Tag Archives: Bible

God Is Not a Genie in a Bottle

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Eric Bargerhuff, author of The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God’s Word Is Misunderstood (Bethany House).  The interview was published in Christianity Today.  Eric is a keen thinker (and a fellow PhD graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).  He’s written a helpful, readable book that I commend to you.

Here’s a swath of the CT interview:

You critique prayers that uncritically expect God to grant us, well, anything. Like John 14:13: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

God is not a genie in a bottle. Yes, he has a good, pleasing, and perfect will. But this doesn’t mean we should pray for whatever we want. We are sinful people and don’t even know what’s best for us, as the Book of Romans says. Sometimes we pray with wrong motives. Praying random prayers that are self-centered is not God-honoring. We should seek his will when we pray.

What would you say to athletes who latch onto Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all this through him who gives me strength”)?

In that passage, Paul is teaching on contentment and arguing that no matter what our situation is, we should learn to be content. The ability to be content, whatever the situation, is contingent on what Jesus gives us. This verse doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus will give the player victory, but rather that he can be content either way because of God’s strength in him. It’s not about God giving you the strength to dunk the basketball as much as it is him working in you to be content no matter what happens in the game.

Read the whole interview.


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The Story Is Salvation: Trevin Wax on the Soterian

Trevin Wax has just reviewed Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel and has offered a thorough interaction with this creative book (with a great cover-design, I must say).  After registering a number of agreements with McKnight, Trevin suggests several shortcomings.  One of these involves the way McKnight conceives the story of Scripture.  I’ll quote Wax at length, as this section is excellent.

The heart of my differences with Scot’s proposal is not in defining the word “gospel.” It’s not in the gospel announcement’s need for the Story. It’s in the way we read that Story. There’s the rub. The reason I think it’s ultimately unhelpful to distinguish between a story gospel and a soterian gospel is because I think the story is soterian, that is, the grand narrative of Scripture is telling us about God’s glory in saving sinners through the cross and resurrection of His Son. The heart of Israel’s story is hope for salvation delivered by the coming Messiah-King.

When I read the Old Testament narrative, I can’t get through the Pentateuch and not tremble at the thought of standing before God without an animal sacrifice. I can’t read the story of Judges without shuddering at the pervasiveness of sin and the need for a Messiah-King. I can’t read Isaiah and not recognize my need for a righteousness that comes from outside myself.

Scot reads the announcement of 1 Corinthians 15 and wants to emphasize that Jesus is Messiah and Lord. I see the announcement of 1 Corinthians 15 as the gospel presentation by which we are being saved. The big story that the Bible is telling is a story of salvation – its promise and provision through the coming kingdom of a crucified Messiah. And this is why pitting the Old Testament storyline against atonement theology makes little sense to me. It’s not just that I view the gospel as a soterian. I view the story that way as well.

This point is dead-on.  There’s a lot of talk about preaching the “story” of Christ as opposed to “personal conversionism” and that sort of thing.  But look at the OT and what does one find in the story of Israel?  Salvific act after salvific act after salvific act.  Surely this is not the only matter unfolding in the OT, but it is in my reading of it most definitely the core.  In other words, you cannot separate God’s saving work and the history God authors.  As Ricky Gervais would say, “Not possible.”

Surf over to Trevin’s blog and read part one and part two.

I would say in conclusion that McKnight is clearly onto something in his book.  He is attempting, as I understand him, to bring together the kingship and messiahship of Christ.  That is a laudable task.  Accordingly, he is seeking to unite two models of the atonement: Christus Victor, the victory of Christ over the forces of darkness executed at the cross, and penal substitution.  Without going into an engagement with McKnight’s program, I would say that this is a vital project, one that I’m encouraged to see a number of scholars and doctoral students taking up.  Because of various pressures, evangelicals of the recent past were tempted to emphasize just one model of the atonement, viewing others as “liberal.”  I understand why they did this, but it’s great to see the models cohering in our day, as they should–with penal substitution very much at the core.

