When God Gives a Time Out. Chapter 5: Do the Do

For the last few weeks I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 5, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on the pull towards constantly doing things, even when it hurts others.

Do the Do

Keeping busy is so entrenched in our culture that everyone is affected to some degree. We all tend to be more focused on tasks than relationships. Performing a task is a concrete goal that is measurable. Usually, we know when the task is complete, when we have met our goal, and when we can move on. Relationships are more process oriented and they really don’t end. Because they don’t really end, relationships seem less pressing, or urgent, than tasks. Because the task has a deadline, we do the task and put the relationship on hold. Another reason we gravitate towards tasks is that relationships involve at least two parties and all the variables that go along with each one. So what is nice and tidy and wrapped with a little bow today, may be an all out fistfight tomorrow. It is much less messy to concentrate on tasks, so that is how most of us operate.  Yes, some of us are more task-oriented than others, but I think most people have had a time in their life (or their whole life) when they felt the need to “do the do.” During these times God may intervene and give us a “time out.” Continue reading

When God Gives a Time Out. Chapter 4: We Are In Deep Do Do.

A couple weeks ago, I departed from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I posted devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 4, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. I pray they will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.

We are in deep do do.

Why do we do what we do? There are some conscious and some not-so-conscious reasons for our choices. The next few chapters look at many of the forces behind what we do. No matter the elements involved in our choice of what to do, the goal of a Christian life is to do everything from God’s guidance. Choosing what to do out of a relationship with God may sound difficult and a bit restrictive, but the Bible promises great rewards for following God in our actions. We are promised intimacy with God, deeper meaning to life, power, and inner peace.

time out bookGod actually wants what is best for us and He desires to bless us by fulfilling His promises to His followers. We can’t follow God’s voice into these blessings if we aren’t listening. This deafness is why God gives “time outs.” We are busy and the activity is distracting us because our choices are coming from a source other than God. We are choosing to do many things for many reasons but none of this activity is from the Father’s instruction. God gives us a time out so that we can hear His voice once again and our actions can spring from an interaction with God. Wouldn’t it be great if all the things we did actually drew us closer to God instead of distracting us from Him? God wants you and me to experience this blessing.

The next chapters will look at the many reasons why we do what we do, why we end up getting into deep “do-do”, and why so many are hearing impaired and need a time out. Continue reading

When God Gives a Time Out. Chapter 3: Be careful where you are going–you may actually get there.

Be Careful Where You Are Headed – You May Actually Get There.

I am a doer.  When I first met my wife, Wendi, I was in college at the University of Maryland in the Washington D.C. area and I had a seven year plan.  This plan spelled out what I was going to achieve over the next several years.  I planned to complete my undergraduate degree with a 4.0 GPA, while interning in the nation’s capitol.  I was in a Military Intelligence Army reserve unit next to the National Security Agency (NSA) and was looking into some part time work for the NSA. This scenario would have set me up nicely to be accepted into an ivy-league law school to specialize in international law.  After law school the seven years would be completed and after taking stock, I could make a new plan.  To me, relationships were secondary to accomplishing goals.  I let Wendi know that my plan was in place and that where our relationship was going (to marriage or elsewhere) depended on the status of my plan.

time out bookI followed my plan for about a year and a half with quite a bit of success.  My plan changed, however, when God brought me to my first “time out.”  God gave me a sneak peak into what would happen if I actually achieved everything in my plan.  I asked myself, “If my wildest dreams came true, if I become a high level advisor on the national level, or if I am elected to the legislature, then so what?”  Even if I achieved all those goals, they would be gone – forgotten within a generation.  If I achieved my wildest dreams I would have achieved nothingness.  This revelation didn’t come about subtly.  It was driven home by a Bible cult that I had started hanging around with. (I describe this association more in subsequent chapters.)  God knew that I needed a LOUD wake up call.  After a short time of looking at things through an eternal perspective I knew that God was the only thing of any permanence and the only thing worth devoting my life to.  I soon realized that I wanted to devote my life to God but not this cult.  In the cult’s eyes you couldn’t do one without the other.  Rather confused and feeling that I didn’t want to follow my plan or this cult anymore, I left.  I went back home to live with my parents.  For the next couple of months I was in time out. God took away everything I was doing. I no longer had a plan except to abandon my old plan because it was worthless.  I didn’t have a clear grasp of what the Bible really said or what God wanted me to do next.   Away from college and all I had lived for, I spent the subsequent few months pouring over the Bible for myself.  I really focused on the voice of the Father and my relationship with Him grew.  This was my first time out and it felt like the hardest time of my life while I was going through it. But in hindsight, I am so thankful for that time out.  I was so focused on doing, on achieving, on following the American dream that I was actually throwing my life and relationship with the Father away.   God was trying to tell me this truth for some time, but I couldn’t hear him.  I was too busy doing stuff.  I needed a time out and that is exactly what I received. Continue reading

When God Gives a Time Out. Chapter 2

Last week I departed from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I posted devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” I shared chapter 1, “An Introduction to Time Outs” and over the next several weeks I will post additional chapters. I pray they will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.

