What does the Bible mean to me?

A common thing for Christians to say when studying the Bible with others is, “what the Biblical text means to me is…”  or “my interpretation of this passage is…”  The scary thing about these statements, is that they suggest that several people can read the same Biblical text and each of them walk away with several completely different understandings.  The reality is that this should not be the case. In this short blog, I want to reexamine the way Christians often read their Bible.

Every time we read the Bible, we take part in what is called interpretation.  Robert Stein defines interpretation as “the expression of a reader’s understanding of the author’s meaning”.¹  Interpretation is the way in which you seek to express the meaning of the biblical text.  Pay close attention to this, the goal of interpretation is finding the meaning of the text (notice meaning is singular). If this goal of interpretation is misunderstood, then disaster is near because there can always wrong interpretations of any given passage.

For example, a faulty interpretation of 1 Samuel 18:3, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” would be that David and Jonathan were homosexuals and were involved romantically.  What is the problem with this interpretation?  It does not match the author’s intention.

This is the goal of interpretation is being faithful to the author’s intention.  When reading a passage of the Bible, always keep that in your mind, what was John’s intention when he wrote this?  What was Paul’s intention? What was Moses’ intention?  When you figure out what the author intended to communicate, you are well on your way to having a correct interpretation.

So you may be wondering why this is important.  This is inexpressibly important because many readers of the Bible, even many pastors, don’t think this way.  They ignore the intention of the author and inject their own opinions and faulty views into biblical interpretation.  That way, they can use the Bible to support whatever sinful desire or unbiblical opinion they may have.  Don’t do this.  2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

¹Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 49

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Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches

By: Russel D. Moore

This book is an excellent resource and encouragement for any Christian. It is helpful because the world, unfortunately, has always had and always will have orphans until Jesus comes back. Children are fatherless as a result of the sin that entered the world through the fall. We are thankful that he has provided governments and private agencies the ability to send these fatherless children to loving homes but we as Christians have a special calling to create an adoption friendly culture.  In Adopted for Life Russell Moore goes through the practical ways that we can be adoption friendly.

Dr. Moore and his wife adopted two boys from Russia carefully and he accurately weaves biblical principles and theology into his own adoption story. He goes through the ups and downs of their
roller coaster of building their family. That alone is encouraging and shows the work of God in their lives. In the Bible it is stated many times that we are adopted from being orphans into God’s family as sons (Eph. 1:5, Rom. 8:15). This is something I have been mindful of and I thought it was a neat concept. However, after reading this book the concept was made so much more clear. When we are born again into the family of God we can remember leaving behind our old life and following Jesus. This is something that Dr. Moore relates to adopting his sons. He says, “The trauma of leaving the orphanage was unexpected to me because I knew how much better these boys’ life would soon be. I thought they knew too. But they had no idea. They couldn’t conceive of anything other than the status quo. My whispering to my boys, ‘You won’t miss that orphanage’ is only a shadow of something I should have known already. Our Father tells us that we too are unable to grasp what’s waiting for us-and how glorious it really is. It’s hard for us to long for an inheritance to come, a harmonious Christ-ruled universe, when we’ve never seen anything like it.”(page 46) This entire book is filled with Gospel connections like this one. It not only pointed me to desire to support adoption but it also pointed me to worship my Savior who adopted me!

The church also plays a big role in supporting, teaching and pursuing adoptions. Talking about the rarity of focus on adoptions in the church nowadays, he says, “It becomes a focus only when a church member personally faces infertility or knows of particular children without parents. Until then, for most of us, adoption rarely crosses our minds.” He encourages pastors and leaders in the church to make a culture that is hospitable to adoption. Dr, Moore goes through how churches can help or hinder adoptions.

