Different Reading Styles, Diverging Theologies


When one reads the Bible, within the context of Evangelicalism, we tend to have a “personal” view of scripture. It’s how verses like Jeremiah 29:11, which were addressed to a particular people in a particular time, can be so inspirational the modern reader. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. The Holy Spirit helps us take away things from the Bible regarding the character of God and the nature of His dealings with us today. But I would also submit that this isn’t a “critical” method of reading scripture, either.

There are two, primary, critical forms of reading scripture: Historical-Grammatical and Historical-Critical. Here’s a quick rundown on them:

Historical-Grammatical – Is a form of reading the Bible that puts a heavy emphasis on literary observation and understanding the writings as, generally, being historical in nature. The ultimate ambition of this style is to take the reading of scripture and make applications based on the “plain” reading of the text. While not explicitly encouraging a literal reading of every verse (after all, there are figures of speech and metaphors in most languages), this method seeks to eliminate any unnecessary, allegorical interpretations from the Bible as possible.

Historical-Critical – Seeks to reconstruct the culture and history surrounding the writings of the Bible and use that to come to a conclusion about the author’s intended meaning. The critical method also takes on information from other disciplines such as science and anthropology, and makes use of their observations and studies and applies it to the text. The interpretation, and subsequent application, can be made when the “direct” meaning of the the Bible can be established from the source material.

There are overlapping and opposing features to both methods of reading. As I’m sure you can imagine, there is a fair bit of mud flung between people who try to use each method exclusively. Those who prefer the critical method of study say that others are making interpretations without all the extra-Biblical facts and coming to interpretive conclusions that are simply untenable by the discoveries of science and other disciplines. Grammatical emphasizers will claim that the critical method undermines the Bible’s authority and inspiration by humanizing the writings at the expense of the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Most evangelicals don’t know they are reading the Bible in these particular ways when they pick it up on a Sunday morning. Our presuppositions tend to “fill in the blanks” when we’re reading verses we don’t understand. What’s good to know is how different everyone’s reading of scripture truly is and where many of our difference originate from. If you’re going to read the Bible; or, more specifically, Genesis, as though it were written as a historical document, you’re obviously going to understand the theological doctrine of “sin nature” differently from those who read Genesis as a narrative. Not only that, you’re going to read Jesus’ words, when he recalls events in the Old Testament.

Is it any wonder we end up with such differing understandings of who God is?

Of course, the whole of the Church will likely not agree on how to read the Bible until Christ returns. By that time, I’m not so sure the Bible will be necessary any more. Until that time, I would like people to acknowledge is what some of their presuppositions might be when reading the Bible, and examine them so that, one, we are reminded to submit our reading of Scripture to Christ and, two, when we do disagree with someone on a theological topic, we better understand where and why we’re so different.


Self-Love, Fear, Justice, and Bob Jones University


When we love ourselves, fear rules.
When fear consumes us, secrets loom.
When secrets exist, justice is withheld.
Where has justice gone?

It’s been reported that Bob Jones University, a heavily insulated university in South Carolina, fired an organization that was hired to investigate claims of sexual abuse at the school on the eve of a public report being filed, after 13 months of study. According to the school, they grew concerned about how the organization was pursuing their objectives.

The bolded expression is indicative that the school was probably more uncomfortable with the organizations findings then the actual method they were using. The organization, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), released a statement about their unexpected termination, “At the heart of the struggle is a fear that is rooted in the need to self-protect. All such ‘fears’ are usually masked by a rationale that the reporting of such abuse may ‘damage the reputation of Christ.’”

We all feel the pressure to hide and/or lie, when confronted with wrongdoing. Seized by the possible consequences, we do what we can to protect ourselves, and sometimes others we love, from our (or their) actions. In this case, it would seem BJU believes its mission is so closely aligned with Christ that, were any damage done to its reputation, the name of Christ would be damaged with it.