Chapter 2: What Do You Mean “Time Out?”

time out bookI use the term “time out” because God does in concept what we see so many parents literally doing to their children. It all boils down to the fact that the child is not listening. They may be doing something they are not supposed to do or just doing something other than listening. The parent makes the child cease all activity. The child must now sit on the stairs, or in a special chair, with nothing to do except listen.

I will speak about the specific time outs God has given me in subsequent chapters. In general though, a time out is when God so controls the situation that you have no choice but to stop doing a certain thing, or stop doing everything. Something is getting in the way of hearing God’s voice and He is making you sit quietly until you are ready to listen. Are you in a relationship and suddenly circumstances cause you to cease contact with that person? Perhaps it is a time out. Have you ever had a job that kept you real busy and you either can’t do that job for a time or get permanently laid off? Perhaps a time out. Can you remember any period in your life when you were stuck or just unable to do a certain thing? Again, God may have been giving you a time out. This feeling of being stuck reminds me of how my wife would give a time out to our kids when they were toddlers. On occasion, Wendi would tell one of our children to go sit on the stair, but they wouldn’t go. She would then take that child to the stair and hold them very firmly. Of course they would struggle to break free, but they were stuck. Eventually, they calmed down and were ready to listen. God will hold us on the stair until we stop squirming. We want to quickly get out of the time out, but God must talk to us about the situation so that we are better able to deal with it the next time. God can bring you to a place where you are stuck financially. Is He holding you in a time out so that you will listen to Him concerning how you manage your money? God can bring single people to a place where they just can’t seem to get a date. He may be trying to get that single person to listen to what He was to say about relationships. Whether it is a specific area of your life, as in these examples, or your entire life, God gives time outs so that He can lovingly parent you to a place of maturity. Continue reading

When God Gives a Time Out

For the next several posts, I will depart from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I will be sharing devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” I pray it will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.

Chapter 1: An Introduction to “Time Outs”

time out book If you are a parent, you have probably experienced what I recently witnessed. At a local store, a young boy was bursting with energy. Every inch of his body was in motion. All this chaotic movement didn’t seem to have a purpose other than expending energy. He jumped on one foot, then the other. Soon he began to shake his head from side to side as if saying, “No.” Perhaps he wanted the outside world to mirror his topsy-turvy condition on the inside. The child then climbed on the front of the carriage for a ride. The mother’s call to calm down fell on senses more focused on doing than listening. Since the ride wasn’t fast enough, the child hopped off the carriage so that he could touch everything. He grabbed at everything in range of his small hands, trying to do what the big people do when they shop. The exasperated mother pulled the child into the center of the aisle to put the distractions out of reach and told him, “Stop touching things without asking first!” But this child had to DO something; there were so many stimuli in this place, and they all called out to be engaged. As the scene reached its climax, the boy cried out, “Look, a plate just like the one we have at home!” He snatched up the plate to see if it was indeed the same. Halfway through the motion, the child remembered that he wasn’t supposed to touch without asking and his attention-divided fingers let go of the plate. The frustrated mother had reached her limit. Mustering all her patience, the mother sternly told the boy to go sit on the bench for a “time out.” The mother cleaned up the broken shards and said something like, “You have to listen to me. You can get hurt and you hurt other people’s things when you can’t calm down and listen to me.”

Continue reading

A Biblical Theology of Preaching (Part 2)

Part 1 of A Biblical Theology of Preaching examined the biblical foundations of preaching. These foundations included: God speaks, God’s Word continues, and God’s Word is essential and effective. This post (appropriately, but not creatively call “Part 2”) focuses on application of those foundations to the practice of preaching.

Joe preaching

Dr. Joseph Greene preaching at a men’s retreat.

 

Preaching Built on Biblical Foundations

God speaks and his word must continue to be promulgated because it is essential for effectively redeeming the world to him. These foundational tenets give birth to a more developed theology of preaching when the whole canon is considered. Preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ have additional blessings and responsibilities which are based on the aforementioned foundations.

       Preaching must be Biblically Consistent/Based

Both testaments contain warnings to accurately proclaim the word of God.  In Deut 13:1-5 even a prophet who performs signs is to be killed if he councils against following the given commandments of the Lord.  The Bible assumes a given body of revelation that future revelation must agree with / fulfill. Continue reading

A Biblical Theology of Preaching (part 1)

The last several posts have explored the academic discipline and practice of “Biblical Theology.”  I would like to continue that theme over the next couple months by presenting an example of Biblical Theology that traces a theme throughout scripture. In particular, I will present a Biblical Theology of preaching.

