Two years ago I wrote this:
My wife is five months pregnant. Last month we went for an ultrasound to see the baby and have the doctors check to make sure everything was progressing nicely. We had done this three times before and were excited. As we met with the doctor and ultrasound technician they referred to what they saw as "your child." They must have said it 50x during the ultrasound as they referred to "your child's hand," "your child's heart," etc.
But then something changed.
Another doctor was brought into the room and for 5 minutes he stared at the baby's heart. The room was completely silent. He then began to tell us that there was a tumor on our child's heart and started to run down all the scenarios we were now faced with. Then the doctor said to us: "If the fetus is abnormal and that is management problem for you, you have the option to terminate your fetus." The slight change in wording tells the story. I was in too much shock to respond. But later it dawned on me what he had done. The child my wife was carrying was only a child if we wanted to keep it, as if it was our choice! However, if we did not want the baby, it was only a fetus.
Three weeks later we came back for another ultrasound. The growth on the heart was not a tumor, but a normal variant. In the doctor's eyes, our child was a baby again. In our eyes, nothing had changed.
I have pondered this event many times now as I have held my son over the last 20 months. I am still in shock over it. Not a suprised kind of shocked. More of sadness and digust. As my wife and I have considered that conversation multiple times over the years, we have felt a large pull to help the Right to Life movement. We however are handcuffed (in a wonderful way) right now with four children and my job and are not able to do very much. So now, here are a few things for busy people to fight for the life of children not yet born:
1. Pray. Pray for the moms who are considering the abortion, the families who want to adopt the children and the doctors who want to murder them.
2. Engage. Engage your pro-choice friends in sane and calm arguments. Scott Klusendorf's book The Case for Life might really help you in this regard. The best argument to start is a simple one: Ask what the person you are debating what they think the mother is carrying. How they answer that question will guide your conversation. You never know how winning one person over to the pro-life side may impact the life of a child.
3. Make some money. Figure out a way to make more in order to buy an ultrasound machine for a pregnancy center or help a couple with the costs of an adoption. Continue to debunk the myth that Christians stop caring for babies after they are born.
4. Think about adoption. Connect yourself to real needs. You might not be able to adopt (like us) yet. But it may come soon.
5. Love your own kids. They are sweet little image bearers in need of a great and merciful Savior. I don't want to be known as an advocate for an unborn child and not an advocate and provider for my own!
Is there more that could be done? Yes! Do we have the emotionial and practical time to do anything else? No. But it is a start.
Some of the best advice I have
ever received came from my advisor Scott Manetch in seminary. He warned me not to use a "bag
of tricks" when I got into ministry. He explained how most
pastors stay at a church for 3-4 years and then move on. One reason, he
suggested, was because many pastors only had three years worth of sermons,
ideas and programs in their bag of tricks. When the pastor ran out he would
move on to another church and recycle everything again.
The root of this (I think) is
being a second-hander. We may push children to make their faith their
own, but pastors seemingly must do the same. Here are seven signs that you
are setting yourself up to be or already are a second-hander.
1. In school, when you are
assigned an exegesis paper, you run to the commentaries and your conclusion
first. You short-circuit your own work and effort by not staring at the
text over and over again. Time is of the essence so you hurry through the
process. The result - you have just written a paper on Romans 8 that is
almost identical to Doug Moo's commentary. You get a good grade, you
learned something about the text, but you skipped the process of learning.
2. Speaking of languages,
you rely on your computer software to parse everything for you. Even when
called upon in class, you look hard into your computer screen and then say what
the program tells you. Teachers would be smart to not allow computers in
3. You get assigned a text
to preach and you immediately go to The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God
websites for help. You listen to a few sermons, make an outline, add a personal
story and boom, you are done! Funny thing - it sounds just like John
Piper's sermon last week. I remember being in preaching lab while in seminary
and three people had the same sermon. To say pastors continue to use
other people's sermons in an unhelpful way is an understatement. Just read here. By the time you preach on Sundays, your sermons really are just insights from your three favorite preachers.
4. You would rather read
book reviews than books, books about the Bible instead of the Bible,and books on
prayer instead of praying. Books reviews are helpful. So are commentaries
and books on prayer. But these are secondary sources, not primary.
