Archive for January 2nd, 2008

“I have never set out to be shocking or controversial.  That’s a horrid goal – and I believe, a very unredemptive goal.  My interest has always been the Truth.  I don’t think God honors it when people just set out to be controversial and shocking.  I don’t think that’s a redemptive goal.  My interest has always been the Truth, and how the Truth can most clearly and compellingly be communicated.”

-Rob Bell, from the Jan-Feb 2008 issue of Relevant Magazine

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Over the Christmas break, I took some time to finish A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger.  The subject of eschatology is brought up here quite frequently, so I felt like it would be suitable to post a review of this book here.

As the title suggests, the book is a straightforward explanation of the Amillenniallist view of eschatology.  The book comes in at just under 250 pages, and Riddlebarger’s fluid no-nonsense writing style makes for a relatively quick read.  If you aren’t familiar with the Biblical passages that are referenced, it would be a good idea to have your Bible nearby for quick reference.

First, a little detail about the author.  Dr. Riddlebarger is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster  Seminary California. He is also a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, which is broadcast weekly on more than fifty radio stations.  The rest of his bio can be found here on his blog.  One thing I find most interesting is that he is firmly in the Reformed camp, and he is one of the few voices I have heard speak out against the Dispensationalist theology that seems to have gotten the most press recently.

I will not spend the time here to describe all the different views on eschatology, as I think this Wiki page does a fair job of describing the basics.

According to Riddlebarger:

Amillenniallists hold that the promises made to Israel, David, and Abraham in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus Christ and his church during this present age.  The millennium is the period of time between the two advents of our Lord with the thousand years of Revelation 20 being symbolic of the entire interadvental age.  At the first advent of Jesus Christ, Satan was bound by Christ’s victory over him at Calvary and the empty tomb.  The effects of his victory continued because of the presence of the kingdom of God via the preaching of the gospel and as evidenced by Jesus’ miracles.  Through the spread of the gospel, Satan is no longer free to deceive the nations.  Christ is presently reigning in heaven during the entire period between Christ’s first and second coming.  At the end of the millenial age, Satan is released, a great apostasy breaks out, the general resurrection occurs, Jesus Christ returns in final judgment for all people, and he establishes a new heaven and earth.

pp. 31-32

Even if you don’t have a background in Biblical eschatology, Dr. Riddlebarger makes it easy for all readers to come to a point of understanding.  He systematically goes through the Prophets, the Olivet Discourse, and of course, the Revelation.  The book is well footnoted throughout (the chapter on Revelation 20 has 100 notes alone), and he is a careful researcher.  At every point, Dr. Riddlebarger dismantles potential arguments against his point, and he does so convincingly.

Throughout the book, Dr. Riddlebarger makes the point that the Biblical authors consistenly wrote with a “two-age” model in mind – “This Age”, and the “Age to Come”.  Basically, when Christ came the first time, it was the beginning of “The Age to Come”.  We are stil living in the period when “The Age to Come” is here in some sense, but yet we still await final consummation when Christ returns and Heaven, Earth, and all Creation are restored.  This tension is paralled by Jesus’ now but not-yet descriptions of the Kingdom of God.  When viewed through this lens, in my opinion, Biblical prophecy becomes much clearer.  The Scriptures become unified in a way that I didn’t see earlier.

My background in the End Times puzzle is rooted in the Pre-Mill/Dispensational camp.  I grew up with the charts and graphs on flannelgraphs, and we expected to be raptured hopefully before the Tribulation.  Through the years, I’ve come to question that view, but I’ve been unsure as to where to start.  I feel that this book not only helped me on this journey, but it has given me tools to help me further down the road.

I could go into a lot more detail about the book, but for the sake of space I will not here.  I will answer any questions to the best of my ability, but I would really recommend this book to anyone who is confused or wants to learn more about Biblical eschatology.

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Kittie HedgesIt has long been noted that one of the primary sources of fallacious orthopraxy during the Second Temple period was the usage of ‘hedges’ by religious Jews. In order to avoid dishonoring Torah and inadvertantly sinning, the teachers and religious authorities build fences around scriptural prohibitions.

For example, with the commandment to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” there came a whole slew of hedges – how far you could walk on the Sabbath; how much food you could eat; what you could (and couldn’t) do to prepare it; etc. Even today in Israel, pushing buttons on the Sabbath is considered “work”. So, if you want to ride an elevator, it will stop on each floor for a set amount of time before closing and going to the next floor, etc. so that you don’t have to push the button to open the door or select a floor.

