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Sunday Sermon – Correction and Expansion

After Sunday morning my wife brought out a few critiques of my sermon. My wife loves history, so when I wade into that realm I usually get more approvals or disapprovals than other weeks :). My wife and I have a good relationship on truth matters. We are both critical of each others thoughts on these matters, and I think this is an important model for the Church as well.

My reason for commenting on some of her thoughts here for everyone else, is because I tend to despise it when preachers and pastors overstep in their preaching. I see this enough and it drives me up a wall. Therefore, when I overstep I try to amend or clarify. We are supposed to be truth people, so we should make it clear when wrong or offering too narrow of a point.

1. Other Religions – In first service I talked about “our love and relationships” with other religions and our ability to befriend them. I made this comment to make room for my then forthcoming critique of Islam. My wife’s concern was over the word “our.” Living Water does not formally have relations with other religious bodies and people. Therefore, she thought I should say “My” (as in Isaac’s) considering I do. This would not have given a false impression or overexaggerated sense of what Living Water does with other religions.

My Explanation:  I used the word “our” in a way to show that “Christians” do have relationships with other religious groups, and we at Living Water can lead the way. Perhaps I overstepped a bit here and should have been more specific, but there is room for the phrase broadly. Moreover, as a church we have set the tone for our relationships with other religions through our past visits to the Mosque, our invitation of an Atheist to debate in our sanctuary, and our general care when discussing other religious beliefs during questions and answer sessions. Therefore, I felt comfortable drawing on this heritage in speaking for us as a church. Moreover, since we had visitors in the congregation Sunday, my intent was to build a way of discussing a sensitive matter. If those visiting can know that our discussing truth matters is distinct from our treatment of human beings, I think it opens them up to hearing the ideas better.

2. Slavery and Christians – In discussing slavery on Sunday I made a statement that the Evangelicals and Quakers were the first to start an anti-slavery movement. My wife’s point was that I needed to be more specific (or less) because the anti-slavery movements in Great Britain likely included other kinds of Christians too.

My explanation:

In this case my wife is right. I should have said, “Christians (in general) were the first to start an anti-slavery movement.” This would have encompassed Great Britain’s early beginnings, which was composed of more Christians than just Evangelicals and Quakers which I cited. When I was saying this statement, I was thinking of a quote from the book “What’s So Great about Christianity” by Dinesh D’souza. But, I failed to remember one word. Quaker and Evangelical Christians were the first to start and Anti-slavery movement in “America,” and not outright. Checking the quote again makes that clear.  

The point of this was to say that despite individual Christian’s failures over the centuries, Christianity is the reason for the kind of morality that opposed and worked to end Slavery. This is a tangible sign that Christian moral expression has the strength to achieve great heights and that Christians were the first. My wife was right. Thanks Sweetie.

To develop this even further, it might not hurt to point out that even though slavery was allowed in Old Testament times, the progression of the view that all people are made in the Image of God, made Christians very critical of the practice. In the letter of Philemon in the New Testament, Paul is writing to a slave owner who became a Christian. Paul has been traveling with the slave owners slave for some time in common work for the Gospel. Now, he was supposed to return him, but he is sending him back a bit late. Paul uses a neat rhetorical trick in this letter to affirm the societal rights of the slave over to be a master over him, but then subverts those rights by saying that we all have only one master, the Lord Jesus Christ. For a universally practiced thing like slavery, these are very audacious words thousands of years ago. Christian moral teaching is that all people are made in the image of God, and this is the foundation for why slavery cannot be a Christian practice.   

3. Islam and Development of Ideas – On Sunday I talked about the difference between the Quran and the Bible. I mentioned how the Quran was a static dictated revelation and the Bible was a progressive revelation. My wife thought that the point may have been too narrow, because there has been some internal updating that took place in the Quran, and thus that looks like progress.

My Explanation: Here is where I stand by my point, but I do want to offer a longer explanation to make sense of what Vachelle is pointing out. It is correct to say that the Quran, the Holy Book of Islam, is not a progressive document toward Allah (their word for God). Everything given about Allah is final. In fact, in Islam, it is a great heresy to say that any updating of Revelation can take place for Allah. It is a very important distinction between Christians and Muslims. However, what my wife is referring to is that some factions of Muslims do have an abrogation system. In other words, some Muslims think that some earlier verses have been abrogated/exchanged for later verses.

