Thursday, September 14, 2006

No Squirrels

Jared Wilson is reading the gospels...
Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.
Example: Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church....the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. No, the point of that story is that Jesus replaces the temple system.

Example: The point of the parable of the man who built his house on the sand is not "be prepared" or "have a solid foundation" or "think ahead." The point is that building your life on anything but Jesus is making rubbish of your life.
Elsewhere Caleb Kolstad has read the Christianity Today article, Young, restless and reformed... He observes the positive influence of John Piper in promoting Reformed theology, but thinks that a return to expository preaching is even more significant - because it leads us to carefully consider key texts like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. And when you look at them carefully, they, like the gospels, are all about exalting Jesus!

12 comments:

  1. David

    What issue of Christianity today is that article from? I would really like to read it.

    Pete

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  2. Okay, yes, but no.

    Jesus is the central revelation and redemptive focus of Scripture, and also the fact that he is fully God, and God is the source of all truth, goodness and beauty.

    But don't you think that sometimes the main point of a passage isn't actually Jesus. Take for example that parable of the sower (Matt 13:3-9). The main point that Matthew is trying to communicate seems to be about parables and using parables.

    I like it when people say, 'Let the bible speak' but I think that if we do that, then we have to let the bible make its point first, before we come with a more general theological truth, like the one you quoted.

    I think that when we fail to do that, we end up with a much narrower view of the way God made us to live.

    What do you think?

    Tom

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  3. I'm slightly confused....Jesus replaced the temple system, yes.
    But he got very angry and accused them of turning the temple into a den of robbers. So I don't think he overturned the tables of a bunch of people operating the temple system as should have been. I assume he's implying they extorted people and abused the system for their own financial gain, or something.

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  4. I'm slightly confused....Jesus replaced the temple system, yes.
    But he got very angry and accused them of turning the temple into a den of robbers. So I don't think he overturned the tables of a bunch of people operating the temple system as should have been. I assume he's implying they extorted people and abused the system for their own financial gain, or something.

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  5. I wonder if the misunderstandings can be resolved by realising that the main point of a passage is not the same as an exhaustiveexpression of all the truth in a passage. Hence parable of the sower does tell us about parables, about how to listen to the word etc. etc., but still the main point is about Jesus and his identity as the king and the reality of the kingdom's coming theough his word despite apparent failure and rejection.

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  6. Pete,

    comment 1 - its the latest issue, not seen it over here and not online yet.

    comment 2 - Pete I think you're spot on with the difference between the point and an exhaustive expression of everything there. So, thank you!

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  7. "but still the main point is about Jesus and his identity as the king and the reality of the kingdom's coming theough his word despite apparent failure and rejection."

    No it isn't though. That's the problem. You are projecting that into the text. It isn't there as the MAIN POINT. It's there, yes. But not as the main point.

    Tom

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  8. I'm not saying that it isn't the main point of scripture in a general sense or of other passages in particular, but I think to say that the main point is Jesus in the example of those verses Matt 13:3-9 is to fail to understand the genre and context.

    I actually think you might be misunderstanding me. I'm not saying that the most significant thing that the passage says is about the way our hearts respond to God and his seed (which I think is closer to the meaning of these verses than, 'The core point is Jesus.') And I'm not saying that there are not mega themes in these verses which are less important. I am saying that the key point that Matthew was making, was more about human response to God's revelation / invitation / sowing than what the quote suggested.

    I'm happy for you to connect to 'Jesus is the point of every verse' or 'It doesn't matter where you cut scripture - it bleeds Jesus' I just want to see a proper treatment of the verses first.

    Sometimes it's not piety or sincere zeal that makes people say, 'The main point of this is Jesus' sometimes its actually a lazy refusal to actually wrestle with the message of the text itself properly, before going on to make the bigger connections.

    Tom

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  9. I think I see where you're going Tom, but the problem is that the Bible tells us what its big themes are - taken out of that context plenty of it looks less "God-centred" but each page, section etc exists as part of the rest of it.

    I guess I'm suggesting that passages have a whole range of points that they make, but the priority is its gospel testimony.

    That said, I'm prepared to flex on that and to address each passage in turn - having made a generalisation, or at least quoted one frmo Jared Wilson.

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  10. "I guess I'm suggesting that passages have a whole range of points that they make, but the priority is its gospel testimony."

    No, that's the same thing in different words. The general priority of Scripture is gospel testimony. Absolutely. I agree. No problem.

