By Faith We Understand… (Part 2)

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…” (Hebrews 11:3)

Understanding is an essential for coming to terms with the world about us and its purpose and meaning.  The material world is not just some set of molecules comprising mass in different forms.  Rather, behind the world exists the living God, the Creator of all that exists.  A worldview gives shape to our understanding of all existence, and a variety of world views exist.  However, in essence, all world views can be reduced to two: 1) one by which the Creator gives rise, and 2) one that humanity envisions and shapes in the imagination.

The second of these comes in many forms, but these forms arise from a different source – humanity.  Humanity shapes as many world views as there are individuals and communities imagining them, nuanced into the claim “Your truth may not be my truth.”  This claim gives birth to each person creating what is right in his or her own eyes.  Who is to question a person’s understanding if the god in their imagination gives rise to it?  In essence, a worldview from this perspective is like rolling dice.  Whatever comes up is that person’s slant on life, and there is no one truth that dictates that slant except the one with the dice.  If a person does not like the numbers that appear the first time, she rolls them again until she sees the numbers she likes.  Such activity is random like one who continues to search for a slice on life appealing to the person.  Once found, it satisfies for a season until another roll of the dice serves up something better.  Chance is the name of the game for reaching an understanding of the real world.  That is, that individual assigns meaning and understanding to the dice roll or passively accepts the dice roll from another such as with a cult.  There is no divine fiat.  Rather, if any deity created the worlds, such a deity is much like the Deists who wounds up creation and then steps back and watches what His living creatures will do with it: cultivate it or blow it up.

Then there is the understanding of science fiction.  The deities of these world views arise from the imagination and also include a claim of no deity at all or the individual as divine.  From the world views beginning with humanity arise the understanding that the source ranges from some sort of deity creating to evolution.  Science fiction also brings with it aliens arriving from another planet and populating the earth.  Consequently, whatever individuals can imagine springs forth a worldview.  This worldview spawns aliens and war of the worlds, beings intent on destroying everyone else’s worldview and imposing their own, much like what happens in the real world.  Therefore, a tension exists between two major world views within this scenario.  That tension is between war and utopia.  In both cases, the outcome appears to be the same: the imposition of a dominate worldview onto the masses much like the “War of the Worlds” and Thomas Moore’s “Utopia” in which all things are regulated.  One expresses treachery while the other seems benevolent.  However, the results are the same: the control of others through the imposition of the controller’s worldview.  They rest on fiction divorced from reality.  Humanism spawns all of these understandings.

The first cited worldview arises from the Creator who is distinct and separate from creation.  One might ask, “Is the Christian and biblically based God not any different from any other deity (or non-deity) described above?”  One major difference exists that makes God distinct and different from all others.  As noted above, He is distinct from creation and thereby separate from the imaginations of those in the created order who imagine all sorts of gods, even themselves as divine.  He is not the creation of imagination or physical or material in nature.  He is the Creator of all that exists.

Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote,

Christianity brings the world a distinctive understanding of time, history, and the meaning of life. The Christian worldview contributes an understanding of the universe and all it contains that points us far beyond mere materialism and frees us from the intellectual imprisonment of naturalism. Christians understand that the world—including the material world—is dignified by the very fact that God has created it”  (Mohler, Albert, “Intellectual Discipleship: Following Christ with Minds, Bible Study Tools.com, http://bit.ly/1pElrQt.)

In other words, the material world constrains our understanding, because it does not have the guide of true biblical faith – the faith that sets focus on the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1-2).  Genuine faith does not set its sights on the material world but on the unseen reality of God who is separate and distinct from the created order.  He is not a benevolent dictator, a deity that leaves His creation alone, or a monster who oppresses people.  Rather, He is a God of love who faithfully commits Himself to our care and not as Mohler states of rulers alienated from Him,

Christians come to understand that idolatry and self-aggrandizement are the temptations that come to any regime” (Mohler, Intellectual Discipleship).

