Observing what’s not said is definitely an art and not a science, so you need to use common sense. Identify what you might expect from a passage. Then make sure to observe how (and whether) the text subverts those expectations to sharpen its argument. The biblical authors are constantly working to subvert our expectations so they might better persuade us to trust the Lord and seek first his kingdom.
We’ve mentioned it a thousand times: When we observe a passage of the Bible, we’re trying to figure out what it says. However, sometimes we won’t fully grasp what it says without first observing what it doesn’t say. Ryan has made this point in two recent posts with respect to characters’ names. But what’s not said applies to many other types of observation as well. Here are three examples.
Example #1: Luke 15:11-32
The parable commonly known as “The Prodigal Son” is really about Two Brothers. We’re told of the bad choices of the younger son (Luke 15:12-16), and his risky decision to come back home (Luke 15:17-19). We’re told about what happened upon his return (father runs to meet him, throws a party, etc., in Luke 15:20-24).
Then we’re told of the bad attitude and choices of the older son (Luke 15:25-30). We hear the father’s appeal to his grumbling son (Luke 15:31-32). But we never find out what he decided or what happened.
The two brothers are parallel to one another. Their stories are parallel. Up to the point where we expect to hear the choice and results of the older son’s decision. But that choice and its results are left unsaid. The parable simply ends on a cliffhanger.
What is the point of the omission? Jesus lets the end of the story play itself out in the response of the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling (Luke 15:2). Luke 13-14 was all about the feast and joy of the kingdom of God. Will these grumbling scribes and Pharisees enter? Will those who are saved be few (Luke 13:23)?
You Might also like
By Jared Marcel Pollen — 1 year ago
One of the banes of liberalism in our time is the unwillingness to criticize bad ideas honestly for fear of being misconstrued as a bigot; the assumption of the lowest possible motive when assessing these criticisms is the other. Together, they constitute a strait jacket—they make progress impossible.
A review of Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter. Portfolio, 224 pages. (October, 2021)
If you had told someone a decade ago—after the election of the first black president, and in anticipation of the first black female vice president—that race relations in the United States would devolve into hysteria and incivility, it might have seemed like the counter-historical fantasy of a satirical novelist, in clear violation of the arc of history that, Martin Luther King assured us, “bends toward justice.” Today’s anti-racist activists, in that sense, are not progressives (although they claim to be). They are anachronists who fail to faithfully acknowledge and inhabit the spirit of their time.
In his new book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, John McWhorter demonstrates that there is far more Martin Luther than Martin Luther King in today’s anti-racist movement. McWhorter, a linguist and a professor at Columbia University, is a critic of luminous intelligence, and his book’s apparently oxymoronic title plays on Robin DiAngelo’s (equally oxymoronic) Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm. DiAngelo’s dubious contention is that white progressives are often more injurious to the cause of racial equity than skinheads or bedsheet bigots, because their racist transgressions are the result of well-meaning ignorance. McWhorter asks the corollary: can even those supposedly enlightened and self-appointed champions of anti-racism (whom he calls “the Elect”) think and act in ways that harm black America?
McWhorter identifies three waves of anti-racist activism in the United States, the first of which was the fight against slavery and legalized segregation. The second was the struggle against racist attitudes, which sought to instill the idea that racial prejudice was a moral defect. The current strain of anti-racist activism constitutes a “third wave,” and like any movement in an advanced stage, it is characteristically decadent. The Elect’s ideology, like so much contemporary social justice, is a grotesque contest of elite moral exhibitionism, inordinately preoccupied with policing speech and regulating behavior. It is fundamentally performative and, above all, pretentious, in both the etymological sense of the word (to pretend) and in its common usage (attempting to impress).
This approach to battling racism tends to appeal to well-educated white people afflicted by a guilty conscience. The only remedy for them—the load-bearing pillar of white America’s new moral responsibility—is a declaration of one’s own “privilege.” This, McWhorter assures us, is not progress or even compassion, it is a form of self-help. “The issue,” he writes, “is not whether I or anyone else thinks white privilege is real, but what we consider the proper response to it.” [Italics in original.] Privilege is indeed real, and making oneself aware of it is morally important, but when employed as a cudgel, it becomes a monstrous prop.
Encouraging black people to see themselves as perpetual victims, while assigning to white people the task of becoming enlightened enough to recognize their own inherent and irredeemable racism creates a culture of soft-bigotry, furnished by polite lies and low expectations. “White people calling themselves our saviors,” McWhorter writes, “make black people look like the dumbest, weakest, most self-indulgent human beings in the history of our species, and teach black people to revel in that status and cherish it as making us special.”
This endless condescension is writ large in DiAngelo’s work, and we can see it in the training seminars now required by many companies, in which things like “logic” and “punctuality” are ascribed to “Whiteness.” Do the people running these seminars really believe that black people can’t be rational and on time? Do they think that science and math are things that only white kids are good at? And, McWhorter asks, if black students perform poorly on standardized tests, is it fair to assume that the test is racist, and should therefore be discontinued, as the Elect now propose? Would it not be better to ensure that those students have access to resources and tutoring? Far from helping anyone, these distortions of essence and aptitude actually hurt the advancement of what is now commonly referred to as “racial equity.”
