Monday, September 29, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: Chapter 3

Part 1 – Story: What is the Bible?

Chapter 3 – Inkblots and Puzzles: How, Then, Are We Reading?

The goal of this chapter is to get the reader to allow him/herself to be drawn into the story of the Bible. The Bible’s story, in the simplest of categories, has a plot with a:

Beginning (Genesis 1-11), and a (long, long)

Middle (Genesis 12-Malachi 4; Matthew – Revelation) and an

End (Matthew 25; Romans 8; Revelation 21-22).

Scot has noticed that we do not read the Bible as a story. Our intent is to get something out of the Bible for our daily lives (and that is a good goal). But, because the reading the Bible as story takes more time, thinking and discerning, we’ve developed routines and techniques that get us to our goal sooner. We’ve settled for shortcuts. Scot has identified five shortcuts:

Shortcut 1: Morsels of Law – for some, the Bible is massive collection of laws – what to do and what not to do. There is an ugly element to the mistake of making the Bible a law book: what it does to us. We, the Obedient Ones, become insufferable. How so? We…

become intoxicated with our own moral superiority

become more concerned with being right than being good

become judgmental.

There is an important place for the Bible’s laws. If you read Psalm 119 in one sitting, you will find someone who found utter delight in the Lawgiver. The laws were not a burden but the good revelation of God on how to walk in this world with God in such a way that it would lead to the blessing of God. Converting the Bible into a collection of little more that commandments completely distorts the Bible.

Shortcut 2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises

Dividing the Bible into chapters and verses has a great benefit when it comes to being able to refer passages in the Bible. It does make it more difficult to read a story that way. Dividing the Bible up into verses turns the Bible into morsels and leads us to read the Bible as a collection of divine morsels, sanctified morsels of truth. We pause for each one to see if we can get something from it.

What happens to the Christian who reads the Bible, day after day and week after week, as little more than a collection of morsels of blessings and promises? For one, everything is good and wonderful and light and airy. These people become optimistic and upbeat and wear big smiles…until something happens, until they enter into a period of suffering and feel distant from God.

One of the most important things about the Bible is that it tells realistic truth. There are all kinds of wonderful blessings surrounding the characters, there also were days of doubt, defeat, disobedience and darkness. The blessings and promises of God emerge from a real life’s story that also knows that we live in a broken world.

Shortcut 3: Mirrors and Inkblots

Some people read the Bible as if its passages were Rorschach inkblots. They see what is in their head. In more sophisticated language, they project onto the Bible what they want to see. People will begin to read the Bible with an eye to what is important to them. For example, they might see in the “Jesus inkblot” a Republican or a socialist, because they are Republicans or socialists. After surveying his students for years, he finds that everyone thinks Jesus is like them, we all project onto Jesus our own image.

Shortcut 4: Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind

For some, the Bible is like a big puzzle. Once you’ve got the puzzle solved, you no longer have to work with the pieces. The problem is first, we need to think about what this Grand System, the solved puzzle, really is: it is a system of thought that presumes that we know what God was doing behind the Bible before the Bible was written, and once we have this puzzle in hand we’ve got the Bible figured out. We think we’ve even mapped the mind God at some level.

Second, this approach often ignores the parts of the puzzle that don’t fit. All groups seem to emphasize something true and important in the Bible; you will also see that each one de-emphasizes or even ignores something important to other groups. Each of these groups ignores parts of the puzzle that don’t quite fit their system.

Third, puzzling together the pieces we find in the Bible into a system is impossible. We may say that the Bible is a unity because God is behind it all, and that is true. But who says that our system is that unity?

Fourth, puzzling calls into question the Bible as we have it. Had he wanted to, God could have revealed a systematic theology chapter by chapter. What God chose to do was provide a story of Israel and the church.

The problem is that those who “solve” the puzzle think they’ve got the Bible mastered; they tamed the Blue Parakeet who gave us the blue parakeets. God did not give the Bible so we could master him or it; god gave the Bible so we could live it, so we could be mastered by it.

