Quote of the day on Evangelism

“Every person has an eternal soul and deserves a clear presentation of the gospel.” Most pastors would affirm that statement. Some hold it as a core value. We agree that evangelism needs to be a priority. But we are often too busy or too involved with our own families, friends, occupations, and church activities to pay much attention to those outside the church.

Ouch!  You can read more here!

Book Review: People of the Book

It is with thanks to the kind folks at Wipf & Stock that I had a chance to read and review Michael Halcomb and his friend Timothy McNinich co-authored work People of the Book: Inviting Communities Into Biblical Interpretation (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

Halcomb.PeopleOfTheBook.79276Michael is a PhD student at Asbury, I believe under Ben Witherington and blogs here.  Timothy is a pastor in the Vineyard denomination.

One of the many goals in Christian discipleship is to help people know God and to make him known.  One of the primary ways we come to know God and make him known (along with prayer and participation in a community of faith) is in teaching folks how to read and study the Bible, the primary source of the Christians faith life and practice.  A major barrier to all that is time.  We live in a time crunched world.  It can take a lot of time to  learn to read and study the Bible in a profitable way that contributes to a person’s spiritual growth and development.  Given the limits of time and resources (and the widespread demise of Sunday schools in churches) how is the church to go about educating folks in these matters?

Halcomb and McNinch provide a way!  Their book People of the Book, provides the Pastor or church leader, even Bible study leader a way to help facilitate study of the Bible in short time segments (roughly 45 min to 1 hr).  Their book provides principles necessary for good Bible study in a group setting.  The strongest emphasis is the need to do Bible study in a group setting and rarely if ever in a solitary setting.  Why?  Because group Bible study or communal Bible study helps safe guard against wild misguided interpretations and applications or what they call appropriations of the Scriptures.  When done together in a community setting, it is far more beneficial and fruitful for all involved, and it make the process easier.

The ultimate goal of “Inviting Communities into Biblical Interpretation” which is the subtitle of the book, is to promote interpretive integrity by studying in a community context and downplaying interpreting the Bible through a lens of individuality, something we in the West are prone to do.  Remember, the Bible was written to whole communities of people and congregations, not to individuals.  Though I&II Timothy and Titus were initially written to individual persons, they were then communicated to congregations.  There are very few if any uses of the singular “you” in Paul’s letters for example.  So it is important that as much as possible Bible study be done in a community context.

Halcomb and McNinch discuss six movements in the process of studying a passage or book of the Bible.  The process they present is much like the Inductive method but has some slight nuances and the biggest one is that it be done in a communal context meaning in a group together where perhaps pairs of people work on different movements at the same time then have the things learned be shared together so all can see and learn from one another.

The first movement is observation (20).  Observation involves looking at the text (any set of verses being studied) and seeing what can be observed about a text at the surface level by asking lots of questions of the text (the primary path to understanding).  The main way to do this is by way of recurrance ( finding repeated words, phrases, concepts, in the text).  This helps really get at the details and specifics so you can know what the text says.  You might do this by asking the who, what, when, where, how kinds of questions.

Once that is done and recorded, the next step is interpretive synthesis (27).  This involves a “communal interpretive conversation” where “some hypotheses about what the author of the text was trying to communicate to his original audience utilizing our own best insights and the studied interpretations of biblical scholars.  The goal is to come up with a shared synthesis of meaning (27).”   Like working a puzzle you work the edges then work the pieces until it forms a picture, observation might be working the frame of the puzzle, interpretive synthesis could be putting the pieces together, together.  🙂  One area of difference Halcomb and McNinch have from what is typically taught is that in the search for meaning doesn’t involve looking for supposed “timeless truths” or in asking the question “what does this mean to me?” kinds of things.  Instead, in pursuing interpretive synthesis the goal is simply to determine the meaning of the text as it stands, the best we can figure in its original context and setting.  The whole “what it means to me?” issue comes in a later movement.  It’s the same basic approach to when one is determining meaning in various kinds of literature.  The main difference however lies in what we do with that meaning, how we let it influence us that differentiates between studying the Bible and studying other literature (29).

The next movement is to look at the ancient implications.  What would it have looked like in the time of writing?  It seeks to respect the intentions of the writers and seeks to know what they wanted folks to hear through their writings.  It overlaps with interpretive synthesis and helps in transitioning to the fourth movement – appropriations.

Appropriations is working to bridge the gap between the past and the present.  For Halcomb and McNinch appropriation is different than the typical “application” element of Inductive Bible Study.  Appropriating involves determining “which realities of God’s nature and character do our biblical authors bear witness?” (39).  So, after having made some observations to ask questions of the text and making an interpretive synthesis, appropriation ask, “so what do we learn about God from all this?”  What does this passage. text, book, teach us about God’s character, ways, or reality?

