Category Archives: Hermenetics

Jesus is Our Everyday Sabbath

rest

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:6-8

This isn’t primarily a story about finding a loophole in the Sabbath regulations. This isn’t primarily about finding precedent in the Old Testament for reaping and eating on the Sabbath. It isn’t even primarily about whether or not you can do good by healing a man on the Sabbath. This is a story about who Jesus is! It is all about Jesus saying to them and to us: I am greater than David. I am the fulfillment of all that David typified. I am greater than the temple. I am the fulfillment of all that the temple typified and symbolized. I am greater than the Sabbath. I bring to you a rest and satisfaction that not even the Old Testament Sabbath could provide. In the words of N.T. Wright, “If Jesus is a walking, living, breathing Temple, he is also the walking, celebrating, victorious sabbath.”

Remember that the Sabbath was instituted by God as a sign of the old covenant with Israel (see Exod. 31:12-13, 16-17). However, as Paul makes clear in Colossians 2:16-17, Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament prophesied, prefigured, and foreshadowed: “There- fore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

The immediate purpose of the Sabbath in the Old Testament was to provide men and women with physical rest from their physical labors. When Paul says that this Sabbath was a shadow, of which Christ is the substance, he means that the physical rest provided by the Old Testament Sabbath finds its fulfillment in the spiritual rest provided by Jesus. We cease from our labors, not by resting physi- cally one day in seven, but by resting spiritually every day and for- ever in Christ by faith alone. We experience God’s true Sabbath rest, not by taking off from work one day in seven, but by placing our faith in the saving work of Jesus. To experience God’s Sabbath rest, therefore, is to cease from those works of righteousness by which we were seeking to be justified. The New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Sabbath is not one day in seven of physical rest, but an eternity of spiritual rest through faith in the work of Christ.

Physical rest, of course, is still essential. God does not intend for us to work seven days a week. Our body and spirit need to experience renewal and refreshment by resting. But resting on Sunday is not the same thing as the OT observance of the Sabbath day. Some Christians have chosen to treat Sunday as if it were a Sabbath, as if it were special, and that’s entirely permissible. Don’t let anyone tell you it is wrong. But neither should you tell anyone that it is wrong if they treat Sunday like every other day of the week. “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). If you want to observe Sunday as a day of rest to the exclusion of all other worldly pursuits or activi- ties, that’s fine. But you have no biblical right to expect others to do the same and therefore no biblical right to pass judgment on them if they don’t.

My point is simply that for the Christian, for the person who is trusting in the work of Jesus Christ rather than in his own efforts, for those resting by faith in Jesus, every day is the Sabbath! Every day is a celebration of the fact that we don’t have to do any spiritual or physical works to gain acceptance with God. We are accepted by him through faith in the works of Jesus Christ. If you are a child of God, born again, trusting and believing in Jesus for your acceptance with God rather than in your own works and efforts, you are experiencing the true meaning of Sabbath twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I observe the Sabbath every moment of every day to the degree that I rest in the work of Christ for me. Thus, for the Christian, Jesus is our Sabbath rest!

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The Old Testament: A Treasury of Wondrous Things

treasurepile

6. By what has been said we may see the usefulness and excellency of the Old Testament. Some are ready to look on the Old Testament as being, as it were, out of date and as if we in these days of the gospel had but little to do with it; which is a very great mistake, arising from want of observing the nature and design of the Old Testament, which if it was observed it would appear full of the gospel of Christ, and would in an excellent manner illustrate and confirm the glorious doctrines and promises of the New Testament. Those parts of the Old Testament which are commonly looked upon as containing the least divine instruction are, as it were, as mines and treasures of gospel knowledge, and the reason why they are thought to contain so little is because persons do but superficially read them. The treasures that are hid underneath are not observed. They only look on the top of the ground, and so suddenly pass a judgment that there is nothing there, but they never dig into the mine; if they did they would find it richly stored with silver and gold, and would be abundantly requited for their labors.