“PREACHING”

A biblical theology of preaching cannot be undertaken without a clarification of terms.  By biblical theology we mean a “theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church.  It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.”[1]  A biblical theology of preaching, therefore, seeks to understand preaching as it is presented in the contexts of the biblical texts while relating those presentations to the wider canon. This process must be allowed to define preaching on the Bible’s own terms if it is to truly be a biblical theology. Continue reading

The Overarching Story of the Bible (Part 2).

In my previous post, I wrote about the meaning-making power of stories and the value in teaching the overarching storyline of the Bible. In the current post, I will suggest a practical way to teach that overarching storyline  that also maintains faithfulness to the Bible’s own presentation. I will also give an example teaching/preaching series on the overarching story of the Bible.

Painting by Gretchen Holesovsky

Although the Christian Bible consists of 66 books written by various authors over many centuries, the biblical writers  shared the assumption that God was directing and fulfilling his plan in human history. Additionally, these writers often pointed to the same set of turning points in salvation history–specific times when God made covenants with his people. For instance, as the Psalmist celebrates God’s redemption of his people and the giving of the Torah, this new relationship fulfills previous promises God made to their patriarch Abraham (Psalm 105:42-45). In Galatians 3, the Apostle Paul explains how Christ fulfills the covenant promises made to both Abraham and Moses. The Bible seems to assume that God’s overarching story has chapters or turning points marked off by covenants. Covenants were an ancient form of agreement that God used to communicate his relationship with his chosen people. Covenants were more than contracts or promises but an all-encompassing bond between God and people. Continue reading

The Overarching Story of the Bible

Stories stick. We easily forget facts and propositions, but stories stick with us because our own experiences and relationships (our personal stories) find greater meaning by attaching to broader patterns greater than ourselves. Shared stories also build community as individual stories find their place in an overarching narrative.

The Christian community’s foundational stories are contained in the Bible. Unfortunately, the Bible is often assumed to be a collection of rules and propositions with random stories sprinkled about for flavoring. We remember some of the stories and a few of the rules (do not murder, do not judge), but we fail to see, and therefore attach ourselves to, the overarching story of the Bible. This failure to see the overarching story of the Bible not only makes the Bible seem less relevant, it causes us to relate to the stories of the Bible in a piecemeal way that fails to take us up into the bigger patterns and perspectives that the Bible itself commends. We can’t remember the Apostle Paul’s theological arguments against Gentile circumcision in Galatians, but we do remember the story of David defeating Goliath. The story is more memorable, but without an idea of how it relates to the overarching story of scripture, we read it as an isolated story with only limited points of attachment. Those points are usually of the “be like  (or don’t be like) the protagonist” variety. The result is that we may relate David’s battle with Goliath to a challenging situation that we are facing, but we fail to see how that story is only one episode in a larger story that points to God more than it points to David (or points to us for that matter). The stories of the Bible, as well as the propositions and commands, are part of an overarching story of God’s relationship to His creation. When we see the big story, we are able to fit our personal stories into that greater narrative, which gives us a larger perspective and a meaning that transcends ourselves. Even the lists of places, tribes, and commands seem more relevant because they are a part of a larger story.

Theologians of the past few centuries have debated if one can assume any unity to the Bible. After all, the Christian Bible consists of 66 books written by various authors over many centuries. However, the various biblical authors themselves assume a connection between their message and previous prophets. First Peter 1:10-12 reflects this assumed connectedness: Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” The author of First Peter assumes the unity of God’s revelation and work, which connects his generation and the stories of previous and future generations. The unifying element to all these stories is that the main character is also the author of the story. God Himself is writing and starring in this grand story of redemption. He tells the story to and through His people. The diverse human authors of the Bible bring different perspectives and contexts, while the Holy Spirit’s inspiration brings an overall unity as God progressively reveals himself and works in the course of human history. A deep understanding of the Bible requires an appreciation of both the diversity and the unity of the Christian scriptures.

For this reason, church leaders should consider teaching the overarching storyline of the Bible. We fit into God’s story, plan, and purpose for the world. True fulfillment and meaning are found when we fit our stories into God’s story. Moreover, getting a view of the sweeping landscape of this grand story creates awe. Too often we “can’t see the forest for the trees” because we focus on proof texts and select passages of scripture while losing sight of the beautiful landscape of the overarching story. Of course, the awe-inspiring story also gives us insight into the awesome nature of the Author (and main character) of that story.

