1545546_10101264373757208_785687467_n

At one point in time, I think we’ve all experienced it. Particularly common in college, you end up in a class that was nothing like you expected. What was supposed to be a fluff class to fill elective space turned into a nightmare. Or, maybe it was a class you were really looking forward to, and the professor had to go and ruin it with boring lectures and excessive homework. No matter which scenario resonates with you, we’ve all probably at one point thought, “This isn’t what I signed up for.”

Exodus 5:1-9

I don’t know how you would say that in Hebrews, but I am guessing that is what Moses is thinking in Exodus 5. He had just met with the elders, teamed up with Aaron, and was coming into Pharaoh’s court to tell him what’s up:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'” (5:1)

Pharaoh was caught off guard at first, but after thinking for a moment, he said, “You know what, that’s a great idea. Go for it.”

Sorry, that was Moses’ dream scenario.

Instead, Pharaoh immediately balked:

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (5:2)

Not very promising, but Moses and Aaron give it another go:

“The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (5:3)

Pharaoh is nonplussed:

“Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.”

“Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” (5:4-5)

And then makes a classic dictator move:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” (5:6-9)

Imagine the dejection Moses and Aaron must have felt. Not only did Pharaoh totally shut them down, he made things worse for the Israelite workforce. Not just worse, basically impossible:

Straw is preserved plant stalks from the more rigid long-stalk grains and vegetables. Straw comes from those plants that are harvested but whose stalks are inedible to humans and/or animals. Stubble is the very short remaining stalks of plants after harvesting: the bit between the root and where the reaping scythe or sickle cut the plant. It was only a relatively poor substitute for straw, making the process of producing suitable bricks much harder, but it also was much harder to gather from harvested fields even when the season is right (requiring careful, tedious hand pulling and cutting) as compared to the purposely preserved (and usually bundled) straw and was almost hopelessly difficult to gather in the off season. As Job said, referring to a fruitless endeavor, ‘Will you frighten a windblown leaf and pursue dry chaff?’ (Job 13:25 nrsv). The fact that the Israelites under the new rules simply could not meet their brick quotas is not surprising: Pharaoh had made the task virtually impossible. When the foremen, even under the penalty of being beaten, could not get the people to produce any more bricks (vv. 13–14), the situation was obviously intolerable. It is not surprising that an anguished appeal to Pharaoh for relief followed (vv. 15–16), even though such an appeal was essentially an act of desperation, presumably having little chance of success. 1

Once this news got out, Moses’ name was going to be mud throughout all the land of Egypt. He’s basically back where he was when we fled Egypt. The Israelites aren’t keen on him. At least Pharaoh doesn’t want to kill him (yet).

Exodus 5:10-21

When word got to the Israelites about the new workflow procedures, they weren’t thrilled to say the least:

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’ ” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” (5:10-14)

I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck with a job that is an exercise in futility, but at least if you were, you weren’t beaten for failing to complete it. Yelled at perhaps, but probably not beaten on the job. The foreman were kind of caught in the middle and tried to make their case to Pharaoh, but to no avail:

“Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” (5:15-16a)

Pharaoh responds with typical compassion for a middle Eastern dictator:

 “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” (5:16b-18)

The foreman, experience the feeling of total rejection, thought they should at least pass the buck to Moses:

They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (5:20-21)

Looking at this statement, it seems the foremen think Moses and Aaron have botched the job. They would like God to execute some judgment on those two when he gets a chance. At the same time though, the foremen were really disregarding God’s proper channels of communication. He had appointed Moses and Aaron to deal with things, and the foremen decided to subvert that because it didn’t work out so well the first time. We often do this very thing when we jump the chain of command to try to get things done on our own. We would do well to learn from this scenario that when we do that in the spiritual realm, it is dishonoring to God. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past, and wish I had learned this lesson sooner.

Exodus 5:22-23

The chapter ends with Moses going to God with his problems. This is important I think. It shows that even as far as the events in this chapter spiraled downward, Moses took it to the Lord:

O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (5:22-23)

We don’t get God’s answer until the next chapter, but it is a good one. Here at least we see that Moses is questioning God, and importantly, he is doing so on the basis of God’s own words. Often, when we question God, it is based on something we wanted and didn’t get, or as a result of something tragic that we can’t explain. In this case, Moses is questioning God on the basis of what God had just promised he would do for the nation of Israel. It seems that God is not keeping his explicit words, and Moses wants to know why. God is certainly not obligated to give a detailed explanation, but at least Moses is asking the question with the right posture.

When we would like to question God, we do well to follow the pattern of Moses and do so on the basis of what God has promised us in his word. That incidentally is not a suffering free life, but God promises to meet us in our suffering, and we can certainly ask why when he does. When things go from bad to worse, we should feel the freedom to go to God in prayer and ask why. We also do well to search the Scriptures for the wisdom to endure well what comes our way. One place we find that wisdom is in the next chapter, and we’ll examine that next Saturday.

Notes:

  1. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 165

9780310331360

We come now too John Franke’s contribution to Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. If you’ve missed any posts, see the introduction. I just got into Birmingham and found an aesthetically pleasing Starbucks near Beeson Divinity School. I’m here for the Southeast Regional ETS meeting, and I’ll be presenting a paper tomorrow on the theological interpretation of cinema. It will probably turn into an April-May blog series, so stay tuned for that.

For now, back to Franke. He begins by noting his mixed feelings about inerrancy. On the one hand, he says, he deeply appreciates the core idea it affirms. On the other hand, he is “dismayed by many of the ways in which inerrancy has commonly been used in biblical interpretation, theology, and the life of the church” (259). Though he has “never thought the term inerrancy was a particularly helpful way of articulating the core idea of the authority of Scripture as a witness to the mission of God,” he still more or less affirms inerrancy:

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God in human words, and that as such its stories and teachings, taken as a whole, are true and not a lie. This belief is one of the central convictions of my Christian faith. Insofar as inerrancy functions to assist in the affirmation of this conviction about the Bible, I have been willing to endorse it. (259)

Be that as it may, Franke notes that up to this point, he has never used the word inerrancy in any publications, including several on the Bible and its role in theology (260). That should seem a bit odd.

