Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reformation Day: solus Christus

On this Reformation Day, I cannot help but reflect on all of the various avenues of personal salvation being advanced around the world and even in the U.S. In our multicultural context, it is often suggested that there are many paths to God. I typically answer with, "You're right. There are many paths to God, but only One of them gets a favorable response when you arrive." The Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist or the animist all claim to know how one gets to God. Even apart from these other major religious of the world countless others have arisen to claim an understanding of salvation. When one of these options do not fit one's personal tastes, western individualism kicks in and a new private salvation idea is invented that supposedly "works for me."

There are even supposed Christian teachers today who will not put there foot down and assert the Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one gets to the Father except through him. That type of exclusivism is rather unpopular in our present times. Many choose not to remain so exclusive regarding salvation because either they do not want to risk the negative backlash in the form of an accusation of intolerance, or they do not want to field the question of "what about the people who die without hearing about Christ and thus were never given the chance to choose him?" The bottom line is that ours is a culture that cannot handle the concept of "need to know." We distrust government and therefore require that it remain accountable to us, having to no secrets that are withheld as "need to know." By extension, we then can't imagine that God may have a way of handling the "what of those who have never heard?" issue in a manner that is none of our business. Will we place our trust in the One who saves even if we don't know every detail about how he saves?

Another trend has been universalism: the belief that because Christ died for everyone, everyone will be saved regardless of how much of Christ they learned about in this life. This view tries to answer the above question about those who haven't heard by suggesting that God will forgive people their ignorance if they are responsive to some form of intuitive God-sense. This also must be rejected because it makes salvation possible through any message that one can craft, making the message of Christ of no effect. Salvation is possible in Christ alone. All other attempted avenues to heaven are damnable error.

The Reformation message of solus Christus ("Christ alone") is more pertinent now than ever. In Reformation times at least the debate was over whether salvation is in Christ alone or in Christ plus the church by means of the sacraments. Now the issue is whether salvation is in Christ alone, or if its in Christ or some other pathway that makes me a generally good person. People must be taught that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reformation Day: soli Deo Gloria

This morning I had coffee at Kim's Donut Shop in Fate with a reporter from the Royce City Herald-Banner. During our conversation I made a comment that I had not made before so I spent and little more time this morning thinking about. My comment reflected accurately what I've thought for a while; I had just had never worded that way. I said to Leslie, "God is justifiably self-serving. When he pleases himself, everyone benefits." I had known for some time that God's redemptive action through the work of Jesus Christ brought him glory, but I had never articulated the way I suspected that we are beneficiaries of Christ's agenda to bring glory to the Father. I had developed an unease over the years with apparently "man-centered" approaches to the Gospel, but it took describing my view to a reporter for my true thoughts to come out: that we are beneficiaries of God's agenda to glorify himself. For this reason, my salvation (and yours) is not accomplished by Christ because of any need of God to feel appreciated by redeemed people. Instead the work of Christ is accomplished to glorify the Father by revealing the mission of God to see himself represented in all the world.

The Reformation message of soli Deo gloria ("for the glory of God alone") reminds us that God is not in need of us. Instead we are in need of him. He does not save us to so that we can gain power, position of prestige. We are not saved to become successful and popular. We are not saved to grow pompous with delusions of grandeur in thinking that God picks the best and brightest for his team like some sort of playground ballgame. On the contrary, his glory is reflected most in how he redeems and uses the un-pick-able people for this mission. It is for God's glory alone that I'm am redeemed by Christ's sacrifice, brought into his family and inhabited by his Spirit and progressively conformed to his image.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Reformation Day: sola fide

Imagine getting married, and during the wedding a pivotal moment in the ceremony came when your spouse-to-be placed an ankle bracelet on you with a GPS tracker so as to make sure you would remain faithful to them in the coming weeks and months. Because they could not bring themselves to extend any trust to you, they wanted proof, right from the beginning, that you'd follow through on your vows. Such a scenario seems outrageous to us because we cannot imagine entering into a relationship with someone who will not extend any trust on the front end that can be built over time.