Shortcut 5: Maestros

We look to the Bible to find the great truths by looking to the great teachers and personas of the Bible to find the ultimate truth. We are of course tempted to look at the Bible through the lens of the Maestro Jesus. We read the Bible and seek to imitate Maestro Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” is the only question they ask. The problem here is the work “only”. Some, on the other hand, read the Bible through Maestro Paul who unconsciously has eclipsed Maestro Jesus. Many of us, as conservative evangelicals, have read the Bible (and even interpret Jesus’ words) through the lens of Maestro Paul. Reading the Bible through a maestro’s eyes (even Jesus’) gives us one chapter in the story of the Bible. One-chapter Bible readers develop one-chapter Christian lives.

Now that the shortcuts have been pointed out, what is the long way? How can we learn to read the Bible as Story? That leads us to the next chapter.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Random Thoughts

Post have been few this week. I have been at Support Raising School in KC. I have been learning the various aspects of raising support to fund your ministry. It has been eye opening. I had no idea how much time and effort went into raising support. But that hasn't stopped me from thinking of a few quick hits:

If you don't want me to ruin your football watching experience, stop reading. Here goes, It drives me crazy when I hear referees announce a false start penalty. They are redundant in their calls. It always starts, "Prior to the snap, false start on the offense, five yard penalty...." You cannot have a false start AFTER the snap. By its very definition, a false start naturally happens prior to the snap.

Another thing, it drives me crazy when blowhard ESPN analysts and radio talk show hosts refer to the NFL as the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. Ron Jaworski from Monday Night Football is the worst offender, followed closely by Mike Greenberg of "Mike and Mike." Everybody does it, Mark Schlereth does it alot too. Why not just the NFL or "you can't expect to survive in this league" instead of constantly saying "THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE." You don' t hear guys calling the NBA the National Basketball Association do you. Pompous blowhards.

Plus, why is it that when I'm on offense, all I need to do is break the plane of the endzone without putting my foot down in the endzone for it to be a touchdown but on a punt, I can jump in the air three yards deep, grab the ball and throw it back out of the endzone and it is not considered a touchback. Didn't I break the plane holding on to the ball?

Anyway, enjoy week four of the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Blue Parakeet - Chapter 2: The Birds and I

The Birds and I
This chapter is the one that explains the title and has a section where Scot suggests there are three ways to approach the Bible. Scot admits that there are actually more than three ways, but he has chosen these to keep the ways simple in order to see the alternatives more starkly.

1. Reading to Retrieve - that is we return to the times of the Bible in order to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today. Some people try to retrieve all of certain ideas and practices when some only retrieve what they feel can be salvaged. Yet Scot acknowledges that it is impossible to live a first century life in a twenty first century world. Scot believes it is undesirable and unbiblical to retrieve it all, Paul didn’t even do that. He refers to 1 Cor. 9.19-23 where Paul says his strategy is one of constant adaptation. If Paul was already adapting first century Jewish ideas to first century Gentile situations, can we expect to do anything else? Paul would not have thought of returning and retrieving everything from Moses’ day, why would we do the same.
Scot states that what we’ve go in the pages of the NT are first century expressions of the gospel and church life, not permanent, timeless expressions. They are Spirit-inspired, but they were and remain first century expressions. We aren’t called to live first century lives in the twenty first century, but “twenty-first century lives as we walk in the light of the revelation God gave to us in the first century” (27).
Those Days, Those Ways – in this subsection of this ways to read the Bible, Scot reveals one of the themes of the book. Basically, God spoke in Moses’ day in Moses’ ways and/God spoke in David’s days in David’s ways, and/God spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways and/god spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways/and “we are called to carry on that pattern in our world today.
What we need is not a return to the first century (or even fourth or sixteenth centuries or eighteenth centuries) but a fresh blowing of God’s Spirit on our culture, in our day, and in our ways. We need twenty first century Christians living out the biblical gospel in twenty first century ways. God never asked one generation in the Bible to step back in time and live the way it had done before. God instead spoke in each generation in that generation’s ways.
The biblical way of retrieving the material of the Bible is not returning to retrieve it all, but it is the ongoing adoption of the past and adaptation to new conditions and to do this in a way that is consistent with and faithful to the Bible.

