Is Paul Divided? 01

22 05 2009
Marquand Chapel: Yale Divinity School
Image by thestroups via Flickr

I came across this great quote about the need to consider Paul in his total cultural context. I have one other from the same book “Paul Beyond the Judaism / Hellenism Divide” which I will post soon…

“A Hebrew born of Hebrews” he tells us himself, “as to the law a Pharisee. Yet he wrote only and fluently in Greek… others are also making a strong case that Paul was more aware of the specifically philosophical school discussion of his day than we had previously guessed. Yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that frequently he also employs interpretive strategies and traditions from reading the Jewish scriptures that are strikingly like those found in early and later Jewish interpretations, both sectarian and rabbinic. Impossible, too, to erase the typically apocalyptic scenarios that intrude into Paul’s argument, even in places where he is sounding most “Hellenistic” or “rabbinic.” He was, it seems, all these things at once.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Can the Prodigal Son be an Evangelistic Talk? 03

10 05 2009
Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t want to drag this out into too many posts, so let me just cut to the chase – Most authors today agree that Luke is writing to help his readers see why Christianity is the real fulfillment of God’s history for his people. It is written to Gentile Christians who are a bit worried that they might be riding the wrong horse (see Luke 1:1-4).

So what is the role of these three parables? On the one hand they exposes Jewish exclusiveness. On the other they affirms that God loves those who apparently have no right to be included among his people. If we look to chapter 16 and discussion about using worldly mammon to get people into the kingdom, there seems to be a message in the lost parables, for Christians – don’t forget God has a heart for those who are yet to come in, just as he had a heart for you! Don’t be like the elder brother and the religious leaders who are exclusive and have no thought for lost ones.

Yes these parables are meant to challenge an elitist attitude. But this doesn’t mean they don’t have a secondary word to the lost. The Christian audience themselves would be reminded that they were once lost and God was pleased to seek them out. This reminder (I think) can be used directly with non-Christians when preaching these parables to them.

So should we preach about the older brother or the younger brother? It can and should be preached in terms of exclusivism – both Jesus’ setting and Luke’s setting seem to make this reasonable. But I also think Jesus’ setting and Luke’s setting make it reasonable to focus on “the Lost.” In so far as he reminds his Gentile audience of the way God loved and sought them  this can be well applied to people who aren’t Christians yet. IN NOTICING THE IMPORTANT PLACE OF THE OLDER BROTHER THEREFORE, WE SHOULDN’T FALL TO AN EXTREME AND FORGET THAT LOTS OF DETAILS ABOUT THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR THE YOUNGER BROTHER (not to mention the sheep and the coin) ARE INCLUDED! This chapter is still a great resource for evangelistic preaching.

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Can the Prodigal Son be an Evangelistic Talk? 02

6 05 2009
Dark Secret ..
Image by I . M via Flickr

There are at least a couple of questions that need to be answered, and the first is: Who was Jesus talking to, when he gave these three parables? The answer I reckon, was both “the lost” tax collectors and sinners (15:1) and the Pharisees and scribes (15:2). The Greek is ambiguous in v. 3 when it says “he told them this parable”, but for various reasons (e.g. Greek verbs in vv. 1-2), I think it is safest to say he’s speaking to both.

In this way, all the nice things he says about the lost sheep, coin and son are all a positive statement to the “lost listeners” whom historically he is addressing. All the negative things he say about the 99 being left in open country and the older brother, are directed towards the grumbling religious leaders.

But there’s another question: How was Luke trying to effect his audience? This is a really important question to ask. Often when we look at a passage in the gospels we think of it only in terms of the history of the event. But we need to ask how different authors are trying to use these events. Mark and Matthew on the calming of the storm have different purposes and so a sermon on the same event would have very different purposes if preached from Mark or Matthew.

We’ll pick up this question in the next entry, but for now it should be notice that in terms of Jesus’ own audience, “the lost” are certainly on the radar…

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Can the Prodigal Son be an Evangelistic Talk? 01

2 05 2009
Terry O'Quinn
Image via Wikipedia

Luke is in the habit of telling short parables in pairs (11:31-32, 12:24-27, 13:18-21, 14:28-32). In chapter 15 the lost sheep and coin form such a pair as seen by their similar structures and language.