...Yet this is precisely what we expect God to do with us. Although we are made in his "image," and therefore derive aspects of relatability from him, we still expect him to enter into a relationship with us though we'll extend no trust to him. We would find this totally unreasonable, and yet we expect that he's cool with it because he's God and should be above such petty relational dynamics like trust, confidence and faith. On the contrary, our intuitive requirement of trust to enter a relationship is a reflection of his requirement. Without trust in his saving work and benevolent care we cannot expect God's relatability.

For this reason trust and proof can run contrary to one another. Proof can be offered from the one who is trusted (out of love for the one who is trusting), but proof that is demanded evidences an absence of trust. I can tell my wife where I've been most of the night (if pastoral or chaplaincy duties called me away) as an expression of love, rewarding her trust in me. However, if she demands to know where I've been, she's evidencing a mistrust of my behavior during the time I was away. Out of love for her, I'll also avoid behaviors that erode her trust. This is a subtle dance of proof and trust, but it makes sense in relational terms.

Another term for trust, but conveys the same meaning is faith. When a relationship begins, faith in the other person's trustworthiness must be assumed, otherwise the relationship has not begun well. Faith grows in the relationship as those in the relationship prove faithful through new and diverse experiences. Though faith grows with time, it must have been present in the beginning. It is the same with God. Our first response to his invitation to relate to him through Jesus Christ must be faith. While some evidences are graciously offered by God that can point toward the reasonability of faith, reason and evidence can never substitute for faith. What one trusts God for is salvation from spiritual death and judgment in Hell; realities that can never be proved, only believed in.

Faith is scary though. It is the acceptance of truths about reality that cannot be proved regardless of how much "proof" is ever surfaced. Faith cannot be substituted by good deeds, as though God needs to be convinced of our faithfulness. The contrary is true - we must be convinced of his faithfulness. Faith cannot be circumvented by good deeds, good upbringing or good company. Faith cannot be made unnecessary by being a church member, a good neighbor or a Republican. Faith cannot be usurped by giving to the church, receiving the sacraments or even singing with enthusiasm. Faith alone is the basis of our response to the work of Jesus Christ.

Faith alone acknowledges the relational requirements of God on us; that our only correct response is to trust him for all that we cannot see, especially since he has shown himself so faithful with all that we can see. Nevertheless, faith alone is each person's proper response to God's revelation. This cannot be replaced with sacraments, good deeds, good behaviors or positive thinking. Faith alone assures us that the relationship with God through Christ is secure. Sola fide ("only faith") is a necessary cry in a world where people still think that God is impressed with "good" people. On the contrary, he's drawn to people who trust him, approaching him only with their faith in his promises...nothing more.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Reformation Day: sola gratia

Imagine how you would feel if someone kept trying to earn a gift you had given them for free. As an expression of your love for them you gave them a gift that was all they wanted and more, yet as time went on they kept trying to do good things for you or pay you for the gift. They in essence were failing to recognize the love you were showing and the extent to which you showed it by giving them a free gift.

Or imagine that you have an insecure spouse who has a history of being abandoned by parents or loved ones. Your commitment to them is free, unconditional and bound by covenant. However, you find that they keep trying to please you so that you won't leave them. Would you feel hurt that they weren't trusting you to love them freely? Would you find it annoying that they couldn't trust you to offer your devotion to them without requirements on their performance? In high school I dated someone like that. She had been abandoned or abused by men in her past to the point that she was not prepared to accept that a man might be loyal to her simply because he had determined to be loyal. She tried everything to make sure I wouldn't break up with her, even though I wasn't going to anyway. The relationship eventually fell apart because she could not bring herself to accept loyal love and unconditional acceptance from a man.

