Friday, May 30, 2014

The Theology of the Emerging Church: Unorthodox Theology of the Revisionists Stream of the Emerging Church Developed from Culture


LIBERTY UNIVERSITY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
 The Theology of the Emerging Church: Unorthodox Theology of the Revisionists Stream of the Emerging Church Developed from Culture
 Submitted to Dr. Richard Elligson, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course
 THEO 510 D13
Survey of Theology
by
Ray Ruppert
May 7, 2014
Table of Contents
Introduction...................................................................................................................................... 1
Definition of Emerging.................................................................................................................... 2
Emerging from Modernism.................................................................................................... 2
Emerging from Culture.......................................................................................................... 3
Emerging Theology................................................................................................................ 4
Comparing Revisionists Theology with Orthodox Theology....................................................... 5
Identify with the Life of Jesus.............................................................................................. 6
Transform the Secular Realm................................................................................................. 8
Conclusion........................................................................................................................................ 9
Bibliography..................................................................................................................................... 12
 

Introduction

The Emerging Church (EC) is a very recent development in the Christian Church’s history. While the term describes the movement that started nearly forty years ago, most Christians are not acquainted with it. The EC attempts to reach the postmodern world for the gospel by adapting the church’s practices to postmodern culture. Using their theologies, Ed Stetzer categorized the EC congregations into three streams: Relevants, Reconstructionists, and Revisionists when he talked with Mark Driscoll.[1] Because their practices are similar, the theology of each stream may not be readily apparent when observing them. However, it is apparent that Relevants and Reconstructionists have orthodox theologies and are not included in this paper. Mark Driscoll reports that Relevants are conservative evangelicals and Reconstructionists maintain a more traditional mainstream Christian doctrine. Revisionists are liberal and question evangelical doctrines.[2] Not all researchers labeled the different streams of the EC in the same way. Jason Wollschleger labels churches with a distinctive moral worldview “Emerging Congregations.”[3] According to Wollschleger, those with theologies of Relevants and Reconstructionists are not true ECs as their moral worldview is essentially the same as evangelicals and utilizes the term Emerging Congregations only to describe Revisionists.[4]
Most denominations adhere to specific statements of faith with published statements of doctrines and theology. Revisionists do not clearly state their theology as part of remaining culturally relevant. Neither do they use the same terms as orthodox Christianity. Without clearly stated theologies, this paper will look at the three sources of the EC and two of the three primary practices of the EC to identify their theology and compare them with orthodox theology. It will seek to show that the Revisionists stream of the Emerging Church is unorthodox because it develops its theology from culture rather than from Scripture.

Definition of Emerging

Emerging From Modernism

The beginnings of the EC appeared in Gen-X churches where they attempted to reach young adults of the 1980s who had postmodern views. These beginnings were church-within-the-church activities. They were primarily alternative services within large evangelical churches; Jason Wollschleger characterized them by loud music and crude preaching.[6] From these types of meetings, the Gen-X experiment developed into the EC movement when young leaders (youth pastors, college pastors, and church planters including Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Chris Seay, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, and Mark Driscoll) formed the Leadership Network in the 1990s.[7] This group formed to gather the next generation of evangelical leaders. However, their emphasis shifted from focusing on Gen-X to addressing the church transitioning from a modern to a postmodern world.[8] At one meeting of the group, Brad Cecil explained his concept that the church transitioned from mysticism in the middle ages to empiricism in the modern age. Now, the church is emerging into “an age of enlightened mysticism.”[9] From this standpoint, the emerging church is a new institution that has emerged out of modernism.