2. Reading through Tradition – the basic point of this section is: ordinary people need to learn to read the Bible through tradition or they will misread the Bible and create schisms in the church. What we see is often everybody reads the Bible for herself or himself, and everybody does what’s right in her or his own eyes. What we often find out is that not every Bible interpretation is equal.
Scot is saying that we are all called to read the Bible for ourselves, but not entirely on our own. It was the great Reformers who championed the idea of putting the Bible in the hands of ordinary Christians. But the plan of Reformers like John Calvin was not to just give people Bibles and say, “Here, read this! Tell me what you think!” He wanted them to learn the Bible right and to do that they would have to learn some basic theology. We should learn from the Reformers who wanted to provide the readers with a sound method and theology that would lead them to read the Bible accurately. Scot identifies The Great Tradition as the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the importance of justification by faith from the Reformation. These creeds point us toward the non-negotiables of the faith.
There is a danger to this, which is giving too much authority to tradition or traditionalism. Traditionalism is the inflexible, don’t ask questions, do it the way it has always been done approach to Bible reading.
Scot notes that the Bible itself points us away from traditionalism. The biblical authors and the early fathers didn’t fossilize traditions. Instead – and Scot calls this a major moment in the book – they went back to the Bible so they could come forward into the present.
Scot closes this section looking for a way of reading the Bible that returns to retrieve concepts from the Bible which also respects the Great Tradition. He believes there is, and it is the way of ongoing and constant renewal that returns, retrieves and renews by reading the Bible with the Great Tradition.

3. Reading with Tradition – So, how can we read the Bible that is both a “return and retrieval” reading as well as being respectful of the Great Tradition? He suggests we learn to read the Bible with the Great Tradition. We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages (as the return and retrieval folks do), nor dare we fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism. Instead, we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God’s Word in our days in our ways. We need to go back without getting stuck (the return problem), and we need to move forward without fossilizing our ideas (traditionalism). We want to walk between these two approaches.
Scot asks, is this dangerous? Sure, it can easily turn into hyper-innovation. We can avoid this by having a profound respect for our past without giving it the final authority. The final decision should always rest with the Scripture.
Renewal carries forward God’s timeless and historic message in a timely and cultured way for our day. The Bible spoke timeless truth in a contemporary manner in the times that it was written. Our task is to let the Bible speak its timeless truths in our time in a contemporary manner.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Trip Back in Time: 20 years ago

This takes me back twenty years. I used to work for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team in college. After the games I would listen to Jack Buck do the Scoreboard show and help the engineer of the radio broadcast (Colin Jarrett) break down the equipment and put stuff away. While we were doing that, Ernie Hays would be playing bossa nova standards as people were leaving the stadium. Below is a youtube video of one of the songs that Ernie would play. Ernie played it almost just like Walter Wanderly who is featured in the video. If you ever stayed around the stadium while Ernie played (or maybe heard this in the background during the Scoreboard show), this will be fun for you. If not, you will probably hate it.

The Blue Parakeet: Chapter 1

Scot begins the book by recounting his call to in depth study of the Bible and eventually his call to teach the Bible as a vocation. In the midst of Scot’s study of the Bible, he made discoveries that created question that disturbed him (and still does). As he began to study and examine the claims of the well worn mantra “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!” Scot observed a disconnect. Well meaning Christians were saying two things,

One: we believe everything the Bible says, therefore…

Two: we practice whatever the Bible says.

Scot’s reply was “Hogwash!”

What he observed instead was that we all pick and choose what we practice and that nobody, himself included practices all that the Bible says. This led him to one big question: “How, then, are we to live out the Bible today?”