What has been said may show us what a precious treasure God has committed into our hands in that he has given us the Bible. How little do most persons consider how much they enjoy in that they have the possession of that holy book the Bible which they have in their hearts and may converse with as they please. What an excellent book is this, and how far exceeding all human writings: that reveals God to us and gives us a view of the grand design and glorious scheme of his providence, from the beginning to the end of the world, either in history or prophecy, that reveals the great Redeemer and his glorious redemption, and the various steps by which God accomplishes it from the first foundation to the topstone. Shall we prize a history that gives us a clear account of some great earthly prince or mighty warrior, as of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, or the duke of Marlborough, and shall we not prize the history that God has given us of the glorious kingdom of his son, Jesus Christ, the prince and savior of the world, and the wars and other great transactions of that king of kings and lord of armies, the lord mighty in battle, the history of the things he has wrought for the redemption of his chosen people.

7. What has been said may make us sensible how much most persons are to blame for their inattentive, unobservant way of reading the Scriptures. How much does the Scripture contain if it was but observed the Bible is the most comprehensive book in the world. But what will all this signify to us if we read it without observing what is the drift of the Holy Ghost in it. The psalmist, Psalms 119:18, begs of God, that he would enlighten his eyes that he might “behold wondrous things come of his law.” The Scripture is full of wondrous things. Those histories that are commonly read as if they were only histories of the private concerns of such and such particular persons, such as the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and the history of Ruth, and the histories of particular lawgivers and princes, as the history of Joshua and the judges, and David and other Israelitish princes, are accounts of vastly greater things, things of greater importance and more extensive concernment than they that read them are commonly aware of. Scripture histories are very commonly read as if they were stories written only to entertain men’s fancies, and to while away their leisure hours, when the infinitely great things contained or pointed at in them are passed over and never taken notice of.

Whatever treasures the Scriptures contain we shall be never the better for them if we don’t observe what is there. He that has a Bible, and don’t observe what is contained [in] it, is like a man that has a box full of silver and gold, and don’t know it, don’t observe that it is anything more than a vessel filled with common stones. As long as it is thus with him, he’ll be never the better for his treasure. For he that don’t know he has a treasure will never make use of what he had, and so had as good be without it. He that has plenty of the choicest food stored up in his house and don’t know it, will never taste what he has and will be as likely to starve as if his house were empty.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), A History of the Work of Redemption, Sermon 13, 290-92.

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The Word is Sterile Unless Spoken

luther-preachesThe Reformation gave centrality to the sermon.  The pulpit was higher than the altar, for Luther held that salvation is through the Word and without the Word the elements are devoid of sacramental quality, but the Word is sterile unless it is spoken.  All of this is not to say that the Reformation invented preaching.  In the century preceding Luther, for the single province of Westphailia ten thousand sermons are in print, and though they are extant only in Latin they were delivered in German.  But the Reformation did exalt the sermon…  The reformers at Wittenberg undertook an extensive campaign of religious instruction through the sermon.  There were three public services on Sunday: from five to six in the morning on the Pauline epistles, from nine to ten on the Gospels, and in the afternoon at a variable hour on a continuation of the theme of the morning or on the catechism.  The church was not locking during the week, but on Mondays and Tuesdays there were sermons on the catechism, Wednesday on the Gospel of Matthew, Thursdays and Fridays on the apostolic letters, and Saturday evening on John’s Gospel.  No one man carried this entire load.  There was a staff of the clergy, but Luther’s share was prodigious.  Including family devotions he spoke often four times on Sundays and quarterly undertook a two-week series four days a week on the catechism.  The sum of his extant sermons is 2,300.  The highest count is for the year 1528, for which there are 195 sermons distributed over 145 days.

His pre-eminence in the pulpit derives in part from the earnestness with which he regarded the preaching office.  The task of the minister is to expound the Word, in which alone are to be found healing for life’s hurts and the balm of eternal blessedness.  The preacher must die daily through concern lest he lead his flock astray.  Sometimes from the pulpit Luther confessed that gladly like the priest and the Levite would he pass by on the other side.  But Luther was constantly repeating to himself the advice which he gave to a discouraged preacher who complained that preaching was a burden, his sermons were always short, and he might better have stayed in his former profession.  Luther said to him:

If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they.  Crawling is something, even if one is unable to walk.  Do your best.  If you cannot preach an hour, then preach half an hour or a quarter of an hour.  Do not try to imitate other people.  Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter, and leave the rest to God.  Look solely to his honor and not to applause.  Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears.  I can tell you that preaching is not a work of man.  Although I am old [he was forty-eight] and experienced, I am afraid every time I have to preach.  You will most certainly find out three things: first, you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; second, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace.  You will preach your very best.  The audience will be pleased, but you won’t.  And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself.  So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.

Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, 272-74 (1995 Meridian ed.).

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The Word Become Flesh: The Secret of the Psalter

psalmsThe Psalter occupies a unique place in all the Holy Scriptures. It is God’s Word, and with few exceptions it is at the same time the prayer of human beings.  How are we to understand this?  How can God’s Word be at the same time prayer to God?  This question is followed by an observation made by all who begin to pray the Psalms.  First, they try to repeat the Psalms personally as their own prayer.  But soon they come across passages that they feel they cannot pray as their own personal prayers.  We remember, for example, the psalms of innocence, the psalms of vengeance, and also, in part, the psalms of suffering.  Nevertheless, these prayers are words of the Holy Scriptures that believing Christians cannot simply dismiss as obsolete and antiquated.  Thus they do not desire to gain control over the word of Scripture, and yet they realize that they cannot pray these words.  They can read them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but they can neither pray them themselves nor expunge them from the Holy Scriptures…. [T]his difficulty actually indicates the point at which we may get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter.  The psalms that will not cross our lips as prayers, those that make us falter and offend us, make us suspect that here someone else is praying, not we – that the one who is here affirming his innocence, who is calling God’s judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself.  It is he who is praying here, and not only here, but in the whole Psalter.  The New Testament and the church have always recognized and testified to his truth.  The human Jesus Christ to whom no affliction, no illness, no suffering is unknown, and who yet was the wholly innocent and righteous one, is praying in the Psalter through the mouth of his congregation.  The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus in the truest sense of the word.  He prayed the Psalter, and now it has become his prayer for all time.  Can we now comprehend how the Psalter is capable of being simultaneously prayer to God and yet God’s own Word, precisely because the praying Christ encounters us here?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), Life Together, 53-55.

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Making the Connection with Your Kids (or Even Yourself), Part 2

In the previous post we introduced the practice of making the connection between Christ and the OldTestament, following the way of interpretation of Jesus and the apostles.  Seeking to understanding how to do this as well as how to help others see the glory of God’s revelation to us, we looked at the first principle for making the connection: we must love Christ.  Now we will consider the last two principles.

2. Love the Gospel

This leads us to our second principle: we must love the gospel.  You see, the greatest revelation of God in Christ is in the gospel.  Before we can talk about loving the gospel we must know what it is.  In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Paul writes:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Jared Wilson writes concerning the gospel:

This is the basic, nonnegotiable truth of the news that God declares good. Notice that it is not advice, not suggestion, not instruction. Nor is it vague spirituality, steps to enlightenment, skills to implement, or precepts to practice. It is information; it is an announcement. It is news. News to be believed, yes, but it is not news of something that has yet to happen or something we can make happen, but rather something that has already happened and was made to happen by God himself. (Gospel Wakefulness)

Narrowly, the gospel is the event of the coming, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus for the purpose of redeeming His people and His glory.  Just as loving Christ begins and consists of trusting Him for who He is and what He has done, loving the gospel begins and consists of trusting it as the power of God to save, keep, and bring you to completion.  You do not merely come to the gospel to be saved, but it is the very life source of the Christian.  We never move beyond the need of God’s grace and therefore we never move beyond our need of the gospel.  The more we dig into the truths of and around the gospel (God’s plan of redemption, His faithfulness, His sovereignty, man’s depravity, the incarnation, substitution, propitiation, reconciliation, sanctification, and so much more) the more we will come to love the gospel and the more we will love Christ, resulting in seeing more of Him in the Old Testament.

While to love Christ is to love the gospel, loving the biblical gospel secures a right understanding of the very purpose of the Scriptures – God’s revelation of Himself and His work on behalf of His people.  Jesus illustrates this as He speaks to two men on the road to Emmaus:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

If we are to make the connection with our kids we must show them our love for the gospel through our own need of and dependence upon God’s work in Christ in our daily lives.

3. Love the Old Testament

The last principle (though not exhaustive) to make the connection between Christ and the Old Testament is that we must love the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament.  The reason I highlight the Old is due to the assumption that most Christians have rightly strong affections toward the New Testament but feel strangely, at least, reading or understanding the Old.  You see, the Old Testament is not merely writings that point to Christ, they are about Him.  Roger Nicole estimates that more that 10 percent of the New Testament is made up of either direct quotations of or allusions to Old Testament texts, validating the need to know and love the Old as much as the New.

