Theologically Driven


Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.

Contributors to the blog include:

John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History

Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament

Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition

Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament

Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology

Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament

Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.

Priorities During the Holiday Season

by John Aloisi

For some reason it seems to have started earlier than usual this year. Naïvely perhaps, I’ve always thought “Black Friday” referred to the day after Thanksgiving (i.e., Friday). The reality is that we’ve all been receiving emails and seeing print ads about Black Friday and pre-Black Friday sales for a couple of weeks now.

It has been estimated that last year Americans spent more than $59 billion during Black Friday weekend (Thurs–Sun). Assuming a U.S. population of 315 million, that works out to about $187 spent per person (every man, woman, and child) in the country during a single four-day weekend. Incidentally, total holiday spending for 2012 came to about $580 billion.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing gifts for other people and even spending money on one’s self. But somewhere along the way, we as a nation seem to have crossed the line from enjoying God’s good gifts and displaying generosity toward others to blatant consumerism and greediness.

Many biblical principles come into play when considering how much to spend on gifts and such during the holiday season. One of the first to come to mind is “The borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov 22:7). Admittedly, the Bible nowhere forbids borrowing altogether, but the Scriptures do repeatedly warn us about the dangers of debt. Browse the ads and enjoy some holiday shopping, but don’t let Christmas spending become an entrée to the realm of slavery.


If God Knows Everything, Why Should We Pray?

by John Aloisi

In his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, John Calvin discusses Jesus’ statement that the “Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8). Calvin addresses the question of why believers should pray if God already knows what we need. He suggests the following as at least a partial answer:

Believers do not pray, with the view of informing God about things unknown to him, or of exciting him to do his duty, or of urging him as though he were reluctant. On the contrary, they pray, in order that they may arouse themselves to seek him, that they may exercise their faith in meditating on his promises, that they may relieve themselves from their anxieties by pouring them into his bosom; in a word, that they may declare that from Him alone they hope and expect, both for themselves and for others, all good things (Calvin, commentary on Matt 6:8).

When praying, believers never tell God something he doesn’t already know. But God has chosen to use prayer as a means by which God’s people express their dependence upon their Father who knows all things and can actually do something about the most puzzling problems of life.


Walk by Faith: A Misused Verse?

by Bill Combs

Most of us are familiar with how 2 Cor 5:7 reads in the KJV, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” If you do a Google search on this verse, you will find explanations of what this means, such as, “the Bible challenges us to ‘walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you are to “walk by faith, not by sight,’” or you ought to “walk by faith, not by sight.’” You have probably heard the same kind of thing in sermons. Just to clarify, the word walk in this verse is, of course, used in the metaphorical sense of “live”; so the NIV, “For we live by faith, not by sight.” Thus, Paul’s words are taken to be an exhortation or command to “live by faith.” According to this view, we are challenged to rise above our normal Christian experience, and rather than operating from a worldly perspective (“living by sight”), we should conduct our lives and make our decisions based upon our faith and trust in the God and his Word. There is nothing wrong with this idea in and of itself. It is theologically accurate to say and to insist that the Christian must always seek to live by faith and trust in God and his promises, and not be motivated by only what he or she can see and hear in their present circumstances.

The problem is that this is not what the text says, nor what it means. Paul is not commanding the Corinthians to “live by faith”; he is making a statement: the Corinthians are living by faith.

Our text is also popular in the Word of Faith movement, which I won’t take time to describe at this point. Another popular TV preacher in that movement, Frederick Price, closes every sermon by citing 2 Cor 5:7.

But in all these instances, this text has been stripped of its context and a new meaning assigned to it. Paul is not saying that we “should live by faith” or that we “ought to live by faith.” No, he directly and unequivocally says that we, all believers, do, in fact, live by faith. But why does Paul make this statement?

Verse 7 is rightly understood to be a parenthesis in the thought of vv. 6–8.

(6) Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (7) For we live by faith, not by sight. (8) We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Let us go back for a moment to the beginning of chapter 5 in order to get the broader context. Paul begins in v. 1 by explaining what happens to a believer who dies, “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed.” Fortunately, Paul says, we can look forward to a resurrection body, “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” But until then “we groan” (v. 2), knowing that our present bodies are subject to ailments, injury, and disability. And since we know that “as long as we are at home in the body we are away [in a spatial sense] from the Lord” (v. 6), we “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). All believers here on earth are presently “away from the Lord” in the sense Paul means in v. 6.

But Paul’s reasoning in vv. 6 and 8 could leave the wrong impression. That’s why he interrupts v. 6 with 7 before he completes his thought in v. 8. The “for” that begins v. 7 is what the standard Greek dictionary (BDAG) calls a “marker of clarification.” One could easily take Paul’s statement in v. 6 to mean that since believers are presently “away from the Lord,” they enjoy no fellowship with him at all. But, of course, that is absolutely false, for, you see, Paul says (v. 7), “we presently live in the realm of faith ["by faith"], not in the realm of sight.” Paul is contrasting actually seeing the Lord (“at home with the Lord”) with our present experience of believing in the Lord without seeing him (“away from the Lord”). For now believers “live in the realm of faith,” trusting in the Lord whom they have not seen, but one day they will “live in the realm of sight.” This is same sort of contrast we see in John 20:29 and 1 Pet 1:8.