Emerging from Culture

One concept of the EC is that the church’s practices are where the church meets culture. The EC seeks to reach Western culture, which has changed in recent years. Since culture has changed, the EC feels that the church loses relevance within the culture if its practices do not change and reflect culture. The nature of the postmodern culture is to ask questions. As Tony Jones says, “We looked at the architecture of church buildings, at the structure of the leadership, at the form of the liturgy, at the denominational and seminary structures, and we asked, What does this say about what we believe about God?”[10] According to Driscoll, Revisionists look for ways to change the practices of the church in order to be more like their culture. In doing this, they recognize that they have to do more than change practices; they have to change their theology to match the practices.[11]

Emerging Theology

For the Revisionists, theology is of secondary importance to practices. Since they wish to engage current culture, they are changing their theology from the foundations of previous church ages to define a theology that is relevant to postmodern churchgoers. Fernando Canale quotes Gary Gilley, “Revisionists, . . . deconstruct and reconstruct both the church and the gospel,”[12] to demonstrate that their theology affects the gospel. Edward Mackenzie shares the same opinion about the Revisionists when he remarks that they are willing “to revise theological convictions in order to reach out to the postmodern world.”[13]
Theologies of the EC are changing as they emerge from their Gen-X beginnings. Rather than what they believe causing them to act in certain ways, they believe that their actions develop their theology. Their theology emerges from the community as each member has different thoughts on what they want and what Scripture says.[14] In this way, theology is dynamic and continually changing as their situations in life change and they reflect on God’s dealing with people. Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger state, “Theologies given birth within modernity will not transfer to postmodern cultures.”[15] Tony Jones[16] and Kester Brewin[17] made specific statements that their theology is not static. Gibbs and Bolger summarized interviews with several pastors and concluded, “Theology becomes a dynamic, unfolding reflection on God’s dealings with people in the changing circumstances of life.”[18] Doug Pagitt, an acknowledged leader in the Revisionists stream states:
Every theology is grounded in a culture and a set of culturally based assumptions and concerns. To hold to these theologies in the fifth century was to be faithful, for they were created as explanations for the understanding of the world at that time. But to hold to those same conclusions today, when the worldview that demanded them has expired, is simply foolish.[19]
 
Comparing EC theology today may not be accurate in the future as it changes along with culture.

Comparing Revisionists Theology with Orthodox Theology

ECs claim that their practices change their theologies. However, from an orthodox viewpoint, practices flow from theology. Therefore, examining the Revisionists’ activities should be a way to discern their theology. Some may argue that this is not possible because people often say they believe one thing but their actions do not agree. Therefore, a person’s actions may not reveal his theology. This is a possibility, but statements from the Revisionists add insight to observed activities and deduced theologies.
Gibbs and Bolger do not differentiate between the three streams of the EC. However, they formulated their conclusions based on interviews and observations of Revisionists.[20] Gibbs and Bolger have identified three primary practices as defining the EC: “(1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives.”[21] An examination of the first two of these practices will identify enough of their theology to compare with orthodox theology.

