The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation


So, for your scholars who want to learn more about how other scholars got there . . . in this case, their interpretation of the gospel of John. . . .

The Gospel of John in Modern InterpretationStanley E. Porter and Ron C. Fay. The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation. Milestones in New Testament Scholarship. $25.99, 256p., Kregel Academic.

The Gospel of John in Modern Interpretation provides a unique look at the lives and work of eight interpreters who have significantly influenced Johannine studies over the last two centuries. The chapters contain short biographical sketches of the scholars that illuminate their personal and academic lives, followed by summaries and evaluations of their major works, and concluding with an analysis of the ongoing relevance of their work in contemporary Johannine scholarship.

Key thinkers surveyed include C. H. Dodd, Rudolph Bultmann, Raymond Brown, Leon Morris, and R. Alan Culpepper. An introduction and conclusion by general editors Stanley Porter and Ron Fay trace the development of Johannine scholarship from F. C. Baur to the present, and examine how these eight scholars’ contributions to Johannine studies have shaped the field. Anyone interested in the recent history of the study of John will find this volume indispensable.

 

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Lay Down Your Self-Consciousness (Part 1) 


This next devotional is noticeably longer—and for that matter, noticeably ornerier—than usual. If you disagree with my opening views, or at least feel I could be a bit kinder, fine. But bear with me, and try to hear the point behind the point, because the more important issue will be bringing up the rear:

There’s a huge preoccupation in the American church right now with cultural relevance—which, in many cases, could just as easily be read as “being indistinguishable from the rest of the world” and/or “becoming as inoffensive to non-Christians as possible.” To be sure, there are plenty of actions the church needs to repent of, and opinions formed in the light of previous cultural norms that need to be rethought in the light of eternity. But let’s be honest: Much of the incessant handwringing about how Christianity is perceived by those outside it has far more to do with how non-Christians perceive us than how they see Jesus. Thomas Merton said it much better than I could, and more than fifty years earlier:

One of the symptoms of this is precisely the anguished concern to keep up with an ever-changing, complex, and fictitious orthodoxy in taste, in politics, in cult, in belief, in theology and what not, cultivation of the ability to redefine one’s identity day by day in concert with the self-definition of society. “Worldliness” in my mind is typified by this kind of servitude to care and to illusion, this agitation about thinking the right thoughts and wearing the right hats, this crude and shameful concern not with truth but only with vogue. To my mind, the concern of Christians to be in fashion lest they “lose the world” is only another pitiable admission that they have lost it. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, emphasis mine)

Certainly we’re called to love others regardless of how deeply we disagree with their lifestyle or opinions, and just as certainly we’re not called to live in a Christian bubble, sheltered from the rest of the world. However, we’re not called to be relevant or hip or tolerant—we’re called to follow Jesus. That’s it. We only need to be relevant to Jesus. If we’re doing that, Jesus will send us out into his world in the ways he wants us to go. That’s what he does. Any cultural relevance we need will take care of itself, because Jesus will care of it for us—and because we’ve loved those other people enough to see what they really need in their current circumstances.

So, what does my seemingly off-topic rant above have to do with today’s topic of self-consciousness? A lot, actually. If we’ve learned nothing else this week, we’ve learned that a lot of things can trip us up in our walk with Jesus, even when we’re “on our best behavior.” Our insufficiency can overwhelm us. Thus, we often feel as if we have no business talking about Jesus, and that we’re just going to tick people off when we do.

But reflect one more time on the words of 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. Despite all our issues—and arguably because of them—God chose us to be witnesses who would reveal his glory to the world through our weakness. We’re the ones who think we have to be perfect or relevant or inoffensive in order for the gospel to be heard through us. God disagrees—and thankfully he disagreed when he chose you, too. In the words of the late C. Jack Miller, “Cheer up—you’re a lot worse than you think!”

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Paradigms in Conflict


Missions: Where theology and practice meet. . . .

Paradigms in ConflictDavid J. Hesselgrave; Keith E. Eitel, ed. Paradigms in Conflict: 15 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today. 384p., $25.99, Kregel Academic.

Drawing from Scripture, social sciences, and history, David J. Hesselgrave tackles the most pressing issues facing missionaries today.

The author and contributors show how theological issues have real impact on missions, and they present arguments on both sides of the fifteen subjects of debate while also offering their own biblically informed perspectives on the subjects. Despite rapid global changes, Hesselgrave holds that much of traditional theory, practice, and theology is still valid, if not essential, for the future of Christian missions.