After appropriations there is modern implications.  Modern implications involves bringing the implications from the past forward into our own contexts.  But that can only be done after you “bridge the gap” between past and future with appropriations.  This is finally when you can ask the question “what does it mean for us today?”

Once we consider the modern implications the final movement in communal biblical interpretation is devotion.  This is the ultimate goal of all Bible study – personal and corporate transformation that leads to greater levels of devotion.  It is also what separates it from mere academic exercise and makes it an act of worship, and hence why they do not call it “application.”  Devotion is meant to capture “the whole-life whole-community response to the God of the Bible” (45).

This is a great book and if you want to know more about these things and what they say about it all you will need to get it!  Following the lay out of the movement for communal biblical interpretation the authors follow up with four different case studies where the reader can see how it all works in varying contexts from a home Bible study to a church service, to a cross-cultural setting (I remember Mike sharing about going on this trip).  There is a final chapter on tips for facilitators and how to go about leading such groups and getting something like this going.

If it has made you tired just looking at all this, thinking man that’s a lot of work and there are only so many hours in a day.  Well, it isn’t that much work as it takes everyone to get it done, there is little actual prep time since the work is being done as a group and different folks do different parts of the study, all the facilitator has to do is keep things moving along!

I think Mike and Tim have done a great job with this book and that those brave pastors and or church leaders who are willing to relinquish control over the direction of the study and allow a communal interpretive approach ought to go for it!

on John 1:14

I was looking at John 1:14 the other day:

Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαναὐτοῦ,

δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

I know this is the central point of the passage, the center line in the chaiastic structure of the passage as it well should be.  It also forms an inclusio with Jn 1:1.  We also refer to this verse when speaking of the Incarnation.

I noticed three things about this verse in relation to the Incarnation that I thought were interesting.  I call them “elements of the Incarnation.”

First I noticed  ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο.  The Word became flesh.  God became one of us.  This is significant because there were those in the highly pluralistic audience whom John was writing to who had issues with the flesh and notions of divine incarnation.  There were those who saw all matter, especially bodies as evil and too limiting for divinity to take on.  They believed the spirit was good and matter was evil so how could God become man?  Why would he do that?  John is siding with his Jewish roots and taking a highly affirmative view of both humanity and the human body.  Because Genesis 1 tells us God saw all the he made (including man and woman) and called it good.  The human body, though effected by sin, is good.  Human bodies, however limiting, are are good things and Jesus becoming human, taking on human flesh, fully embodying himself in the world and walking among us, is a very strong affirmation of this truth.

The second thing I noticed was ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαναὐτοῦ.  We have seen his glory.  In Exodus 33: 18 Moses says to YHWH, “Now show me your glory.”  Then YHWH went on to show him his glory in a limited way since he said in the next verse (19) “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”   Whereas in the past one was only able to “see”  God’s glory in the form of the cloud (hence, the shekinah glory), now we see it in it fully in the person of Jesus Christ.  Glory in the Bible includes notions of beauty, splendor, magnificence, radiance, and rapture (Dict of Biblical Imagery).  In other words, it. is. ah-ma-zing!!  It is a quality primarily attributed to God and places of his presence including places of worship and heaven. The glory of the God is an image of his greatness and transcendence.  It is seen in things like the might waterfall verse the small stream; the Sun or the Moon; it is seen in the thunder and lightning verse the rain.  The glory of the Lord is awesome.

Jesus Christ is the glory of God come down in all its fullness – and that in bodily form, a human body.  This is the awesomeness of the incarnation and a huge affirmation of σὰρξ as part of God’s creation.  Glory was associated with Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:14.  He is the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8) and the glory of God is seen in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

Finally, there is πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.  Full of grace and truth.  John says later in this passage that “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (TNIV) Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth.  He is the way the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).  Romans 3:24 tells us we are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came [through] Jesus Christ.  It is through grace and truth we are saved.  Jesus is the fullness of God’s grace and truth.  I think too it is fair to say the incarnation was an incredibly gracious act on the part of Jesus.  He left the glories if heaven and came down to become one of us – he knew it was the only way.  He is full of grace too.  He came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17).  Though he has the right to judge he has graciously withheld his judgement that we may come into the light of truth, that he is.  He is full of grace and truth.

So those were some “elements of the incarnation” I saw in that verse I think it is pretty cool really.  Powerful too if you think about it.  And I think too it is something we are called to emulate in our discipleship to Jesus.  We too are to take on an incarnational approach to our relationships with other and as an expression of the People of God in this world.  As we go about our lives and as we go about pursuing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth, we are to be incarnational, living in with and among this world, though not of it, we are to live in it, full of grace and truth.

on the Gospel of Mark

Congratulations to Joel Watts on his new book published by Wipf & Stock.  Looks like it should be a pretty interesting read!

