Wednesday, November 30, 2011

December 2011 Giveaway


As part of the Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus series I'm giving away a copy of  The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms and Surprised by the Voice of God to one blessed winner.


Enter by commenting on this post with your full name. If you post the giveaway on a blog, post a second comment with the link accompanied again with your full name for an extra entry. I will randomly select a winner on Monday December 19th. Tell all your friends.

Why give away books? It helps spread the messages and works that the Lord has used to inspire me in life and ministry. It helps spread passion and zeal for the work.  Many of the books will be ones I've received for free or extra copies that I have on hand, or simply books that I feel are important enough that they need to be disseminated to the body of Christ at large.




The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms provides fundamental information regarding the meaning, background, context, and application of the Psalms. In addition to practical application, numerous charts are included that provide information about the various types of psalms (messianic, prophetic, etc.) along with a quick reference list of psalms that lend themselves to being used for worship or personal meditation or as a basis for praying the Scriptures. Through the use of full-color visual images, the message and world of the Psalms are brought to life in a way never before presented, making this book not only an excellent resource for understanding the Psalms, but a wonderful gift as well. The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms is a must-have for students of the Bible, pastors, and anyone who desires to possess a unique reference guide to these ancient works of poetry and worship.







Surprised by the Voice of God takes you to the Bible to discover the variety of creative, deeply personal ways God still communicates with us today. You'll learn how God speaks with people apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it. Jack Deere first describes the ways God revealed his thoughts to first-century Christians. Then he tells why God continues to speak to us using the same methods. Finally Deere tells how accurately God speaks through prophecies, dreams, visions, and other forms of divine communication. With candor, sensitivity, and a profound understanding of Scripture, Deere identifies our hindrances to hearing the Holy Spirit and calls us beyond them to a more intimate relationship with God. Filled with fascinating stories and personal accounts, Surprised by the Voice of God is for all who want to walk in the dynamic scope of Christianity.

JACK DEERE brings practical wisdom to Christians through his teaching ministry, drawing from his experience as a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, pastor of several churches, and author of bestselling books, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit and Surprised by the Voice of God.  He is dean of the extension schools in the Wagner Leadership Institute and executive director of Covenant Ministries International.

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 1 - Introduction

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 2 - Sufficiency of Interpretation

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 3 - The Risk of Relationship

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 4 - The Interpreter

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 4 - The Interpreter



Isaiah 50:4-5
New King James Version (NKJV)

4 “ The Lord GOD has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak A word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear To hear as the learned. 5 The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious, Nor did I turn away.

The inspiration of Scripture remains one of the firmest and least challenged tenets of the Christian faith. While inerrancy, accuracy and interpretation may be debated, the overall God-breathed, God inspired nature of the Bible stands as a sure thing among those who have experienced rebirth in Christ. Scripture is God's objective, persistent revelation to the world of His nature, His being and His person. We take a natural comfort in the inspired objectivity of Scripture. There may be different translations, different texts, but these agree with astounding, faith-enforcing symmetry. We draw comfort from knowing that God is not to be understood and discerned through mere, fickle and weak subjective means but through a context and understanding formed by the steadfast, unchanging Word of God.

As an evangelical community we spend a great amount of time and energy teaching, enforcing and "holding fast" to what we know as sound doctrine. This activity is empowered by Scripture, the root of our doctrine and the security of our knowledge of what is and is not sound teaching (2 Tim 3:16). Our defense of sound doctrine is made secure by what we view as objective revelation, that which cannot and should not be questioned, that which can be supported by hermeneutics, language studies, historical context and other objective factors. We find these things comforting, empowering and safe. We tend to view subjective revelation as spurious, without foundation, without accuracy, untrustworthy and altogether inappropriate.

However, Scripture is far less an objective revelation than we might pretend. The vast and varied interpretations of Scripture even in the realm of academia should be evidence that the text of the Bible is subject to personal interpretation and consumption. While we know that Scripture is not of private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20) we often fail to agree what the public interpretation is to be or what the gamut of public interpretations should be.