In Adopted for Life, Dr. Moore also goes through the ups and downs of the adoption and post adoption process. He talks about the journey the Lord took him on of coming to terms with adopting his children. Many people are similar, as he was, who think that adoption is plan B, a last resort, or long term babysitting. In regards to this he says, “That’s a common sentiment, one that I shared myself at the beginning. Adoption seems to many infertile couples (including Christians) to be a second-best option for those who can’t in any other way have children “of our own.” He talks about how to know if you or someone close to you is ready for adoption. There are many misconceptions about adoption and Moore goes through these as well and he talks about the correct and biblical ways to think about all aspects of adoption. He also goes through life after adoption and what struggles and joys one might face (both child and parents) giving very practical advice and ways to handle these situations.

Overall, I would recommend this book to almost anyone! Even if adoption is not on the horizon for you, it is still helpful beyond words to go through the theology of adoption (ours and orphans), the church’s role in adoptions, and also to know what happens in the process of adoption on so many levels. Russell Moore is transparent and thorough in the book making his book easy to follow and intriguing to read. This is one of the best books I have ever read!

Book Review by Hannah Ahlgren

You can buy the book here.

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If Christ was not Raised is the Gospel Still Good News?

Rudolf Bultmann was a liberal theologian in the early 19th century who believed that the gospel is still important to preach even though he says  the resurrection “simply cannot be a visible fact in the realm of human history”¹, and “a historical fact that involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable.”²  Despite hes denial of the resurrection Bultmann still encourages the proclamation of the gospel and even the preaching of Jesus as a crucified, risen savior!

This is such a strange thing for me to understand.  It is strange because the truthful reality that Jesus has been raised from the dead is central to the Christian hope.  If the resurrection were not true, then why preach the gospel?  There is no good news in a dead savior.  Paul says  “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ.”  and “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Co 15:12-15, 32–33). The gospel makes no sense without the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of our resurrection is no way secure if Jesus is still in his tomb.  Going further than this, Rudolph Bultmann’s assumption that Jesus was not raised from the dead is based on his denial of the supernatural based on naturalistic presuppositions that are not compatible with the Christian faith.  Also, with this skepticism of the supernatural and the denial of Jesus’ resurrection, the Christian can have no hope in his regeneration because that in itself is a supernatural work of God that can be likened to a death and resurrection.  If Christ is not raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.

Moreover, when you read through the book of Acts, you can see that whenever the gospel is proclaimed, the resurrection of Jesus and his present reign at the right hand of God is also emphasized.  If Jesus is not the present King from David’s line that will sit on the throne forever, the Kingdom of God has no hope and the Church’s future is uncertain.  On the contrary, because we know that Jesus is alive and ruling from Heaven, we can be sure of our salvation, our future resurrection, the future of His church, our freedom from sin, and the power to do his will.

¹Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols., trans. Kendrick Grobel (New York: Scribner, 1951), 1:3. Rudolf

²Bultmann, Jesus and the World (New York: Scribner, 1958), 8.

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What is Baptism?

Put simply baptism is a picture of death and resurrection/new birth.  With that answer, another obvious question arises, why? Why would anyone want to be a picture of death and resurrection?  Here are the reasons given in the Bible. (These answers assume the one being baptized is a born again believer in Jesus).

  1. They have died and been raised.  Ephesians 2 says that we were dead in your trespasses and sins but God raised us (born again believers) up with Jesus and seated us in Christ Jesus. The one being baptized has been born again. They are now a new man or woman and Christ and their old self has been crucified with Christ. This is not something the christian does to themselves, it is something that the Holy Spirit does in his mighty power. When a Christian goes under the baptism water and comes back up, they are portraying a visible picture for everyone to see what happened in their life.   Upon conversion, the Christian’s old life died with Christ and they are now a new person who has been united with Jesus and given the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in obedience with Jesus.  Has this happen in your life? If not, it can happen to you right not.  Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus, then you can experience what baptism pictures.
  2. They are identifying themselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In both Romans 6 and Colossians 2, the believer is described in baptism as dying with Christ and being raised with Christ.  The believer is united with Christ upon conversion and is now proclaiming to their new family, “I am Christ’s! I am willing to die with him, literally and figuratively, in order that I may also be raised with him”.
  3. They are receiving the sign of the new covenant. They are proclaiming to the whole community that they have given their entire life to Jesus, in order to be a child of God.
  4. They are walking in obedience to Jesus. Everyone who is born again is called by God to be baptized.  As a matter of fact, walking in obedience to God by being baptized is a sign of someone who is truly converted.  This is what we see in 2 Peter 3:21 “And that water [of the flood in Noah’s day] is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (NLT)

Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, A Study of the Church in the Four Provinces

By: Roland Allen

Missionary Methods is an important book in the history of cross-cultural missions.  It has had an impact on the way overseas missions is done and thought about all the way into the 21st century.  As the title makes clear, the point of the book is to examine Paul’s missionary methods and ascertain if we should be using his methods, or our methods.  In the book he advocates for the former, pushing against the colonial missions ideas that were prevalent in his day.  Ronald Allen was an Anglican missionary to China from 1895-1903.  As a missionary, he saw the problems with the colonial missions methods that were being utilized and returned to Scotland.  He began pushing for indigenous missions practices that would be used to more effectively share the gospel in the unreached and begin church planting movements.  This book flows out of Allen’s experience and struggles as he sought to determine how missions was to be done in his day.  After writing Missionary Methods in 1912, he went on to write The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hindered It in 1927, both of which are still used by missionaries and assigned in seminary classes.

Allen makes his thesis clear from the very start.  Paul’s missionary methods, primarily recorded in Acts, informs us on how to do missions and missionaries need to conform to his methods.  He states, “It is impossible but that the account so carefully given by St. Luke of the planting of the churches in the Four Provinces should have something more than a mere archaeological and historical interest.  Like the rest of the Holy Scriptures it was ‘written for our learning’” (6).  The most important obstacle to this thesis that Allen focuses on proving wrong, is the claim that Paul’s situation was different than ours so his methods are not as effective as our modern methods.  He makes clear, that the real reason Paul’s methods in the four provinces is undermined is because, “St. Paul’s method is not in harmony with the modern Western spirit” (9).  After the introduction in chapter one, Allen continues with ten chapters dealing with individual aspects of missions and how we learn from Paul how they ought to be handled.  Each of these chapters has a similar format and goal.  They seek to show how Paul’s situation and circumstance did not give him anymore of an advantage than we have.  Allen highlights the negative effects of doing missions our own way to point the reader to consider Paul’s way.  For example, when addressing the issue of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he explains that when we try to select only a few people to do everything in a new Christian community, we end up running into several problems that Paul did not have when he trained leaders from within congregations to replace him (83-85). Furthermore, after explaining what Paul did in detail, he applies it to the modern missionary situation. His goal is the same throughout these sections; Paul’s method of doing missions must take presence over our own ideas and methodology. The book draws to a close with five rules for missionaries that he argues are essential to missions based off of Paul’s method explained in the preceding ten chapters.

Overall, Missionary Methods is a well written book that is greatly helpful for Christians seeking to understand how missions are to be done effectively and faithfully.  Though we live 2,000 years after Paul, Allen does a superb job in showing that his methods still work.  In fact, Paul’s methods are the only ones that are faithful.  The book’s thesis is biblically sound and argued practically.  Below, I explain that strength is primarily seen in its boldness, historical aptitude, sound overarching argument, insight into the barriers to missions and faithful use of the biblical text.

It is understandable why this book is still used and respected today.   As long as this book is read, it will continue to positively lead people away from faulty human based strategies to missions and towards the effective biblical pattern set forth by Paul.  No matter what someone’s background on missions, anyone who reads this book will have a hard time disagreeing with Allen.  He did a great job in showing how Paul’s missionary methods can work today as they worked in his day.  I would recommend this book to any Christian who is contemplating or doing cross-cultural missions.  The truths of the book had a large impact on me and the way I think about every aspect of missions from finances to authority.  Though the book is old, the truths are timeless and we should be thankful for the impact that Allen has had on the way people have thought about missions.

Book Review by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren

You can buy the book here.