At first the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) may seem to not be directly connected. Its not in the doublet, and unlike the first two parables, there is a bit of a break (“then Jesus said” – though no change in scene or audience). And yet by the end no one can doubt that this is a direct continuation. The father’s closing words to the older son are strike the same key words as the first two parables: “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and have been found” (v32).

A big question today though is whether any of these three parables should be used in evangelism. I think its a bit of a “bug bear”. The prodigal has been a classic evangelistic text, yet more recently there has been a move to see it as all about the older brother. Answering this question is really important for preaching Luke 15 and for evangelism. But it is also a great case study for how to read the bible in general and Luke in particular…

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Atheist Friend (04)

22 04 2009
UFO
UFO (via last.fm)

Friend: Sorry, which god have I expressed a disbelief in? People have proposed a lot of different gods. If you mean Yahweh from the bible, then it is meaningless to say whether you believe in him or not — some people have proposed that he exists but haven’t demonstrated it in any way that can be verified. (Equally, people have proposed that UFOs have secretly abducted them in the night but have failed to back it up with any evidence.). The UFO claims have actually got more veracity because they are made by people who are still alive. As I said at the beginning, the claims that the bible does make that can be tested have all been shown to be wrong, or simply obvious even to the jewish goat herders who wrote them. The onus is on the proposer to back up their claims with honest, open debate and with clear instructions on how anyone can reproduce the effect or experiment. If you just want to state something, especially something as extraordinary as what is claimed by Christians, then don’t expect people to take you seriously unless you can back it up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

[break… and other “chit chat”]

Me:… Well anyway here is my response to our ongoing discussion… “Enlightenment optimism” means you are overly optimistic about what scientific method can achieve. Science cannot prove non-repeatable events. Thus science cannot prove history. Science can help in the establishment of history by creating analytical methods (my own PhD specialty) for testing the validity of historical evidence or by refining information about it, but it cannot actually prove a non-repeated event. You have to be able to repeat an experiment enough times statistically to show it must definitely be the case.If the UFO guy has burn marks on the soles of his feet and his car had the top ripped off, this is evidence but what you do with that evidence has nothing to do with science. Science has no comment to make (except probably to say that it could have naturally been caused by, x y or z). It has everything to do with how skeptical or otherwise you decide to be with the evidence. Add to this 100 different things and science still cannot prove whether he was abducted or not. Now let’s say you were the guy. How do you know you weren’t just tripping out somehow? In fact you may know of David Hume the philosopher, who essentially said that if you experienced a miracle you’d be safer going for any other explanation than to accept that it was a miracle. Can science prove that Jesus didn’t walk on water? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t do miracles? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t rise from the dead? Of course not. If God is Jesus how else is he going to give evidence to humans except to become a person so we can identify with him, and then do things that show he’s not bound by the laws of nature? Actually now I think about it, Jesus did give scientific evidence that he is God – he did miracles on repeated occasions under varying experimental conditions (there’s a thought)! But of course this is crap, and you’re 100% sure god can’t exist. Why? Because you are operating on a pre-disposition (due to a marriage with science) that the supernatural doesn’t exist. You’ve made a prior decision, and through this you interpret everything. But don’t pretend this is scientific. It is a paradigm, as Kuhn would put it. Check out Alistair McGrath (a not so unintelligent) microbiologist and theologian who teaches at Oxford and has had a few things to say to Richard D about his enlightenment optimism.

Friend: But despite what you say, science does work, and scientific truth is nothing more than common sense and places no demands on you than following instructions. On the other hand, Christianity requires you, to paraphrase Saint Doug, “to believe 10 impossible things before breakfast.” And your ‘critique’ of science that says that, because science can’t prove a negative — i.e. that something DOES NOT exist — belies a lack of understanding of how science works. For example, you can’t prove that Zeus or Thor don’t exist. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper. But if you really want to have an argument about proving or disproving the existence of supernatural stuff then science actually does have something to say. It says, “show me any effect, however slight, on anything, anywhere, that cannot be explained by known science,”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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What is the Fallen Condition Focus?

31 03 2009
Simon Sky Diving
Image by GoGap via Flickr

Bryan Chapell in his book “Christ Centered Preaching” has a helpful concept which some of you might have heard of, but some may note. Even those who have heard of it, often haven’t grasped its value in unifying and directing a sermon.