    I'm talking about the specific priority of those verses. It doesn't seem to me that the main, or core point that Matthew was specifically making there in 13:3-9 was "gospel testimony". There are other passages too, where to talk about the main point of the passage being "gospel testimony" really seems very strange.

    For example the main thrust and central point of 1 Peter 1:13-25 is the holy and pure conduct of the believer. Now it's certainly true that there is a lot of "gospel testimony" that supports that and is close to that, but to say that the main point is gospel testimony is frankly a pretty clear misreading.

    I suppose that I now think that there seems to be one or sometimes two main points that a passage raises. I just want to see these bubble up properly, giving a proper width and flexibility to theology before we jump in and point to the cross.

    Cross centric yes. Obsessive to the point that we don't see much else. No. That isn't biblical.

    Tom

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  11. Hi Tom

    I wonder if I could humbly suggest that you are missing the nuances in the original post. Perhaps your angst (probably well-founded) at the way you've often experienced the text of scripture flattened has affected your judgment here?

    To quote from the main post: 'if the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't centre squarely on Jesus I suggest your aim is off'. (NB, perhaps it helps to remember that this is said about how to read the gospels). I think that is a little more nuanced than saying the kinds of things you have commented against. Hence, the parable of the two builders is said to be not so much about having a solid foundation as building life on Christ. This is to say that it is about more, not less than having a solid foundation, it is about having specifically christian foundation, namely Christ. This is a main point that centres on Christ but reflects the nuances and emphases of the specific text. It basically stems from realising that Matthew purpose is to tell us about Jesus, not in a flat one-dimensional way that misses out the specifics of any given incident or story, but to tell us about Christ through the specifics of any given incident or story.

    Similarly I would suggest again, that the matthew 13 text does still primarily tell us about Christ. It tells us about our responses to Christ. In context (with the meaning being given to the disciples) it tells disciples of Christ about the nature of the kingdom of God (i.e. the nature of Christ's kingship), it's growth etc. etc., and how to locate ourselves within it by repsonse to Christ's word. I get that reading from the context. Why else is it in Matthew's gospel if it doesn't fit with Matthew's aim to tell us the gospel (Matthew 1:1 nicks a well known genesis formula wherby all the stories of the patriarchs were begun with a genealogy - it seems evident that Matthew wants to continue the bible story by telling us Jesus' story a.k.a. the gospel). In fact I would go so far as to suggest that unless the text is read in this christocentric way then your suggested main point re: parables and their use doesn't even work as a subsidiary point - why should Matthew's readers care about parbles? Because they are Jesus' words and that's how he builds his kingdom, because they tell us about the nature of Jesus' kingdom, because disciples have been graciously given the understanding of them from Jesus their King. Dislocate the overall Christ-thrust and you actually scupper the very necessary secondary points which are integral to the text too. Given that it is about Christ's word, Christ's Kingdom, to Christ's disciples, any reading that is not Christocentric will be quite simply less than half the story. But then again, any truly bibline reading must attempt to bring out the nuances and details of just what we are being told about Christ and what response we are to make to Christ. Yes, perhaps if you just preached from Matthew 13:3-9 you would major on the point u raise more than if you preached the whole passage (though it would still be Christocentric if it weas faithful, as the point would be centred on Christ and how we respond to is parables, its only the fact that they're his parables that Matthew wrote it down and that we're supposed to read it in the first place), but again I would question that as who want to understand a few verses, which Matthew has given us embedded in a narrative, apart from in that very narrative context. Verses 3-9 function as part of the whole discourse on that parable and so on and so on.

    Similarly 1Peter 1:13ff. must be read Christocentrically exactly because it is what you say it is - a passage about Christian holiness, holiness which the passage makes clear flows from and is centred around Christ. Unless we preach the holiness commands as such then we would have to simply misread them or cut all the blatant Christ stuff in the context and in the text itself out. The point of that passage is Christ- how we should obey and be like him etc. (i.e. saying a text must be understood as centred on Christ is not the same as 'getting two ways to live' out of every text)

    I hope I've not been ungracious or too long-winded.

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  12. Thanks Pete.

    I'd hope none of us have time for passage-flattening approaches..

    This is v.helpful "This is to say that it is about more, not less than having a solid foundation, it is about having specifically christian foundation, namely Christ."

    Thats the step we so often miss isn't it.. finding the full riches of Christian Scripture!

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