Since God created us, He knows us intimately and is aware of our alienation from Him and the limitations of our created state.  Consequently, He shared His love with us through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross to reconcile us from this alienation, not only with Him but with others and the world in which we live.  This alienation brought factions and war as well as the destructive activity toward our environment.  By faith, we understand His loving care and the claim He has on our lives, a claim to set us right with Him and ultimately to bring a halt to self-destruction.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

By Faith We Understand…

The first example the writer of the the letter to the Hebrews gives is creation.  The author declares,

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Creation is an obvious starting point for faith because of the impossibility of creation’s observation.  Only God was present and created everything that came into being.  No one saw Him do it.  The author also wanted to insure that he included all existence within the realm of faith and that faith has its roots in history and God’s activity in the real world. Consequently, faith excludes myth, legend, some sort of leap, feeling, mysticism, and all that is seen

Is creation not in what we see?  Are we then to exclude creation as evidence for the unseen God? No. It is one thing to accept creation as evidence for the Creator.  It is an entirely another thing to place faith in this evidence.  Acknowledgement of the Creator does not save anyone. Along with such an acknowledgement must come faith in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s special revelation, Mediator, and the sole object of faith for salvation.  Creation is not the object of faith and means of our understanding of God or Redeemer in Christ.

When God created man and woman and placed them in Eden, He spoke directly to them and gave them direction for living and relating to Him in the form of specific commands.  His word guided them.  In their innocent state, they understood that God created all things, including them.  He told them so, and they believed Him.  He also gave Adam the task to give names to the different animals He created.  When God gave Adam a spouse, one like himself as to his humanity, but different from him as to his form, he also named her, “She shall be called woman” (Genesis 2:23).

When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they lost their innocence and with it alienation from God that passed through them to their offspring and their children’s offspring through all subsequent generations.  Eventually, the understanding that God created the world’s and humanity became alien as distance from God grew.  Humanity’s eyes turned inward and toward creation as the distinction between the Creator and creation blurred.  Humanity lost sight of the unseen God, and individuals relied on what they could see.  Faith in God eluded them as they turned to the created order for deities.  Eventually, certain people rose up and declared that what exists simply popped out of nowhere, always existed, or other gods created them.  Their understanding of the material world was that the universe evolved and the visible arose from the visible rather than from the invisible and unseen God.

When some surfaced the possibility of a god, they exclaimed, “What god? Your god or mine?  That animal is divine as is that tree and rock.  Let us create our gods from them.”  Gods multiplied as humanity also created images like himself from wood and stone – the visible creating the visible.  Humanity moved such a distance from the unseen God that the destructive forces of his alienation compelled him to shape visible images for his god.  Rebellion from God destroyed faith in the Creator and obliterated humanity’s understanding of the source of creation, including all individuals dwelling on the earth.

Other forms of theism arose, such as polytheism, atheism, and all other forms of idolatry arising from the minds of men and women.  These forms of theism gave them a new understanding and paradigm of the source of all things.  They arose from the visible rather than from the invisible God.  The Big Bang eventually replaced God and spread a materialistic philosophy and religion throughout the earth.  That is, the visible created the visible.  Many individuals begin to understand God as an unseen entity as an unknown (agnosticism).  They then claimed, “We cannot trust that anything unseen acted as the source of the material world.”

Individuals begin relying on observation and the senses behind such observation according to this new theistic paradigm.  This new paradigm also made room for a negation called atheism, which leads to a complete denial of any deity.  Such form renders a new way of viewing the world about us.  Spirituality no longer arises from the unseen God but from whatever individuals make it to be.  Men and women are no longer considered living beings from the breath of God but an evolved existence from a primordial state of slime to a state of material consciousness.  Then we die and disintegrate back into material chemicals shrouded in dirt and mud.

Such is the hopeless state of humanity’s alienation.  It make understanding rudderless, aimlessly wandering across the seas of shifting philosophies transcending the centuries and morphing into greater senses of a lost sense of purpose.  It possess no faith except in the finite and corruptible imaginations of individuals.  Faith is whatever one wants it to be with no substance or evidence to which the author of the letter of the Hebrews points.