5. You rely on what you learned 10 years ago instead of what you learned over the last 10 years. The Bible is not fresh. All of your insights are from mentors and teachers before they unleashed you on the Church. You may have bought books at a conference or from a great online deal, but you only read a few, if you are lucky!
6. When you awake in the morning, you run to the blogs and news to hear what people say about Scripture instead of reading it for yourself.
7. All of your ideas are someone elses. This includes ideas for what your church is involved in. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is bad if you find that you are reduplicating the same plan in different contexts with different people.
I believe what happens in the process of using secondary sources first, is that you become a caricature of what you had hoped to become. You imagine yourself to know far more than you do. But honestly, the roots of Scripture are only an inch deep. You can not be a firmly planted tree by streams of water without delight and meditation. One thinks of the end of C.S.
Lewis's Four Loves as he reflects on his own experience of God:
God knows, not I, whether I have ever tasted this love. Perhaps I have only imagined the tasting. Those like myself whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there.
In the book Vernacular
David Tuesday Adamo has a chapter on “African Cultural Hermeneutics.” His aim
is to make a case for the practice of cultural hermeneutics in Africa. He goes
further to apply this method to the Psalms. Adamo’s chapter illustrates what I
call the danger of cultural hermeneutics and shows why this emphasis should be
rejected if we are to continue to maintain the truth of Scripture.
Adamo argues that,
In African indigenous culture, the means for dealing
successfully with traditional problems like disease, sorcerers, witches,
enemies and lack of success in life, have been developed. Western missionaries
taught African Christians to discard these indigenous ways of handling problems
without offering any concrete substitute, except the Bible. Charms, medicine,
incantations, divination, sacrifices and other cultural ways of protecting,
healing and liberating ourselves from the evil powers that fill African forests
were hurriedly discarded in the name of Christianity. Yet, we were not taught
how to use that Bible as a means of protecting, healing and solving the daily
problems of life. The Euro-American way of reading the Bible has not actually
helped us to understand the Bible in our own context (p. 66).
Three things stand out in this above statement. 1)
Christianity is a Western missionary thing. 2) Missionaries discarded African
traditional practices and only replaced them with the Bible which is not a
concrete substitute for dealing with their problems. 3) Africans should have
been taught by the missionaries on how to use the Bible for protection,
healing, and solving daily problems. Implied in Adamo’s argument, then, is that
African cultural hermeneutics will enable Africans to interpret the Bible in a
way that brings back such practices and makes use of the Bible to do what
charms, medicine, incantations, divination etc. did in the culture.
Adamo’s approach (in line with those who argue for African
cultural hermeneutics) is to begin with the African experience, then search the
Scriptures to see if there is anything in it that could solve problems faced in
that context. He states,
Faced with some peculiar problems as African
Christians, we searched the Bible consistently with our own eyes in order to
discover whether there could be anything in the Bible that could solve our
problems. In the process of reading the Bible with our own eyes, we discovered
in the scripture great affinities with our own worldview and culture. We
discovered in both the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament resemblances to
events similar to African experience, especially painful experience (p.
Applying his African cultural hermeneutics to the Psalms,
Adamo points out that the Psalms, interpreted from the African perspective, can
be used protection, healing, and success in life. Before the advent of
Christianity, the indigenous tradition of Africa used incantations and charms
to protect themselves against enemies and evil. Given this cultural context, he
comes to the Psalms and applies his cultural hermeneutics approach. He argues
that the Christianity brought by missionaries did not meet the need of Africans
for protection, healing and success. What the missionaries did not give,
African indigenous Christians found by searching the Bible. As he puts it,
“Using African cultural hermeneutics to interpret
the Bible, they [African indigenous Christians] found secret powers in the
Bible, especially in the book of Psalms. They used the Bible protectively,
therapeutically, and successfully to fill the missing gap left by Eurocentric
Christianity” (p. 74).
One wonders how Adamo sees the Bible, that he uses it as he
Applying his methodology of cultural hermeneutics, Adamo
identifies three groups of Psalms for the African indigenous churches. They
are: 1) Protective Psalms (Psalms 5, 6, 28, 35, 37, 54, 55, 83, and 109. He
argues that these are protective Psalms and thus should be used against enemies
and evil. They can be used in the African context to defeat the evil plans of
enemies. 2) Therapeutic Psalms (Psalms 20 and 40 [for swollen stomach]; 51 [to
heal barrenness]; 6 [to relieve from pains and worries]; 1 [to prevent
miscarriages] etc.). 3) Success Psalms include Psalms 4; 8; 9; 23; 24; 46; 51;
119:9-16; 134 (for success in examinations or studies).
