Monday, January 21, 2008

My Comments on Bitzer was a Banker

Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don't put much stock in doctrinal formulations.
This quote by John Piper in his book, Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, has been weighing on my mind ever since I read it last week on Jason Button’s blog post, Brothers, Bitzer was a Banker. The context was a plea for pastors to learn and use Greek and Hebrew. If Bitzer, who was just a banker, found it valuable, how much more should it be for full-time ministers of the gospel? The quote cited above is just one of several that Piper makes to support his argument.

I think it is an overstatement to say that unless one becomes proficient in the Biblical languages, you will tend towards one of these two extremes. Surely, several counterexamples could be found. Nevertheless, I think his point is well-taken, that a habitual disregard of careful exegesis (that includes a study of the text beyond one’s favorite English translation) will reduce one’s ministry to regurgitating traditional positions and interpretations that may or may not be faithful to the Scriptures or to the text under consideration (i.e., the right doctrine from the wrong text syndrome).
When that happens, people under your ministry who study the text for themselves may begin to lose trust in your commitment to the authority of Scripture or your competence to rightly divide it. Worst case scenario is that they begin to lose confidence in the Scriptures themselves and go down the road of religious pluralism mentioned by Piper. After all, if you can get anything out of a passage, regardless of the details of the text, then why limit yourself to conservative interpretations?

Those who don’t bother to study the text for themselves will find that their convictions, as learned from their pastor’s non-exegetical approach, are based on an limp, bruised reed and if they lean upon it, they will pierce themselves through when confronted with challenges to their doctrine or practice. I believe this second scenario is exactly what has happened in some segments of fundamentalism over the past several decades. Right doctrines and practices were preached from an authoritative pulpit, where the authority came from the dominance of the man’s personality, following, or influence, but not from the careful exposition of God’s Word. Now, when those doctrines and practices are challenged, there is no Scriptural foundation from which the people of God can withstand such an attack. I contend this is true for all sorts of issues that people tend to dismiss today, such as music, separation, dress, entertainment choices, social drinking, etc. This can happen with more doctrinal matters as well. How many people in our churches could give a sound refutation of easy believism, no-repentance gospels, or the compromises to the doctrine of justification associated with the recent Evangelicals and Catholics Together declarations? Or do they just believe that Catholic doctrine is wrong because their pastor says so?

We say we believe in the inerrant, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible but we ignore the details of the very words that God breathed out, or how those words form inerrant thoughts, or how those thoughts logically express God’s viewpoint on things. We pass over these details, relying only on the tradition of an English translation or an overall concept that we embrace and we fail to think God’s thoughts after Him or learn why He says what He does in the way that He does. In the end we stagnate because we never go beyond the traditions that we already know. I’m going to use the title of my blog again and say that we fail to discover more of the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Ephesians 3:7-8
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess

The death of Bobby Fischer on Thursday reminded me of the only chess book I ever read. I was just out of grad school and working in the DoD as a cryptologic mathematician. The NSA employed scores of us geeks and many of us had an interest in chess. We often played speed chess during our lunch breaks. Those matches became quite intense as we desperately longed for our opponent's flag to fall, even as we willed our chess clock flag to miraculously stay up. We even drew crowds! Unbelievable, I know, but you have to understand the subculture you are dealing with. At any rate, chess had always been something I was good at and enjoyed, but now it was getting serious. A friend of mine lent me his copy of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess and my play instantly improved as I incorporated moves and strategies that I learned from Bobby Fischer.

With that success, I made my way to a local bookstore fully intending to start a library of chess books. I wanted to learn the openings and ways to exploit the mistakes of opponents who didn’t know the openings as well as I. I wanted to develop sophisticated strategies for the development of my pieces, learn how to force my opponents into weak positions, and identify fool-proof end-game maneuvers. I was going to become a grand master, or at least come close.

But as I looked at those books and contemplated the time and commitment involved in reaching the pinnacle of chess playing, I began to wonder what I wanted to give my life to. I was single, didn’t have any family obligations. I could have invested the time and money to become really good. As I was thinking on these things the Lord began to convict me regarding the overall goals of my life. I realized that being great at chess is an OK accomplishment but there is so much more to life than chess. I really felt that the Lord wanted me to give my life over to learning about Him rather than learning about chess.

Today, I have hundreds of books about God and the Bible and not one about chess. I think about Bobby Fischer and what he gave his life to and how his life ended. He was the greatest in the world. And now what? That day in a bookstore in Columbia, MD, I made a decision by God’s grace that I wouldn’t go down that road and I am so thankful. I still enjoy playing chess when I get the chance but I enjoy learning about Christ and His unsearchable riches so much more.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Chuck Dunn Report

For those of you interested in presidential politics, I recommend reading The Chuck Dunn Report.

Dr. Dunn was my College and Career SS teacher at University Baptist Church while I was at Clemson working on my Master's degree. He worked chapter by chapter through the Pentateuch during those years and always had a well-prepared, thoughful lesson. He was a model of faithfulness in that regard that I have tried to emulate now that I am teaching Sunday School on a regular basis.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wicked Men Be Not Apt to Be Sensible

Jonathan Edwards really had a way with words. Most of us are familiar with the word pictures he painted in his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I came across another passage nearly as striking in a sermon entitled, Wicked Men Be Not Apt to Be Sensible. It is about how the unsaved rarely think beyond the realities of this present age, much less about their certain impending physical death.
Here is Edwards on death:
They are not wont to dwell in their thoughts upon death, the sinking of nature under the oppressing weight of dying pains, the gradual creeping of cold death upon them, their breaths becoming shorter and shorter, the increasing of the oppression of their vitals together with the decay of strength, till they can fetch their breath no longer, the struggling for life under the last agonies, till nature is even forced to yield, and the lungs cease to perform their office, the pulse of the heart ceases, and the blood stops and no longer continues to circulate, and the frame of the body dissolves, and the union between body and soul is broken and the soul leaves its old habitation, as being no longer fit for its residence and takes its flight into the unseen world of spirits, while pale ghostly death sits upon the face of their corpse and they are laid in the dark and silent grave, and begin to corrupt, and the worms begin to take them till they turn to dust and rise not again till the heavens be no more.

That’s one sentence!

He goes on to say,
And how that after this the places that have known them shall know them no more. Their faces shall no more be seen, their voice no more heard, and the face of the earth shall be forever clear of them.
They don’t consider those things. Though they are so certain and so near, they hardly ever think those things over. They think of other things that have neither the truth part of the certainty nor importance, with a great deal of fixedness, the thoughts of them made impression on their minds, and they are setting their hearts upon those things and plotting and contriving and going about them as if they thought there never was to be an end put to them. Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever (Ps. 49:11).