Tag Archives: hermeneutics

Book Review: Women in the Church (Third Edition): An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15, editors Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner

Women in the ChurchCrossay recently published the third edition (1995, 2005, 2016) of Women in the Church: An Interpretation & Application of 1 Timothy 2:9–15 by editors Andreas J. Köstenberger & Thomas R. Schreiner. This is not a collection of articles from differing positions; to the contrary, it intentionally and thoroughly espouses a complementarian position by all contributors. This volume focuses more on attempts to thwart the ever-increasing egalitarian position rather than provide sufficient and convincing arguments for its own. (I’ve read elsewhere that the second edition was better at arguing for rather than against, but I have not read that edition) I believe the volume as a whole “fails to convince,” as is often stated about opposing positions, often using probably, likely, and most likely in reference to its own arguments when denouncing other positions that do the same. An inherent problem in these varying hermeneutics is a lack of verifiable absolutes; the complementarian position here goes with “majority rules” and ignores exceptions when trying to understand the Greek texts, using history only when suitable for its needs while chastising opposing positions for doing the same.

There is much focus on single words & phrases in 1 Timothy 2:9–15 without properly addressing the whole of Scripture and its intended trajectory. Appealing to a “plain sense reading” of verse 13, it is assumed that there is an intended creation order of male authority and female submission (are we also to assume this order in the new heavens and new earth?), and therefore no reason to address the whole of Scripture. The final chapter is a roundtable Q&A in which the editors ask people for their thoughts on several issues, but only includes complementarians already in agreement on virtually anything of importance, meaning the entire “discussion” is unhelpful and pointless. Everyone skirts around what women should or should not wear, ignoring a “plain sense reading” of verse 9, while assuming any good Christian using rigorous biblical exegesis will agree with the “plain sense reading” of verse 13.

 

There are two points made in the text (paraphrased and summarized below) that really need more attention if they are to be at all convincing:

1) Ephesus was not unlike any other Greco-Roman city, and therefore Paul’s words (their “plain sense meaning”) must be for all people at all times. There is much effort made to demonstrate the lack of uniqueness in the culture of Ephesus, but it wasn’t enough to demonstrate how Paul’s text can under no circumstances be culturally based.

2) Paul did not use the exact words and phrasing in this passage as he did in another passage that referenced husbands and wives, so the Greek text here must mean men and women even if used to refer to husbands and wives elsewhere. This is almost a side note in the text that is quickly brushed to the side. Again, there needs to be much more effort and evidence for this argument to convince.

(I received a digital copy of the book without page numbers, so forgive the lack of specific locations for references above.)

 

All in all, this volume is the most thorough of any complementarian arguments I’ve read in a single source, but it fails to convince on a number of levels in the same manner spoken of other positions. One section fervently appeals to the reader by pulling in references to a number of female PhDs that agree with the authors all at once, as if to say, “See! Smart women agree with us!” It was a low point in the text. This may be useful to students and scholars as a resource of the traditional complementarian position if they need one in their library.

 

For those interested, I read and addressed the text from a position of neither traditional complementarianism nor pure egalitarianism. I find fault with both extremes on some level, and reviewed this book as one expecting a thoroughly convincing exegetical argument, which I did not find.

 

*I received a complimentary digital copy of the reviewed book from Crossway through the Blog Review Program in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation, by Michael J. Gorman

Reading Revelation ResponsiblyMichael J. Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb Into the New Creation proposes exactly that: read Revelation well (stop taking symbols literally), worship and be a witness of the Lord (not governments, and be especially mindful of those that co-opt Christianity and claim to be the mighty savior), and follow the Lamb (imitate him by being nonviolent and sacrificial—lay down your life, don’t take others’) into the New Creation (there will be a new creation!). “Yes” on all fronts!