Identify with the Life of Jesus

Rather than viewing Jesus from the epistles, the EC seeks to understand and identify with Him from the gospels. They look at Jesus as a model for the Christian of today but they interpret that model in view of the current culture. They believe that the traditional church has placed too much emphasis on the epistles and not enough on the kingdom of God because Jesus initiated the kingdom on earth.  Pagitt states, “The dogmas and doctrines of God, of humanity, of Jesus, of sin, of salvation that many of us were taught are so firmly embedded in the cultural context of another time that they have become almost meaningless in ours.”[22] Gibbs and Bolger expressed this change of emphasis in this way:
It is strange how the church for so long missed the kingdom emphasis in the witness of the authors of the gospels. The gospel, as proclaimed by Jesus Christ and as understood by the early church, was always more than simply a message of personal salvation and, even more narrowly, the way to get to heaven when one dies.”[23]
Since they recognize that Jesus lived in a completely different culture than today, they do not expect Christians to emulate all of His cultural behavior but they do believe that being a Christian requires people to identify with Him and try to understand how they should participate in activities that will be expressions of the kingdom.[24] This concept of trying to separate the cultural life of Jesus from the kingdom life of Jesus brings them to a place where there is a significant emphasis on doing as He did. Gibbs and Bolger summarize these concepts, “Jesus served and forgave others, and the early church was encouraged to do likewise. In doing so, they participated fully in God’s redemptive activities.”[25]
R.C. Sproul provides a detailed explanation for the Reformer’s theology that salvation is by faith alone.[26] While the Revisionists do not deny this, they do not affirm it either. Their practice and statements imply a theology that salvation is identifying with Jesus rather than having faith in Jesus.
Revisionists emphasize what the church does to reach the culture rather than on Jesus’ death on the cross. The EC’s practice of identifying with Jesus in taking care of the disadvantaged is more important than defining theology. They deemphasize what Jesus did on the cross for the payment of sin. Gibbs and Bolger state, “The good news was not that Jesus was to die on the cross to forgive sins but that God had returned and all were invited to participate with him in this new way of life, in this redemption of the world. It is this gospel that the emerging church seeks to recover.”[27] Tony Jones also says, “The crucifixion, when seen as an act of divine solidarity with the suffering and broken world, becomes the event of reconciliation.”[28]
While they still claim that the cross provides for reconciliation and becoming a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), their emphasis is on doing this in community. A quote from Gibbs and Bolger about Joel McClure, the pastor of Water’s Edge in Hudsonville, Michigan, exemplifies this:
As McClure talks with these former churchgoers, he asks them what they believe is wrong with the world. After hearing their response, McClure says that God agrees with them. “The gospel is that God wants you to help solve that problem, to participate with God through redeeming acts.” McClure reflects on his experience. “The gospel is not that we agree with some abstract propositions in order to qualify to go to heaven when we die but an invitation to live in a new way of life. Sharing the good news is not only about conversion. It is about inviting someone to walk with you relationally, and it takes a while to demonstrate this gospel!”[29]
This new life is what they describe as identifying with Jesus.
EC theology of the atonement is in conflict with orthodoxy as it places little if any emphasis on Christ’s death on the cross to satisfy God’s justice. Instead, the atonement is about a vague reconciliation that enables people to live like Jesus here and now. One could argue that even in the Revisionists’ theology the atonement is required for reconciliation. While this is true, Pagitt sums up the crux of their belief as he discusses the atonement, “Jesus is suggesting another way for us to live in relationship with God, one that has nothing to do with the legal model.”[30] Sproul discusses the Reformed doctrine of justification being a legal model and says, “On the cross Christ paid the debt required for our sins.[31]

Transform the Secular Realm

A significant point with the EC is that they reject what they consider the traditional church’s separation of secular and sacred. It is doubtful that evangelicals would agree the church caused this separation. However, society in the United States demonstrates this separation. Not allowing prayer in school in the United States is but one example. While the EC does speak of transforming all life into the sacred, they focus more on bringing the secular into the church. In context of worship services, Gibbs and Bolger state, “. . . the clarion call of the emerging church is Psalm 24:1: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’ (NIV). For emerging churches, there are no longer any bad places, bad people, or bad times. All can be made holy. All can be given to God in worship. All modern dualisms can be overcome.”[32] Gibbs and Bolger interviewed Ben Edson of Sanctus1 in Manchester, United Kingdom. Edson stated, “We use secular music in worship as well as film and literature.”[33]
Their worship services become the telling of many stories. A story is reading from literature, a song, or a person presenting whatever truth he or she discovered. They want truth, but they want to get it by discerning it from the various stories and storytellers. Because of their assumption that God is in everything, they are looking for the evidence of God in all things that people produce. Jones says, “. . . they will find traces of God in the many articulations of scientists and artists and philosophers and politicians.”[34]
This exposes another difference between Revisionists and orthodox churches. Sproul identifies Reformed theology as believing that the Bible is the authoritative or the unique Word of God affirming the view of sola Scriptura.[35] Revisionists base their theology on various stories. This is a clear indication that the current postmodern culture influences the theology of the Revisionists stream of the EC. Gibbs and Bolger’s quote of Pete Rollins of the ikon church in Belfast, U.K. demonstrates their low view of the Bible, “I was worried about the evangelical churches’ way of reading the Bible as a singular book with one voice rather than as a book with many voices and many ways of interpreting.”[36]

