesus nor his apostles had access to the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament commonly used in their day was the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. Yet, not only did Jesus and the apostles freely use the Septuagint, they freely and unreservedly quoted from it and regarded the Septuagint itself as Scripture. In fact, the majority of Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament come from the Septuagint.[1] The fact that Jesus and the New Testament authors regarded the copies and translations of the Old Testament available to them as Scripture, should give the believer assurance that God has likewise preserved His Word for modern readers.

God has providentially allowed believers today to possess an embarrassment of riches where manuscript evidence of the New Testament is concerned. Today there are approximately 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament available today.[2] This is in addition to the thousands of witnesses among the ancient versions in Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and other languages and to the quotations from the Patristic writings.[3] Among the papyrus evidence are some manuscripts which date to the second century A.D.[4]

The modern reading of the Old Testament is likewise dependent on extant manuscript evidence. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a major discovery in 1947 which greatly bolstered the manuscript evidence for the Old Testament. Prior to their discovery, the Old Testament text was dependent upon the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Leningrad Codex, the Aleppo Codex and the Nash Papyrus. The Dead Sea Scrolls were comprised of approximately 800 manuscripts dating from around 250 B.C to 50 A.D.[5] Believers have great reason to place confidence in the manuscript evidence available today.

While there are variations within the manuscripts currently extant, the original text of both the Old and New Testaments may be ascertained with staggering certainty when the process of textual criticism has been applied to the manuscript evidence. Textual criticism involves evaluating the various readings in light of the quality and age of the manuscripts, the widespread presence of the reading, the context of the passage and the style and vocabulary of the writer, and other factors. By critically evaluating the texts in this way, the original reading of the text may be asserted with confidence. Wayne Grudem effectively summarizes the confidence which believers can have in their Bible:

“For most practical purposes, then, the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament are the same as the original manuscripts… Thus, our present manuscripts are for most purposes the same as the original manuscripts, and the doctrine of inerrancy therefore directly concerns our present manuscripts as well.”[6]

Grudem further asserts the reliability of the modern text of the Bible, “…it may first be stated that for over 99 percent of the words of the Bible, we know what the original manuscript said.”[7] The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was drafted in 1978 and stands for many evangelicals as a full and faithful statement on the inerrancy of Scripture. The absence of the autographs does not affect inerrancy according to the Chicago Statement:

“Article X: We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.  We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.”[8]

Even Bart Ehrman, who denies the inspiration of the Bible, recognizes that the vast majority of textual variants do not seriously alter the text,

“To be sure, of all the hundreds of thousands of textual changes found among our manuscripts, most of them are completely insignificant, immaterial, and of no real importance for anything other than showing that scribes could not spell or keep focused any better than the rest of us.”[9]

            There is much value in affirming inspiration and there is great reason for doing so even though the autographs of Scripture do not survive to this day. While the physical materials are not extant, the content of those autographs do survive in the great manuscript evidence that God has providentially preserved for us. While there are variants among the manuscripts, these are mistakes of men, not of God. We may affirm that the original documents remain the Word of God, and through the work of textual criticism, we may confidently arrive at the text of the original documents. Inasmuch as the original text has been recovered, we may therefore, regard those texts as inspired and wherever questions remain, our affirmation of divine inspiration should motivate us to deduce the original reading through examination of the manuscripts.

[1] Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003, 436.

[2] Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 52.

[3] The patristic quotations are so thorough that Metzger states, “Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone for the reconstruction of practically the entire New Testament.” Ibid, 2005, 126.

[4] 𝔓4, 𝔓64, 𝔓67, and 𝔓75 date to the late 2nd century, while 𝔓52 dates to the early 2nd century. Metzger Ibid., 53-61.

[5] Kaiser, Walter C. The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant?Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2001, 41.

[6] Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, 96.

[7] Ibid., 96.

[8] Ibid., 1206.

[9] Ehrman, Bart D. Misquoting Jesus. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, 204.

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Five Core-Truths of Christianity

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I was recently asked to provide five basic beliefs which summarize my Christian faith. After much thought, I arrived at these five central Christian truths.

The Inspiration and Sufficiency of Scripture – The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. We must trust the Bible as God’s Word or our faith has no foundation.

