Apologetics

We Don’t Know the Story

I’ve been writing for the past few weeks on Eastern vs. Western thinking and how we think will shape how we approach the Bible.  Two weeks ago, I shared the differences between Eastern and Western thinking.  Catch up here.  Last week, I shared some examples that the Gospel writers purposefully infused in their text that we Western thinkers probably have missed.  Catch that one here.  This week, I want to go to the recorded words of Jesus himself and examine how a more Eastern thinking approach may help us better understand our Lord, Savior, and Messiah.

Let me start off by saying that Jesus declares his deity over and over and over again in the Gospels.  Don’t kid yourself.  This is why the killed him.  They were obeying the Law of Moses.  They believed he was a blasphemer and a false prophet who claimed to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This was an offense punishable by death.  It wasn’t because he was nice to people.  It wasn’t because he was a good teacher.  It wasn’t even because he posed a threat to the status quo inverting the social order.  Those are all things we either read into the text or are possible secondary, tertiary issues.  The primary reason Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed was because he, a man, claimed to be God.

Now if that’s the case, then why all these early heresies in the church questioning Jesus’ divinity and while these church-wide ecumenical councils to set the record straight about Jesus’ divinity?  Because, in those contexts, we are talking about a bunch of Western thinkers reading accounts written by Easterners.

Jesus declared his deity over and over and over again in the Gospels.  However, majority of the time he does it “metaphorically” (not in a surreal sense, but within a metaphor or in an Eastern way) and not propositionally (or in a Western way).  As I said in my last post, most modern Orthodox Jews don’t understand the arguments we get into as Christians about the divinity or claims of Jesus.  They know the story and they understand that Jesus is making explicit claims.  Don’t believe me?  Looking for an example?  Outside the book of John?  Just one for today.


Matthew 11:29 – 30

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This passage is so rich, but I will only get to Jesus’ divinity claims within it.

Most Westerners miss the depth because this seems to be a pretty straightforward, propositional claim (albeit a little conceited if we would hear someone besides Jesus say it).  Jesus is claiming to be gentle and humble and able to give rest because his “yoke” (whatever that is…[something else I’ll have to get to later]) is light.  And we Westerners are done.  We examine the statement, determine whether it is true or false, and move on.  But there is more going on here.

Remember Jesus is an Easterner talking to Easterners.  What is the context in which Easterners communicate?  Not proposition, but story and metaphor.  And in this Jewish community, what is the most important story?  The story of God’s people.  God’s story.  So any time we see Jesus talking, we should always be asking ourselves, “Where have I seen this before?” because 9 1/2 times out of 10, Jesus is referencing an earlier part of the story.  So what is he referencing here?  Let’s pull out each claim and then rack our Old Testament brains.

 

First claim:  Jesus is “gentle and lowly in heart” (ESV) “meek” (KJV) “humble” (NASB)

Numbers 12:3

“the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (ESV)
“the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (KJV)
“the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (NASB)

You may think this is a coincidence, but I believe Jesus is being purposeful in using these particular adjectives for himself.  No one else in all Scripture is described this way except for these two men.  And keep Deuteronomy 18:15 in mind.

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen”  – Moses

 

Second claim: Jesus’ yoke will give us/our souls rest

Exodus 33:14; Jeremiah 16:6

“And [the LORD] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

“Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’ “

According to Exodus (Moses) and Jeremiah, only the LORD (the very name of God) gives us and our souls rest.

In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus isn’t just saying he’s a nice guy who does nice things for tired and hurting people.  It’s deeper than that.  Jesus is saying, “I am the one like Moses to whom you should listen and I have the power to give your soul rest because I am the LORD.”  Divinity claim.  And we missed it.  Because we don’t know the story.

 

Jesus also declares his deity periodically not in a “metaphorical” Eastern way, but in a propositional Western way.  These are the passages that Western Christians are most familiar with (The “I Am”s in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ claim that he and the Father are one…in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ claim that he is the only way to the Father…in John’s Gospel).  What Western Christians struggle with is how few verses there and, even still, they aren’t as straightforward as we would like them to be.  We can’t point to a chapter and verse and where Jesus says, “I am God.”  We get flustered with liberal “Christians” or non-Christians who like Jesus, but don’t like him as “god” they twist his meaning in these verses to something else.  We don’t know where else to turn.  We just pull the faith card and hope they leave us alone.

What I hope this series of blog posts does is strengthen your faith in the text of Scripture and cause you to look more carefully and dig more deeply so that you can understand not just head-knowledge, fact-based, Western thinking Christianity, which is great and has it’s place, but also understand the personal, story-bound, experiential, Eastern thinking Christianity as well.

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On Controversy

With all the kerfuffles going on around the internet (TGC this, Multnomah Publishers that), I wanted to draw your attention to a few helpful articles.

The first comes from my friends over at West Virginia for the Gospel.  Josiah Batten writes brilliantly about essential things, important things, and peripheral things.  You can read it here.

The second is a letter written by John Newton, an evangelical Anglican cleric during the 1700’s.  During that time there was a minister who was about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy.  Instead, he wrote to John Newton of his intention. Read Newton’s response.

Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.” But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.


Excerpt from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX “On Controversy.”

The Resurrection 2014

Today’s blog post can be found over at West Virginia for the Gospel, “a coalition of like-minded individuals who wish to see reformation take hold in West Virginia and the Gospel message be proclaimed throughout.”  I have become a regular contributor and cherish the opportunity I have to participate in building Christ’s Kingdom here in this way.

So please enjoy “The Empty Tomb: Resurrection Theory