So although we are presently “away from the Lord,” this does not mean that we are cutoff from fellowship with the Lord. But for now we live “in the realm of faith,” which is no hindrance to communion with our Savior, though truly we look forward to the day when we will live “by sight.” Then, as the hymn writer puts it, our “faith shall be sight.”


Wanting to Be Noticed

by Mark Snoeberger

We live in a hyper-sexualized and semi-pornographic culture. The problem dominates popular advertising, pervades our entertainment choices, and even weasels its way into our churches. The concept of modesty is no longer a legitimate standard for censure, but an object of censure. We’ve come to the point that modesty is sincerely regarded as a vice and not a virtue. To advocate for modesty is to advocate for legalism, intrusiveness, outdated traditions, and overbearing patriarchy: don’t tell me what to wear and don’t tell me what to do.

Stunning as it has been, though, the triumph of immodesty and hyper-sexuality is not itself the root problem. Instead, these problems are symptomatic of a more serious one: the problem of celebrity. The English word celebrity derives from the Latin word celebrer, “to frequent” and more remotely from the Latin celer, “to hasten.” The desire for celebrity is, at its heart, the desire of a person to be “frequented”—to turn heads and command the notice of others. To become a celebrity is simply to succeed in being noticed regularly.

The bestowal of esteem or “notice” is a ubiquitous practice among humans, and is intrinsically unobjectionable. What makes the bestowal of esteem good or bad is the basis upon which it is awarded. Traditionally, one earns the right to be noticed, heard, and otherwise esteemed through modest means (a carefully constructed, holistic montage of age, experience, education, wisdom, gravity, industry, skill, refined rhetoric, etc.). In our electronic age, however, it is possible to turn heads apart from any of these. One can be noticed without any sort of success at all. I can become an instant e-celebrity (or is it an iCelebrity?) almost by accident. The modest path to earning notice is no longer honored; indeed, those who take this route are fools. There is a shorter way.

Perhaps nowhere is the desire to be noticed more evident than in social media, where a single question infects us all: Will anyone notice? Every regular user of social media, no matter how virtuous, has asked this question at some point. This guiding question can be subdivided into sub-questions such as “How many friends do I have?” “How many ‘likes’ have I received?” and the gold standard, “How many comments (positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter) have I generated?” And it doesn’t take long to discover that the most reliable way to be noticed is by shocking others through immodesty.

We tend to associate immodesty with the quest for celebrity through the inordinate visual exploitation of that which should remain secret. And when all other means of celebrity fail, this particular form of immodesty remains the best way to generate celebrity (ref. Miley Cyrus). But immodesty is not limited to the exploitation of one’s visual qualities; it really encompasses in its scope every inordinate exploitation of self designed to accelerate personal celebrity. And it is a virus that infects us more deeply than any of us imagine.

So what are we to do?

  • First, we must confess our pride—this is, after all, what immodesty and the desire for celebrity truly are. Life is not all about me; I have a larger purpose.
  • Second, we must identify and purge immodesty in all of its forms from our lives, not only from what we wear (though it may include this), but also from what we do, what we say, what we tweet, and even how we worship and evangelize.
  • Third, we must self-consciously divert our own attention away from that which is immodest and instead value what legitimately earns our notice through sober and dignified means.
  • Finally, we must make room in our lives for seasons of withdrawal from public discourse to cultivate chaste thoughts, affections, and good works that are entirely secret. In other words, we need to break away from the debilitating need to be seen by men and instead practice living without distraction for the God who sees the heart.

The world sees the call to modesty as a call to counter-culturalism, to traditionalism, to introversion, or worse. And we must admit that sometimes modesty can take on these illicit forms. But at its heart, the call to modesty is nothing more than a call to humility—a call to take the attention that has unduly accrued to me and redirect it to that (and ultimately to That) which truly deserves our attention.


How Can We Know God Preserved Scripture?

Webster defines corollary as “(1) a proposition inferred immediately from a proved proposition with little or no additional proof, (2a) something that naturally follows: result, and (2b) something that incidentally or naturally accompanies or parallels.” Thus to say that preservation is the corollary of inspiration means that preservation is a doctrine that can be “inferred immediately” from the “proved proposition” of inspiration; preservation “naturally follows” or “parallels” inspiration. To say that there is a correlation or parallel between inspiration and preservation does not reveal anything about the exact nature of that preservation. It is perfectly reasonable to assert a corollary between inspiration and preservation without asserting that preservation be in every way equal to inspiration—for example, that inerrant inspiration demands inerrant preservation. This is the fallacy of the KJV-only position, which takes the corollary to demand a kind of preservation that is perfect, or almost perfect, and uses that argument to restrict preservation to a specific translation (KJV).

