Posts Tagged ‘Bible Speak’
Book Review: Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods
Author: Rick Warren
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310495932
I was in a conversation recently with my brother-in-law who told me about the great experience he had with leading a small group through Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods. Having taught Bible study classes for a number of years now, I’m always interested in learning new methods and experimenting with various resources that might help my own teaching efforts, so I bought myself a copy. I can honestly report that I am glad I did!
What makes me glad…
First of all, most of my teaching with regard to study is focused almost exclusively on the inductive method of Bible study. While Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods include systematic inductive methods, they are not exclusive to the book; there are, after all, twelve ways you can unlock God’s word included in its pages. I do believe true inductive Bible study will yield the richest results over most other styles of study, but realistically not every person has an affinity for that sort of Bible study. There are different styles of learner, so it helps to have alternate methods that will draw people into the Bible story and Rick Warren provides some of these alternatives in his twelve ways presentation.
Contents and Structure
The structure and contents of the book is straightforward; there is a preface, an introduction, twelve chapters detailing the twelve Bible study methods, and a very comprehensive appendices section. I was duly impressed with the introduction where Warren quickly establishes the reason for and principles of the various Bible study methods. He also includes a very detailed list of study reference tools. In this list he covers specific details and examples for each of the reference categories (study Bibles and translations, concordances, encyclopedias, dictionaries, Bible handbooks, word and language helps, commentaries and more). He goes on to provide recommendations for beginning and advanced study libraries. Personally, I think the introduction along with the appendix references are worth the cost of the book alone.
Following the introduction, Warren provides a preview of the twelve study methods. I thought this overview was very helpful for the reason that is stated in the preface; “…each chapter is independent of the others, you may skip around in reading the book, choosing to learn first the methods that interest you most. However, with the exception of the last one, these methods are presented in order of their difficulty. There is a logical progression through the book. As you move from chapter to chapter, you will be introduced to additional Bible study skills.” Armed with the basic knowledge of each chapter-method, the reader can start where they feel comfortable and skip ahead as they deem necessary.
Each chapter-method is structured with the same basic components: (1) a condensed outline of the method (2) a short definition of the method (3) a rationale for the method (4) the procedure of the method (5) an example of the method—completed illustration (6) a blank form for copy to use in your study (7) suggested passages and/or subjects to get you started in your study (8) suggestions for further reading related to the particular method. For a closer look, you can check out the entire Table of Contents and some media samples from the Zondervan website here.
This book is very intuitive and easy to follow. There is a Bible study method for every learning style and intellectual ability. I think if there was one “How To” Bible study book I would recommend, it would be Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods for this very reason; it will appeal to a larger and varied demographic because of the many options available. If you are interested in studying the Bible and enriching your knowledge and experience with it, you should really consider giving this book a try.
Book Review: A User’s Guide to Bible Translations
Author: David Dewey
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830832736
I love the Bible and I enjoy collecting various English translations and versions. I am fascinated by the science and art of translation, this in addition to the very real belief that access to various translations and versions helps me to understand more fully what the original intent of the Scriptures was.
We live in unprecedented times; we have more knowledge and access to information than any other time in the history of humankind. This is especially true in Western nations and the United States in particular. In Dewey’s book, he claims there are over thirty different English translation versions of the Bible in circulation today. This begs the question; “Which version is best for me?”
This is the purpose of Dewey’s, A User’s Guide Bible Translations, to help the interested reader identify and determine which version is right for their purposes.
“Dewey [also] reminds us that it’s not enough to ask, Which Bible is best? We need to ask, Best for what? For personal study? For reading aloud? For leading a Bible study for inquirers? For lending to an international student struggling with English? Filled with charts comparing versions and diagrams showing translation difficulties, A User’s Guide is just that—an easy-to-use handbook for digging through the mountain of translation options until you find the right Bible for the right purpose.”
Dewey approaches Bible Translations in two major parts. In Part One he deals with the actual art and task of translation. It is here that he deals with the science and nuance of formal equivalence versus dynamic equivalence and functional equivalence. In this section, he also addresses a number of other translation approaches and concerns such as style questions, readability, denominational traditions, theological biases, as well as a few other criteria. Part Two was particularly fascinating to me as Dewey approached the details of various translations from a linear or time-line perspective. He proceeded to inform the reader of the various (primary) translations through the history of the Bible, how they came to be, what their main purpose for creation was, and the role of the translation during its time in the history of the church. I found this information very interesting and very useful.
