Friday, March 23, 2012

Helping Relatoinships - part 6: Scripture Comes Alive

This blog post will wrap up the “Helping Relationships” counseling course we took last year. In previous posts, I've discussed the nature of the Christian life- loving God and loving people. It's a reality we must do together as the body of Christ. The New Testament has no concept of lone-ranger Christians. Our union and connection to Christ, who is the Head of the church and the life-giving vine, connects us to other Christians. That's why our love for our brothers and sisters is so important- it's the evidence that we have been loved and changed by Jesus Christ. When Christ commands us to love one another, it's not optional. When scripture tells us to speak truth in love, we must obey.

This course has given us some practical ways to speak truth in love: moving towards others, asking one more question, learning to say “we”, and praying the promises of God.

The final topic in this series will talk about how to bring scripture to life in tough situations. Basically: How do you say hard things to a peer? Maybe your friend knows as much (or more) scripture than you do. How do you share scripture without sounding like you pulled some pre-packaged theological truth off the shelf?

The answers pull us back to asking questions and learning to say “we.” Before we teach scripture, we must first be taught by scripture. At some level, scripture should be settled into the very fiber of our being because it is our living hope: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1Pe 1:23). If scripture is our living hope, it won't sound trite or cliché.


What are some ways to tap into our living hope?

Single verses, concordance style – In this method, we look up verses on a topic (e.g. anger, pride, etc...) This is helpful but limited- the Bible is much more than a “How-to” manual. If we only pick up verses here and there, we may miss the big picture.

Themes – some images and stories are carried through all of scripture. We can use these themes and apply them directly to ourselves and others. The beauty of scripture is that it comes alive as we identify with it. Retelling stories from the perspective of scripture is powerful. Here are some examples given by Dr. Welch in our class:
  • Alienation - People new to American culture often feel like they're on the outside. The Bible is filled with outcasts, starting with Adam and Eve. Like them, we are people who are cast out. Yet, God pursues outcasts and even becomes an outcast Himself by dying on the cross in ridicule and shame

  • Temptation – Temptations come when something promises life but is really death. They don't take 'no' for an answer. The Bible is filled with people who are battling desires- people who feel like they will die if they don't get what they want. Have you ever been in a place where saying 'no' makes you feel like you're going to die?

  • Wilderness - The wilderness is frightening and dangerous. Suffering is living in the wilderness. The LORD rescues His people from slavery in Egypt, but He tests them in the wilderness. Yet He is with His people. His presence is more obvious in the wilderness than any other place. He gives us grace for today but not for tomorrow. It's understandable if we're afraid of tomorrow because He hasn't given us grace for tomorrow. In those moments Egypt can sound awfully good.

  • Shepherd (Gen. 48:15, Psalms, etc...) – God is the shepherd for His people. He moves towards us, feeds us, and leads us. Most of all, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd has laid down His life for His sheep.

Here are some other thought-provoking patterns that make scripture come alive:

2D or 3D world? - The Israelites complain to Moses and want to go back to Egypt. They forget about God and live like it's a 2D world- it's only them and Moses. In a 2D world, God doesn't exist or doesn't care. But God makes it 3D when He says, “Why do people hold me in contempt?” (Num. 14:11). We often forget that the world is really 3D. The scriptures change our 2D world into a 3D one. We always live in the presence of God, and we ultimately answer to Him.

The Psalm Sandwich– The Psalms often have a Praise-Complaint-Praise sandwich. The Psalmist praises God, voices his good complaints, and then ends with praise. In prayer, we have the privilege of bringing our complains before the God who hears. And by ending with worship, we recognize that God is God and we are not.

Cry out to the Lord – When trouble comes, we often have two options before us. We can cry on our bed or cry to the Lord.

What's Done vs. What we do - What we do to obey God should always be rooted in what God has already done. Otherwise, we fall into legalism or some kind of works-based righteousness. Before God goes into the 10 Commandments, He tells His people: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” The commands of scripture sit in the context of redemption. We belong to God. As citizens of the kingdom, how do we live in response to His redemption? We have been bought with a price, so we are not our own.

