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The Hermeneutics of ‘The Castle’

her⋅me⋅neu⋅tics [hur-muh-noo-tiks, -nyoo-]
–noun (used with a singular verb)
1. the science of interpretation, esp. of the Scriptures.
2. the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Biblical exegesis.

Previously I wrote about this subject and the focus was on ‘Homerneutics‘, the practice of reading your own meaning into a text of Scripture.
This time we’re looking at a related methodology which I think can be illustrated by a character from the movie, The Castle. The character Dennis Denuto is a very average suburban lawyer who determines that the best course of appealing against a land acquisition is by referencing the Australian Constitution. When the presiding magistrate asks him which part of the Constitution he is referring to Denuto replies: “In summing up, it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe and — No, that’s it.
It’s the vibe!”
There are those who purport to teach the Bible, but who are simply appealing to the ‘vibe’ of the book. Such messages will usually be based on a subject or theme, but when you’re finished you’ll struggle to recall an actual Bible passage that you understand better than you did at the beginning.
Messages (it’s hard to call them ‘sermons’) of this type differ from topical sermons.
A topical or thematic sermon will identify a particular subject and examine biblical teaching on that subject from a variety of texts. In doing so the preacher will attempt to demonstrate how that subject has developed during the time-line represented by Scriptural revelation. Or they may gather and summarise relevant information on a particular topic. Both types of topical sermons are valid.
The reason why they do not feature so much in evangelical/reformed pulpits is due to the fact that topical preaching, by its nature, is reliant on the preacher’s (or the congregation’s) preferences for that which they want to hear (or not). Consecutive expositional preaching takes God’s Word and the text imposes the agenda, rather than the agenda having to seek a text.
Anyway, a speaker utiliysing ‘Deneutics’, doesn’t really teach from the Scripture, he makes his points, sometimes while holding a closed Bible in his hand, and simply appeals to the nature of the Kingdom of God or God’s Fatherhood as being sufficient to ground what has been claimed. It’s the vibe of the thing that counts.
Sometimes real biblical principles will be used as starting points, but then extrapolations will be made without any biblical evidence at all.
For example, there is a biblical imperitive for Christians, those called into God’s family to care for one another’s needs. The reality of faith has to be demonstrated in the individual’s behaviour.  The New Testament affirms this time and again. Jesus said ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.’ The apostolic church shared as people had need. James tells us that: ‘Faith without works is dead’. Paul commended the churches for contributing toward their poorer brethren.
This is no surprise. Throughout the Old Testament God admonished His people again and again for failing to link their actions and their professions.
Some might contend that separating worshipping behaviour and ethical practice is a cultural phenomenon. That there is a difference between Hebrew and Greek understandings of the unity between belief and action. Somehow these folk seen to overlook the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Scriptures directly address Hebrew people failed to grasp their own cultural understanding. When Jesus said that the greatest commandment was the Shema and that people were to love the Lord their God with all their heart, souls, minds and strength He was quoting Hebrew Scriptures to Hebrews. They struggled to get it. The Bible testifies that this ignorance is a human phenomenon. Biblical preaching will challenge it again and again, lest it take root in the behaviour of redeemed people. (As it might, hence the prevalent teaching against it in the New Testament)
It should not be a surprise that faith communities of Christians living in personal integrity will be effective witnesses. It’s really quite obvious. Inconsistent Christians will have a weakened witness. They will also lack warmth and love in their local church.
But ‘Deneutics’ will want to introduce a further idea and do so by tagging it onto the legitimate contention.
For example it may be stated that living in the consistent Christiam manner described above creates a spiritual deposit over cities. Over the unconverted communities in which we live. What is a spiritual deposit anyway? What difference does it make? Will more people be saved because of it? Does it make the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ and converting power of the Holy Spirit more effectual? (Is it affected by a Global Financial Crisis)
Where does such a teaching come from? Is there a Bible passage that supports it? Well, no, apparently, “it’s the vibe and — No, that’s it. It’s the vibe!”
The problem with ‘Deneutics’ is that it seems to seamlessly place what the Bible does say and what the speaker wants the Bible to say on the same level. Instead of stopping where the Bible stops the speaker has added something that they either have to admit does not have Scriptural authority or attempt to give it quasi-biblical authority.
The Scriptures are sufficient. The saving power of God is sufficient. Why not leave it at that?
I’d say more, but I think you’ve got the vibe of ‘Deneutics’ by now.


