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This is a repost of Theology - the end of the process??

Is “systematic theology... the end process of exegesis and biblical theology"??  Ben Myers writes brilliantly against such a conception.  To imagine that a pure biblical scholar can dispassionately read off the meaning of the Bible through the use of objective interpretive tools is ludicrous.  To imagine that then the systematic theologian comes to co-ordinate these propositions into a logically cogent order is similarly misguided.  As Myers says 'It's theology all the way down.'  Theological pre-suppositions and commitments necessarily guide and shape all Christian activity from exegesis to exposition to pastoral work, to evangelism to hospitality to everything.

And yet the idea that the Bible can be neutrally read is so tempting.  We would love to conceive of revelation as propositions deposited in a handy compendium simply to be extracted and applied.  Yet the Word is a Person.  And His book is Personal (John 5:39).  It's not something we judge with our double edged swords - the Word judges us. (Heb 4:12)

Now Jesus thought the Scriptures were absolutely clear.  He never made excuses for theological error.  He never gave even the slightest bit of latitude by conceding a certain obscurity to the Bible.  He never assumes that His theological opponents have just mis-applied an interpretive paradigm.  If they get it wrong He assumes they've never read the Scriptures (e.g. Matt 21:16,42; Mark 2:25)!  So the perspicuity of the Bible is not in dispute. 

But Jesus tells the Pharisees why they get it wrong - "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." (Matt 22:29)  And, again, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40)  They are wrongly oriented to the Power of God and the One of Whom the Scriptures testify - Jesus.  This is not simply a wrong orientation of the intepreter but of the interpretation.  Scripture reading must be oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  Within this paradigm - a paradigm which the Scriptures themselves give us - the Bible makes itself abundantly clear.

But this paradigm is an unashamedly and irreducibly theological one.  It is the result of exegesis (e.g. studying the verses given above) but it is also the pre-supposition of such exegesis.  Theology is not the end of the process from exegesis to biblical studies and then to the systematician! 

And yet, I have often been in discussions regarding the Old Testament where theologians will claim an obvious meaning to the OT text which is one not oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  They will claim that this first level meaning is the literal meaning - one that is simply read off the text by a process of sound exegesis.  And then they claim that the second meaning (it's sensus plenior - usually the christocentric meaning) is achieved by going back to the text but this time applying some extrinsic theological commitments.

What do we say to this?  Well hopefully we see that whatever 'level' of meaning we assign to the biblical text it is not an obvious, literal meaning to be read off the Scriptures like a bar-code!  Whatever you think that first-level meaning to be, such a meaning is inextricably linked to a whole web of theological pre-suppositions.  The step from first level to second is not a step from exegesis to a theological re-reading.  It is to view the text first through one set of pre-suppositions and then through another.

And that changes the direction of the conversation doesn't it?  Because then we all admit that 'I have theological pre-suppositions at every level of my interpretation.'  And we all come clean and say 'Even the basic, first-level meaning assigned to an OT text comes from some quite developed theological pre-commitments - pre-commitments that would never be universally endorsed by every Christian interpreter, let alone every Jewish one!'  And then we ask 'Well why begin with pre-suppositions which you know to be inadequate?  Why begin with pre-suppositions that are anything short of 'the Power of God' and 'the Son of God'?   And if this is so, then why on earth do we waste our time with a first-level paradigm that left even the post-incarnation Pharisees completely ignorant of the Word?  In short, why don't we work out the implications of a biblical theology that is trinitarian all the way down?  Why don't we, at all times, read the OT as inherently and irreducibly a trinitarian revelation of the Son?

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Some yearly reading plans from ESV.

So go to it.

Now there's much to be said for just reading decent chunks of the word.  After all that's how you get to really know an author - read lots.  But if you also want some pointers on biblical meditation here are some helpful tips.

from Justin Taylor

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And if you want a healthy dose of scepticism about resolutions, listen to this very enjoyable podcast from Jeff Weddle! (Only 6 mins).  His follow-up is here.  (He's pastor of this church).