This abrogation system however has more to do with social mores than it does for the nature or character of Allah. Therefore, I intend my point to be taken about the Quran and Allah himself, and I could have made this a bit clearer on Sunday. Moreover, I also talked about accommodation. Namely, that the God of the universe (and the Bible) has accommodated himself early on, to help people grow in their understanding of him and their own moral development. This is not the case in Islam. Accommodation is not how Allah shows himself in Islamic understanding.

Now, historically speaking, Muhammad the founder of Islam did not get his Revelation all at once. He got it in stages. Moreover, many of the supposed revelations that he got from Allah updated based on the needs or wants that stood before him or his army. So, in the one case they were not allowed to raid caravans, and then in the latter case they were given “new” revelation that allowed them to raid caravans and receive that wealth. In my conversations with Muslims on this development (which to me shows that there was personal views of Muhammad being made into “revelations”) they are not comfortable with the idea of development. The exception to this comes when Muslims are trying to convince Christians who don’t know better to convert.  

Now, let’s talk about Christians for a second.  There are plenty of Christians that have not become comfortable with the idea of progressive revelation in the Bible. Even though historical Christianity and Judaism rely on that as a basic fact of their religion, plenty of Christians act as if the Bible was dictated right from the mouth of God on every word. This is often at the crux of many classes I have taught about Scripture.

The full Christian view of Scripture (the Bible) is that it is truly the product of God and truly the product of humanity simultaneously. This is akin to Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is truly God and truly man simultaneously. Therefore, there are real human elements in the Bible. This is not something to be ashamed of.  It is something to be grateful for. It can make better sense of how we have an updated understanding of who God is through the centuries of Scripture. Moreover, we can offer contextual answers as to why something was written 3500 years ago to make sense of things. Muslims are left with thinking that their book has no or almost no human influence. But, then they are stuck in the insuperable puzzles of making sense of a supposedly “perfect dictation” that changes based on Muhammad’s needs. These are hard logical troubles indeed for them.

Let me lay out some of the other ways that Christians think through the human and divine composition of Scripture.

1. Sovereignty – one way of thinking through these elements is remembering because God knows everything, he can know who is going to write what and when in advance. Therefore, human authors in their human recordings can actually be bringing about the kind of revelation that God desires in an entirely human way, while it also being what God wanted humanity to know. This perspective based off of God’s foreknowledge is well represented by the great scholar William Lane Craig.

2. Authorization – One of the largest ways we see God’s Revelation to us in the Bible is by authorization. For example, most of what Moses wrote in the first 5 books of the Bible has to do with him being God’s authorized agent. In other words, God chooses Moses to help lead his people Israel, and what Moses brings about or writes, since he is God’s authorized agent, is also what God brings about. This a bit like the President and the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is not receiving everything the President says in perfect verbatim language or handing it in a verbatim way. However, She/He represents America and the President. What they say, is what the President says. They are operating in the capacity of authorized agent for a greater authority. This can solve the human/divine composition.

3. Appropriation – Lastly, we come to appropriation. This is kind of a cool way of understanding how some of Scripture can be the product of humanity and God’s product too. Let’s use an example in language regarding the Packers. Perhaps Stephany tells her family, “I am going to the Packer Game this weekend.” Then, her husband Andy, agreeing with the phrase and also happens to be going to the same game, responds, “Me too!” Now, Andy did not literally say, “I am going to the packer game this weekend.” But, he did piggy back (or appropriate) Stephany’s sentence, and make it work for him to say the same thing. God can do the same thing with human authors. They can write some true or accurate about God or deal with a situation in a congregation, and then God can piggy back (or appropriate) it for his causes and make it speak for him. These last two that I mention are well represented by the Philosopher Nicolaus Wolterstorff.

Anyway…this is more than most of you cared to know. But, I think it might help us grow in our understanding of the Bible and other religions too. 

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