We've sought to enforce principles to keep us safe, producing vast amounts of information on biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, inductive Bible study, study Bibles, commentaries and so on, but even these measures do not protect us from this simple truth that we are subject to our own weakness, cleverness and dullness of spirit when it comes to interpreting the Bible. We cannot trust ourselves. Even with all the academia we've developed, even with all the education we've consumed, we cannot be certain of our absolute purity in interpretation and consumption of the Word.

This remaining weakness and fallibility creates an enduring question. Who is the best interpreter of Scripture? Isaiah 50:4-5 prophesies of the Messiah who was and is and is to come, stating the vital perfection, "The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious, Nor did I turn away." Jesus Christ was not qualified to understand the Father, His will or His Word by His intellect or academic prowess, though He was undoubtedly a genius and astounded the religious leaders even as a child (Luke 2:47). He was qualified by His ability to listen, by His attentiveness to the Father, by His submitted heart. He was able to accept and understand the cross. He saw it in Scripture when no one else did.

When the Pharisees and Sadducees were arguing finer points of doctrine, Shepherd boys, pagans, old men and uneducated women were worshipping the newborn King of Glory. They had a prophetic perception that went beyond the letter that kills (2 Cor 3:6, remember this verse is quite possibly referring to Scripture itself when void of the Holy Spirit's interpretation) into the Spiritual realm of divine, inspired truth and revelation. This is the testimony of Jesus: the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10), the Spirit given ability to perceive who Jesus is, what He has done, what He is doing and what He will do. The interpretive power of the Holy Spirit is far more reliable than hermeneutical principles, interpretive processes, and all the Bible knowledge available to man. It is our confidence in ourselves that is more likely to blind us than our ignorance:

THE BEST INTERPRETER
One of the most serious flaws of Bible deism is the confidence the Bible deist places in his abilities to interpret the Bible. He assumes that the greater his knowledge of the Bible, the more accurate his interpretations are. This follows logically from a hermeneutical axiom the Bible deist often quotes: The Bible is the key to its own interpretation. In other words, the Bible interprets the Bible the best. Wrong! It takes more than the Bible to interpret the Bible.
The Author of the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible. In fact, he is the only reliable interpreter.
And if the Spirit's illumination is the key to interpreting the Bible, isn't the Bible deist's confidence in his own interpretive abilities arrogant and foolhardy? How does one persuade God to illumine the Bible? Does God give illumination to the ones who know Hebrew and Greek the best? To the ones who read and memorize Scripture the most? What if the condition of one's heart is more important for understanding the Bible than the abilities of one's mind? Is it possible that the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture might be given on a basis other than education or mental abilities?
-Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God p. 257
It takes more than text, knowledge, understanding or mental ability to receive the truth of Scripture and it takes far, far more to apply it. God desires sincere children. Those who will utterly depend on Him for knowledge, understanding and wisdom. He wants those who are desperate for an accurate revelation of who He is and what He desires. He desires to reveal Himself. He desires us to know Him through His interaction with us. He wants to know Him through relationship. Without that relationship, that connection of the Holy Spirit, the Bible remains a revelation that burdens us with responsibility but fails to pierce our hard hearts. Thank the LORD for His Holy Spirit, poured out on the earth today. He empowers the Word to penetrate our hearts and enlightens our eyes to see the truth of what is written.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Martyred Life (Newsletter)




Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. -Song of Solomon 8:6

Jesus Christ the Son of God took up His cross and approached death, pouring out His soul to the glory of the Father, knowing that in His death He accomplished an eternal purpose far beyond what His life could accomplish. His love was stronger than death; it was the very flame of the LORD consuming our sin and our punishment at the cost of torture, death and the agony of the Father’s rejection. In Mark 8:34 Jesus issued a prophetic call to follow Him into this love that is stronger than death, taking up our cross, the instrument of our own torture and death, and follow Him to the place of our own death and resurrection. We are called to exit this world system, to not love our own lives even unto death (Rev 12:11), but to love the life of Christ to such a degree that His image and the image of his death is pressed upon our souls (Phil 3:10).
In Acts 1:8 Jesus promises His followers power to be witnesses through the Holy Spirit. This word “witness” is the Greek word “martos,” a word that soon came to mean martyr as the church faced the persecution and opposition of the world and the enemy. The Holy Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost in a mighty rushing wind. Suddenly, secret believers were flooding the streets proclaiming the glory of God and Christ in languages they had never learned. They made themselves public targets, they were willing to be made fools, they were willing to speak, to fight, to give, to sing, to dance. They were filled with a new Spirit. It was this powerful Spirit of love that compelled Stephen to fix His eyes on the King of Glory, forgive His attackers and die for his faith. He saw and believed the truth that there was greater glory in eternity for being obedient unto death than for preserving himself to minister another day. He understood the Ephesians 3:10 mystery that God’s purpose for the church is an eternal display of wisdom to the rulers and authorities in spiritual realms. It is not about this world. There is a system of spiritual and eternal value so far beyond our understanding and our tiny world: so far beyond what we see. One day it all will be opened to us when Jesus calls us into His glory. In that place those who did not count their lives dear unto themselves will find their witness and their martyrdom, in life or in lifestyle, rewarded in the never-ending love and intimacy of the everlasting God.
The desire of my heart is to give back to the LORD a love as strong as death. In spite of the danger, the risk and the sheer cost of this immersion in the Person of Christ, I fight to know true devotion, to risk all of myself, lay down my own life, surrender all to the LORD and find it all and more in His presence and love. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will give God the glory He deserves. He valued us so much that He gave His Son, shed His precious blood and overcame the grave. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God then no sacrifice is too great. The eternal son stripped Himself of His heavenly glory and came down, humbled as a man, a servant, a slave, to give His life for our eternal redemption. His heart cries out that we follow in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21).

Read the whole November 2011 Newsletter here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bible Deism and Knowing Jesus Part 3 - The Risk of Relationship

 

One of the largest temptations in modern American Christianity is also one of the least talked about issues in the Church. As a body of wealthy, western, well-educated believers we suffer from a strong temptation to make our God manageable: to tame Him in our minds and lives and to funnel our relationship with Him into a predictable, comfortable set of patterns and routines conformable to our lives. There is safety in believing that God's interaction with our real, practical lives is at the mercy of our own interpretation. There's a perverse feeling of freedom in believing that God is distant: though few would admit it.

Much like the Muslims I meet and witness to on the streets, many Christians are comfortable with a Holy God who keeps a Holy distance from us, who fails to intervene, who fails to make spontaneous demands, who fails to interact with us in a way that we don't have the ability to control and process. We have a comfort level in believing that God has a set of rules that He won't cross, that we can count on Him not to do certain things or meddle in certain areas. We can rule out His divine intervention and thus never get our hopes up or have them dashed. We know that when He didn't meet our needs the way we wanted Him to that it was just because He doesn't work that way. We can rely on what He does not do. We can have faith in His inaction, in His subtlety. We don't have to stand out on a limb and risk our faith, our emotions and our welfare on the necessity of God showing up. We can safely assume that He won't and make the best of it ourselves.  We justify these mindsets by saying that now that we have the Canon of Scriptures, that we really have all that we need. We don't need the interaction of God, We have His book, His love letter, His rules, His comfort, His doctrine and His system for our lives. We don't need personal interaction and personal revelation and encounter because we have objective revelation in the Bible. We shouldn't expect more. We can be happy and content in that lack of expectation and that lack of requirement.

The horrible danger is that we risk believing and acting as if we don't need God as a Person in our lives. And we desperately do.

We need a God who walks and talks with us. We need the Person of Jesus Christ. We need the Person of the Holy Spirit. We need the Person of God the Father. Only a Person can save you. Only a Person can be your Comforter, your Advocate, your Healer. Only a person can be your Father. Only a Person can live in a love relationship with you. It is a Person who dwells in our hearts by faith. Anything less than that is not Christianity.

