Here’s a quote that might go against the grain of what is predominantly taught in conservative evangelical circles. The more I look at how faith is described in the Bible and exercised in the narrative of scripture, the more I think it is a good representation of biblical faith:
“Biblical faith isn’t about trying to attain certainty; it’s about committing to a course of action in the face of uncertainty.” – Greg Boyd
Faith is not mere mental assent to a set of biblical propositions. Nor is it just believing the “right” doctrines. It is allegiance to the Lord Jesus expressed in a willingness to obey his commands regardless of the outcome. The word “faith” itself implies a level of uncertainty; we don’t know how things will end up when we commit to following Jesus, but we trust in and exercise loyalty towards our Lord Jesus without a shred of concern for ourselves. That’s how we show we truly love Him.
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21; NRSV)
When asked about the importance of assurance in the Christian life, Douglas Campbell, a brilliant and faithful biblical scholar, responds in this way:
“One of the things that we are delivered from is introversion and narcissism. And God doesn’t want us wandering around worrying about ourselves. God wants us turned out towards the rest of the world; there are people out there that need help. We are the ones that are supposed to help them. Unfortunately, we have generated theological models that have created such anxiety that we’ve got classrooms full of anxious Christians and they’re not really confident that God is working in their lives and is able to work in the lives of others. So, I really do encourage my students… ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord; believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved’. You’re there, bro. Stop worrying about yourself and get out there and visit some prisons”
I have found that when I spend time caring, loving, and serving others as Christ commands us to do, you don’t have time to be distressed about whether or not you’re in the kingdom. Get out there and do the good works that God has called you to do! Assurance will take care of itself.
(This was transcribed by me from a debate between Douglas Campbell and Douglas Moo; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlujS-fH8R4 (1:56:03)
I am slowing working through John Walton’s Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief. In the first chapter, he addresses the relationship between interpretation and authority.
“A cognitive environment [worldview, cosmology] encompasses how people think about the world, including the place of the gods and the role of humanity. Anathea Portier-Young appropriately observes that ‘cosmology demarcates inside from outside, center from periphery, normal from aberrant. Its logic legitimates claims about truth and morality.’ Theology assumes such a cognitive environment. Consequently, if we are to understand the theology of the Old Testament [and the New Testament], we must not neglect its cognitive environment [which is what I believe most Christians do]. The only alternative is to impose our own Western or Christian cognitive environment on the Old Testament. If we do this, we are no longer describing Old Testament theology; we are describing our own theology. As a result, we will likely miss the intention of the Old Testament author entirely. And we misunderstand the Old Testament author, WE LOSE TOUCH WITH THE AUTHORITY OF THE TEXT.” (pg. 16, brackets, italics, and caps mine)
In a nutshell, whether we like it or not, the Bible is culturally bound by the “cognitive environment” or worldview of the peoples to whom the authors were writing. The authors did not have 21st century Christians in mind when they penned the text. So, unless we read with that firmly in mind and not ask the Bible to answer questions it is not ready to give (i.e. treating the Bible as a science textbook), we strip our interpretation of any authority whatsoever.
It’s been a while. We have a new addition to our household, but more on that later. I just wanted to reblog this post I found on the importance of historical study when it comes to our understanding of the Bible. I found it helpful. Enjoy and feel free to leave comments below letting me know what you think.
We got a few responses from our Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism volume that we were just beholden to the New Perspective and its fundamental problem—letting Jewish texts determine the meaning of inspired revelation. (That said, if they had actually read the volume or understood the New Perspective, they would have not so easily made that claim about our volume.) The challenge seems a little less pressing when you consider Jesus in his Jewish environment like we have with Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism, but even then I (Ben) have received a comment from some quite hesitant to allow any uninspired text to shape our understanding of the Bible. That sounds spiritual, but the historical study of the Bible is foundational for all serious interpretations. Whether one follows the historical-critical method or its evangelical cousin the historical-grammatical method, the key idea is history.
We don’t have any problem studying the practices of the cult of Artemis in Ephesus to help us understand Luke’s portrayal of Paul’s experience there in Acts 19. We don’t have any problem looking at archeological dig sites to help understand the daily life of Jews and their Decapolis neighbors to understand Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. In fact, my evangelical compatriots often rightly appeal to the distinctly historical nature of the narrative accounts in the Gospels and Acts to argue for their reliability. In these cases, allowing for historical boundedness to meaning does not entail that we are letting uninspired knowledge determine the meaning of the Bible. Rather than a hindrance, we think of these as aids. In the same way, we have a treasure trove of Jewish texts that give us a window into historical perspectives of Jews contemporaneous with the New Testament. Why would ignore this rich variety that we find in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, etc.? These help us gain invaluable historical information about the first-century Jewish experience.
When you read Reading Mark in Context, you will see that Jesus and Mark disagree with or modify Jewish categories as much as they accept them. As a result, we are not allowing these other texts to control our understanding of the Bible. They do, however, enlighten our understanding. If we are concerned with bad interpretation, I am much more worried about those who ignore historical information and therefore import their own very modern conceptions back onto Jesus and the New Testament. As they try to avoid letting actual historical documents determine the meaning, they end up committing a worse error by allowing their own opinion to determine the meaning (i.e., eisegesis). God chose to reveal himself in Jesus in a Second Temple Jewish setting for a reason, and it behooves the serious interpreter to understand the historical context in which God’s revelation occurred so we can understand it better. Reading Mark in Context won’t uncover all the historical issues, but it can at least tangibly introduce you and your students to Jesus’ world.