Do no harm — an important litotes

Nosiree, I didn’t commit a typographical error in the title. A litotes* is a figure of speech, and a common one at that. It is, according to a Webster clone, an “understatement for effect”, especially when expressed by a negative to the contrary. In plainer words, you use a negative when you mean a positive.

An example: You say, “I have not a few regrets.” You mean, “I have many, many regrets.”

Another example: You say, “That’s not bad.” You mean, “That’s really good!” Continue reading “Do no harm — an important litotes”

Zacchaeus’ story provides insight into salvation

Two boys asked a baseball coach the same question, “When can I play ball?” Yet each received a different answer. The first boy was told, “You’ll need to sign up and try out.” The second heard, “Just wait. You’ll be called.” Context enables us to understand why the answers differed. One boy was not yet on the team.

Since scripture provides different answers regarding salvation, Zacchaeus’ story reminds us to interpret messages within their context if we seek an author-centered understanding. Such a reminder promotes an accurate handling of two distinct New Testament messages. Simplistically latching on to either message tempts us to disregard the other. Continue reading “Zacchaeus’ story provides insight into salvation”

Bonhoeffer, Culture & 1 Corinthians 11

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is frequently praised within Christendom for standing up against the prevailing culture of Nazi Germany in support of biblical principles. I recently witnessed a celebration of Carl Spain, whose chapel speech in 1960 at an all white college condemned racism among Christian colleges.

The question invariably comes to mind, why were there not many others, who profess Christ, standing with Bonhoeffer or Spain? Seriously? Continue reading “Bonhoeffer, Culture & 1 Corinthians 11”

The hermeneutics of desire and fear

Have you ever heard something that you did not want to be true? We all have.

I remember a visiting professor from Oberlin College and Conservatory telling our class that when it comes to church history, practice has often preceded theology. Everything within me screamed this was wrong. Our understanding of God’s word should shape what we do and how we think. What we want or what we are doing should not determine how we read God’s word!

Walking with him across the parking lot after class, I discussed this with him further. He graciously pointed out that “what is” does not always align with “what should be.” My naivety was crushed. I had not considered that some might want to take a path other than the original message. Continue reading “The hermeneutics of desire and fear”

Opportunity to draw the wrong conclusion

Perhaps as people partake of the Lord’s Supper, church projectors hurl an eyecatching graphic above the worshippers’ heads. Emblazoned on the screens are the words, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Or maybe this verse appears as a knockout quote in a church bulletin.

Opportunities to draw the wrong conclusion have appeared. As the old addage says, a text without a context is simply a pretext for a proof text of what we want it to mean. Continue reading “Opportunity to draw the wrong conclusion”

Neither male nor female once again

The request was unusual. “I am working on a college assignment regarding the role of women in the church. Would you have any resources?” After lending her some books, I began to reflect upon the phrase, “neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Disputes, some heated, others congenial, have swirled around those words.

I believe a simple story can assist everyone to accurately understand, agree upon, and draw application for today. OK, I concede this is too optimistic since people value different goals. Nevertheless, if we place priority upon an authored-centered meaning, as opposed to a reader-centered one, “neither male nor female” would seem rather straightforward.

Continue reading “Neither male nor female once again”

What are we hearing?

Three true stories. Three very different messages. We might agree with some, but not all. Yet, all contain the same fundamental truth. Can you identify it?

#1 The speaker related Osama Bin Laden’s claim how a divided Christianity had significantly shaped his negative view of Christianity. Then this presenter further prepped the audience with various statements before asking, “How many churches are there in the US?” Affirming ecumenicalism, the audience shouted back, “One!”

#2 A preacher explained how the elders in his congregation had rallied around the principles of Romans 12:1-2 and “You can not do together what you are not doing individually.” These two principles had led them into pursuing habits of personal spiritual formation to transform their elders’ meetings from business board meetings into a more spiritual time for serving the congregation.

#3 Wading through verses in the Gospel of John while sprinkling in several humorous antidotes, the professor asserted that John powerfully portrayed Jesus as allowing himself to be crucified. Jesus was always in control. Jesus was no victim.

Continue reading “What are we hearing?”

Saved by faith alone? yes! no!

One problem with language involves assuming we accurately understand others. Biblical wisdom would remind us, “The one who gives an answer before he listens – that is his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

Consider for example someone asserting, “We are saved by faith alone.” Do you agree or disagree?

Since this statement could describe two very different ideas, a better response than offering a knee jerk “yes” or “no” would be to first seek clarification. Continue reading “Saved by faith alone? yes! no!”

What he said and what he meant

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away…” (Matthew 5:29a).

I explained during a sermon that a particular statement Jesus made was hyperbole and that it wasn’t intended literally. I was told by someone afterward that I should be ashamed because “the Bible means what it says,” and that I shouldn’t “ad lib” for the Bible. Continue reading “What he said and what he meant”