There are some very helpful resources included in the appendices at the end of the book. Appendix 1 includes information concerning primary texts used in translation as well as methodology by which translation rules are used. Appendix 2 details a list of lesser-known Bible translations/versions that have been created through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Although it has been around for a while, I think A User’s Guide to Bible Translations is a highly valuable resource that can be very helpful for the person looking to decide which Bible or Bibles are right for them and their desired purposes. I found the book was well researched and objectively presented. I recommend it for every student of the Bible.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from InterVarsity Press to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile now. I wasn’t sure how to articulate my thoughts; honestly, I’m still not sure I know how. I’ve been thinking a lot lately…about a bunch of things, but especially about sin—the nature, the inner and outer manifestations, the collateral effects—and ultimately, the bottom line of it all
I think that when we talk about sin, we talk about it too broadly and too generically. When we do attempt to focus in on sin, we will often isolate subjective manifestations of sin like vices, behaviors, social maladies, and the like. There are isolated and rare occasions when the topic of “original sin” is discussed where Adam’s disobedience and the subsequent fall of man is cast as the source of humanity’s sin. It is my opinion while there is some validity in all these points, we are still missing the mark…and this, I think, is the real or root problem. We miss the mark.
It is helpful for us to have a working definition of the word “sin” before we proceed. In the Old Testament there are several words that we translate to the English word “sin.” My studies revealed one of the more prominent words, and many derivatives of it, used to describe sin is the Hebrew word “chata,” which means to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness; to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way. I think several of these possible meanings really strike a chord in me; particularly “lose oneself” and “wander from the way.” A second word from the Old Testament and the Hebrew is “râ‛âh.” This word is used more than 600 times and is most often translated as “evil” or “bad” ([Strong's #7451]). While the word “sin” is rarely, if ever, translated from it, it still carries the implication of something that is contrary to God’s nature and I think this is the important piece. Our actions that are translated as “evil” and “bad” are contrary to God’s nature. Finally, there is the New Testament use of the word “sin” translated from the Greek word “hamartia,” which means literally, “to miss the mark.”
What I gleaned from these word studies is that our approach toward understanding sin and our subsequent way of dealing with it might be askew. As I mentioned earlier, generally speaking, we talk about sin in a broadly generic manner. We label sin as things we do, attitudes of the mind and heart, and conditions of life that are other than what we expect in our “best case” ideals. All of these are subjectively interpreted and potential outward manifestations of sin… not sin themselves. I know that statement will get some resistance, but hear me out.
The actual definitions from the primary words for sin in the Hebrew and Greek texts are “missing the way” or “missing the mark.” We might do well to consider what the “way” or the “mark” is that we have missed.
The Bible teaches us from the very beginning that we are created in the Imago Dei or image of God. We are supposed to be reflections of our Creator in all our ways. This was and is the intent of our God, that we would be His image bearer, and anything less than an accurate reflection of Him… His Image, is sin. When we fail to “look like God,” we sin. We miss the mark. I realize that my statements disturb the thinking of people, but this is what the Bible teaches from beginning to end. In the earliest chapters of Genesis, we read that we are imago dei, and then through disbelief and disobedience, Adam (the first man) becomes a broken image of God (missing the mark). Adam and wife, Eve, are expelled from the presence of God to pass on their brokenness to all future generations. The covenant promise of God though, is that God will present humankind with a means of restoring the imago dei through the redemptive work of Messiah Jesus. Ultimately, the promise, for those who will receive it, is complete recovery of the God Image… “we’ll be like he is” (1 John 3:2-3).
I think one of the greatest mistakes we have made in our Christian discipleship efforts is to inaccurately define and describe sin as actions, attitudes, things we do and things we feel. Describing and defining sin as wrong behavior, evil, socially unacceptable acts, vices, alternative lifestyles, etc. are all subjective and judgmental perspectives and lead to performance expectations and measurements. Our incorrect definition creates an incorrect diagnosis of the problem, and with errant diagnosis comes wrong treatment… Our efforts tend to lean toward correcting and managing behavior over recovering the imago dei and becoming Christ-like. Ultimately, wrong treatment begets no change at best and digression at worst.
A Belief Problem
I think many people push back against recovering God’s image as their own, because it seems preposterous to them to believe it is possible or attainable. It seems much more plausible to embark on a self-help or self-healing program to make a better “me” than to become like Jesus…like God, but Scripture is very clear that “becoming like Christ” and recovering our reflection of Him is the goal. The following are just a smattering of Scripture verses pointing to the claim of recovering the imago dei.