Warnings and Comforts Go Hand-in-Hand – In the prophetic books such as Isaiah, we can't read the warnings too long until we see a beautiful picture of the gospel. In the midst of horrific rebellion, God keeps calling Israel to return: “Come now, let us reason together....” (Is. 1:18).

Connect everything to THE story (1 Cor.2:2, Phil.2:6-11) of the cross and the BIG story of the Kingdom. - The cross of Christ is now the hinge-point of law and history. Paul, has determined to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified. Christ lowered Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. How can we not serve others after Christ has served us? Christ died for sins – how does that guide my decisions today?

Tell THE story in 101 ways - Scripture is not dependent on one single metaphor. The people who have been redeemed are freed prisoners, adopted children, prodigal sons, forgiven and cleansed felons, restored adulterers, not-my-people who have become my-people . . .

Start from the end - In class, we were constantly bombarded with examples of tragedy: people who lost loved ones or a woman who has been sexually abused. How could a good Father let this happen? But, what if we start at the end? In the end, you and I will know our Father, God, and King face-to-face (1 Jn 3:1-3). There will be no more shame or tears. We will be glorious as we reflect His glory (Isaiah 54). There will only be peace and safety. This doesn't answer all the questions, but this is where we are going and what is pulling us along. Knowing this glorious end and having that pull us along is sanctifying.

And there are many more ways scripture comes to life! Scripture is our life-giving truth from our infinite God. We will never exhaust its depths. This list barely scratches the surface. If you are a Christian, you will spend a lifetime exploring the depths of God's word and never get bored. You will spend an eternity in the presence of God and all the people of God and never cease to be amazed at the greatness of our God.


Reflecting on this course has been such an enriching experience for me. By the grace of God, I hope it has served you in some way as you seek to speak the truth in love.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Helping Relatoinships - part 5: Praying

This is part 5 in a series of blog posts on the “Helping Relationships” counseling class that Teresa and I took at Westminster. To love someone well, we ultimately want them to drink from the Living Water, Jesus Christ (John 4:11, 7:38). Nothing else in this world or this life can ultimately satisfy. The last post talked about learning to say “we.” The struggles of the heart are universal. Knowing that, we proceed with humility and keep asking one more question. When we can say “we”, that means we see our struggle in their life. We have entered their world, see their need, and our common need for the Savior.

By the time we can say “we”, we have some idea where to take them to Christ because we have experienced the life-giving Living Water ourselves. And if we're in a big mess as well, Christ meets us where we are. Together, we can call out to God for help.


So how can we pray? Whenever we see our sin, we pray for help so we can repent and turn to Christ. We pray because we are powerless to overcome sin on our own. The Holy Spirit must intervene! And that's how we can pray in a meaningful way for someone. In the midst struggles, we pray that they would experience the goodness of God and turn away from false gods. Of course, when someone is suffering, we pray for God to relive that suffering. There's nothing wrong with praying that God will provide a spouse, a job, better health, etc...

But, if we only focus on the suffering and don't address the desires of the heart, we may be missing something important. God uses suffering to discipline us: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11). God uses the trials of our life (James 1:2-4) to show us that we often love something more than we love God. The struggles show us that we need the gospel of grace even now. Christ died for our sins, and we need His grace in the day-to-day struggles. In short, we pray that others may love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength- a reality that all Christians desire.


How can this work in real life? It might be helpful for me to include snapshots from a conversation I've had with a friend. I've changed some of the details, but hopefully you get the idea.

Me: What's been going on with you lately? [I'm trying to move towards my friend and go deeper]

Friend: I just got laid off from my job. I'm thankful for the severance package, and I'll have unemployment benefits for awhile. But life's hard, and I'm feeling depressed.

Me: What's been hard about getting laid off? What worries you the most? [Asking one more question....]

Friend: I'm not really worried about the bills. What bothers me is that I look around at my other friends, and all of them have jobs. I feel like God has forgotten about me.

Me: Why do you think God has forgotten about you? [I keep asking one more question until I can say, “we”]

Friend: I feel like other people have jobs, but I'm getting singled out. Why does this have to happen to me?