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Do you believe these words from Jesus:

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.  (Mark 4:20)

Christ's promise for Christian fruitfulness is out of this world.  3000%, 6000% or 10 000% is an incredible yield.

Do I dare believe in this kind of growth?  To put it another way, Will I hear and welcome this word?

We would believe Jesus if He said "five times what was sown!"  We marvel at 300% yield.  We settle for two-fold growth.  But Jesus promises something so supernaturally grand we must ask, If I believed Jesus' words about Jesus' words how would I treat Jesus' words? 

Well Mark 4:20 means I'd hear them and welcome them. 

Mark 4:10-12 means I'd hear them with Jesus at the centre - allowing them to draw me to Him.

Mark 4:15 means I'll hear them prayerfully, recognizing the spiritual battle undertaken every time they're heard.

Mark 4:16-17 means I'll cling to them when trouble comes - allowing the trouble to drive me deeper into Christ in His word.

and

Mark 4:18 means I'll be vigilant against wealth, worry and wanting as powers competing in my heart for attention.

But Jesus promises -- PROMISES -- that hearing and welcoming His word in this way will produce a transformation in our lives beyond belief.

How will the word produce transformation?  The way a seed produces growth.

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It will be:

Weak Looking but Powerful

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Internal but Outgoing

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Gradual but Multiplying

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First, Weak Looking but Powerful

Tim Keller tells the story of a man from the middle ages who was so terrified of meeting Jesus at the judgement that he commanded a giant marble slab to be put over his grave.  Apparently he did this so that, when everyone else was resurrected, he would stay down.  Well before the burial was complete and the slab was laid, an acorn fell into the grave. Over the years, a great tree grew, split the slab in two and moved it off the grave.

You might have thought, What chance does a little acorn have against a giant marble slab?  No contest, the acorn wins.  It looks so weak but it is more powerful than a team of horses.  Weak but powerful. 

Just like the Word.  You say a few words about Jesus, you speak truth into another person's life and it looks pathetic.  And yet eternities are changed and lives are transformed. 

Second, Internal but Outgoing

Last week a friend of mine told me of the worst pain he'd ever felt in his life.  In the midst of it the words came to him: "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12:9)  It enabled him to handle that pain with an astonishing peace.  Where did that word come from?  It had been planted there.  And it grew up later with an amazing power to comfort.  The word goes in and it comes out organically.  

This is not the parable of the Brick Supplier who drops off masonry to four different builders.  That would be a story about externals and effort and easily measurable growth.  But no, the word goes in like a seed and later, organically, it comes out.

Third, Gradual but Muliplying

Think of this: within a single acorn lies all the genetic information required to produce not only an oak, but from that oak will come scores of new acorns.  And from them more trees with hundreds of acorns and so on.  Given enough time a single acorn could cover the whole earth in wood.

Luther knew this gradual but multiplying power.  When explaining how he opposed the whole Roman church he said this:

I simply taught, preached, and wrote God's Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

 That's the power of the word. 

So do we believe Jesus when He says, Thirty, Sixty, a Hundred-fold?

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This is from a sermon I preached on Mark 4:1-34:

Listen here

Read here

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If you ever say Amen it's usually a response to what someone else has said or prayed, right?

And it's usually after what they've said, right?

And only if it's really good do you repeat it: 'Amen, Amen!', right?

So it's an affirmation that someone else has just spoken truth (Amen is straight from the Hebrew for truth).

But when Jesus comes along, what does He do?  He gives Amens to His own sayings: 30 times in Matthew alone!  And in John's Gospel He gives a double-Amen to 25 of His own teachings!

e.g. Amen, Amen I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life (John 5:24)

What's Jesus doing by prefacing His teaching with 'Amen, Amen'?  Well let me put words to what this means.  Jesus is basically saying:

"You don't stand in judgement on my word.  I won't even wait for your Amen.  Your Amen could only ever be the faint echo of my own Amen!  You do not and cannot stand in judgement on my word.  Before you've even heard a syllable of it, I tell you on my own authority that this is truth.  This is the only authentication or approval these words ever could or should have - my own.  This is true because I say it, not because you have some vantage point from which to assess these words.  Let my Amen recalibrate everything you consider to be truth.  You must simply accept my words as the gold standard of truth because it is I who speak them.  In short: It doesn't matter what you think - this is the truth, deal with it!"

