Jeffrey A. Stivason

“Just the Facts, Ma’am”

Written by Jeffrey A. Stivason |
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
How can we know the Christ who died for our sins, let alone anything about the world around us?  The Bible is our answer. The Bible is the word of God and it is authoritative, not because it has the best narrative that we might be able to squeeze into, but because it is true.

How is it possible for humans to interpret the world around us? I mean, interpret it properly. Let me put it differently. What is the pre-condition for the ability to interpret the world around us?  Well, a book might well be written on this subject, but I’ll make two brief points. First, God is all powerful and so He is in control of all things. He is what theologians call omnipotent and this has serious implications for our ability to know things. For example, Vern Poythress says, “The regularities that scientists describe are the regularities of God’s own commitments and his actions. By his word to Noah, he commits himself to govern the seasons.  By his word he governs snow, frost and hail. Scientists describe the regularities in God’s word governing the world.  So-called natural law is really the law of God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators” (In the Beginning was the Word, 67).  In other words, scientists simply describe what God is doing.
Second, God knows all things, He is omniscient. As a consequence, Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “[created] reality does not exist as brute, uninterpreted fact…it is already meaningful because it is interpreted by God” (First Theology, 322). In other words,  every fact is able to be interpreted because it is first known and interpreted by the God who gives all things meaning. In other words, there are no brute or uninterpreted facts because God is.
Now, all of this seems rather straight forward until you read someone like N. T. Wright.  I was struck afresh by his view of history. Consider this quote from his book New Testament and the People of God,
Suppose, for example, we try to make a small but central claim about Jesus. If we say ‘Christ died for our sins,’ it is not too difficult to see an obvious element of interpretation: ‘for our sins’ is a theological addendum to the otherwise ‘historical’ statement. But even if we say ‘Christ died,’ we have not escaped interpretation: we have chosen to refer to Jesus as ‘Christ,’ ascribing to him a Messiahship which neither his contemporaries nor ours would universally grant.  Very well: ‘Jesus died’.  But we still have not escaped ‘interpretation’, and indeed at this point it looms larger than ever: three people died outside Jerusalem that afternoon, and we have chosen to mention only one.  For that matter, thousands of Jews were crucified by the Romans in the vicinity of Jerusalem during the same century, and we have chosen to mention only one.  Our apparently bare historical remark is the product of a multi-faceted interpretive decision.  Nor is this unusual.  It is typical of all history (NTPG, 82-83).
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The Art of Persuasion

Written by Jeffrey A. Stivason |
Friday, September 30, 2022
The response of Habakkuk is not to pull up his bootstraps but to call upon the Lord. He asks him to bring about faith that shall enable him to live. It seems that this is an excellent example of where inducements ought to lead hearers. When they hear them, they should turn to the Lord.  However, it is also a good reminder for preachers and teachers. They are to persuade men, women, and children, yes, but they are to realize that God’s Spirit is the ultimate persuader.  They are only instruments in the hands of the Redeemer. They are not more. But they are certainly not less. May God make his ministers persuasive men.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of pastoral work is the work of persuasion. In other words, how do we persuade others? How do we persuade unbelievers to see the beauty of Christ (II Cor. 5:11)? And how do we persuade Christians to do what they ought to want to do (Heb. 3:12)? The temptation for the minister is to act like a magistrate. However, there is a problem. We don’t have the power of a magistrate. John Chrysostom delineates the difference between the magistrate and the minister in his worthwhile, The Six Books of the Priesthood.[1]He writes,
“For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumbling of sinners by force.  When secular judges convict wrong doers under the law, they show that their authority is complete and compel men, whether they will or no, to submit to their methods. But in the case we are considering it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion.  We neither have authority granted to us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice. For this reason a lot of tact is needed, so that the sick may be persuaded of their own accord to submit to the treatment…and be grateful for the cure.”[2]
A page after this quote Chrysostom writes, “But if a man wanders away form the right faith, the shepherd needs a lot of concentration, perseverance, and patience.  He cannot drag by force or constrain by fear, but must by persuasion lead him back to the true beginning from which he has fallen away.”[3]Strikingly, we have an example in Scripture as to how to do this very thing.  The Christians in the book of Hebrews were thinking of deserting the Faith and returning the Judaism. And in Hebrews 10:32-39 we have an example of persuasion.  I’d like to briefly unpack the thought.  In other words, I am going to show the inducements used by the preacher to persuade.
The Experiential Inducement
The preacher encourages his hearers to “recall former days when, after you were enlightened…” In other words, he asked them to remember the early days of their faith when God’s gospel light poured through the windows of their soul (II Cor. 4:6).  Obviously, the days had become difficult.
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