Here is a description from the website:

Watts.MimeticCriticism.22895What if the story of Jesus was meant not just to be told but retold, molded, and shaped into something new, something present by the Evangelist to face each new crisis? The Evangelists were not recording a historical report, but writing to effect a change in their community. Mark was faced with the imminent destruction of his tiny community—a community leaderless without Paul and Peter and who witnessed the destruction of the Temple; now, another messianic figure was claiming the worship rightly due to Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Mark takes his stylus in hand and begins to rewrite the story of Jesus—to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.

Joel L. Watts moves the Gospel of Mark to just after the destruction of the Temple, sets it within Roman educational models, and begins to read the ancient work afresh. Watts builds upon the historical criticisms of the past, but brings out a new way of reading the ancient stories of Jesus, and attempts to establish the literary sources of the Evangelist.

I really like that line “to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.”  Awesome!  Just from this description I could see a lot of implications for the local church and implications for how it will bring transformation to preaching and teaching as well.  I look forward to when I can get it and read it.  🙂

Good job Joel!

ps. he is doing a giveaway.

The Key to World Missions? Surrender.

The AG has a every other year event with college students called the World Missions Summit that takes place a few days before New Years.  The on going theme is “Give a Year, Pray about a Lifetime.   For this year one of the main speakers is Dick Brogden a missionary to the Middle East.  At this years Summit he talked about Surrender.  Give it a listen!

Then, Give a Year, Pray about lifetime!

on cutting edge ministry

there is always the temptation to think we, as small church pastors need to be cutting edge if we want our churches to grow.

country churchCameron Cole over at his blog The Rooted Blog talks aboutthe problem of trying to be cutting edge in youth ministry and I think his post is instructive for us as at Blue Chip Pastor on a number of levels.  What he says about Youth Ministry is applicable to the Small Church setting.  He writes:

In all spheres of ministry, the temptation lurks to be “cutting edge.” This enticement may exist more in youth ministry more than other sectors, due to the frequently evolving nature of teen culture, where the target seemingly moves every five to seven years. In a valuable manner, youth ministry people seek to keep a watchful eye on the most efficacious means by which to reach teenagers. It is part of what makes the field exciting and dynamic. At the same time, youth ministry can dedicate exorbitant amounts of attention to finding a magic bullet in our methodology.

The temptation is there.  We all face it.  And I think it can apply too to the Small church setting because, well, like youth ministry, small churches can tend to deal with high levels of turnover (hence a similarity to the constant evolving nature of youth culture – I remember feeling out of touch just not even one year after I graduated from High School).  Too often, “cutting edge” = growing numerically.  This just isn’t true.  Cole goes on to say:

The longer I work with students, the more convinced I am that there is nothing sexy or cutting edge about effective youth ministry. I have annoyed many a colleague with my penchant for repeatedly saying, “There is nothing new under the sun: if you want to be cutting edge, go into biomedical engineering or particle physics, not ministry.” Effective youth ministry boils down to pursuing relationships, teaching scripture, proclaiming the Gospel, worshiping, and praying ferventlyThat is it. Ministry revolving around these five components has endless possibilities. Other parts of ministry, such as missions, social justice, and fellowship, can have great vibrancy with such a foundation. Ministry that lacks relating, exegeting, proclaiming, worshiping, or praying usually evolves into an exercise in futility or a practice in “playing church.”

Just replace youth ministry with small church ministry and I am not sure there is much difference.   There is in fact nothing new under the sun, its all been done before just in different ways and means.  In fact, Cole’s cutting edge approach of teaching, proclaiming, worshipping, and praying seem pretty timeless to me.

Lots of instruction here I think many a Blue Chip Pastor can take encouragement from.  Let us flee the idolatry of “cutting edge” ministry and instead just continue in faithfulness and obedience to our pastoral vocations shepherding teaching, proclaiming, worshipping, and praying communities of faith.


on Ephesians and the Center of Paul’s Theology

We’ve all been trained to think the bulk of Paul’s theology is found in Romans, when actually….


consider the following:

The Christian church—at least in the West, and especially Protestants—has read Paul through the lens of Romans.  We have historically regarded this letter as the center of Paul’s theology.

I don’t think this is right.  Inasmuch as we can speak of a “center” of Paul’s theology and insofar as any extant NT letter represents that, I think Ephesians is a better candidate.  Among other reasons, here are just a few:

First, Romans is situational while Ephesians isn’t.  Paul argues as he does in Romans because he’s trying to resolve a conflict.  Many of his statements are directed to that end, and when they’re taken out of their communicative context and transformed into abstract theological principles, they give a distorted picture of Paul’s theology.

Ephesians, on the other hand, isn’t situational.  It’s probably a circular letter that Paul intended to be read to a range of churches in Asia Minor, informing them of what God has done in Christ and how they can participate in that.  Because Paul writes to give multiple Christian communities a broad understanding, we can say that Ephesians represents Paul’s basic gospel proclamation (i.e., Paul’s “theology”).

Well there is more and it is certainly a provocative post.  I like it!  Let me know what you think.  🙂