We are a Christian culture in love with ideas and theology. We are giddy over the revelations and communications of theologians. We are in a boom of new, exciting theology and in a boom of resurrecting the ancient truths of the reformation. All these things are for the glory of God and honor Him, but are we as excited about our daily interaction with the Person of God in Jesus Christ? Are we really in love with the Father? Are we desperate for the Holy Spirit to have His way in our hearts? Do we know God, or do we only know His book? It is God Himself who is to be the center of our attention, worship, praise and excitement. Our personal lives should be filled with interaction with a loving God who has drawn near to us. Indeed the purpose of our redemption was the glory God receives out of His fellowship with us. In 1 John 1:4 the Apostle John is clear that His purpose in writing the Scripture was that we would have true fellowship with Christ. He was not simply writing it to solve errors in the church, to give instruction or even to give God glory in a general way. He was writing it so that all would join in fellowship with Jesus: the Person. We were meant to fellowship with Jesus. The Bible was meant to lead us into that, and that is our purpose in reading the objective revelation of the Scripture, that we might have fellowship with the Father. That fellowship is not the act of reading itself, but the communion with God that comes as a result of believing the truth and acknowledging God's intervention and interaction in our world and in our lives: first in the salvation of our souls by the death and resurrection of Christ and then in the journey towards eternal perfection in the growing love relationship we have with Christ.

So often we find it safer, easier and more comfortable to settle for less, to create a system of theological safety nets to prevent us from the real risks of being involved in an ultimate all encompassing relationship. Our fears, hurts, unbelief or confidence in our interpretations can pull us away from the most vibrant relationship with Christ and restrict us from ever seeing or acknowledging the fullness of God's Person in our lives.

Unfortunately it is the Bible that we often use to shield us from a real, unmanageable self-threatening relationship with an Almighty Father.