However, that is not the case with those who trust the God of the Bible.  We gain knowledge from understanding, and that understanding arises from faith in God.  God reveals Himself to us.  With that revelation He also imparts understanding.  Revelation precedes true knowledge.  Knowledge precedes trust (“Nothing But the Gospel: Can We be Saved Through Creation, Other Religions, or Human Philosophy? by Floyd Talbot, Action Faith Books Press, 2014, p. 163).  God imparts the understanding that He created all that exists.  Additionally, faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ leads us to our Creator and Redeemer as well as eternal life with Him.  By faith we understand that He sent His Son into the world to reconcile us back to our Creator and God so that we can have a living relationship with Him now and forever.  This is the gospel, the good news that confronts our alienation from others, the world, and God.

“My Preferred Reading” – Have We Lost Sight of the Biblical Authors?

A few words caught my attention in Scot Mcknight’s recent blog: “My preferred reading.”  I have read that phrase a thousand times over in another phrase: “That’s your interpretation.”

McKnight responds to an article by Paul Penley, “Bible Reading Destroys the Church.”  Hmm.  McKnight poses the question: “Does Personal Bible Reading Destroy the Church?”  Penley points to the real root of the problem of interpretation – authority.  He gave the example of Martin Luther before the examining council as Johann Eck interrogated him over his published writings.  He noted that Luther highlights conscience as an almost equal authority to Scripture and thereby created a shift in authority.  He quotes Luther as declaring before the council and Eck,

I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.”1

Accordingly, conscience and opinion became almost one in authority.  Penley points out the repercussions of Luther’s declaration: a million different opinions and thousands of denominations.  To this day, that shift remains in place among Christians, “I think it means…”  The problem with such a statement, as Penley notes, is the “I” rising high in any response as an authority.  Anyone can say, “I am bound by the Scriptures,” but are they?  He said Luther became the authority himself as to which books belonged in the Bible: James? NO.  Revelation? NO.  His ‘conscience’ disallowed them as having divine authority.

If then Bible reading results in a thousand opinions and numerous denominations, how are we to come to grips with the Bible?  As I shared from a biblical passage in a Bible study group, a participant quickly exclaimed, “That’s your interpretation!”  She did not agree.  Therefore, to voice a disagreement without a corresponding reply from the text, the next best answer amounted to “That’s your interpretation.”  My reply was that if each of us approached the Bible from individual interpretation without first attempting to understand the author’s message, then we would be in effect dancing around author intent and substituting our authority for theirs and the Holy Spirit’s as He spoke through the authors.  It is easy to read our opinion into the Scriptures rather than do the hard work of discovering the author’s message.

One problem we all face is that we are so eager to “spiritualize” and personalize the Bible’s content that we ignore the author in favor of a mystical approach.  That is, the Scriptures speak directly to me.  Bible reading and study becomes all about me and what God wants of me or me to do.  It is personal revelation to me or God speaking directly to me.  “Me” is the center of Bible reading to the extent that the original audience, contexts of almost two thousand years ago, and the author’s intent take a back seat to me.  The author’s message get lost in the mystical aura of ‘God and me.”  When someone challenges the ‘God and me’ scenario, we decry, “That’s your opinion!”  In other words, you have your opinion and I have mine.  Accordingly, the Bible is not God’s holy word of truth concerning Him.  It is a book for me to pick and choose what I think God is saying personally to me.  Again, ‘me’ gets in the way of discovery and understanding God through the means He chose.  Personal application arises from opinion rather than discovery and meaning in the text.  Division quickly shows its face.  When ‘me’ stands front and center, the authors of the biblical text fade in the shadow of ‘me.”

Some questions arise, “Well then, is the Bible not for me to live by?  Does it not apply to my life? Does it not show me God’s will for my life?”  A qualified yes, yes, and yes.  Paul informs Timothy that it is for instruction, reproof, and instruction.  However, that is not everything.  It is a book revealing God and His ways.  It reveals God’s redemption.  God speaks through it to a lost world that rebelled from Him which needs reconciliation.  Therefore, we are to read it with care, seeking the messages of the various author’s.