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Ancient Words – Sunday Songs

Last Sunday I mentioned Lynn DeShazo’s song Ancient Words (which begins with the phrase ‘Holy Words long preserved’) as being one of a few modern songs that help worshippers focus on one of the God given means of grace, the Bible.
I am a little disappointed that it has not achieved more popular usage in the contemporary church. It was featured on the Michael W. Smith album ‘Worship Again’ and the Robin Mark album ‘Come Heal This Land’ both of which seemed to have wide appeal earlier this decade.
I find it simply distressing to keep hearing Christians referred to what ‘God says’ or ‘God told me’ when they are not referring to the Bible or even to responses to biblical truths, but are rather referring to matters that they have decided or intend to do.
This song recognises that God’s transforming power is mediated through the Scriptures.
For that reason alone I like it.
The tune is quite singable in a 3/4 time. The lyric is less ‘anthemic’ than Speak O Lord and maybe a little more sentimental, but I think the two complement each other quite well. The lyrics are, however, more poetic and metaphorical, which is why it works well as a song: it is not just a prose doctrine of Scripture put to music. As always the song commends itself to me by saying something over an extended structure.
A lot of promising modern songs would be more appealing if the authors could just have found it within themselves to write a second or third verse instead of repeating their first verse three or four times.
Anyway, here’s the lyric:
Verse 1
Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world
They resound with God’s own heart
O let the ancient words impart
Words of life, words of hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world where’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us home
Chorus
Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart
Verse 2
Holy words of our faith
Handed down to this age
Came to us through sacrifice
O heed the faithful words of Christ
Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world
They resound with God’s own heart
O let the ancient words impart
Chorus
Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you
We have come with open hearts
O let the ancient words impart.

Words and Music by Lynn DeShazo
(c) 2001 Integrity’s Hosanna Music

The youtube is Robin Mark’s recording. Very simple, a good model for Congregational singing.


Romans 9:1-33 – Week 11 – Sovereign Grace

Sovereign Grace.
The outline:
1) Heritage does not save. (1-5)
2) God always calls His own. (6-13)
3) God is just. (14-18)
4) God is true to Himself. (19-29)
5) Faith or fall. (30-33)

Some notes:
Paul has reached such a high point in affirming the certainty of God’s saving purpose being fulfilled in His people, that the beginning of chapter nine seems a strange contrast.
Having just reflected on the great salvation in store Paul is struck by sadness that a number of his Jewish brethren are not sharing this glory. That he is able to express this sentiment toward his Jewish brethren generally, having suffered at the hands of some, is a mark of his compassion.
But the Jewish people have received many tokens by which they should have been willing and eager recipients of God’s grace. No amount of heritage blessings guarantee salvation.
God has always called His own. Not all of Abraham’s descendants are part of the promise. There has not really been a great difference between some of those He chose and some He did not. Case in point: Jacob and Esau.
God is just. This is not so much proven as asserted. The holy, wise and good God makes holy, wise and good choices. To suggest otherwise is to assert moral superiority to God. Of course there are many these days who are prepared to do just that. What is evident is that God’s choice is God’s choice, yet the choices He makes are entirely in train with the wills of the creatures.
God is true to Himself in His choice. There is nothing in any human being that makes them more chooseable than any other human. The only difference between one who is part of God’s kingdom and one who is not is God’s choice. It is worth remembering that salvation is primarily about demonstrating the character and nature of God.
So, we either receive salvation by grace through faith or we either try to work for salvation or believe it is something we have because of some second party inheritance. But neither of the second choices is salvation at all.
We can only be saved by grace through faith. Alone.

(This is my second attempt at notes. The internet ate my longer first attempt. Hopefully this set of more brief notes is even more cogent.)


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Romans 8: 18-39 – Friday Bible Study

Three Groans Anticipating Glory

Read Romans 8: 18-39.

If we have the Spirit of God living within us we are the children of God. What could go wrong? Lots, actually. How do we reconcile the truth of our relationship with God to uncertain and painful present experience?

• How would you describe the current world taking into account a realistic description of human sinfulness while recognising God’s sovereignty?

• How does Paul describe the world in verses 19-23?

• What does the groaning creation ‘long for’? (19) What does the society around us seem to believe that creation needs?

• What does the Bible teach about the deliverance of creation? (22)

• The Christian groans with expectation as well. What do we long for? (23)

• When we think about the full completion of the salvation promised in the Bible what are we expecting to be our personal experience?

• Who else anticipates the completion of God’s purpose? (26)

• How does the Spirit’s work affect our prayer life? (26-27)

• What exactly is the knowledge all Christians have? (28)

• How is the sequence of events described in verses 29-30 a proof of verse 28?

• Verses 31-35 describe our salvation. Who is doing all the ‘work’ that makes us and keeps us saved?

• What does being saved actually gain?

• How can that vary from our expectation of being saved should mean?

