The Bible in 90 Days: Reflections so far

I’ve begun a plan recently that will take me through the entire Bible in 90 days.  I’m hoping it will give me a better sense of the broad Story of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. It’s been challenging so far (I’m on day 18, in Judges), but I’m starting to see budding in my understanding and appreciation.  One thing that fascinates me is how these writings have defined a people for thousands of years: first the Jewish people and then the Christians as well.  Those who wrote the New Testament would have been immersed in these stories, probably having most of them memorized.  It was largely Israel’s story of enslavement, exodus, rise and fall which drove their thinking.

What strikes me most of all so far is how candid the stories are.  The authors, and in turn the Spirit guiding them, was not concerned with dressing things up, or glazing over the difficult parts.  We see the full falleness presented, both of the greatest heroes and the darkest villains.  You have Moses, on one hand parting the red sea and interceding between Yahweh and Israel, great things!  On the other hand, you have him getting so mad with this stubborn group of people that he finally hits a rock too hard, which incurs discipline from Yahweh.  Leadership is not without its challenges.  I’ve a feeling we should give them a little slack some times.

Then you have stories which are just funny.  How about Balaam?  A threatened king tries repeatedly to pay Balaam to curse the Israelites.  Balaam probably shouldn’t have even entertained the king’s request, (made evident by a talking she-ass) but he does.  Instead of pronouncing a curse, Balaam blesses the Israelites 3 times!  I’m sure the situation would have been quite grave, but several thousand years later it’s hard not to laugh ;-)

Summing up, I guess these writings are still quite foreign to me.  I don’t really understand the context in which these things happened, but they are becoming more familiar.  I’m hoping that familiarity will breed deeper appreciation, instead of contempt; so far we’re heading in the right direction :-)

~alex

Good Works in Titus (Part Two)

Here’s the second part of the post I started last week on good works.  This part comes after a wonderful discussion, which has given me some helpful insights on the letter.  Any reading this who are fellow NC State/Meredith students are encouraged to come.  It has been fun and insightful.
The first part of this post can be found here.

A basic recap:  Many strands of protestantism have been quite uneasy with the notion of “good works,” envisioning the rather ugly strand of medieval catholicism which contained elements of earning or even purchasing salvation.  In rejecting these excesses, we sometimes miss the message of Paul, who was very concerned that faith work itself out with good, christian service.  This series is an exploration of the nature of good works in Titus, noting as I did previously that good works is more than simply small, discrete good deeds.  In addition, I’d like to note that good works can mean something broader, perhaps akin to our usage when we use a phrase like, “my life’s work.”

With that established, we may move forward into Titus 2.  Paul begins with the statement, “but you, teach that which fits with healthy (or sound) doctrine.”  He then launches into things which fit with sound doctrine.  He makes a distinction between the two: doctrine and practice.  However he also weaves the two together.  In this case, we have behavior which is expected of various groups of people, divided here by gender and age.  In these divisions, I see Paul’s pastoral sensitivities.  While we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28) different people are subject to different expressions of the fallen nature.

These instructions on christian behavior work their way back to doctrine in verse 10.  One of the reasons for christian service and behavior is to “adorn the doctrine of God our savior” (this instruction is given to slaves, but I think Paul is applying a general principle to a specific situation).  Our behaviors and attitudes are to make the christian faith attractive.  We then launch back into an exposition of doctrine, “For the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation to all people.” Notice the connecting for.  He continues, saying that this grace trains us to reject ungodliness and live upright lives.  Furthermore, we do these things in eager expectation for the revealing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.  We then get a glimpse of God’s purpose in sending Christ, “to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”  There are allusions here to some of Paul’s other writings.  Galatians 1:4 is paralleled, as is Ephesians 2:10.  I’m convinced these allusions do matter, and allow us to bring those letters to bear on what Paul is saying here.  That said, I haven’t yet figured out how that works out.  I’m thinking I’ll explore it more on a post devoted to good works in general.  Chapter 3 is chocked full of allusions to other Pauline writings.  At the very least, there are parallels worth exploring.

In summing up this post, Titus 2 shows us that doctrine and practice, while certainly distinct, belong very closely together.  Our christian service and behavior is intended to make the christian faith attractive to others.  This outward expression is only possible because “the grace of God appeared.”  Christian service must not be divorced from recognizing the God’s grace working in us.  Nor can good works be dismissed with a notion of cheap grace, since us being empowered to do good works is a central reason for the grace of God appearing!  I’ll be exploring that idea more in subsequent posts.

~alex