Many of us are like this all the time. For everything else in life we work and strive to earn something. We have a tough time imagining God offering his loyal love as a free gift because nothing else is free. The saying goes "There ain't no free lunch." We find this to be true in much of life so we think it applies to God. The gospel winds up being a terrible conundrum for us because in it God is operating opposite from how we would expect. We would expect all sorts of conditions to be given up front: "clean up your act, watch your language, quit smoking, drinking (or any other drug for that matter) and then we'll talk about how deserving you might be of salvation from judgment in Hell." People think like this all the time. You hear it when they say, "I think I'll go to Heaven someday because I'm a good person." That's conditional salvation and is completely opposite from the free gift of grace that God has offer through the completed work of Jesus Christ.

I'm even susceptible to this tendency. At times when I've been a "good boy," I think God is closer to me. At times when I've been bad, I think he's distant. When I think that, I'm basically making the efficacy of Christ's work on the cross in bridging the gap between God and me conditional upon my behavior. This is not the essence of God's grace. Instead it is by grace alone that my relationship with God is both offered and maintained. Sola gratia was a pillar of the Protestant Reformation because the roman church had slowly began to teach that it is by our cooperation with God in taking the sacraments and holy living that we earn merit applied to us from the "treasure chest" of righteousness stored in heaven. Rome even went so far as offer these payments of "merit" applied to one's account in heaven in exchange for supporting the church financially. Indulgences were sold as a means of supporting the church's building program and (it was taught) a means of applying merit to one's account. This "merit" (or credit earned by the good deeds of Christ or other saints) could counteract one's bad deeds in the final accounting. If someone bought an indulgence, it could be applied to your heavenly account or a loved one's account now languishing in purgatory being cleansed of their impurities before entering heaven. Salvation was not a free gift then; it was for sale at closeout prices.

Sola gratia must return as a battle cry of future reformers. We so easily and quickly forget it. Consider how tempting it is for us motivate people to give for our building program by suggesting God will be more pleased with them if they give. Heresy! A portable building used for an exciting new children's ministry would be a great blessing, but IT SHALL NOT BECOME SAINT PETER'S BASILICA. People should give because it is good that people give. The Scriptures teach that the people of God are to be a generous people. But people are NEVER to be taught that the pleasure of God is for sale.

Sola gratia also reminds us that behavior follows belief, not vice a versa. While the discussion in some circles continues as to how much behavioral change should follow initial belief and how quickly it should be evident, the order of belief preceding behavioral change is NOT open for discussion. God graciously initiates the relationship with us through the illuminating work of the Spirit and then goes to work on us as disciples of Jesus Christ. God's loyal love is offered freely by grace alone. There's nothing we can do to make him more gracious to us. This remains a comfort that my relationship with him now, and my place in heaven someday is as secure as his gracious character. There is no greater comfort.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reformation Day: sola scriptura

Several years ago I spent some time attending a church in which people were very experiential in their faith. It was refreshing to me to see how vibrantly they worshiped and how actively they sought the mind of God for every aspect of life. It was a welcome break from some of the stoic routines I had witnessed growing up. This was not true of my parents, of course, but my church tradition didn't welcome a lot of free expression in one's intimacy with the Lord. I liked it.

As time went on though, I started to become concerned about what some people were suggesting was the "will of God" for them. I wondered how they could be so confident that God had spoken so specifically to them regarding issues I had been taught that the Bible addresses. Sure they knew that God had already spoken on their issue, and that he would never contradict his written Word later on. When I brought this up, some reacted negatively, suggesting that I was restricting the "leading of the Spirit" with the "letter of the Law." That certainly wasn't my intention, but I was concerned that they were somehow failing to recognize how much we can all be deceived by our own feelings.

Without a standardized revelation as our authority, we all are susceptible to following our own private revelation. Our own frailties and fallen natures make private revelation more susceptible to influence from our own personal agendas. When left unchecked, we can easily fall into bondage to our own fleeting emotions that we instead call "prophecies from God." How does God, in his benevolent grace, rescue us from such personally imposed dangers? Standardize revelation...The Bible.