The end result of these ‘hedges’ – originally set up to honor God by keeping His commands – has been to make men slaves to the laws of men and to completely miss the intent of the Torah – to help man exist in harmony with God. The root cause, as recently noted by Brendt, is that man added to the Word of God.

One of the books I received for Christmas was Meet the Rabbis by Brad Young. In his introduction, Young notes that while the primary pitfall of the religious leaders of the first century was to build hedges around the Torah, the pitfall of Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) has been to build hedges around the church.

One perfect example of this that has come up a number of times in recent memory has been the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW). While this creed was created out of a desire to honor God in worship, it is basically an extra-biblical “hedge”, little different than the ones build by the Pharisees 2,000 years ago. Rather than allowing the Truth of the Word to exist, systems and creeds like this simply make men slaves again to the laws of men. Instead, we should strive to hold to what is in scripture – without adding to it (like with the RPW) or taking away from it (like with graven images of Mary).

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I hate to post this without Chris L’s post about hermeneutics having some time on its own to breath but this was too much. Here’s an excerpt from my response.

Well, my wife has hit the big time. It appears that Ken Silva felt the need to defend himself from what my wife wrote. Read her article here, and then read his response here.
It seems that Ken has a man crush on our pastor. He and I have exchanged words on issues in the past. In fact we’re coming up on the anniversary of the first time he ever told me I was apostate. Recently, I’ve been trying to help Mr. Silva maintain his integrity but it appears he has fallen short of this yet again. As just yesterday he, made this statement:

I don’t plan on speaking further with, or about, Joe because in my view he has a real problem with reading comprehension. (Online Source)

Yet, he works me into his “defense” piece. Now, I wonder what I had to do with anything? It appears that Mr. Silva who claims to be an ordained SBC minister has missed these verses in James:

Read more here

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All Your Rubiks Are Belong To MeHermeneutics: The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.

When I find that a topic comes up in conversation several times in the virtual world and the real world in a short period of time, I tend to see it as a signal that I ought to pay a bit more attention to it, consider its application to me, and – possibly – write about it. One such topic that has come up in the past few weeks has been one of ‘hermeneutics’ – the way we interpret scripture.

So, perhaps it’s time to touch on the topic briefly.

First off, it is possible to get a Ph.D. in Hermeneutics, and my formal training consists of part of one course, so I claim no professional expertise in the subject. Rather, I will offer some thoughts, based upon my own study, and see where the conversation (if any) leads.

Bedrock Principle

The primary bedrock principle I consider is that everything in the Bible, in the original language, is inerrant, as it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. This has a couple key implications:

1) In general , if there appears to be a conflict between one part of Scripture and another part of Scripture, then either a) there is a reason for the conflict due to revelation over time (for instance, the change in dietary law revealed to Peter, in conflict with OT dietary law); b) there is a conflict because of translation nuance/error; c) there is a conflict because our interpretation of one or more ‘conflicting’ passages is incorrect; or d) there is a conflict because we do not (or can not) understand the full truth which would annul the conflict.

2) In general, if there appears to be a conflict between Scripture and scientific/logical/critical comparison, then (primarily in light of Romans 1) either a) the scientific/logical/critical evidence is insufficient to explain why no conflict exists; b) there was a specific reason God exerted his supernatural abilities in contradiction of scientific/logical/critical evidence, stated within scripture; c) our interpretation of the religious truth in scripture is faulty.

Interpretation Methods

There are a plethora of techniques and methods for use in interpreting scripture, and most people – even if they are intentional about it – vary the techniques to meet each situation. This variation cannot be avoided without the potential of committing serious error.

Historical-Contextual Technique

In general, the first principle I ascribe to is the ‘historical-contextual’ hermeneutic. This can be summed up in this tree-step process:

  1. What did the original people to whom the scripture was first written to understand it to mean (i.e. what was the context in which it was understood)?
  2. What is the cross-cultural principle being communicated in this original meaning?
  3. How does this principle apply to us in our culture?

In many cases, the plain meaning of a passage scripture would be understood the same way now as it was to the first people it was written to. Apart from this, the absolute best way to determine step #1 is through the review of earlier Scriptural writings on the same topic. This is because, in general, the Word of God builds upon itself as it progresses through time. Thus, to fully understand and appreciate the later writings, we must first understand what came before.

