Category Archives: Exegetical Fallacies

Away with Personal Devotions! part 2

Remember, I would never discourage anyone from reading their bible. I intend only to encourage Christians to read the Bible more and more faithfully.

Let me also clear up one possible misunderstanding: the title of these posts is “away with personal devotions!” I should clarify: I want to do away with personal devotions as most Christians I know conceive of it. I want to do away with the notion that spiritual maturity has a direct correlation with the amount of time one spends with a bible and notebook each morning. I want to do away with the notion that consistency in “personal quiet times” is a tell-tale sign of spiritual health. I want Christians to stop asking “how is your devotional life?” as a spiritual diagnostic question. I want the stay-at-home mom who never has time for a traditional “quiet time” to stop feeling guilty about that!

Why? I’m glad you asked.

My first answer is it is never commanded. The Bible never commands personal quiet times or personal devotions or whatever you want to call it. You might think, “what about Psalm 1: blessed is the man…his delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His Law he meditates day and night?”

I say “amen!” But notice two things about what Psalm 1 says:

  1. You’re blessed if you meditate- it does not merely say read or spend time with the Lord. It says meditate. Pore over His Word. That can come in many different forms, not merely in a personal quiet time. That could come in the form of personal, alone time in the Word, OR  thinking about the sermon text, OR thinking about a verse your friend shared with you yesterday, OR listening to sermons online, OR having family worship day and night. The possibilities are endless. But the question is “have you meditated on God’s word today?”
  2. You must meditate on the Law- It also technically says “his delight is in the Law.” That could be more, but it is not less than the 10 Commandments. We should meditate on God’s Law, how high His standard is, how we break it over and over, and let that drive us constantly back to the gospel. Meditate. God’s Law. Day and night, meaning all the time. If you want to know how someone is doing spiritually, ask them, “have you thought deeply about how you have broken God’s commands today?” Then preach the gospel to believer and unbeliever alike.

Have you meditated on the Law today?

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Prescriptive vs. Descriptive

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point many Bible-believing Christians became passionate about the dichotomy between “prescriptive” and “descriptive” passages in Scripture.

“Prescriptive” means God is prescribing, or commanding, or telling how something must be done. We must follow prescriptive passages. For instance, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20.3) is prescriptive for the Christian church.

“Descriptive” means God is simply describing what happened in biblical times, not telling us how something must be done, but only telling us that something was done. Many Christians apparently believe we are never obligated to follow descriptive passages. For instance, Abraham had more than one wife, and yet He was blessed by God. That is descriptive, not prescriptive for the Christian church.

I generally agree with the distinction. And I think it is fairly obvious whenever something is purely descriptive, not intended for us to follow (like multiple wives). But, as I’m sure you suspected I might say, please be careful.

Some commands are descriptive of a certain time period and/or covenantal arrangement (“all males must be circumcised” or “you shall not eat shellfish”). And my contention is that many descriptions in Scripture are prescriptive. And for sure, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable to help us do good works (2 Timothy 3.16-17, note “all”).

So listen more closely to what God is saying by what He said. I would give examples, but I don’t want to get your mind going in more directions than it needs to. The principle I am aiming for here is we must let all of Scripture– not just the explicit commands– speak to us and shape our thinking and make us more Christ-like. If there is a description of something often in the Bible that looks good, seems to be commended, seems to be blessed by the Spirit, and/or has good results, then we should take those descriptions as prescriptive.

Do not ever permit women to teach men

“I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man.” (1 Timothy 2.12) That verse makes us unpopular. I do not permit women to teach men at our church. Ever.

That makes me unpopular even among complementarian churches. The response to that is often something along the lines of, “Well, do you let women talk in a small group?” or “Would you let women teach children?” or “What about Priscilla and Aquila?” All those questions miss the point of 1 Timothy.

Our fallen minds often respond to that verse with “well, what can women do?” Figuring out what women can do is not the point of 1 Timothy 2.12! The point of this verse is to tell us exactly what a woman must not do, namely, teach men.

I suspect the reason it makes us uncomfortable is because we do not understand what the teaching function of the church is. In our culture, we are so used to seeing someone go in front of the church, open up their bible, explain what they think it means, and explain how it applies. And as they do that, we are thinking to ourselves, “I like that. I agree with that. I do not agree with that. That’s not what I was taught growing up. He’s a good teacher. He’s a not-so-good teacher.” We are so used to not submitting to the teacher!