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Freedom from Slavery

It is said that a flippant young man once remarked to a preacher in mocking fashion, “You say that unsaved people carry a great weight of sin. Frankly, I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Ten pounds? Fifty pounds? Eighty pounds? A hundred pounds?” The preacher thought for a moment, then replied, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?” The young man was quick to say, “Of course not; it’s dead” Driving home his point, the preacher said, “The person who doesn’t know Christ is equally dead. And though the load is great, he feels none of it”[1] This is the sad reality of what we see in John 8:31-38 as well as all around us.  The slavery to sin that all of us are under until we turn to Jesus is so powerful that we don’t even notice the shekels around our ankles and hands.  Before we are born again, we feel free yet we know something is missing.  We are pursuing happiness but we are confused why we can never attain it.  But that is where the beautiful words of Jesus come in, “if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed”.  Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil and break the seemingly indestructible shekels of sin that kept us blind and dead.  We may now rejoice in the truth of Romans 6:22-23, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Now dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in your freedom!  And while you are rejoicing in your freedom from sin, help others remove their chains by pointing them to what Jesus did on the cross, that way we may have more people to rejoice with.

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How Will Emporium be Fixed?

There is one message that is going to bring real change to our broken community and this message has to start with you.  The message is the Gospel.  What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the good news that Jesus became flesh, fulfilled the law, died on the cross for us, and was raised to assure us that those who repent and believe in him have freedom from sin and eternal life.  Do you believe this message?  Have you experienced this message?  When I say “experienced”, I don’t mean have you said some prayer and asked Jesus for forgiveness.  What I mean is have you recognized you utter sinfulness to the point where you realize the only place you can go is to Jesus and when you get to him, you lay your entire life down before his feet and cry out “it is all yours Jesus!” This is what I mean by have you experienced the gospel.  If you have not experienced it, then you don’t understand it and you need to run you God’s word and cry out to him that he would open your eyes and help you see his beauty and your need for him (Start with Romans 3:21-31).

The gospel is the power of God that will change our community and it has to start with you.  You may be thinking, “why does this guy have so much confidence in this story about a man who lived over 2,000 years ago?”  My answer to you: It’s what the bible says, Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  Paul here says that this gospel, this good news, leads to salvation and is the power of God.  We can’t save people, we don’t have the power to.  We can only present the gospel to those in bondage to sin around us and pray that they believe, because if they do, they will be free from sin.

As you go about your day, think about the people in need in our community.  Think about those who are entrapped in sin blind to the reality of eternity (It may be you). Think about those who are trusting in their good works to save them yet inevitably, have no freedom from sin because they have not turned to Jesus (it may be you).  You have the answer that they need.  The gospel that you have is the only hope they or you have of a better day and an eternity with Jesus.   Freedom from sin in our community is not going to come merely through hard work and determination.  It is only going to come when the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes our focus, our song, and our message.

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Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction

By: Sam Allberry

As people living in the 21st century, the issue of homosexuality is most definitely a head turner.  Christians often want to avoid the issue and when it is talked about, there is often much confusion.  Honestly, the church needs help.  Many Christians have taken the easy road out and have affirmed homosexuality as something that is ok.  Others have taken the other way and have only cast shame and judgment without considering how the gospel brings hope.  This problem  makes this book important.  Sam Allberry provides help, truth, and love in a way that no other book on this issue does or can. Allberry knows what he is talking about.  Not merely because he is a Christian, but because same sex attraction (SSA) has affected his life, so he is able to share his story about it.  In other words, this book is not your average Christian telling other Christians how to deal with an issue that has never affected him.  No, this is a man that struggled with this issue biblically because it had a real impact on his life.  This is why Sam Allberry is qualified to give guidance and help to Christians thinking thorough this issue that has affected our generation more than any other.

As a matter of fact, every Christian in our day should read Is God anti-gay.  The issue of homosexuality and SSA is too important to ignore.  There are people in churches all over who struggle with SSA but are afraid to share their struggles.  They end up buried with guilt without anyone to help them think through the topic of sexuality biblically.  Our churches need help.  Churches need to be open about this issue, providing grace always pointing to the gospel.  Sam Allberry is that loving hand and clear voice that says, I’ve been there, let me help you.  Whether you experience same-sex attraction or not, this book will equip you so that you can think biblically on the issue and help yourself, and/or others in need.  I would say that the book is worth its weight in gold, but that would not be saying too much considering that it is so short and small.  The benefit of its short length though, is that is accessible to everyone, including you.