The goal of third wave anti-racism is ostensibly concerned with “dismantling” racist “structures,” but it is actually an attempt to narrow the discourse and limit the range of honest thought in pursuit of a phony consensus. This is achieved through a ruthless evangelism, which McWhorter manages to condense as follows:
Battling power relations and their discriminatory effects must be the central focus of all human endeavor, be it intellectual, moral, civic, or artistic. Those who resist this focus, or even evidence insufficient adherence to it, must be sharply condemned, deprived of influence, and ostracized.
For support, McWhorter offers a spate of scandals and PR nightmares that would signal, to an alien observer, a kind of collective insanity or Salem-esque panic. One of the salient and most stupefying examples is the case of Alison Roman, a (now-former) food critic at the New York Times. Roman ran into trouble when she criticized two of her contemporaries—model and food writer Chrissy Teigen, and life coach Marie Kondo—for their hypocritical commercialism. Despite coming from different ethnic backgrounds and cultural milieux (Teigen is half-white and half-Thai and was born in America; Kondo was born and raised in Japan), both are assimilable as “people of color” according to the progressive Weltanschauung, so Roman’s criticism placed her under suspicion. What reason could a white New York Times journalist have for criticizing two non-white celebrities, other than sublimated bigotry?
A few days later, singer Lana Del Rey responded to criticisms of her music’s use of sexual themes by pointing out that plenty of other artists, including Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé, also sing about sex. Del Rey was immediately attacked by social media mobs, who denounced her in an endorphin-rush of self-righteousness. These two cases make the Elect’s devotion to rooting out racial bias seem like a protean neurosis, which sees racism even when it isn’t there.
By Benjamin Glaser — 1 month ago
Christ in His humanity could not bear the weight of all the transgressions of the world because the finite cannot handle the infinite. If against God and God alone have we sinned, and if one break of the law is as if we broke the whole of the commandments then our Lord needed to atone for an infinite infinite amount of demerits. That’s why again to fulfill the proper works Jesus had to be first of all born of a virgin, that is without the stain of Adam’s unrighteousness, and of the Holy Spirit so that divinity could take on flesh and be the right sacrifice that we need to be saved from eternal death.
Today in our look at the Larger Catechism we will be spending time considering more about what it means that Jesus Christ is our Mediator. We’ve defined that word enough to be able now to dig deeper into why it matters and to see how it effects our daily walk and life. Some people like to look down on doctrine, saying things like “it’s a relationship, not a religion”. Yet, the problem with thoughts like that is when you utter it you are standing on the shoulders of men who spent a lot of time in concert with the Church in the blessed work of faith seeking understanding. There’s a bit of Paul’s concern at Corinth and Peter’s general worry to those he is writing to in his first epistle. Milk is good, but it’s not filling, it doesn’t make you stronger. There should be a desire to learn more and more of Jesus and His labors on our behalf. Can you get too deep? Sure, I’ll grant it’s possible in the sense of jumping into a pile of wires can entangle oneself, but unravelling them and finding out which cable is for which purpose has its own reward. As we get into the Q/A’s for this week read them, prayer over them, and let’s examine them in turn:
Q. 40. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?
A. It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should Himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.
Q. 41. Why was our Mediator called Jesus?
A. Our Mediator was called Jesus, because He saves His people from their sins.
Q. 42. Why was our Mediator called Christ?
A. Our Mediator was called Christ, because He was anointed with the Holy Ghost above measure; and so set apart, and fully furnished with all authority and ability, to execute the offices of prophet, priest, and king of His church, in the estate both of His humiliation and exaltation.
In his commentary on these questions J.G. Vos helpfully explains why the Mediator had to be God and man in one person, he says:
Because the relation between the works of each of the two natures required that these two natures be united in one person. A divine Mediator could not experience suffering except through a human nature; a human Mediator could not endure the required suffering, except as sustained by a divine nature.
By Barry Cooper — 7 months ago
There are some things in the Bible that can be tricky to grasp. But that doesn’t mean that they’re impossible to grasp. And the perspicuity of Scripture assures us that even when they are hard to grasp, the Author intends His words ultimately to be understandable by anyone.
What do people mean when they talk about the perspicuity of Scripture?
I just came back from a trip to China, and it’s fair to say there was a bit of a language problem. I’ll spare you the details, but the first day I was there, my credit card was swallowed by an ATM, so I spent a good few hours sitting in a bank in Shanghai and trying to work out the Mandarin for “My credit card has been swallowed by an ATM.” I think the Mandarin for “ATM” is “ATM,” but that’s about as far as I got.
It’s fair to say that Mandarin is not, for me, “perspicuous.”
Ironically enough—given that it’s not very clear—perspicuity is a word that means “clarity” or “clearness” or “understandability.” So when we talk about the “perspicuity” of Scripture, we’re talking about the idea that God’s Word is clear about things that are necessary to be understood and obeyed in order for a person to be saved. The Bible’s teaching on salvation can be understood by anyone and everyone.
Psalm 119 puts it like this: “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Even though, at times, the Bible requires us to patiently and humbly wrestle with it, we can indeed come to know what it means regarding salvation and the basic principles for pleasing God, even if we don’t have a college degree or subscribe to an enjoyable podcast that explains big theological words in a simple way.
In fact, God’s Word is simple enough that it can be taught to children, as it says in Deuteronomy chapter 6: “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart….”