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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Grace Undefined

As I have stated earlier, this post does not bring me pleasure. There is no serious agenda against anyone. In fact, I know less about David Jeremiah than I did about Brian McLaren, when I wrote. Much like my McLaren review, I do not intend for this to be a personal assessment, but rather an evaluation of a sermon. I'm sure Dr. Jeremiah has a long standing ministry that has impacted countless people.

Amazing Grace
(Unlike before, I can neither get my hands on a transcript, nor can I get my computer to download the message. All of my thoughts are coming strictly from my memory.)

Dr. Jeremiah chose to speak on grace for his session at the Evangelism Celebration. Since grace is at the foundation of our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), it certainly is an appropriate topic. The more we comprehend grace, the more motivated we are to evangelize, and the clearer our evangelism will be.

I wondered what text Dr. Jeremiah would use. I reached over for my Bible and anticipated. But first, Dr. Jeremiah shared an interesting story of a woman from Long Island. She had suffered a tragic injury at the hands of some pranking teenagers. At the guilty teenager's trial, she pleaded for his charge to be lessened, and at the end of the trial, she hugged the young man and told him she forgave him and loved him. He used this story to establish that grace can leave people baffled.

...More Precious than Silver
Next Dr Jeremiah took us to Les Miserables. He set the scene with Jean Valjean at the Bishop's residence. Valjean steals the church's silverware and flees. The constable returns Valjean to the Bishop, prepared to press charges. However, the bishop sends the constable away, claiming he gave the silver to Valjean. In fact, he even gives Valjean the candle sticks. Dr. Jeremiah uses this to illustrate that grace does the unexpected.

What is grace?
Dr. Jeremiah explains that grace is "unmerited favor." Grace, Dr. Jeremiah explains, is different from mercy. He then procedes to ive countless illustrations where we see grace and mercy working together but in unique ways. He uses this exercise to establish that grace is unique.

Finally, the text
Dr. Jeremiah explains that John Newton was an old english slave trader. He did nothing to make himself worthy of God's favor, yet he is blessed immeasurably by God. Upon his conversion, he ends up serving Christ in full time ministry. While in the ministry, he pens the words to "Amazing Grace." Dr. Jeremiah goes on to explain that we see grace in action, not only in the lyrics of the song, but in the story behind it.

At this point, we have approached about 40 minutes in his message. I have come to the conclusion that this may be the longest introduction I have ever heard. I'm craving for him to direct us to a text. However, he concludes his message by having us all stand together and sing the song, "Amazing Grace."

So what's the big deal?
Dr Jeremiah spoke no heresy. He chose a topic which is central to biblical understanding and used many sources/illustrations to make his point. However, I believe his method was so flawed (in the abandon of any text--yes, he quoted two verses, but quite briefly and without genuinely working with the passage) that it ended up affecting his message.

Timothy was not told to preach. He was told to preach the Word. This is not a casual mistake for a pastor to make, it has deep deficiencies, which I plan to illustrate in future posts.

10 Comments:

  • At 6:12 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    Did he happen to mention Christ at all?

     
  • At 10:04 AM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…

    I just read a blog the other day done by a local pastor that talked about Grace, and he quoted U2 and then gave a bunch of useless worldly "pictures" of what grace is. I don't understand what it is about pastors that think they need to explain the Bible without using the Bible. Your post is another example of the amazing lack of trust in the sufficiency of scripture to explain itself.

    I too would be interested to know if there was any mention of Christ in the message.

     
  • At 10:53 AM, Blogger Dale Harris said…

    Was Jesus guilty of not "teaching the Word" when he used earthy word pictures to communicate truth instead of exegeting the Old Testament? An interesting practice for those so condescendingly rebuking their non-preferred approach would be to count how many times Jesus expounds on the OT versus how many times he tells a simple story to make a spiritual point about the Kingdom.

    More importantly, if the dispute lies over the doctrine of sufficiency, I ask where the Bible makes the claim to self-interpretation. I see the Bible calling itself useful to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness so that the man (i.e., person) of God may be equipped for every good work. I see the Bible claiming that it didn't spring up from human imagination but involved its writers being led by the Holy Spirit. To assert a biblical claim to self-interpretation from those passages is to do violence to Paul and Peter's intended meaning. The Bible does not exist in a contextual vacuum nor can it be interpreted as though it did.