A right understanding of the corollary suggests that there is no real purpose or value in inspiring a document that is not preserved. What, we might ask, would be the purpose of producing an authoritative record (inspiration) and letting it perish? Why, for instance, let Paul write an inspired letter to the Romans and then have it perish on the way to Rome? Of course, that did not happen, but could it have happened? If one denies a corollary between inspiration and preservation, Paul’s letter could have perished before it got to Rome. 

The purpose of inspiration was to produce Scripture (graphē, 2 Timothy 3:16), a written record, a deposit of divine truth for the readers, not the writer. Without preservation the purpose of inspiration would be invalidated. Since it was clearly God’s intention that Paul’s inspired letter to the Romans be read by the Romans—it could not have perished—there must have been a divine work of preservation at work for at least a few weeks or months until the letter was received by the Romans. This suggests that there is some degree of correlation between inspiration and preservation. And the letter to the Romans was not meant just for the Romans. No, Scripture was intended for just the original recipients—“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Similarly, Paul warns the Corinthians using the example of Israel’s failure: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). If the Old Testament Scriptures (“these things”) were “written down,” that is, inspired for the purpose of instructing future believers (“warnings for us”), that purpose for the inspired writings demands their preservation.


Laugh and the World Laughs with You; Weep… then Hope

by Ben Edwards

The opening lines of the poem “Solitude” are well known:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.

Though written over one hundred years ago, the sentiment still applies today. People in our culture love to have fun. We love going to parties, games, and shows. The average American spends over $2,500 a year on entertainment—a number which does not include the large amount of free entertainment consumed on a regular basis. We love having a good time and love being around people having a good time.

Is our quest for a good time evil? Not necessarily. After all, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” (Prov 17:22). One of the reasons we pursue pleasure is the value that we receive from it. We can all remember times we’ve been refreshed through an evening filled with friends and laughter.

But I wonder if our culture’s pursuit of fun is actually an obsession for diversion. Do we seek out lightheartedness to hide the heavyheartedness of our world? Are we simply wanting to enjoy life, or are we actually trying to avoid it?

I began pondering this question again a couple of weeks ago while skimming through my Facebook feed. I imagine my feed is not terribly different from others—pictures of children, posts of recipes, updates on personal lives, random thoughts and questions, links to articles or videos, etc. But on this weekend, it was as if two different realities existed on my news feed. I started seeing posts about a church bus taking teens back from camp that crashed in Indianapolis less than a mile from its destination. People were requesting prayer, expressing sorrow, and sharing articles about the crash. As I took in this news, my heart sank. I was grieved for those who experienced the trauma of the accident, those in the other bus who had the horror of witnessing it, and the church family as a whole. I read the reports of this sobering tragedy with tear-blurred vision.

But many of my Facebook friends had no connection or awareness of the story. They were posting their normal posts, which suddenly seemed largely inappropriate in light of the misfortune my mind was still struggling to process. I had to get off Facebook and begin praying.

The next day the same dissonance struck. I continued to have friends posting updates and prayers for those affected by the bus accident in between friends posting the normal updates. However, I also began seeing another string of posts. A young lady who graduated from my high school a few years ahead of me was coming to the end of her battle with cancer—she would go to be with Christ the next morning—and several were sharing their encouragement and prayers with the grieving family. I was reminded of the suffering this family had already endured. Within in the last 12 years, the lady’s mother had died of cancer and her youngest sister was killed in a hiking accident. My heart went out to her father and sister who remained to suffer this sorrow upon sorrow, along with her husband and extended family and friends.

Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about these painful events and feeling that these kinds of things are not supposed to happen. A mother of five is not supposed to die on a trip back from camp with her son. A young youth pastor and his pregnant wife are not supposed to die while serving in the church. A 21-month-old boy is not supposed to have both his parents taken from him in an instant. An English teacher at a Christian high school is not supposed to have her life end at the age of 35. A father is not supposed to bury his wife and two of his daughters before he reaches retirement. And when you realize that these things did happen, your heart breaks.

Within a few days, though, my news feed was back to “normal,” and my thoughts largely moved to less tearful realities. After all, who can enjoy life with those heavy thoughts burdening your heart? We’d rather fill our days with swimming babies and dancing puppies than with suffering and tragedy. But I couldn’t shake the dissonance from that weekend.

Eventually I was struck by a more sobering truth—those kinds of events are not isolated. In the United States alone, an average of over 6,700 people die each day, with over 1,500 dying from cancer and over 300 dying from accidents. That doesn’t include those who suffer life-altering injuries and illnesses or those who have to endure various forms of abuse, hunger, heartache, and countless other trials. When you begin to think about all of the evil in the world, you want to find some form of entertainment to numb your senses. If we keep our minds occupied with lighter matters we won’t have the time to contemplate the harsher truths. From time to time we cannot avoid reality—it is thrust into our face through suffering in our own lives or the lives of those we love—but we have become skilled at finding ways to brush it aside or at least to dull the pain. Because when you consider all of the tragedy in the world, your heart is crushed.

Is this how life must be lived? Do we have to revel in frivolity in order to keep ourselves from wallowing in depression? Must we laugh in community to avoid weeping alone?

