Hermeneutics

An Introduction to Luke 10 Theology...

As I spend the next couple of weeks thinking about an upcoming opportunity for me to preach at our community Holy Week services I want to take some time here to express in a more systematic way some of things that I am wrestling with, especially as it pertains to themes of unity and mission. Why these themes I think are bound up in the story of the Good Samaritan I will get more into in the coming days, but right now I want to lay out the importance of this text for the life of the church in our Post-Christendom reality.

I am quickly becoming convinced that Luke 10 is perhaps one of the most important chapters in the New Testament for the crisis that the contemporary church in the West faces as it seeks to understand its new (marginal) role in Western culture. Allow me to explain.

In Luke you have three inter-related and extremely relevant stories. You find the story of Jesus' commission of the seventy(two) and their work in search of the people of peace (10:1-24). The second story is that of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37), this story I think needs a deeper/closer reading (which we will get to in time). Finally this chapter concludes with a brief scene of frustration between Mary, Martha, and Jesus about who is expected to what in the name of hospitality and cultural expectation (10:38-42). So let me give you what I think these texts give us here and then I will spend the next few weeks unpacking each of these texts as we dialogue about the validity (if there is any) of reading these texts in this way in our context.

The story of the seventy(two) (10:1-24) is a story of MISSION IN SEARCH OF GOD'S ALREADY-PRESENT WORK.

The story of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) is a story of LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR ACROSS THEOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE.

The story of Mary and Martha at dinner (10:38-42) is a story that DEMANDS THAT WE RETHINK WHAT IS EXPECTED OF US BY GOD IN LIGHT OF THE PERSON AND WORK OF JESUS AND NOT SIMPLY THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE CULTURE IN WHICH WE LIVE. 

There are a number of important things that are here for us to discover and to examine. Things that confront (and sometimes condemn) the way that we have thought about and acted out things in the past. But it is increasingly clear that as followers of Jesus, and as a particular Christian tradition (see our recent struggles) a failure to ask these questions and to be confronted by these texts seals our fate as a group of people who miss out on what God is doing in the world through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

So a couple of questions to ask before we begin...

(1) How have you read/understood these texts up until now?
For example, I assumed for a long time that the story of the seventy(two) was nice but not actually relevant to my life. It was about "them". I have learned much differently in recent years. 

(2) Are there any areas of your individual life or the life of your church that need to be reconsidered or even replaced? If so, what are they and how might any of these three narratives help us think about that. (More on how these stories address some specific issues soon.)

(3) What does it mean to engage Scripture not looking for practices and procedures, but instead looking for the character and nature of God, most clearly seen in Jesus and incarnated in his body, the Church? How might we need to rethink the way we think about the Bible in order that God has the space to speak afresh to us in these texts?

I think this will be a rich conversation, if you join it.

Spiritual (Re)Formation Reboot...

Is anyone out there?

Have I really been gone from here since August? Wow. A lot has happened since my last post, and it is clear that it is time for a fresh start. So here we go.

I hope you will join me as I "start fresh" here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. A new look, hopefully some new topics, and a much greater consistency in writing will mark this new season here.

Let me give you a preview of some of the things that will be appearing here in the near future...

I have recently resurrected a series at the Central Church of Christ where I teach/preach where I am answering questions that are submitted to me from the members of my congregation.

Many of those questions I will soon be sharing here on Spiritual (Re)Formation. Some of those questions include the following:

  • Is instrumental music a salvation issue?
  • Why did Jesus cry out from the cross, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"
  • When does seeking to be obedient become legalism?
  • How should we use church history to shape our theology and practice?
  • Who served as deacons in the first century church?
  • What should be the relationship of the church and the state?
  • How should we interact with (or pull away from) people with whom we disagree about theological matters?

These and other questions will arise as time goes on. Also, feel free to submit any questions you might have by sending me an email.

We will also be talking about issues of church and culture. What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? How are we to react to and engage with the culure(s) in which we live?