    Finally, if we honestly believe that "all truth is God's truth" we assert this radicalized version of sufficiency only to demonstrate our lack of belief in general revelation. If Dr. Jeremiah preached thematic narratives that viably demonstrated general revelation truth about grace without turning to a biblical theology of the context, does that make him wrong or just different from those who prefer a cognitive, expositional approach?

     
  • At 11:04 AM, Blogger Dale Harris said…

    Oops, I missed an edit. The last paragraph should say "specific biblical prooftext" instead of "a biblical theology of the context." Sorry bout that.

     
  • At 1:21 PM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…

    I have no issue with people preferring different approaches to preaching the Word, as long as they preach the Word and not the world. I have a major issue with people who state that Scripture is not sufficient in dealing with all that we encounter and that it is so confusing that we have to use the worlds examples to explain it. It is true I have a radical version of sufficiency, but that is only because I believe Scripture when it says:

    "Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven" Ps 119:89
    "Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" I Peter 2:2
    "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away" Mt 24:35
    "Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you" Ps 119:11

    But I digress…you can look up as many references to the sufficiency, power and lasting effect of Scripture as I can.

    If all Scripture is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness how then could it be so confusing that you can't interpret what it says by using what it says? To quote MacArthur "When God speaks, he doesn't mumble." In Matt 22:29 Christ chastised Sadducees for not understanding the Scriptures, He didn't say, "Yeah, I know that OT stuff is confusing and I didn't do a good job in revealing what I wanted so let me give you some further examples." If he gave it to us, we can understand it, though sometimes much study is required.

    Christ is the fulfillment of the Law (Matt 5:17) - Yes he did expound on the OT when declaring prophesying being fulfilled, but he wasn't preaching the Law - Christ was preaching repentance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 4:17). Christ was preaching something different then what was revealed before. Are you so bold as to claim to be able to explain the kingdom better than Christ and the Apostles? Although I believe in general revelation, Jude says in verse 3 "to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." We have all that we need to become more like Christ. The question is will we do what it takes to make that transformation. There is nothing wrong with using a modern illustration, but when it becomes the focus of the message and not Scripture itself, you are telling your congregation that Scripture is not sufficient. The Word, not worldly illustrations, is active and sharper than any two edged sword. I can add nothing to God's Holy Scripture and neither can you.

     
  • At 2:07 PM, Blogger BReformed said…

    An interesting practice for those so condescendingly rebuking their non-preferred approach

    So what about a Mormon? Is their "preference" on sufficiency valid? What about the Catholic who embraces papal authority? Or the Seventh Day Adventist who embraces dietary laws? Or the Unitarian who embraces general revelation exactly as you are proposing? Are these all acceptable additives to Scripture? It must be, because you are calling it a "preference".

    ...would be to count how many times Jesus expounds on the OT versus how many times he tells a simple story to make a spiritual point about the Kingdom.

    It's a numbers game? Then tell us: how many times??

    The Bible does not exist in a contextual vacuum nor can it be interpreted as though it did.

    You and your fellow "emergents" are the very ones interpreting scripture that way! You are the ones who have hemmed in the perspicuity of scripture such that it is incapable of standing on its own in a given context! You have locked it in a contextual vacuum and are telling us it cannot be interpreted outside of that vacuum unless new stories are told, new examples are constructed, and even pagan practices are sanctified and used as "referrants". If you really believed that Scripture was not in a vacuum, then you would not need extraneous sources to prop up the insufficiency of scripture.

    God Himself says, "Is not my Word like a fire?" It is not a match that needs struck; it is not kindling that needs lit; it is not fuel that needs ignited. It is the fire, and it is already burning. It cannot be contained, it cannot be made hotter, and it cannot be put out.

    And to answer your question, "Yes, it makes him wrong." Why is that so hard to get? What possible resource is there other than the Knowledge of God revealed biblically?

    General revelation can only condemn. General revelation is precisely why man knows something is fundamentally wrong; it is why people climb pyramids, use prayer beads, and worship idols in all cultures.

    Grace is God's special revelation, and it is foolishness to them who do not believe. Nevertheless, a preacher must preach the Word of Truth which itself defines the problem using the law and then solves the problem with grace. Without the Word, general revelation is a damning proposition as Paul clearly states in Romans 1.

     
  • At 12:42 AM, Blogger Dale Harris said…

    Let me attempt a response. Please know in advance that I respect the obvious commitment to God's Word and the purity of the church demonstrated in these post with which I disagree. I am, however, going to be quite blunt in my comments.

    "I have no issue with people preferring different approaches to preaching the Word, as long as they preach the Word and not the world."