I don’t think the Bible encourages this sort of fun-filled life. Over and over we are called to a sober life (e.g., Rom 12:3; 1 Thess 5:6, 8; 1 Tim 3:2, 11; 2 Tim 4:5; Tit 2:2). As Christians we are not supposed to hide from the somber realities of life. We are not allowed to ignore the harsh truths of evil. Yet, we are also called to a life of joy (e.g., 2 Cor 13:11; Phil 3:1; 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16). How is it possible to live this sober yet joyful life? How can we find joy while fully acknowledging the tragedy of the world?

One of the keys is biblical hope. When we look at this life only, we have no reason for anything but overwhelming sorrow. But biblical reality extends beyond this world. There is a day coming when all that is wrong will be made right—when justice will finally be done, when there will be no more sorrow or sickness. This fallen world will be redeemed (Rom 8:18-23). We have been assured of this glorious future through the suffering and victory of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:31-39).

As believers, we maintain a sober view of this world, because we can “set [our] hope fully on the grace that will be brought to [us] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:13). We grieve, for this is so much in this world for which we must grieve, but we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). While we weep at the evil in this life, we also consider the time when Jesus will appear and make everything new. In light of that revelation, we “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet 1:8).


Why the Quest for the Historical Jesus Matters

by Jared Compton

This is the second part of a two-part post on the importance of history and historical work—like the quest for the historical Jesus—for studying and proclaiming the Gospels. For the first part, see “Why Christians Need History.”

Since history matters, since it’s necessary (part one), then the quest for the historical Jesus matters. Here let me suggest two specific reasons why. First, if you plan to have a conversation with your neighbor about Jesus, the conversation will undoubtedly be influenced by the quest for the historical Jesus. Perhaps you’ve had the experience—I have—of sharing this or that piece of the Christian worldview with an unbelieving friend only to have her say, “Well, that’s just what the Bible says; how do you know that’s what Jesus really taught?” The question may not have appeared quite so often in your parents’ or grandparents’ visitation reports, but it will in yours, especially if your evangelistic work takes place in the shadow of a university or, for that matter, a mosque. This is the conversation people are having. (Did anyone miss “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”?) Thus, as James Dunn reminds us, if we want

to continue to make any kind of truth claims of relevance beyond the confines of [our] churches, then [we’ve got] to make them within [this] public forum. The alternative is to settle back into an internal ecclesiastical discourse which cannot be understood or effectively communicated outside the ekklesia (Jesus Remembered).

Second, not only is this the conversation your neighbor is having, but it’s also the one he’s hiding behind. He’s adopted one or another of the quest’s Jesuses and assumes he’s put the lie to orthodox Christianity. Your neighbor, in other words, is making a historical claim, whether he recognizes it or not. He’s appealing to history and to history you must go. How else do you plan to confront these alternative pictures of Jesus—these alternative faiths—produced by the quest and its popularizers. How, e.g., can Dan Brown’s Jesus be put to rest if not by a thorough account of who Jesus actually was. One simply cannot say to Brown or his disciples—“You’re wrong and I’m right, though I refuse to argue the relative merits of our historical claims.” Not only would the assertion to “believe the Gospels”—to accept my faith—fail apologetically but it would unwittingly give the impression that Christianity can stand loose from history, that its merits can rise or fall irrespective of what really happened. When Paul turns to talk about the resurrection in one of his letters to the Corinthians, he doesn’t simply say, “I said it”—which today would be like saying “It’s in Scripture”—“therefore believe it.” Rather, he starts talking about witnesses, 500 of them, many of whom were probably still living at the time Paul wrote and thus able to receive skeptical visitors.

In short, we must wrestle with the quest and its answers if we want to put ourselves in a position to urge others—those outside the charmed circle of our churches—to consider what the real Jesus might mean for them. Or to put it another way around. If Jesus did say what the Gospels record, if he was killed for the reasons the Gospels give, if he was raised as the Gospels claim, then it matters what your neighbor does with this Jesus. His, he can take or, more likely, leave. If the Gospels are fundamentally accurate, then, e.g., the eternally-popular idea that Jesus was a good teacher and example is a closed door, a non-option. If the Gospels are fundamentally accurate, one is not allowed to say that Jesus was simply a good teacher, full stop, or that he was simply a good example, full stop. The Gospels won’t allow this sort of nonsense. It’s a violent domestication of their message. Historical work—the kind that shows the world the kind of literature the Gospels really are—forces critics of Christianity to do away with silly—sentimental—notions about Jesus and to meet him full on. And the quest, at its best, gives us the resources to do just this sort of thing.