The Triune God – There is one God, revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit each with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence or being.

The Person and work of Jesus Christ – Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the royal descendant of David, the virgin-born son of Mary, the only sinless person who ever lived, and the eternal Son of God – being literally God in human form. Jesus preached and performed miracles for three years, was arrested and crucified in Jerusalem, rose from the dead three days later, and ascended to heaven from where he will soon return to earth. Jesus provides the only means of salvation for us; the atonement provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This free gift of redemption is available for all who believe.

The Sovereignty of God – God is in control of human history and is guiding human history to the foretold culmination of the return of Jesus, the final judgment, and the restoration of creation. Without realizing that God is in control, we have no hope in the world and will never make sense of apparent evil (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).

The True Church and Her Mission – Jesus is the head of the Church, which is composed of all believers. According to His commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into local churches, and each local church possesses authority and responsibility to worship, administer the ordinances, and fulfill the Great Commission.

Five Lessons from Dangerous Calling

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I recently read Paul David Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling. This book is essential reading for vocational ministers and helpful reading for anyone who serves in ministry. Here are five lessons I took away from my reading.

Pastors must beware of mastering theology without experiencing transformation. Tripp says “Bad things happen when maturity is more defined by knowing than it is by being. Danger is afloat when you come to love the ideas more than the God whom they represent and the people they are meant to free” (42). Developing the personal discipline of worship and devotional Scripture reading is necessary to avoid becoming all head and no heart.

Pastors must beware the danger of living two separate lives: one life in the ministry and another life at home. Tripp offers five practical suggestions later in the book for “closing the separation gap.” Tripp instructs to “sit under your own teaching and preaching”, “confess publicly to your own struggle”, “place yourself under wise and biblical counsel”, “be approachable to your friends and family”, and “build a humbly candid leadership community” (209-212). While every pastor and leader will fall short of the very standard they proclaim occasionally, this type of lifestyle can never be tolerated by a Christian leader.

A pastor’s ministry is shaped by the condition of his heart. While training, knowledge, and experience all are significant factors which shape one’s ministry, Tripp correctly observes that “The heart is the inescapable X factor in ministry” (68). It is easy to measure ministry by metrics which ignore the heart condition of the minister, and we do this too often. This truth correlates with the essential oneness of the pastor. Tripp says, “You are one person. The boundaries of life and ministry are not separate and defined. You do not become a different person when you step into some kind of ministry function. You and I are each in possession of only one heart, so the condition of our heart is a huge issue in our ministry. I know this seems blatantly obvious, but I’m afraid it is not so functionally obvious in our churches” (188). The realization that all ministry is essentially the outflow of my personal spiritual condition is a sobering fact, and one that drives me to pursue holiness and devotion to God.

Whatever motivations or “treasures” the pastor has will determine his ministry. Tripp states that our ministries are shaped by our treasures, or motivations. If we treasure the wrong things, we will lead our ministries incorrectly. “Things like appreciation, reputation, success, power, comfort, and control become all too important. Because they are too important to me, they begin to shape the way I think about ministry, the things I want out of my ministry, and the things I do in ministry” (99). Tripp further states that “your ministry will always be either propelled by or victimized by what you treasure” (103).

The pastor’s ministry will be opposed by the forces of Satan. This seems like a simple and fundamental truth that does not need repeating, but we often conduct our ministries as though we are in a neutral playing field. Tripp says, “It’s sad and dangerous, but it’s true that many of us have taken on a functionally unspiritual view of our ministries… There is a devouring Devil. You need to be serious and watchful.” (218-219). Sometimes we minister as though we are merely working with human factors and realities. This can lead to undue frustration when things do not go as we want them to go. We need to realize that God has given us a divine task that will be opposed by Satan. We should expect opposition and hardship.

I highly recommend Dangerous Calling if you are currently involved in ministry or are seeking to enter the ministry. Tripp highlights several danger zones that can destroy a ministry or even worse, destroy a home.

