Two Scrolls? The Perplexing History of Jeremiah’s Composition.

By Walter C. Kaiser Jr., with Tiberius Rata, adapted from Walking the Ancient Paths: A Commentary on Jeremiah.

Editor’s note: the textual issues surrounding Jeremiah are among the most difficult in all the Hebrew Bible. For a deeper look at its background and composition, read this Lexham Bible Dictionary entry. [Read more…]

Why I’m Using Logos to Learn Greek—and Loving It

This may come as a surprise to some, but it’s possible to finish a seminary MA and a PhD in theology without ever learning Greek, and I am living proof of this.

My programs of study were specialized enough that the need never arose (and it was never required). But now that my schooling is over and I want to continue learning, I decided that the time to learn Greek has come. [Read more…]

Pastor as Sheepdog: Working Hard but Wagging His Tail

By Harold L. Senkbeil

Some years ago while traveling in Great Britain I watched a televised sheepdog competition, a contest testing the ability of shepherds and their dogs to guide a small flock of sheep through a maze. It astonished me to see how closely the dogs worked in synch with their shepherd/masters, deftly guiding those unruly sheep toward the intended goal no matter how intent they were to run off in all directions at once. [Read more…]

Make Sure to Include Systematic Theology in Your Bible Exposition

In preaching and other Bible teaching, your big strength can become a weakness. If you are good at careful analysis of biblical texts, don’t stop there. Remember always to go on to theology. Analysis and synthesis belong together, like hot air balloons and magnifying glasses. [Read more…]

What Is Biblical Hearing? Kevin Vanhoozer on Hearing and Doing

Photo by Ilya Ilford on Unsplash

By Kevin Vanhoozer

In perhaps the most famous Arabian Nights story, Aladdin discovers a magic lamp that, when rubbed, produces a genie who invariably responds, “Your wish is my command.” It is the classic response of a servant to his master: “To hear is to obey.”

But in real life there is often a gap, sometimes a yawning chasm, between hearing and obeying. Not everyone is as fortunate as Aladdin: sometimes servants hear, and do half-heartedly; at other times, they hear and do not do at all. Jesus told his own equally compelling stories that illustrate the all-important difference between hearing and doing.

Unusual teaching

The Gospel of Mark introduces Jesus as a teacher who astonished his hearers, “for he taught them as one who had authority” (Mark 1:22). He taught in the synagogue and, later, offered free seaside lectures (Mark 2:13; 4:1). The form of Jesus’ teaching is significant: “And he was teaching them many things in parables” (Mark 4:2).

A parable is an extended metaphor (“the kingdom of God is like …”), a metaphorical narrative—a story in which something extraordinary happens that subverts the ordinary way people think about things.

The first such story Mark recounts is the parable of the sower, which is about different kinds of hearers, represented by the different kinds of soil on which the seed of God’s word falls. Even the disciples did not understand it at first, and this despite Jesus’ obvious hint at the end: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). The parable they are to hear is itself about hearing God’s word. In particular, the parable explains the kind of hearing Jesus is after: a hearing in which God’s word takes root in a singular and wonderful way. Indeed, this is the extraordinary element in the parable: that a word-seed can multiply its growth a hundredfold.

To hear rightly is to correctly grasp the content of Jesus’ teaching, namely, the strange new world of the kingdom of God.

— Kevin Vanhoozer

This is also a parable of the kingdom of God. Jesus subverts his hearers’ conventional picture of a kingdom as something that can be established by swords and soldiers. Jesus instead proclaims a kingdom established by the right reception of the gospel—the right kind of hearing—rather than military conquest.

Jesus’ parables of the kingdom challenge the prevailing social imaginaries of power, be it ancient Roman imperialism or present-day geopolitics. Jesus taught with authority precisely by announcing a new picture to live by. To hear rightly is to correctly grasp the content of Jesus’ teaching, namely, the strange new world of the kingdom of God.

Hearing and doing

One qualification for being a disciple of Jesus is to be able to follow Jesus’ stories. Yet hearing, even with understanding and apparent agreement, is not enough. Toward the end of his longest lesson, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes an explicit contrast between hearing and doing: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. … And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt 7:24, 26).

True disciples must be hearers and doers of Jesus’ words. The Greek term for the rock on which one builds—bedrock—shows up again later in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says he will build his church “on this bedrock.” In other words, he who would build Jesus’ church on a rock rather than sand must build it on the bedrock of Jesus’ words. This is confirmed in Luke’s Gospel where, just after the parable of the sower, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).

As rabbi or Master, Jesus did not want his followers simply to listen to his lessons and then continue living as before. To hear and not do is both to flout the authority of Jesus’ words and to flaunt oneself as lord. Moreover, to hear and not do is the opposite not only of obedience but also of learning. No one learns to swim or ride a bike simply by reading an instruction manual. Jesus desires followers who both listen and learn.

This post is adapted from chapter 3 of Hearers and Doers by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Lexham Press, 2019).

New Series from Lexham Press: the Best of Christianity Today

Since 1956, Christianity Today has been the leading voice for evangelicalism in America—a bellwether of theology, politics, and culture for evangelicals. Some of the most influential and respected modern evangelical leaders have written for the magazine, including John Stott, Carl F.H. Henry, F.F. Bruce, Cornelius Van Til, J.I. Packer, and others.  

Now, the best of Christianity Today is being collected into books, and the first three are available for pre-order today.

These books mark the beginning of a three-year project between CT and Lexham Press, the publishing imprint of Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software.