Warrant for the Analogical Interpretation of Select Scriptures, Part 2

by Mark Snoeberger

In my previous post, I noted the existence of several examples of the use of the Old Testament in the New that don’t seem to make sense (Hos 11:1 with Matt 2:15; Jer 31:15 with Matt 2:16–18; Psalm 22:18 with John 19:24; Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 with Acts 1:16–20; Joel 2:28ff with Acts 2:16ff; and Psalm 22:1 with Matt 27:46, etc.). In all of these passages the NT writer seems fine with the idea that the NT passage is fulfilling the OT passage—in fact, in many of these passages the very word fulfill (πληρόω) is actually used. The obvious problem, though, is that with one exception (Joel 2:28ff), the OT passages cited above are not prophetic. They are either historical narratives or instances of poetic reflection on historical events, with no internal clues to identify them as forward-looking Scriptures.

The typologian has a solution to the problem, viz., that these historical events/reflections are typological of future realities. The OT people who were experiencing the historical events described here (the Exodus, David’s wilderness wanderings, the Babylonian exile) may not have known it, but they were prefiguring events in the life of Christ. They were types and Christ the anti-type.

But is typology the only possible alternative to fulfilled prophecy in these texts? I don’t think so. The very first seminary text that alerted me to other options was R. T. France’s little book Jesus and the Old Testament. Then there was Walter Kaiser and an extremely helpful little essay by Charles Dyer, “The Biblical Meaning of Fulfillment,” in the very-hard-to-find book Issues in Dispensationalism. Then there was a tight explanation of Peter’s use of Joel 2 in Acts 2 by Roy Beacham and more recently, a helpful six-part series on the topic by Mike Vlach. In reading these materials I became more and more keenly aware that typology was not the only option in my interpretive toolbox.

Specifically, I’d like to suggest that Jesus and the NT writers were quite fond of the analogical application of key texts, and that many of the problem texts above could be resolved quite simply by seeing them as in analogical relationship to one another. This happens all the time in the citation of the Bible and of various classical pieces—in a word, it’s “normal.” For instance:

  • When the songwriter says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer,” he is not suggesting that Samuel was prophesying the writing of a hymn in 1 Samuel 7:12. Nor is he suggesting that we adopt a typological view of Samuel in which the stone is a type and the hymn an antitype. Instead, the songwriter is saying that we should, just as the Israelites did in 1 Samuel 7:12, offer public testimony and thanks for God’s manifest help. IOW, our thanks to God today is analogous to their thanks to God back then.
  • When a believer says “Woe is me” in personal confession and prayer, he is not offering some novel reinterpretation of Isaiah 6 as a hidden prophecy or a type. Rather, he is simply saying that he has an analogous relationship with Isaiah that causes him to relate with his words.
  • Even Jesus, when crying out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” is not necessarily identifying Psalm 22 as a prophecy or typical foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Instead, it is quite possible that Jesus, being deeply immersed in the Scriptures, found a simple analogy between his own situation and that of the Psalmist, and quoted his words.

The advantages of seeing analogy in these texts are many, but let me list a few:

  • Analogical interpretation has the advantage of being a normal use of human language. Whether we are quoting Isaiah and David or Romeo and Mercutio, it is demonstrably very common to cite classical literature in an analogical way.
  • Analogical interpretation is the purview of the common man and is instructive about how we should use the Scriptures today. The common man can read the stories of both testaments and find in them examples of circumstances similar to his own and profit from these examples (1 Cor 10). There is no threat of being “overly imaginative” in the analogical reading of Scripture; in fact, one need not be “imaginative” at all. The Scriptures are allowed instead to mean precisely what they seem to mean, and we find similarities to the modern day that are instructive.
  • Analogical interpretation does not demand that the modern reader depreciate in any way the original meaning. We don’t need to forget David now that the greater David has arrived or gloss over the details in the OT and NT renderings that don’t quite match up.
  • Finally, I believe that raising the option of analogical interpretation allows the Scriptures to speak for themselves in all of their manifest detail. In short it gives us an alternative to treating all of the specific content of the OT as malleable prattle to be squeezed like putty into some particular version of biblical theology.

I have no angst against the idea of biblical theology as a means of discovering the unifying center of all God’s activity described in the Scriptures; indeed, I quite approve of it. But I’m not convinced that typology is the only way to get there.


Warrant for the Analogical Interpretation of Select Scriptures, Part 1

by Mark Snoeberger

Last week a friend of mine, Fred Zaspel, offered a case for the typological interpretation of the Scripture. In offering a four-point rationale for typological interpretation, Zaspel made several observations that call for both applause and reflection. I applauded, for instance, his description of some typologians as “overly imaginative,” “irresponsible,” and “uncontrolled” in their approach. I was also forced to reflect deeply on Zaspel’s careful documentation of the NT writers’ unusual use of the OT and especially the “fulfillment” motif.