Me: Disappointment in life is something I've had to struggle with at times. As someone who wants to be a preacher, it can be discouraging to see other people who are more gifted or get better grades in seminary. I have desires in my heart to excel and do well. Those desires aren't wrong. But, when those desires begin to lead and control our life more than God, we know that we've crossed the line. [at this point, I see a similar struggle in my own heart....I'm able to say “we”!]

Friend: It's hard to believe that God loves me.

Me: How have you experienced God love?

Friend: I know He gave Jesus to die for me- I believe it. I know He has been faithful to me in the past. God gave me this job before, and He has provided all my needs in the past.

Me: How can I pray for you?

Friend: Pray that God would provide a new job.

Me: I will pray for that. How can I pray for your relationship with God?

Friend: I need prayer for my struggle and my doubts.

Me: I will pray that God gives you eyes to see what He is doing and helps you to trust Him. He has a plan for you, brother. I don't know what it is, but He does. He's been faithful to you before, and He's shown you His love in Christ. Can I pray for you now?

Friend: Sure.

Me: Father, I pray that you would give my brother a new job. I thank you that you have given us a great Savior, Jesus Christ, who has rescued us from our biggest problem, the problem of our sin and our eternal punishment. I thank you for providing for my brother in the past. I pray that He would look to You and that he would call out to you for help with his doubts. I pray that He would see that you are good, loving, and faithful. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Helping Relatoinships - part 4: Learning to say "We"

This is part 4 in a series of posts on the “Helping Relationships” counseling class. In previous posts, we've looked at a number of different topics: the pervasiveness of counseling (it happens whether we like it or not), the call to love one another, and the continual need to put off sin and take hold of Christ. We love others with our words by moving towards them, asking questions, and entering their world. This gives us the foundation for speaking truth in love and for praying the promises of God into someone's life. In short, the Christian walk is not just me loving Jesus, but helping one other love Jesus.

I want to pick up this post by continuing the topic of “moving towards.” This is a key part of walking alongside others so you can know them well and love them well. Knowing and loving go hand in hand- you can't love someone you don't know. But, often when we know someone, it makes us want to run away because life is messy!

How do you get to that level of knowing someone well? Or, if you do know someone well, how do you love them? It's often easy to judge another person and lack compassion when we feel self-righteous. It's easy to think, “How could they do that! (or be like that!)”

One problem is that maybe we don't know the full story and need to ask one more question. Another problem is that we might have elevated ourselves above the other person, forgetting that we share the same struggles and desires. We forget that all of us are made in God's image and that we share the same types of struggles. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” (1 Cor. 10:13). At the root of any struggle is a battle within the heart to love God more than something else (see part 2).


Learning to walk alongside someone means understanding their world and their struggle to the point that you can say, “we”. It is no longer their struggle but something you can identify with. No matter how bizarre or abnormal someone may be, there is an aspect of their sin that is shared by all of us. Take for example, a struggle with sexual purity. Someone may struggle with pornography or even adultery or homosexuality. But someone may say, “How can I identify with that? I don't struggle with that- those are serious sins!” But, Jesus said whoever looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:27-28). So, our lust is on the same level as adultery- we are really no different!

Though it may be unlikely, someone may again say, “I still can't identify with that. I don't have issues with lust- I keep my eyes pure.” Then, we continue to take another step back. Lust and desire are not just limited to sexual impulses, but they are connected to the broader category of idolatry. Even if I don't struggle with these, I have struggled with envy, coveting, and wanting something (or anything) more than God. What could that be? We have to ask, “What are the things in my heart that I treasure and love more than God Himself?”

That could be the desire
  • for preserving life at any costs (think about how often we get upset when my “god” of comfort and convenience get threatened)
  • for money or financial security
  • for approval and acceptance in our relationships
  • for power and control
  • for accomplishments (think about how often our joy is disturbed if we feel like we're not getting much out of work)
  • for purpose (think about how often we get discouraged if we feel like life doesn't have the purpose we think it should have).

This list covers pretty much everything! It shows how our human hearts are idol-factories that churn out an endless supply of desires that take us away from God. At one point in time or another, we've been ruled by these desires. How do we know? We know this because when God takes some of them away (either permanently or temporarily), we get upset!