But we are supposed to obey our leaders and submit to them. Not many of us are supposed to become teachers in the church because it is such a weighty task. Anyone who teaches in the church is supposed to have the crowd hanging on their every word and saying, “yes, feed me, I want to yield to your teaching.”

Many Christians in America are so used to being their own sole authority in interpreting the bible. We have no concept of submitting to the bible teacher. The teaching office is so low in our minds that it makes us think, “why can’t a woman do that?”

But Paul knows the authority that opening up the Word for people brings. So, in that light, Paul did not, I do not, and you should not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over men. Ever. Thank God that women are saved through childbearing, not by being masculine.

Never assume you understand a passage of Scripture

We do it more than we realize: we hear an interpretation of a passage many years ago, believe it, then think about how it applies. If we don’t apply it in that way, we are disobedient to God. This is so easy to do, but the danger is you could end up adding to the Law of God. Forcing one application on all Christians is making a law where the Scriptures do not make laws. That is the work of the Pharisees. The other danger is you could be wrong about the interpretation in the first place. Two examples to illustrate (I could be wrong on my interpretation of these, but these are just examples of a greater point I am trying to make):

  1. Acts 1.8- Jesus said after the Holy Spirit comes on his disciples, they will be “his witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It has become so common for preachers to preach that your city that you live in is “your Jerusalem” and the district or county or island you live on is “your Judea”, and so on. It has become so common that if you don’t follow that pattern for evangelism and missions, you are disobedient to God. But is that the right application based on right interpretation? Was that a command, or a promise? Was that not fulfilled in the book of Acts? Perhaps, since that was fulfilled in Acts, we are in the period of simply evangelizing “the ends of the earth” until Jesus returns. Perhaps, there is much more freedom in missions strategies than first meets the contemporary eye.
  2. “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In Matthew 6, Jesus warns against giving to the poor in order to be seen by men. This leads many Christians to think passing an offering plate in service is sinful (because everyone can see you putting money in it!!!), and to never tell anyone that they are fasting. It’s funny, though, it never leads most Christians to think praying publicly is a sin. And, is Jesus’ point that you should never give, pray, or fast publicly? Or is it that you should not do it IN ORDER to be seen by men? I wonder if telling people your motivation for never doing things publicly is just as sinful as doing things publicly to be seen by men.

Just be careful. The problem with Fundamentalism is very similar to Pharisaism: there is one, and only one, application of this specific command. In many cases, I am sure that is true, but many more in which it is clearly not. God’s Word is sufficient, not just to tell us what is needed for life and godliness, but sufficient to actually help us in life and godliness.

Levites will never be priests again

1 Samuel 2.30-32 promises that the Levitical priesthood will end because of the sin of Eli. And they will never be reinstated. There will never be a reinstitution of that priesthood because Levi will be replaced by a “faithful Priest” (1 Sam 2.35), which points us to Jesus.

If you want further proof of that, read Revelation 7.4-8. There is a lot of debate about this passage, obviously. But just a couple observations: John “heard” the number 144,000. He was not necessarily looking at 144,000 individuals. God wants to teach us something by the number. Also, notice Levi is one of the tribes. There is no distinction anymore between Levi and all the rest. Levi is just one of the 12 tribes, no longer the tribe of the priesthood.

This has to be because this “Israel” has the only Priest they will ever need. It is the Lamb near the throne in v9. Revelation 7 is not referring to a reinstitution of national Israel. It is the declaration that the true spiritual Israel is sealed, through the blood of the Offering of the Great High Priest, who is Himself both Priest and Lamb.

Is Hell forever?

Yes.

No need to fudge around the truth; Jesus didn’t. Some great minds believed that God annihilates sinners out of existence after they die in unbelief. But Jesus says in Matthew 25.46, of those who do not show any fruit of being born again, “and these will go away into eternal punishment.” And of those who are His elect he says “but the righteous into eternal life.” That sentence makes it clear that there is a parallel between the eternality of punishment and the eternality of life after the Final Judgment.