- Created in God’s image; Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27-28, 5:1-3)
- Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – This command is not too hard for you to reach
- Ezekiel 36:26 – I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
- Jeremiah 31:33 – write my commandments on your heart
- Colossians 1:15-16 - the Son is the image of the invisible God…
- 1 John 2:3-6 – we must walk as Jesus walked…
- 1 John 3:2-3 – We’ll be like he is
- 1 John 5:3 – His commands are not burdensome…
I’m still thinking about what all this means to me. I do know this for myself… to think of sin in the terms of what I do (actions and attitude) propels me in a wrong direction where I continue to miss the mark. First, I cannot cure myself. Second, I don’t know what to cure since my diagnosis is based upon my own interpretation of the problem…which is misguided in the first place. If my “mark” is not God, then my mark will be my own ideal or another human, who is likely to be misguided and missing the mark too. Only Christ is my standard. Only Christ can help me to reach that standard.
Will I ever reach the mark? Will I ever not sin? I think in terms of what I strive for, I reach the mark when I start living to attain it. As I follow Jesus, I am reaching for the prize that is the mark of Christ. I stop sinning as I reach for and follow after Christ because I am recovering the imago dei. As I surrender to the Spirit of God who dwells within me, I am living under the Image of the God who Created me and this might even be closer to recovering the imago dei than even I am fully capable of realizing on this side of eternity.
I’m still thinking on this and I’m sure I’ll revisit the post a time or two or three or…
“They Despised the Pleasant Land” (Psalm 106:24)
“Yet he saved them for his Name’s sake… He saved them from the hand of the foe… Then they believed his words; they sang his praise, but they soon forgot his works; and they did not wait for his counsel. They had a wanton craving… He gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them. Then they despised the pleasant land, for they wouldn’t believe his promise to care for them. Instead, they grumbled in their tents and refused to obey the Lord.” Ps. 106:8-15, 24-25
My goodness! There is a lot here to chew on.
Talk about making yourself vulnerable… Here our omniscient, all-knowing God determines to reveal himself in power, in presence, and in deed to a people who will receive him, and worship him, adore him and reject him, praise him…and forget him. He knows this, but he draws near anyway. He makes promises and delivers on them for his own Name’s sake. He makes covenant with himself because he knows the people he wishes to covenant with won’t keep the promise. Who are these forgetful and tasteless people? Let’s point a finger. Let us also be sure we are in front of the mirror before we point; however, because we are those people.
The people the psalmist reminds us of are the Hebrew people making their exodus from Egypt. Here they escape the oppression and bondage of many generations of slavery. Their God had promised their ancestor, Abraham, possession of a beautiful land and prosperous community—the object of their dreams for centuries—here it was before them.
As beautiful as some dreams may be, most of them are only realized through a cost that is sometimes proportional to the dream itself (ie., the bigger the dream, the bigger the cost). I’m not saying this is some divine law, but it seems to be a somewhat common experience. In this case and particularly in the case of those who profess the way of Judeo-Christian faith, there are some additional dynamics to consider.
Most Christians confess that God is omnipotent, sovereign, good, omniscient, and loving. In the case of the Hebrew people, God had shared a plan that he had expressed to Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrew people) that was good. We believe God knew every detail of his plan and was in the very details himself. Most Christians believe that God even knew how people would respond at each point of the unfolding of his plan. God had promised Abraham his progeny would be blessed; he had promised an inheritance to Abraham’s offspring that would include land, prosperity, and much more. The cost of this blessed inheritance would be patience, trust, and faith in all the confessed attributes and promises of the God who was a friend of father Abraham. The point to remember here is this; God is good and promised good and although the specifics and the path to the “goodness” might be costly and difficult, in the end, all would be good according to the character and Name’s sake of God.
Repeatedly the Hebrew people complained and distrusted God. They were even willing and eager to return to slavery under the Egyptians. Ultimately, they not only rejected the Promised Land God had delivered them to, and it to them, they outright refused to obey the commands of God; “they grumbled in their tents and refused to obey the Lord.“
The irony of this situation is found in our ability to identify the fault of the Hebrew people without seeing the parallel and similarities in our personal journeys and exodus delivery with God.
I do not think I stand alone when I consider the times that I have refused to wait upon the LORD and moved ahead with my own plans and agenda when God was not moving fast enough for me. I suppose had I been in the company of Hebrew people leaving Egypt, I might have been content to wander and find my own land to settle in or maybe I would have ran back to Egypt like many were suggesting. I know when times have been tough (work, family, relationships, economy, etc.), I have often been quick to blame and complain about leadership—not trusting God with a plan, not being patient and developing a mature faith—not very different than the Hebrew people I’ve criticized as being weak.
I know there have been countless times when I have cried out to God with “wanton” cravings, impatient and dissatisfied with what He has provided me. I wonder; how many times did God give to me what I asked for and a wasting disease creeped into my life with my “answered prayer.”