Scot then looks at James 1.26-27, where James describes pure and faultless religion. For James, a pure Christian was one who showed compassion to orphans and widows and avoided being polluted by sin at all costs. Now, most conservative Christians that he has known emphasized not being polluted by sin, but they defined “polluted” in ways that had nothing to do with compassion for the marginalized and suffering. Polluted by sin was defined as going to the movies, drinking alcohol and sex before marriage. If one could stay clear of these things, then you were a good, solid Christian. These may not be bad things, but they hardly fulfill the prescription of pure religion described by James.

Scot began to ask, “How in the world were we reading the same Bible?” We were not following the plain words of James. Every one of us adopts the Bible and (at the same time) adapts the Bible to our culture. Everyone picks and chooses. But why do we pick and choose what to follow and what not to follow in the Bible? More importantly, how can we pick and choose “in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God’s Word for all times”?

Picking and Choosing

Scot gives a few examples of how we pick and choose what to follow in the Bible:

Sabbath – Sabbath observance was instituted in the Bible. It meant not working from Friday night to Saturday night (Ex. 20.9-10). This practice was even observed by some NT Christians but not really practiced by anyone he knew. What he was learning was that we sometimes, rightly or wrongly, live out the Bible by not doing something in the Bible.

Tithing – The Bible taught tithing, but the Bible does not insist that all of the tithe must go to a local church (storehouse tithing in some circles). The NT doesn’t even bring up the tithe. In the Bible the tithe is a combination of spiritual support (for the temple) and social service (for the poor, see Deut. 26.12). The tithe has instead become support for the local church building, ministers’ salaries, missionaries etc. Scot calls this morphing, that is, we took a tithe for temple assistants and also for the poor and turned it into a tithe for the local church.

Foot Washing – Jesus explicitly commanded foot washing in John 13.14. Widows performed this task (according to 1 Tim. 5.10) and Augustine writes about the practice of Christians washing the feet of the freshly baptized over three hundred years later. While some Christians still practice this, no one he knew was doing it. Thus, most of us were either ignoring what the Bible taught or morphed it into a cultural parallel (like offering hospitality). What he learned is that sometimes we “look behind the text to grasp a timeless principle and the principle is more important than doing the actual words” (15).

Charismatic Gifts – As we read 1 Corinthians 14, we find notes that Christians in Paul’s churches gave words of prophecy or had gifts of healing or spoke in tongues. No one he knew was doing any of these things (although there is a segment of believers who do), thus he learned from this experience that some read the Bible with a “that was then, but this is now” attitude.

Surrendering Possessions – There is nothing clearer than this statement by Jesus about possessions: “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14.33 also see 12.33). Very few were applying these verses literally. These verses evidently belonged to a different era and a different culture. Perhaps they were reserved for Jesus’ personal disciples? How did we decide such things? How do we know what to do and what not to do?

The Question is “How?”

How do we come to the answers we have for such issues? Why is it that two of us can sit down with the same Bible with the same questions and come away with two different answers? Scot discovered that it is not as easy to “apply” the Bible as he thought it is. How we read the Bible discerns how we are to live. There was plenty of picking and choosing on both sides of every question. That brought Scot to the vital question – How, then, are we to live out the Bible today? We don’t want to admit that we are picking and choosing. Scot believes it is time to think about why and how we pick what we pick and why and how we choose what we choose. What can we do to get ourselves to face this question honestly?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Review: The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

I received an advance reader’s copy of Scot McKnight’s new book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible this past weekend. They were sending copies to bloggers who would be willing to review the book. I was interested I reading the book anyway so I submitted my blog and received a copy.

Scot McKnight is a professor in Religious Studies at North Park University in Chicago. He was an editor of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels as well as the author of the NIV Application Commentary volume on Galatians and books such as The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others; The Real Mary: Why Evangelicals Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus; Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory; and A Community Called Atonement (Living Theology), co-authored with Tony Jones.

Scot’s purpose of writing this book is to ask – in our postmodern society that has been open to deconstruction – “How do we now approach the Bible? What does it mean to speak of reading the Bible as Story, of learning to “listen” to the Bible, and of how to discern a pattern for living today?”

