The Commandments (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #3)

Quick-what are the Ten Commandments?  Can you name them?  If you are having trouble, you might want to glance over at Exodus 20 to refresh your memory.

When I say the word “commandment”, your mind probably automatically goes to the Ten Commandments.  But to understand the Ten Commandments we need to go back a little further into Israel’s history.  The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt.  Pharoah was abusing them and forcing them to construct buildings with very few building materials.  This had been going on for years when Moses comes on the scene.  God, through Moses, uses the plagues to set the Hebrews free. 

It is after the Hebrews are set free that they receive the Ten Commandments.  The Ten Commandments are the right response for the People of God after they have been made free.  It’s not that by doing these things they will be made free.  It’s not that the Hebrews have to do these things first, then they will be made free.  The idea is that the Hebrews have already been made free and the Ten Commandments (and by extension the rest of the Law) are the proper way to respond to the freedom they have already been given.

That is the story of the Ten Commandments in a nutshell.  So along comes this teacher named Jesus in New Testament times.  One of the things Jesus has been accused of is overthrowing the Scriptures, including the Law, the Ten Commandments, and overthrowing previous religious history while attempting to start a cult.  The religious leaders see their power being taken away from them right before their eyes. 

So the religious leaders decide to try to trap Jesus.  They set him up with a question they think he cannot answer safely.  They ask him “Which commandment is the greatest?”  After Jesus picks one commandment, they can ask why he didn’t pick this other one–doesn’t this other one matter too?  Or is he to trying to ignore some of what Moses taught?

So how does Jesus answer?  He gives two more commandments–two commandments which reflect some in the Old Testament.  The Greatest Commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  The Second Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.  According to Jesus, all of the Law can be summed up in these two commandments.

These two commandments should serve for us Christians as the Ten Commandments did for Jews.  It is not by these two commandments that we are saved.  It is not because we follow these commandments that we make it into heaven.  It is not because we follow these commandments that we are saved or made free.  It is only by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are made free.

But, after we have been saved, after we have been made free, our right response is to follow these commandments.  If we want to have a right relationship with our Savior, the only proper response is to follow these commandments.

Question #2: “How Should the Bible Be Understood?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.  In this post, we will address the 2nd question McLaren mentions in the book.

The Question:  How should the Bible be understood?  McLaren calls this the “authority question”.

Western Christianity’s Answer:  McLaren thinks Western Christians read the Bible primarily as a constitution.  During a sermon or debate, a Western Christian tends to sound very much like a lawyer does in a courtroom.  A lawyer cites prior case-law, precedents, etc that may be found in court transcripts in order to prove his or her case.  Similarly, when in the midst of a discussion, Western Christians cite book, chapter and verse of the bible in order to prove whatever point they are trying to make.

Brian McLaren’s Answer:  McLaren proposes that “we read the Bible as an inspired library”.  He goes on to say that we need to pay attention to the context and genre of what is being written.  We should not read poems, parables, letters, proverbs, histories and prophecies the same way.  Each genre requires a different type of reading.  Continue reading

Song Lyric Sunday: “What Trouble Are Giants?” by Rich Mullins

This song tells the story of David and Goliath:

“Now there must have been some laughter among the Philistines/At the sight of this scrawny little shepherd/Coming out to meet the record-breaking mammoth of a man who was a killing machine/But it didn’t shake David ’cause he was smart enough to know/It’s more the size of who you put your faith in than the size of your foe”

I don’t know what you are going through today, this week or this year, but rest assured that God is bigger than whatever you are facing.  God is big enough to take care of you.  When you put your faith in Him, you are putting your faith in Someone bigger than anything you could face.  He will take care of you.

The Covenants (Telling the “Big Picture” Story of the Bible #2)

In the discussion of Brian McLaren’s first Question “What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?” the idea of the covenants was raised.  This post is a little bit of a primer on what I understand the covenants to be and why they are important.  Books have been written on the Covenants, so we can’t hope to get too far in one blog post, but be that as it may, here is an intro to the idea of the covenants.

A covenant generally is a promise or a formal agreement.  The Biblical Covenants could be understood in both these lights, depending on which specific Covenant we are talking about.  There are 5 major Covenants in the Bible–the Covenant with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant.  Here is a quick overview of each:

Noahic Covenant–Genesis 9:9-17.  In this covenant, God promised to never again destroy the whole earth with a flood.  God also set out the rainbow as a sign of the covenant.  It is also interesting that this is a creation made not just with Noah and his family, but with every living thing on the earth.

Abrahamic Covenant–Genesis 12-17.  In this covenant, God promises to give Abraham a child.  Not only this–he promises to make Abraham’s descendants too numerous to count.  God also promises to give Abraham’s descendants land, even though his descendants would first be strangers in a strange land.  God also promises that Abraham will be blessed in order that all nations would be blessed through him and his descendants.