What Produces a Bible Deist?
If you asked me why I held these kinds of positions, I would have told you the Bible clearly taught them, and I followed the Bible, not experience or tradition. But I had another motive for being a Bible deist and resisting subjective revelatory experiences. I wanted to preserve the unique authority of the Bible. I was afraid that if any form of divine communication other than the Bible were allowed, we would weaken the Bible's authority and eventually be led away from the Lord.
I thought it was possible we could be taken over by emotional instability and guided by ever-changing feelings. Authority would then be transferred from the objective standard of the Bible to the subjective state of the individual and there would be diminished in the body of Christ, and we would end up as in the period of Judges where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judg. 21:25 NASB). I thought there was virtually nothing to gain from allowing subjective revelatory experiences, and everything to lose. Nothing to gain, because these experiences could not add anything to the Bible, and the Bible already supplied everything we needed. And everything to lose, because all I had to do was look at the Corinthians and the chaos caused by tongues in order to see what could be lost by allowing these things. It wasn't worth the risk.
During the days of my Bible deism, I thought the above were my only reasons for my views of the role of the Bible. Looking back, ten years later, I can see there were more powerful forces at work in the unconcious realms of my heart. I could easily blame my Bible deism on my teachers and the traditions I unquestioningly swallowed from them. I could blame it on a very closed system of education which punished deviations with expulsions. But I was never the kind of person who was afraid to deviate or to question. The truth is, Bible deism appealed to a serious weakness in my heart. The weakness was a fear of being hurt. I didn't like emotions because they caused me to lose control, and if I lost control, I became vulnerable. And vulnerable people get hurt. I had been hurt a lot. Although I didn't know it back then, I blamed some of those hurts on God.
Now I know that I attributed the deepest wounds of my heart to the hand of the Lord. He could have prevented the wounds, but he didn't. Where was his sovereignty when I needed it? Why did some of my most desperate prayers fall from my lips to the ground unanswered? My heart was filled with fear of God--not the biblical fear of God, but a fear of intimacy with him. I wanted a personal relationship with God, but I didn't want an intimate one. An intimate relationship would give him total control, and a voice out of some dark unexplored region of my heart told me that his control would bring me pain again, more pain than I could bear.
So I decided that my primary relationship would be to a book, not to a Person. It's so much easier to relate to a system of interpretive rules and a set of traditions than to a Person. With Bible deism, I could be in control. My principal task in life was to study the Bible and to cultivate the intellect. I didn't need my emotions for this task, just discipline and willpower. No emotions meant no loss of control. And that meant no more hurt.
If I had a question, I could ask the Bible. I didn't have to risk asking a God who might give me a painful answer. Besides, God and the Bible were practically the same. What he didn't say in the Bible, he left up to me. I found the things I liked in the Bible and ignored the rest. So all in all, it was a safe, comfortable system. And for me, it was also becoming a lifeless system.
I had tested life in my early Christian years, and I never would have embraced Bible deism just because of the hurt in my life. The hurt was the open door, but it was my pride that welcomed Bible deism through the door and gave it a home in my heart. For much of my Christian life, I've thought myself wiser than most Christians. Since I thought myself wiser than others, it was only natural that I should be in control of them. If God only spoke through the Bible, then the one who knew the Bible the best would be the one who heard God's voice the best. Therefore, the person who heard God the best, would know best what everyone else should believe and do. This system fit in perfectly with the proud state of my heart. In Bible deism, I found a wonderful tool to keep myself from being hurt and to give me control over my life and the lives of others. The fact that I had an intellectually oriented personality--I loved to study--helped me to be an even more effective Bible deist.
By now you've figured out that Bible deism is not so much theology as it is a system that caters to a personality type. It's a system that caters to a personality type. It's a system that religiously proud, hurt, intellectual people find hard to pass up. It offers us a justification for our pride without having to repent of it, an anesthetic for our pain without having to endure the surgery to heal it, and an outlet for our intellectual pursuit without having to submit our minds to a God whose ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts. To put it very simply, I had the kind of personality that made me much more comfortable relating to a book than to a Person.
When the principal thing in your life becomes the study of the Bible, you have become a Bible deist. But usually a practicing Bible deist does not recognize that they are a Bible deist. Whenever people accused me of being a Bible deist, I assumed that they were just lazy and didn't want to make a careful study of the Bible. They weren't disciplined enough to learn Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and whatever other discipline was necessary to hear God speak. They weren't interested in things like the Sitz im Leben of a biblical text. They probably wouldn't even recognize a Sitz im Leben if they sat on one. I assumed these lazy detractors were just part of the cursed rabble that didn't know the law (John 7:49).

-Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God p. 254-256
As an academically minded introvert I sympathize with Jack Deere's testimony of his own Bible Deism, but not because I believed quite the way he did. I can deeply sympathize with the comfort and protection books bring, and the pain and danger of real relationships with real people. I was terrified of a relationship at almost any level, let alone an all consuming love relationship with God. But when I met God, when Jesus came into my heart, I could do nothing less then throw myself into His arms with all my strength. This total abandonment to a Person, not a book, came as something entirely new in my life. I had never known anything like it. I had never experienced anything remotely close, and I know I never will. There have been plenty of times when my head knowledge of my theological boxes and interpretations of Scripture have cramped my relationship with the LORD. I'm sure there are some even now that I don't see, but far greater than that is my experience of letting the Scripture lead me to the Lover of my soul. It introduces Him. It introduces the Way, the Truth and the Life and the Word and the Spirit combine to bear witness to Jesus. That is what I'm interested in. I love doctrine. I value and fight for sound doctrine, but my love is for a Person. Doctrine leads me to Christ. It helps me know Him. It keeps me safe as I experience His beauty. Authority and power and sovereignty and love belong to the Person of God. I love His Word, but I can't settle for less than God Himself.

In spite of the danger, the risk and the sheer cost of this immersion in the Person of Christ I urge you to risk all of yourself, lay down your own life, surrender all to the LORD and find it all and more in His presence and love. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will give God the glory He deserves for valuing us so much that He gave His Son, shed His precious blood and overcame the grave.