The title comes from an episode of bird watching in Scot’s backyard. He noticed an unusual blue bird which turned out to be a blue parakeet, probably a former pet that escaped from its cage. He observed how this interloper interacted with the normal visitors to the McKnight bird feeder. The sparrows who were regulars in the yard, at first seemed afraid of the parakeet, but eventually they adjusted to it and even adapted to some of the parakeet’s behavior. They let the blue parakeet be a blue parakeet instead of making it conform to their routine. The sparrows may have thought they had adjusted to the new bird, but every now and then the blue parakeet did something that frightened the sparrows. Even though it was formerly a caged pet, it was not tame.

Scot compares some of the more disturbing (to him) Bible passages and biblical quandaries as “blue parakeet” experiences. When we encounter blue parakeets in the Bible or in the questions of others (some examples he gives are Sabbath observances, foot washing, women in church ministries and homosexuality), we have to stop and think. Is this passage for today or not? How we respond to passages and questions will determine if we become aware of what is going on or not. When we encounter blue parakeet passages in the Bible, we are given the opportunity to observe and learn. “In such case, we really do open ourselves to the thrill of learning how to read the Bible. But, like the sparrows, we have to get over our fears and learn to adjust to the squawks of the Bible’s blue parakeets. We dare not tame them” (29).

Scot then states that how you react to the blue parakeet passages in the Bible will reveal all you need to know about how you approach the Bible.
I am excited to read this book because I think it deals with some issues that I have been dealing with about how I (and the tradition I've been raised within) have been looking at passages of the Bible and how I try to live it out.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Emergent and Political Ideology

Tony Jones, in his recent book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, discusses the anti-ideological feelings of emerging/Emergent Christians. Throughout his book he sprinkles in dispatches. Dispatch Number 2 states: "Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as a remnant of modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality."

I wish that were the case. I would like to agree with them. In spite of all of the rhetoric that comes from both sides, I really don’t see that much “real change” following many national elections. But to deal with Jones’ point, that is not true. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, an author claimed by all believers on the emerging spectrum gave the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention last month. Not as an independent praying for civility in discourse and unity as a nation, but as a registered Democrat who endorses the Democratic candidate. (From Christianity Today)

I’m a registered Democrat… If you look in the last eight years, we have lost our reputable standing among most nations. Certainly among many poor nations and Muslim nations, we’re not very respected. There’s a great deal of hostility against us. As we travel the world, America represents Christianity to the rest of the world. What we have is Christianity being represented by what is perceived as arrogance, bullying, an inability to negotiate peace, an inability to listen. People assume that Christianity is that way. You ask yourself, what sort of person might God rise up to heal the wounds that have been created by that kind of positioning in the world. You would think a very intelligent minority, who came not out of wealth, who’s not only power position in Washington, D.C., a man who’s more thoughtful in his answers and less bullyish, not as simple of a thinker, even as reality is not simple, a man who has spent part of his upbringing overseas and has connections with Kenya, that’s the guy. A name like Barack Obama, you just kind of go, that would be the guy that God would choose to heal some of the wounds that we’ve caused in the world. That’s what made me take him seriously

Here is the Emergent Village “godfather” Brian McLaren endorsing Barack Obama

Thus, I have a hard time swallowing this rejection of political ideologies by those on the emergent frontiers. I don’t know how Donald Miller or Brian McLaren are any different than right wing evangelicals like James Dobson and Richard Land who take criticism for endorsing Republican candidates. And furthermore, I don't know how those who endorse either side can continue to believe in political solutions to the real issues facing our society. Both sides are more interested in staying in power, getting credit when things go well and blaming the other side when things don't.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Calmer Times for Galveston

I have few pictures of Galveston from a trip we took in 2004. Definitely calmer times. We've been to Galveston twice. There are nicer beaches with bluer water, but I always enjoyed my trips to the town.
Right now as of 10:30 pm, Friday night, the water would be about 15 feet over my head in the top picture. Praying for the Gulf Coast (again).

Jesus: What is the archaelogical evidence?