I do not want to reflect or consider that I stood before a “promised land” in my life and looked upon it with disdain refusing to walk into it. It may have been an opportunity of some sort, a change in life direction, a career change, new relationships, or any other myriad circumstance… but I was hardheaded and hard-hearted. I saw the prospect before me as difficult…filled with warrior giants… I didn’t want to work for the promises much less trust a God who made me wait without clarity—a God who gave me what was good for me and not what I wanted. How many times did I turn around from the beautiful promises of God, stumble back into my tent to grumble and complain against Him?
The saddest thing of all in this reflection is realizing the countless times I may have done this without even realizing it. This thought terrifies me. I never want to miss another direction or opportunity to know God more. I’m thankful for the presence of God in my life now who teaches me to hear his voice and learn his gentle guiding ways. I am prayerfully hopeful that I will not be one who ever “despises the pleasant land again.” By His grace, I pray this.
My prayer today from the prayer book of the Irish Jesuits:
In the silence of my innermost being, in the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness, can I hear the whispers of God’s presence? Can I remember when I felt God’s nearness?—when we walked together and I let myself be embraced by God’s love. I ask for grace to let go of my own concerns and be open to what God is asking of me, to let myself be guided and formed by my loving Creator. I exist in a web of relationships—links to nature, people, God. I trace out these links, giving thanks for the life that flows through them. Some links are twisted or broken: I may feel regret, anger, and disappointment. I pray for the gift of acceptance and forgiveness. Remembering that I am in God’s presence, I imagine Jesus standing or sitting by me, I turn to him and I ask his forgiveness for the times I have despised him in my ignorance or in my awareness. I ask for his assistance to help me become the person he desires me to be. I ask him to help me learn what it means to be in relationship with him that is whole and eternally life giving. I praise him and I thank him for the wonderful gift he is to me.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, Ass it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, World without end. Amen.
Sometimes I go through times of reading Scripture and it seems difficult to see a “big picture” perspective of what God may be speaking to me through it. My Scripture reading habits can be rather eclectic (prayer books, devotional books, theological non-fiction books, and more), although I have used the Lectionary (Book of Common Prayer) as my primary guide. I mention this because there are times when several seemingly unrelated texts come together and form a divine thought that may not have occurred to me had it not been for the collective voice of several “unrelated” Scripture passages. It is for this reason that I like to write down the text references in my journal along with the thought that came to my mind while I was reading. At times, I will go back to my journal, read a couple weeks worth of these entries, and begin to see a “story” emerging that I did not notice while the story was being written in real time. Here follow some of these “quick hits” from God’s Word—shaping me—writing new stories on my heart with each foray into Scripture:
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God… (Ps. 42)
I wonder sometimes about how much I “long” for God. I think I long for him with all my heart, but I wonder…when I read about the deer, longing for streams of water, I wonder if my longing is on the same scale. I mean, it seems that an animal is driven by instinct and longs for water only when they really need it. Therefore, at the stage of “longing for streams of water,” the deer must really be in need or so it seems to me. I ask myself; am I truly, desperately in need of God? I believe I am. I think back over the past several years and can say with confidence that my thoughts are consumed with thoughts of God and how I need him, how I want to know more of him, how I want to be in closer relationship, and how I want for nothing more than to worship him in every aspect of my life. I do thirst. I thirst for God, the living God. Each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.
…But I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice. Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble. (Ps. 55: 17-18, 24)
I will complain and lament… I am struck with this thought; it is okay to voice my complaints and laments before God. I know this, but I need reminded often. I often have the idea that I should be this super mature and stoic Christian. I’m knowledgeable and seasoned…experienced in my walk with God, so I shouldn’t feel the necessity to complain or lament. Hogwash. When I think that way I know it is spiritual pride getting the creep on me. While I live on this side of eternity, I will be assaulted with seasons of discouragement and disappointment and I should not be ashamed of them. I should bring them to the LORD, where they will be heard. He tells us to cast our burden upon him and he will sustain and renew… Almighty and everlasting God, at evening and at morning and noonday, I humbly beseech you that you would drive from my heart the darkness of sin and make me to come to the true Light, which is Christ; through the same Jesus Christ your Son.