Nobody claims that is easy to take in, but you must settle it in your mind that the un-easiness of accepting eternal punishment as true comes from our tendency to be man-centered. When you have a hard time seeing the goodness of eternal punishment, I offer three ways to be more God-centered:

  1. Think about how God feels. As Romans 9.22 says “what if God, desiring to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” God is indignant every day toward sinners. Everyone knows they are to love God with all their heart, soul and mind, and yet no one does. Everyone knows they are to love their neighbor as him/herself and yet no one does. No one responds well to the revelation God gives them. Yet He chooses never to flood the earth again. We all know what it is like to be angry at someone for wronging us. Yet none of us knows what it feels like to be angry at someone for wronging us, while we ourselves are all-powerful, all-wise, all-holy, all-good.
  2. No one in hell is born again. Unbelievers and the devil and his angels do not only deserve punishment for their sins in this life. They rebel against their Creator forever, and will constantly merit wrath.
  3. Think about the cross. Just as there is a parallel between the forever-ness of heaven and the forever-ness of hell, there is a parallel between the wrath of God in hell and the wrath of God on Jesus 2000 years ago (Romans 3.25). Whatever you think should be taken away from the wrath of God in the Lake of Fire, should be taken away from the wrath of God on the cross, if you want to be “fair.”

Praise the Lord that God has chosen to save any of us through the eternal blood of His Son. And praise the Lord that convincing people of the eternality of hell doesn’t save them. Jesus saves.

3 of the worst arguments Christians use when talking about homosexuality

Kevin DeYoung probably writes at least one “everybody-needs-to-read” blog post every week. This is one of them. Let me re-hash and highlight his arguments. He says Christians and non-Christians use four very faulty lines of thinking very often when trying to attack how evangelicals often approach homosexuality. Here are three of the worst arguments you will hear, plus one faulty way of arguing:

1. “Jesus Never Said Anything About Homosexuality.” Here is a great paragraph from DeYoung that blasts a hole in that line of thinking: “an evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel (narratives) more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture…homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans…has no less…authority or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the red letters. God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God…When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other.”

2. “We Are Hypocrites Because We Aren’t As Passionate About Divorce.” DeYoung says that is like comparing apples and oranges. For one, many Protestants have understood some cases of divorce to be acceptable. That automatically makes the two issues different. Then he says “Furthermore, many evangelical churches are just as staunch in their opposition to unbiblical divorce. I know we take it very seriously at our church. The reason we are not fired up on the blogs about it is because there are no denominational groups I’m aware of rallied around the central tenet that divorce is a blessing from God.” LOL!

3. “This Is Why Evangelicals Have a Bad Reputation.” DeYoung is not sure how true this statement is. For one, he shows how evangelicals may not have that bad a reputation as the media might portray. He says “most non-Christians probably get along just fine with the evangelicals they know personally.” And at the end of the day, bad reputation cannot be a driving motivation, because ” Jesus never taught us, nor did he demonstrate, that something must be wrong when people revile us in the first place.”

4. The Use of Imprecise Language: regardless of the issue, those we disagree with often use language that sounds good on the surface, but is misleading (I wonder if purposely misleading). DeYoung picks out the arguments of another Christian, Peter Wehner, who says things like “people flocked to Jesus not because he preached moral rectitude but because He was willing to love them, to listen to them, and to welcome them,” and, “Jesus’ main mission was to convince them of God’s love and invitation.”

DeYoung responds: “These are the sort of sentences that sound the right evangelical notes, but I worry are playing a different tune. There’s no problem saying Jesus loved people, listened to them, and welcomed them. Yes and Amen. But to be accurate, most of the people flocked to him because of the wonders he performed. Others came because he called. Others because he came to seek and save sinners. And others because he spoke with authority. Jesus demanded much of the world, and it’s terribly wrong to pit the preaching of ‘moral rectitude’ against love and welcome. Jesus did both unashamedly. He made it harder for people to follow him. He told people to be born again. He demanded they hate their parents, cut off their arms, tear out their eyes. It’s not faithful to the gospels to paint a picture of Jesus the good listener who eschewed edges and the preaching of moral rectitude. What is the Sermon on the Mount if not, at least in part, a lesson in moral rectitude for the people of God?”

DeYoung also says “it’s just not true that Jesus’ main mission was to convince people of God’s love. [It] was to lead people to the conclusion that he was the Son of God and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 15:39; 10:45). He came out in public ministry to preach the gospel (Mark 1:14-15, 38-39). Jesus told people of God’s mercy for repentant sinners and the new life and new community that could be found in Christ, but he did not travel through Judea and Galilee trying to persuade people that God really, really loved them.”

All in all, read Kevin DeYoung as much as you can if you want to know and enjoy good writing. And prayerfully dig down deep in the Scriptures. Don’t just make truth assertions about life and godliness that are not anchored in the actual text of Scripture. Those who know their Bible and theology best are the ones who make the best (and most loving) arguments when talking about homosexuality, or any other issue.