Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Greatest Mystery Of Christmas

Today is Advent Sunday, and while the world may kick off their Christmas celebrations with Black Friday (how fitting in a consumer driven society), the Church has the grand opportunity to use this season to reflect upon the doctrine of the Incarnation. This is our time to ponder and stand in awe of the ultimate mystery that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory" (Jn 1:14). We often do a good job of understanding that Christ was born of a virgin and was born into poverty. We contemplate the events surrounding His birth as so much history. Then we skip to the Atonement. He came to die. The end.

It is true that one of the reasons Christ came was to die to redeem us, but maybe we shouldn't rush to the end of the story during this time of year. We have Lent, Good Friday and Easter to contemplate those aspects from a Church calendar standpoint. But this time of year is the season to wrap our minds around the fact of Emmanuel--"God with us." God one of us. The Incarnation is mind blowing. Trying to understand the intricacies of the Theandric Union can either fry our brains or fill us with wonder at the greatness of Almighty God.

Luther wrote: "It is not for the angels to be proud of Christ's incarnation, for Christ did not assume and angelic but a human nature. Therefore it would not be a surprise if the angels looked at us with envy in their eyes because we human beings, creatures far inferior to them and sinners besides, are placed above them into an honor so high and great. They worship Christ, who has become our Brother, our flesh and blood" (Serm. on Col. 1:18-20 quoted in Thomas Oden, The Word of Life).

We have a God who can identify with us! He knows, in an experiential way, our struggles and weaknesses. This is one of the messages of the Advent season. What might it mean that God became flesh? Not just in a systematic theological sort of way but in a personal way. Do we need to sit back and think about that one for a while? That's what this season is all about. That's the greatest mystery of Christmas.

(Originally published 2009 under the title "God With Us" @

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My First Lesson On Not Being A Biblical Scholar of the Gaps

I was in the sixth or seventh grade when I learned one of the most foundational principles I would carry forward in my work as a Bible student and theologian. I was in the middle-school Sunday school class at my church. The teacher, Cindy, didn't seem particularly comfortable teaching middle-schoolers--especially know-it-all preacher's kids. But she was dedicated to two things--the Bible and making her students think.

I wish I could remember what she was teaching or how she was teaching it. Unfortunately, all I remember is where it ended up. She must have been talking about the dinosaurs and how they fit into creation, when I spoke up as a proponent of "the Gap theory." Bad move on my part.

At some point in my childhood, someone had explained to me this theory that the reason dinosaurs did not appear in the Bible was because there was a "gap" between Genesis 1:1--"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" and Genesis 1:2 "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep..." The Gap Theory runs that God created the heavens and the earth in verse one but by the time that we've made it all the way to verse two, we find it formless and void. Logical conclusion? God created a good earth populated with dinosaurs and other creatures and then destroyed that world for unknown reasons before starting over in Genesis 1:3.

The first thing Cindy said was, "Show me where or how you can find that in the Bible." In other words, she wanted me to prove my case with evidence. So I went home and pulled all our reference books that talked about the lost world of the Gap. I made photo copies for her of my extensive research, but she was unimpressed. 

"I'm not talking about what someone else says. I'm talking about showing me evidence from the Bible."

I went back to work, and you know what I found? Nothing. The Gap Theory had a gap in Biblical credibility. It also had a gap in logic. While it is possible that there is a gap in time between passages, it is unprovable  from silence. When I looked at how it stacked up with the other possible explanations of the data, it was the least credible.

This lesson has formed me in how I interpret the Bible. Even though my teacher didn't know it, she was showing me the difference between eisegesis (bringing outside ideas into the interpretive process) and exegesis (interpreting from the text). We shouldn't try to make our square peg fit into a round hole, rather we should allow the peg to dictate what hole it will fit. As students of the Word, we can't afford to build our arguments or beliefs on thin air. We need to push towards evidential arguments from exegesis. But not only that--we need to push students in our churches to think and study for themselves. It's never too early to learn that lesson.