The Role of Scripture in the 2017 Inauguration Ceremony

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President Donald Trump was sworn into office with his hand on two Bibles. The Bible of Abraham Lincoln, which Barack Obama also used for his ceremony and a Bible given to Donald Trump by his mother. Scripture held a large role in the inauguration of Donald Trump, not only by the presence of the two Bibles, but in the speeches and prayers of the various speakers during the ceremony.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York quoted the prayer of Solomon contained in the apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon. While this book is not regarded as Scripture by non-Catholics, it is considered deutero-canonical by the Roman Catholic Church. Dolan quoted Wisdom 9:1-11 in the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE), making some adaptions in language in his reading. The passage records Solomon’s prayer asking God to send Wisdom, personified as a woman, from heaven to aid Solomon as he begins his reign as king over Israel. While this is a non-canonical writing, the passage itself is a beautiful piece of writing and a fitting choice for such an occasion.

  • God of my ancestors, Lord of mercy,
        you who have made all things by your word
    And in your wisdom have established humankind
        to rule the creatures produced by you,
    And to govern the world in holiness and righteousness,
        and to render judgment in integrity of heart:
    Give me Wisdom, the consort at your throne,
        and do not reject me from among your children;
    For I am your servant, the child of your maidservant,
        a man weak and short-lived
        and lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws.
    Indeed, though one be perfect among mortals,
        if Wisdom, who comes from you, be lacking,
        that one will count for nothing.

    You have chosen me king over your people
        and magistrate over your sons and daughters.
    You have bid me build a temple on your holy mountain
        and an altar in the city that is your dwelling place,
        a copy of the holy tabernacle which you had established from of old.
    Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works
        and was present when you made the world;
    Who understands what is pleasing in your eyes
        and what is conformable with your commands.
    10 Send her forth from your holy heavens
        and from your glorious throne dispatch her
    That she may be with me and work with me,
        that I may know what is pleasing to you.
    11 For she knows and understands all things,
        and will guide me prudently in my affairs
        and safeguard me by her glory; (Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-11).

Dr. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference read from the Gospel of  Matthew. His passage was Matthew 5:3-16 from the New Living Translation which contains the Beatitudes and Jesus’ parables of the salt of the earth, light of the world, and the city on a hill. The Beatitudes are an excellent portion of Scripture to read at a presidential inauguration for they contain Jesus’ counter-cultural sayings where brokenness, mercy, and meekness are elevated as attributes which are consistent with God’s blessing and favor. The inclusion of Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” reminds the hearer of Reagan’s 1989 farewell speech where he refers to the words of John Winthrop describing America as “a shining city on a hill.” 

  • “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
        for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
    God blesses those who mourn,
        for they will be comforted.
    God blesses those who are humble,
        for they will inherit the whole earth.
    God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
        for they will be satisfied.
    God blesses those who are merciful,
        for they will be shown mercy.
    God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
        for they will see God.
    God blesses those who work for peace,
        for they will be called the children of God.
    10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
        for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. 

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. 14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 6:3-14)

Paula White-Cain of the New Destiny Christian Center offered an original prayer but alluded to or quoted two passages of Scripture; Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”and Matthew 6:10a “Your kingdom come, your will be done…” These Scriptures were used in her prayer for God’s will to be accomplished through President Trump.  

The prayer of Rabbi Marvin Hier was a skillful concatenation of quotes and allusions from several passages from the Psalms, a passage from Isaiah, and a passage from Pirkei Avot (a Mishnaic writing).

  • “Who may dwell on your holy mountain? One who… does what is right and speaks the truth…” (Psalm 15:1-2)
  • “when you eat the labor of your hands you are praiseworthy…” (Psalm 128:2)
  • that he who sows in tears shall reap in joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
  • “As our ancestors have planted for us, so we must plant for others.  While it is not for us to complete the task, neither are we free to desist from them.” (Pirkei Avot “Ethics of the Fathers”)
  • “Dispense justice for the needy and the orphan,” (Psalm 82:3)
  • “By the rivers of Babylon we wept as we remembered Zion… If I forget thee o’ Jerusalem may my right hand forget its skill.” (Psalm 137:1, 5)
  • “The doer of [all of] these shall never falter.” (Psalm 37:31)
  • May the days come soon when “justice will dwell in the wilderness and righteousness will abide in the fertile field. And the work of righteousness will be peace… quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 37:15-17)

Reverend Franklin Graham quoted two passages from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. Graham’s quotation was the most gospel-centric content of the entire ceremony. His passage begins with the command to offer prayers for rulers, but continues to speak of the deity of Christ, man’s need for salvation, and the atonement of Christ. He quoted 1 Timothy 2:1-6a and 1 Timothy 1:17 from the New International Version.

