Monday, April 28, 2008

Adventures in Eisegesis: Jeremiah Wright Distorts Christ's Teaching On Salvation

From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary entry for eisegesis:

Main Entry:
eis·ege·sis Listen to the pronunciation of eisegesis
\ˌī-sə-ˈjē-səs, ˈī-sə-ˌ\
Inflected Form(s):
plural eis·ege·ses Listen to the pronunciation of eisegeses \-ˌsēz\
Greek eis into (akin to Greek en in) + English exegesis — more at in
: the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas — compare exegesis

Ah, yes, eisegesis. We all commit it unintentionally time and again in our walk with the Lord. But of course a pastor should take due diligence to not deliberately or unintentionally through gross negligence do violence to the teaching of Scripture (see James 3:1-2).

Yet that is precisely what Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama's former minister, did this morning in a Q&A session at the National Press Club when he pitted Jesus Christ against Jesus Christ on the clear teaching of Scripture about salvation through no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12).
Question to Rev. Jeremiah Wright: "Jesus said, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father but through me.' Do you believe this and do you think Islam is a way to salvation?"

Rev. Jeremiah Wright: "Jesus also said other sheep have I who are not of this fold."

[loud applause from attendees at National Press Club]
Either Wright is saying that Jesus is contradicting himself, or that Jesus' claim of exclusivity of salvation has been historically misunderstood by the church. Either way, Wright is placing himself outside the bounds of historic, orthodox Christian teaching, and he's doing so by plucking out of context Jesus's parable of the sheepfold.

Let's look at the passage from the tenth chapter of John's gospel account:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's back up a second to verses 7-9, particularly verse 9:
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
Jesus is "the door" by which "if anyone enters" he "will be saved" and "find pasture." Jesus emphasizes that His people know Him and He calls them out by name (vv. 3-4). What's more, these sheep know to flee false shepherds (vv. 5) who would lead them astray from the one true Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

What's so special about Christ? He's the good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (v. 15). But what's more, after laying down His life, he picks it up again (v. 17), AND He goes out to bring in sheep who don't belong to "this fold" so that "there will be one flock, one shepherd."

That one flock is the whole church under one shepherd, Jesus Christ. The other sheep "not of this fold" are Gentile believers who would come to trust in Jesus after His resurrection thanks to the witness, preaching and teaching of the apostles. This becomes clearer later in John's gospel in chapter 17 in what is commonly referred to as the High Priestly Prayer:
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.


I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Jesus here is praying for his apostles after the Last Supper and before His betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. But He's not only praying for their faith but for the faith of ALL who would come to believe upon Jesus for salvation thanks to the spoken and later record (in New Testament Scripture) of the Apostles.

This High Priestly Prayer essentially sweeps the whole scope of church history. Everyone who comes to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior today comes to such a knowledge thanks to the preaching of the Gospel, as Paul made clear in his letter to the Romans (10:14-17):
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? [3] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
But back to John. It's perfectly clear that Jesus's claim of exclusivity of salvation is just as urgent in the John chapter 10 passage as it is in John 14 where He proclaims Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). And that famous passage from John 3:16, well, that goes without saying.

Same urgency, same claim of exclusivity, and it's all predicated on Jesus Christ as THE provision from God the Father for atonement of sin and the satisfaction of God's holy wrath against sinful man. To trust in the teaching of Muhammad for salvation, or on the teachings of any other religious figure or leader in history is to vainly trust in a false shepherd.

Jesus clearly taught as much and his apostles bore witness to the same in Scripture.

Rev. Wright should make no mistake: any and all imagined paths to peace with God the Father without trusting in the death and resurrection of Christ are illusory. Jesus Christ is THE Way. THE Truth, and THE Life. He's the Door of the the sheepfold and THE Good Shepherd who calls his own sheep into safe pasture.

This is the glorious Gospel that Rev. Jeremiah Wright SHOULD preach. Sadly, one has to conclude he either doesn't believe it, or he chooses to eschew it in favor of a powerless, though bombastic social gospel.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Faithful Wounds of Fellowship

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. -- Proverbs 27:6

The other night I had the blessing of such a wounding from the sharp but loving rebuke of a sister in Christ who helped expose to the light a sinful attitude I was harboring in my heart.

This sister is laid up in bed recovering from foot surgery and we had spent a while in prayer and in reading and studying Scripture that evening. Remarking on the lateness of the hour I mentioned how I had to get up early the next morning for a prayer meeting with an older gentleman from church. But in doing so, I kinda joked around about how I'd been in the habit of showing up about 15 minutes late for these sessions two weeks in a row.

It was then that this sister lit into me with a sharp but encouraging rebuke about my cavalier attitude, how lightly I was taking the friendship and fellowship of my brother in Christ and how lightly I was taking this time of coming before the Lord in prayer. Simply put I was not according this prayer time the due diligence on my part it deserved in terms of disciplining myself to stop slamming down the snooze button in the morning and to get up early, get a move on, and show up on time.

At first I protested this sister's rebuke, only to realize the flimsiness of my excuses, the cavalier attitude I had left unchecked, albeit unintended, towards this time of prayer, and my responsibility to repent and take action to address my sinful attitudes.

I did, and I'm delighted to say that I showed up on time, 7:30 a.m. on the dot this Wednesday for prayer, all because of the "faithful wounds" of a friend.

