In part 1, we discussed a brief overview of Hebrews. We asked questions like who was the author, who was it written to, and why was it written.
I'm trying something new: a video version of the Hebrews Bible study. The first video is embedded below. The goal is to translate the content in these Bible Study posts into a video and audio form. I'm still figuring out the best way to set everything up and hopefully it will improve over time!
In this study, I want to ask a different overview question: what can we learn about Hebrews from its broad structure and outline? I’ve looked at numerous scholars’ outlines of the structure of Hebrews and while there’s some disagreement about how Hebrews should be organized, I think a rough outline is fairly clear...
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
This is an outstanding interview about the “King James Version Only” controversy. If you’re not aware, there are people in the body of Christ who not only argue that the King James is a good translation, but that it’s the only good translation. As Ward explains, there is a spectrum of belief, from “the Greek that the King James uses is the closest to the original” to “the King James is the perfect inerrant scripture.”
I like Ward’s balanced approach. He appreciates what the King James has done and the cultural language that it has brought us. But he also shows us how easily misunderstood King James English has become (see his “false friends” series on Youtube for examples) and points out its flaws.
I enjoyed this interview and recommend it to you, even if you already use a different translation. You’ll learn about perhaps the most important book ever published in the West (the King James Bible). And you never know when a little knowledge about an in-house Christian discussion like this may be helpful.
Ward’s Youtube channel (which is excellent!) and book on the KJV controversy are also linked below.
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Read and Reflect 📖
In this review of Matthew Mullins’ Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures 📚, Joseph Honescko discusses how we—modern Western people—read the Bible.
I stood before my class of mostly unengaged private Christian school students in a small Texas town. Masks covered the bottom halves of their faces. I saw only their eyes, staring blankly as we began the most dreaded part of high school English classes: the poetry unit.
For my students, and most people in general, poetry is a frustrating artform, an overly complex way of saying something simple. In the West, many desire straight forward, matter of fact consumption. Anything else is flowery and excessive. Therefore, when I bring up poetry — to students or church members or anyone at all — I typically get the same reaction: rolled eyes and shaking heads.
That’s what makes Matthew Mullins’ new book Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures so important. He has a bone to pick with the poetry haters, but there’s more at stake in this work than liking or disliking a certain type of literature. Mullins argues that loving poetry will help you love, enjoy, and understand God’s word more fully.
Honescko shows us how deeply engrained our training of “learning to gain information” is, and how foreign that is to the Biblical authors. Not all Biblical writing is in the poetic art form, but all Biblical literature communicates information that we simply don’t tend to do today.
All biblical literature is carefully designed to tell a story, not to convey information like a modern history or science book. They use repeated words, typologies, and patterns in ways that we would describe as poetic, even though Biblical authors use it in works that are otherwise more similar to biography or narrative stories.
Arriving at this larger place of understanding requires the use of one’s imagination. “To understand a poem, or any work of literature,” he writes, “you must be willing to give yourself to the world of the text. You must be willing to play the game of the literary world like a child plays” (48). Entering this world produces a more holistic understanding of the scriptures, one that engages the reader’s intellectual and emotional side of their beings.
The emotion the text wants to rile up within you “is an integral element of the meaning” (71). Thinking differently is not the only goal. What we feel matters, too. “If you do not feel an emotion when you read a poem,” writes Mullins, “the primary aim of the passage is lost on you” (47). You start to feel what the text wants you to feel as you enter its world…
Mullins, anticipating pushback to this idea, often clarifies that he is not against dogma or doctrine, nor is he advocating for subjective, reader-response approaches to the text. Rather, Mullins claims that the authority of the text extends over one’s emotions as well as their intellect. The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor has spent plenty of time with people who want to caution against relying too heavily on subjective, emotional responses to the scriptures. He does not want to live in a world where the text means anything, either (hence the name and message of Chapter 4: “Not Anything”). He merely recognizes that complex texts “resist simplistic conclusions” (71). A poem, or a passage of scripture, cannot always be reduced to a single bullet-point or takeaway. To really understand the literary passages of scripture, we need an imaginative and emotional encounter with the worlds they create.
The way of reading scripture that Mullins advocates is called “reading with your guts.” Allow the story of scripture to pull you into its emotional world. Try to understand the characters’ sometimes contradictory behavior with human motives and emotions. Read and respond to the text in the same way we would other works of carefully designed literature.
It’s a compelling argument and review, and it convinced me to put the book on my wishlist.
Church History Corner ⛪️
Dr. John Dickson on the “Bullies and Saints” in Christian History | The Carpenter’s Desk with Asher John 📽 →
Sometimes I worry that Western Christians are too results-oriented in our response to Christian history. Even if bad things were done in Christ’s name, we’re okay with it because we now live comfortable and free lives. But as Christians, we understand that not all those who claim the name of Christ are Christ's, and even those who are, still sin. We should be willing to discern accurately the good and the bad of Christian history.
This interview is conducted by an Indian Christian apologetics ministry interviewing an Australian scholar on the Christian history's bullies and saints. It certainly breaks us out of the American perspective! It’s good to hear voices that have had different experiences than we have but share our core convictions. They discuss Dickson’s new book Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History 📚.