When we fail to test what we think God is telling us against what he has already said in the Bible we can slowly develop ideas that are actually contrary to what the Bible teaches. The problem is that by that time we've convinced ourselves that God directly told us something that in actuality he has not said at all. God would not contradict his own Holy Scriptures. People can fall into this trap all the time; so can institutions.

By the end of the medieval period the church of Rome had slowly developed doctrines and traditions that actually contradicted key teachings of the Bible. To settle the conflict it was necessary to determine by what authority a conclusion would be reached to the problem. Would the Scriptures be the final authority for determining how correct or erroneous our ideas were? Or would the Pope and recent church tradition hold sway?

The conclusion reached by Martin Luther and other reformers was that the nature of man made it possible for people to migrate away from God's Word in their thinking, so tradition (though it is helpful and instructive in some cases) should not be the final authority. In addition, because human weakness is still present, the Pope should not be the final authority for determining what we must believe either. Scripture alone can hold that place. God has gracious provided us with standardized revelation that, though interpreted in community, is not subject to the community. We instead are subject to it. Sola Scriptura remains as one of the great pillars of the Protestant Reformation because we recognize God's gracious care of us in providing it as our authority for faith and life.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Reformation Day: a philosophy of celebration

October 31st is quickly approaching and we have labored to make it a significant celebration. Its outcome is up to God, but for our part it is an important event to us. Why is this date so anticipated? No; not because we are Halloween enthusiasts. It is instead because our family has realized that God has graciously provided an entirely different reason for partying hard on this date that has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween.

This all started a few years ago as we were examining what traits would be true of our home culture. Naomi and I began having an intuitive unease with Halloween as a reason for celebration, but had not yet fully articulated our reasoning for backing out. Some of it was an objection to the historical origins of Halloween that left the wrong taste in our mouth when considering dressing up our children to take them out trick-or-treating. There's much latitude one might grant one's self when engaging in an activity on their own, but that same person had better be much more certain of the "rightness" of a thing before pulling their children into it. Our unease has been dismissed as puritanical zeal over the years by those who argued that none in our present culture are seeking to celebrate historical meaning during Halloween. Such a point, though concedeable, did not alleviate our remaining concerns. Over the years we grew tired of trying to defend our abstinence of Halloween to those who were quick to accuse us of legalism. We found that a Christian liberty version of McCarthyism exists in many churches that will set upon (rather quickly and rabidly) any believer that hints at self restraint as a responsible component to Christian liberty. We got tired of arguing the Halloween issue every year to our peers.

Enter the Dallas Theological Seminary bookstore and "Reformation Week"...

My first year at DTS was thrilling. I was quite excited about all that I was learning for the first time. In fall of 2004 I took my first church history class with Dr. John Hannah. His lectures about the ancient church opened my eyes to what a rich and wonderful heritage Christians have dating back to the Apostolic era. In addition, I noticed that the DTS bookcenter was advertising special activities during the week prior to Oct 31st as "Reformation Week." Keep in mind that I was raised in a Baptist tradition that doesn't like to acknowledge ties to the rest of Christendom and pretty much acts as though the Christian church took a break after the Apostles until Roger Williams began preaching in Rhode Island in the 1630's. For this reason I was very intrigued by the bookstore's Reformation Week celebration. After some further investigation, Naomi and I saw the Reformation Day idea as an answer to our dilemma.

In addition, we began to articulate our "philosophy of celebration." In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we find repeated commands from the Lord for the Israelites to "remember." This appears to be the function of the various feasts that God prescribes earlier in the Pentateuch. To go even further, the purpose of these feasts appear to function in a past-present-future capacity: (1) The feasts are to remind the Israelites of the great historical acts of God on their behalf, (2) this act of remembering through celebration grows their devotion to him now and (3) renews their hope in his provision for the future. This appeared then, to our mind, a God-prescribed reasoning for celebrating - a "philosophy of celebration."