  • “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1-6a)… “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17).

Bishop Wayne Jackson referred to the blessing of Numbers 6:25 during his prayer. “the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

President Donald Trump quoted Psalm 133:1 during his inaugural address while speaking of the need for unity in the nation.  Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” While the passage itself speaks of unity between Israelites and those who are fellow-believers in God, President Trump quoted this passage to call all Americans to national unity. 

 

Five Critical Issues Facing Today’s Church

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I was recently asked what I thought were the critical issues facing the church today. After some thought, I came up with five issues which I think are the greatest problems which need to addressed. Tell me what you think. Did I miss one?

Immorality inside and outside the church – with the recent legalization of gay marriage and the effects of the sexual revolution, the church is faced with new challenges. The church will need to be ready to confront not only those outside the church with biblical truth, but also those inside the church. It is inevitable that the moral decay around us will begin manifesting itself inside our ranks. As a result, the church will need to begin taking church discipline seriously.

Decreasing finances – the church will soon have to learn to do more ministry with less dollars. Giving on the whole is on the decline and studies show that millennials do not tithe as well as their parents and grandparents. As a result, the church needs to be ahead of the curve and needs to cut waste and become a lean organization.

Overcoming cultural hostility – The American church has enjoyed a favored position in the culture for generations. We are seeing that dissolve largely in the past decade. The church is becoming a stranger in a strange land. Those outside of us hear only the negative press and learn to repeat the talking points of the secular left. This results in a negative, sometimes hostile, view of the church. We will have to combat this by building real relationships and restoring our reputation first in our communities. We can never expect the world to love followers of Christ, Jesus promised this would not be the case, however, we can live lives in such a way that we dispel the myths that are commonly believed about Christians and we can have a favorable reputation among our own community.

The need to increase church security – I recently heard Thom Rainer say that church security will be one of the fastest growing Christian industries in the coming years. I have heard multiple reports of attacks and robberies happening on church property in recent years. This may be due in part to the growing hostility in our culture. The church needs to be prepared against burglaries and even the unspeakable notion of terror attacks.

Biblical illiteracy – For the most part, the average parishioner in the pew is largely ignorant of the Bible. Not only has this been my personal experience, but there are multitudinous surveys to corroborate this observation. The church has failed to disciple this generation and we need to ensure that if our people profess to believe the body of truth called Christianity that they are able to actually articulate that which they say they believe.

How The Law Proclaims the Gospel

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I often joke that the Pentateuch should be at the back of the Bible so those who wanted to read the Bible through could save the hardest section till the end! The legal passages of the Pentateuch contain the various laws given by God to the Israelites. These can be some of the most difficult passages to interpret.  All of the Law is profitable for us to read and draw applications from (2 Tim. 3:16), but much of the Law contains civil and ceremonial laws that only pertained literally to Israel. These are the laws fulfilled by Jesus (Matt. 5:17). We should interpret the Law in light of NT teaching.

Leviticus 19:18 is easily applicable to the modern Christian life: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”.  Jesus repeated this as the second of the two great commandments in Matthew 22:39. Love is the rule of the New Testament Christian and the applications of this verse are endless. Another applicable law is Leviticus 19:31: “’Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God”. We live in a day when people are fascinated by the occult. People need to understand that these practices are pagan and condemned by a holy God.

Some laws have little practical application today such as Leviticus 19:19:‘You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you”. This verse gives three different commandments concerning the breeding of livestock, the sowing of seed, and garments made of blended material. This verse has no immediate application today. Another verse that has little practical application today is Deuteronomy 22:12 “You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself”. I think we would look rather strange if we observed this commandment in today’s society!