    Unfortunately you now have a problem with the apostle Paul. When Paul preached on Mars Hill he preached a biblical worldview but not once did he quote Scripture. However Paul did use two quotes in that famous section (see Acts 17:28). Both those quotes in that verse were used logically as supporting arguments. The first quote supported the preceding argument, and the second quote was used as basis for the forthcoming argument in verse 29. However, both these quotes which Paul used as supporting evidence for presenting a worldview came from secular writings (by Aratus and Epimenides). In this context Paul was showing the inability of Athenian philosophy or religion to make people right with God. Specifically, he was attempting to prove that truth went beyond the teachings of Epicurean and Stoic philosophy. However, Paul chose starting points familiar to these two groups (the universality of humanity to spark interest among the Stoics and the aseity of the divine to spark interest among the Epicureans). In fact, from the beginning of his discourse until verse 27, Paul is showing these two philosophical groups where their beliefs line up with biblical truth. However, since general revelation is not sufficient for salvation, he attempts to move them beyond those beliefs and into the complete realm of God's truth. However, Paul appeals to secular logic in verse 28 as his bridge to salvific truth in the following verses. Paul used the world as his logical basis for teaching Christian doctrine. So if Paul can use the secular sources of his day to link toward special revelation, we can use the secular sources in our day too.

    "I have a major issue with people who state that Scripture is not sufficient in dealing with all that we encounter"

    This statement is teetering on the fringe of orthodox belief. As John Piper says, "The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently." Ken Myers makes this point even better. He writes, "We don’t hear much about the “insufficiency of Scripture.” But it is an important point to keep in mind when thinking about Christianity and culture. Scripture does not present itself as the only source of truth about all matters. It does not even present itself as a source of some truth about everything. It presents itself as the only authoritative source of truth about some things, and they are the most important things…" If Scripture is sufficient for all we encounter, why does it fail to address many technological issues faced in our world? Why does it fail to address sticky ethical situations like knowing when to pull the plug on life support? The Bible is sufficient to teach how we can be right with God. That, in one easy sentence, is the doctrine of sufficiency. To say more is to turn the Bible into an encyclopedia of knowledge that it never claims to be.

    "If all Scripture is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness how then could it be so confusing that you can't interpret what it says by using what it says?"

    I didn't say it was confusing. I said it requires extra-biblical knowledge for its linguistic content to convey any sensible meaning. For example, the Bible does not tell us what a "viper" is, yet it tells us that one bit Paul's hand. However, Luke in writing Acts expects us to know what a viper is. The examples of this reasoning could nearly equal the number of Abraham's descedants.

    "If he gave it to us, we can understand it, though sometimes much study is required."

    And sometimes we simply have no idea what a specific passage means because the context or even an individual biblical word has been lost during the transmission of the text. This is why the Greek text has footnotes that rates their version of the text in the common A, B, C, etc. paradigm according to their level of confidence that they have correctly replicated the original manuscript. Granted these cases are rarities in the overall scheme, yet they serve to illustrate that sometimes even the best study cannot produce an indisputable interpretation.

    "I can add nothing to God's Holy Scripture and neither can you."

    Well, anyone CAN add something to the Bible. That's why we're told not to. But the Bible clearly does NOT forbid using logical appeals to secular referrants as a foundation for teaching biblical truth (Acts 17:28). We would do well here to remember that the opposite of the sacred is NOT the secular. The opposite of the sacred is the profane. We cannot use the profane to teach biblical truth. We can use the secular. (Much thanks to Dr. H. E. Singley III of Moody Bible Institute for that sacred/secular/profane line of thinking).

    "So what about a Mormon? Is their "preference" on sufficiency valid? What about the Catholic who embraces papal authority? Or the Seventh Day Adventist who embraces dietary laws? Or the Unitarian who embraces general revelation exactly as you are proposing? Are these all acceptable additives to Scripture? It must be, because you are calling it a "preference"."

    Wow. That's a straw man. We never disagreed about the fact that teaching contrary to Scripture violates Scripture. Where we disagree is on whether we can appeal to extra-biblical truths available through general revelation as a point of truth (since all truth is God's truth) and as a springboard toward special revelation. To equate that with Mormon or Jewish reasoning is to fight a statement that I would never make. The preference I refer to is our starting point and our ground of logic which preaching. However, to affirm or base logic on something that is itself untrue AND cannot lead toward biblical truth is an errant approach.