With this foundation, Franke turns to examine the Chicago statement (CSBI). He notes that as a whole, “the Chicago statement is reflective of a particular form of epistemology know as classic or strong foundationalism” (261). This won’t do for Franke, and he proceeds to deconstruct foundationalism, and show how he sees the doctrine of inerrancy functioning “as just the sort of strong foundation envisioned by classical foundationalist” (262). Franke makes the strong claim that “this approach [classic foundationalism] has been thoroughly discredited in philosophical and theological circles” (262). He thinks many, or perhaps most philosophers in the Evangelical Theological Society would consider themselves modest foundationalists. What Franke finds most frustrating, is that many claim they are not classic foundationalists, but “then defend beliefs such as inerrancy as though they were” (263).

Franke is neither classic, nor modest, but postfoundationalist in his epistemology. From this perspective, he does not believe the CSBI can be the standard bearer for for inerrancy (264). To begin his constructive alternative proposal, Franke sketches out a doctrine of God:

  • God is God (and we are not)
  • God is living and active
  • God is love
  • God is missional
  • God is plurality-in-unity and unity-in-plurality

This leads to a discussion of how God accommodates in order to communicate with his creatures. What follows is a more or less postmodern theological account of language. For Franke, inerrancy functions within the limits of language alone (270). Ultimately for Franke, “Inerrancy is a technical theological term that serves to preserve the dynamic plurality contained in the texts of Scripture by ensuring that no portion of the biblical narrative can properly be disregarded or eclipsed because it is perceived as failing to conform to a larger pattern of systematic unity” (276). What he means is that “the inerrant plurality of Scripture frustrates attempts to establish a single universal theology. It reminds us that our interpretations, theories, and theologies are always situated and perspectival; none simply rise above the social conditions and particular interests from which they emerge” (278). From here, Franke examines the problem texts, and spends roughly 7 pages doing so (the shortest coverage of the contributors).

As always, Mohler is the first critique. He thinks Franke’s feelings are not so mixed, and that he proposes a fundamental transformation of how we think of truth itself (288). Because of this, and the whole revisionist slant of his theological project, Mohler feels Franke is headed beyond the boundaries of evangelicalism. Brilliant and creative though he is, Franke is revealing the destiny of evangelical theology if it surrenders inerrancy. (291)

Enns appreciates how Franke discusses inerrancy’s use as a means of asserting power and control (292). On the whole, Enns is more or less appreciative of Franke, which should strike you as interesting. Franke sees himself as affirming inerrancy. Enns adamantly does not. But Enns doesn’t have much to particularly critique in Franke’s account, which gives a bit of strength to Mohler’s claim that Franke’s feelings are not so mixed, and he’s more or less on the same road as Enns.

Bird echoes several agreements with Franke before registering his dissatisfaction. First, he doesn’t like how Franke moves from an “a priori conception of God” to how he then conceives of revelation and veracity. (298). Second, he re-expresses the same concern about the incarnational model that he voiced in his critique of Enns. Third, he doesn’t think it is a wise idea to distinguish between God’s Truth, and God’s truth, the latter of which is what we find in Scripture (299). Finally, he is no so sure that postfoundationalism as Franke articulates it, will really work. In the end, he thinks it yields a “fairly weak definition of inerrancy” (301).

Then along comes Vanhoozer. He suggests Franke has exaggerated the extent to which foundationalism has been discredited. Specifically, he says it is not enough to say something is discredited, you need to show where or how it has gone wrong. Also, sometimes discredited theories turn out to be true (304). He also believes it is a category mistake to tie inerrancy to any particular model of epistemology. Later he brings John Frame into the discussion to show how one can affirm the importance of multiple perspectives, and still affirm inerrancy in a CSBI sense. Lastly, he is concerned about the consequences of Franke’s revisionist account. He concludes, “I have an excellent idea of what kind of inerrancy Franke rejects, a good idea of what he thinks his recast concept of inerrancy does, but only a foggy idea of what he thinks his recast inerrancy is” (307).

As I was finishing up the perspectives with Franke, I thought he provided a nice bookend to Mohler/Enns. On the one hand, he wants to affirm inerrancy (like Mohler), but on the other hand, he recasts it so much it appeals to someone who doesn’t (Enns). I found his proposal the least satisfying, mainly because of his overall perspective on theology (and his underlying philosophical commitments). I had not had any sustained interactions with Franke other than his essays in Christianity and The Postmodern Turn. To me, Franke represents a less than promising approach to navigating postmodern concerns. That being the case, I didn’t find his constructive proposal satisfying or attractive.

9780310331360

A few things happened yesterday. First, I drove from Orlando to Knoxville. Second, Kevin Vanhoozer was actually at RTS Orlando delivering the annual Kistemaker Lectures. Third, I accidentally auto-posted this installment of the review series with no content other than a book pic and bibliographic info. Today, I’ll actually tell you about Vanhoozer’s entry in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. But first a short story.

So, I realized on Tuesday Vanhoozer’s lectures started then, and not Wednesday as I had thought. There were things to do, but I decided to go for the lectures instead. After the second one, I introduced myself, asked about the lectures I was missing. He noticed I was carrying “a great pumpkin” as he called The Drama of Doctrine. He had said he needed to see more creases in the spine, and my response was to flip through and show him all the highlights within that matched the book cover. He was impressed (or at least surprised).

The reason I had the book was because there was supposed to be a book signing. However, no one announced it, so while Vanhoozer went to the book store, no one else did. Except for me (and a couple of other guys). Because there was no crowd, the book signing didn’t start, and he left. I then realized that if I had just been a bit more forward and walked up and asked, he would have signed my book. And, given that no one else was really there, we probably could have had a really good conversation. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. But that won’t stop me from e-mailing here in a few.

Before that, let’s talk about Vanhoozer talking about inerrancy. Vanhoozer is all for inerrancy, but wants it to be more classic. And by classic, he means more Augustinian. This entails it being a “literate” inerrancy. For Vanhoozer (and for Warfield), inerrancy is “not a doctrine of first dogmatic rank” similar to the Trinity (203). Further, he says it is going too far to say it is “essential,” but concedes that it is a natural outworking of what is essential (the authority of Scripture).