…So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. Cling tightly to the LORD your God! Be very careful to love the LORD your God… (Joshua 23:1-16)
I know these words from Joshua are intended differently, but a thought occurred to me regarding the phrase “turning either to the right or to the left.” I suppose it is human nature, but most of my life’s experience has been that people, where the Bible is concerned, seem to lean either to the “left” or to the “right.” I wonder what it is about our nature that draws us to either side of God’s instructions. Perhaps it is the idea we have that the Bible is open to interpretation… and maybe it is to some degree. If that is so, how do we interpret? I think there are hermeneutical tools we can use to assist us in our interpretations, but at the end of the day we still have those whose tastes navigate them to the “left” or to the “right.” I wonder what would happen if we took a more centrist approach, following tradition, being careful to follow what has been written in the Book… not deviating from it, turning either to the right or the left. I wonder…
I also wonder about the reasons Joshua felt it necessary to be so emphatic about reminding his people to “Cling tightly to the LORD your God… Be very careful to love the LORD your God.” Having additional revelation and history of God’s people in Scripture for insight, we can see how quickly distractions to the “left or right” pull us from the presence of God. No sooner are we removed from the presence (clinging tightly) of God, does our love for him begin to grow cool, cold, gray, and dark. This thought brings fear to my soul. I have been witness of this very thing happening in my own life. I never want to go back there… I will cling tightly to the LORD my God and be very careful to follow the words written in the Book of Instruction. I think the historical interpretations handed down from the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before me is a helpful guide to knowing what this Book of Instruction says to me. I do not have to reinterpret in lieu of contemporary beliefs and dictates from an individualistic postmodern culture. God’s word still speaks relative and timely wisdom and provides me with trustworthy guidance regardless of the day and age I read it or the cultural influences that surround it.
The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. (Ps. 14:2)
O Lord, please find me faithful; draw me to yourself by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, …David stayed behind in Jerusalem. …David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” (2 Samuel 11:1-16)
I’ve read this story and heard it preached at least a hundred times. As I reflect upon it yet again, I realize the parallels in my own life. I think how slippery the slope that leads to our undoing. David stayed home from work. Seems innocuous enough, but it set forth a chain of events that led to adultery, deceit, cover up, and murder. He just stayed home from work. Yeah. A slippery slope. Been there. Done that.
David was supposed to be out with his fighting men and chose, for whatever reason, to remain home. He allowed his eyes to be tempted by the beauty of another man’s wife and did not turn his gaze from her. He acted upon the temptation and slept with another man’s wife committing adultery and when he found out his tryst resulted in a pregnancy, he plotted a cover up, but committed a murder instead. All this because David decided to stay home when he should have gone to work. I know this slippery slope all too well. I should resolve to always take the high road…not deviating to the right or to the left…avoiding at all costs the slippery slope and clinging tightly to the LORD my God.
The LORD helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads. The eyes of all look to you in hope; you give them their food as they need it. When you open your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing. The LORD is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth. (Ps. 145:14-16, 18 NLT)
O LORD, I pray that you would open your hand to me. I long to have my hunger and thirst truly satisfied. I pray that you would destroy the strongholds of my imagination, that every false notion I have of you would be crushed; I desire that you would find me faithful… that you would draw close to me according to your Word as I call upon you in the spirit of truth.
I’m not positive if there is a concrete theme in all these passages, but I do see clear instruction. I know my heart is hungry for God and I know it takes discipline to keep that hunger pure and that hunger satisfied. At the end of the day, there is only One thing that my heart is truly hungry for (the LORD my God) and there is only One thing that satisfies that hunger (the LORD my God). I’m grateful that God speaks to me. I’m grateful that it is often, and every day. I look forward to when my eyes can look upon Him fully in truth and in all His splendor. Praise Him. Amen.
Book Review: The Voice Bible
By: Ecclesia Bible Society and Thomas Nelson
My first encounter with The Voice Bible was reviewing an early New Testament version a couple years ago. At that time, I had some reservations about the translation, which had to do mostly with interpretational liberties. I still have those reservations with the most recent release of the completed version, which contains both Old and New Testaments (sans Apocrypha).
Reservations aside, I think this translation version has much to offer and much to be commended. It is a fresh rendering, and I think with careful reading, can provide an eye-opening and heart-moving encounter with the God who is revealed through the retelling of this Story.
I think after spending time with both versions (the 2010 New Testament and the most recent 2012 release) my opinion remains the same with regard to the elements that I do not care for. I stand by these comments I wrote previously.
It goes without saying this is a personal review and my opinion only; however, I’m a bit of a translation junkie when it comes to Bibles and the Greatest Story Ever Told. I love reading different translations and versions…always excited to read a “fresh” retelling of the Story. I’m always a little bit leery when the story seems “too fresh.” While I haven’t gone cover-to-cover in The Voice Bible, it seems there are some portions that are, in my opinion, too fresh. By this I mean, there might be some biased interpretation, or so it seems by the way the reader is led through interpretive “call out” boxes and italicized statements placed in the text for inference. This isn’t necessarily wrong or bad, but I don’t particularly care for it (personally). I find that it can be misleading when trying to accurately understand the text; not always, but sometimes. In fairness to the Voice, I feel the same way about most study Bibles. Also, with respect to the translation team, they do qualify the nature of the italicized statements and the call-out boxes and instruct the reader these elements are not in the original texts.