The law is valuable for Christians today for several reasons. It shows us that God is a holy God and that He requires His people to be holy as well. While we may not observe some of the minutia of these laws like Israel did, we are to bear the spirit of holiness in all areas of our lives. It also shows us the terrible burden that the law placed on us as a sinful people. God gave all these commandments but we were not able to keep them. Christ fulfilled the law for us in His sinless life and sacrificial death. Many laws do have New Testament applications and these are good for us to know and observe. The moral laws reveal God’s eternal moral standards that He expects of all people. Most of all, the law has a great deal to teach us about the nature and the heart of God. We see God’s holiness and His persistence in having a relationship with fallen humanity in His meticulous revelation of the law to His people.

Are You Called to the Mission Field?

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51plob2bt5alWhile some experience a clearly distinct call of God to the task of missions or ministry, many do not have such an experience. Since we cannot legitimately command every person to be a career missionary, and we cannot wait for a Damascus Road encounter, how do we define a call to missions? Dr. David Sills’ clarifies this calling in his book, The Missionary Call and I agree with his definition. Dr. Sills states that the missionary call is based on five factors: an awareness of the need for mission work, the explicit commands of Christ in Scripture, a passionate, God-given desire for the work, a commitment to do whatever God wills, and agreement and affirmation from one’s church family.

I experienced a distinct, personal call to ministry at the age of fifteen. I knew in a moment that God was calling me into the ministry and a had a burning desire to preach and teach the Word of God. I have never questioned this calling as God has given me a deep sense of certainty concerning the call to ministry. I have been blessed to serve as pastor of two different churches, and I currently serve as a denominational worker. My desire to preach the Word has only been refined and increased as the years have passed. I do not know where I will ultimately fulfill my calling, and I really don’t care. I simply want to make disciples by preaching and teaching the Word, where ever God might place me.

In counseling those who are considering whether God is calling them to ministry or missions, I would suggest the following.

First, don’t be impatient. It is normal to get very anxious and antsy when wrestling with a call to serve in ministry. There is an unsettled sense of urgency to get where you need to be. Allow the Holy Spirit to quiet this anxiety and trust God’s timing and direction.

Second, serve where you are now. If one cannot or will not serve in their present context, why would they serve anywhere else? Serving in one’s church and being willing to assist in various types of ministries allows a person to test their giftings and see which areas of ministry they enjoy and for which they are gifted. Often, this type of service may lead to a greater area of missions and ministry.

Third, find a mentor to help give you direction. I had a few different men who poured into me and helped direct me to areas of service where they felt I would be effective. A relationship like this will help define one’s calling.

Finally, read the Bible and read biographies of those who served in the capacity you feel called towards. The Bible will constantly correct your misunderstandings and assumptions and help shape your calling. Biographies and stories of those who have served as missionaries or in other capacities will help demystify those roles and show you the reality of those ministries, both the highs and lows.

Looking at the Bible on Two Levels

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When studying a biblical passage or preparing  sermon, I look at the passage I am studying on two different levels. The textual level which deals with the immediate text, and the covenantal level which deals with the big story of the Bible. This can also be called the canonical level, the theological level, or the redemptive-historical level. Whatever you call it, it involves placing the text in the great context of all of Scripture.

The textual level places the reader squarely in the text at hand and deals with the characters, dialogue, places, concepts, grammar, logic, etc of the immediate text. At this level, the interpreter looks at the immediate context and traces the narrative or the author’s flow of thought.

The covenantal level lifts the reader up to a higher altitude to see the larger picture of Scripture and how the current text fits into the grand narrative of the Bible’s story. This level deals less with grammar and syntax, and more with theology and context. This level will connect the interpreter with the cross in some way and perhaps more broadly, to creation and consummation.

For me, it is helpful to briefly consider the covenantal level first. This sets the Scripture in its larger context and allows me to see where we’ve been and where we are heading and how this passage relates to the big motifs of Scripture. Second, I look in detail at the textual level, considering only what is at hand. This allows me to see how the various elements of the passage work together to tell a story that stands on its own. Third, I zoom back out after gleaning all the immediate passage has to offer and see how these newly discovered insights further relate to the rest of Scripture.

Must-Read: Let the Nations Be Glad

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John Piper’s bolet-nations-be-gladok Let the Nations Be Glad was a personally challenging and devotionally rich reading experience. It caused me to think about missions in a way I had not done previously. While I was familiar with Piper’s main argument, it was an enriching experience to read the book for myself and to see the biblical and theological basis for the supremacy of God in mission. There was much I agreed with, much that challenged me, and some will require further reflection.