But I also found myself wanting more. Specifically, I was left wondering (with these other two bloggers) whether typology is the only viable basis for a valid biblical theology, or whether there was another, less radical explanation for the textual anomalies that Zaspel has identified. Obviously, we must come up with some explanation for the curious habit, common among the NT Scripture writers, of appealing to OT texts for warrant, sometimes even using fulfillment language, when no hint of a forward-looking prophecy can be detected in the OT text cited (Hos 11:1 with Matt 2:15; Jer 31:15 with Matt 2:16–18; Psalm 22:18 with John 19:24; Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 with Acts 1:16–20; Joel 2:28ff with Acts 2:16ff; Psalm 22:1 with Matt 27:46; etc.). And at least part of the answer comes in an appeal to type. As Zaspel rightly observes, the terms for type and antitype actually appear in Scripture, so it does no good to deny the idea entirely. What I resist, though, is the comprehensive practice of typological interpretation. Here’s why:

  • Comprehensive models of typological interpretation tend to see the Bible as hermeneutically unique, i.e., subject to different laws of language than those received and employed by humanity for all other literature forms: If the Bible is truly a book that is to be understood typologically, it is the only book of its kind. And I find it very hard to believe that a God who created mankind with a capacity for propositional language for the precise purpose of establishing communication between God and man (which I firmly believe) would use a different set of rules for his primary book than is used universally outside of that book.
  • Comprehensive forms of typological interpretation tend to create conditions ripe for abuse. If the whole Bible is to be decoded in a nonconventional way, who is the Keeper of the decoding key? If history is our guide, it will be the Pharisee, the True Gnostic, the Clergy, the Cognoscenti, or his modern equivalent. And what are the precise criteria that allow the Keeper to dismiss as “overly imaginative” and “irresponsible” the commentator who sees the center board on the back wall of the Tabernacle as a symbol of eternal security, but to approve as “responsible” and more modestly “imaginative” the typologian of the present day? Apart from very clear answers to these questions, novelty and autonomy becomes the norm in interpretation. And that is scary.
  • Typological interpretation is by its very nature supersessionistic. This may not be a problem to some, but it is something that needs to be at least recognized for what it is. Modern-day scholars who are suddenly writing books, at a frenetic pace, on how biblical unity may be discovered with a systemic network of types are necessarily supersessionist. At best, they depreciate the type (the shadow or prefigurement) when the anti-type arrives; at worst they ignore the type as obsolete, unnecessary, and dispensable. The New Testament supersedes and reinterprets the Old Testament at every turn, and any conflict is resolved by simply dismissing the thorny specifics of the Old Testament with a quick footnote that persistently reads, “All those details were just typological.” This makes exegesis very neat and easy, but at what cost? I would suggest that the cost could ultimately be catastrophic, effectively threatening the very essence and nature of biblical authority.
  • Finally, I believe that comprehensive models of typology can lead the reader to dismiss themes that don’t fit into the typological theory. For instance, most typologians are quite dismissive of any suggestion of any “reversion to type,” such as belief in a Jewish Millennium, a fixation on the earthly land of Palestine in the eschaton, or the future reestablishment of the sacrificial system. These ideas simply do not fit into the typological model, so any texts that seem to suggest as much must necessarily be interpreted typologically. The consensus center of the Gospel has been realized in the flow of Heilsgeschichte, so all other themes must either be terminated or subsumed under it. And any alternative model for the unity of the Scriptures (e.g., dispensationalism) must be vilified.

Of course, in rejecting a typological interpretation of Scripture, the interpreter must come up with some valid explanation for the texts raised above (and a bunch more in Fred Zaspel’s blog essay). My next entry will address this concern.


Church History Resources for Children

by John Aloisi

Most seminary students are involved in teaching children in some venue or another. Many are husbands and fathers, and so are responsible for training their own children on a daily basis. Others are not, but are still involved in teaching children within the context of their local church. Although sometimes viewed as something less than real “ministry,” teaching children is a significant ministry opportunity in and of itself. It’s also a great training ground for learning about ministering to people of all ages and backgrounds.

A few years ago I stumbled upon a wonderful series of books for teaching children about church history. To date, Reformation Heritage Books has published four volumes in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series by Simonetta Carr. This fairly new series is designed to introduce children to key figures in the history of the Christian church. So far, available volumes have covered John Calvin, Augustine, John Owen, and Athanasius. In addition, a book on Lady Jane Grey is currently in the works. And anticipated volumes include sketches of Anselm, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards among others.

The CBFYR series is aimed at children ages 7–12. But the beautifully illustrated books have been perfect for teaching 5 and 6 year olds in our church’s Sunday morning kindergarten class as well. The books are clear, engaging, and substantive enough to communicate meaningful information about some remarkable men who stood for Christ in a variety of historical circumstances. My own children love these books, and on numerous occasions I’ve come downstairs in the morning to find an early riser stretched out on the family room floor reading about Athanasius or one of the others. They’ve received the books as Christmas presents and on other special occasions, and each time they’ve been excited to devour the new volume.

If you are wondering why believers should be concerned about teaching church history to children, the author of this series has written a helpful article on that subject. Assuming you are convinced of the value of teaching children about church history and are looking for a tool that will help you introduce children to Christian servants of the past, I can think of no better series of books to help you accomplish that goal.


Musing about Music

by Mark Snoeberger

WikiAnswers poses the question, “Why does music exist?” then self-replies: “Because it brings happiness to people all over the world.”