Gorman briefly describes several ways people read and interpret the last book in our canon, noting some of the problems that arise and unhealthy conclusions thereby taken from the text. He helpfully explains not only what we know of apocalyptic writing, but that the book of Revelation is actually a collection of genres: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter, as well as being both liturgical and political. There’s a lot going on here, and it cannot be simplified into one narrow way of interpreting the entire text—certainly not a literal approach (e.g., 1,000 years does not mean a literal 1,000 years). We are reminded that the sacrificial Lamb is the central image of the drama, and that when the Lord comes with sword in mouth (not in hand!) his robes are already bloodied—his own blood from already conquering evil through sacrificing himself!

Revelation is about worshiping the true Lord and living that out (discipleship). It’s not all about either what was (the Roman empire) or will be (a blueprint for the “end times”), but encouragement for us in the end times (between Jesus’ ascension and future return) while we live as witnesses of the Lord. Empires will rise and fall, but freedom, salvation, and truth are in Lamb!

I highly recommend this one. It may be particularly helpful for those who currently find themselves in the hermeneutical camp of dispensationalism.

Aside: I read the book in Kindle format, which has no page numbers and is sometimes a bit clunky in the formatting.

Book Review: Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology, by Rubel Shelly

Divorce & RemarriageIt’s not often I have a major shift in my theology, but it does happen. When it comes to the oh-so-controversial-and-convoluted-subject of marriage-divorce-&-remarriage, there are a number of systems that have been constructed through the centuries to explain various interpretations of what Jesus and Paul have to say about it in the New Testament. Up until a few days ago, I had already shifted my thinking a couple different times; however, no matter how seemingly logical the legal constructions fit together in my mind, nothing has set well with what I read elsewhere in Scripture as to how they fit with the heart of God.

For the past ten years, I have not been a part of a church, either in general membership or leadership, where there has not been a messy, or at least very uncomfortable, dealing with people who found themselves in the middle of trying to figure out what to do with their marriage, divorce, and potential for remarriage. I’ve often heard from those older than I that this is a growing concern in the church; however, I believe it’s simply that we become more and more aware of these difficult situations the older we get—things were always better back in the “good ol’ days,” whether that be when we were toddlers, teens, middle-aged, or what have you…or so they say. Though I’ve had discussions with many about my beliefs and interpretations of Scripture, something always kept me from speaking from some position of authority (ha!) to those I thought may be “in sin” when it came to my interpretations of Jesus and Paul on this subject. I either felt God holding me back and keeping me from speaking, or scheduled meetings simply didn’t happen for a number of reasons. I am so thankful they didn’t!

I come from a rather legalistic and “rule book” approach to Scripture, and looking for those legal systems is still a temptation, which isn’t to say that systematic theology is a bad thing! In my late college days I began to pray more, listen to God, and do my best to stay out of the way of the Spirit’s leading in my life. That has been the foundation of how I have since approached Scripture and my life. Those who know me can attest to the changes and far-off places to which that approach led! Once I began graduate work in theology, my academic endeavors were kept in check with my reliance on the Spirit, without which I could very easily jump right back into a purely “do and don’t” mentality on how to use Scripture. The deeper I leaned into God, the more these divorce and remarriage systems disturbed me, but I could not see what Jesus and Paul had to say any differently than how I’d been approaching them for decades prior.

Jumping to the present, my wife (Delana) and I recently moved to the greater Denver area where we believe God led us. We first visited back in January (2015) for an interview Delana had at a local university. We decided to spend a little of our own money to stick around for a couple more days so that we could get to know the area a little bit. One of our biggest desires was finding a church we could immediately plug into and glorify God through serving others. We had several recommendations, and had planned on visiting one in Denver proper—we only had time to visit one church on Sunday morning, so we wanted to make it count! Around 10:00 PM the Saturday before, getting ready to go to bed, I told Delana, “I think we’re supposed to go to [a particular Church of Christ].” Both of us were shocked by what I’d said because I’d not planned on going back to another denominational congregation, and she didn’t have the most pleasant experience with the CoC since learning about it and visiting a few after meeting me. We both felt a bit nervous about it, but I believe it’s where God wanted us to be. So, we followed. It was the best experience at any church we’ve ever had. We were welcomed warmly and joyfully, prayed with, immediately included, and encouraged. One of the ministers and a married couple kept in touch from that point until we moved to CO on June 29, and then we had breakfast at the minister’s house the next morning. Just awesome.