Sometimes, particularly with colloquialisms and cultural practices, determining the original context is not fully possible within scripture, and so we look to evidence outside of scripture to guide interpretation – keeping in mind that this is more prone to fallibility. A couple examples of this:

Example 1

Women are instructed by both Paul and Peter that they should not braid their hair or wear jewelry. Multiple first-century sources indicate that braided hair and excessive jewelry were the calling-cards of temple prostitutes. Additionally, other sources indicated that this was both an expression of wealth and a means of protecting what they owned (by keeping it close to them at all times). The cross-cultural principle many Christians take from this is a) not dressing in ways to suggest you are sexually available; b) not putting your wealth on display; and c) not putting your hope in earthly riches.

Example 2

In Luke (and a parallel passage in Matthew), we read Jesus’ words:

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

From a number of pre-Christian and post-Christian Jewish sources, we have learned that having a “good eye” means that you are generous with your resources and that having a “bad eye” means that you are stingy. In light of this, we can see that Jesus is teaching about generosity and using the ‘eye’ as part of his illustration in a colloquial way, understood by his original audience.


An additional ‘method’ (actually sub-methods to the above) I use when reading quotes from Jesus, Paul and Peter is called the “garden” method, from the Hebrew Word pardes, which means ‘garden’ and forms an acrostic for the four key techniques used in Second Temple rabbinic teaching:

  1. P’shat – the plain, or simple, meaning
  2. Remez – a ‘hint’ at additional meaning (by referring to verses before or after a quoted passage from the OT)
  3. D’rash (or Derasha) – a story or interpretive meaning
  4. Sod – a ‘hidden’ or esoteric meaning

I have discussed this method more in-depth here, if you are interested. Also, you can see a beautiful short video which illustrates Jesus’ use of remez on the cross. Additionally, I am working up a piece on recently published comparison between the Passion events in Mark (the gospel written to the church in Rome) and the sequential events in the coronation of a Caesar – which would have been recognized by the Roman church as a declaration that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord.

Methods I Avoid

In general, I avoid strict literal interpretation, which tends to treat the Bible as an antiseptic literary work, completely disconnected from the culture in which it was written. This method was not used in the early church, as most Jewish members of the community knew scripture orally and the context of the epistles and gospels was well-understood. It was not until the majority of the church did not have large portion of scripture memorized and the printing press made the Word available to the masses is a “lazy” format (because it could be read without being memorized) that ill-placed literalism became a problem.

Strict literal interpretation is particularly problematic when used for cultural practices (in the epistles), parables (in the gospels), poetry and apocalyptic literature. In each of these cases, a literalist interpretation ignores the method being used by the Holy Spirit through the writer to convey religious truth, with the potential of completely missing the truth being conveyed.

Another method I try to avoid is the proof-text method – which ignores the context of scripture. More often than not, this is employed by conservative fundamentalist/evangelical Christians. In one extreme example, I’ve seen writers proof-text John 6:60-66 to suggest that the sign of a “true” church is that it drives people away. In another, I saw a sanctimonious writer try to use Jesus’ words in John 7:24 to try to force another person to agree with him.

On the other side of the coin, I also try to avoid the ‘reader-response’ method, often used in liberal Christian circles – both in some mainline and Emergent churches – in which the meaning of the scripture is derived from the opinions and attitudes of the reader, rather than from the original context of the scripture.

What About You?

So – turning the spotlight a bit – do you even consider how it is you interpret scripture? If not, why not? If so, what is your hermeneutic?

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I thought I might let some of you know of a conference that is coming up in Los Angeles, April 1-3. The conference is called Awaken, and is going to be hosted by Mosaic. I know this is a shameless plug, but the purpose of this conference will probably hit home with many of the authors, readers and commenters here. The speakers list is pretty diverse, including Bill Hybels, Lee Strobel, Dan Kimbal, Erwin McManus, Wayne Cordeiro, Dr. Henry Cloud, Johan Geyser and more. Check out the website if you are interested in putting this on your 2008 travel schedule. Maybe we could have a party in Hollywood :)

P.S. Any bets on how long it takes the ODMs to put an article up on this conference now?

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Come on, even if you love cats–I have four–this is funny stuff.

One Funny Cat

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