Piper’s main argument is that God must be supreme as the focus and motivation for Christian missions. Piper states that missions is not the ultimate concern for the church but rather worship is the ultimate concern. “Missions exist because worship doesn’t” appears several times throughout Piper’s book. This is a new way of thinking about missions and is a theologically faithful way to think about the Great Commission with which we are entrusted.

It is common to think of lost people or unreached people as the motivation and focus of missions. While it is certainly not wrong to be concerned for lost people (Piper makes this clear in chapter six), it is incorrect to make this the first concern. The glory of God among the nations is the ultimate goal. Yes, we certainly rejoice when a person is saved from the wrath of God in hell, but we are to look beyond that to the glory which results when peoples of the earth worship God.

This emphasis also has practical benefit. We have been prone to concern ourselves with conversions and professions of faith without going the distance with discipleship of those coming to Christ. If we see the worship of God being offered by those who do not yet know Him as the ultimate goal, this will drive our missions beyond acquiring professions of faith. We will continue discipling until the fruit of worship blossoms in those to whom we have preached. We will fulfill the Great Commission not it part, but in full.

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper was a challenging read that pricked my heart concerning more than a few areas. I have read no other book in which the author places his finger on the nerve of missions urgency and presses until the reader is made uncomfortable. This will be a recommended resource for years to come.

High Points of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention

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Katrina and I had a great time at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis this year. This year’s meeting was exceptional in many ways. Here are some highlights from our experience.

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PASTOR’S CONFERENCE

The 2016 Pastor’s Conference began Sunday night and continued all-day Monday. We were privileged to hear some challenging sermons by some great speakers. The Pastor’s Conference theme this year was “Live This.” Dave Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa was elected as 2017 Pastor’s Conference president and he is seeking to utilize pastors from smaller SBC churches who focus on expository preaching for next year’s conference speakers. I am looking forward to next year’s pastor’s conference and hearing biblical exposition from some faithful pastors.

RACIAL RECONCILIATION AND THE CONFEDERATE FLAG

Dr. Ronnie Floyd delivered a challenging message as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and challenged Southern Baptists particularly on the issue of racial reconciliation. This was followed by a panel on racial reconciliation by a number of Baptist leaders. One step forward in this area came in the passing of Resolution 7 which dealt with Southern Baptist’s use and display of the Confederate flag. This is a bold step forward for racial reconciliation for Southern Baptists. I encourage you to listen to Dr. James Merritt’s defense of Resolution 7:

RUSSELL MOORE ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Another important moment was Russell Moore’s defense of religious liberty for all Americans. Following his report as President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Moore was challenged by a pastor and messenger from Arkansas to explain why Southern Baptist support religious liberty for Muslims. His answer was perfect: 

SEMINARY REPORTS

Golden Gate Theological Baptist Seminary has officially changed its name to the Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This name change coincides with their recent relocation to Ontario, California. I am encouraged by all of our seminaries as they are conservative and healthy. We should never take this for granted, for it was not long ago that some of our seminaries were teaching liberal theology and denying the gospel message. I am thankful for this generation of biblically faithful scholarship in the training institutions of our Southern Baptist churches.

STEVE GAINES ELECTED SBC PRESIDENT

In what was perhaps the strangest SBC presidential election ever, Dr. Steve Gaines, successor to Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was elected SBC president. There were three initial candidates: Steve Gaines, J.D. Greear from North Carolina, and David Crosby from New Orleans. The first round of voting involved three candidates with no candidate receiving a majority. The second vote was a runoff between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear. The vote was so close and there were enough illegal ballots that neither got a majority during the second vote. Before the third vote, however, J.D. Greear graciously withdrew his candidacy and Gaines was elected by acclamation. You can see the historic moment here: 

 

This was an historic annual meeting for Southern Baptists in a number of ways and I’m sure we have yet to see the significance of all that was accomplished this year. I am glad to serve a denomination that despite all its divisions and imperfections manages to move forward in a way that is faithful to God and in step with the times.