The FCF or Fallen Condition Focus is basically a way of distilling the point being made in the passage to its first audience in terms of their problem (or fallen condition). This then becomes a bridge for connecting with today’s hearer. Chapell says: “An FCF need not be something for which we are guilty of culpable. It simply needs to be an aspect or problem of the human condition that requires the instructing, admonition, and/or comfort of Scripture.” I have found it best to say to students, “look for one word if possible.” So it might be guilt, or hopelessness, or fear. In Mark 4:35-41 (“the Calming of the Storm”), the fallen condition of “fear” seems central (contrasting faith for Mark). In Matthew’s account of the same incident however, “reluctance to follow” fits better with his purpose and the context in which he uses this incident. Do you realize that the same incident in different synoptic gospels will likely have different FCFs and thus be complete different in their aims?

In John 10:1-18 (the “I am the door/good shepherd” passage), I take the audience of the gospel to be people in the synagogue who are thinking to turn fully to Christ, but are reluctant (c.f. Carson’s John, p91). Thus the FCF of this passage might be “weariness with false saviors” and a resulting evangelistic talk could center on showing an audience how the supposed saviors of their world have never been more than thieves and robbers. Jesus as the door etc. is different, bringing salvation, security and life.

One more thing to note : When you have decided what the FCF is, the opening illustration must be about this point, it must be on this subject, so that in people’s mind they know immediately what the sermon will be about. So the intro to John 10 might be something like: “One of the great slogans of today… Try before you buy. Problem is, that even when it doesn’t work, people rarely send things back … so it is with life! For the next ½ hour I want to encourage you to consider sending things back. Sending back the broken solutions to life and consider someone who brings a real solution.”

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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Conversation with an Atheist Friend 01

23 03 2009
Category:Atheist Wikipedians
Image via Wikipedia

I have been having a very lively conversation with a childhood friend who is an atheist. We have known each other for over 30 years… so you will see that we have speak quite freely on things. I pick the conversation up with discussion of evidence:

[Why don’t you believe in God?]

[My Friend]

If you mean Yahweh from the bible, then it is meaningless to say whether you believe in him or not — some people have proposed that he exists but haven’t demonstrated it in any way that can be verified. (Equally, people have proposed that UFOs have secretly abducted them in the night but have failed to back it up with any evidence.) The UFO claims have actually got more veracity because they are made by people who are still alive. As I said at the beginning, the claims that the bible does make that can be tested have all been shown to be wrong, or simply obvious even to the Jewish goat herders who wrote them. The onus is on the proposer to back up their claims with honest, open debate and with clear instructions on how anyone can reproduce the effect or experiment. If you just want to state something, especially something as extraordinary as what is claimed by Christians, then don’t expect people to take you seriously unless you can back it up. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

[Me]

OK I’m back…

If the UFO guy has burn marks on the soles of his feet and his car had the top ripped off, this is evidence but what you do with that evidence has nothing to do with science. Science has no comment to make (except probably to say that it could have naturally been caused by, x y or z). It has everything to do with how skeptical or otherwise you decide to be with the evidence. Add to this 100 different things and science still cannot prove whether he was abducted or not. Now let’s say you were the guy. How do you know you weren’t just tripping out somehow? In fact you may know of David Hume the philosopher, who essentially said that if you experienced a miracle you’d be safer going for any other explanation than to accept that it was a miracle. Can science prove that Jesus didn’t walk on water? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t do miracles? Of course not. Can science prove that he didn’t rise from the dead? Of course not. If God is Jesus how else is he going to give evidence to humans except to become a person so we can identify with him, and then do things that show he’s not bound by the laws of nature? Actually now I think about it, Jesus did give scientific evidence that he is God – he did miracles on repeated occasions under varying experimental conditions (there’s a thought)! But of course this is rubish, and you’re 100% sure god can’t exist. Why? Because you are operating on a pre-disposition (due to a marriage with science) that the supernatural doesn’t exist. You’ve made a prior decision, and through this you interpret everything. But don’t pretend this is scientific. It is a paradigm, as Thomas Kuhn would put it (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [1992]). Check out Alistair McGrath (a not so unintelligent) microbiologist and theologian who teaches at Oxford and has had a few things to say to Richard D about his enlightenment optimism.

[To Be Continued…]

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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