“Moral reformation which leaves the heart untouched is about as useful as tying bunches of grapes on to a briar-bush. Jesus is inviting his hearers to a way of life which is so completely new that it will need a change of heart, a change deep down in the personality. There are many alternatives to Jesus’ invitation on the market today, just as there were in his time, but they don’t touch the real problem.”
- N.T. Wright, from Luke for Everyone, p. 77-78
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As I mentioned in a previous post, my plan this year is to focus on Luke and Acts in my Bible study. Going through these two books slowly has been on my mind for some time, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’m just one month in and have only gotten through Luke 3. If you’re interested in studying Luke in this way, here are some of the resources I’ve been leaning on in my study so far. And if you know of any additional materials I’m missing, please let me know!
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“It is important for us to push through the pain barrier and proclaim our faith bravely. Perhaps our conversations can be helped by humbly pointing to our own experience – how Jesus has invaded our lives is a reality and also a mystery. He has become our Friend and Savior and has given us all we need to face life and death with confidence and joy. I believe that if we do this, the coming year will be better than the last.”
- Alistair Begg
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Well it’s New Year’s resolution time again. January is also the time when you see many articles and encouragements for read the Bible in a year plans. I’ve found these plans to be great helps to reading the entire Bible through in a year’s time and an excellent aid to keep that goal on track, and have read through the Bible several times with these. You can find many great plans listed here.
One thing that I’ve struggled with in these plans is the tendency to check off my reading for the day and never return to it for reflection or additional study. Sometimes I’d go through an entire book without pausing to consider how it fits into the Bible’s overall picture. So this year, Lord willing, I’m going to try something a little different. For whatever reason, I’ve focused more on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John in my previous studies than on Luke, and even less so on his follow-up writing of the book of Acts. So I’m planning on spending the year in Luke and Acts, reading and rereading the texts, and as much as I can of sermons, commentaries, and other background material on those two books. My guess is I’ll spend about 8 months in Luke and 4 months in Acts, but we’ll see. I’ll of course read other books of the Bible throughout the year, but I wanted to make sure I had enough time to fully focus on Luke’s writings without lapsing into a checklist mentality from a full Bible reading plan. I’ve tried a similar approach with smaller books such as 1 John, 1 Peter, and others, mainly through John MacArthur’s Bible study suggestions, and have found my understanding of these books was greatly helped. My Twitter friend Renee has been going through the Gospel of John for the past year or so, which encouraged me as well.
I’m excited to focus on studying Luke and Acts in this way and look forward to seeing where it leads. The main thing, I think, is spending time in God’s Word each day and learning to live more like Jesus. We’ll see how it goes!
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“The superior remoteness of the Father is really inconceivable, in that thought and intelligence are wholly impotent to go beyond the generation of the Lord; and St. John has admirably confined the conception within circumscribed boundaries by two words, ‘In the beginning was the Word.’ For thought cannot travel outside ‘was,’ nor imagination beyond ‘beginning‘. Let your thought travel ever so far backward you cannot get beyond the ‘was,’ and however you may strain and strive to see what is beyond the Son, you will find it impossible to get further than the ‘beginning.’ True religion, therefore, thus teaches us to think of the Son together with the Father.”
- St. Basil the Great, from On The Spirit
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Tagged Bible, Christianity, church fathers, God, gospel, Holy Bible, Jesus, religion, scripture, st. basil
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” – 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NIV)
Can you have a “balanced gospel”? One of the things that has saddened me as I’ve read Christian authors and pastors over the years is the emphasis on certain doctrines of the Christian faith to the exclusion of others. My general sense is that most who focus on “What Would Jesus DO?” leave off much of what He SAID. And vice versa! I’m guilty of this myself at times, probably more often that I realize. My question to others (and a reminder to myself) is – why the either/or? Why do we want to lose any of what is the complete picture of our Savior, who He was, what He did, and the reasons why He came?