The truth is that, this line of reasoning, is what allows injustice to persist; causing the name of God to be mocked.

It is entirely unacceptable.

Micah 6:8 reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

When we consider ourselves above God, and others, we will find ourselves in opposition to His work. It is in that moment we discover just how far disjointed we are from Him; and how much damage we’ve already done, in His name.

Presuppositions and Biblical Reading


Presuppositions. Everyone has them with varying degrees of acceptance. You’re either proud of them, or do your best to work around them. Regardless, our experiences and studies inform us of what is right, and who is wrong.

Presuppositional Apologetics’ primary assumption is the Bible’s infallibility. It is the foundation from which all of their beliefs and arguments are built on. Their claim is that the Bible is superior to fallible, human standards of belief like reason, experience, and feelings. Because of this, they assume no common ground with non-believers. What would happen if you proved the Bible wasn’t fallible, by reason? You can’t. Therefore, presuppositional apologetics becomes the equivalent of a bomb shelter for Christian thought.

But what if I told you that presuppositional apologetics isn’t really about Biblical Infallibility? This all about HOW one reads the Bible, not whether they believe it’s perfect. This is about a historical-grammatical reading of scripture versus a historical-critical reading of it.

I can hear the groans of people who are reading this now, “Garrett, just explain why Genesis does, or doesn’t have to be literal!”

This isn’t as simple as one makes out to be, however. We’re talking about how we, as individuals, read scripture. Which, for the 95.7% of Christians in the world whose primary knowledge of God comes from the Bible, is a really, really big deal.

Join me on Friday and I’ll give a quick overview of some of the ways we all read the Bible and why they are so important to us!

Karl Barth’s letter to Ken Ham


Basel, 18 Feb. 1965

Dear Ken,

Has no one explained to you that one can as little compare the biblical creation story and a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner—that there can be as little question of harmony between as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel—naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus—naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with what has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

Uncle Karl

Originally from: http://www.faith-theology.com/2006/01/creation-and-evolution-letter-from.html

Edited where appropriate, by me.

The Implication and Disposition of Love


(Get it? An application of love?)

There are two very important things in theology that help sharpen our understanding of who God is: implication and application.

The former is essentially asking the question: if this is true, what does it mean? What is the implication of saying that love is a divinely justified, affectionate loyalty that continually feels for, and meets the needs of, others? I covered it briefly at the very end of the last blog when I wrote, “love is wholly, other focused. Its justice component means that love doesn’t make you a pushover, or a ‘yes man.’ The affection of love includes our feelings, but its loyalty also eliminates its dependency on them.”

But implication extends beyond our behavior. We are also implying something about the person of God. For instance, 1 John 4:8 points out that, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The first thing we can pull from this is that God is love. Is it appropriate to say that God is divinely just, affectionate, loyal, compassionate, and meets the needs of others? Is He like that with Himself, in a triune sense? How about with humanity?

I phrase in the form of a question for a very good reason: we can not allow our “definitions” to define God in a way that makes him subject to our understanding. I referred to this danger in “What is Love (Jesus, don’t Hurt me).” If theology is the study of God, then we are merely discovering what it is He has said of Himself.

Theology isn’t just an academic exercise, however. Application is as much apart of our discovery as reading the Bible. There are events in scripture which can give us a whole host of ideas for how to love others well. Feeding the poor (Isaiah 58:10, Proverbs 28:27, James 2:14-18, etc), caring for the sick (James 5:13-15, Matthew 25:44, Ezekiel 34:3-4, etc), and prayer (Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 1:9, Matthew 5:44) are not only examples of this, but are also expected from the believer, as 1 John 4:8 states.

Those examples, however, can also be shockingly twisted for our own ego. We can also hand out food to the poor because it makes us feel good; care for the sick in order to be relieved from the pressure we feel God is putting on us; or pray in order to get the things we desire, rather than seek God’s will. It is the disposition of an individual that allows love to come to the fore.