God spoke through those whom  He chose to communicate His redeeming message to people groups in time and history.  Ours is to discover those messages within those contexts.  The word of God came to those of God’s choosing in specific contexts: culture, language, and geographical.  God had a purpose for delivering His word within those time frames.  Recognizing this helps us to gain a greater perspective so that we do not narrow God’s revealed truth to a “God and me” scenario.  Reading for discovery and meaning first and second and application third allows us to gather the facts from the Bible as well as the message arising from those facts.  God desires for us to know Him, and we do so through Jesus Christ.  God also gave us His Spirit through whom He promised would guide us into all truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).  He brings to remembrance what Jesus taught and testifies of Jesus.

Seeking a mystical experience of ‘God and me’ can overshadow the Spirit’s guidance.  Rather, reading the Bible through the eyes of the original readers in seeking the intent of the authors enables us to understand God’s eternal truths from their eyes.  The application of faith arises as we grasp the messages of individual biblical authors as they reveal God, expose our shortcomings (sin), shows us God’s faithfulness, and explain to us what it means to walk by faith.

1. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/15/does-personal-bible-reading-destroy-the-church-paul-penley/?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=jesuscreed_091614UTC040924_daily&utm_content=&spMailingID=46985197&spUserID=MTA2ODE4NTE0MDI0S0&spJobID=521979577&spReportId=NTIxOTc5NTc3S0

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

Faith and the Unseen

It is easy to turn faith into something that it is not.  We yearn for spiritual experiences to give us comfort such as God speaking to us through dreams, visions, and revelations.  They tend to make God more real to us than what we cannot see.  When we read the Bible, stories stand out to us of Jesus healing the sick.  If we are sick, we want to be healed.  We read of an angel coming to Jacob and wrestling with him.  More angels appear to shepherds at Jesus’ birth.  These stories stir us emotionally, and we cast ourselves on them for assurance that God works.

Then we encounter passages in the Bible that speak of the unseen.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews informs us about numerous people who walked by faith in the unseen.  He begins,

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony” (Hebrews 11:1).

He goes on to identify how those mentioned walked by the unseen.  One stunning point he makes if the very next verse,

By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (1:3).

Atheists would not agree with this statement.  They would say that their understanding of the existence of the universe is the Big Bang.  However, the Bible states that for us to grasp creation as from God takes faith.  The visible creation did not arise from what is seen but rather from the unseen God.  Then there is the list of those who looked at the unseen promises of God’s word.  They trusted what God said and went forward in their lives living by it, some even losing their life over such faith.  Faith in the unseen focuses on eternal things of God while the seen focuses on the temporal order (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).  We grow in faith in God and gain assurance and comfort from Him with this kind of faith rather with the faith that relies on the seen things of the universe.  Paul faced the same struggles, and even greater ones than we, but he wrote the Corinthians that in his struggles his greatest comfort came from trusting in the unseen promises of God’s word.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

Nothing but the Gospel: What is it?

When you hear the word gospel, what comes to mind?  It is a word somewhat alien to our postmodern world as so many other biblical terms.  Why is this?  We are 2,000 years removed from the writers of the Gospels found in the Bible.  We are also centuries removed from the origination of the word itself.  Therefore, it would be helpful to trace the roots of the word, not only of its origination but also its original meaning found in the language of the original writers.

The word itself derives from early Anglo-Saxon “God-spell” or God’s story.  The early Englishman, William Tyndale noted the gospel as “joyfull tydinge” or the good news.  It is actually the English translation of euangelion from which we receive our English word “evangel” and its derivatives “evangelism” and “evangelist.”  Later it became associated with the Gospels or the first four books of the New Testament.