Current and prospective missionaries, pastors, seminary students, missions committee members, and laypeople interested in world Christianity will all benefit from the discussions covered in this book, including:

  • Sovereignty and free will: An impossible mix or a perfect match?
  • Common ground and enemy territory: How should we approach adherents of other faiths?
  • Business as mission: When is it mission and when is it not?
  • Harvest missions and pioneer missions: Discipling the masses or reaching to the margins?
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Lay Down Your Weakness         


So, let’s get back to our weaknesses. (I’m sure you were looking forward to that.) Most of us are well aware of how we fail to measure up to our own standards, let alone God’s. But again, Jesus knows this, too. And again, his concern is not with our failures but with our willingness to follow. He will attend to the things he’s called us to. We simply need to show up, and follow.

Sounds simple enough. The problem is, we don’t do it. We don’t think Jesus will do what he’s promised. Why should he? Look at us.

It’s easy for many of us to look ourselves and think we’re useless to God. We’re still struggling with all those sins and temptations we addressed weeks ago, for crying out loud. What business do we have even thinking about being useful to God?

But remember last week’s passage from 1 Corinthians: God chose the foolish to shame the wise . . . the weak to shame the strong . . . the low and despised, and even things that aren’t, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no one could boast in his presence. God chose you, in your weakness—you could almost say because of your weakness. He wants to use your weakness, and his transformation of it, to display his glory.

However, more often than not, we fly between our pride that we can do everything on our own and our failure that leads us to think we can’t do anything. We’re weak, we’re tempted, we’re overwhelmed, and we don’t know what to do about it. Fortunately, the Bible is clear that our ongoing weakness and temptation can actually be a pretty good teacher. Here are just a few of the potential lessons our weaknesses can teach us, if we’ll allow them to:

  • We’re not as strong as we think we are.
  • We always need God to carry us through, or at least accompany us as he guides us along.
  • If we’re humble enough to let him, God will carry us through, because . . .
  • God is far stronger than we give him credit for.

In the course of writing this book, I’ve really come to appreciate Peter a lot more. As brilliant as that “man out of time” Paul was . . . as loving and engrossed with Jesus as John was . . . as assertive as James was . . . for that matter, even as wonderfully morosely skeptical as my boy Thomas was . . . I think I’m beginning to understand why Jesus chose Simon to become Peter, “the rock on whom I will build my church.” It’s because he was the most human of the disciples. And humanity was what Jesus came to redeem.

For all the evidence you need of this, look at Peter’s “story arc.” We already hit on a huge paradigm shift earlier, in what we could call “The Tale of Two Fishing Trips”—his transformation from someone who encountered the Son of God and could only see his sin, to someone who encountered the risen Jesus and swam as hard as he could toward him. In between are incredible highs and lows, including the near-simultaneous events where Peter first grasps that Jesus was the Messiah, is informed that he would be the rock upon whom Jesus whom build his church, and then rebuked “Get behind me, Satan!” (see Matthew 16:13–23). You almost imagine Peter kicking the pebbles in front of him and protesting, “Gee, all I was trying to do was protect you, Jesus.”

Peter didn’t yet understand that he was totally incapable of protecting Jesus—and he certainly didn’t grasp it when he tried to protect Jesus again during his arrest in the garden. Jesus once more rebukes Peter: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Peter didn’t yet realize that his strength, like Jesus’, came from obeying his Father’s will.

Even after Jesus came back from the dead, Peter was subject to relapses of fear and bravado. We see this in Galatians 2:11–21, when Paul rebukes him for skulking away from those Gentiles whom Jesus had already declared clean to Peter (Acts 10:9–47). Eventually, though, Peter learns to stop forcing it, and trusts that God will do what he intends to do, when he intends to do it. We see evidence of this in Peter’s final letter: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9).

We are lifetime projects. The sooner we realize it, the better. So let’s lay down our weakness, lay down our own tools that don’t work anyway, and allow Jesus to be the one who builds us up.

Lay It Down Today

What are your weaknesses, and how does God want to use them? After all, God allowed them in your life—and God wastes nothing. Spend time meditating on your “weak spots,” and what God’s teaching you through them.* Your response might look like one of the bullet points above, or it might be something else. But bottom line: How can God’s strength be manifested through (or despite) your weakness? Ask God to begin to help you see and rely on his work in your life.

Also (more on this next week), begin thinking about whom you can share about your weaknesses with—a Christian friend or mentor who can be trusted with this information.

* Note: Meditating doesn’t mean “indulging.” In fact, if your mind begins drifting toward things it shouldn’t, stop meditating right then and start praying, because you already know what God needs to transform, and how badly.

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God’s Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture


God's Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture StreamingHarvest USA. God’s Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture. DVD or download, $129.99, New Growth Press.

Everyone outside the church is talking about sexual issues—gender identity, same-sex attraction, same-sex marriage—the world’s perspective on these issues has certainly changed over the last decade. So how do you answer questions about God’s design for sexuality to church members and their families? Is your church equipping your people to understand a biblical perspective on sexuality and form a gospel-based response to questions from both inside and outside the church?