We must grant that WikiAnswers is scarcely an authoritative reference source, but it does offer a window on popular culture. It reflects that a common reason (and perhaps the most common reason) for the societal “doing” of music today is to forget the pain, grief, anxiety, dreariness, and simple ennui of life and enter an imaginary world where one can have the emotional experience of his choice—usually a happy one. Ironically, the historically central idea of “music” (fr. the Grk. μοῦσα, to muse, think, remember, or reflect) has been transformed in the last century into its own etymological opposite—an occasion, whether active or passive, for not “musing,” or, supplying the alpha privative, a venue for amusement. This is not to say that music as amusement or as a means of forgetting is always bad (see in principle Prov 31:7), but it does reflect a total reversal of the Western tradition concerning the central purpose of music.

Of course, history only slightly improves on Wiki in terms of warrant. Still it is interesting to know that the perceived function of music from the classical period to the rise of populism was as an aid to musing and remembering, or perhaps better, as a means to creating the affective distance necessary to fostering reflection.

The theme of music as an abstract idea is rare in Scripture. The Greek term μοῦσα appears only once in the NT (Rev 22:18). More common NT terms reflect instantiations of music: ᾄδω (oding), ὑμνεω (hymning), and ψάλλω (psalming). Hebrew is slightly more fruitful—the most common Hebrew word group for music, the שׁיר word group, includes in its scope not only “singing,” “playing,” and “songs,” but also the more abstract idea of “song.” Most of what we know of the purpose for “song,” though, we learn from the songs: they provided a platform for mutual and reflective praise, joy, thanksgiving, lament, hope, victory, and the recollection of the works of God.

Music had a didactic purpose too (so Col 3:16). This is interesting, because nearly all agree that propositional and prosaic forms of communication are more efficient and precise than non-propositional and poetic forms of communication—at least in the transmission of denotative meaning. So why music? Quite simply, because music adds a connotative and rhetorical dimension to communication that mere words cannot, or at least not efficiently. Among these,

  1. Music engages the whole person in spiritual discourse, slowing the flow of information to the mind, facilitating reflection, awakening chaste affections,[1] and encouraging appropriate motions of the will. In short, it allows the musician to muse.
  2. Music is also an effective mnemonic device. With its penchant for artistic cadence, repetition, rhyme, poetic devices, etc., music helps us visualize and remember the propositional content that attaches to it.
  3. Music balances immanence with transcendence. Music causes the individual musician to step back, consider abstractly his place in the universal metanarrative, and then resolve to fulfill his duty/destiny.
  4. Music creates a requisite sense of community. Music helps us see not only how we fit into transcendent realities, but also how we share experimental solidarity with others (whether fellow-Christians, fellow-countrymen, fellow-soldiers, etc.) in common worship, grief, joy, hope, recollection, affirmation, or action.

Assuming that these are the intended functions of music (and both secular and biblical song prior to the twentieth century seems to bear this out), it follows that we should analyze our songs to discover whether they do these things well. This means more than ascertaining that the denotative propositions that attach to music—the words—are good and true and worthwhile (though we certainly cannot neglect this); it means that we must also consider whether the music that attaches to the words does all that it ought to do. This is an ethical question that we cannot afford to leave unanswered. And so I force myself to answer questions like…

  • In my selection of music am I more concerned about musing or about amusing? In other words, does the music cause me to remember/reflect or to forget/release?
  • Do I make musical choices based on whether they will awaken my affections or stimulate my emotions?
  • Is my music strictly about the here-and-now or, conversely, strictly about the wholly other? Or does it attempt to integrate the immanent with the transcendent?
  • Does my music complement the lyrics and cause me to remember—both as I sing and afterwards?
  • In my choice of music am I more concerned with personal expression or with expressing public and experimental solidarity with a community?

The fact is, God never tells us why he created music, why he made man a musical being, nor why he demands music of us. It is likely that these reasons mirror the reasons why he created ethics, made us ethical beings, and demands ethics from us—to reflect his image! We all know that we should do ethics well and to that end we submit to an endless stream of books and articles that attempt to untangle the gray areas of ethics from the standpoint of both Scripture and natural law. We know that there is a right and a wrong way to do ethics, even when these prove elusive. We know further that public consensus on ethical matters is not wholly trustworthy, and at times is wholly untrustworthy: when waves of ethical novelty shake society, we scrutinize their underpinnings and offer superior alternatives.

But when it comes to aesthetics, discussion of the gray areas is increasingly thought to be off limits. The only aesthetic standard permitted, it seems, is that of contemporaneity. Popular taste and preference prevail, and public consensus can never be wrong. When waves of aesthetic upheaval shake society, we are expected to submit to them without censure or even reflection. I find this perplexing.

It is impossible to escape the fact that the function of music has changed radically in the last century—in ways that have never before been seen in the history of mankind. And the church is understandably having a hard time adjusting. While reflection and resistance have occurred at times in the Christian community, the Church as a whole seems to have reached an alarming watershed—a consensus decision that (1) there is no profit in philosophizing and theologizing about aesthetics, that (2) the threat of being aesthetically “of the world” does not exist, and that (3) the threat of not being aesthetically “in the world” is by far the greater crisis of the evangelical church.

