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“In 1973 I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college when the Supreme Court decided the Roe vs Wade case and legalized abortion. Honestly, however, I never expected the Court’s landmark decision to affect me personally.” And yet…
4 Thoughts on Spiritual Fatherhood
Jared Wilson: “As I get older, I think more and more about this claim from Paul — and the concept of ‘spiritual fatherhood’ generally — and it seems a pressing issue to me, not just ‘culturally,’ but personally.” He offers some thoughts on what the practice looks like.
OK, so there was Glastonbury
Matthew Hosier reflects on the recent Glastonbury festival.
It’s a Mistake to Take Online Populist Movements Very Seriously
Samuel James: “‘I’m now at a point where the first thing I wonder about a job applicant is, ‘How likely is this person to blow up my organization from the inside?’’ The emerging generation of activists are arriving at these organizations with two things: incredible amounts of leverage over their employers (thanks to the Internet), and incredibly low amounts of personal investment in groups or networks outside themselves.”
Did God Really Say … ?
“When my kids were little, one of our homeschool lessons was on ‘red flags.’ We talked about what things others might say to get you to do something your parents have told you not to do.”
On Keeping Your Greek and Hebrew in Ministry
“To those who have spent hours in seminary parsing Hebrew verbs and diagramming Greek sentences, I have two main contentions: First, I believe that the single most important thing you can do to keep your Greek and Hebrew skills alive in ministry is to do the hard and time-consuming work of preparing sermons out of the Greek and Hebrew text of Scripture. Second, the single greatest challenge to keeping your Greek and Hebrew alive in ministry is the sustained conviction that it matters.”
Flashback: A Soul Physician
I have often observed that some people demand unquestioning obedience of those who follow them, while they themselves dispute every decision of those who lead them…The fact is, we train our followers by the way we follow.
God uses waiting. Immediate success doesn’t build character, integrity, or depth in a human being because patiently waiting on the Lord does. —Shelby Abbott
We don’t need makeovers and airbrushing; we need transformation. We need a miracle that God alone can perform in our hearts. And we need to stand together, arm in arm, loving one another and showing the world the marvelous truth about Jesus. Some will misunderstand and even hate that. But others will be drawn to Jesus and His good news, and forever changed.
The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.—Kevin DeYoung
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer (Acts 2:42, NLT).
A 1977 movie, Capricorn One, depicted NASA’s long process of targeting a mission to Mars. Because the program had become increasingly unpopular due to several failures, this mission would make or break the U.S. space program.
Everything was in place. The astronauts were ready. Then suddenly, just before takeoff, they were secreted away to an undisclosed location. Meanwhile the capsule was launched into outer space. From the point of view of those on Earth, it appeared to be a complete success.
But why was the launch made without astronauts? Because the scientists discovered a flaw in the capsule’s life support system. The oxygen wouldn’t last. The astronauts would die.
Then why not reschedule the departure? Because it would be an admission of failure on the part of the space program, and they could not stand one more failure. People would no longer believe in NASA or support spending millions of tax dollars to explore outer space.
So to further public confidence in the space program, the astronauts were told they now must become actors. An isolated site was set up as a shooting location, made to look like the surface of Mars. They were told to drive around in their little Mars rover, send their reports, and greet their families, while those on Earth would be none the wiser.
How the movie ends actually doesn’t matter, but I see the plot as analogous to what happens in some churches. According to current thinking, churches must chase success. And success is defined by numbers: how many worshippers and how much wealth. The number of Facebook followers becomes more important than the number of Jesus-followers.
Many churches exist solely to seek God and share Him with their communities. They may use technology and programs as tools to reach as many people for Christ as they can. Good for them!
My concern is with churches that use God as a tool to launch programs and meet benchmarks of success. Instead of sharing the true gospel, which is what people really need, they compromise on the nature of the gospel and adopt the world’s message and methodology. What these churches produce ends up essentially mirroring what NASA did in Capricorn One. They focus on performance over process. On stagecraft over sanctification. Pastors-turned-performers act as if the Spirit of God were doing great and wonderful things, when in fact nothing supernatural has happened.