I appreciate the “spirit” behind the translation. I also respect the teams that have put in work to make the translation. I enjoy the flow and screenplay format of the reading; I found it to be very fluid and easy to follow…definitely as though I were reading a story rather than a verse by verse recounting. There were no repetitious stumbling through the verses, chapters, and books; this made the reading easy and pleasant too. I do think a chronological approach to this work might be something I’d enjoy even more than the present version.
Some things have been added that I think are very commendable; these are the works included in the appendices. I love the instruction on “Four Ways to Step into the story of Scripture” that includes teaching the way of Lectio Divina, stepping into the Liturgical Calendar for reading and meditation, and a 40-day retreat centered around a Scripture reading plan. There is also a 3-year reading plan, which provides guidance into the discipline of daily reading of Scripture and topical guides to both notes and Scriptures.
I am appreciative of the work that has gone into this translation and excited about using it in concert with my other translations and study Bibles. I think it is a worthy companion Bible for anyone seeking to grow in their knowledge and integration of God’s Story.
Book Review: How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens
Author: Michael Williams
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 97803131650
Before I get into my review and share my opinion, I think it fair to list a few of the technical specifics of this book. First, the book is a survey of sorts and does not dig deep and comprehensively into the Scriptures; it calls itself “A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture.” Second, it is not a discourse in hermeneutics or exegesis regardless that it has been titled “How to Read the Bible…” The format is more akin to an introduction to the Books of the Bible without the technical details (dates, controversies, etc.). Williams follows a consistent format throughout the guide providing a basic and high-level overview or theme of the book discussed, examination through the “Jesus Lens,” perceived contemporary implications, and closes each chapter with what he calls “Hook Questions.” Williams describes his navigation through the book as follows:
“I present the overarching theme of each biblical book along with a discussion of how that then ultimately find its focus in Jesus Christ. I then explore how this focus in Christ is subsequently elaborated upon in the New Testament. Finally, I consider what that fulfillment in Christ must necessarily entail for believers, who are being conformed to his likeness along with ways to communicate those entailments to others effectively.” (Michael Williams; How to Read the bible through the Jesus Lens)
I think it important to know the book is written using Reformed Theology as its doctrinal lens and interprets its views from the Protestant Evangelical perspective. It claims to “Cover every book of the Bible…” but neither reviews nor surveys any of the apocryphal writings considered canon in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches. I make these last few points not to criticize the book, but to temper the lofty claims found in the title and on the front cover (see below).
- Covers every book of the Bible…
- How to read the Bible…
- A guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture
I don’t think these claims are intentionally arrogant, but they do show (in my opinion) how myopic this guide might be when compared to the universal church of Jesus Christ and the various streams and traditions of people included in the Judeo-Christian faith family.
Having acknowledged all of the above, I think How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens, can be a very useful little book. I believe it can be used as a quick survey tool and might be very helpful alongside more comprehensive study tools. There is also a very neat table/chart at the end of the book that distills the entire contents down to a five to six page chart.
My last comment is more in the realm of a personal peeve. I agree the supremacy of Christ is important. I understand this, but the way the information is put forth in this book almost completely mitigates the work of the Trinity. Christ Jesus taught the unity of the Godhead more than he taught his individual supremacy over it. He was empowered by the Holy Spirit and He submitted Himself to the will and plan of the Father. I don’t think the intent of Williams is to disregard this, but the thought comes across, at the very least, subconsciously. Persons who study the Scriptures diligently might not be side-tracked by the omission of Trinitarian unity, but for those “average readers” as Justin Taylor calls them, I think this book could be somewhat disingenuous.
This past week we started a new teaching series at our church. There was a side comment during the message that got me to thinking about the role of Scripture and the Bible as the means of communication from God to man. The statement that was made which was responsible for this “thinking” of mine went something like this; “God’s Word is the primary way He speaks to us today.” First, let me say that I’m sure I’ve made the same or similar comments many times. Second, as a Wesleyan-Methodist, I’m also a fan of grounding my Bible reading and interpretation through the filter of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral…believing the Bible to be the fundamental authority for all we do. I say all this to make the point that I’m not necessarily in disagreement with “God’s Word is the primary way He speaks to us today,” I’m just trying to think through the implications of this particular belief and position.
Questions and Thoughts
When I heard the pastor say the Bible is the primary way God speaks to us today, the question popped into my mind, “why?” I’ve been thinking about the “why” for the past few days and some ideas have come to me that might be relative to some bigger questions and challenges regarding overall discipleship. For instance, challenges presented in the process of “teaching and training disciples who teach and train disciples.” Another challenge comes with teaching people how to truly “feed themselves” or become “self learners.”