To quote from the book description:
To say that the Christian Church has an "image problem" doesn't quite capture it. From the Crusades and the Inquisition to the racism and abuse present in today's Church--both in Catholic and Protestant traditions--the institution that Christ established on earth has a lot to answer for. But the Church has also had moments throughout history when it has been in tune with Jesus' teachings--from the rise of charity to the invention of hospitals.
For defenders of the faith, it's important to be able to recognize the good and bad in the church's history and be inspired to live aligned with Christ. For skeptics, this book is a thought-provoking introduction to the idea that Christianity is, despite all, an essential foundation of our civilization.
Bullies and Saints will take you on a big-picture journey from the Sermon on the Mount to the modern church:
Giving contextual accounts of infamous chapters of Christian history, such as the Crusades, and acknowledging their darkness.
Outlining the great movements of the faith and defending its heroes and saints, some of whom are not commonly recognized.
Examining the Church beside the teachings and life of Jesus and how it has succeeded in its mission to imitate Christ.
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Consider the Culture 🎨
Christian apologist and professor Sean McDowell interviews Jonathan Morrow on a new book. Gen Z Volume 2 📚 was a collaborative study with the Barna research group to understand what makes Gen Z tick (young adults and kids born from 1999 to 2015, or 6–21 years old at the time of this writing).
The interview recaps many interesting findings from the book including how Gen Z feels about screens, humor, faith, and more.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
I resonate with Guthrie when she writes:
I grew up having all of the answers in Sunday school, studied Bible in college, had a career in Christian publishing, and spent years in Bible Study Fellowship as an adult. But when I began to hear preaching and teaching that was saturated in biblical theology, I realized I needed to go back to kindergarten in my understanding of God’s Word.
In the years since then, I’ve been on a mission not only to understand the Bible this way myself, but also to introduce and infiltrate Bible studies—especially women’s Bible studies in the local church—with biblical theology. Here are some ways biblical theology transforms personal and group Bible study.
Here are some of the seven ways:
1. Biblical theology makes Bible study Christ-centered, not me-centered.
3. Biblical theology leads us to what we most need to know, not just what we want to know.
5. Biblical theology focuses us on consummation, not merely going to heaven when we die.
6. Biblical theology urges us toward union with Christ, not merely imitating Jesus.
If you’re looking for a good place to get started being saturated in Biblical Theology, the BibleProject Podcast gets my highest recommendation. Scroll through their episode list, pick a theme that seems interesting, and dig in. It will be difficult and paradigm-bending at first, but it is worth it.
- Biblical Theology Workshop for Women 🖥
- Saints and Scoundrels in the Story of Jesus | Nancy Guthrie 📚
- God Does His Best Work with Empty | Nancy Guthrie 📚
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Christianity Is True ✝️
This is one I haven’t seen before! It’s similar to undesigned coincidences, but with a twist.
There is underrated evidence for the reliability of the Gospels in the form of unexplained allusions. The Gospel authors make comments that are left dangling without any explanation. These remarks don't seem to advance the story or serve any sort of theological or literary purpose. Fiction writers would have no reason to include unexplained, puzzling details and would have every reason to leave them out. This video looks at several examples of unexplained allusions and how they serve as evidence for the reliability of the gospels.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Fair warning, this is going to be significantly longer than the usual "Best with a Cup of Tea" commentary. It will be addressing a "current" controversy in the American Evangelical Protestant church context. If you are not a part of that context, then perhaps you will read this as an outsider and gain something from it.
In Issue #23, I wrote about the split happening at Bethlehem Baptist church. This congregation and split are important because the church wields great influence as the former pastorate of John Piper and the residence of Bethlehem College and Seminary.
You can go to that issue for more detail, but a large part of the split involved Piper’s successor being accused of empathy, especially for racial minorities—including minority pastors at the congregation—who have felt marginalized.
In 2019, Rigney wrote an article in the style of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters 📃 arguing that Satan wants to “elevate empathy over compassion.” I’d recommend reading Rigney’s article for yourself. I’ve linked it here because we shouldn’t take someone’s word about what another says. Taking someone’s words second or third-hand is a way to misrepresent an argument. We should go to the source. I also want to note that in the two years since Rigney's original article, Rigney has tried to clarify his view 📃 and debated it 🎧.
I’d like to highlight this article by Pastor Brian Chilton taking, as you might suspect from the title, a pro-empathy response. More pro-empathy articles that I found helpful will be linked in the “For More” section below.
I also want to say that I'm not trying to speak authoritatively. I hope to present this to you as a friend giving you a set of ideas to consider. That's part of the reason I want to share Rigney's words for himself. I hope I've earned some trust with you that I'm trying to point you to scripture and Christ, but if you wind up disagreeing with me, I'm still happy to call you a brother or sister in Christ.
First, Chilton (and others) take issue with Rigney and his defenders’ definition of empathy as though it is pitted against compassion. An article by scholar Scot McKnight 📃 notes that Rigney is relying on etymology (the origins of a word), which is not the correct way to determine a definition. The common usage found in a dictionary, combined with the biblical picture, is much more important.