Thank God for the fellowship of the saints and the faithfulness of my sister in Christ to call me on the carpet for my sinful attitude. I hope to avoid the need for such faithful wounds in the future, but I can be arrogant and stubborn in many things and I trust that I'll need them from time to time as the Lord sees fit to ordain for His glory and my good.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Holy Sepulcher! A Tussle in the Tomb Reveals Dissension, Idolatry

From the AP's Sarah El Deeb:

JERUSALEM - Dozens of Greek and Armenian priests and worshippers exchanged blows at one of Christianity's holiest shrines on Orthodox Palm Sunday, and used palm fronds to pummel police who tried to break up the brawl.

The fight came amid growing rivalry over religious rights at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the site in Jerusalem where tradition says Jesus was buried and resurrected.

It erupted when Armenian clergy kicked out a Greek priest from their midst, pushed him to the ground and kicked him, according to witnesses.

When police intervened, some worshippers hit them with the palm fronds they were holding for the religious holiday. The Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Armenians and Greek Orthodox, follow a different calendar from Western Christians and celebrate Easter next Sunday.

Guys: It's JUST a tomb. Yes, it may be in fact THE tomb in which Christ was laid, but He's not there anymore. I'm not saying not to hold worship services there, but clearly these sectarian differences and strifes are becoming gods and idols to you that set themselves up against the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Simply put, this is not something to scuffle over.

Remember that what matters above all for the Christian is the Gospel. Both Armenians and Greeks (and yours truly) are undeserving sinners for whom Christ died. Our salvation is an act of mercy by a God who could have dealt justly with our sins by letting us die in them. But He saved us not because of anything we've done but because of His good pleasure to save a people for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation on earth.

With that in mind, like the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus preached, we should go worship God in Spirit and in Truth, including and especially by declaring the Gospel message to others, bringing them to the feet of Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.:
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. [John 4:19-41]


Friday, April 18, 2008

My Advice for Pope's UN Address: Borrow from Peter

Pope Benedict XVI is set to address the United Nations General Assembly today. What should he say? Talk about AIDS? Middle East peace? Poverty? Global warming?

No. No. No, and no. Well, he probably will touch on some or all of those, but my unsolicited advice for the pontiff: preach the Gospel.

I'm sure the man traditionally recognized as the first "bishop of Rome" wouldn't mind a bit of borrowing, so here's my suggestion: adapt from the Apostle Peter's sermon at Pentecost and call the crowd to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ:

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jim Wallis Punts on Abortion, Although God is 'a God of Justice'

Before I throw out these excerpts I do wish to make this clear: the biggest challenge to American evangelicals today is not succeeding politically in criminalizing abortion or any other political objective. It is in presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a decaying, dead-in-their-sins world, calling them to repentance.

The Gospel message must always be central and we must never compromise the starkness of it. We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God and as such deserve God's just wrath. But God sent His Son to die for our sins so that by trusting in Him, we might "escape the wrath to come," dying to sin and living to righteousness through union with the risen Christ. (I Thess. 1:10)

That being said, the immorality and the gravity of abortion is something Christians must never downplay, regardless of our political allegiances. Sadly, liberal theologian and activist Jim Wallis does precisely that in a recent Christianity Today interview (emphasis mine):

Jim Wallis wants you to know he's not a liberal. Yes, he's been a chief critic of the Religious Right since its inception, gave the Democratic weekly radio address after the 2006 midterm elections, and has been an often-controversial voice for social justice since his early-'70s days at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. "There is a Religious Left in this country, and I'm not a part of it," Wallis said when he stopped by Christianity Today's offices during his February tour for his latest book, The Great Awakening.


I don't think that abortion is the moral equivalent issue to slavery that Wilberforce dealt with. I think that poverty is the new slavery. Poverty and global inequality are the fundamental moral issues of our time. That's my judgment.
Of course, later in his interview Wallis conceded that:
...The God of the Bible is not just a God of charity. The God of the Bible is a God of justice, and they understood that.
Jim Wallis, please stop this foolishness. Abortion is murder. It's wrong and when government allows it, that government violates the purpose for which God has ordained civil governmental authorities: the execution of justice and the protection of the innocent. As American Christians who have the God-given privilege of living in a country where WE elect our leaders, we have a moral responsibility to use our votes to glorify God and defend the innocent.

That you view poverty as a "moral issue" of greater gravity than legalized murder should be a clarion call to Christians everywhere that your theology and your priorities are out of whack.

Oh, and Jim, stop lying to us about your politics. A tree is known by its fruit. (Matt. 12:23)


Monday, April 14, 2008

Solomon Had Singers and Concubines, We Have iPods and Porn

One of my favorite books of the Old Testament is Ecclesiastes. Solomon laments in his first chapter that (vv. 9-10):

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
Of course, many might say, "but Solomon was a wealthy king in ancient Israel. His life is nothing like mine. Look at all the progress we've made, our technology, our advancements in learning and culture."

Actually, I'd argue the lives of the average American is quite like Solomon's.

Perhaps one of the more striking similarities comes from the second chapter in which Solomon describes how he tried to find pleasure and purpose in entertainment, to no avail (vv. 8-11):

I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, [1] the delight of the children of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Okay, so we use greenbacks and credit cards, not silver and gold, and we don't have singers on demand, or concubines. Or do we?

Today's "silver and gold" and the "treasure of kings and provinces" take many forms, all widely accessible to your average middle or working-class American. Computers, art, clothing, jewelry, status, education. All these sort of things we have today that in centuries past would have been available only to the wealthy elite.

And singers and concubines? Don't we have both on demand with our vast wealth of music and in the sexual idols we fashion for ourselves in models, actresses, athletes and porn stars? Aren't these the gods and manmade idols of modern American society?

They take slightly different forms than they did millennia ago, but truly nothing is new under the sun, the human heart is the same in every age: an idol factory.


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