We were immediately plugged into different ministries and Bible studies, and began growing closer to several families in the church—we still haven’t even been here two months! In July I attended an information session about the church and what they expected from those who wanted to be “members.” Delana was out of town that weekend for work. At the beginning of this session one of the ministers, out of a desire to be transparent and wanting others to be the same, told us of his past marriage, his infidelity, and subsequent divorce and a host of other consequences. After fifteen years of celibacy, he remarried just a few months ago. The elders and the rest of the church fully supported him in this. I’d never seen that in a CoC, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I knew what I wanted to do with it, but not sure what I was supposed to do with it. This is where Delana and I truly believe God wants us. Our move to CO for her job and our coming to this church was purely a decision by faith, not by sight (we’re still trying to work it out financially!). When Delana returned, I gave her the bullet points of the meetings and shared with her the minister’s story. “What are we going to do?”

The minister and I had a few things to discuss anyway, so we set a time for earlier this week. There was much prayer beforehand, and when the time came we had a loving, nonjudgmental, brotherly conversation about how he read Scripture concerning divorce and remarriage and from where we both came. After going through every passage in the New Testament and looking at context from the Old Testament, I felt a peace about his conclusion that I’d never had before. Things clicked and I felt like God had lifted a weight from my shoulders that had been hanging there for over ten years.

It’s important to understand that he held this position before things went sour in his first marriage. This isn’t a case of someone subsequently trying to find justification for selfish desires in Scripture thereafter. In fact, he’d never planned on marrying again, but had a similar “God put us together” story with his current wife that Delana and I share.

So, what does all of this have to do with a book, let alone a book review? Context! When I first asked for the minister’s perspective on divorce and remarriage, he reached over to his bookshelf, pulled out Rubel Shelly’s Divorce & Remarriage: A Redemptive Theology, and said, “This is what I believe.” Of course, we didn’t read the book right then and there (he did read a few pages in conversation), but I did borrow it and read it over the next couple of days. I’d already been convinced by our conversation to change my perspective on the subject, but I wanted see what this book had to say, since it was likely going to be added to my library and recommended to others if it had anything to do with what we discussed! And it’s wonderful: full of love and compassion, and with no lack of scholarship and “sound” reading of Scripture. It includes the meat of the text (setting up context and addresses all necessary Scripture references for the subject, peppering a number of “what would you do?” narratives in mix the to help the reader think through these things), a lengthy question & answer section (he asks himself many of the questions he’s heard in the past and answers them well), and two brief letters, one to those who have been divorced and one to church leaders.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those who find themselves in any sort of church leadership position so that we do not continue to heap more burdens on people with whom we have no right to so do. Read with an open mind and heart toward God, and get ready for a life changing moment. It can happen.

To all those I’ve oppressed in the past regarding their divorce and remarriage, I ask for your forgiveness. We are always called to reconciliation, and that is what we first desire in any relationship, especially a marriage. We do live in a fallen world, and bad things happen. Let us continue from there in love, grace, and mercy. Lord, forgive us and grant us that capacity for one another. Amen.

Book Review: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, by N. T. Wright

Scripture and the Authority of GodIn typical, well-articulated fashion, N. T. Wright, in this updated, 2013 edition of Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, tackles questions concerning the nature of Scripture (the Bible) and how it is authoritative, going well beyond the simplistic “it’s the Word of God” statements by addressing deeper application and important questions with much needed nuance. It is impossible to consistently and effectively take Scripture at “face value” without any method of interpretation—even the old adage “let Scripture interpret itself” will fail on a number of levels to withstand our interpretive interaction with passages we hope will help interpret others. So, if “because the Bible says so” isn’t very helpful when the Bible appears to disagree with itself in such superficial readings and the same “obvious” reference is equally used for opposing views, how do we use the text?