My friend Jeremy Treat, a Wheaton PhD student under Kevin Vanhoozer, fellow SAET member, and one of the brightest young theologians out there, is doing work in this area, and I can’t wait to read it.  During my time at TEDS, I wrote a paper for theologian Graham Cole’s atonement class on Carl Henry and his view of the atonement.  Unbeknownst to practically anyone, Henry did his own blending of atonement “models,” fusing penal substitution with the moral influence theory.  Evangelicals stand to benefit from much more of this kind of creative, biblically grounded theological work.

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Reading the Bible Versus Reading Edited Biblical Stories: What’s Better?

Over at the BibleMesh blog, Thesis, John Starke has a thought-provoking piece up entitled “Danville, Illinois and the Eschatology of a Five Year Old” about family devotions and the use of Christian books versus the Bible.  Starke raises the question of whether our family devotions should include more Bible and less (helpful and well-intentioned) condensed and edited retellings of biblical stories.

Here’s a bit to whet your appetite:

The story leads me to consider the new peculiar (cruel and unusual?) practice we’ve started at our home, where our three children range from the age of just about 2 to 6— two girls and one boy. We are the normal, young reformed family that has jumped on the story book Bible craze. The steady diet of The Jesus Story Book Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible have brought much fruit and color to our family devotions. But I have to say, with some disappointment, that many of our lessons have never ended with questions. I don’t mean “discussion questions” usually included at the end of study guide chapters, but the curiosity of a four or five year old, who wonders, “Why would Jesus say that?” or, even, “What does circumcision mean?”

Our devotions usually ended with the attitude of, “That’s great, dad! Jesus sure is swell!” We didn’t always feel a sense of tension, confusion, or wonder. Now, don’t hear me wrongly, these story books are so helpful in putting the whole story of the Bible together for young children, in a way that just plugging through the Old and New Testament struggles to capture. We should read and re-read them.

The whole article is worth considering.  I like using books like those John mentioned, but there is no substitute for the actual Word of God.  It’s kind of like keeping your little ones in church.  It can be hard, and there’s some extra work you have to do, but in the end, it seems well worth the effort.

I happen to think that the books in question can be a big help to parents, especially as they’re putting together the pieces for a Christocentric reading of the Scripture.  In our home, we use both books John mentioned.  But as my children age, I am looking forward to digging into the Bible with them.  That will take some hard work, a good bit of explaining, and some patience, but it will be eminently worth it.  Resources to understand the Bible are great.  There is no substitute, however, for the God-breathed Bible.  None.  It’s what we need, it’s what our children need, it’s what our churches need, and it’s what our world needs.
(This is cross-posted from the blog of Vitamin Z


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Greg Thornbury of BibleMesh on Todd Burpo’s “Heaven Is for Real”

I am very privileged to be part of a group of writers at Thesis, the BibleMesh blog.  I don’t know if you’ve been following our work there, but we’ve been pumping out content for several weeks now.  We’ve got Greg Thornbury (dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University), Ben Mitchell (noted ethicist and moral philosopher), Mark Coppenger (distinguished Southern Seminary philosophy professor), Michael McClenahan (Irish pastor, Edwards scholar), John Starke (Gospel Coalition editor) and me (Christian rapper) on the docket.

Yesterday, Greg wrote a piece entitled “Yes, Heaven Is a Real Place, But…” on a literary phenomenon that has swept the country, Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is for Real. With clarity and wit, Greg sets the stage for the story:

Authored by Todd Burpo, a pastor from Nebraska, and professional nonfiction writer Lynn Vincent (who helped Sarah Palin produce Going Rogue), the book tells the story of a four-year old boy who claims to have been near death, gone to heaven, and come back to tell his story.

The boy, Colton, was rushed to the hospital with a burst appendix—a scenario to which I can relate since I went to the hospital at age four under exactly the same circumstances. But while I woke up wanting to talk to my Grandpa Taylor about Evel Knieval, Colton came back saying that while he was in surgery, he went to heaven and had experiences with various biblical figures and yes, you guessed it, Jesus himself. Initially, his stories about his time in heaven were met with caution by his parents, but the detail with which he described the events baffled Todd and Sonja, his mother and father. While Colton was only “there” in heaven for about three minutes, he purportedly and variously: sat on Jesus’ lap, heard about a coming battle with Satan at the end of the world, reported that Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father, realized that God is a Trinity of persons (hey, the kid’s a trinitarian!), and learned that no one grows old in heaven, among other things.