His constructive proposal is a “well-versed” account of inerrancy. He explain,

My primary concern about inerrancy today is that too many contemporary readers lack the literacy needed for understanding the way the words go, or for rightly handling the word of truth. Biblical inerrancy in the context of biblical illiteracy makes for a dangerous proposition. (204-205)

Vanhoozer wants to “probe further into the deep theological roots of the idea of inerrancy.” Taking cues from Luther, he wants to distinguish an “inerrancy of glory” from an “inerrancy of the cross.” The former is the natural theology of inerrancy derived from what we think perfection should be. The latter is the revealed theology of inerrancy derived from what Scripture actually says about itself. The result, Vanhoozer hopes, will be an account of inerrancy that is Augustinian (faith seeking understanding) and so sapiential in orientation (206).

He begins by asking if the Chicago statement (CSBI) is “well-versed.” This leads to explaining four major concerns:

  • Whether its definition of inerrancy is clear
  • Whether it gives primacy to a biblical-theological rather than a philosophical understanding of truth
  • Whether it is sufficiently attentive to the nature and function of language and literature
  • Whether it produced a theological novelty

As to the first concern, Vanhoozer regularly refuses to say whether he holds to inerrancy until the term is defined, or allows him to do so (206). He proposes the following definition:

To say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly). (207)

He then deals with the language issue and how we understand truth. He employs a metaphor of maps, noting that “Truth is the ‘fit’ between text and reality, between what is written and what is written about, but one can speak about (map) the same terrain in many ways” (210). Vanhoozer is worried that “some theories of inerrancy imply there is only one way to map the world correctly.” Instead, the literate interpreter understands there are different true ways to map the terrain and that “biblical books are like different kinds of maps” (211). It follows that “to read a map correctly” one must have certain familiarity with its conventions.

As to whether CSBI introduces theological novelty, Vanhoozer says “while the term inerrant or the concept of inerrancy may be new, the underlying judgment is not” (213). Vanhoozer contends that saying Scripture is “inerrant” is nearly the same as what John is saying in Revelation 2:15 (it is trustworthy and true). He concludes,

The challenge, then, is to affirm the underlying judgment together with the concept of inerrancy, provided that we can free the latter from unhelpful cultural accretions in order to free it for ministering the whole counsel of God (213).

From this foundation, Vanhoozer presents his Augustinian account. He agrees with Carl Henry about linking biblical authority and propositional revelation, but wants to add more. He affirms the transfer of information but adds communication by God in general, and covenantal communication in particular. He touches briefly on the importance of testimony as a speech act, and then moves on to how to understand the “literal sense.” Helpfully, Vanhoozer suggests that we identify the “literal sense” with the illocutionary act the author is performing, rather than the bare sentence content apart from context (220). I could probably do an entire other post on this, and might in the future. The short summary is that Vanhoozer thinks to interpreting Scripture rightly involves “recognizing what kinds of things the biblical authors are doing with their words” (223). That is the insight into the literal sense that will keep interpreters from flattening out figurative and literary nuances.

I don’t really have any comments on Vanhoozer’s treatment of the test cases, so for space sake, I’m skipping to the responses. Mohler wishes Vanhoozer would affirm inerrancy first, and then explain his position (236). He also thinks inerrancy is more essential than Vanhoozer does (241). Ultimately though, he calls Vanhoozer’s account “a specific, clear, and sophisticated defense of biblical inerrnacy as a truth claim and as a theological principle” (236).

Enns says that Vanhoozer’s leitmotif of Scripture as speech-act communication “is a genuine contribution to evangelical theology” (242). But, he feels Vanhoozer’s assessment of the CSBI, even with his qualifications, is more positive than warranted (245). He, along with Mohler, likes Vanhoozer’s distinction between inerrancy of glory and inerrancy of the cross, but for different reasons (you can probably figure them out). It seems Vanhoozer’s account holds the most appeal to Enns, but since it is still a defense of inerrancy, it doesn’t ultimately work for him (nor does Vanhoozer’s treatment of the OT test cases).

Michael Bird calls Vanhoozer his “favorite American theologian” (249). He chides him briefly for a few things, but ultimately ends by saying that “Vanhoozer’s Augustinian model is one of the better ways to infuse some creedal theology and to retrieve some patristic voices to shape future discussions of inerrancy” (252). He hopes that any future revisions of popular and official statements of inerrancy will have the KJV perspective.

Likewise, Franke says that Vanhoozer’s account is the one he resonates with on many levels, “perhaps more than any of the others” (253). He finds Vanhoozer’s rhetorical flourishes a bit wearisome, and thinks he could communicate with a bit more brevity. His postmodern views of language are less optimistic than Vanhoozer’s when it comes to discussing inerrancy. You can read Vanhoozer’s response to that in Christianity and The Postmodern Turn: Six Views. In any case, Franke makes more of the same arguments he did there, and that he does with other contributors. I’ll talk about that in more detail tomorrow.

Overall, I felt that Vanhoozer’s essay was the strongest in the book. Judging from the other contributor’s praise, and the type of responses they offered, his account seems to hold the most promise for the conversation moving forward. He won’t necessarily win people like Enns, but less sparks tend to fly. Whether one takes Vanhoozer’s account in total, his proposal for a well-versed understanding of inerrancy is much needed, and will help interpretation stay on track.

9780310331360 Yesterday, we examined Peter Enns view in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Today, we start a new section in the book, although it only includes Michael Bird’s contribution. The section is titled “Inerrancy in International Perspective.” While Bird is international, he is still a white male academic (nothing wrong with that). But he has the added virtue of being Australian, and also has a much needed sense of humor.

In his perspective, the “America Inerrancy Tradition” is not necessary outside of the US. He is for inerrancy, just not quite the way the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) articulates it. Instead, he thinks the international view is best represented as a commitment to infallibility and authority (146). Bird thinks that churches round the globe get on just fine without CSBI. And they are able to do so all the while upholding the essential authority and infallibility of the Scriptures.