Wright fundamentally approaches the Bible as narrative, the story within which we find ourselves, that which has in a number of ways been handed down to us. We must then read everything within its larger context (e.g., verse, chapter, book, style, genre, history, culture, etc.) in order to understand what it meant and what it means. This requires diligent study and scholarship. To ignore this fact is to ignorantly and/or arrogantly dismiss generations of careful work through language translation alone—translation is inherently interpretive—not to mention the centuries (millennia!) of dialogue and debate that have lead to where one may find him/herself in one’s walk with God. (Again, statements like, “I only use the Bible,” and, “If the Bible says it, that settles it,” are not quite that simple, belittle the Godly work of others, and assume one has cornered the hermeneutical [interpretive] market.)

In this edition, Wright includes two case studies at the end of the book to demonstrate the argued biblical interpretation and how he views Scripture as being authoritative on the issues: Sabbath and Monogamy. These are quite helpful in working through some of the pragmatics of Wright’s work.

This only scratches the surface, and I highly recommend this read. For some, keeping a dictionary of theological terms and an encyclopedia of historical moments and movements within Christianity may be help, per Wright’s depth and style, but I suggest the reader allow this to be an opportunity to learn rather than become a barrier or distraction.

Book Review: Muscle and a Shovel, by Michael Shank

Muscle and a ShovelI first want to address the form of the book Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank that I purchased. It is an e-book (Kindle) and the 5th edition. I purchased it for $9.99. It was strewn with typographical errors and poor grammar, had no table of contents or means by which to jump to chapters (there are 40, plus the following sections: introduction, epilogue, end notes, bibliography, and Bible verses used in each chapter), no links to end notes from where noted within the chapters, and missing end notes! I repeat: this is the 5th edition since its initial publication in 2011. Five editions in three years, and it’s still in this condition. Without having yet mentioned anything about the actual content, this is enough to see little care has been taken in editing and likely speaks to the quality of the work itself. It does.

My reason for purchasing the book is simple: I was asked to read it in its entirety no matter how I felt along the way, to take notes, and to then offer my thoughts concerning its potential use in someone’s “outreach ministry.” I was asked to not read anything about the book (no abstracts, reviews, etc.) beforehand in order that I might approach it without any preconceived notions or bias, at least as little as can be expected. So, that’s what I did (or didn’t, as the case may be). This is, however, a book review and not the place for me to express all my thoughts concerning the task I was given, though I will make a few notes to caution those who would consider reading it.

As a book, it appears to be a strange and disjointed, autobiographical narrative that preaches at the reader in an attempt to convince them to read the Bible in a way rather specific to a particular end of the spectrum within the Church of Christ denomination. (It is “about” Michael Shank’s conversion from the Baptist to Church of Christ denomination.) I found much of storytelling of daily life events to be mundane and distracting from the larger context of the book. Not only were they simply not written well, they often did not make much sense wherein they were placed. The text is unnecessarily long, and cutting much of this “storytelling” would make it much more tolerable.

However, there is still the issue of the way in which the reader is being preached to. There is constant repetition of the same Bible verses, and they are always typed out in their entirety every time. I understand the desire to print full Scripture references in a book that is intended to “teach,” but not every time, least of all the same ones. This could be trimmed and save a lot of room, again making the book a bit more tolerable. Using the King James Version of the Bible for everything is also not very helpful. Of course, it is still used by many churches who consider it to be “the authorized version,” which simply shows a lack of understanding the history behind that phrase and the number of errors found within the text. (Someone reading the book along with me needed, on numerous occasions, to go to another translation simply to understand what was being said.) There is great history and tradition behind the KJV, but it is horribly outdated and ought not be used by most for Bible study today, especially if they are new to Scripture.