Here’s a bit about each book.

The best of Carl F.H. Henry

Architect of Evangelicalism

No one is better equipped to provide a clear understanding of evangelicalism than the late Carl F.H. Henry, the founding editor of Christianity Today and an extremely influential theologian of American evangelicalism in the twentieth century. Architect of Evangelicalism helps us gain a better sense of the roots of American evangelicalism by giving us the best of Carl F.H. Henry’s Christianity Today essays.

 

 

 

Leading scholars on essential doctrines

Basics of the Faith

This work is an overview of essential Christian doctrines from some of the best minds of mid-twentieth-century evangelicalism around the globe. Originally appearing in the pages of Christianity Today in 1961–1962, this collection includes essays from influential theologians and biblical scholars. Basics of the Faith includes an introduction by Kevin J. Vanhoozer that lays out their original context and evaluates their ongoing significance.

 

 

 

John Stott on Jesus’ lordship

Christ the Cornerstone

The late Anglican pastor John R.W. Stott was committed to the notion that Jesus’ lordship has ramifications for all of life. Out of this conviction grew his contention that the whole mission of God includes both evangelism and social action. Christ the Cornerstone recovers several decades of his writings on this topic from the pages of Christianity Today, including the regular “Cornerstone” column he wrote from 1977–1981.

 

 

Learn more at LexhamPress.com/Christianity-Today.

Pastor as Spiritual Fitness Trainer—Preparing People for Daily Discernment

By Kevin Vanhoozer

The church is the body of Christ, and its core—the community of disciples, the faith corps—enables its characteristic bodily movements: witnessing to the gospel, worshiping the God of the gospel, maintaining the health of the body, performing works of love.

To perform these movements, and to have the strength to work and keep on moving, the church needs to attend to its core. In a word, the church needs theological exercises: training in godliness.

Spiritual fitness training

I describe the pastor-theologian in various ways, but here the metaphor I want to develop is that of a spiritual fitness trainer. To make disciples is to train men and women to perform the characteristic bodily movements that enable the local church to perform its roles as an embassy of the kingdom of God, a Christ corps.

To make or train disciples fit for purpose involves certain kinds of exercise. I have in mind not simply bodily exertions for the sake of physical fitness, but all sorts of actions intended to improve a specific skill, like finger exercises for the piano, a military exercise, and exercises at the end of every textbook chapter. [One essential skill] is reading Scripture theologically in order to take every thought, and imagination, captive to Christ in order to walk the Way of Christ and become more Christlike.

Spiritual exercises

Seeing the Christian life as a series of exercises is, of course, nothing new. The most famous example is the sixteenth-century classic Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola, a collection of prayers and meditations on what it means to live in relationship to God as a follower of Jesus.

The exercises are not bodily but interior: they are designed to strengthen not muscle but the heart, what the apostle Paul calls our “inner being” (Rom 7:22; Eph 3:16). They are recommendations for maintaining and improving the health of one’s soul: “We call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and . . . of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life.”1 The ultimate aim: to orient the heart to God, and to find God in all things.

Reality—the world we live in, the only world there is, the world created by God—always and everywhere presents everyone with a choice, an unavoidable “either-or”: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15)

Discernment and decision

An important part of the exercises is learning to discern one’s own “spirit,” that is, the inner motivation for our actions. Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Roman Catholic theologian, believes that this emphasis on choice lies at the center of the Ignatian exercises: they’re all about helping persons to discern the heart of God, and the orientation of their own hearts, so that they choose God’s choice for them in joyful obedience.2

C.S. Lewis, though no Ignatian, had a similar concern for the centrality of “the choice” in the life of the disciple, as Joe Rigney explains: “Every moment of every day, you are confronted with a choice—either place God at the center of your life, or place something else there.”3

Reality—the world we live in, the only world there is, the world created by God—always and everywhere presents everyone with a choice, an unavoidable “either-or”: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15), either the one true God (the Father of Jesus Christ) or some false god, be it money, sex, fame, power, or something else—their name is Legion.

Discipleship involves waking up to the realization that there is a choice, and we must stay awake to the lordship of Jesus Christ long enough to make the right one: to obey, and thereby to exercise, like Jesus, genuine freedom.4

***

Kevin J. Vanhoozer (PhD, Cambridge University) is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of several books, including Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine and Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, both Christianity Today Theology Books of the Year (2015, 2017). He is married and has two daughters.

This post is excerpted from Dr. Vanhoozer’s new book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, now available from Lexham Press. See the table of contents and preview pages. This post’s title and headings are the addition of an editor.

The Geopolitical Context of the New Testament, in 9 Brief Points

By Mark J. Keown, ThD

At the time of the New Testament, Israel had been an occupied country, at least in part, since the eighth century BC. Its location on the Fertile Crescent meant that anyone seeking to dominate the region had to take control of Israel as it provided a key trade and military link between Europe, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and Africa. [Read more…]

Is the Jezreel Valley the Stage for the Final Battle?

It’s been called the “heart” of the promised land—a 141-square-mile triangle in the north-central area of Israel.

Today, the Jezreel Valley is Israel’s breadbasket. A beautiful plain of fertile fields and winding roads, it’s hemmed in by rolling mountains that offer stunning scenic views. [Read more…]

Learn Greek and Logos at the Same Time—so That Both Stick

Confession: in seminary I used Logos as a crutch. I hovered my mouse over the word for parsing—and on I went, hover by hover, letting what I had painstakingly learned about Greek grammar slowly drip out of my brain.

My loss. [Read more…]