From this “center of gravity,” Bird reflects a bit on the CSBI. He mistakenly sees it as demanding a strict literal hermeneutic that necessitates young earth creationism (147). He also thinks it pushes a bit too much for harmonization. In a more extended section, he takes up historical considerations laying behind the formulation of the CSBI. In Bird’s estimation, “modern defenders of inerrancy have not given sufficient attention to the philosophical, theological, and hermeneutical paradigms that have often accompanied inerrancy-like affirmations in church history” (154). Finally, Bird feels that inerrancy, as articulated in the CSBI, lends itself to a kind of colonialism as the American church expands.

Rather than “inerrancy,” Bird thinks “veracity” better captures the claims Scripture makes for itself. He then makes a constructive case for the “infallibility” of Scripture in international perspective. Having done this, he then deals with the three biblical test cases. He wrestles with them to some extent, but does not not see any conflict with his understanding of an infallible Bible.

Mohler offers the first critique, seeing Bird as “a friendly critic” and says that we can learn from his approach (174). He sees Bird as a “man I can work with” because he wants to uphold a high view of Scripture (something you get the feel Enns has a hard time arguing for). Mohler points out that most of his critiques of the CSBI fall more on those who misuse it. They use the statement to support a certain hermeneutical stance, rather than the doctrine of inerrnacy itself. In the end, he sees Bird making a case for inerrancy rather than against it (177).

Enns picks up on this as well. He says, “for the most part, whereas I could see Mohler quite unhappy with Bird’s critique of inerrancy by which he began his essay, I am not so sure he would be as alarmed by Bird’s articulation of his own view of Scripture” (183). His strongest disagreement with Bird is how he handles the Canaanite extermination. Specifically, Enns thinks that Bird does not wrestle with what the text actually says (185).

Then Vanhoozer comes along. He too prefers “infallibility” (188). What’s more, he reminds readers that John Frame says that it is the stronger term (188n63). As Vanhoozer defines it, “inerrancy is a subset of infallibility: the Bible is inerrant because its assertions are infallible.” As I did above, he points out that many members of ETS who affirm CSBI (people like me) do not affirm a literal seven day creation (I’ll leave my position on that a mystery for now). In the end, Vanhoozer reminds us that Chicago is no Nicaea. But, it does try preserve that the Bible is wholly truthful and trustworthy in the way it articulates inerrancy (189-190).

Being the postmodernist that he is, Franke resonates with Bird’s concern about colonialism. He sees the idea of asserting that the global church must assent to CSBI in order to be faithful to Scripture as the height of cultural imperialism (194). Since Franke is big on plurality, he welcomes Bird’s invitation to consider alternative accounts of inerrancy. He says that “the plurality of Scripture leads to the conclusion that there will not be a single statement of biblical authority that will be able to do justice to the full scope of the biblical witness” (195).

On the whole, I found Bird engaging. Like everyone except for Enns, he is on-board with the concept of inerrnacy. He wants to uphold the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. He has some misgivings about the CSBI, and is concerned for how it is received in global contexts. At the end of the day, the other contributors (sans Enns) find much to agree with in Brid’s proposal. The general impression I have is that if someone competently explained the CSBI, what it implies and what it doesn’t, and isn’t intent on saying “everyone must subscribe to this statement or they have a low of Scripture,” many of his concerns would evaporate. I appreciated his contribution, and always, enjoyed reading it. In the end though, Vanhoozer has an edge, but Bird might be a bit more playful (which in this conversation, certainly helps lighten the mood). For that, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

9780310331360The last installment of Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy was Al Mohler’s essay. Mohler represents the traditional view, and presents his case as a historical theologian.

Today, we have the complete antithesis to his view in Peter Enns. While the other views in this book more or less support inerrancy, Enns does not. His view is made pretty clear with his title, “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What The Bible Does.” Coming on the heels of Mohler’s view, the result is a contrast just as stark as Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

For Enns, the core issue “is how inerrancy functions in contemporary evangelical theological discourse” (83). He sees inerrnacy functioning as “a theological boundary marker against faulty exegetical conclusions or misguided hermeneutical approaches” (84-85). At the heart of this is the the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is used, or Enns account, misused.

In explaining how the CSBI preempts dialogue, Enns comments:

The implied premise of the CSBI is that God as God would necessarily produce an inerrant Bible, and this premise is the very point coming under increasing scrutiny within evangelicalism. To the minds of many, maintaining inerrancy requires that perennially nagging counterevidence from inside and outside of the Bible must be adjusted to support that premise rather than allowing that evidence to call the premise into question. In my opinion, the distance between what the Bible is and the theological hedge place around the Bible by the CSBI has been and continues to be a source of considerable cognitive dissonance. (85)
He concludes that inerrancy cannot be adjusted in such a way that it can account for the Bible’s actual behavior. (91).

In contrast to Mohler’s essay, Enns spends the majority of his time on the three biblical test cases. Mohler devoted almost 20 pages to explaining his position on inerrancy and less than 10 dealing with the test cases. This is exactly reversed in Enns, with 25 pages on the test cases, and less than 10 sketching out why inerrancy is a problem.

Enns is the only Old Testament scholar in the bunch, and he spends more space on Jericho than Bird does on all three test cases combined. In short, the fall of Jericho, at least as described in Joshua 6, is not historical. As far as reconciling Acts 9 and 22, this is more of a problem for Enns than any other contributor. Likewise, the conflict between Deuteronomy 20:16-17 and Matthew 5:43-48 is much more acute in Enns’ portrayal. In the ends, Enns feels that “inerrancy” as a term/concept has run its course we ought to jettison it (115).

Mohler offers the first critique. As he sees it, “inerrancy is the single issue that truly distinguishes evangelicalism from liberal Protestantism” (118). He points out that Enns seems to see this as well by his admission that inerrancy is part of evangelicalism’s DNA. From here, Mohler responds to many of Enns’ criticisms, and challenges his interpretation of the problem texts.