Unfortunately, not much. I went to a lecture last night at Mizzou sponsored by the Archaeological Institute of America entitled: Jesus: What is the archaelogical evidence? It was delivered by Katharina Galor from the dept. of Judaic Studies at Brown University. There seemed to be a lot of students (as well as members of the society) present at the lecture. I wonder if they were coming in hopes of some sort of apologetic content of the lectures. I went knowing that would not be the case. I did leave somewhat disappointed, though. I was expecting a somewhat controversial lecture on the focused on the basis that there was no strict, archaeological evidence for Jesus. She was somewhat respectful of the viewpoint of most Christians and their faith in the supernatural claims of the gospels. She even sidestepped a couple of recent "archaelogical" finds that were controversial but not verified as authentic (James Ossuary, Talpiot tomb).

What she did was walk through the archaeological evidence for some of the places and events surrounding the events of Jesus. She walked through the excavations of the Jerusalem temple mount. She looked at several options for the burial place of Jesus as well as the potential spot of Gethsemane. It was interesting, but it wasn't anything I didn't know already or that anybody can't find using a good Bible dictionary/encyclopedia on the archaeological finds of Jerusalem. (Now I realize that everybody there hasn't studied this subject as much as I have). You could see students slowly file out as they realized the direction she was going. I can only guess they were expecting a little more evidence actually pointing to Jesus.

But it is always helpful to learn from an exspert in a field that one cares so much about, so I am thankful for the society for putting this on and for Dr. Galor for her efforts and the pictures she did show. I did learn something, in answer to a question about what went on in Jerusalem between 70 AD and 115 AD. The was a common belief that there was very little Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem after the Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD. It seems last year, there was the discovery of Jewish presence in the old city in that time period.

On the whole, I was very appreciative of the evening. I like being connected to such an institute of higher learning and going to such events. I like the availabilty of such lectures to the general public. If I am free, I will attend the one next month the Roman arena: Blood and Power: Arena, Spectacle and the Roman Empire. I also learned about the central MO chapter or the AIA.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Starting Something New

I didn't see this coming when I moved to Columbia. Wednesday I met with a few people and began to discuss beginning a new campus ministry at Mizzou. When I moved here, there was already a plan and a person in place and I was going to be a regional supervisor of that person and the rest of the campus missionaries in Central MO. That plan did not work out and after a couple of other false starts, I was talking to some people who also had a desire to see something new happen at MU and we just decided to start that something new. I was joined by two students and one alumnus. We gathered at Memorial Union and began to share what this could/should look like and to pray that God would work in a mighty way on campus.

Here are some of the things we discussed:
Prayer driven - we have to be focused on praying that God would lead us, lead us to students and students to us. We are praying for us to see God moving in a mighty way.
What does this group look like - we need to be consistent with a regular gathering of prayer, study and sharing our lives.
Serving - built into our DNA has to be thinking about how we can serve the campus, its students and the surrounding community.

We don't have all of the details figured out yet, but we were four people who long to see God move among the students and staff at MU. One campus pastor estimated that there were 850 students gathering on a weekly basis in some kind of evangelical campus ministry. There are over 29,000 students. There is room for something else. We don't want to "compete" with CRU or Campus Christian House or the Rock Fellowship. As John Drage from the Rock told me, "We are not competing with each other, we are competing with the bars and frat parties." Thus, how can we serve along other campus ministries yet be distinctive at the same time?

We listed some names of students and people connected to MU and began to pray for them and for God to reveal himself through his Spirit and that the Spirit would point them to God's son.

If you care to join us in prayer, here are some other things we are praying for:
  • May God help us discover where he is already at work on the campus and may we seek to join him.
  • May we be connected to believers who long for missional living and are not connected to a campus ministry where they can serve yet.
  • May we discover "students of peace" who are receptive to the gospel, join us in the body of Christ.
  • That the Spirit would transform lives as they are touched by our community.
  • That we would benefit the campus and the community
  • That we would know when and where to gather for God's glory, his praise and mission.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Closing Paul on Leadership

No fixed pattern of leadership seems to have been imposed on the Pauline churches. The policy of Paul and the churches he corresponded with seems to have been to wait until qualities of leadership emerged in certain members of a congregation and then to urge the others to acknowledge and respect those as leaders. One of the most obvious qualities of leadership was a readiness to serve the church and care for its needs. Some men and women were in an especially suitable position to care for the church, those who had the resources to provide a place to meet and the social standing to represent the congregation. That is not to say that wealth and position alone qualified an individual for leadership. Certain members of this class, gifted and called by the Holy Spirit, appointed themselves to use their position for the advantage of the church.