Mosaic Covenant–Exodus 19-24, etc.  (It is a bit hard to list the Scripture for this Covenant, as technically, the whole law is part of the covenant)  In this Covenant, God establishes the relationship between himself and his people–the people that have grown through the generations since Abraham, partly fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant.  God promises to make Israel his chosen people if they would follow the Mosaic Law.  This Law is summarized in the Ten Commandments, which are then built upon in the rest of the Law.

Davidic Covenant–2nd Samuel 7:12-16.  In this Covenant God promises David that he will have a child who will make his name great and that will establish his kingdom.  The son will build the House of God (Temple) instead of David.  God will establish this kingdom forever.  The son will do sinful things but God’s love will not be removed from him and he shall not be removed from his kingdom.  David’s house, kingdom and throne shall be established forever.

New Covenant–Jeremiah 31:31-37, Luke 22:20.  In Jeremiah, God promises that a time is coming (in the future) when He will make a New Covenant.  This New Covenant has a number of qualities:  It will not be like the Mosaic Covenant–this New Covenant will be observed; God’s Law will be written on the people’s hearts and minds; the people will know God, for there will be a new provision for their forgiveness.

Now, understand that Jewish people at the time of the New Testament would be much better versed than I am in the Covenants.  So imagine being one of Jesus’ disciples, having followed him during his many teaching sessions and having seen his many miracles.  Imagine sitting down at that Last Passover Supper, when Jesus picks up the bread, blesses it and passes it around.  Then Jesus picks up the wine and says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood…”  Imagine all the bells and whistles that might be going off in your head.  As a Jewish person, you have been waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.  And here this great teacher says that the New Covenant will be fulfilled in his blood!  Not the blood of the Passover Lamb, like the Mosaic Covenant, but in his own blood!  Then you watch Jesus die, and be raised again. 

Probably not right away, but after some time and reflection, those Jewish disciples realized that Jesus was the fulfillment of the New Covenant–indeed, of all the covenants!  Finally, through Jesus, we can live into these covenants and God is proven faithful once again!

Question #1: “What is the Overarching Story Line of the Bible?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.

The Question:  What is the overarching story line of the Bible?

Western Christianity’s Answer: McLaren writes that the main storyline as it has been understood traditionally is as follows: Eden–>the Fall–>Condemnation–and from Condemnation either to Hell and Damnation or to Salvation or Heaven.  In other words, for the Christian, the storyline is Eden–>the Fall–>Condemnation–>Salvation–>Heaven.  For everyone else the storyline is Eden–>the Fall–>Condemnation–>Hell/Damnation.  McLaren argues that this storyline is too influenced by Greek philosophy.

The second key to understanding Western Christianity’s view of the storyline is that Western Christianity tends to read the Bible backwards, in this manner (although the specific names could change depending on different viewpoints):  Jesus–Paul–Augustine–Aquinas–Luther–Wesley–Billy Graham–etc.  When we view Jesus “backwards” in this manner, McLaren explains, we are really seeing Billy Graham’s view of Wesley’s view of Luther’s view of Aquinas’ view of Paul’s view of Jesus.  We do eventually see Jesus, but we see him through a bunch of people’s interpretive lenses.

Brian McLaren’s Answer: One corrective McLaren offers is the idea of reading the storyline of the Bible “forwards” instead of “backwards”.   Reading the Bible “forwards” looks like this: Adam–Abraham–Moses–David–the Prophets–John the Baptist–Jesus.  The reason this is superior to reading the Bible “backwards” is because this “forward” order is exactly how the Bible presents itself.  The storyline is one that climaxes and ends with Jesus. Continue reading

Book Review: Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”

Have you ever read a book that you felt like you could’ve written because you relate to it so well?  Have you ever read a book that as you read you felt like saying “Amen” on every page?  Have you ever read a book that left you feeling like the author could be your twin because you agreed with him or her so much?  Well this is not that book.

Every time I read a new book by Brian McLaren I cheer for joy and shake my head all at the same time.  I cheer for joy because I know that McLaren is going to address subjects that need to be addressed and ask questions that need to be asked.  I shake my head because, in my experience so far, McLaren’s answers to the questions he raises are usually too extreme.  And both of these things are even more true with his new book, A New Kind of Christianity.

In A New Kind of Christianity, after an introduction, McLaren asks 10 questions, tells how he thinks Western Christianity has answered each question, and then proposes a new answer for each question.  So, rather than try to fit all of that in one book review, I will address each question in a post of its own, discussing McLaren’s newly proposed answer and then what I think would be a better answer in each case.  I look forward to having a discussion with McLaren’s book, and also to whatever conversation we end up having in the comments.