Knowing Scripture – Book Reflection

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I purposed to read this book because it has been sitting on my shelf for a few years now and I’ve never read it all the way through! It’s only 125 pages and Dr. Sproul has a way of communicating so easily, you feel like you’re having a conversation face to face. I realized today that I have his first edition published in 1977, but he has since released a revised 2009 version which I would recommend as a better choice simply because it contains updated reference materials.

It is a “booklet” and not a series of volumes because his purpose is to “offer basic, common-sense guidelines to help serious readers study scripture profitably” (p. 12). And he does just that.

The book can basically be split into two parts: why you should study the Bible and practical ways to do so. In the first half he debunks myths about the difficulty and irrelevance of scripture, discusses reasons why private Bible study is so important, and introduces the terms “exegesis” and “eisogesis.” He uses these terms throughout the rest of the book to illustrate “good” interpretation of scripture versus “bad.” The term “exegesis” means to explain what scripture says (“to get out of the words the meaning that is there, no more no less.”) The term “eisogesis” means reading into the text subjectively. This is what we must not do.

Chapter 4 is where the rubber really meets the road and in it Dr. Sproul lists ten practical rules for Biblical interpretation. I’ll briefly outline them:

1. The Bible is to be read like any other book – in the sense that it is literature and we must pay attention to what literary genre we are reading at any point in the book (he further explains this principle of sensus literalis in Chapter 3). The exception here is in spritual application. He says:

For the spiritual benefit of applying the words of Scripture to our lives, prayer is enormously helpful. To illuminate the spiritural significance of a text the Holy Ghost is quite important. But to discern the difference between historical narrative and metaphor, prayer is not a great help… (p. 64)

2. Read the Bible Existentially – put yourself in the shoes of the characters you read about in scripture. Try to empathize with them so that you better understand what you’re reading.

3. Historical narratives are to be interpreted by the didactic – “didactic” means to teach or to instruct. What he is saying is scripture that clearly teaches a principle should “interpret” a historical record and not the other way around. One reason for this is to warn against drawing too many inferences from records of what people do (for example some men argue that it is the Christian’s duty to make “visitations of mercy” on the Sabbath because Jesus did. But Jesus never commands us to do this. His example showed that it was permissible but not necessary.) Also the Bible records both the virtues and the vices of its characters. We should be careful to take teaching as teaching and narrative as narrative.

4. The implicit is to be interpreted by the explicit – basically, read what the text actually says (explicitly) before you try to infer something (implicitly).

5. Determine carefully the meaning of words – get a Bible dictionary and use it. Don’t just look up the meaning of the English words (although that’s a helpful first step if you don’t know what they mean) but look up the Hebrew or Greek word in a lexicon. Also words can have multiple meanings, so figure out what it means in context.

6. Note the presence of parallelisms in the Bible – there are three basic types: synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic. Synonymous says basically the same thing twice, but slightly differently. Antithetic parallelism sets two parts in contrast to each other. They may say the same thing by way of negation. Synthetic parallelism is more of a progressive “staircase” movement of two lines leading to a third line of conclusion. Noting and understanding parallelism can help us understand what we’re reading and also safeguard against misinterpretations.

7. Note the difference between Proverb and Law – I loved Dr. Sproul’s definition: “Proverbs are catchy little couplets designed to express practical truisms.” They are not hard and fast laws or promises of God. How many times have I heard parents quote “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) as if God were duty-bound to keep children from falling away if we parent well enough? Hopefully we understand this is a principle and not a law.

8. Observe the difference between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law – “God is concerned with the heart as well as with the act” (p. 93).

9. Be careful with parables – they aren’t always allegorical (as with the Parable of the Sower. It clearly is because Jesus explains it fully). The rule of thumb is that there is “one central meaning” to parables, but even that can’t be rigidly applied. Consult several commentaries.

10. Be careful with predictive prophecy – especially apocalyptic prophecy in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. Again, consult several commentaries.

I would recommend this book to a new(er) Christian interested in learning how to study scripture. I would also recommend it as a refresher for Christians starting a new Bible reading plan. It contains solid principles and practical advice about how to get the most out of your private study. As Dr. Sproul says, no one can offer a “magic formula for perfect success in understanding each text of the Bible,” but he offers great help in recognizing and solving many common problems. This booklet will make you want to dive into scripture with enthusiasm!