Here’s Greg’s evaluation of the utility of this book:

Aside from the fact that, as Bill Hybels once wisely pointed out, you don’t lead with your best “weird God story” when you’re trying to evangelize someone, I am more bothered by the high regard and sheer enthusiasm many well-intentioned lay evangelicals are affording to Todd Burpo’s book. Nor am I embarrassed by the discussion of evidence for the afterlife, having written about it previously, and commending Dinesh D’Souza’s fine book about the subject along the way. What bothers me about the reception of Heaven is a Real Place is what it says about the relatively low view of the sufficiency of Scripture among evangelicals today. In other words, it’s not good enough for us to hear about heaven from the holy apostles, Church Fathers, and trusted commentaries on Scripture. No, we need a little boy sitting on Jesus’ lap to tell us that instead. Then we will believe it.  And that phenomenon ultimately bodes ill for everyone who really does love the Bible: pastors, teachers, parents, and yes, even children.

Read the whole post.

Greg has a great point here.  We need not fear the supernatural working of God in our world.  However, our faith rests in the Word, which is sufficient for all of life, faith and doctrine.  We don’t need unusual testimonies of deliverance to credit Christianity.  God has spoken everything he wished to say and everything we need to hear.  We’re not “Bible idolators” if we take the Word at its, well, word.  We’re Christians filled with the Holy Spirit and thus able to break free of doubt, distrust, and sin.

I would commend the whole BibleMesh blog, Thesis, to you.  If you’re so inclined, check it on a regular basis.  There is a great deal of good content of a Christ-and-culture nature that we’re producing, all for the strengthening of the church for the glory of Christ.

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Live-Stream of Rich Mouw on “Evangelical Pietism”

The Henry Center of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is pleased to make today’s 1PM CST lecture by Dr. Richard Mouw on evangelical pietism available for free by live stream.  To view the lecture, please visit http://tiuproductions.com/livestream.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 | Richard Mouw | Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA “Confessions of an Evangelical Pietist”  (1pm in ATO Chapel at TEDS)

    The Christian community needs to work at integrating our doctrine, action and piety (”head, hands and heart”). But which takes priority? And a closely related issue: what, in the most basic sense, is the Bible trying to “do” to us? Shape the way we think? Guide us in the activist programs we align ourselves with in the word? Transform our inner life? Obviously, all three are crucial. But Richard Mouw will explain why he keeps coming back to the fundamental need to be guided in everything else by the kind of piety that characterized the “sawdust trail” of our revivalist past.

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Carl Trueman on How to Keep One’s Soul in the Academy

A powerful exhortation by Carl Trueman to theological students to cling to the local church from the most recent Themelios:

The temptation for a theological student at this point, of course, is to make the obvious answer to this: well, I study the things of God all day long; I am hardly likely to forget about God, who he is and what he has done, am I? Well, there is forgetting and there is forgetting. Remembering that there is a train that leaves the local station every evening at five o’clock is one thing; remembering that I need to be on it to return home to be there for my wife’s surprise birthday party is quite another. It is all too easy for the theological student to end up remembering God as an object of knowledge; it is quite another thing to remember him as the all-surpassing subject of existence.

This is why church is vitally important. OK, long-standing readers of Themelios know what is coming next: Trueman’s pitch for seeing the local church as the necessary context for the Christian life, not least for those called to study theology at the highest level. Well, here it comes; and just because I have said it before does not make it any less true or any less necessary to say it again. After all, some of you may—ahem—have forgotten the speech. As noted above, that’s what the Bible itself indicates as happening when predictable but important routines are abandoned or their content taken for granted.

These are challenging and needed words.  What sense does it make to study the Word in an academic setting if we lose our souls in the process?

And how are we to keep our souls, both as students and throughout the rest of our lives?  In the power of the Holy Spirit, by attending to the routine things of the Christian life in which are hid the pleasures of eternity.