Who speaks like this?  Only God's Faithful and True Amen (Rev 3:14).

Imagine if our bible reading, our theology, our apologetics, our Christian obedience was shaped not by whether we thought, in all good conscience, we could give our Amen to Christ?  What if we stopped trying to assess Christ's word with our Amens and instead simply received His Amen in glad submission?

May we hear His word in the Spirit in which it was spoken - as truth itself. (John 17:17)

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"I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!"  I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest." (Revelation 6:1-2) 

Is the first horseman Jesus?

  1. He comes at the head of his own judgements
  2. He rides a white horse (Rev 19:11)
  3. He's given a crown (divine passive?)
  4. He conquers emphatically (overcoming, He overcomes) - cf esp Rev 2:26f; 3:21; 5:5 and 17:14

Or is he a counterfeit Jesus - conquering in a bad way?

  1. The beast also conquers (Rev 13:7)
  2. The beast also is 'given power' to do so (Rev 13:7)
  3. The powers of evil often mimic (and distort) the good (the beast speaks like the Lamb - 13:11; the dragon has a seven-fold crown - 12:3)
  4. Christ is not among the four horseman of Zech 1:7-11 - He is the Angel of the LORD to Whom they report (but that's for another post ;-))

 Or is he something else?

I am truly undecided on this.  So let me ask two questions:

1) Who the heck is the first horseman of the Apocalypse?

2) If I'm still asking this question on Sunday (not unlikely!) what should I say from the pulpit?

One thing I'm not keen on saying is 'It's not really important, people can get too hung up on biblical details, especially in Revelation, let me tell you a story about a missionary instead.' 

Anyway, any help gratefully received!

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1) The sermon of creation is not a minimal thing - it's maximal.  Romans 1:19 'what may be known about God... God has made plain.'  Colossians 1:23 'the gospel... has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.'  Psalm 19:2 'Day after day they pour forth speech.'

2) Our blindness/deafness to this sermon is not minimal either - it is maximal. Note that in Psalm 19 David trusts that the creation daily pours forth speech in intentional evangelism.  In Ecclesiastes 1 his son sees the exact same heavens.  Yet even with all his wisdom, the 'teacher' of Ecclesiastes finds it utterly meaningless.  The circuit of the sun which was such a vivid portrait of the Bridegroom Champion in Psalm 19 becomes, in the eyes of the 'teacher', a futile and meaningless cycle.

Humanity is blind to the things of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21). We cannot judge what the sermon of creation is saying by what we see. We naturally only see what we want to see.

3) The sermon of creation is not a static thing, it's dynamic, it's about movement and action and inter-relation. Literally Ps 19:2 says "Day unto day is a pouring forth of speech; night unto night is a displaying of knowledge." The sequence of day and night and day and night is itself a display of knowledge.  This proclamation involes 'sun, moon and stars in their courses above.'  The sermon of creation is expressed in dynamic action, it does not simply speak to us in static snap-shots of beauty.

So often people simply characterise the sermon of creation as something like "Look at a snow-capped mountain range, doesn't it fill you with awe. Well, now you should direct that awe to the God who is big enough and clever enough to have made it." That is certainly an element to what creation is saying, but it's not what David is drawing our attention to.

Psalm 19 highlights the progression of day and night, the movement of the sun across the sky, the heavens in their courses.   The dynamic sermon of creation tells far better of the Glory of God who is not a static, unmoved deity simply waiting for people to give Him glory. The Living God acts and moves and relates.  And His Glory, according to the Bible, is His Son acting, moving and relating. The theist will think of the sermon of creation in static terms because her god is static. The Christian knows the sermon is dynamic - just like our God.