Bird disputes the claim that inerrancy is part of evangelicalism’s DNA (124). Instead, he sees it as a recovery, but also a reaction to the “biblical criticism resourced in the philosophical framework of modernity” (125). Bird also rejects Enns’ incarnational model of Scripture because it threatens the uniqueness of Christ’s incarnation. Further, Bird pushes back on Enns’ rejection of the Jericho account and his reduction of the Exodus story. As Bird puts it, “just because you have a theory about what was behind a certain biblical story does not therefore make that theory immediately more probable than the biblical account” (126). He adds, “A point of principle is that biblical criticism should be digested critically and its presuppositions, procedures, and finding made susceptible to the same scrutiny to which the biblical narratives are themselves made subject.”

Then along comes Vanhoozer. He gives Enns a charitable reading, but is also critical in a constructive manner. Like Enns, he too wants us to conform our doctrine of Scripture to the Bible we actually have (129). But, along with Bird, Vanhoozer wishes that Enns had been more constructive in his proposal rather than mainly deconstructive. And, in Vanhoozer’s account, Enns is primarily deconstructive of “perfect book theology,” which is basically a critique of “naive” inerrancy, rather than the critical inerrancy than most sophisticated evangelicals hold to. In the end, Vanhoozer sees Enns’ essay suffering from two confusions (130):

  1. A failure to distinguish the nature of inerrancy from its use
  2. A failure to distinguish inerrancy’s right use from various abuses

As a result, Enns primarily rejects not “a particular definition of inerrancy as much as a set of interpretive practices that have come to be associated with inerrancy” (131). This means that, “there is no room for literate, hemeneutically informed inerrantists in Enns’ inn” (132).

Finally, Franke adds his perspective. His concern is that Enns is still in reaction to his departure from Westminster (137). I’ve felt much the same way in reading his post WTS work. He acknowledges (and I would too) that in many ways we have mistreated Enns in his attempts to come to terms with how he sees the text of Scripture. We can certainly disagree sharply, but we shouldn’t treat Enns as a scapegoat or simply cast him aside as a betrayer of the tradition. That being said, Franke too picks up on the more deconstructive focus of Enns and wishes there was more constructive substance to his contribution (139). This makes for more or less unanimity among the other contributors on a short-coming of Enns work in this volume.

In the end, I am glad Enns is included here, even if he is primarily deconstructive. He offers by far the most attention to the biblical test cases. And although he sees far more issues there than I do (or for the most part the other contributors), his perspective is certainly a force to be reckoned with if you want to maintain a traditional account of inerrancy. Ultimately, I did not find his view very convincing, but it does help me to understand how to not formulate a doctrine of inerrancy. Likewise, Enns helps readers to see how inerrancy should not be misued in formulating interpretive principles. Though it might feel like straw men to some, Enns is certainly arguing based on how people actually use inerrancy, and we would do well to avoid the errors that he is reacting against.

9780830840366_p0_v1_s260x420

Mark W. Foreman & James K. Dew Jr., How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 2014. 175 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

A couple of weeks back, I introduced you to Mark Foreman, who introduced me to philosophy. I told you about then his Prelude to Philosophy. Today, for philosophy Friday, I thought I’d tell you about his other new book. This time, he is co-authoring along with James K. Dew Jr., a philosophy and history of ideas prof at Southeastern. Together, they’ve written an accessible introduction to epistemology. Perhaps my favorite branch of philosophy, epistemology is the study of knowledge. It tests the limits and methods of knowing and is a powerful tool in apologetics.

The book takes its title from the key question in that study: How Do We Know? Since the authors are writing for people with no background in philosophy (9), the opening chapter tackles basic definitions. The authors want to make sure everyone is clear on what epistemology is and why it is important. As for the latter, everyone deals with epistemology whether they know or it not, so it is best to do so from an informed perspective. From this most basic foundation, the second chapter defines knowledge itself. In the main, knowledge is defined as “justified true belief” (JTB). In order for something to count as knowledge, it must be true, you must believe it is true, and you must have proper reasons for doing so. There have been recent challenges to this, most notably from Edmund Gettier. In keeping the discussion on the ground level, the authors manage to cover with clarity the issues with “Gettier problems.”

From here, the chapters that follow are each framed by a question. The first two were as well, so that makes for a nice unifying effect. Chapter 3 explains where knowledge comes from, and in doing so, discusses the difference between rationalism and empiricism. Further, they discuss the reliability of testimony, as well as the role revelation plays. Next, chapter 4 explains where truth comes from and how we find it. This requires a discussion of the three main theories of truth: correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic.

Chapter 5 is about the structure of arguments and how we draw inferences (either inductive or deductive). Chapter 6 explains how perception works, as well as how we understand our perceptions to correspond to reality. Chapter 7 focuses on justification. At first glance, the chapter title (Do we need justification?) might make some think we’ve suddenly started talking about salvation . However, the discussion comes back to a topic in chapter 2 (what is knowledge?) and explains the different understandings of how we give reasons for our beliefs. In answering this, the discussion covers the structure of knowledge itself. The primary distinction is whether one thinks of knowledge as a pyramid shape (foundationalism) or a web shape (coherentism).

The final three chapters focus on the virtues of our knowing, whether we have revelation (and its impact on our knowledge), and the question of certainty. This final chapter is especially helpful in its discussion of skepticism. Readers might be surprised to know the different varieties of skepticism. Also, surprising is fact that it is possible to be less than 100% certain about what we know and not be antsy about it. This is a good way to close out the book since it addresses postmodern concerns about what we can and can’t know.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a good refresher as I was studying to Ph.D entrance exams. Even if I wasn’t studying, I still would have read it rather quickly and enjoyed the clarity of the discussion. Epistemology has been my favorite philosophical subject for a quite a while and this is probably the first book I would give someone who wants to study it further.

9781596382176

A couple of months back, I introduced the review series for John Frame’s Systematic Theology. Then, a few weeks ago, we looked at the first part, Introduction to Systematic Theology. Today, we’re looking at the second section, “The Biblical Story.” Much like Bird’s placement of eschatology in his systematic, Frame puts his discussion of the kingdom of God sooner rather than later. Before that, he explains his understanding of the covenants.

The Lord’s Covenants

Frame thinks that “a preliminary sweep over its landscape” is important before a detailed study of the theology of Scripture (53). This helps to set the context, which is important to avoid the negative version of proof-texting. Frame is for proof-texting, when it is done right. What he means is that “anyone who seeks to validate a theological idea must be willing to show where his idea comes from in Scripture” (55).