Our premise statement is; “God’s Word is the primary way He speaks to us today.” The first question that comes to my mind is this: “Is the Bible the primary way that God wants to communicate with us?” My first response to this question is, “I don’t know…” I do agree, as I’ve already said, the Bible is the foundational authority for God’s communication. Therefore, I think we filter any extra-biblical communication: prophecy, divine words of knowledge, visions, dreams, and etc., through the Bible. This position of mine summarily agrees with the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Sola scriptura (Latin ablative, “by scripture alone”) is the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Consequently, sola scriptura demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from scripture. However, sola scriptura is not a denial of other authorities governing Christian life and devotion. Rather, it simply demands that all other authorities are subordinate to, and are to be corrected by, the written word of God. Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation held by the Reformers and is a formal principle of Protestantism today. [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
Although I agree with the tenet of Sola Scriptura, this doesn’t naturally assume (in my opinion) the Bible is the primary way God desires to speak with his people today.
The second question I have falls quickly upon the heels of question one: “If the Bible is not the primary means of God’s desired communication with his people, what is?” I think the primary means of communication is built on and in holistic (all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength) relationship… In my opinion, this is interpreted as “walking with God.” This was the first recorded relationship between God and man (we find this in the opening chapters of the Genesis account in the Bible; God walking in the cool of the morning in the presence of Adam and Eve). I recall also this style of relationship was highly favored by God with His friend Enoch…so much so that He “took” Enoch. I think this was the type of relationship God enjoyed with Abram/Abraham as well; a relationship built upon “hearing,” “obeying,” “trusting,” “questioning,” “conversing,” and “following” God. The commonality in these relationships is there was no written word of God at that time we know of.
As I pondered over these questions, some other ideas came to my mind. I wondered how God initiated and nurtured these relationships between Himself and His friends and what examples might be used to support the “how.”
Since the beginning of the new year, I’ve been reading through the Bible chronologically, so the life of Abraham is prominent in my mind. Consequently, he tops my list of people who were “friends of God.” The first thing I notice about Abraham and the lifelong friendship he developed with God was that he (Abe) was driven to the desert; “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). As soon as Abram “heard” and responded with “obedience” to this word from God, God appeared to him (Gen. 12:7). Following this initial encounter, there ensues a lifelong friendship full of adventure, ups and downs, revelation, and spiritual development for Abraham and his family with God.
As I continued to consider this example, I was reminded of others… Moses too was driven to the desert; Midian was his first desert encounter and that was followed with another forty years of “friendship building” before he was also “taken” by God (not necessarily an Enoch exit, but I digress).
David, the man after God’s heart, was also driven to the desert; Elijah had a desert experience too where he learned to “hear” God’s voice in a uniquely gentle way…and I’m sure there might be other Old Testament examples that I’m not remembering off the cuff.
New Testament examples of this “desert experience revelation and friendship building experience with God” are prominent as well. John the Baptist comes to mind; he was the man who lived in the wilderness in solitude and in relationship with God. Jesus, the man, was driven to the desert where his relationship and dependence on the Holy Spirit was tested. Jesus emerged fully empowered and fully trusting God’s word and witness to him; “I only speak the words I hear from my Father, I only do what I see the Father do…” Paul, too, recounts his experience of being driven to the desert for a season in Arabia where he was taught the ways of Jesus by the glorified Christ personally (Gal. 1:1-17). Again, I’m sure I’m missing some people and might be missing the point entirely, but it seems there is a common path being followed to my thinking. God desires intimacy and personal “face time” as a primary means of relationship building.
Reflecting on these examples, I see do recognize God’s conversations with these people as being responsible in large part for the Bible as the Word we have for us today. Moses is credited for writing (or at least is credited for the oral transmission of) what we have in the Torah or Pentateuch. David is credited for the majority of the Psalms. Jesus is the example and inspiration behind the Gospels and Paul is credited with writing the church epistles and pastoral letters. All of these acknowledgments point to what seems to be a connection between relationship and Word…in these examples, the relationship preceded the word for the most part, at least in the form that we have come to rely upon today anyway. What does this mean? I’m not sure and don’t feel comfortable making some definitive statement based on my “raw” thoughts, but another example comes to mind to illustrate where my ideas are drawing me.
The idea of people who are sight challenged and maybe completely blind come to mind when I’m thinking about the Bible as the primary means of God communicating to us today. The person who cannot see with their eyes becomes more reliant upon their other senses in order to “see” or interact in the world in which they live. (Of course, the same might be said for the person who cannot hear, but we’ll stick with the sight example…). I have read and have witnessed in television documentaries where people who are blind are able to hear better, have a more highly developed sense of smell, more sensitive to touch, and overall more sensitive to the use of all their senses more so than the person who sees well.