4) The sermon of creation is 'the word of Christ.'  It is not about abstract qualities of power or wisdom but about the Son.  Of course this is so since Jesus is eternally the image of God (Col 1:15).  There is no revelation that is not in Him.

In Romans 10 Paul asks if any have not heard the word of Christ (v17)?  He answers, of course not and quotes Psalm 19!  The sermon of creation is the word of Christ.  When we examine Psalm 19 we see this to be so.  His example of the sun is a dead giveaway.  This sun is like a Bridegroom Champion who moves from east to west (like the journey the high priest makes from altar to ark) as the light of the world. (Ps 19:4-6; cf Ps 45). Here is a sermon regarding Christ.

Think also of John 12. When Jesus picks up a seed He doesn't say "How pretty and how intelligently designed" - He says "This seed proclaims my death and resurrection and, though this, the life of the world."  The sermon of creation is a gospel word concerning Christ.

5) Finally, the sermon of creation is seen only through the spectacles of the Scriptures (Calvin's famous image).  Ps 19 continues 'The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving/converting the soul.' (v7)  That which left even Ecclesiastes' 'teacher' looking into the meaningless cycle of life and death is that which, through the spectacles of Scripture, becomes the dynamic proclamation of Christ and His gospel.

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For Barth the three-fold Word - Christ, Scripture and Proclamation - means that preaching should always be Scriptural and always witness to Christ.   Here he makes it clear that christo-centrism is not something the preacher (or the biblical theologian) bestows on the Bible.  Rather, the Bible is already and inherently witness to Christ:

"The Bible says all sorts of things, certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing - just this: the name of Jesus Christ... The Bible becomes clear when it is clear that is says this one thing... The Bible remains dark to us if we do not hear in it this sovereign name... Interpretation stands in the service of the clarity which the Bible as God's Word makes for itself; and we can properly interpret the Bible, in whole or part, only when we perceive and show that what it says is said from the point of view of that... name of Jesus Christ." (I/2, p720)

What about the Old Testament?  For Barth...

"the Old Testament is witness to Christ, before Christ but not without Christ... As a wholly Jewish book, the Old Testament is a pointer to Christ." (Homiletics, p80)

Barth does not consider the christo-centric meaning to be a sensus plenior in addition to the literal sense. 

"the natural sense is the issue... [we do not] give the passage a second sense... This passage in its immanence points beyond itself... The Old Testament points forward, the New Testament points backward, and both point to Christ." Homiletics, p80-81.

As for the New Testament, Barth insists that christocentric preaching is no less important here.

"One can never say of a single part of the narrative, doctrine and proclamation of the New Testament, that in itself it is original or important or the object of the witness intended. Neither the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount nor the eschatology of Mk 13 and parallels, nor the healing of the blind, lame and possessed, nor the battle with the Pharisees and the Cleansing of the Temple, nor the statements of the Pauline and Johannine metaphysics and mysticism (so far as there are any), nor love to God nor love to neighbour, nor the passion and death of Christ, nor the miraculous raising from the dead - nothing of all that has any value, inner importance or abstract significance of its own in the New Testament, apart from Jesus Christ being the subject of it all. His is the name in which it is all true and real, living and moving, by which, therefore, everything must be attested." I/2, p10-11

This is a helpful reminder.  We usually hear from the Old Testament sermon some "bridge to Christ" (however tenuous!).  Yet what does it say when the same preacher can manage to preach Christlessly from the New?  

Do preachers really believe that the Scriptures are already Christ-focused?  Or is it our job to add a second layer of Christ-centredness?  If a preacher breathes a sigh of relief once they're in New Testament waters, and if they then fail to witness to Christ while there - what does it say about their view of the Old and New Testaments?