We must be frank in admitting that some who have attempted to parse the paradox of Christ and culture in the aesthetic sphere have done so poorly. But this does not give us a pass, as ministers of the Word, from being proactive in parsing the paradox and thinking meta-musically. And even when we tire of shrill and uninformed voices on both sides of the debate, we surely must not become angry or dismissive toward those who persist in the exercise. We may not all come to common conclusions (like ethics, music can be quite abstract), but we cannot be so foolish and atheological to imagine that aesthetics have at long last been detached from ethics within the Christian worldview.


[1] Gerald McDermott (Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment, p. 40) summarizes the difference between affections and emotions in the following chart. I would like to suggest that the chart extends beyond the affection/emotion dichotomy to include ministry as vocation/avocation and music as musing/amusement:

Affections

Emotions

Long-lasting

Fleeting

Deep

Superficial

Consistent with beliefs

Sometimes overpowering

Always result in action

Often fail to produce action

Involve mind, will, feelings

Feelings (often) disconnected from the mind and will

 


4 Reasons to Preach Predictive Prophecy

by Mark Snoeberger

While visiting a church a few weeks back I heard something I’ve not heard in many years: a sermon on predictive prophecy. Not a general sermon on the Second Coming, the final judgment, or the joys of heaven, but a sermon on the grind-it-out details of eschatology from the book of Zechariah.

I grew up with a steady diet of biblical prophecy. The books of Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation were perennial favorites. The late 1970s and early 1980s, as I remember them, were troubled times, and as Stan Gundry aptly pointed out back then, this kind of climate had a tendency to make believers long for a day when God will bring this troubled world to its conclusion and flex the muscles of his sovereignty to set things straight. So, we got a lot of preaching on prophecy when I was a youth.

Now, it seems, we are paying penance for the excesses of previous generations, with the result that preaching on prophecy has all but disappeared. Part of this neglect is due to our aversion to controversy and speculation, both of which featured fairly prominently in the glory days of the biblical prophecy movement. But neglect is still neglect, and for those of us charged with preaching the whole counsel of God, it behooves us to reconsider the value of preaching predictive prophecy. It is, after all, a substantial block of the biblical record. And so, in no special order, let me offer a few positive reasons for dusting off those neglected sections of Scripture and carving out a few new sermons from their depths:

  • Preaching predictive prophecy keeps the present in proper perspective. When we focus entirely on the present, our scope of reality has a tendency to narrow inordinately. We start to think with a sort of forward-looking uniformitarianism, i.e., that the present is the key to the future. But that’s not true. What we imagine today to be “reality” will undergo sudden, explosive changes at some future point and what seems important now will suddenly come into proper perspective. Preaching prophecy helps us to see the present in the light of the future.
  • Preaching predictive prophecy keeps our affections properly aligned. Preachers who make much of predictive prophecy and especially those of a premillennial, pretribulational bent are often accused of being “escapists”—other-earthly and countercultural dreamers so eager to leave that that have lost all practical value for the present. But while the “desire to depart and be with Christ” can surely be emphasized to the neglect of the fact that “it is more necessary that I remain” (Phil 1:23), we should not forget that the former is “better by far.” We should, as Paul, be “torn” between the two options. A far greater problem than escapism in today’s church, I would hazard, is the unnatural ambivalence of Christians toward their “departure” and neglect of preparation thereto. Better a homesick alien, stranger, and pilgrim than one who has been taken captive to this world, who has lost all interest in escape, and who has developed a sort of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome that empathizes with and craves this world more than the next.
  • Preaching predictive prophecy keeps the climax of history in view. Modern evangelicals have rightly deduced that the death and resurrection of Christ enjoy a central place in the biblical story line that is rightly to be emphasized. But it surely is not the whole story, much less the climax of the biblical story line. The Day of the Lord, complete with the crushing of the nations, the purification and salvation of Israel, the revelation of the warrior-king Jesus Christ in unparalleled power, glory, and pomp, and his ascent to the throne of the world as King of kings surely must not be relegated to the periphery!
  • Preaching predictive prophecy keeps the mission of the church intact. A few years ago, Don Carson was asked how to keep the mission of the church in proper balance, and his response was spot on. He said, “Preach Hell.” His point was that preaching to humanity’s ultimate need keeps their temporal needs in proper perspective and keeps our message to the world properly evangelistic. I’d like to expand his answer. Preach Hell to the world, yes, and also preach Heaven to the saints. Preach the Rapture. Preach the Time of Jacob’s Trouble and the Purgation of Israel. Preach Armageddon. Preach the Incarceration of Antichrist and Satan. Preach the Second Coming. Preach the Kingdom. Preach the delivery of Christ’s Kingdom into the hands of God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power, including death, and God is all in all.

And don’t just preach in vague generalizations about eternity, sovereignty, and judgment. Preach the details too. Tell the story. Better, paint the story in vivid relief and give stamp that image upon the imaginations of your listeners. Do this successfully, and it will remain there forever. And the benefits of that practice will be substantial.