Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Trustworthy Saying on Ambition

"Early to rise and early to bed
Makes a man healthy but socially dead."

Every culture has sayings that become maxims or even mantras. "The early bird gets the worm." "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

In the pastoral letters, Paul shares what appear to have been common sayings in the early church that he found "trustworthy."

"Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1).

It's OK to desire to do more.

Let me first admit that what this says is that the office of overseer is a noble one. Yes, absolutely. But Paul is talking about people who "desire" the office. He doesn't say that those who desire to be an overseer should cool their jets because the Spirit will let them know if he wants them to be one. Of course, he also doesn't say that anyone can be one. Paul expands on the nobility of the task by describing the fine character necessary in an overseer. It's not for everyone. They should be the best of us.

But if you're striving to have the character of an overseer, it's OK to want to be one.

This isn't the only place where Paul suggests we can want to do more. In the "spiritual gifts" passage 1 Cor 12, he says, "Now eagerly desire the greater gifts" (v31). Later he says, "... eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy" (14:1).

James cautions us, "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (3:1), but even there he is not saying that the desire is wrong, merely that there are risks to be considered.

What is important is that we don't desire gifts or offices for our own glory. "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). "Everything must be done so that the church may be built up" (14:26c). "Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:11-13). Our ambition should not be for glory or profit but to better serve our Lord and his church.

So sinful, worldly ambition says, "I want to be more." Godly ambition says, "I want to do more for Jesus." And that is something God smiles on.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review: Interpreting Eden

How should we read Genesis 1-3? It might surprise you to know that this is not a new question. People were asking that centuries before Darwin came along. But now that we do have Darwin and Big Bang cosmology, everyone is asking. Vern Poythress' new book Interpreting Eden offers a thoughtful answer.
Interpreting Eden

He begins with "basic interpretive principles," and that means he begins with God because "interpreting Genesis 1–3 depends on who we think God is. We need to interpret it bearing in mind that there is one true God, who created everything, who rules everything, and who can work miracles whenever he chooses" (p35). If there is a God, he can do as he pleases: he can let things runs, or he can involve himself.

He then talks about how we should think about the Bible and scientific claims before showing that our modern, "scientific" language is just as phenomenological as the ancients'. After discussing the genre that Gen 1-3 belongs to, he provides a helpful summary of those first 6 chapters.

Then he's on to "exegetical concerns" where he builds his case that the events of creation correspond to God's normal providential work in the universe and therefore should not be taken as metaphorical.

In part 3 he brings it all together to tell us what he actually thinks about Gen 1-3. Then there is a very helpful conclusion that summarizes everything.

This work is not a lay commentary, nor is it a popular apologetic work. There is technical language and long, complex arguments. I began to despair in the chapter on "Time in Genesis 1" that he would never get to the point. But he did. Reading this book will require a bit of effort from the reader. However, he has provided us with graphics that visualize many of his points and two excellent summaries of his argument (chapter 7 and then the conclusion) that help you wrap your head around what he's been saying. (I really have to emphasize that, though the bulk of the text is hard work, the summaries are very clear and extremely helpful. Every book should be so clearly summarized.)

In the end you will be convinced that it is possible to believe that the first three chapters of Genesis are literally true and that modern scientific theories are essentially correct. This work is well worth your time if you're at all interested in the topic.

NB: I received a free review copy.