Ernst von Dobsch├╝tz identified ten ways in which provision was made for the church by those capable of making it. They were:
providing a meeting place, overseeing the worship service, leading in prayer, scripture reading and song, aiding itinerant missionaries, supporting the poor, providing bail, representing church members who had to appear in court on charges arising out of their faith and traveling on the church’s behalf.
F. F. Bruce feels that as the procedure became increasingly regularized, these services became the responsibility of the later office of the bishop but were originally undertaken voluntarily. There is no need, however, to suppose that it took years before a bishop would assume these duties. Those who had the position and money in the early churches could at an early date provide these services to the church and in Rome, Paul calls that person ho proistamenos (Romans 12:8).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Paul on Leadership: Deacons

The second part of church leadership that Paul addresses in Philippians 1.1 and 1 Timothy 3 is “deacons.” The secular sense of the Greek term denotes one who waits at tables; a messenger; a servant; a steward; an assistant helmsman; a baker, a cook or a wine steward; or a statesman. The term diakonos appears in the Greek OT to describe an adviser to the king or the king’s bodyguards.

The overarching meaning over the word itself is “servant” and is the most common usage in Paul. He uses it: of Christ (Rom. 15.8), of government officials (Rom. 13.4), of himself (1 Cor. 3.5; 2 Cor. 3.6) and of his coworkers (1 Thess. 3.2; Col. 1.17). “Deacon” is a functional term designating someone who serves others. As is the case with “overseer”, the texts do not fully define the function of the “deacon.” If the functional sense of these terms is the clue to their “title” usage, then the overseers are probably those who give general oversight to the congregation, while the deacons are distinguished by their actual deeds of service.

Diakonos is a more common term because of the non-technical use to describe anyone who serves. The term expresses an important Christian idea. The Greek world viewed serving others as a menial task; people were to rule, not serve, and the highest aspiration was the development of the self, although service to the state was regarded as virtuous. Judaism held service in high esteem, especially when directed toward God and the poor.

Similar to “prophet” and “teacher”, the word “deacon” seems to fluctuate between an emphasis on function and a description of a position. In Ephesians and in Colossians, diakonos still describes a function. In Philippians and 1 Timothy it refers to a position. It is a position that is defined by its own definition. The mention of deacon in 1 Tim. 3.8 was not to outline the duties a deacon, but to point out what kind of persons would qualify as deacons.

If the overarching meaning to the term for deacon is defined by serving, then the position of deacon must take its responsibility of service as its primary responsibility however service is defined in the context that it is expressed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Paul on Leadership: Overseers/Elders, part 2

Paul begins his description of the qualification of an overseer in 1 Tim. 3.1-7 with the idea that the one who aspires to be an overseer desires a “good work.” The term “good work” has the connotation of a charitable deed performed on behalf of someone less fortunate. To hold the “office” of overseer, then, is to involve oneself in such a benevolent undertaking. This reflects well on the previous understanding of wealthy or prominent believers appointing themselves to serve God’s people and to use their wealth and status as a benefit to their congregation.

One of the abilities that an overseer must display is that of managing his own household well. Once again, as I have stated in previous posts, the term is the same as the one found for leadership in Rom. 12.8 (ho proistamenos). The Greek term (proistemi) in the NT (used only in Paul) emphasizes the leadership role of one who has been placed at the head of the family or the church and who is responsible to “rule, direct and lead.” The correlation of “managing” and “taking care of” in 1 Tim. 3.5 is a reminder to include the secondary sense of proistemi, “be concerned about” or “care for”. This leadership/care the overseer must exercise “well” is the measure of one’s ministry in the family (1 Tim. 3.4) and in the church (5.17).

