Monthly Archives: January 2014

Dr Ron Frost

Collecting, Cooking, or Communing?

 

 

The main feature of Bible cooking is the product.

 

 

Richard Sibbes, my favorite 17th century mentor, shared, “Whatsoever we do [in our responding to the Scriptures] if it be not stirred by the Spirit, apprehending the love of God in Christ, it is but morality” [in “A Description of Christ”, Works, 1.24].

By “morality” he meant Pharisaic goodness: it may look good to us but God isn’t thrilled.  Sibbes’ larger point is that the Bible can be misused and misunderstood if the Spirit isn’t present in the Bible reading or study.

What can we take from his warning?

A reflection on how we use the Bible is called for.  Three approaches, each with differing motives, come to mind.

First we have the collecting option.

First we may use Bible study as a collecting exercise to buttress belief in support of our doctrinal values.  This is usually part of a creedal development for Calvinists, Arminians, Wesleyans, Dispensationalists, and more, meant to help in theological debates.

I first learned this collecting skill from preachers and church home group leaders who offered topical or doctrinal studies.  Later, at Bible College and in my graduate theological training, it was honed to scalpel-like sharpness in a comprehensive set of theology courses.

In collecting a reader brings a question to the Bible and then—as in diamond mining—digs through the Bible for its treasures: the topics or doctrines to be developed.  If, for instance, I want to know about God’s immutability I can either read through the entire Bible to find texts in support of the doctrine; or, to save time, I can use Bible software to find every use of the word “change” in order to trace all the texts that say God does not change.  I would soon discover Malachi 3:6—“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Of course many scholars have already done all this sort of Bible tracking and the final product is called Systematic Theology (ST).  ST offers nearly exhaustive coverage of every topic the Bible might touch, and then some.  STs compress the information into interpretive summaries, usually in support a given church tradition.  The approach has an awkward side, however, in that the System, not the Bible, is the end in view, and Sibbes’ critique may well apply.

Second is the cooking option.  

Here we see the Bible as a source of tasty spiritual lessons for life.  The preacher or teacher is a cook who prepares a weekly feast for us.  So, too, any home groups that feature a Bible study may be exercises by an amateur cook.

The main feature of Bible cooking is the product.  The preacher finds a Bible text he knows to be good as a main course and shapes it as a single meal.  But it can be awkward as well: certain texts are guaranteed to taste good while others may be avoided—viewed, perhaps, as too bland, too spicy, or too hard to chew.

There’s more.  The star of the cooking is either God, the ultimate source of the food, or the preacher who selects and cooks the portion.  Ideally the two—God and the preacher—are well aligned and God gets the glory.  Yet a problem comes when some of what God offers in the Bible isn’t seen to be attractive.  If, for instance, a preacher knows his listeners have an appetite for sweet dishes—the spiritual pastries of health, wealth, personal security and eternal blessings—he may rotate among these topics each Sunday.  And with that the spiritual diet may lead to malnutrition and ill health over time.  Sibbes, again, would find this to be a problem.

Communion is the third option. 

It treats God as a devoted and caring communicator who gives us the Bible for the sake of relationship.  In it he shares his heart—his values, ambitions, sensitivities, and delights—with a purpose to draw us into the eternal conversation of the Father and the Son by the Spirit.

In this the Bible isn’t a pragmatic resource.  Rather we come to it because we love him: the point Sibbes made when he wrote of our being “stirred by the Spirit, apprehending the love of God in Christ” in our Bible reading.  The alternative is to be like the religious leaders in John 5 who, as Jesus told them, completely misread the Bible on the doctrine of the Messiah because they lacked any love for God.

What both collecting and cooking have in common is their vulnerability to consumerism: of making personal creedal preferences a focus, on the one hand, rather than an open response to the Bible taken on its own terms; or of only cooking favorite meals while avoiding the broader nourishment the Bible offers.

Both these faults can be corrected by communing.  If collecting is a secondary feature of communion—shaped and guided by God’s heart—it can be remarkably fruitful.  And if cooking is done out of a love for God—to reveal his heart in the wide range of what he shares of himself—we can be assured of real spiritual growth. But any emphasis that gets in the way of communing love fails.

So, proper collecting, cooking, and communing may all be fine, but the greatest of these is communing.

Thoughts? You are invited to comment on Ron’s article at Cor Deo.

~ Ron

 

Dr. Ron Frost
Ron served on faculty for more than 20 years at Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was professor of historical theology and ethics. He earned his PhD at King’s College of the University of London. His research featured Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). He now teaches internationally while serving as a pastoral care consultant to missionaries with Barnabas International. Ron authored Discover the Power of the Bible and writes on spreadinggoodness.org [See “Resources”].