How do we teach the overarching story of the Bible in a way that is faithful to the Bible’s own presentation? How do we teach such a long and connected story in units that people can actually follow? These questions will be addressed in the next blog post. I will explain that this story is structured by God’s covenants and then give an example teaching/preaching series (and other resources) on the overarching story of the Bible.

What is Biblical Theology?

What is Biblical Theology? This question seems simple enough, but over the past couple centuries differing answers have been offered. One could try to build a definition from raw materials; i.e. if “theology” is the study of God and his relations to the world, then Biblical Theology (BT) studies what the Bible teaches about God and his relations to the world. However, it’s not as if we can build such a definition upon an untouched building lot! The history, practice, and methodology of BT have left many tools and materials strewn about the construction site of any definition.

     The development of BT as a discipline. Although the early church arguably engaged in BT as they sought to interpret the Bible, BT became a modern discipline after the Protestant Reformation. Following countless battles over dogma (Catholic vs. Protestant, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, etc.) and the proliferation of proof texting and eisegesis, eventually people came back to the basic question: “What does the Bible say for itself?” That same question would be asked afresh in the following centuries as biblical criticism increasingly adopted modernist skepticism towards the church and the biblical text. For many biblical scholars the Bible was no longer the authority for Christian faith and practice. It was one source of guidance among many human philosophies and cultural preferences. These developments challenged the very legitimacy of BT, but Christians with a high view of scripture continued returning to the basic question of how the Bible presents itself. Through these many dangers, toils, and snares, contemporary BT has experienced a revival and settled on some standard elements. These common elements are: The biblical texts contain both unified themes across the canonical text as well as diversity in and between texts. Revelation is progressive in nature. The Bible makes internal claims to truth and divine inspiration, which should affect our reading of the text and church practice.

In the broader scholarly community, literary approaches have encouraged reading the Bible on its own terms first (often called a “close reading” of the text) as one does with any work of literature. This development has advanced BT as many different disciplines now contribute to our understanding of the biblical literature and its authors. While much more could be said about the various theologians and challenges that have affected BT over the years, the good news is that one does not need to know the history of BT to practice BT in the church. So let us return to our original question. What is Biblical Theology? I offer this survey of recent definitions (with some including explanations) as a preliminary answer and as a prelude to practice.

Recent Definitions of BT.

Andreas Köstenberger offers a basic definition: “Biblical Theology is the theology of the Bible. In other words, Biblical Theology is not our own theology, or that of our church or denomination, it is the theology of the biblical writers themselves.” (MJT, 2018 Sizemore lectures)

From New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: “Biblical Theology may be defined as theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.” (pg. 10)

Graeme Goldsworthy in “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture”: Biblical Theology is “theology understood from the perspective of the biblical writers within their own historical context. . . . biblical theology is concerned with how the revelation of God was understood in its time, and what the total picture is that was built up over the whole historical process.” (pg. 26)

James Hamilton: “Thus, the purpose of biblical theology is inductively to understand the canonical form of the Bible’s theology as it is progressively revealed in its own literary forms and salvation historical development . . .”  (pg. 46 in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.)

Scott Hafemann in “Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect,”: “(B)iblical theology attempts to ascertain the inner points of coherence and development within the biblical narrative and exposition. It does its work inductively from within the Bible in an attempt to bring out the Bible’s own message.”  (pg. 16)

From Michael Lawrence’s “Biblical Theology: “Biblical theology is about reading the Bible, not as if it’s sixty-six separate books, but a single book with a single plot—God’s glory displayed through Jesus Christ. BT is therefore about discovering the unity of the Bible in the midst of diversity. It’s about understanding what we might call the Bible’s metanarrative.”      Lawrence’s simpler definition: “Biblical Theology is the attempt to tell the whole story of the whole Bible as Christian Scripture.” (pg.15).

Each of these definitions contains presuppositions and each could be challenged on several fronts. Together, however, they provide a current snapshot of the construction site that is evangelical BT. Practicing Biblical Theology requires more than knowing some definitions, but defining terms is a good first step.

 

Bibliography

*Alexander, T. D. et. al., editors.  New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. IVP Academic, 2003.

*Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture. Eerdmans, 2000.

*Hafemann, Scott. Editor. Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect. InterVarsity, 2002.

*Hamilton, James. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. Crossway, 2010.

*Köstenberger, Andreas. “The Promise of Biblical Theology: What Biblical Theology Is and What It Isn’t.” & “The Practice of Biblical Theology.”  Sizemore Lectures in Midwestern Journal of Theology 17 (2018): 1-27.

*__________. “The Present and Future of Biblical Theology.” Themelios 37 (2012): 445-464.

*Lawrence, Michael.  Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church. Crossway, 2010.