When we can recognize these desires at work in us, we see that we are all alike under sin- that we have all gone astray, that no one is righteous, understands or seeks for God (Rom. 3:10-11). Christians are forgiven people, but there are still on-going struggles as we learn to follow Jesus. Therefore, even if we don't struggle with lust or sexual immorality, we still have a heart problem. We still follow our own desires sometimes. And this means we are able to walk alongside with someone. We have the ability to identify with their struggles, to enter their world, and to say “we.” I may not struggle in exactly the same way as another person, but I still struggle. And therefore, we are the same.

And the good news is that the gospel comes to heal us, not just when we were converted, but here and now. Christ died for those idols in my heart! I need the gospel just as much as my struggling brother or sister in Christ. And because we both need the gospel to bring healing and forgiveness, we are the same. I can say “we”.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Helping Relatoinships - part 3

This is part 3 in a series of blog posts on the “Helping Relationships” counseling class that Teresa and I took at Westminster. Counseling can sound like a fancy and professional activity. Yet, counseling happens everyday whether we realize it or not. The 5 minute conversation after church service or the phone call late at night from a distressed friend are all examples of ministering to others through our words. Previous posts discussed why good counseling can build a healthy church while bad counseling weakens it.

The last post ended with 3 different aspects of Biblical counseling:
  • how you are doing
  • how God and His promises are infinitely better than all other false gods, and
  • how to pray the promises of God into your life.


Scripture calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). The heart of counseling is being personal. What is our view of people? The right answer is that people have infinite worth as image-bearers of God. But truth be told, more often than not, people can be viewed as an inconvenience or hassle. We have to remember that on our own, we can't love people. I often forget that when I mess up. Thanks be to God for the Holy Spirit, who bears the fruits of love, joy, peace, etc... in our lives. We need the Spirit moment by moment if we want any hope of walking faithfully in Christ.


One indication of our love for people is whether we follow up with them. If they share a struggle or prayer request, and we tell them that we'll pray for them, do we do it? Sometimes we forget! But, if we carry someone in our heart and they matter to us, we will remember to pray and even ask them about it later on.


Another aspect of loving people is learning to move towards another person. What is moving towards? Have you ever experienced a personal connection with someone to the point where you could say, “He understands me!” It could be as simple as having the same interests or hobby or liking the same sports team. Because of that shared value or experience, there is a bond- you know them, and they know you.

To grow in loving others, we have to grow in our ability to know people. There's certainly nothing wrong with talking about the Philadelphia Eagles (or any other sports team). But, if that's all we ever talk about, we haven't gone deeper. We must learn to move one more step. For example, we can ask, “Why do you love the Eagles so much?”

Emotions get us down to who or what we really love. What moves you? What are you into? How are you feeling? What are you learning? These are the types of questions that move us towards another person so we can apply scripture into our lives and then serve them by asking, “How can I pray for you?”


When moving towards another person, having humility is critical. We don't know all the answers and we haven't figured out everything. Humility should move us to ask questions to clarify and understand, avoiding the problem of jumping to conclusions. How often have we formed an opinion or a judgment, only to realize later that we were missing a critical piece of information?

Our professor shared a story in his own life about his daughter always studied in the noisiest part of the house. It was exact opposite for what he (and many other people) would do. He was tempted to judge her and look down on her, until he asked one more question: “Why do you study in the nosiest part of the house?” For her, silence was distracting, and she needed the noise to concentrate. Our temptation is to think of moral categories of right and wrong without asking one more question.

This is definitely not easy! In fact, it is impossible without God's help. If our only boast is Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:17 and many other places), our sinful nature would rather boast in ourselves.

In future posts, I'll go into how this process of "moving towards" and "asking one more question" leads us into entering the world of another person. And when we're walking alongside with someone (as a fellow-traveler who also needs God's grace), we're in a position to make meaningful connections between our lives and scripture.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Helping Relatoinships - part 2

This series of blog posts is my attempt to capture some highlights from the “Helping Relationships” counseling class at Westminster. The class equips Christians to grow in our ability to love one another through our words. Why is this important?