Empathy is understood as sharing in one another’s emotional experience. But it is more than that. It means that you try to put yourself in the person’s shoes. You try to understand the argument that the person is making, or at least try to understand the person’s perspective. It sure seems like the world could use more of it.
Rigney’s argument, in my understanding, is that we ought to be relatively emotionless to maintain objectivity over the reasons for someone's pain. Are they in this pain because of sin? Then we do not enter into their emotional state because to enter into their sin-caused pain would be to sin ourselves. It would open us up to changing our minds in sinful ways.
The problem with this view of empathy is that it often leads narcissists or abusers to dismiss the emotional pain of those they’ve hurt as weakness, illegitimate, or sinful. This enables abusers and results in ignoring and marginalizing those who would stand up to truly sinful behavior. By divorcing truth and empathy, we also leave behind Jesus, the one who truly entered into the pain and suffering of the earth. He joined us in our pain and experienced what we experience to lead us to life.
I think that McKnight has the most helpful quote here:
The empathic person feels the pain of another. When that person’s pain is being verbally rehearsed before another the listener who has pastoral gifts hears and empathizes. Empathic persons enter into the feelings of others for the sake of support, relief and healing.
In addition there is the added insinuation by some that compassion is rational and empathy irrational. This is inaccurate. If an act is irrational it is a case of bad judgment but that judgment has nothing to do with empathy. If one gets lost in another’s feelings or emotions, that’s a lack of boundaries and has nothing to do with empathy.
Is empathy Biblical? Back to Chilton’s article:
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus notes that after the love of God, the greatest commandment that one could hold is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He continues by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. Loving neighbor as oneself epitomizes the nature of empathy. To love neighbor as oneself is to put oneself in another’s shoes. It sees outside oneself to elevate the status of his or her fellow man. Jesus’s expression of neighbor does not only apply to those like oneself. Rather, as shown in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, neighbor extends to every person encountered.
Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:8, “all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble.” The Greek term translated as “sympathetic” is sympathes. The Theological Dictionary of the NT defines sympathes as one “who is affected like another by the same sufferings, impressions, emotions,” or “who suffers, experiences etc. the same as another,” later one “who has fellow-feeling, sympathy with another.” While the term is translated as “sympathy,” the emotional ability to express empathy underlies one’s ability to show biblical sympathy.
In Romans 12:15-16, Paul exhorts the Roman church to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” Empathy is essential if one is to celebrate with the accomplishments of others and to carry the sorrow of those who weep. Yet this is another example of how empathy is foundational to exhibit Christian virtues—that is, as empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Rigney would affirm all of these scriptures, but I think he would probably place them outside of his idiosyncratic definition of “empathy.”
American Evangelical Protestant Christians (this is a very targeted post) have long placed a strong emphasis on Orthodoxy—right beliefs. Doctrine is king. We have been weaker on Orthopraxy—right practice, perhaps because of our low-church tendencies. Sin is often discussed, but liturgy and disciplines that form us into becoming more like Christ aren’t as strongly emphasized. But I would argue that a third leg is also important, and has been nearly entirely forgotten: Orthopathy—right emotions.
Rigney and his defenders have pushed against Orthopathy by saying that emotions shouldn’t enter into the equation at all. Our responses should be strictly governed by Orthodoxy. But I don’t think they have to be in tension.
Professor of Psychology Warren Throckmorten wrote 📃:
Empathy is simply understanding the inner world of other people. It is all about being able to relate to them and understand what they are going through. It is quite important in human functioning and when absent is associated with cruelty and antisocial behavior.
Empathy doesn’t require you to give up your theological convictions, and we cannot live so in fear of changing our minds that we refuse the biblical call to empathize with the suffering. Even if their suffering is born out of sin, stepping into another’s shoes and their suffering not only shows them our care for them but also helps us understand how best we can lead them through their suffering toward the kingdom of God.
Chilton’s conclusion is particularly helpful:
We often dissect the evangelistic and discipleship problems of the modern church. But perhaps our problem is not found in our strategies and tactic. Maybe it is much greater than that. Could it be that Christians have become so entrenched in their church work that they have forgotten what it was like to be lost? Could it be that we strive so hard to make a name for ourselves that we forgot the Name above all Names that empathized with our state? Empathy is the driving force of compassion. Without it, nothing that we do will make a connection with those in need. If I have learned anything in my year of chaplaincy work, it is that people desperately need to hear of the love and grace of our God—the God who is that “than which nothing greater can be conceived”—and that this God empathizes with their state. With this in mind, if there were a real Screwtape, he would write to his demonic understudy, “No, Wormwood, empathy is not a sin. Therefore, show no empathy, and lead others to do likewise.”
- Empathy is a Virtue | Scot McKnight 📃
- Have you heard the one about empathy being a sin? | Mark Wingfield 📃
- Empathy Is Not a Sin | Warren Throckmorten 📃
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
— Matthew 5:29-30 (CSB)