Book Review by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren

You can buy the book here.

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Why I didn’t Preach John 7:53-8:11; The Woman Caught in Adultery

If you look at your Bible right before 7:53, you should see something in brackets that says something like [The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11] (ESV) or [The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11] (HCSB). The reason that some KJV Bibles do not write this in brackets is because the KJV was translated from Greek & Hebrew in 1611 when they only had a small number of ancient manuscripts many of which were less reliable. It is now extremely clear that John did not write this section of the book because it was added much later by a scribe. This means that this section of John is not scripture and the author was not “carried along by the holy spirit” (2 Peter 2:21). The events in this section very well may have happened, but they were not recorded by the apostle John. There are two types of evidence that point to this reality. There is external manuscript evidence, and internal evidence in the context.

  1. Evidence in Manuscripts – a manuscript is a handwritten copy of a portion of the text of the Bible. When we look at all of the many manuscripts that we have of the book of John dating back to the 2nd century and following, we see that this section of John is not recorded at all in the manuscripts that date back near when John wrote it. The story of the woman caught in adultery does not appear in any documents prior to the 5th century and it often appears in other places in John and even in Luke. Several early Christians also recorded the end of John 7 and the start of John 8 but skipped right over the story of the woman caught in adultery because this section was not added until later.
  2. Evidence in the Context- John always refers those in Jerusalem as “the Jews” and never calls them “scribes”, yet in this section he calls them scribes. In fact there are 14 words in John 7:53–8:11 that occur nowhere else in John’s Gospel. Also, if you look at the context, John 8:12 and following fit right onto John 7 while the story of the woman caught in adultery does not fit but breaks up what happened at the Feast of Booths.

Can we still trust the Bible? Yes! The fact that we have enough manuscripts to tell when a portion of scripture is trustworthy, gives us confidence in God’s word. Our modern translations are based off of over 25,000 manuscripts of the Bible, some of them with only short portions of the biblical text and some with much longer portions. Scholars study these manuscripts and compare them so that we can have confidence that our English Bibles are God’s word for us to read and enjoy with trust.

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Should Dangerous Places be Off-limits for Christians?

With the new attention fixated on the dangers in the Middle East over the last several months,  most would see it as unwise to go anywhere near that area of the world.  What would be so important, that we would be willing to go there?  ISIS is rounding up journalists, aid workers, and Christians so that they can imprison them for months, and then take them in front of a camera to cut their head off.   Why would we ever go to that area of the world?  What if they took us? Moreover, what about the Western Christians who are in Muslim areas right now who are in danger as well?  What about the local Christians? Shouldn’t we evacuate them to safety so that the radical Muslim groups can’t hurt them?  This is what my first reaction looked like;  with sadness, I think about all the suffering that they are going through, and think, we need to get them out.  I think about my dear Christian brothers and sisters in seminary who are training to be missionaries and I think in my head “don’t go, you may be next in line”. Though these reactions appear to make sense to our worldly western minds, they are actually quite non-Christian (in the biblical sense of the word).  Listen to the Words of Jesus:“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16–18) Let these words become personal and real.  Jesus is telling you “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”.   As Christians, the question should naturally arise in our heads; how are we intentionally being among wolves?  More than this, we need to think, should we be discouraging Christians from going overseas where they could be killed because they are sharing the gospel? No, we need to be encouraging them to go and preach the gospel!  Is that not what Jesus commanded them, and you to go and do?  We dare not discourage Christians from being obedient while we huddle at home failing to evangelize our local communities out of fear or harsh words and mean looks.  We as Christians are called to be missionaries.  There are only three options for the Christian no matter what the level of persecution.  Go overseas yourself, send and support missionaries overseas while you do evangelism and discipleship in your local context, or be disobedient.  For the sake of the kingdom of God and the eternal salvation of the nations, we as the church must choose the first two.