So where does this nature come from? Are some people just born that way? Hardly. I’ll leave you with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in chapter 3, verses 14-21. It’s my prayer for everyone who reads this. May we all be changed as radically because when we know love our disposition will change, as well.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

A Written Definition of Love


In saying that “self-love” is the opposite to “love” we have, in part, already defined the word; but not any more than saying it is an adjective, noun, and verb. Gathering the descriptions has allowed us to know what elements should be in place when a definition is given. Now that we’ve done most of the leg work, lets open up to Romans 12:9-13:

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

Below, I’ve divided the passage up in smaller parts. Doing so allows us to slow down and examine Paul’s words in a more “hands on” fashion. The summary for each broken down passage will be in bold. This is an interpretive step taken in order to help us write our a definition. I’ve added a bit of commentary to show why I’ve made the interpretation the way I have.


Love is divinely justified  

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”

When we hold on to what is good, we will hate what is evil. In a sense, there is a kind of indignation that rises when we see indifference and injustice. How we move forward in our justifications should be defined by love; of which we are inching ever closer to an actual definition.

Love is affection loyalty

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; preference to one another in honor;”

What we see here is the antithesis to the “love yourself to better love others” perspective. In seeking other’s interests above our own desires, we see a familial kind of love that is marked by an affectionate devotion. When people honor our needs before their own, the need to prefer ourselves diminishes.

Love cures apathy

“Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;”

In apathy, the appetite to serve others is minimal. We cannot take a day off in our devotion to one another. There is no room for us to “check out” mentally or spiritually. Doing so invites laziness and other self-serving habits.

Love is enduring

“rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,”

My pastor has a saying that goes along the lines of, “if you aren’t in a storm right now, you either just got out of one or are heading directly into it.” Tough times are a reality of the world we’ve helped build (see: screwed up), but when we serve the Lord we can rejoice in His accomplishments and promised return. We persevere because He did. We pray because Jesus did. To love is to do these things continuously.

Love meets needs

“contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality”

We can persevere because all of our needs will be met. God uses us, the Church, to provide where others lack. This isn’t a heavily coded message: love is definitely a verb.


To form the definition of the word, I’ll now take my bolded summaries to make a complete thought:

Love is a divinely justified, affectionate loyalty that continually feels for, and meets the needs of, others. 

All of the elements in this particular passage lead us to a definition that emphasizes justice, feeling, loyalty, and service to others. The big idea is that love is wholly, other focused. Its justice component means that love doesn’t make you a pushover, or a “yes man.” The affection of love includes our feelings, but its loyalty also eliminates its dependency on them.

Tomorrow, I’ll post about different ways to apply the definition that’s been developed. Both in a theological sense, and in a practical one.

The Opposite of Love is not Indifference


A seemingly mild-mannered British professor walked in on a conversation me and Holly were having on the definition of love. Using a process called Via negativa, we were trying to discern what the it’s exact opposite was in order to better understand.

Via negativa is a practice in theology that you may have seen implemented by C.S. Lewis in his answer to the problem of evil when he claims that evil only exists where good is not (basically, you discover what something is by surmising what it isn’t).

Having both decided that “hate” wasn’t it because it actually required an individual to love in the first place, the general consensus between Holly and I seemed to be that “apathy” was the true opposite of love. It is here that my professor, overhearing our agreement, asked what we were up to and offered an objection.

“Love is a cause [as opposed to an effect, or result],” he said assuredly, “which means its opposite must be one as well. I don’t see how apathy is anything more than a result of self-love.

I knew he was right the second he said it, yet I was slow to agree. Surely apathy was the cause of our sin! All we needed was a passion for Jesus to empower us for right living! At the very least, we needed to will ourselves and do what we knew was right simply because God said so. More self control and discipline was required.

Then it suddenly donned on me why I refused to faced the reality of my professor’s words: If self-love is the opposite of love, that would mean I didn’t love God.