Conclusion

The ECs incorporate postmodern culture into the church in a desire to reach people who are part of the postmodern culture. This results in unorthodox theology within the Revisionists stream of the EC. Three points of unorthodox theology involve the meaning of salvation, the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross, and the value of the Bible. Two practices of the EC (identifying with the life of Jesus and transforming the secular realm) and statements from Revisionists leaders demonstrate this unorthodoxy.
The practice of identifying with the life of Jesus is an outward expression of a theology that equates identifying with Jesus as salvation rather than having faith in Jesus for salvation. It also changes the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross to reconciliation with the world from orthodox theology that Jesus’ death on the cross was the propitiation for the sins of mankind. The Revisionists view Jesus’ death as a reconciliation of God, mankind, and the world. God did not need to have His judgment satisfied; rather, as Jones says about the crucifixion, “. . .  an act of divine solidarity with the suffering and broken world.”[37]
ECs want to transform the secular realm. This means incorporating secular art (music, films, and literature) into their worship. They label different forms of art stories. In their theology, everything belongs to God, including all of these stories. Therefore, each story contains a truth and these different truths help them determine their view of God. For the Revisionists, the Bible is only one source of truth, which is subject to interpretation by the individual. In this respect, the Revisionists stream of the EC derives its theology from culture as well as the Bible. This is in contrast to the orthodox view that the Bible is the authoritative word of God and that the Bible defines theology.
Defining the sources of the EC showed that it is emerging from modernism, past church theology, and the current postmodern culture. The postmodern culture is the catalyst for the changes that the EC exhibits. Observation of two Revisionists’ practices showed the possibility of unorthodox theology. However, these observations did not reveal the unorthodox theology without considering the writing and comments of Revisionists. This serves as a warning to Christians that outward appearances of the EC can be deceptive.
It is difficult to find specific statements of theology written by Revisionists because they emphasize developing theology from culture. The Revisionists use stories to understand and speak of their theology. This is evident in Pagitt’s A Christianity Worth Believing. Throughout the book, he tells stories as he discusses theology. Similarly, Jones in The New Christians, uses stories which often criticize evangelical theology and obscure clear alternatives.[38] A more detailed study of these two books and other writings by these authors along with other Revisionists will add to the understanding of their theology. Periodic reviews of their theology are required since they state that their theology is always changing as culture changes.


[1] Ed Stetzer  in Mark Driscoll, “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church,” Criswell Theological Review 3, no. 2, (Spring 2006): 89-90, accessed April 4, 2014, http://criswell.files.wordpress.com/2006/03/3,2%20APastoralPerspectiveontheEmergentChurch%5BDriscoll%5D.
PDF.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Jason Wollschleger, “Off the Map? Locating the Emerging Church: A Comparative Case Study of Congregations in the Pacific Northwest,” Review of Religious Research 54, no. 1 (March 2012): 76.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Fernando Luis Canale, “The Emerging Church. Part 2, Epistemology, Theology, and Ministry,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22, no. 2 (2011): 103.
[6] Jason Wollschleger, “Off the Map? Locating the Emerging Church: A Comparative Case Study of Congregations in the Pacific Northwest,” Review of Religious Research 54, no. 1 (March 2012): 72.
[7] Driscoll (Driscoll. 89).
[8] Driscoll, 88.
[9] Tony Jones, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 43.
[10] Ibid., 47.
[11] Driscoll, 88-89.
[12] Gary Gilley, “The Emergent Church,” in Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church, ed. Gary L. W. Johnson, and Ronald L. Gleason (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 274, quoted in Canale, 94.
[13] Edward Mackenzie “Mission and the Emerging Church: Pauline Reflections on a New Kind of Missiology,” Missiology 40, no. 3 (July 2012): 316.
[14] Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 122.
[15] Ibid., 34.
[16] Jones, 114.
[17] Gibbs and Bolger, 95.
[18] Ibid., 164.
[19] Doug Pagitt, A Christianity Worth Believing: Hope-Filled, Open-Armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in Us All (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 48.
[20] Gibbs and Bolger did not identify their interviewees as Revisionists but their study list (Gibbs and Bolger, “Appendix I”, 239-328) and their research methods (Gibbs and Bolger, “Appendix II”, 329-335) reveals the same people and attributes identified by others (Driscoll, 89-90; Wollschleger, 76), as Revisionists.
[21] Gibbs and Bolger, 45.
[22] Pagitt, 35.
[23] Gibbs and Bolger, 48.
[24] Ibid.,49.
[25] Ibid., 50.
[26] R. C. Sproul, What Is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 69-72.
[27] Gibbs and Bolger, 54.
[28] Jones, 78.
[29] Gibbs and Bolger, 56.
[30] Pagitt, 153.
[31] Sproul, 61-62.
[32] Gibbs and Bolger, 67.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Jones, 76.
[35] Sproul, 42.
[36] Gibbs and Bolger, 70.
[37] Jones, 78.
[38] Ibid., 96.