In any given week, people have problems and will seek out either advice that will be either good or bad. People will pass that onto others. That advice could be life-giving medicine to the body of Christ, or corrupt the body like deadly cancer. How do we ensure the multiplication of healthy life-giving advice? In addition, we are called by Christ to love one another, which is one of the most basic commands that Christ gave us (see John 13 and John 15).

Before going into the “how-to”s of Biblical counseling, I want to lay a good foundation. Without understanding some key concepts, the principles of Biblical counseling won't make much sense.


In the midst of people and their problems, we love others by seeking what is best for them. All of us were created for one purpose, which is to know God and enjoy Him forever. At its very core, sin is the failure to do that. God has commanded us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40). The root of our problems are traced to sin, which entered the world when man first rebelled against God. Sin is our failure to love and obey God.


But our problems don't just come from our sin and rebellion. Our problems also come from suffering, which were the byproducts of man's fall. When sin entered the world, so did suffering- things like thorns in the ground and things like disease, disasters, and death.

Sin and suffering have plagued the human race ever since Adam and Eve's rebellion against God. And they cause lots of problems! Thankfully, God has successfully engineered a rescue mission to restore sinful humanity and broken creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17-21 and Rom. 8:18-24).

But, Christians who are forgiven and have eternal life in Christ still struggle with temptation. Paul has almost an entire chapter of Romans (see Romans 7) detailing his struggle against his old sinful nature. As a Christian, Paul has a new nature and wants to love and obey God, but his old sinful nature wages war against his new nature. We will continue to have this struggle until we are given sinless, glorified bodies in Heaven one day.


The sinful heart gravitates towards idols. John Calvin has said that the human heart is an “idol factory” Our sinful hearts run to anything and everything that isn't God. It could be obvious things like money, power, and prestige. Or, it could be more subtle things like control, comfort, and convenience. Whatever the case, our hearts don't naturally love and obey God on its own. We need a lot of help!

In the meantime, we have to engage in serious spiritual warfare against the idols of the heart. One evidence that someone is spiritually alive is that he kicks and fights against sinful idols by the power of the Holy Spirit: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13).


The Holy Spirit does this when He reveals sin in our lives, convicts us of it, and gives us the desire to repent from it. The process may not be fun- we have to call sin what it is and confess it to God and others. But, the resulting clear conscience is something we wouldn't trade for anything in this world. That process of killing our sin requires brutal honesty. We have to stop the excuses and even call ourselves out on it. Without that brutal honesty, we're simply deceiving ourselves and even covering things up: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Pro 28:13) As we continue this process, we grow in our love for God and obedience to His commands.

But, does that kind of brutal honesty work with others? How can we love others by helping them love God more? Does this mean we should call people out on their sin? Brutal honesty is needed for our sin, so isn't it needed for the sins of others?

Sin is often blinding and leads to self-deception. We often don't know that we are sinning, and our defenses often go on high-alert when someone wants to confront us. Biblical counseling gives us the tools for helping others. Often an "idol-hunt" doesn't work- we can't simply look at someone's problem, tell them they're sinning by serving a 'false god', and then tell them to start serving the true God. We often can't speak to others like we speak to ourselves. The brutal honesty we use on ourselves to confront our own sin and put it to death often doesn't work on others. That brutal honesty will just turn people away and even get us accused of being self-righteous and judgmental.


This presents a real dilemma. In cases where sin needs to be exposed, how do we do it without being dismissed as insensitive or self-righteous? How do you call out sin without coming off as judgmental? How do you help someone with their idols in a way that is loving and sensitive? Jesus calls us to pull the log out of our own eye so that we can see clearly to pull the speck out of the eyes of others (Matt. 7:3-5).

Biblical counseling seeks to walk alongside another person. By walking alongside, we aim to find out:
  • how they are doing
  • how God and His promises are infinitely better than all other false gods, and
  • how to pray the promises of God into their life.

In future posts, I'll build on this foundation and describe some of the ways we apply this knowledge in our relationships within the body.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Helping Relationships- part 1

In this next series of blog posts, I'll be writing about the first counseling class I took at Westminster. My wife and I took a class taught by Ed Welch called “Helping Relationships.” My wife Teresa is a counseling major, so it was a way for us to take a class together. The class was also a great way for me (an aspiring pastor and preacher) to get my feet wet by taking a course in Biblical counseling.