Harvest USA, an organization that has been thinking biblically and redemptively about these issues for decades, has now made available a video series that will help you wisely, kindly, and truthfully help your church to understand God’s biblical design for sexuality and give direction on how to speak the truth in love to the world around us.

God’s Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture consists of fifteen 30-minute videos (suitable for Sunday school or small group meetings) with a downloadable leader’s guide and participant outline for each video. The videos address questions and topics including:

—Why do we need to talk about sex?
—Why do we struggle with our sexuality?
—Is God’s design for sexuality still relevant today?
—What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?
—Can you change if you are gay?
—How can a single person live out God’s design for their sexuality?
—Understanding gender and transgender issues
—Understanding pornography’s impact on marriage
—How to help the sexual struggler
—Key steps for raising sexually healthy kids
—Keeping your kids safe in an Internet world

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Lay Down Your Boundaries      


We now turn from the things we desire to do, to the things we don’t desire to do—and thus, from the question “Lord, why won’t you help me do this?” to “Lord, why (and how) do you expect me to do that?”

Often without even realizing, we place limitations on what God wants to do in our lives, who we’ll reach out to, when we’ll make ourselves available, where we’re willing to go for his sake. Once God’s done laughing at our plans, he gently—or sometimes quite abruptly—pushes us past the boundaries we’ve tried to impose upon his infinite intentions for us.

It’s OK to realize how insufficient we are—or for that matter, how truly little we love the people around us. God already knows it. But it’s not OK to resist God’s will because of our insufficiency, as if he won’t provide everything we need to perform his will.

And it’s definitely not OK to regard others as unworthy of our time and effort—to, in effect, say to God, “I refuse to waste my time, energy, and attention on those people.” . . .

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)

We’ll dig further into this idea next week, but for now, remember this: It’s not only that you’re called to minister to those spiritually, physically, financially, intellectually, or morally weaker than you—you are among those weaklings whom Christ has called to accomplish his wise, righteous, sanctifying, and redeeming purposes. You’re not better, only different. When Christ’s purposes come to fruition, we’ll know that it could only have been the Lord, and thus boast only in him.

We cannot separate our life in Christ from the life we’ve already been placed in by Christ. Only when we begin living an integrated life—where we invite our sacred lives fully into our secular ones, without saying to God, “This far, and no further”—will we begin to be, then see, the change around us.

Another quote from Watchman Nee (from Changed into His Likeness) gives us a simple but wonderfully practical illustration about both our preset boundaries and Christ’s power to blow effortlessly past them:

We know just how much we can stand, but alas, we have not discovered how much Christ can stand. . . . If two children cry, the mother can stand it, but if more than two cry together, under she goes. Yet it is not really a matter of whether two children cry, or three. It is all a question of whether I am getting the victory or Christ. If it is I, then I can stand two only. If Christ, it won’t matter if twenty cry at once! To be carried through by Christ is to be left wondering afterwards how it happened!

To lay down your boundaries is to lay down your control—and to discover that no matter where God leads you next, he still has the control. Prepare to be surprised by God, and to be brought into places where only his glory can be produced.

Lay It Down Today

Find a doorway, and stand behind one side of it. As you look out into the next room, think about at least one boundary you’ve set, where you’ve essentially said to God, “This far, and no further.” As you look out into the next room, think about all the people and things you’ve put on the other side of that boundary. Who’s in that room? What might God want you to do there? Why do you keep yourself on this side?

Take at least a couple minutes to stand in your doorway and think about this—maybe even mourn about what God has wanted to accomplish through you but you’ve resisted until now. Then pray. Repent of your resistance to God’s will for your life, and for the lives of those on the other side. Ask God to break your heart so that you see those people and situations the way he does, and to give you the courage to step past your boundaries and into his purposes for you. As you finish praying, step through your doorway, as a symbol of what you’ll do with the life God now sets before you.

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Studying Paul’s Letters with the Mind and Heart


The title says it all. . . .

Studying Paul's Letters with the Mind and HeartGregory S. MaGee. Studying Paul’s Letters with the Mind and Heart. 216p., $23.99, Kregel Academic.

This informative survey of Paul’s epistles is conversant with the latest scholarship but written in an engaging style that emphasizes practical application. In each chapter, Gregory MaGee asks and answers a vital question for understanding Paul’s letters while prompting the reader to consider the discussion’s personal implications. These questions get at the heart of understanding, interpreting, and living out the Pauline letters:

  • Why listen to Paul?
  • Were all thirteen letters really written by Paul?
  • How does Paul interact with the Old Testament?
  • What are some specific interpretive challenges in Paul’s letters?
  • How can I wisely apply Paul’s teachings?
  • What are the experts saying about Paul these days?
  • What ideas were especially important to Paul?

Students and other thoughtful Christians wishing to dig deeper into Paul’s letters will benefit from this contemporary overview, and will be challenged to grow spiritually and apply Paul’s teachings and example.

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