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Reid Ferguson

Proverbs: Young Men Lacking Sense

 

Probers for Living

Series: Digging Deeper into Proverbs

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[learn_more caption=”Proverbs 7 ESV”]

1 My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
2 keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
3 bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
5 to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.
6 For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
7 and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.
10 And behold, the woman meets him,
dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
11 She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the market,
and at every corner she lies in wait.
13 She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
14 “I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
15 so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
16 I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes, and cinnamon.
18 Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.
19 For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey;
20 he took a bag of money with him;
at full moon he will come home.”
21 With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
22 All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
23 till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.
24 And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
25 Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
26 for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.

[/learn_more]

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 Solomon: Son, note the folly of the simple!

Proverbs 7:6–9 “For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, 7 and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, 8 passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house 9 in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness.”

Christians seldom fall into grave sin all at once. Almost invariably, there is a progression. Knowing how this progression works, gives us a powerful means to stop it before it is too late. To stop it before as James outlines it: ”each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14–15) There is a roadmap to sin and this passage opens it up.

Our text traces the progression of it in this case in three movements.

1. Passing near temptation’s corner.
2. At the corner, taking the road to her house.
3. Moving closer and closer under the increasing cover of darkness.

Temptation begins in the mind.

It is usually only an inward movement at first – flirting with an idea. An idea we won’t let go of. This is equally as true of temptation to sexual sin, as it is to unforgiveness and bitterness, revenge, theft and even such things as fear and anxiety. But it is at this point that temptation is still most conquerable. What we allow ourselves to dwell upon mentally, if unchecked, will bring us to taking some form of action outwardly.

A passage like Colossians 3:16–17 takes on huge importance in this regard.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

If the subject matter of God’s Word takes on an increasing place in my daily thought life, coupled with expressing the bounty of those things to others, and rejoicing in them in a life revolving around magnifying the name of Jesus and filled with thanksgiving – it is hard for sinful things to find much root. Thankfulness in particular may be the single greatest weapon in the arsenal – as a mind that is full of what it DOES have, doesn’t leave room for musing on what it doesn’t. When I am convinced (as is true) that Christ really does have my best interest at heart and has never deprived me (and never will) of what is best – lusting after revenge, position, material goods, attention from another person, power etc., is defanged.

However, once failing to check our thoughts, it will not be long before we verbalize those thoughts. It may start by only saying it to myself in the mirror, or in a journal, or diary. Then maybe on – Facebook, MySpace, Pinterest, a text or an email – whatever.  This is taking the road to her house, after having passed by her corner.

It is the next step.

We know it will bring us closer, but we convince ourselves it is not “actual” sin, and so it is harmless. That saying isn’t doing. Which is true – but not completely. Even our legal system has laws against conspiracy to commit a crime. Saying it is often the first motion of doing. And stopping the flood here, while not impossible, it exponentially harder than before. For in verbalizing the matter, we’ve started the process of growing accustomed to hearing it out loud without objection. We’ve normalized to ourselves. We’ve said it out loud, and lightening didn’t strike – we’re still OK. And we dwell there.

Thirdly, we inch closer and closer to actually acting in the sin, after building layer after layer of what we think is protective secrecy. Maybe I can’t do it in broad daylight, but I flirt with doing it in the evening, at twilight. And if I’m too discoverable then, I’ll wait until it is fully night – and dark. When no one (I imagine) can see.

And at this point, the possibility of escape is nearly gone.

I’ve circumvented all the roadblocks. I’ve schemed around every objection. I’ve said “yes” – even though the act isn’t consummated. But I have at last given myself permission. And I am ignoring the fact that death cannot be far behind.

Beloved, hear the Spirit’s voice through Solomon, and begin to examine and seek His power to control your thought life now – or you will find yourself in pain and shame of such bondage as you’ve never imagined. Christ has made a way of escape for us – but we must take it.

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

~ Reid

Next week: More in Chapter Seven

Leave comments at Responsive Reiding

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Reid Ferguson

Reid serves as the pastor for preaching and vision at Evangelical Church of Fairport in Fairport New York. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he has served in various ministry areas during his life, including: a founding member of the former Mark IV Quartet, Youth Pastor at ECF, former board member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (F.I.R.E.), and author of The Little Book of Things You Should Know About Ministry (Christian Focus Publications, 2002). Pastor Reid blogs regularly at Responsive Reiding.

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