29 December 2011

What is the Gospel?

I believe that this topic calls for a format less formal than the one in which I would usually write...

I was listening recently to a debate between Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. and Jim Wallis (available here), and I was struck by Mr. Wallis' use of the word gospel. Many times Mr. Wallis was using it in reference to ministering to the poor and seeking "social justice." Dr. Mohler, responded masterfully, but in light of this debate and many comments that I have seen recently, I feel it necessary to clearly define, first, what the gospel is not.

The word gospel, means the "good news," but what is this good news? Mr. Wallis stated, that it included a "personal relationship" with Jesus. Is that the good news? The answer is emphatically, no (though there is some truth in that statement). The gospel is not about a personal spiritual journey, or finding the means to be a better person within oneself. Neither is it about how to have a better marriage or how to have an abundant life. The gospel is not about how to find your purpose or how to find favor with God. Neither is is it about a personal experience, a clever witticism, good works, or cultural relevance. Furthermore, the gospel is not about social, economic, or racial justice.

If, then, the gospel is not all these things, then what is it? The word is pregnant with meaning and one which the Apostle proclaimed a curse on himself if he did not preach it (1 Corinthians 9:16). I am a Sunday School teacher, and the gospel is something I wanted to define for my students in such a way that they could recall it in a moments notice; that is, a definition that contained the bare essence of what this word gospel meant. Before I elaborate on that, I will let Scripture speak:

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you- unless you believed in vain. 
     3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, ..." (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV). 

That is the gospel. There is nothing to be added to it or taken from it. Paul in a few short sentences, after establishing that this is something of first importance, clearly and concisely states what the gospel is, and therefore what is to be the center of the Christian faith. There is nothing, more important than the gospel; for as the Apostle states, it is the essence of salvation. These few verses of Scripture are to be the center of Christian worship, preaching, and proclamation. Anyone who deviates from this is at best an unfaithful servant and at worst an instrument of the devil. Hard words, sure, but nonetheless truth. For,

" 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 8 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-8, emphasis added)

The aforementioned is why it is imperative and essential that all Christians know, taught from the pages of Scripture, what the gospel is in its essence; without flowery language, additions, or distortions. The gospel (in more specific terms) is that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man (Philippians 2:6-11). He came to earth to live the perfect life in accordance with the law (Romans 5:18ff),  that He died on the cross for sin (Colossians 2:13-15), and on the third day he rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:4). The Creeds of the early church proclaim this truth in its fullness, and the Apostles of Christ have been proclaiming it since the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). 

21 December 2011

On Interpretation

     The word interpretation derives from the Latin root interpretari (naturally), meaning to decide, translate, regard, or construe. The second definition “to translate,” implies an objective meaning to the word. For instance, the translation that was just used with respect to the Latin interpretari is by no means subjective. That is, the meaning of the word is not subject to ones feelings or personal biases on the matter. There is, however, a sense in which this word can certainly convey subjectivity (e.g. decide and construe; see above), but even in the meaning of the word there is something that is overlooked.
Context is something given very little thought in modernity. That is, even the word interpretation itself must be used in context with respect to its subject. One cannot simply take the meaning of a word (or any word for that matter) and apply one meaning to all contexts. For example, when the word interpretation is used with respect to, say, the interpretation of a musical piece there is certainly subjective meaning. One artist may hear a piece in his mind much differently than another, or he may experience a certain feeling in the piece that others do not. Nevertheless, there is still a context, even for something as subjective as music. The author of that piece of music had an intent in writing the piece whether it was something as noble as love or as conceited as merely to show his musical prowess, there was a context in which the piece was written and a meaning to be conveyed. Therefore, if the musician interpreting the piece misses the context in which the composer wrote it, the musician has wandered off on a merry adventure in missing the point.
Here then is crux of the matter: hermeneutics. This word is one that is prevalent in some theological circles but is virtually unknown to most. This word derives from the Greek hermeneutikos meaning to make clear. The English word hermeneutics is defined as a principle or method of interpretation. Contextually this word is used in theology with regards to the interpretation of the Bible, but this word, and principle for that matter, can be applied to many things. For instance, if one were in a mathematics class and said to the professor “rules for these sums are all very well, but I feel differently, and therefore I will do these problems how I think they should be done,” that person would fail without question. Indeed, in something such as mathematics, there is objective interpretation that is required of the student; otherwise the student has no understanding of the subject. Furthermore, the same truth applies to academics such as philosophy or history. One cannot read an historical narrative and inject there own meaning into it, attempting to make it relevant to themselves. No, whether or not anyone cares to admit it, interpretation is objective and is not subject to personal relevance.
The text of sacred Scripture (i.e. the Bible) is in no way different. Yet, it has become the practice of many in evangelical American churches to ask “what does this text mean to you,” or “how do you feel about this passage?” The simple truth is this: the Bible isn't about any one person and however one may feel about a text or interpret it outside of its historical-grammatical context does not change its objective truths one wit. Therefore, the only way a person can truly interpret the text of the Bible is by using the historical-grammatical method and allowing the text and its author to speak in its historical context. One's feelings or subjective interpretation don't enter into it and do not change the objective purpose of the Scriptures. Questions when reading a text (any text) must be asked such as:
Who is the author?
Who is the author writing to or for?
What was the original intent of the author?
What is the author trying to say?
As can be seen there is no room here for one's interpretation, and these aforementioned are not all the criteria for properly viewing any text (the Bible first and foremost). The author must be allowed to speak and the text must be taken “at its word,” so to speak. To wit, one's theology or philosophy does not dictate Scripture, Scripture dictates one's philosophy and theology. 

What's in a name?

Against my better judgement and as a means of contemplative output, I have decided to begin this blog. The name is strange, but has great meaning...

In Ephesians 6:13, the Apostle Paul commands Christians:

"Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand (ἀνθίστημι), in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm." (Ephesians 6:13, ESV) 

The word "anthistemi" (anth-is'-tay-mee), is a word in Koine Greek (cf. Strong's 436) that means to take a complete stand against and to strongly resist an opponent. This brings to mind the phalanx of the Greek hoplites, standing in unison, as a unit, opposing their enemy with fierce determination and courage. Likewise are we Christians commanded in the pages of sacred Scripture to resist sin, our enemy the devil, and also to resist the world. James the Just says:

"...Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4)

This means that a Christian is to oppose what is natural to fallen man, which is sin. For,

"...you who were once dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world..." (Ephesians 2:1)

Therefore, The Anthistemi is intended to be an opposing stand against the "course of this world." What I intend with this blog is to oppose with sound reason and the Word of God (the Bible), the ignorance, false-teaching, and distortions that have become so prevalent in modern society. 

I do not stand alone but with every Christian dedicated to true Christian Orthodoxy and understanding the Bible. Indeed, I would not stand, though, if it were not for the Lord Jesus Christ calling me to Himself to be saved from my sin and renewing my mind (Romans 12:2). 

Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope that you will take the time to consider the things written on this blog thoughtfully, carefully, and logically.

To conclude:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in His only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty and from thence shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.