To set the context, Frame sees three valid perspectives. Under one, you can map the landscape of Scripture according to the covenants. This is the focus of the current chapter. The other perspectives are the Kingdom of God and the family of God, the next two chapters. Attentive readers will notice this is Frame’s normative (covenant), situational (kingdom), and existential (family) perspectives on the biblical terrain.

As he moves through the chapter, Frame unpacks the following covenants:

  • The Eternal Covenant of Redemption (among the persons of the Trinity)
  • The Universal Covenant (God’s covenant with creation in general)
  • The Edenic Covenant (God’s covenant with Adam and Eve in particular)
  • The Covenant of Grace
  • The Noahic Covenant
  • The Abrahamic Covenant
  • The Mosaic Covenant
  • The Davidic Covenant
  • The New Covenant

With a list of covenants that would make a dispensationalist proud, Frame offers an extensive map of Scripture. I think it is a bit hard to prove a formal covenant on the universal scale. Likewise, the eternal covenant of redemption, to me, is ontologically problematic. In normal person speak, it is hard to have a covenant among the persons of the Trinity before creation. That is unless you are comfortable with the covenant being somehow part of the divine nature. The concept can help explain the intentions of God in creation and election. But it is perhaps a stretch to suggest an actual covenant existed. Scripture suggests plans, but does not invoke the concept.

Beyond this, readers will find Frame’s exposition of the other covenants helpful and concise. If you want a good overview of the covenants in Scripture, Frame provides just that. He will help you see how they make up the framework of the Old Testament. In the end, he makes a case for how the time-transcending covenants (Eternal, Universal, and New) are triperspectivally related (you can guess how).

The Kingdom of God

Having parsed Scripture according to the covenants, Frame turns to doing the same according to the kingdom. This is Bruce Waltke’s organizing motif in his Old Testament Theology (which is the best you can buy), and it’s a good one. Waltke’s focus is on the irruption of the kingdom of God as Scripture moves along. All I could think of was Van Halen, and how much I needed to improve my tapping. Frame’s approach here is more generalized and less exhaustive. He explains the overlap of the ages, as well as the theme of God and then Christ as king. This leads to a discussion of the gospel of the kingdom, as well as the distinction between law and gospel. For Frame, this entails a short deconstruction of two kingdom theology. In case you didn’t know, Frame is not a fan of it, especially the kind that emanates from Escondido.

The Family of God

Finally, to complete the triangle, Frame offers a third map. This time, he focuses on the family of God and God as Father. This is a much more intimate understanding. Whereas in the covenant, God is Lord, and the kingdom God is King, in the family God is Father. To underscore this, Frame spends a considerable amount of chapter space explaining why God is Father and not Mother. As the footnotes flex their muscles, Frame points out the use of feminine images in Scripture. But, he explains the theological importance of masculine imagery. For Frame, it comes down to Father as a revealed title, feminine imagery is understand of light of that, not the other way around.

Overall, this section offers the helpful context Frame aimed to provide. The covenants receive the primary extended focus, while kingdom and family motifs receive much shorter space. While they could each receive more exposition, this does fit with the biblical emphasis (for the most part). The covenants loom large in the Old Testament. Kingdom connects the two testaments. Family is more of the focus in the New Testament. In this way, God’s relationship with his human creatures grows more intimate. Frame provides connective tissue for holding together our understanding of Scripture. He also sets the stage well for his next section on the doctrine of God. Whereas this section was around 70 pages, the next is almost 400. Because of that, I’ll be breaking it into two treatments, which you can look forward to next month.

Recently, I’ve noticed a bothersome use of language in Christian circles. What’s new? you might wonder. Not a whole lot, just the latest issue of Christian buzzwords, which I have a long history of hating.

For instance, in seminary, everything was “missional.” That was the coveted adjective for every book, movement, and public figure. No doubt this started with motivations above reproach. Later it seemed to become a code word you could use to let people know your new initiative or book was hip and with it.

I hated it.

First off, I didn’t see anything in the adjective “missional” that wasn’t already in the noun “Christian.” That is to say, there is no genuine Christian who isn’t missional in the best sense of the terms. Saying this or that movement or person was “missional” implies that others without the label aren’t. That may or may not be intentional, but I think it happens. In short, I saw it as less than clarifying as well as something people just said to show they could speak Christianese.

These days, I don’t have much of a problem with “missional.” It has receded into less aggressive usage, and we can all rejoice. But, since nature abhors a vacuum, the death of one buzzword hails the rise of another. This one has a hyphen so you know it means business.

I am speaking of course of “gospel-centered.”

This is déjà vu all over again. Like missional, there isn’t anything in the adjective “gospel-centered,” that isn’t already included in the noun “Christian.” Also much like missional, I think it is something that should be something true of many Christian endeavors. But, it is also code for “better” in some uses, and that is not particularly helpful. If I write a book on Christian living, and you write a book on gospel-centered living, your book isn’t necessarily better because it has the “right” adjective at the front. It may well be, but calling things “gospel-centered” doesn’t baptize them into some special rank of first importance. In fact, just because you label something “gospel-centered” doesn’t mean it is. Some of the best “gospel-centered” writing I’ve read and sermons I’ve heard never use the terminology.

While I could go on about how I don’t like the use of the lingo, that’s not the point. Just so we’re not confused, I have no qualms with the concept, and agree with our need to be gospel centered in our various ministries. I would say in everything we do, but I don’t think that’s the case. We should be “God’s glory centered” in all that we do. This is not synonymous with “gospel-centered,” but it is also not opposed to it. You can do both.

My real problem here is how we “reify” the gospel. In case you’re not familiar, “reification” is giving a concept or abstract idea a concrete existence. We do this in our Christianese when we talk about the gospel, but use it as the active subject of a verb. For example, if you say something like “The gospel changes us by showing us our need for grace as demonstrated on the cross.” In this usage, “the gospel” is the subject of the sentence and it is treated as something that acts upon an object. This is just one example, and I just made it up, but I think you’ll find that language floating around. I could do a search to prove it, but I don’t want to implicate anyone and I’d rather just keep writing.