This breeds attendees who become like the astronauts-turned-actors. They are exposed to the world throughout the week and come to church for entertainment packaged as a religious and transcendent experience. They want the best of this world and the next without the sacrifice—and they want it now.
The author is the source of meaning, and the text is the means of meaning. Because the text is public, readers are able to attend to the author’s intention embedded in his words. And good readers attend both to the explicit and implicit dimensions of an author’s meaning.
Picture yourself in a group Bible study. Your small group is studying the book of Ephesians, and you’ve made it to chapter 5. Someone reads aloud verse 18: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Then Steve, the new guy, says, “Well, Paul clearly forbids getting drunk on wine. I’m just thankful that he said nothing about getting drunk on whiskey. That’s my favorite way to become intoxicated.”
We all intuitively recognize that Steve is mistaken. We might even think him absurd. But how do we explain his error? My guess is that we would say something like, “Steve, that’s not what the Bible means. Paul intended to prohibit all drunkenness, not just drunkenness from wine.” To which Steve might reply, “But that’s not what the Bible says. Paul mentioned wine only. I’m sticking to the text.” Or he might say, “That’s just your interpretation. I’m talking about what the Bible means to me.”
Learn the Habit of Reading Well
When people ask what I do for a living, I often say, “My job is to teach college students how to read.” This is only half a joke, because the reality is that our educational system and society has left many people incapable of reading well. That’s why, at Bethlehem College & Seminary, our approach to education centers on imparting to our students certain habits of heart and mind.
In all of our programs, we aim to enable and motivate students
to observe their subject matter accurately and thoroughly,
to understand clearly what they have observed,
to evaluate fairly what they have understood by deciding what is true and valuable,
to feel intensely according to the value of what they have evaluated,
to apply wisely and helpfully in life what they understand and feel, and
to express in speech and writing and deeds what they have seen, understood, felt, and applied in such a way that its accuracy, clarity, truth, value, and helpfulness can be known and enjoyed by others.
There is a certain order to these habits. Before you can feel appropriately, you must evaluate rightly. And before you can evaluate rightly, you must first observe accurately and understand clearly. Note this: evaluation depends upon understanding. Without clear understanding of what someone has said or written, evaluation is impossible, because you have nothing to evaluate. You can’t say whether something is true or false, good or bad, until you first know what the something is.
Meaning and Significance Are Not the Same
My own experience as a teacher suggests that there are many confusions and pitfalls around the question of “meaning” when we read a text. Consider this a crash course on the meaning of meaning.
Let’s begin with the Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). When it comes to reading, we ought to practice Golden Rule Interpretation. That is, we ought to treat authors the way we want to be treated. No one wants his own words treated like a wax nose that a reader can bend according to his will. No one likes to have his words twisted into something he didn’t intend. When we speak or write, we mean something, and we want that meaning to stand—to be understood and respected as ours (even if others disagree with us). And so, given that’s how we want to be treated, we ought to treat authors the same.
To do this, we must distinguish between what the author meant by his words and the effects of his words on subsequent people and events. For clarity, let’s refer to the first as meaning. Texts mean what authors mean by them. The second we may call significance. The author’s meaning can be related to different texts, contexts, concepts, situations, people, places—anything you can think of, really.
Meaning and significance are distinct. Meaning is stable through time; significance may and does change. Meaning is about what authors do in public by means of words (as one theologian puts it). Significance is about the effects of those words on everything else. Meaning is fixed and bounded; significance is, in principle, limitless. When an author writes something, he means this and not that. But significance has to do with the relation between the author’s meaning and this, that, and the other.
With this basic distinction in hand, let’s consider four puzzles in relation to meaning: the source of meaning, the means of meaning, the levels of intent, and the boundaries of meaning. To aid in solving these puzzles, we’ll use Steve’s surprising interpretation of what the Bible says in Ephesians 5:18 as a test case.
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