So how do we come to love the Old Testament?  Goldsworthy is helpful here:

As Christians, we must return to he principles of Old Testament interpretation dictated by the New Testament.   When Jesus says that he gives the Old Testament meaning, he is also saying that we need the Old Testament to understand what he says about himself.  Jesus drives us back to the Old Testament to examine it through Christian eyes, teaching that it leads us back to him.

In doing biblical theology as Christians, we do not start at Genesis 1 and work our way forward until we discover where it is all leading.  Rather we first come to Christ, and he directs us to study the Old Testament in the light of the gospel.  The gospel will interpret the Old Testament by showing us its goal and meaning.  The Old Testament will increase our understanding of the gospel by showing us what Christ fulfills (According to Plan, 54-5).

Once again we have a self-sustaining method here.  Just as love for the gospel increases our love for Christ, love for the Old Testament fuels our love for the gospel and Christ.  If you only read the New Testament the gospel of the glory of Christ will not be seen in all its glory, for it was not a mere plan B for God but was His choice before the foundation of the world and has been progressively revealed since He, through Christ the Word, spoke everything into being.

Yes, of course, read the New Testament for it is the promise fulfilled and applied but to see the depths of God’s wisdom, power, and grace we must read and glory in the history of redemption as revealed in the Old Testament.  Do this and you will find your love for the New Testament, your love of the gospel, and your love for Christ stronger and spilling over into the lives of your kids and those with whom you come into contact.

Helpful Resources:

For Adults:

Grame Goldsworthy, According to PlanChrist-Centered Biblical Theology

Edmund Clowney, Unfolding the Mystery, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture

Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament, The Message of the New Testament

Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament, The Promised One

For Kids:

Marty Machowski, Long Story Short, The Gospel Story Bible

Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

Crossway Bibles, ESV Seek and Find Bible

Susan and Richie Hunt, Discovering Jesus in Genesis, Discovering Jesus in Exodus

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Making the Connection with Your Kids (or Even Yourself), Part 1

As I was driving around with my oldest daughter (7 1/2) a few days ago, out of nowhere she strikes up a discussion about David and Goliath.  She asks, “That rock could’t really have killed Goliath, could it?”  Assuring her of the deadly capabilities of the rock, I explained that it was not merely the stone flung by David’s sling that brought the fatal blow, but God had helped David defeat Goliath to save His people.  Then, as though a streak of lightning flashed across her mind, she said enthusiastically, “Jesus is like the rock.”

While desiring to correct her theology a little (being the doctrinal nitpicker that I am), I sought to affirm her line of thinking first.  She was making the connection between an Old Testament story and Christ.  This was surely laudable and I told her that it was a reason to thank God, for it is only by His help that she could begin to discern such things.  After that I began to help her make a better connection, telling her that rather than the stone being like Jesus, it was David, the soon to be king of God’s people.  You see, David was a type (a physical representation of some type of spiritual/physical reality for future application) of Christ.  He was God’s chosen king to rule over His people in His place (the promised land).  In the event of David and Goliath, we see God’s chosen man defeating the enemy of God’s people so that they may be saved.  This typologically represents Christ, as He was and is God’s chosen One (1 Peter 2:4) sent to defeat the enemies of God’s people (sin, death, and the devil – Hebrews 2:14-18) that they may be saved through His life, death, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  In Christ we have a much better David, a much better king, a much better victory, and all of this is foreshadowed by the Old Testament narrative.

Now you may be thinking what I just said is crazy or at least a far reach in understanding Scripture.  Or maybe you are wondering how someone comes to view the Bible as a whole as well as its particulars in such a way as mentioned.  Look, with me, to John 5:39 where Jesus declares:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…

Referring to the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus rebukes the Jewish religious leaders of His day for not reading the Word of God rightly.  They saw it as a book of law through which they could find eternal life rather than a drama unfolding before their eyes of the promise and fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption.  You see, the Old Testament is not merely writings about laws, covenants, historical events and peoples, but it is primarily a book about the promises of, the need for, and the coming of Christ, seen in a multitude of types and symbols.  To miss this inherent connection evokes a similar rebuke from Jesus as that to the Jews.

So, how do we make the connection with our kids and even ourselves?  How do we keep from using the Old Testament as a book of moral/character lessons? How do we come to see, understand, and stand in awe of the revelation of God to us through Jesus Christ from the beginning of Scripture to the end?