The first reason I think this is a problem is that it is not the way the Biblical writers use the term. Certainly we aren’t limited to the way Scripture uses theological terms. But it should give us pause that in 76 uses of the word “gospel” in the New Testament, it is only used as the active subject of a verb once (1 Thess. 1:5) and in that case, there is no reification since it is talking about the way in which the content of the gospel was delivered. Of the other 5 instances when it is a subject of a verb, 4 times it is being preached, and once it is veiled. In all cases, it is a passive recipient of the action of the verb. So when we use “the gospel” as an actor that does things in, to, and for believers, we are using it in a way that, is foreign to the biblical writers. If I were being uncharitable, I could say it is unbiblical. I’d rather say it is a usage that doesn’t fit the biblical logic of what the gospel actually is.

The second, and more important reason I think this is a problem, is that it cuts God out of the picture. To go back to the previous example: “The Holy Spirit changes us by showing us our need for grace as demonstrated in the gospel.” In this case, the change is attributed to the action of a real divine person rather than an abstract concept. When people misuse the gospel as an actor in our sanctification they are slighting the Spirit without realizing it. A better theological subject verb agreement would involve the Spirit being the agent and the gospel being part of the means.

If the gospel isn’t an actor that accomplishes things, we should not speak about it as if it is. Rather, we should speak of the God of the gospel who works through the gospel to accomplish his purposes. If we insist on making the gospel itself an actor in the drama of redemption, we are engaging in a kind of gospel-centered reduction. I doubt anyone intends to do this, but it is an unintended consequence of buzzwords. They can be helpful, but often are not. Instead, they shortchange clear thinking by leading to reductions in our language. We rely on them as shorthand, but in this case, what gets left out is what is really of first importance.

We would do better to speak with accuracy of the God of the gospel, even if that means not using the word gospel. We can be gospel-centered in the way we talk about God and the Christian life without using the term “gospel-centered.” If what we are saying really is gospel-centered, people will be able to tell. And if it is really “gospel-centered” it is ultimately “God-centered.” What God has done in Christ and continues to do through the Spirit should be front and center. And our language should reflect that in our subjects, verbs, and everything else.

41G8EM1GDmL

Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things DoneGrand Rapids: Zondervan, March, 2014. 352 pp. Hardcover, $19.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy and Matt Perman for letting me be part of the street team!

Every now and then, a book comes long that is actually life changing. Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next: How The Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done is one of those books. Looking at the subtitle, this shouldn’t be surprising. If the gospel is what Christians claim it is, it certainly ought to transform how we get things done, and radically so. Perman’s book is aimed at both unpacking the connection and helping tease out how it affects your day to day work. 1

He does this in 7 parts. The first, “Making God Supreme in Our Productivity,” takes four chapters and debunks the first four productivity myths. Here, Perman is explaining how our understanding of who God is should connect to how we get things done. Having a God-centered understanding of our day to day activities puts them into a context that prizes effectiveness over efficiency. It also means that our work stems from a love of God and love of our neighbors. In the end, the most unproductive thing we could do is attempt to be super productivity while ignoring the role that God plays.

In the second part of the book, Perman moves from the God-centered, gospel foundation of productivity to its initial application in our day to day lives. If our understanding of productivity is truly God-centered, it affects the core motivations we have in getting things done. Ultimately, we should want to be productive for the good of others, not just to feel better about ourselves. Because we stand fully justified before God, we are not earning a status and thus are able to freely do good works out of love for our neighbors. What’s more, we do not have to feel the burden of needing to have everything under control. Our peace of mind comes from resting in the gospel, not getting everything done or having the perfect plan to do so. Further, redeemed productivity is animated by prayer and helps us to know what is most important, put that first, and then focus on doing what’s best next.

With this theology foundation in place, the next 4 parts of the book unpack Perman’s approach to getting things done. It can be summarized in the acronym DARE:

  • Define
  • Architect
  • Reduce
  • Execute

Part 3 covers how to “Define” your tasks. That is, know what’s most important and what needs to really get done. In order to really know this, you need to have a life mission statement as well as a thorough understanding of the various roles you fulfill in life. Ultimately, your mission is to go and make disciples, bringing glory to God in all that you do. Your vision on the other hand, relates to your calling, and is the specific way you are going to fulfill the mission. Because of this distinction, you can fulfill the mission but miss your personal vision. That’s not ideal, and what Perman writes in this section should help you clarify your understanding of mission as your particular calling and vision.

Having defined your calling and roles, it is much easier to actually plan what you need to be doing. Part 4 explains how to architect this out. The key is to actually plan on a week to week to basis and to focus more on setting up routines rather than endless to-do lists. I’ll probably have more to say on this in a later posts as I found this especially helpful. Readers who have used David Allen’s Getting Things Done will probably find Perman’s tweaks helpful. I am familiar but haven’t been utilizing it, but I can see how Perman has gotten around a typical problem people run into when managing individual tasks vs. larger projects (and where the line between the two is). It’s not a radical enough shift to through people off, and if you don’t use GTD, it’s not a huge issue.

Once you’ve defined and planned (“architected”), it is important to know when and how to reduce what you do. This is the focus of part 5. One key is to only schedule to 70-75% capacity rather than entirely filling up your plate. You need a flexible schedule to account for, well, life. If you’re always scheduled full to the brim, there are always going to be things that don’t get done and you’re probably going to carry out a very frustrated existence. By only planning for 70-75% you’ve reduced your day to day load and will actually be more productive in the long run. Helpful also in this section is the chapter on harnessing time killers and working with interruptions and procrastination.

Finally, you actually need to get things done. Execution is the focus of part 6, and Perman has many valuable insights. Particularly helpful is the chapter on processing e-mail, in which he suggests you can, and then explain how you can get to inbox zero everyday. I’ve been doing this for a while thanks to Mailbox app, but that’s probably another post as well. The insights on e-mail are part of Perman’s overall helpful tips for processing what comes your way. He relies heavily on Allen’s system in GTD, but he makes it his own and has clearly put a lot of thought into optimizing it further.