Bibliography


Canale, Fernando. “The Emerging Church Part 1: Historical Background.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22, no. 1 (2011): 84-101.

—. “The Emerging Church Part 2: Epistemology, Theology, and Ministry.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22, no. 2 (2011): 67-105.

—. “The Emerging Church Part 3: Evangelical Evaluations.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 23, no. 1 (2012): 46-75.

Copeland, Adam. “Open-Minded Preaching: Sharing a Word with the ‘Spiritual, but Not Religious’.” Journal for Preachers 35, no. 2 (lent 2012): 13-18.

Driscoll, Mark. “A Pastoral Perspective on the Emergent Church.” Criswell Theological Review 3, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 87-93.

Gibbs, Eddie, and Ryan K. Bolger. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.

Gilley, Gary. “The Emergent Church.” In Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church. Ed. Gary L. W. Johnson, and Ronald L. Gleason. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. Quoted in Fernando Canale. “The Emerging Church Part 2: Epistemology, Theology, and Ministry.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 22, no. 2 (2011): 67-105..

Jones, Tony. The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Lakies, Chad. “The End of Theology? The Emergent Church in Lutheran Perspective.” Concordia Journal, 38 no. 2 (Spring 2012): 117-127.

Mackenzie, Edward. “Mission and the Emerging Church: Pauline Reflections on a New Kind of Missiology.” Missiology 40, no. 3 (July 2012): 315-28.

Morrison, John D. “Teaching Them to Obey All Things in a Pluralist Society: The 'Open Secret' of the Gospel in the Thought and 'Emergent' Influence of Lesslie Newbigin.” Evangelical Quarterly 84, no. 3 (July 2012): 253-71.

Pagitt, Doug. A Christianity Worth Believing: Hope-Filled, Open-Armed, Alive-and-well Faith for the Left Out, Left Behind, and Let Down in Us All. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Richardson, Rick. “Emerging Missional Movements: An Overview and Assessment of Some Implications for Mission(s).” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 37, no. 3 (July 2013): 131-36.

Rose, Lucy Atkinson. Sharing the Word: Preaching in the Roundtable Church (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 5. Quoted in Adam J. Copeland,“Open-Minded Preaching: Sharing a Word with the 'Spiritual, but Not Religious',” Journal for Preachers35, no 2, (Lent 2012): 16.Smith, Kathy. “Training Wheels.” Congregations39, no. 3 (2012): 18-20.

Sproul, R. C. What Is Reformed Theology? Understanding the Basics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005.

Watts-Hammond, Maggie. “Post-Modern, Not Post-Theist–The Church as a Christ-Centred Locus of Creative Emergence.” Touchstone 30, no. 1 (January 2012): 66-72.

Wollschleger, Jason. “Off the Map? Locating the Emerging Church: A Comparative Case Study of Congregations in the Pacific Northwest.” Review of Religious Research 54, no. 1 (March 2012): 69-91.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Continue in the Word – 2 Tim 3:14-17

