Theology in the book store Part 1

There is a common theme that I see running through the veins of the literature being released by some of the Evangelical community. I speak primarily of writers like Mark Driscol and John Piper, who's books frequently find their way to my desk. While these respectable authors and pastors have many important things to say to their readers, and while the things they say are indeed full of truth, there is also a serious issue with the way these authors present their material.

Piper and Driscol come from a line of Evangelical writers who present the truth of the bible in plain, straightforward language that is relatively easy to read. They also go deep into the text and usually go to some length to explain the reasoning behind the statements and claims that they make. The problem, however, is that they are not making the effort to explain themselves using something other than the bible, and the resulting logic is unfortunately flimsy, even though it is based on solid biblical truth.

This is where the reader comes in. For the reader to really "get" what these authors are trying to say, we must make the assumption that the author knows everything regarding the subject they are writing about, and that the author (especially) understands everything God is trying to say and do through the scripture passages they use in their discourse. since it is impossible to know everything, and our understanding is never perfect, readers need to 'go deep' as active participants in what they read.

For authors, even biblically-based assertions need to have a logical underpinning. So, if the reader can't follow the logic, it's either because the writer is illogical, or the writer has omitted important information from their discourse that would give context to propositional truth statements. To be sure, contextual truth is truth that is seen through the lens of a story, or narrative. This is the same truth that underpins a propositional truth statement. The difference is that contextual truth is expressed in a way that will connect with a person in some real way. Truth statements are inherently abstract concepts that need context in order to be fully understood.

Two good places to start in understanding the truth of the bible might be the land and culture of Ancient Israel, and the basics of Greek (or Greco-Roman) Philosophy. It is also important to understand audience and purpose and to make efforts to see things as the original audience may have seen them (whether the Greek audiences of many of Paul's letters, or the Jewish audience Genesis. Obviously as a human being it isn't possible for us to know everything, but it is very possible to be open to new ways of interpreting and understanding sacred scripture that go beyond the surface meaning as we currently understand it. If everything was perfect, the surface meaning of scripture would be enough for all contexts. But everything is not perfect, so we need to plunge the depths of scripture with new eyes and ears and hearts all the time. Pragmatically we also need to be reading into the larger contexts of scripture within scripture, because exegeses of a single passage outside of its nested context can completely miss what that passage is trying to accomplish.

Thus it can be extremely frustrating to read propositional truth statements like the following from John Piper's book "50 Reasons why Jesus came to Die":

"What does it mean that God made the sinless Christ to be sin? (2 Cor 5:12) It means that our sin was imputed to him."

The problem with the above quote is that the explanation is a mere re-statement, and not an explanation at all. Piper said the same thing twice using different words, and didn't explain the deeper meaning. To be fair, this was a little book of big theology, and perhaps Piper simply didn't have the space to expand on the significance of this statement. Nevertheless, this is as much as the reader will get.

did you catch it?

In the italicized section, I did the same thing as Piper ... I restated my critique using different words without explaining the deeper meaning of the critique. It might seem sufficient to do this, but it isn't. I should have added some original thought like: Giving truth statements without sufficient depth of explanation makes it hard for thinking people to truly wrap themselves up in the text because we all need to be challenged in our souls. We do not need to be told what to think as children do. We, as maturing adults in all of our weakness and folly, need to be taught how to think.

Here is another offering that attempts to go as deep as possible, while remaining true to the scriptural source:

What does it mean that God made the sinless Christ to be sin (2 Cor 5:21)? To catch the meaning, first understand this: The point is not God transforming Jesus into the abstract (though true) concept of sin. The point is two-fold, but we need to start at the end and work backwards. The cross of Christ, in a real way, is representative of all sin. This is not the metaphorical, non-literal symbolism you grew up with in the mass media. This is Jewish symbolism - concrete physical realities that mirror concrete spiritual realities. The cross (a physical reality) is a mirror to sin (a spiritual reality). Similarly, Jesus (a physical reality) is a mirror to a sacrificial lamb (a spiritual reality).

2 cor 5:21 is a prime example of Paul using native Jewish Symbolism in combination with the Greek Philosophy of Dualism to re-enforce his message to the Greeks about the mystery of the cross while encouraging them in reconciliation ... using very few words! That is, the binary opposition of the sinless Christ and sin itself brings up the reality and symbolism of the cross, which brings up the absolute reality of our reconciliation with God and the absolute necessity of reconciliation with each other!

So, the ultimate point of 2 Corinthians 5 is for us to be reconciled with one another because God reconciled us to himself through Jesus. Think about that for a second: what does it mean to be reconciled? Have you ever been reconciled to someone? What might it look like in your life today to be totally reconciled with God?

Your answer from the last question is already the reality in waiting. You ARE reconciled with God. If you need proof, start reconciling yourself with anyone and everyone you need to be reconciled with so that you may believe and have life. What you will do for others, Jesus has already done and still is doing for you. 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a statement of both contrast and reality. Paul is using this to further spur people on into reconciliation with one another. So the Point is to be reconciled. I'll say it again. The Point is to be reconciled! Verse 21 is not something we should fixate on, because we will miss the larger picture of what is happening in favor of disintegrating the passage from its whole to suit our own message.


Copyright © 2013 Think Theos