The Apostle Paul took it up as he received it as the commission from Jesus Himself to preach to the entire world.  Paul makes it clear that the gospel pointed to the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus.  He also emphasized that not believing in the historical significance of Christ resurrection amounts to vanity.  As historical reality, He was God incarnate piercing the created order, growing up from infancy, declaring Himself to the world, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead as promised (1 Timothy 3:16).  Then Paul declared the fundamental basis for this gospel of which Christ is the center: the righteousness of God (Romans 1:16-17).  In His letter to the Church in Rome, Paul employees this phrase as one of his favorites.  At the beginning of this letter, Paul declares,

For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

Paul sets out that Jesus is the expression of God’s righteousness. As stated in the upcoming book, Nothing but the Gospel,

…God is righteous in all His works and judgments, because it surfaces from His very nature.  Additionally, because He is righteous, His grace reaches into all humanity through the mediation of the Incarnation of Christ and provides redemption to those who by faith believe the proclaimed gospel” [Nothing but the Gospel by Floyd Talbot, Action Faith Books Press, 2014, 20 (to be released September 20140].

Elsewhere the book highlights the association of the righteousness of God with the specifics of the gospel,

The claim that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God carries the highest weight because it reveals the core character of God – His faithfulness to all generations. That righteousness, according to Paul finds its way to the cross as the righteous died for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) that we might stand as righteous before God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). (p. 68).

Jesus is the center and complete revelation of God’s righteousness.  No other message from any other source than the gospel reveals God’s righteousness.  Pluralism (many ways to God) believes that a person can receive salvation through other means.  However, these means have their source in the created order (for example, idols crafted from creation, human philosophy and wisdom, humanity itself, or some sort of self-oriented mystical experience).  The gospel is the only revelation from God.  It finds its source from God alone through Christ alone, and by faith alone in His sacrifice on the cross.  Christ is the center of the gospel and the expression of God’s righteousness.  By faith in the historical reality of the incarnation, we find the only source of our hope in being with God.  Christ died for the sins that separate humanity from God and reconciles us to Him.  Have you believed in Him?

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.

True Biblical Faith

If you ask a dozen people to define faith, you would probably receive a dozen different answers.  Some say, “You gotta have faith.”  What does that mean?  Some base faith on a feeling such as, “I trust my gut.”  Some theologians say, “You can find God through creation.  Just look at the stars and the beauty of the earth.”  Others take a step or two farther and claim that God is in creation or that creation is God.  Still others announce, “You are the only one you can trust” or “You have to take a leap of faith.”

If we consider all of these, they have one thing in common.  They either are faith in what one sees or there is no object for faith.  The Bible has a very different take on the matter of faith.  In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul states,

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

The Corinthian church arose from the Greek-Roman culture, which was polytheistic.  The people carved images of things from the created order and set them up as gods.  There were gods that they could see, and they worshipped them.  Where their faith was, their hope followed.  However, when they became believers in Christ, they had to reorient their worldview.  This was especially true in the difficulties they encountered during their time.  That reorientation was a radical departure from what they saw to unseen realities.

In writing to them, Paul once again reminded them of the true nature of faith.  Its object was the unseen God and His unseen promises.  He informed them that Christ was the object of their faith, and that He dwelled in unseen reality.  For this reason, he encouraged them not to lose heart.  The things of creation were helpless to uphold them in their trials, inasmuch as they wanted to cling to these created objects.  The God of the entire universe held sway over all the created order including them.  He was their rock and anchor.  Consequently, in spite of the difficulties they encountered, they could be assured that they were safe in the hands of the Almighty God, the Father of the Lord Jesus.  They were His children.  In light of these truths, he referred to trials and difficulties as “light afflictions” in comparison to the glory they would encounter when they left their earthly tent – their created bodies.  God’s oversight was their hope.

How much more true is that for us today who face threats of annihilation in a world gone mad with greed, power, and lust.  Keeping our eyes on the unseen reality of God and His promise to be with us and on Jesus who saves us enables courage.  The letter to the Hebrews encourages us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  He suffered far worse trials and temptation and was executed.  His resurrection guarantees the fulfillment of God’s promise that those who believe Him as the Savior will be with Him eternally.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.