Principles for Making the Connection between Christ and the Old Testament:

1. Love Christ 

If we are to make the connection between Christ and the Old Testament we must love Christ.  What I mean is this: you are not going to see, understand, or glory in God’s unfolding plan of redemption if you have not become a partaker of the very redemption He has brought in the person and work of Jesus.  2 Corinthians 4:3-6 proclaims:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, in John 14:21:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

When I say you must love Christ I am referring to whether you know and have come to trust Him for who He is: the divine Word become flesh, fulfiller of all righteousness, bearer of the wrath of God for sin, the innocent Lamb voluntarily led to the slaughter, risen Lord and reigning King of all, and your only hope of life everlasting.  If you do not love Him in this way, you will not see Him revealed in the Scriptures, for you cannot, being blinded by your hardened heart, the deception of sin, and the work of the devil.  It is only through the gospel of the glory of Christ that eyes are opened, hearts made to love, minds renewed, and the Word truly appreciated and understood as God intends.  All this comes as a gracious gift from God by the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2).

If you are going to make the connection between Christ and the Old Testament with your kids you must love Christ.  They need to see and hear of your love for Him and His Word.  Most people’s trouble in seeing the connections is not that they are hidden gnostic treasures but that we have had very little good examples to follow in their homes and churches.

In the next post we will look at the last two principles in making the connection between Christ and the Old Testament and some resources to aid you in this endeavor.

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Beware the Gospel-Eclipsing Power of ‘Jesus-in-my-heart-ism’

Many evangelicals use the evangelistic appeal to ‘ask Jesus into your heart’.  The positive aspect of this is that the New Testament speaks of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27); of Christ dwelling ‘in your hearts through faith’ (Eph. 3:17); and the like.  It speaks of the Christian as having ‘received Christ Jesus the Lord’ (Col. 2:6).  But it also makes clear that Christ dwells in or among his people by his Spirit, for the bodily risen Jesus is in heaven.  Furthermore, there are no examples of principles of evangelism or conversion in the New Testament involving the asking of Jesus into one’s heart.  In many cases this practice represents a loss of confidence in faith alone, for it needs to resort to a Catholic style of infused grace to assure us that something has happened.

Now, when people are genuinely converted by asking Jesus into their hearts, and I have no doubt that there are many, it can only be because they have understood the gospel sufficiently well for this prayer to be a decision to believe that this Jesus is the one who lived and died for their salvation.  Why, then, have I called this section ‘evangelical Catholicism’?  An aspect of Catholicism that Protestants have rejected is the reversal of the relationship of objective justification to its subjective outworking or sanctification.  Another way of putting this is that the focus on the grace of God at work in the historic gospel event of Jesus Christ is muted compared to the emphasis on the grace of God as a kind of spiritual infusion into the life of the Christian.  The gospel is seen more as what God is doing in me now, rather than what God did for me then.  The focus is on Jesus living his life in and through me now, rather than the past historic event of Jesus of Nazareth living his life for me and dying for me.  When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spiritually prior objective dimension, we are in trouble.  The New Testament calls on the repenting sinner to believe in Christ, to trust him for salvation.  To ask Jesus into one’s heart is simply not a New Testament way of speaking.  It is superflous to call on Christ to dwell in us, for to be a believer is to have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us.  In the same way, it is not the New Testament perspective that we should call on God to give us the gift of new birth.

Once again, we see that it is not always an outright error that we are dealing with.  Rather, it is allowing something that is good and necessary (Christ present by his Spirit) to eclipse something that is of prior importance (faith in the doing and dying of Christ) and upon which the good thing we emphasize actually depends.  The result can be disastrous.  I believe that many people have made their decision for Jesus and asked him into their heart without really understanding the gospel and its demands for repentance and faith.  These are spurious conversions, and the last state is worse than the first if the ‘convert’ becomes disillusioned and hardened against the real gospel.

A tendency that is encouraged by this evangelical aberration is a kind of Christomonism.  This is a theological deviation from the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  If the centre of my concern becomes Jesus living in my heart (‘heart’ usually being undefined), then Jesus has taken the place of the Holy Spirit and is likely to replace the Father also.  It undermines the bodily resurrection and ascension o Christ.  It affects prayer, among other things, so that the New Testament perspective on prayer to the Father is lost.  Its tendency is t oa docetic hermeneutic.

Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics176-77.

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