    "The Bible does not exist in a contextual vacuum nor can it be interpreted as though it did. You and your fellow "emergents" are the very ones interpreting scripture that way!"

    Let's be quite clear. Even though I periodically agree with McLaren, I am NOT emergent. I typically agree with emerging thought. Seriously (this is not biting sarcasm), I would expect someone as well read as you to know the difference, and I'm sure you do. So then, I stand with you against an approach that teaches pluralism in biblical interpretation or that teaches meaning arises from faith communities rather than from the text. So when I said that Scripture does not exist in a contextual vacuum, I was trying to remind you that the Scriptures were written by real men in real historical settings. Thus to understand their meaning, we need to understand their era and the linguistic tools with which they were working (so as to avoid the annoying anachronistic interpretations). Clearly to understand these meanings we routinely appeal to extra-biblical cultures, customs, geography, history, etc. I was using that as a logical appeal as to HOW we need extra-biblical data to correctly interpret the text. This is neither emerging nor emergent. This is accepted hermeneutics as taught to any first-year Bible college student.

    "What possible resource is there other than the Knowledge of God revealed biblically?"

    Easy answer. The knowledge of God revealed through general revelation. Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."


    "General revelation can only condemn. General revelation is precisely why man knows something is fundamentally wrong; it is why people climb pyramids, use prayer beads, and worship idols in all cultures."

    Certainly. Any theological novice knows that general revelation is not sufficient for salvation. However you make my point for me. These non-Christian people understand because of general revelation that God exists and they aren't cool with him. So they search for him in the wrong places. My point is that we start by affirming them in their search ("you are right to search for God") and springboard from that into telling them how to find God ("let me share with you how your mini-narrative fits into the mega-narrative that God is writing through the events of history" starting with the doctrine of creation, showing how our inability to connect with God springs from our sinful nature and showing the solution of God's grace on the cross). However, at points along that journey we can illustrate or even logically defend these concepts by using secular sources which are familiar to our hearers as we attempt to move them along toward a biblical worldview and a new relationship with the Lord.

     
  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger danny2 said…

    dale,

    i'll let you and david continue to have this very interesting dialogue (and i'll continue to evesdrop!), but i did want to suggest that you underestimate the profound difference between illustrating a point and using an extrabiblical source for foundation work.

    However, at points along that journey we can illustrate or even logically defend these concepts by using secular sources which are familiar to our hearers as we attempt to move them along toward a biblical worldview and a new relationship with the Lord.

    to me, there's a huge difference between illustrating and defending with secular sources...but you address that in the above article too, so i'll deal with it there.

     
  • At 9:03 AM, Blogger BReformed said…

    When Paul preached on Mars Hill he preached a biblical worldview but not once did he quote Scripture.

    At 17:26, Paul uses Deut. 32:8.

     
  • At 12:42 PM, Blogger TheReformedThinker said…

    Dale,

    I appreciate the dialogue here, I really do, and I appreciate your bluntness. I allowed my temper to get in the way of my last post and for that I apologize. Let us make the discussion one that glorifies God. I will let you and the others argue out the proof text, Greek renderings of passages and hermeneutics. I am just a simple laymen with a degree in accounting not theology so I defer to yours and Danny's training in that regards.

    When Paul is speaking on Mars Hill it seems to me that he is using Poem to jump start a conversation - and maybe that is the point you are making. I take the last phrase in vs. 28 about their poets to be Paul basically saying 'even you guys know we come from someone.' And to me that is no different then what we do everyday in our evangelism. We take people from where they are to where they need to be. He seems to be saying Ok, you have this unknown God and your poets even say we come from somewhere, and I am here to declare to you that God is that god and He is where you come from. Between vs. 29-31 Paul declared God as creator (v. 29), need for repentance (v. 30), God as judge (v. 31), Christ's death (v. 31), Christ's resurrection (v. 31). That is the complete gospel presentation. Again, maybe we are really saying the same thing, but I don't take this portion of Scripture as license for me to use the world to prove God's truth, I take as and example of how to transition from the worlds view to Gods view.

    You are absolutely correct in that Scripture does not declare absolute truth on all matters of life, but as Eccl 1:9 states there is nothing new under the sun. You pointed out correctly that the Bible is the only authority in how to become right with God. So shouldn't we as quickly as possible get the unsaved into the truth of Scripture?

    I don't expect the Bible to be a dictionary as it seems by your reference in Acts that you thought I was suggesting (my bad explanation probably caused that), but I do believe the truth behind all passages can be determined by using other scripture.

     

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