By the way, if any readers of this blog are going to the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in New Orleans and want to indulge their lifelong curiosity in all things Harold Ockenga, I’ll be presenting a paper in the Sheraton A3/303 tomorrow, Wednesday, November 18th, at 11am entitled “Harold Ockenga and the Neo-Evangelical Renaissance: Overview and Assessment.”

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BibleMesh Beta Testing Update: Emails Received, and Testers Can Still Apply

biblemeshThanks to the huge pack of you who signed up to test the new BibleMesh site.  Way too many folks replied for us to respond individually to you, but rest assured that we have received your emails and are now gearing up to engage you in the beta-testing process.

If you are interested in being a beta-tester but have not responded, we may be able to fit you in.  Email me at ostracha [at] tiu.edu (take out the spaces and put in the @ symbol there) to sign up.

As I said, a BibleMesh representative will be contacting you shortly, and you’ll be on your way to viewing all kinds of cutting-edge content and technology all designed to help you–and many others besides–dig into the awesome truth and story of God’s Word.

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Kantzer Lectures with Stephen Williams Are Up

stephen_williamsAs an employee of the Henry Center at TEDS, I’m glad to pass on that the Kantzer Lectures with Stephen Williams are now posted free of charge for the viewing of the general public.  You will find the lectures professionally edited and theologically stimulating, I think.

September 8-15, 2009 | Dr. Stephen Williams (Union Theological College, Belfast, Ireland)

Series Title
: The Election of Grace: a Riddle without Resolution?

Lectures on election with special reference to Karl Barth, the Bible, and the pastoral function of the doctrine. All lectures were free and open to the public.

Series Outline

Lecture One, Tuesday, September 8 | Video

Lecture Two, Wednesday, September 9 | Video

Lecture Three, Thursday, September 10 | Video

Lecture Four, Monday, September 14 | Video

Lecture Five, Monday, September 14 | Video

Lecture Six Tuesday, September 15 | Video


In addition, here’s the content from Ravi Zacharias’s recent visit, in case you missed it:

Toward an Evangelical Understanding of Postmodernism and Mission | Video
Audience Q&A | Video
Interview | Video

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Get BibleMesh with Brand New Tim Keller Video

keller2Would you like to be able to view a Christ-centered narrative walkthrough of the Bible by Tim Keller?  Would you like to read hundreds of clear, concise, authoritative articles about the core story, doctrines, people, events and ideas of Scripture?  Would you like to be able to take unbelievers and young believers through this content?

Yes?  How?  It’s simple.  BibleMesh, a brand-spanking-new, state-of-the-art online discipleship tool, is about to debut.  It features, among other great stuff, content in which New York City pastor and The Gospel Coalition Vice President Tim Keller lays out his narratival, Christ-centered overview of Scripture.  This is but one feature of the multi-platform scriptural learning tool that is BibleMesh. 

That means that you will be able to learn from and use a multi-media, multi-sensory experience that will teach you the biblical story as never before. Some of you saw the product preview at the Henry Center-sponsored Piper-Carson event at Park Community Church in April 2009. BibleMesh sponsored that event and also displayed at The Gospel Coalition 2009 and Together for the Gospel 2010, many of whose members have contributed to the site.

Honestly, when you see this site as a finished product, you will be blown away. Churches, Bible study leaders, college ministry workers, missionaries, individual Christians, and many more folks will hugely benefit from BibleMesh. I have seen chunks of the Keller video, and it alone is incredible.

Keep an eye out for BibleMesh–it debuts in June 2010.


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John Calvin Was a Pastor-Theologian

But don’t take my word for it, take W. Robert Godfrey’s:

“Many approach Calvin first of all as a theologian, and he certainly was a great theologian. But his theology emerged out of his own spiritual journey and struggles. In the first part of the book I focus on that spiritual pilgrimage of Calvin, because his experience and his reading of the Bible are critical to understanding his vision of Christianity. In the second part of the book, I follow his pastoral career because he regarded his calling as primarily that of pastor. His work as theologian and biblical commentator really served his work as pastor.”

(from an interview with CT’s Collin Hansen)

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