The author belittles people he’s trying to reach and uses examples and exaggerations that make it appear as if all people within a particular denomination are exactly the same as that which is poorly described. Do they exist? Yes, just as they do within the author’s own denomination. However, saying someone is an idiot or needs psychiatric help, for example, simply because they do not read a verse the same way (usually because they disagree on how it is to be read based on preconceived notions of biblical interpretation handed down to them, just as with those in the Church of Christ) is self-defeating, especially when trying to convert the very people being insulted. Though the book attempts to refute that assertion, the point is made therein: “We (the Church of Christ denomination) are the only ones who read the Bible correctly, we are the only ones who know the truth of Scripture, and everyone else is going to hell, even though we state we do not make that judgment call because God is the final judge (but if you read and present the Bible like we do, it is the obvious conclusion).”

For these reasons, and so much more, I would not recommend Muscle and a Shovel to anyone as a “good read.” In fact, it’s quite poor.

 

 

 

Now, since I’ve likely offended many in my Church of Christ tradition by saying these things, especially by calling it a denomination, I feel I must mention a few things I normally would not include in a book review.

The author notes how a few denominations came to be and why they are wrong but fails to properly address his own history. The Church of Christ (yes, big “C”) is not the only church of Christ (little “c”) as many purport. It is a branch within the history of Christianity and stems from men just as every other denomination comes from those who have influenced a particular direction or way of reading Scripture. In my opinion, there are two major blinding factors to those within the Church of Christ not understanding themselves as a denomination: 1) they simply redefine the word “denomination” in such a way that they intentionally exclude themselves, and 2) they are woefully unaware of their own history.

(Note: There are many who do not fall within the ignorance described here and remain within this particular tradition for numerous reasons, which I admire. In my own experience, I have been pushed away and described as an apostate and heretic for disagreeing with my tradition in its general narrowness of scriptural interpretation and exclusivity, and currently find myself living in an area that needs much more than the tiny [~20 people], local [20 minutes away by car] Church of Christ is teaching and offering—nothing—and have partnered with other Christian leaders in the area and lead a congregation in my home. I still don’t agree with denominationalism, which is why I do not fully associate myself with one (the Church of Christ), but I work with those therein and am still thankful for the good that has come from my Church of Christ heritage. In fact, when I’m visiting family and traveling, I still take my family to a Church of Christ.)

First, a denomination does not necessitate a central organization or governing body, but the Church of Christ has enough of a connection through hermeneutics, language, teachings, preachers, schools, and publications to be understood as having an unspoken (though loudly spoken) central governance that stipulates who is and isn’t “in” to fall within their own definition of “denomination.” They also have churches that fall within a wide spectrum, wherein not all believe the others are “in” (usually the more conservative, the more exclusive), just as is the case with many other denominations. Though they often claim that “church of Christ” is merely a descriptor and have concocted a theological doctrine by which it is a necessary descriptor, they certainly function as the “Church of Christ,” a denomination with a specific label.

(Note: The Church of Christ is not a cult, as some still purport, though it is generally so narrow in its approach to Scripture and other people that they alienate others who consider themselves to be [and are!] in the church of Christ, or any of the other names used for the people of God in Scripture that are more numerous than this single reference in Romans 16:16. Many are simply offended by the hijacking of this particular label by one denomination to the exclusion of all others from being associated therewith.)

Second, the Church of Christ came about as the result of Stone, the Campbells, and others desiring to get away from denominationalism and focus on unity in Christ and an emphasis on the written Word of God (the Bible). As with most denominations, the men by whom they were founded (or not!) did not intend them to be so, and they often spoke against it. However, just as with the Church of Christ, the further people were separated in time from these men the more they wanted to set up a particular system based upon their teachings (or twisted versions thereof).