Barth is really helpful here.  Scripture exists within the perichoresis of the three-fold Word.  It exists to be preached.  And it exists (every part of it) as witness to Christ.  It is not the preacher's job to make it into a witness to Christ.  If we find our Old Testament sermons involve some weird change of gears in order to 'get to Christ', we've not understood the bible properly.  If we find that our New Testament sermons fail to point people to Christ, we've not understood the bible properly.   These issues might be a sign you've bought into the wrong biblical theology. 

Just a thought.

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         Here's my length paper on Barth and Preaching.

Is “systematic theology... the end process of exegesis and biblical theology"??  Ben Myers writes brilliantly against such a conception.  To imagine that a pure biblical scholar can dispassionately read off the meaning of the Bible through the use of objective interpretive tools is ludicrous.  To imagine that then the systematic theologian comes to co-ordinate these propositions into a logically cogent order is similarly misguided.  As Myers says 'It's theology all the way down.'  Theological pre-suppositions and commitments necessarily guide and shape all Christian activity from exegesis to exposition to pastoral work, to evangelism to hospitality to everything.

And yet the idea that the Bible can be neutrally read is so tempting.  We would love to conceive of revelation as propositions deposited in a handy compendium simply to be extracted and applied.  Yet the Word is a Person.  And His book is Personal (John 5:39).  It's not something we judge with our double edged swords - the Word judges us. (Heb 4:12)

Now Jesus thought the Scriptures were absolutely clear.  He never made excuses for theological error.  He never gave even the slightest bit of latitude by conceding a certain obscurity to the Bible.  He never assumes that His theological opponents have just mis-applied an interpretive paradigm.  If they get it wrong He assumes they've never read the Scriptures (e.g. Matt 21:16,42; Mark 2:25)!  So the perspicuity of the Bible is not in dispute. 

But Jesus tells the Pharisees why they get it wrong - "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." (Matt 22:29)  And, again, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40)  They are wrongly oriented to the Power of God and the One of Whom the Scriptures testify - Jesus.  This is not simply a wrong orientation of the intepreter but of the interpretation.  Scripture reading must be oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  Within this paradigm - a paradigm which the Scriptures themselves give us - the Bible makes itself abundantly clear.

But this paradigm is an unashamedly and irreducibly theological one.  It is the result of exegesis (e.g. studying the verses given above) but it is also the pre-supposition of such exegesis.  Theology is not the end of the process from exegesis to biblical studies and then to the systematician! 

And yet, I have often been in discussions regarding the Old Testament where theologians will claim an obvious meaning to the OT text which is one not oriented by the Power of God to the Son of God.  They will claim that this first level meaning is the literal meaning - one that is simply read off the text by a process of sound exegesis.  And then they claim that the second meaning (it's sensus plenior - usually the christocentric meaning) is achieved by going back to the text but this time applying some extrinsic theological commitments.

What do we say to this?  Well hopefully we see that whatever 'level' of meaning we assign to the biblical text it is not an obvious, literal meaning to be read off the Scriptures like a bar-code!  Whatever you think that first-level meaning to be, such a meaning is inextricably linked to a whole web of theological pre-suppositions.  The step from first level to second is not a step from exegesis to a theological re-reading.  It is to view the text first through one set of pre-suppositions and then through another.

And that changes the direction of the conversation doesn't it?  Because then we all admit that 'I have theological pre-suppositions at every level of my interpretation.'  And we all come clean and say 'Even the basic, first-level meaning assigned to an OT text comes from some quite developed theological pre-commitments - pre-commitments that would never be universally endorsed by every Christian interpreter, let alone every Jewish one!'  And then we ask 'Well why begin with pre-suppositions which you know to be inadequate?  Why begin with pre-suppositions that are anything short of 'the Power of God' and 'the Son of God'?   And if this is so, then why on earth do we waste our time with a first-level paradigm that left even the post-incarnation Pharisees completely ignorant of the Word?  In short, why don't we work out the implications of a biblical theology that is trinitarian all the way down?  Why don't we, at all times, read the OT as inherently and irreducibly a trinitarian revelation of the Son?

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