All the professors at Westminster have to sign something which says that they agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith, a pretty comprehensive summary of the Christian faith. This means that all faculty agree on the nature of scripture as our highest and final authority (see post), and they also agree on how to interpret it (see post).

But, there are differences in how to apply scripture. The different departments at Westminster have different opinions on Biblical counseling. And they can be quite vocal about it. One professor told our class (which included both counseling and non-counseling students) to put down the counseling books and pick up a book on God. His point was that if we have a clear vision of our infinite, eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing God, our problems would be seen as infinitely small and insignificant. He would argue for the centrality of Biblical preaching, which helps us comprehend and know God. That's one viewpoint. At the other end of the spectrum are those who argue for the centrality of 1-on-1 Biblical counseling. Preaching is important, but it tends to be too broad (like a shotgun), while 1-on-1 Biblical counseling can dig much deeper and be much more specific.

In both cases, there is an emphasis on changing us to be like Christ. The preaching guys focus on the word to change hearts. The counseling guys focus on personal relationships to change hearts.

Which one is right? In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I believe a healthy church needs both preaching and counseling. When Paul passes the baton to Timothy, he tells him to preach the word and be ready in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2). But, in the same verse, he also tells him to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” This could refer to 1-on-1 counseling. Elsewhere, Paul talks about teaching in public and from house to house on the necessity of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21). Teaching house-to-house may be a good example of something like 1-on-1 Biblical counseling.

So, we see that scripture gives us examples of both public and private ministry of the word in public preaching and in house-to-house ministry.


Though there are probably dozens of reasons why Biblical counseling is important for churches, I will give two reasons here.

1. Advice spreads like multiplying rabbits.

This is a reason I picked up from Tim Lane, director of the counseling program at Westminster. In any given week, people have problems, such as sin, temptation, or suffering. People seek help from friends and other people they know. Here's the kicker- whatever help they receive, they will use it to help others. What kind of advice are they getting? Is it Biblical and Christ-centered? Or, does it follow the pattern of this world? It won't take long for advice (either good or bad) to spread and multiply throughout the church, much like multiplying rabbits. Good advice can reinforce a pastor's biblical preaching and strengthen faith in the life of the church. But bad advice can undermine preaching and even undo a pastor's work. How people relate to one another in times of trial and crisis can either lead to a healthy church or to a weaker church.

2. We are called to speak truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

All Christians are called by Christ to speak truth in love to one another. This is not a command given to pastors or teachers, but to everyone who is part of the body of Christ. All too often, our best attempts to help a struggling brother or sister sounds too much like the counselor in the Bob Newhart skit ( His advice to his client is to “Stop it!” When his client looks astonished, he simply repeats by saying, "Stop it!" In other words, our advice can sound like telling someone to "just stop sinning!"

For example, if someone in your church is struggling with anger, looking up all the Bible verses on anger may not fix the problem. There's a good chance they've thought about it and have already looked up those verses. Anger may not be the main issue but simply the byproduct of some deeper issue. So, telling them to simply “stop it!” may not fix the problem. If we want to bring the truth of scripture and the hope of Christ into their lives, we will need a different method. If we want to grow in our love for one another, we should grow in our skill in speaking truth in love.

In future posts, I'll get into some of the nitty-gritty details on how the class taught us to do these two things- ensuring the multiplication of good advice and speaking the truth in love.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Old Testament Intro. (OTI) - part 6: What do the Critics Say?

This will be the last post in a series of posts on the Old Testament Intro class I took at Westminster. Today, I'll give a summary on what modern scholars say about the OT, how we can respond, and why we shouldn't just ignore their views.

How do modern scholars view the OT? For most of them, the Bible is like any other human book and should be rejected as myth. In the 21st century, readers might find stories of a talking donkey (Numbers 22) or a talking snake (Genesis 3) a bit strange and out of date.