Maybe more specifically, how does a movement that has been preoccupied with the "first century church" maintain a faithful and culturally appropriate posture in the places in which we find ourselves?

This obviously brings in larger issues about definitions of culture, what we mean by "church" and some of the ways that we read, interpret, and use Scripture to define both belief and practice. In time, we will lay some of this groundwork and see where it takes us from there.

I also hope to begin some sporadic posts about our history, traditions, and some of the major shifts that have taken place in our heritage (both good and bad). The goal here is to better understand our roots and the places that we have "gone off into the weeds" as some like to say.

My hunch is that many of us don't know the richness and depth of our heritage. While it can be easy to be negative and cynical about our tradition (this is from the voice of experience!), I believe that there are powerful things from our own history that can and should be reclaimed in the present.

Finally, I hope to raise some questions (and propose some options) in the realm of hermeneutics or biblical interpretation. The way in which we read Scripture dictates much of what we understand (or miss). Understanding the ways we have been influenced by forces and ideas that we have never formally been taught is important. Here we will be listening to voices both old and new, both local and around the world. Reading Scripture is both a wonderful privilege (that many in history have not had!) and a deep responsibility and challenge.

We will look at some of the ways that the people in Scripture have interpreted and used Scripture, we will explore some passages that seem to reveal some tension both in perspective and understanding, and we will also talk about ways that are dangerous to our engagement with Scripture.

Overall, I think that the future is bright here at Spiritual (Re)Formation. I believe that the Spirit of God is moving in powerful and sometimes shocking ways in the church today to make us more into the image of His Son in the world. The most important part of this journey here however will be your participation. So stop back often, comment when you can, and most of all pray that each of us will be continually (re)formed into the image of Jesus.

How Not-to-Read the Bible...

As a minister, graduate student, and learner of Restoration Movement history I have become increasingly aggrivated by and sensitive to a couple of very important dangers:

(1) The Power/Danger of Assumptions

When someone has already figured out the "right answer" to an issue or subject to the exclusion of a careful reading of the biblical text.

When people don't realize (or don't care) that their assumptions on other texts almost "demand" a particular interpretation of other texts and issues.

When people assume that they have already "studied that" (which can range from in-depth study, to what they learned from someone else, to "what makes sense" to them) and therefore it doesn't need to be discussed again.

(2) The Power/Danger of Language

Here are just a few of the phrases, questions, and statements that set my blood immediately to boil:

"The Bible clearly teaches..." (Somehow, this is only employed when the text under discussion has a significant amount of disagreement surrounding it.)

"Why can't we just believe what the Bible says?"

"Any reasonable person..."

"I thought we solved that (insert time period here)..."

"Well, that's just your interpretation..." (This one only shows up when your interpretation goes against my interpretation.)

"Why are we even talking about this?" (This one I find to be dangerous because it is dismissive and reflects an unwillingness to engage in conversation at all.)

(3) The Power/Danger of Not Reading the Biblical Text Closely

I am not suggesting that everyone break out their critical Greek and Hebrew texts with the full apparatus and we start discussing textual variants and the history of interpretation starting with Augustine and John Chrysostom. (Although admittedly, for some of us, this would be enjoyable.) But what I am suggesting is that we have to read the biblical text that is in our laps with care and seriousness.

A number of textual, hermeneutical, and theological issues can be resolved by applying this one principal. Read closely, be honest.

I am thankful to be from a religious tradition that takes Scripture seriously. I am thankful that in our past we have a strong legacy of ministry and scholarship in conversation with one another. I am thankful that we are returning to this part of our legacy that for a time we left behind.

We owe it to our children to be honest in the way that we read and approach Scripture. We owe it to each other to be open and honest with Scripture. More importantly, it is God and his mission that deserve our careful and honest reading of Scripture. Otherwise we find ourselves in danger of distorting the image of God both in our own lives and in our participation in his mission.