Bearing this in mind, holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and even birthdays make better sense. Such a philosophy of celebration not only explains such festivities, but invites (even requires) a deeper experience of them. St. Patrick's Day, New Years and even Independence Day also fit this template. Halloween stood out as the one cultural party that does not fit this mold, and therefore was quite discardable. However, Reformation Day fit it extremely well. Thanks to the DTS bookstore, God appeared to have graciously provided a reason to celebrate that allow for consistency in our festivities. For this reason, we're not merely abstaining from Halloween. We're instead bypassing it altogether by diving fully into a celebration that fits with a philosophy that we think is biblically derived.

October 31st, 1517 is the traditional date given for when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of his church in Wittenburg. Though the great Protestant Reformation had many players, factors and catalysts, this act of Luther remains a symbolic focal point for celebrating the God who reforms us as needed, and will continue to do so out of his great love for us. Reformation Day is coming up. Let's party like its 1517!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Softball and the competitive spirit

On Sunday nights our church plays softball in the Rowlett city softball league. It is hoped that in the future we'll pick a league closer to the community we intend to reach as a church - but I digress. When we come together as a church team, we seek to play our best. So far this season, all of the other teams we have played appear more proficient at the game than we are (we've lost every game).

However, this record requires some context. At the beginning of the season it was expected that our team would be placed in the "D" league where it was last season. However, due to the number of teams that occupied that league this season someone had to be bumped up for space considerations. That unfortunate team was Genesis Community Church. I say "unfortunate" because the goal of the church team does not ever appear to have been to seriously compete, but instead to have fun playing against comparably skilled teams. Because we had played at "D" league competency, we expected to play against other "D" level teams. Instead, this season we find ourselves playing against "C" league teams who are far more competitive that what we had been used to.

The resulting effect has been a temptation to become discouraged at the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of each opponent's skills each Sunday night. We say that the goal was never to be intensely competitive, but the scored spread is not ignorable either. What is the proper attitude one should have when seemingly unfairly placed in a situation both beyond your control and beyond your skill level?

It seems that given the above mentioned conditions, the normal standards of measuring progress are no longer valid (i.e. the other team's score compared to yours). Because the conditions have changed, so must the measurement of one's own success. Instead of counting by what number of runs the other team won, it is actually more accurate to measure progress of one's own performance against one's own record given the new conditions. How many more runs the opposing team got is of less concern that how many more runs we got than our last game given a similarly skilled opponent. Do not speak so much of how many more runs the opposing team got tonight. Instead speak of how many more runs we got tonight than we last did when getting them was just as difficult.

I suspect that our improvements over this season, playing in a higher league than we're supposed to, will be too gradual to detect from one game to the next. The end result will most likely be that by the end of the season we will have risen to a level that makes continuation in the "C" league more appropriate than returning to the "D" league. If we do register for the Royce City adult softball league in the Spring, then we still might sign up for the "D" league. I would not be surprised though to discover that opponents at that time complain that we were placed in too low a league, just as we initially complained for being placed in too high a league. The competitive spirit will arise again as our team glories in the victories, forgetting about the whining and pitiful lamentations that accompanied the learning of our new found skills this season in the first place.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Church music: Part 1 - Music leaders and the sacred event

I say "part 1" because I imagine that I'll have a lot more to say about this in the future. For now I'll simply suggest that the Church seems ill-served when less attention is given to selecting music leaders than teaching pastors. The music in a church is so reflective of that particular community's faith confession, so symptomatic of its desire for excellence in offering praises to their God and so influential in their development of genuine devotion that the music leader's influence with the congregation is often rightly second only to the senior pastor. Some would disagree with this assessment, but I am persuaded that these two positions (senior pastor and music leader) are the dominant catalysts to peoples' faith response to the Sunday morning service.