The importance of managing one’s household was especially important in view of the fact that so many churches met in the homes of church members. This understanding was especially pertinent to the Pastoral Epistles in that the house setting determines much of the thought of the PE. What seems to be given in 1 Tim. 3.1-7 is a list for choosing suitable people to host and preside over these congregations. In Titus 1.7, the first and primary description of the overseer was that the overseer was to be above reproach as God’s steward (oikonomon). The term oikonomos could very well be translated, “house manager.” The term overseer could be understood as the designation for a house church leader.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Paul on Leadership: Overseers/Elders, part 1

The two major references in the letters of Paul to the issues of “overseers” is found in Phil. 1.1 and 1 Tim. 3.1-7 (as well as 5.17-23 and Titus 1.5-9). Many church leaders today are moving away from the form of leadership they grew up in (especially in Baptist circles), that is congregational led leadership and shifting to an “elder” led structure. One problem with the elder led structure is that Paul does not delineate the duties of elders/overseers so much as he is more concerned with the type of leaders they are (1 Tim. 3.1-7). We need to look beyond the texts to see what Paul was talking about and that the recipients understood without the need for pointing out specific duties.

The term most used in Paul is “episkopos” or “overseer.” The connection to the term elder (Greek, presbuteros) is found in Acts 20. He begins speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus in verse 17 and he addresses them as overseers in verse 28. (He also mentions the act of shepherding/pasturing in that same passage [poimanein]).

The word episkopos is best rendered “overseer” or “guard”. It carries the connotation of someone as a “watcher,” “protector” or “patron.” In the LXX (Greek OT) the title was given to men who held responsible positions in the government, including those providing oversight in construction, those assigned to rule over a city and officers in the army. The title is also given to those who were overseers of religious functions. This word described a variety of offices and functions, but the notion of “oversight” appears to have been common to all of them. In Phil. 1.1 the nature of the functions performed by the overseer is not mentioned by in examining the usage of the term, overseer probably referred to specific individuals who were appointed and whose duties were to govern, administer, and oversee the affairs of the community. With Paul, as is clear with all his designations of church leaders, the term overseer denotes a function. The clue to understanding this idea lies within the verb from which this term is derived. In Acts 20.28 the accent is on function. As the duties of the overseer are further fleshed out in the Pastoral Epistles, the overseer is described as one who cares for God’s church. They were probably responsible for “caring for the people” in the sense of administration, hospitality and pastoral care. This thread of oversight runs through Paul’s letters. These overseers were probably equivalent to those who, in the lists of gifts, functioned as “administrators” (1 Cor. 12.28) and who were called “leaders” or “presiders” (Rom. 12.8). In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul is more concerned with the moral fiber of leadership than he is in delineating their roles (other than the ability to teach). Leadership in these letters is assumed. Paul makes sure it is qualified leadership. When one fulfills these “requirements”, one displays a call from the Spirit to perform such leadership functions

Monday, September 1, 2008

Things to Look For

Things to look for:  A return of my series on worship and my series on Paul and early church leadership.

Love for Radiohead:

Very few big bands do as much for their fans than Radiohead.  Recently they webcast their final concert from this tour live from Santa Barbara.  It was great, I saw about 40 minutes.  You can check some of the video of the concert at Pitchfork here.

In honor, I am listing my top ten favorite Radiohead songs in no particular order:

From “In Rainbows”


House of Cards

15 Steps

From “Hail to the Thief”

There, There

From “Kid A”

Everything in its Right Place

In Limbo

Morning Bell

From “The Bends”

Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was

High and Dry


Ranking the Radiohead albums (in reverse order):

Pablo Honey (the only one I don't own)

Hail to the Thief (only about three songs that I return to, but my second favorite song: "There, There)


OK Computer (critics call this their best, I like it, but as you can see I like others better)

Kid A (actually the top three are all pretty close)

In Rainbows

The Bends (I keep returning to this cd over and over again).