Before bringing the book to a close, Perman offers one last section on how to live out the system he is suggesting. He also connects it to larger concerns about the improvement of society and being responsible citizens of the kingdom of God in this world. After this, there is a toolkit section that includes a helpful 500 word summary, a list of recommend further reading, and a link to the online toolkit for further resources from Matt.

As I said in opening, this book is truly life changing. The reading of the first couple parts really opens your eyes to see productivity in a God-centered way. It helps to redeem management books and the like by setting them within a gospel-centered framework. The life-changing part of the core 4 parts I think comes more in the implementation rather than in the reading. In that light, this is a book that I’ve now read, but am certainly not done with. I’ll be back in it multiple times in the coming days and weeks and I seek to wisely implement the insights Perman has for productivity to the glory of God. If you are serious getting things done effectively and want to glorify God in your day to day activities, I highly recommend picking up this book. It will easily repay the investment of time and money you put into it. While I’m reviewing it now, this probably isn’t the last post that I’ll have on it. As I put much of what Perman says into action, I plan to post here and there about how I do it. In the meantime, pick up a copy for yourself and join me on reorienting productivity in a gospel centered, God-honoring direction so that we can do more for God and our neighbors.

Notes:

  1. Here is his post explaining more about why he wrote the book. Also, check out his post with more goodies from the book, and his online toolkit to go with the book.

1545546_10101264373757208_785687467_n

You may have noticed that there was no expository blogging post last Monday. Part of that was so I could talk about my trip to Louisville. The other part was that I intended to move the series to Saturdays. But life happens, and my plans to post this Saturday did not materialize, so here we are.

You may also notice I am offering a title rather than just a reference. Part of this is because you can tell what it is now without me announcing it. The other part is I just thought it would be better to give the posts in the series more interesting titles. And so here we are.

Exodus 4:1-9

When we last checked in on Moses, he was talking to God via the medium of a flaming shrubbery. God had announced his intentions to show Pharaoh what’s up, and in the process save Israel from their oppression. This is all well and good, but Moses has a key pragmatic concerns:

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.'” (4:1)

In response, God offers Moses 3 distinct signs he can use to validate his prophetic message:

The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” (4:2-9)

Some of the significance of these signs can be lost on us 3000 years later. Concerning the staff to snake and back trick, Alec Motyer explains:

The kings of Egypt wore crowns adorned with the ‘uraeus,’ a cobra with raised hood threatening Egypt’s enemies. The cobra crown was also associated with the sun god Re [Ra], the ‘Living King,’ who, when united with Amon [or Amun], was the most powerful deity in Egypt. Victory over the serpent was, therefore, a comprehensive motif for challenging and overthrowing the central realities of Egyptian religion and sovereignty, and thus by this sign, Egypt’s power, whether divine or royal, is shown to be under the Lord’s sovereign sway. Moses may well have fled from it in the past, but by obedience he can also subdue it.” 1

As far as being able to conjure leprosy, one could see this as the most significant physical disease in that culture. Being able to manifest it and then get it rid of demonstrated a power of the body that would be similar to being able to summon skin cancer onto a person and then just as easily “cure” it.

Although mentioned as an almost last resort, the sign involving the Nile is actually a prominent foreshadowing of the eventual first plague. Stuart explains that this is sign is “hinting at the fact that God had in store some serious threats to unleash upon the Egyptians, which he would first demonstrate, through this sample, to his own people. The third sign, in other words, was not so much about Moses as it was about Egypt, and specifically the Nile. For God’s servant Moses to demonstrate through this simple act God’s power over the Nile would be to demonstrate God’s power generally over Egypt and the Egyptians a fortiori.” 2 Furthermore, if you keep in mind that Egyptian religion would have considered the Nile to be a personification of a certain god, turning it to blood implied that god had been killed. The primary source of life in the region was now dripping death.

4:10-17

I imagine most of us would have been content to head on back to Egypt at this point. But not Moses. Though you can read this as cowardice on Moses’ part, it is also kind of ballsy to argue with God about whether you should do what he says. If God was speaking you audibly from a fire in your backyard, how comfortable would you be pushing back on what he’s asking you do to? Moses it seems was pretty comfortable:

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” (4:10-17)

If you’re keeping score, this is Moses’ 2nd and 3rd objections, with the 3rd one finally getting to the root problem: Moses just doesn’t want to go. In his anger, God makes a concession which will come back to haunt Moses. Since Moses isn’t keen on being the spokesman for God to Pharaoh, Aaron will do all the talking with Moses being the go-between. In this sense, the word of God comes to Moses, who relays it to Aaron, who relays it to Pharaoh. This is a rather cumbersome setup and Aaron will prove to be a liability, but we see God accommodate Moses’ insecurities. While this is gracious on God’s part, we can also see that it would have probably been better had Moses simply acquiesced to God’s initial request.

For many of us, God won’t ask us to lead a nation out of centuries long slavery. Most of us also aren’t wanted fugitives in our hometown either. But, God has callings for each of us that may involve missions that are not our first choice of a lifestyle. When that calling becomes clear, we should learn from Moses’ story that a certain level dialogue with God is acceptable. But after a certain point, God’s accommodation might not prove to be what we think it is in the long run. It would be better for us to obey and go when God has made himself clear. The clarity might not be as brilliant as an audible voice from a bush that burns but is not consumed. But if God is calling us to something specific, he has his ways of making sure we get the memo. While we have our ways of playing Jonah, we’ll be far better off to respond in faith rather than fear and take the next step toward whatever Egypt or Ninevah God has called us to pursue.

In the end, if you feel God is calling you toward a specific mission, is it perfectly ok to ask questions about it. You can ask God for clarification, you can push back on the nature of the mission and your role in it. But, what you shouldn’t do is say, “Hey God, thanks for the offer, but can you find someone else?” God’s specific calling for you to join his mission is not a job offer you can take or leave. It is a vital part of your purpose in the body of Christ. Take your cues from Isaiah instead of Moses and say “Here I am, send me” not “Here I am, send someone else.”

Notes:

  1. J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus: The Days of Our Pilgrimage. Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005, 77
  2. Douglas K Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 131