It is out of an understanding of sacred space, sacred days and sacred times that we rightly acknowledge the importance of Sunday morning to people's religious experience. Perhaps in other cultures the standard meeting day and time differs significantly. However, in the U.S. Sunday morning is the received practice. In addition, the sense of sacred space drives people to expect an experience with God at church that differs from that which is enjoyed during the rest of the week and everywhere else. This notion of the sacred can be overblown of course, resulting in the worst expressions of legalism in practice during the Roman Catholic era of the Church. On the other hand, to deny the human attraction for the sacred is to deny the human's need met by Old Testament prescriptions for worship and sacrifice to Yahweh in the Tabernacle or the Temple.

As a result of understanding and appreciating the sacred, we can see that those that lead a band and congregation in the singing of praises on Sunday morning are "instrumental" in helping the sacred event have the proper religious effect for the participant. In other words, he does with art and music what the pastor hopes to do through preaching of the Word and the administering of the sacraments. They have different methods, but parallel goals. For this reason churches rightly undertake to examine potential music leaders with a scrutiny only slightly less rigorous that they would another pastor. What is their theology? What is their doctrinal makeup? What do they believe is the role of music in the Church? Do they have a well developed philosophy of church music? How do they believe that doctrine and art must coincide? How is the transcendent church celebrated through music? How can multiple generations be kept together in one service through musical diversity? How does their knowledge of the sacred effect their playing?

These and many more reasons combine to suggest that music must be pursued as a priority of the Church's faith expression second only to the exposition of the Word of God. In addition, church leaders had better approach the selection of music leaders with sober reflection that takes into account music's timeless importance to the community of faith. Once having made such a choice, satisfied that the above mentioned concerns are well addressed, the leadership of said musician must carry the weight of the process that the church's leaders went through to appoint him. This weight is appropriate because the issue of whether of not he could play an instrument well was the last concern to be addressed. The foremost concerns that the leadership had better have addressed was whether the music leader can well assist in the leaders' vision of what manner of sacred event that particular church must pursue. If the selection is a fit, then the music leader leads with the credential of having been selected by the church's leaders, and by extension, having been appointed by God for that task. Such is the importance of music for expression of the sacred in community.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Scary Movies

Our family isn't into Halloween. We find that we have no space left for it in our lives with Reformation Day becoming such a large and meaningful celebration. I'll post on that later. For now suffice it to say that Halloween, as a celebration, doesn't fit with our family's philosophy of celebration; therefore, we don't celebrate it. For us October 31st is Reformation Day. Nothing else fits.

Having said that, we, as a family, are still attracted to many of the elements that often are combined in the Halloween time. We simply break them up and enjoy them at other times. Take candy for instance. I have such a sweet tooth it's a miracle I have any teeth left. Dressing up? Forget it! We'll costume up for almost any excuse. The boys are frequently Spiderman, Rambo or Knights of the Round Table. Earlier this year I helped deliver Pastor Jeff Garrett's message on Sunday morning at The Table dressed as Batman. Oh, and around Halloween you can get some great deals on costumes that you might use some other times.

But one thing that has been a family tradition is watching scary movies. I grew up with my parents watching scary movies at night while I hid behind the couch. Eventually, when I got older, I graduated up to actually sitting on the couch next to them, covering my eyes either with a blanket or my fingers. Into my teens I grew into a full blown thrill junkie. Now mind you, I have absolutely NO appetite for the slasher movie genre, or films that use the horror genre to feed my eyes grotesque gore or nudity and sex. But there's a select group of terrifying movies still around, or even produced now and then, that can spin such a spooky yarn as to really give you the heebeegeebees. Case in point? John Carpenter's "The Fog." I still get the willies over that puppy.

Well, early on in our marriage I thought Naomi would be my "scary movie girl." You know, the kind that hold tight to your arm and then jumps in your lap when the killer emerges suddenly from the closet. I was in for a surprise. She doesn't get scared by that stuff. Was I ever disappointed. Who would enjoy scary movies with me?... Answer? My Daughter!