In his book How God Became King, N.T. Wright leads off with a theme of an “empty cloak”, wondering if in our ancient creeds we have glossed over the vast amounts of material between Jesus’ birth and death on the cross. In chapter two of his book, Wright moves to what he calls ‘The Opposite Problem’ – that many have emphasized what’s “inside the cloak” and have left off the beginning and end. Wright explains that this emphasis leaves us with three alternatives: 1) Jesus was revolutionary who wanted to set up a Jewish state in place of Roman rule 2) Jesus was a “wild-eyed apocalyptic visionary” or 3) Jesus was simply a mild-mannered teacher. As Wright carefully explains, these alternatives leave out the supernatural components of what’s known as orthodox Christian faith. The “social gospel” is given a higher place than what is emphasized in the ancient creeds, which makes everything imbalanced.
It may be unwise to think that we can have a “balanced gospel”. But Wright explains the problems of setting up camp in one of the two extremes. What Wright feels we’re missing is “the devastating and challenging message I find in the four gospels: God really has become king – in and through Jesus!” Wright is quick to clarify that this is an “inaugurated eschatological” message – things in this world are not yet as we envision they should be, but will be. But he also feels that we need to be reminded that “the kingdom of God” which Jesus spoke of so often is not a future prospect only. It is here now – it may not be what we imagined it to be – yet – but none of us can be indifferent to it.
It seems to me that, based on the amount of time Wright spends in explaining the problems of the two extremes we are prone to, that he feels that the greater danger is the “empty cloak” problem. Those of us who tend to emphasize “personal salvation” and the cross as Jesus’ primary message can miss out on everything He spoke of, taught, and did in the time between His birth and death. However, I’m not sure I agree with his theme on the cloak just yet. I’ve seen churches and places where the things that Paul talks of as being “of first importance” are deemphasized in place of what Jesus taught, rather than who He was. The Gospel of John is the best evidence against that wrongly placed emphasis. And nevermind the Sunday TV shows with supposedly Christian preaching that sound as if they could have come out of a self-help seminar or something else. As Alistair Begg has said, the plain things are the main things, and these can get lost when the preaching reflects this imbalance. Having said all that, Wright has gotten me to think more about the effects of these two positions and where we can all get off course. This is a good thing. I look forward to where Wright takes this next.
Above image from kypolicy.org
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“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” – John 20:30-31 (NASB)
We are at the time of year where many inside the Christian church turn their focus to the Incarnation. Sermons are preached on familiar texts in Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2, and elsewhere. Ideally this should be a time of reflection for all of us and a push back against the ramped-up pace of the season. These texts help us do that.
Fast forward a few months and there will be a similar focus on Easter. I always feel that our focus on the cross during that time loses its traction quickly once Easter has passed, and we don’t reflect on the cross nearly enough throughout the rest of our year. Having intentional periods of concentration on the Incarnation and on the Cross and Resurrection are good things, especially if they stir up deeper meditation on these when the calendar has moved on.
This week I’ve begun reading a book by N.T. Wright called How God Became King. I am only one chapter in, and Wright has taken a stance that leads a bit further down the road. He reviews the ancient creeds that are so embedded in the Christian faith particularly the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. Wright notes that each creed moves directly from the birth of Christ to His death. There is no mention made in either creed of His life in between those two points in history. Wright likens this treatment to “…an empty cloak. The outer wrapping is there – Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. But who is inside the cloak? What did Jesus do in between? Is there anybody there? Does it matter?”
The subtitle of Wright’s book is ‘The Forgotten Story of the Gospels’. He explains that he has had conversations with pastors and scholars who seem to have so narrowly focused on the Incarnation and Easter story that they’ve lost what’s “inside the cloak” – the gospel accounts themselves. Wright recounts that he’s asked them, “How is it that you simply treat them as somewhat random illustrative material for the thing you obviously want to focus on, the saving death and resurrection of the divine Savior?”
I have to admit I think I am prone to this as well. Book titles like The Cross of Christ and The Death of Death in the Death of Christ are on my to-read list. I also appreciate the increased focus on Christ’s Incarnation at this time of year. But Wright does make you wonder. Our ancient, foundational creeds jump over vast amounts of material in the four Gospels. Has this affected the way we view them? For all of the good that I believe comes from the increased attention to Jesus’ Incarnation and His death and resurrection at those familiar times of year, have we lost something as well?
I’m only one chapter in with Wright’s book, so I don’t know where he’s headed next. But so far he has given me much to think about as I read my Advent devotionals. What have we been missing inside the cloak?
Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc
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