I had submitted to His call to missions, studied theology, and even preached the gospel; yet didn’t really love God. I liked things about Him. That whole forgiveness thing is kind of nice. The reason for my obedience, up to that point, was due to feeling no other choice. I felt shackled and burdened by God; having never understand the transformation from slave to son as Paul outlined in Galatians 4:1-7

I’m relating all of this, before getting into the Biblical definition of love, for this reason: theology has many different starting points.

Most assume that theology is when you pick up a Bible, or some old text from Church history, and make observations about God. The truth is that objectivity doesn’t exist in the Bible. When we read it, we take our experiences with us. This is essential to understand for two reasons: 1. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the men who wrote scripture is the same Holy Spirit that inspires us, and 2. God is the true interpreter of scripture and, therefore, all experiences must go through Him, first.

This does not diminish the Bible’s place in theology. All theology should be held up to scripture. This is exactly what we’ll do next time when we examine the word “love,” in the Bible, in light of my assertion that “self-love” is the antithesis of “love.”

What is Love (Jesus, don’t Hurt me)


Name an album, in English, that doesn’t use the word “love.”

I’ll wait.

For as often as we use the word, getting a proper definition for “love” is something of a challenge. More times than not, the answer will be something to the effect of, “love is…just like…love,” or, “love is an overwhelming feeling of…feelings.” This can be a problem for Christians since so much of the Bible (arguably all of it) is dedicated to that very concept.

The Christian definition of love typically centers on three principles:

  •  1 Corinthians 13 (love is patient, kind, etc.): In this sense, love is an attribute. To be patient, kind, good, faithful, etc., is a part of assuming the character of Christ. As we become more like Christ, we become more loving (more on this in point 3).
  •  Luv is a verb (classic 90’s nostalgia reference, Luke 10:27): Are you d-d-down with the DC Talk? I can’t speak for everyone, but they aren’t alone in the sentiment that love is action oriented.
  • Jesus is love (plenty of bumper stickers and coffee cups to remind you, just in case you forgot, 1 John 4:8): Love as a proper noun might be jarring to non-Christians, but people have been chanting this for years. In combination with the aforementioned 1 Corinthians 13, we begin to apply all the adjectives to God and look for the evidence of that love in His work.

Love as an adjective, verb, and noun are all Biblically founded, and will help us in our application. Yet, if you pay close attention, all we’ve really done is describe what love is without ever really defining it. The problem with that is we’ve never truly escaped the circular logic of “Jesus is love.”

Yes, he is the essence, author, and example of love; but without an actual, working definition of the word all we’re left with is a hollow image of the Triune God; one that isn’t knowable, or relatable. In defining love, our thoughts about God can profoundly impact the dynamic of our relationship with Him.

Before we do this, however, let me say that I don’t wish to abandon the descriptions of love I mentioned before. Those sentiments are useful reminders of how God is both imminent and transcendent. He reveals Himself in ways that allow us to know love and who He is; yet this also sets God apart from anything else we’ve ever known.

What I do not care for is God becoming subject to our conclusions and definitions. If we know God is love, then it is He who truly defines it by nature of His…well…nature. If the definition doesn’t fit with what we know of His character as revealed in the Bible than it is our definition that needs changed.

With this understanding in place, we can try to navigate a way to a scriptural, Christ-centered definition of love that is both affective and applicable.

Next time, though.

We’ll continue the conversation in the next blog. I hope you’ll join me on this journey of discovery.

Apologetics is not Evangelism



The prevailing nature of apologetics within evangelicalism is intellectual in nature, and this is no accident. The loudest opponents of Christianity use scientific, historical, and philosophical disciplines to debate the existence of God and the claims of Jesus. It’s only natural that Christians answer these challenges by using the same tools their opponents do. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. These areas of studies can sharpen the Church’s understanding of the God we worship. They help explain why Christianity celebrates certain traditions, and shuns others. Academics can even inform our daily Bible reading. But there isn’t a single area of study, including theology, that will convince a person to trust Jesus.