Jessica is now my scary movie partner. We get on the couch, pull the blankets up under our chins and start shaking in our boots before the opening credits even appear. The popcorn is nervously consumed, the lights are dim, the music foreboding and the anticipation nerve wrenching. Although we don't celebrate Halloween, those that do accommodate us with scary movies that have been edited for television with increasing frequency as October 31st draws near. We have our own agenda with Reformation Day, but in the meantime we still get a thrill with "scary movie night" as a father/daughter exercise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Pulpit and Spade

Archaeology is the study of the material remains left behind by cultures of the past. For this reason it is, and should be, pursued with as much scientific discipline as can be mustered in order to "unearth" the most reliable data. However, when it comes to archaeological finds that relate to the biblical world, and particularly events and places mentioned in the text, the science of it can become quite obscured, leaving a pseudo-science resembling a slightly more intellectual yet very religious exercise. This is further complicated when determining what use is the data to the pastoral function of preaching. Can the pulpit and the spade become friends, or are they uncomfortable acquaintances that are not sure what to do with one another?

I believe the answer begins with determining what one thinks archaeology related to the biblical world ought to be used for. Among the various schools of thought there are two which receive the most press due to remaining the most vocal: (1) Prove the Bible is true by setting out to find ancient sights, artifacts and inscriptions that validate its historical claims, and (2) assume the Bible is not true until archaeological finds support its claims.

Both approaches have considerable problems. The 1st approach assumes that the Bible is always conducting straight historical reporting (often in violation of their own hermeneutic principles of accounting for literary genre, idiom, parable, figures of speech, etc.), and therefore will force the scientific data to fit their presupposed interpretation of the Bible by any means possible. In addition, in their zeal to "prove the Bible," the 1st approach will often bypass much of the scientific process and declare an interpretation proved with sketchy or incomplete data that is later disproved. This gives ammunition to those who desire to disprove the Bible.

The problem with the 2nd approach is that it begins from a perspective of disbelief. It is expected that only provable claims must be believed. This is not only in contradiction to the principle of faith preceding understanding, it also denies the reality of the great limits on archaeology's ability to prove anything. So little of what can be discovered, identified, excavated and analyzed has actually been done as to leave those supposedly objectively disbelieving to appear zealously so. One could just as well assert that, upon discovering a toe nail in a graveyard, a full human body never existed here because we have not found the rest of it. Rubbish!

What does this say for the Bible expositor? I for one seek a third approach. This approach is shared among critical evangelical scholars, committed to asserting the inerrancy of Scripture in all that it affirms. This approach suggests that the Scriptures are inerrant, but my interpretation may very need amendment as data illuminates my understanding of it. I do not expect that archaeology will "prove the Bible" because I am becoming increasingly more aware of the limits of archaeology. However, I do understand that archaeology (when itself is interpreted well) can aid in my interpretation of the Scriptures. I in turn seek to interpret the Scriptures so as to discover the transcendent truth expressed in its life-giving pages. That same truth is what must come from the pulpit.

I am persuaded that archaeology is a tool that is vital to the expositor's task of helping his people enter the biblical world. In this way they can better relate to the people to whom the truth expressed in the text first came. In addition, the truth from the text is better illuminated for purposes of application in the present time. The pastor ought to strive to connect the people of those times with those in his congregation now. In addition to the commentaries on the text, let him also read published (and scholarly credible) works on the lifestyle, culture and practices of the times that his passage is set in. Let him know something of Egypt when he speaks of Moses. Let him know something of Ugarit when he speaks of Baal. Let him know something of Babylon when he preaches from Daniel; Palestine and the Gospels; Anatolia and Ephesus; Greece and Corinthians; Rome and Revelation. Indeed the pulpit and the spade are great companions, and pastors must strive to be comfortable with both.