Pick it up on Amazon here

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Wise Beyond Your Years

I was raised in a Christian home. I grew up in church, served in ministries, did everything “right.” In middle school and high school I also refrained from the more blatant sins of my peers: drinking, smoking, dating around etc. Because of this, I maintained a level of pride throughout my teenage years.

I remember being encouraged and esteemed by adults around me. I received accolades at school for good grades, good citizenship, good works. I remember being told by respected adults: “You have wisdom beyond your years.” They were seeing the external, but God sees the heart (Proverbs 16:2). And though I desired to please God, I was not “gospel-motivated.” I considered my own morality more than I considered Jesus and his finished work on the cross.

I read the story of King Josiah in 2 Kings 22-23 thinking about this, comparing myself with him and his wisdom in his youth. King Josiah began reigning over the entire nation of Judah at eight years old. Age eight! At eight years old I was lucky to get out the door wearing matching clothes! (thanks mom). The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about what happens for the next decade of Josiah’s reign, but we know he did not turn aside from the LORD. And we also know that for 57 years prior, the nation of Judah and its kings had not served the LORD, but instead whored after other gods. Where did Josiah get this wisdom? How did he manage to walk in the way of the LORD with no examples going before him? What affected his heart so completely that he would break a longstanding pattern of apostasy?

When he is eighteen, King Josiah sends his secretary to oversee temple repairs and while he’s there the high priest gives him the Book of the Law (it had been lost for many years). It is read aloud to Josiah.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
(2 Kings 22:11-13)

Josiah doesn’t decide to turn a new leaf of morality. No, it is the word of the LORD that cuts him to the heart. He immediately repents and calls the nation to repentance. Though he’s a young man, he listens to the law and the prophets and is blessed because of it. My good works at eighteen were largely pride-motivated, but King Josiah’s are humilty-motivated. Oh, the beauty of dying to self that I may live in Christ!

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Colorado

When we get to know Jesus and when we immerse ourselves in the Bible, which is God’s word, we gain wisdom. Even “wisdom beyond our years.” Allow the word of the LORD to cut you to the heart. Allow the good news to penetrate your façade of self-reliance. Then we can walk humbly together in “gospel-motivated” wisdom that will bring blessing.

Photo credit: MB Photography

When Things Go Wrong

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Yesterday was one of those days when you get thrown a curve ball, and then subsequently ten more until you end up standing on one leg, juggling, and holding on by the skin of your teeth. To make a long story short, everyone, including our lead pastor, was sick and we had to change everything last minute. As the worship leader, I open the service and set the tone. Last minute changes can be stressful to say the least.

With each passing week I learn more about leading worship and this week I learned something very important: the Holy Spirit is more than capable of leading His people. I know this to be true because Jesus says so:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

I know and understand that I can’t awaken anyone’s heart to the truth of the Gospel by my song choices, eloquent explanations of lyrics, smooth transitions, or even by lighting or visual theatrics. It is God who illuminates His word:

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. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

And it is God who reorders our affections:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

We pray fervently every week for the Spirit to do what only He can do. But it’s good every once in awhile to be thrown into a bit of a panic, where all my prep-time and previous rehearsal count for nothing, and then watch how the Spirit works. *Amazingly* (that’s sarcasm) He still can affect people’s hearts, even when I’m scrambling.

Our founding pastor stepped in and delivered a marvelous impromptu message about God’s healing. He invited folks to come forward for prayer and many MANY people responded. I hope to hear testimonies later about how God is healing their bodies and working in their hearts.

Intellect & Passion

Christianity is supremely intellectual though not intellectualistic. That is, Scripture is addressed to the intellect without at the same time embracing a spirit of intellectualism. The Christian life is not to be a life of bare conjecture or cold rationalism; it is to be a life of vibrant passion. Strong feelings of joy, love and exaltation are called for again and again. But those passionate feelings are a response to what we understand with our minds to be true. When we read in Scripture, “Take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33), “ho hum” is not an appropriate response. We can be of good cheer because we understand that Christ has indeed overcome the world. That thrills our souls and sets our feet to dancing. What is more precious than to experience the sweetness of the presence of Christ or the nearness of the Holy Spirit?

-R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture

May you experience the sweetness of His presence this Lord’s day!