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (RSV)
But Continue
What a wonderful word is but. All that doom and gloom about people getting worse and Christians being persecution for just trying to do what God wants, then the Holy Spirit inserts a but. Everything that has been said before is to stand in opposition to what is coming next, to continue. It doesn’t mean we don’t ignore those things, but in spite of them we are to continue in what we have learned and firmly believed.
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb 6:11-12 NASB)
When we continue in what we believe, we have hope. However, it isn’t always automatic, we need to be diligent or earnest to have that hope. Continuing in what we believe often takes some work. The devil is going to throw doubts at us especially when we are making headway in our faith and the good works that Christ has determined for us even before we became Christians (Eph 2:10). Our own weakness and slothfulness tempts us to do just enough to get by instead of living a life of victory in Jesus.
Sometimes it may feel like we are just getting through life because of the many problems we face. If we are looking for the path of least resistance so that we can feel better, we are being defeated. The difference between victory in Jesus and just getting by is how we grow through these trials. James said to consider it all joy (James 1:2). If our faith is increasing, if we are showing hope to others as we develop perseverance, we are having victory. If we are growing in holiness as we resist sin and do what is right, we are victorious.
Sometimes, we simply need to get back to the basics of what we learned earlier in life. Paul tells us to remember who taught us when we came to Christ. Assuming we were taught correctly and the teaching came from the Bible as happened to Timothy, we can review those basics when we are having problems or doubts. Timothy was blessed because he had learned from childhood. Not all of us knew the Lord at an early age, but were saved later in life. It doesn’t matter, when we are born again, we are a new creation and in that way, we have all come through a childhood of faith.
O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Ps 71:17-18 ESV)
From the first day of our salvation, to the last days of our life, we are to continue to proclaim the Gospel. When it may seem tough to continue, we need to proclaim His wondrous deeds; we tell what He accomplished in our salvation and then what He has done in our lives. When we tell others of His power that He has used to accomplished things in our lives, it not only strengthens us but provide for the salvation of the next generation.
Acquainted with Scripture
But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matt 22:29 ESV)
If I am only an acquaintance of someone, I know him only superficially. That seems quite insufficient to describe a relationship that Timothy had with the Scriptures. Many of us are acquainted with the Bible as we grow up, either knowing what it looks like or even knowing some of the stories. This may be sufficient to know that God exists or that Jesus once walked on the earth, but it is insufficient to bring salvation. One of the biggest mistakes we make when teaching the Bible to children is to assume that their acquaintance with the stories is enough to bring them to salvation. We need to do more, we need to talk about it when sit around the dinner table (do people still do that?) and when we are driving down the freeway and when we tuck them into bed and when we get them up for breakfast (Deut 6:7). We need to explain what salvation is and why we need it as well as how to receive it.
Was Timothy only acquainted with the Word or did he know the Word? Most translations say that he knew the Word. The Greek is oida,[1] could be translated as; know, understand, perceive; experience, learn, know how; be acquainted with, recognize, acknowledge; remember; pay proper respect to. Jesus used the same word in Matt 22:29 when He answered the Sadducees. The Sadducees were only acquainted with the Scriptures but didn’t know them. They hadn’t learned from them or understood them. They certainly hadn’t put them into practice. When we are only acquainted with the Bible, we will only be acquainted with Jesus; we won’t know Him. We won’t know the power of God that is required for salvation or to live a godly life.
Inspired by God
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV)
Knowing the Bible inside and out is of absolutely no use if we don’t fully understand and agree with the Bible in that it is God’s revelation of Himself given to us. Some people spend their lives studying the Bible, Ancient Near East (ANE) cultures, and write books about it trying to show how the mythology of the people surrounding the Hebrews influence the Bible. Some study the various manuscripts that have been preserved trying to decide which one is the most accurate or seeking to prove that none is accurate.
Each person’s bias determines the outcome of his or her studies. The ones that conclude the Bible is a product of man’s invention always start with the premise that God doesn’t intervene in human affairs (if they even believe in God). It doesn’t matter how much proof is provided to show that the narrative of the Bible is unlike other ANE literature in its subject matter. He will choose the answer that fits his desire, which is to escape accountability to a sovereign God who has revealed Himself to us. On the other hand, the one who acknowledges God will come to the exact opposite conclusion. Paul’s statement to Timothy, Peter’s declaration, and Jesus’ statement that His words will never pass away (Matt 24:35) are sufficient to receive the Bible as God’s word. While studies of ANE culture may help understand certain passages that are obscure, the plain and simple teaching crosses cultures and eons to guide and direct us for salvation and godly living.