• Notice again that Paul states we are more than conquerors. Given all the circumstances that we endure, what is the victory?

Some notes.
The ‘three groans’ are presented with some unity and likeness. While there are different aspects to each of them (the anthropomorphic desire of creation; the shared desire of all Christians; and the ‘sympathetic desire’ of the Holy Spirit) each is linked by the fact that they all anticipate the same outcome and do so with certainty and optimism.
So, while exploring the differences, it is needful to remember that these differences are not the focus, the shared expectation of redemption completed is.
The balance of the passage seeks to demonstrate that while present circumstance can seem overwhelming, these circumstances are not evidence of God’s disaproval. The fact of His sending Jesus to die for us, and Jesus own work of intercession on our behalf guarantees this. Instead of being overwhelmed by suffering we can marvel that whatever comes our way is not sufficient to thwart God’s saving purpose.
Various areas of Christianity will continue to try and transplant the final state into this intermediate one. They will teach that health, wealth and peace should be out lot right now. The biblical view keeps in mind the truth that the full realisation of these promises lies ahead.
But we have sufficient experience of God’s promises that whatever our circumstances we are able to endure, without doubt and with full anticipation of the full realisation of salvation which will be ours in Christ.


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August Australian Presbyterian – Reforming The Church

The slow barge, pack mule and carrier pidgeon have come through again.
The August Australian Presbyterian examines the theme of Reforming the Church. While the Protestant Reformation is primarily associated with the issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone there was also a tremendous amount of reform in the life of the church itself.
In a era of emphasis on individualism and personal experience the church is becoming increasingly atomised. As the primary vehicle through which the biblical message of salvation is to be proclaimed to the world, this atomisation could serve to threaten the purity of the Gospel as unity and discipline fall by the wayside.
The feature interview this month is with Mark Dever, lead pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Dever has seen that church grow by a balanced mixture of faithful biblical teaching, conservative worship and purposeful body life. All elements which are considered culturally out of favour, especially in a liberal city like Washington.
Dever’s interview is fascinating, not so much for what he says, because much of that will be very familiar to those of us versed in historical reformed church practice. What is encouraging is the simple firmness with which he maintains the need for local churches to maintain orthodoxy and discipline in their practice, as well as their doctrine.
As an aside, I find it interesting that the Australian Presbyterian Theological Colleges all affirm conservatism in their practice of church life and worship, inviting visiting speakers who also represent that conservatism, while many pastor and congregations continue to forsake these practices. Australian Presbyterian’s themes and interviews demonstrate this contrast as well. All the authors of articles are mature in age and or conservative in outlook. Frankly I agree with with their positions, this is not a criticism of these bodies. I just wonder how major streams within our denomination’s life go pretty much unrecognised by these bodies.
Complementary articles by three other U.S. preachers are included. The venerable John MacArthur warns that biblical preaching that fails to invite sinners to repent and trust Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins is deficient. I have seen services at which ‘altar calls’ have been given and ‘salvations’ recorded when all that has happened is that people have been invited to come forward and seek God. MacArthur’s words resonate.
Richard D. Phillips, whose work editing and contributing to the book Precious Blood I appreciated, surveys Jesus’ words of commendation, warning, admonition and invitation to the seven churches in Revelation. A living, growing church will find elements of all seven of these churches relevant to their circumstances at various times and should always remain conversant with Christ’s proclamation.
As a change of pace Leland Ryken provides a precis of a funeral sermon preached by the puritan Thomas Brooks. Christians live well when they keep their death in focus.
We’re a bit light on for local news this month, but congratulations to Ian Smith as his appointment as principal of the Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney.
It was also good to see the advertisement for the pastoral position in my neighboring parish here in South Australia.
David Palmer and Ben Saunders provide an adapted version of a paper presented to the panel reviewing exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 1995. The actual paper can be downloaded here. David and his colleagues are doing excellent work in this area.
The letters page in AP has struggled for years. Some times it just seems to descend to ad-hominem attacks strung out over some months. I can’t see a lot of value in publishing letters where someone defends themselves against comments made by someone in response to something originally published months ago. If that sounds confusing, I feel sorry for anyone reading AP for the first time and opening up at the letters page.
Again, as an aside, some sort of forum where people of reformed conviction in Australia could exchange views would be welcome. Some guys in Victoria tried a forum a few years ago and the original Australian Presbyterian website also made an attempt. The problem is that the fewer the contributors, the easier it is for one or two difficult contributors (cough>trolls<cough) to make it an unpleasant place to visit.
Book reviews are useful, but the choices often seem esoteric.
Peter Barnes closes out the issue with a position paper that opposes the idea of a Bill of Rights for Australia. A lot of his criticism is based on negative outcomes in other places (and in the case of the Victorian Religious Tolerance Act, right here) and the thought that no Bill of Rights guarantees absolute freedom, it simply provides a framework by which our freedoms are limited in the interest of a greater good. Who determines that greater good? With a Bill of Rights, no longer the people through their elected representatives, but the judiciary and the legal system. Is it cynical to point out that judges and lawyers seem most in favour of such a Bill. It's probably my imagination.
So there you go, that's August, bring on September.