The beginnings of the American Restoration Movement, of which the Church of Christ was a part, were by men who disagreed on much but agreed on Jesus, the Son of God, and a desire to get back to a New Testament example of living as the body of Christ. They disagreed on what the Church of Christ now considers to be salvation issues (names, labels, baptism, and the entity and function of the Holy Spirit, just to name a few), but they believed in unity in Christ and worked together to further the Kingdom of God, even in using different names and descriptors of the church but considering one another brothers and sisters (or sister congregations, as they are commonly known). This is the kind of unity for which many of us still strive, and it saddens me that many within the Church of Christ are not even aware of this part of their heritage and are actually opposed to it. However, this is what the author of Muscle and a Shovel speaks against. As a major debate in the history of the splitting of the Churches of Christ concluded on one end, it’s all right (good, of God) or it’s all wrong (evil, of Satan). This has been the trajectory for the Churches of Christ for some time, but many have begun to break away from this lie and are much more willing to listen to and journey with other believers in order that we may all become better disciples of Christ (another descriptor that turned into a denominational name “Disciples of Christ” within the American Restoration Movement and the other label used in its founding by Stone and Campbell).

Michael Shank uses the often expressed hermeneutic of “speaking where the Bible speaks, and staying silent where the Bible is silent” by way of looking at the New Testament through “commands, examples, and necessary inferences,” but fails, as many do, to show in the Bible (!) where these hermeneutics may be found about how to interpret itself! Why? This is what has been handed down through tradition but is understood to be “the way” (the most logical and right?) in which Scripture must be interpreted. This hermeneutic defies itself, but it is unquestioned. Therefore, though I may fully agree with some of what is expressed in his book, I cannot (must not!) agree with the way in which much of it concluded, especially when several issues addressed (the use of instruments, the plausibility of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, et al.) are approached in ways I find to be out of context (a phrase often used in the book) and the side on which someone lands on these “issues” (issues to many within the Church of Christ) is used to condemn someone.

As an example of consistency, I present the often used passage of Ephesians 5:19 that is used to say using an instrument in worship to God is evil. Those within the Church of Christ who hold to these narrow hermeneutics and expressions thereof must, out of necessity and fear of condemnation, sing with their heart (not vocal chords!) because that’s what Paul says, and it must be done in unison (melody!) without harmony! The Eastern Orthodox tradition continues to sing in unison for many reasons, but the basic ancient tradition thereof and its means of maintaining unity are two big ones. If the Church of Christ is going to call upon history to express a split in the church over the use of instruments, it must also contend with an even earlier split by way of the introduction of a single voice of harmony. The four-part (or more) harmony the Church of Christ so adores and finds so beautiful (how is that any less emotional and entertaining than the way others describe the use of instruments?) is evidence of an expression of division in history that it claims as evidence for not causing division and being “right” with Scripture. It is utterly inconsistent, and that is an issue that must be addressed. I absolutely love a cappella singing (that’s still “music,” by the way, brother Michael), and it’s how we often sing in my church; however, I cannot make it an issue that it is not because the “issue” comes by way of faulty logic and hermeneutics (Muscle and a Shovel uses a lot of basic “logic” jargon).

There are a plethora of things I feel must be addressed within Muscle and a Shovel by anyone reading it or desiring to use it for outreach, but I hope what I have written here has demonstrated my reasons for dissuading others from reading and using it. There are plenty of other resources out there for the good found within Muscle and a Shovel that I would recommend rather than have someone read this unnecessarily lengthy and frustrating book that would require a lot of hand holding, explaining, and correcting along the way. I actually find the book to be dangerous to the spiritual growth of others in their relationship with other believers. In the language of the KJV, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). Though I do believe it was the author’s intent, I do not find this book to demonstrate love.

 

Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy as we continue to search out His truth and live unified in His Kingdom. Forgive us of our ignorance and infighting as we strive to love you and one another more. God bless us, every one.