Profitable
Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (1 Cor 10:6 NASU)
It doesn’t matter where we end up reading in the Bible, we can find something that will be profitable. Paul pointed to the blessings that the nation of Israel received as they left Egypt and were sustained in the desert for forty years. He boils it all down to one simple thing, that we shouldn’t desire evil as they did. These people were first-hand witnesses of God’s grace in their lives yet they craved evil. They often wanted to turn back to Egypt. They grumbled, they made idols, they indulged in sexual sins, and they paid the price. When we see the examples in the Bible of sinful behavior and the consequences, it would be to our profit if we applied the principles to our lives and avoided the sinful practices that have been recorded for our instruction.
On the other side of profitability is the positive instruction in the ways we should live. Too many people look at the Bible as a list of prohibitions that restrict their lifestyle (code word for sinful activities). They seldom read the Bible trying to find the things that a godly person should do.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Mic 6:8 NKJV )
Think about what the world would look like if everyone carried out these simple instructions. There wouldn’t be any injustice in the world. Selfishness and greed would not cause some to rip off the disadvantaged. Those in need would be shown mercy, people would share with each other and be quick to help when anyone was in trouble. There wouldn’t be racial problems or economic problems. However, the last command is the reason that people in general don’t do this. It can only be done when we walk humbly with God.
The only way to walk humbly with God is to know and walk with Jesus. This requires being born again as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John, chapter three. John the Baptist explained the problem clearly at the end of the chapter.
And anyone who believes in God's Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn't obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God's angry judgment. (John 3:36 NLT)
It requires obedience to Jesus. Too many people think that belief in Jesus is sufficient to walk with Him. John made it clear that belief must result in obedience if it is to be true and effective. Only when we are born again and have the Holy Spirit in our lives because of our faith and obedience to Jesus can Scripture be profitable for us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Every Good Work
Before talking about every good work, we must acknowledge that this only applies to Christians. Those who do not know Jesus are totally unable to do any good work. All that they have in their minds to do, whether they believe it evil or good, counts as nothing (Isa 64:6). The state of fallen man is to sin until Jesus makes him alive (Eph 2:1). If it sounds harsh to say that it counts for nothing for a person who is not a Christian to establish a foundation to eliminate hunger and disease in the world or work for Habitat for Humanity, then we must understand what constitutes a good work in God’s eyes.
Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Tim 2:21 NASB)
Previously, Paul explained that a person must be sanctified, that is, holy. He must be cleansed from all the wickedness he had previously mentioned in order to do good works. The reason a non-Christian can’t be prepared for good works is that his heart has not been made holy. Without being holy, even the best of good deeds has a sinful motive. It may be as simple as wanting to feel good about oneself or it may be much more complex. Maybe he loves another person and doesn’t want to bear the hurt of seeing that person being hurt. The bottom line is that he or she is not doing the good works to bring glory to God, but it is actually a worship of self. Even those who are doing good to earn salvation are doing it for themselves, not for God’s glory.
The only way to be able to call good deeds good works in God’s perspective is first to let God change the evil heart. In Ezekiel 11:19, God describes what happens when a person is saved. He puts a new spirit in the sinner; He removes the heart of stone and gives him a heart of flesh that will seek to obey God. He will want to do good works not because he has to or to please himself, but because he wants to. He will do them to bring glory to God.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 ESV)
God prepared good works for us to do even before we became Christians. Just as he predestined us to be adopted into His family, so he planned what we would do once we were in His family. Note that we are His workmanship. That simply means that God has saved us and did all the things described in Ezekiel. In a sense, we can’t help but to do good work once we have become Christians. Sure, we can and do sin, but when we live the way he wants, everything we do is good works.
This now comes full circle to the Word of God. It is by His Word, the Bible, that we learn and are instructed in how to live for Him and become able to do those good works. Some people claim to have accepted Christ but they never read the Bible, go to church, or hear teaching on the Bible from any other source. When confronted with sinful behavior, whether it is commission of sin or omission of doing what God wants, they are ignorant of their responsibility and God’s plan for their lives. It is God’s Word that equips us to do good works.


[1] NT:1492 oida, Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.