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The Pastor’s Public Ministry – A Book Review

Reformed theology seems to be presently receiving renewed interest within the church. A reformed understanding of the Bible gives rise to more than a particular understanding of salvation. It applies a vigourous interpretation of the Scriptures to all aspects of the Christian’s life. This has included a particular emphasis on the church and its gatherings.
Reformed theology, as a particular understanding of the Bible, gave rise to a particular form of corporate worship. This worship nourishes and promotes a reformed understanding of the Word of God.
It is bemusing that just a many are discovering reformed and presbyterian theology that reformed and presbyterian churches are forsaking the form of worship associated with it.
The form associated with neo-pentecostalism, which is derived from the revivalist movement, is taking sway. This is being informed by an attitude which asserts that there is no obligation for God’s people to gather on a particular day of the week and that what they do when they do gather cannot be termed ‘worship’ in any particular sense.
Terry Johnson, pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church, stands firm in his support of the historical presbyterian and reformed understanding of worship. The Pastor’s Public Ministry is a monograph that outlines the biblical principles by which the minister: Leads In Worship; Leads In Prayer; and Preaches.
Leading in Worship involves an deep understanding of the Scriptures. The whole progress of a presbyterian worship service brings the people to God, aids their expression in God’s presence, seeks to dispense the means of grace and then directs them in their response. To cariacature this time as a ‘hymn sandwich’ really leads me to question whether the cariacaturist has any concept of what reformed and presbyterian worship really is. It would certainly explain why they wouldn’t value it.
Leading in Prayer is not shouting at God. It is a biblical reflection of God’s Word and His promises back to Him in corporate unity. While it is free prayer, it is considered, thoughtful, and purposeful. The pastor’s biblical study undergirds this utterance just as much as it informs his preaching.
Johnson mentions the importance of preaching, but within the scope of the booklet does not deal with it in the detail that he directs toward the previous sections. In contrast to biblical preaching there has been a paucity of material on reformed worship and particularly pulpit prayer in recent times. But he does address the importance of expository preaching. While the Bible should be read in large portions sequentially it should also be the basis for the sermon.
A reformed conception of salvation is only part of reformed theology. Terry Johnson invites us to embrace our full heritage of biblical understanding and practice.
The Pastor’s Public Ministry can be purchased from Monergism or http://www.amazon.com/.


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Living for the Messiah, not trying to be one.

I read somewhere that the only human being who never had a messiah complex was the one who actually was the messiah, namely Jesus. (If I was more efficient, I’d have a referencing system.)
The rest of us fall into various degrees of trying to trying to rescue parts of (or all of) creation, instead of realising that Jesus has already done that and has charged us with much more modest and realistice tasks.
Pastors, who one might think would model the life of freedom in Christ quite effectively, are among the most guilt ridden and failure focused individuals you might encounter.
At MGPC we heard Paul, one of our elders, give a talk on biblical productivity over breakfast last week. He commended a paper (collated from a number of blog entries) by C.J Mahaney as being very helpful.
You can find a pdf of the articles here. WARNING: Busy people beware, it is 36 pages long. It is formatted with a narrow column of text on each page, so it is not as bad as it looks. Perhaps you could read the 17 parts, one each day. Don’t try and skip to the practical bits, it’s all pretty practical.
The August issue of The Briefing has an article entitled Sloth: Is it our problem? in which Ben Underwood seeks to show that our busyness and toil is just evidence we’re caught within sloth’s grip. (From the blurb) The guilt prone will doubtless be agog at the thought that they could be busy and slothful at the same time. More guilt.
The basic thesis seems to be that sloth is not doing nothing, it is failing to do what we should be doing. Unfortunately the article is not one of the ones which is available free, but if you’re curious you can purchase either a paper for download copy of the issue here. If you’re not a subscriber you should be.
Lastly, Kevin DeYoung has written a lengthy blog post on the difference between being a busy Christian and a productive one. He admits that it is a large post, so again you may want to invest a couple of sessions in reading it.
In a (largely western) world where people in general, including Christians, have never been busier, but seem more and more dissatisfied with their productivity, these careful, biblical, practical essays are a great help.