Improvised Cappuccino

Do you have an espresso machine? Neither do I. But I like fancy things, and especially fancy coffee. So, with the internet’s help, I came up with a way to make a cappuccino without one. Here are five reasons to make your own improvised cappucinno:

1) You save money not buying a crazy espresso machine just to make espresso and steamed milk. Regular coffee works (and tastes) great!

2) You can go low fat – the lower fat milk you choose, the better foam it will make (I use 2% and it works beautifully. Skim does even better. Half & half or heavy whipping cream? Not so much).

3) You can go sugar-free (or go with natural sweeteners like agave or stevia). You get to choose what goes in.

4) This method keeps your coffee warm instead of cooling it down with half & half or flavored creamer straight from the fridge.

5) It’s fun exercise (you’ll see below) or a great assignment for a busy child in the kitchen.

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Here are your cast of characters:

A brewed pot of coffee
Milk
A container with a lid
A fancy cup cup and saucer (this is essential)

Step 1: Brew some coffee. Or brew espresso, but if you have an espresso machine then I’m not sure why you’re reading this.

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Step 2: Pour a a little bit of milk into your container with a lid. I happened to have this lovely little travel bottle, but anything with a secure lid would work.

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Step 3: Microwave your milk for ~10 seconds (just warm, not scalding)

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Step 4: Now comes the fun part. Cap the lid and shake vigorously for 1 minute

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No, I mean really shake it…

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Shake vigorously! (Seriously, what kid wouldn’t love doing this for you?)

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At this point your dog will probably be looking at you wondering:

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But just ignore her and move onto Step 5, which is to pour your now frothy milk slowly into your beautiful cup

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It will look like just milk at first but then…

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Lovely foam!  And voila, you have a fancy cappuccino to drink while you do your morning devotions! AND you saved money, saved calories, kept your coffee warm, and possibly entertained a child (or a dog) for several minutes in the morning. Good for you!

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I hope you enjoy this discovery as much as I have. Let me know how it works if you try it out for yourself!

Web Variety

Avail yourself to a collection of interesting things I’ve come across on the web this past week:

Do Truck Drivers Matter to God? – Paul Rude answers this question over at The Gospel Coalition blog. He works to crush the myth of vocational shame in Christianity.

Gospel Amnesia in the Local Church – “Have you ever felt ashamed or guilty because you can’t seem to keep up with someone else’s sanctification? On the other side: have you ever let words slip from your lips (e.g. how many times a week you do family worship, what books you are reading, which parenting and education method you are using, etc.) to show how far along your family is on the sanctification spectrum? In other words, have you ever ‘preached Christ’ out of envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15–17)? I certainly have.” Luma Simms ebook Gospel Amnesia released this week through Gospel Centered Discipleship.

Why I Can’t Be Your Friend Today Lore Ferguson discusses prioritizing and balancing your relationships. It’s worth a read.

Just Do It – Young mothers can find time to be in the word! My friend Kim Shay wrote this encouraging piece for the Women of God Magazine.

Packer on Owen on Mortification “Sin, he told me, is a blind, anti-God, egocentric energy in the fallen human spiritual system, ever fomenting self-centred and self-deceiving desires, ambitions, purposes, plans, attitudes, and behaviours. Now that I was a regenerate believer, born again, a new creation in Christ, sin that formerly dominated me had been de-throned but was not yet destroyed.”

Trombone Silliness – Unless you are made of stone, this video will make you smile. HT Nathan Bingham

Thankful Thursday

Wendy enjoying her new bed

Wendy enjoying her new bed

  • I’m thankful that I have not gotten the flu! The news says it’s widespread throughout the country and many people I know have had it. Thank you Jesus for good health
  • I’m thankful that the Wendy dog enjoys her new bed and that it keeps her lovely Wendy-hairs somewhat contained while she’s on the couch
  • I’m thankful that the temperature has made its way back up into the 40’s and 50’s rather than the bone-chilling teens. It almost bodes of spring…*sigh* yes, I know it’s still only January
  • I’m thankful that in only two more weeks we will get to see my husband’s family in Minnesota (although I’m sure it will be bitter cold there) and we’ll get to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday together
  • I’m thankful for you reading this blog! It may not seem like much, but you reading it makes it that much more fun. Thank you for adding joy to my life by sharing in it!
  • And I’m thankful for life and breath and for all of God’s many many blessings!

(Copying Persis at Tried With Fire)