Intellectual acknowledgement of Christ, or other historical and philosophical truths in the Bible, does not equal, or bring about, faith.

Dr. Richard D. Land (President of Southern Evangelical Seminary), writes in the Christian Post: “I fervently believe apologetics is the way we will spell Christian evangelism, missions, and discipleship in the 21st century.¹”

Norm Geisler adds, “[apologetics is] simply to defend the faith, and thereby destroy arguments and every proud obstacle against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5). It is opening the door, clearing the rubble, and getting rid of the hurdles so that people can come to Christ.²”

The problem with Geisler’s quote about getting rid of hurdles to Christ is that he assumes people’s objections to Christ are primarily philosophical or scientific. While it may be the stated reason by many an atheist, the cause of unbelief is brought to the fore in Hebrews 3:12-19; most notable in verses 18 and 19, when the author writes: “And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

It’s interesting that Geisler would use 2 Corinthians 10:5 when, in the verse before it, Paul says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (ESV).”

Again, I will reiterate that apologetics is a good thing that is both effective and has Biblical precedence (Acts 22:1, 1 Corinthians 9:3, 1 Peter 3:15). To equate apologetics with evangelism, however, is to put undue weight on the skill of the apologist, away from the actual transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

Apologetics is only a small fragment of how we should preach the gospel. If obedience to Christ is the mark of someone who believes (both in word and action) than wouldn’t our lives be the best evangelistic tool we have?

What does this entail? Let’s start with what Jesus tells a young man what the greatest commandments are, in Matthew 22:36-40.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So what is love then? In tomorrow’s blog, we’ll start a journey that seeks to, theologically, define love in a way that allows us to understand what it means to be obedient and how to better evangelize.

1. http://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-apologetics-the-evangelistic-wave-of-the-future-107624/

2. ibid

A Proper Relationship w/Theology


My time with Theology, while brief, has been filled with all the ups and downs you’d expect during the course of a relationship. There was that, “love at first sight,” moment in the bookstore that caused me to passionately pursue her. After spending a large amount of time together, I developed a dependency that threatened to ruin all my other relationships. I didn’t know how needy Theology was though, and I started to burn out, and we nearly lost everything we had, as a result. The reconciliation process was slow and, a while later, we decided we should be “just friends.”

Ridiculous metaphors aside, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has engaged in theology, and called it a passion, has struggled with its placement in their life. Most understand that theology is about discovering who God is, not a discovery in it of itself. But if you polled men and women in Bible College and Seminary they would probably tell you their study of the Bible and historical church is, in fact, their primary means of relating with Him. What this leads to, inevitably, are young men and women who become theological theorists; proclaiming ideas of both conservative and liberal persuasions with feeble applications and only a limited capacity to understand why those ideas even matter.

Taking note of this, the average church goer sees the word “theology” and immediately attaches a negative connotation to it. They fear that if you “know” too much, you’ll ultimately lose sight of the Gospel’s simplicity. This happened recently when I expressed to a friend, who has known me for over twenty years, that I wanted to attend Seminary. He made sure to remind me not to get “big headed,” while pursuing those studies. Unfortunately, he’s about the 87th person to tell me that.

While I’m sure 99.9% of professing Christians would say (some begrudgingly) that theology is a good thing, they would also say that “too much of a good thing is bad.”

I’m not so convinced that there is an accurate knowledge/faith ratio curve whereby there is some sort of “balance” to reach. If there was, I imagine it would look something like this.


Rather than trying to guesstimate how much knowledge is too much, it may be better to ask what the task of theology is. If theology is the “study of God, and religious belief” then it can rightfully be said that its purpose is to re-discover what it is God has already said and shown of Himself.

That’s it.

Theology seeks to understand, and to be understood by, the One who it courts. Fortunately, one of those has already been done for us.