I think the person who is sight challenged is not necessarily compensated for their handicap as much as they have learned to use their other senses to a degree that God has enabled anyone to use them. The problem might be that we favor one sense over another and become lax in the use of our other senses. Like unused muscles, the skill and precision of use of those senses becomes atrophied and we rely upon their input and use less and less.
I also think considering the Bible as the primary means of communication from God might be problematic for creating strong disciples. We assume, because of the gains in global literacy that people read or know how to read, but that may be a faulty and dangerous assumption. Additionally, and I realize this may be a bit of a generalization, but I think there is supporting evidence that western society is heavily influenced by the ancient Greek philosophy (reason, logic, separation of the mind from the heart/soul). Subsequently, many people read the Bible with a certain detachment even if the detachment is inadvertent or subconscious. The result of this is there are a great many people who struggle to really “hear” God through Scripture…this is especially true if they do not sense an emotional response when they read it. There is also the consideration that while we point folks to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and proclaim “all of Scripture is inspired and useful…” most do not read “all” of the Bible and gravitate only to portions that make them “feel” good or are easier to understand. Again, the result of this tends to be a lopsided and sometimes even heretical view of God.
Ultimately, this belief or position that the Bible is God’s “primary means of communication” has a number of potential pitfalls and is the reason for my question; “Is the Bible the primary way that God wants to communicate with us?” I still don’t know the real answer to this, but I am inclined to believe God wants holistic relationship, meaning minimal or no separation in the opportunities to connect with his children. I believe he desires to speak to us in every single facet and means that are presented to us in the course of a day… the Bible, of course, always being the filter that we test our communication through (eg., Sola Scriptura and Wesleyan Quadrilateral).
After processing some of this, I’m thinking our task as ministers, teachers, disciplers, and influencers is to teach this to people who are hungry and “have ears to hear,” teaching them that God is always speaking–as often and as loudly outside of the written word as he is inside of the written word. (I have some other thoughts about this here)
As we become more attuned and sensitive to the way God communicates and become more familiar to the many ways that God speaks, we will grow more deeply in relationship with Him by simple virtue of the fact that we are spending more time with Him… ultimately practicing the presence of God in all things (Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach are examples that come to mind notwithstanding the Biblical references I mentioned earlier).
Still thinking… I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
[01JAN2012] Scripture and Devotional Reading 2012
I’m so excited about beginning a new year of Bible and devotional reading. I get this giddy feeling with the start of each new year reading plan, but this 2012 year gives an extra little boost. The past three years I have followed the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer and Lectionary for my Bible reading plan. It has been very good and beneficial for the feeding of my soul. I will continue to use the Book of Common Prayer and the Benedictine Daily Prayer Book for prayer and meditative reading, but I am returning to my New Living Translation Chronological Bible as my guide for reading through this coming year.
I cannot speak with words strong enough to share how valuable the chronological Bible has been to my spiritual journey and Christian development. I believe I’ve shared the story before on the blog, but my first venture with the chronological style of reading was back in 2004. It is a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say my life was forever changed; I was finally able to see the “big picture” of the Bible…the whole story as it were. The years that followed my first chronological reading were repeats, choosing to read through the Bible in this same manner several times until I started using the Book ofCommon Prayer and Lectionary around 2008.
In addition to my Bible reading plan, I’m excited about a couple of new devotional reading projects. I’ve been a big fan of N. T. Wright over the years and couldn’t wait to get my hands on his translation of the New Testament when I heard it was coming in 2011. I picked it up through Amazon.com as one of my Christmas gifts to myself. I have already started reading beginning with the Gospel of Luke. I’ve got several new gospel commentaries that I’ve been looking forward to reading and plan to read a commentary alongside my reading of The Kingdom New Testament. The Luke commentary is a new commentary, The Biblical Imaginative Series, and authored by Michael Card published through InterVarsity Press. Also from InterVarsity Press, I have two volumes from the Resonate Series with The Gospel of Matthew by Matt Woodley and The Gospel of John by Paul Louis Metger. I don’t have a gospel commentary set aside for Mark just yet, but we’ll see what comes along down the road. In the mean time, I think this is a pretty good plan and look forward to what God the Holy Spirit has to say as He guides my reading and devotions.
I’ve added a couple of new prayer books to my line-up this year too. I ordered, and have been using, The Benedictine Daily Prayer Book since returning from the Pecos Monastery this past summer. My other Christmas gift to me was a two volume prayer book set, Take our Moments and our Days, from the Anabaptist tradition. I still plan to use the Divine Hours Prayer Books I’ve been using for the past five years along with these newer acquisitions.
I have several devotional books riding over from last year into this year. The only new devotional book I’m using this new year (as of now) is the Ancient Christian Devotional – Lectionary Cycle B by Thomas Oden and Cindy Crosby.
I think this is going to be a grand year.