In the 19th century, parts of the culture invaded the Biblical studies department in many universities. The Enlightenment was in full-swing in Europe, and it exalted the human mind as the final standard and source of truth. Before the 19th century, most Christian seminaries and universities accepted God's word as truthful, authoritative, and final. With the Enlightenment, many scholars began to think that human beings could investigate the world without God. God was told to get out and stay out. This shouldn't be too surprising. In the Garden of Eden, mankind decided to play umpire between what God said and what Satan said. Rather than trusting God and His word, man decided to think and act apart from his Creator. Falling to the oldest trap in the book, Biblical scholars rejected God's word and began to view all religious (including Christianity) as man-made products of culture and experience. The Bible was rejected as a book of myths.


How did all of this happen? The book of Deuteronomy is a key battleground. You can think of Deuteronomy like purple states in the US Presidential Election. Certain states are consistently red (Republican) or blue (Democratic). However, some states are purple, and they are the key swing states. If a candidate can capture these, they will likely win the White House. Our understanding of Christ and God's redemptive history hinges on how we understand and interpret Deuteronomy.

Why is Deuteronomy so important? Deuteronomy is the lynchpin of the Old testament, and it's a critical link between the Law (1st 5 books of the OT) and the Prophets. Written by Moses, the Law is the foundation for the rest of the OT because it contains important things such as: God's redemption (Exodus), the moral law (10 Commandments), the sacrificial system, and God's covenant promises. The prophets consistently refer to the Law when the Israelites disobey God. The prophets are God's messengers who accuse Israel of breaking God's covenant and failing to return the love and loyalty that God had first shown to Israel.

Modern scholars have rejected Deuteronomy as a “pious fraud”. They reject Moses as the author of Deuteronomy, and have proposed alternate theories that tear the Law and the Prophets apart. They believe that somebody much later than Moses wrote Deuteronomy. They believe that the Law was written after the Prophets and wasn't originally part of Judaism. In short, they reject the Law and take the Prophets.

By rejecting the Law, these scholars redefine the OT by saying that God didn't give us the law and sacrificial system. God just wants you to be a good person. Their proof-text would be something like Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Christianity doesn't deny the need to do these things, but we deny that we can do these apart from the person and work of Christ.

Are there any good arguments for rejecting Deuteronomy? There are some difficult questions, and we shouldn't bury our heads in the sand. Here are a few examples:
Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as the most humble man on earth. Hmmm, this doesn't seem to humble. Perhaps somebody else wrote the Law?
If Moses was the author, why did he refer to himself in the 3rd person? Deuteronomy 1:1 gives us a narrator's perspective.
If Moses was the author of Deuteronomy, how could he write about his own death in Deuteronomy 34?

However, we can address these questions without giving up our key assumptions. We can still view God's word as trustworthy and true, and that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to teach us about Christ and His word. One scholar (E. J. Young) has said that we can make a case that Moses was essentially the author of the 1st 5 books of the OT, but the actual writing could have been done by others, just like Jesus is the author of the Sermon on the Mount, but He didn't actually write it down.


What is at stake? Does it matter if Moses wrote the Law or if we even have the Law? We might be tempted to think this is all a bunch of pointy-headed stuff for people locked up in ivory towers. But, if the OT is the foundation for understanding the NT, then we have to wrestle with these issues.

Our God claims to work through history to redeem a people for Himself. The Exodus from Egypt is a pattern of God's work that comes to completion in our deliverance from sin. Moses is a go-between for God and God's people (Deut. 5:22, Ex. 20:18-21), another pattern that comes to completion in Christ, our perfect Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). The Law of God and the sacrifices are essential for us to understand Christ and His sacrifice, which rescues us from the law of sin and death. At stake is the heart of Christianity! Modern scholars can say, “Just follow the good example of Jesus and be a nice guy like Him” because they have thrown out the Law and redefined Christianity. Many of the more liberal denominations in America take this view today. They may call themselves Christians, but they have side-lined the word of Christ given to us in the Law and the Prophets.

Jude calls us to contend for the faith (Jude 3). As we study the OT scriptures, we are fighting for God and the gospel, the things that this culture and its scholars have rejected. Yet, fighting for the faith must be done in humility. We recognize that these truths are a gift of God and an act of His grace. Without the grace of God, we would not see Christ and the beauty of OT.

With this post, I'm wrapping up this series on the Old Testament Intro class. I hope it's been as fun and informative for you as it has been for me.