In the end, Adamo has replaced the African traditional
practices with the Bible. Rather than hearing what the Bible says to the
African indigenous church, he wants the African indigenous belief system
brought into the Bible. Cultural hermeneutics, then, is finding in the Bible
those aspects that agree with the cultural practices and then using them, even
to the point of using the Bible as a charm to protect from evil.
Adamo’s work may sound trivial to Western ears, but is a
worry because what he says is reflected in so much of what is published in
African theologies these days. Such hermeneutics will keep people comfortable
in their belief systems, and they will never see the need to embrace Christ as
Lord and Savior.
Cultural hermeneutics as a topic of discussion may be
appealing to scholars, and the push for cultural sensitivity might keep us from
challenging such arguments, especially when made by Africans. But that would be
disastrous for the future of the church in places like Africa. We must know
about these issues, as they serve to show the serious need for proper
 Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah, ed.
(Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).
Hermeneutics to pastors on the mission field was a joy for me. Helping students
see that there is indeed meaning in the text that the author intended to
communicate, and that we can arrive at that meaning was a thing that students
found significant for their own preaching. One day in class, a student
remarked, “Now, I do not have to look for things to put into my sermon because
the text gives me so much to deal with.” Contrast this with a pastor who got up
to preach one Sunday and told the people, “I have had this sermon for a month
but was looking for a passage to go with it.” The question is, should we train
pastors on the mission field to go from text to sermon or from sermon to text?
The answer is obvious. The text, rightly interpreted, gives the message, which
should be preached, to the people.
practice of hermeneutics (going from the text to sermon, going from author’s
intended meaning to significance for our context , commonly known as
application) is being challenged, and this is dangerous for the health of the
church. This challenge comes in the form of what is called “cultural
hermeneutics.” The challenge is coming from scholars in various cultures, as
well as from the West.
the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Atlanta in 2010, there was a
discussion group on New Testament Studies in Africa. It was a very helpful
discussion, but I was shocked at one statement: that we need to make room for
and be open to African Hermeneutics. I raised an objection to this statement
and started thinking of the implications of such an approach. Recently I met with a seasoned missiologist
who, after finding out what TLI is about, asked me, “Will you practice cultural
hermeneutics or are you going to bring western hermeneutics and dump it on
them?” He argued that we need to have the cultures interpret scripture the way
they see it. We need to be comfortable with other cultures coming to the text
and seeing different things. Again, this way of speaking is dangerous and will
do damage to the church.
is being catered to in this challenge of cultural hermeneutics? I fear that
those in the West jumping on the band wagon of this subject, have not carefully
considered its origin and who is being served in advocating such a position.
Take Africa for example, who in the African context is making the case for
cultural hermeneutics? A casual reading shows that it is the liberal scholars,
western trained, with no concern for the purity of the gospel, who are making
the argument and rejecting the normal practice of hermeneutics as Euro-centric
and uncaring for the African context. Are scholars in the West, then, promoting
the demands of African Liberal Scholars? It seems so.
in Africa who advocate for cultural hermeneutics argue that Africans should be
allowed to read the Bible for themselves, and will see things differently. They
should be able to come to the Bible and see a different meaning in the text
than a westerner will see. There should not be a western imposition on one’s
right to see truth in the Bible from his or her own cultural perspective.
basic argument of cultural hermeneutics is captured by Professor Gosnell L Yorke, Faculty of Theology & Religious
Studies, University of Eastern Africa, Banaton, Kenya. Writing for UNISA
(University of South Africa) Online, he says,
Since it is now acknowledged that all
theology is practiced* from a certain perspective, a space is cleared for an
Afrocentric reading of biblical scriptures. Afrocentrism is an attempt to
re-read Scripture from a premeditatedly Africa-centred* perspective which
breaks the hermeneutical hegemony and ideological stranglehold of Western
biblical scholarship. It is shown, furthermore, that an Afrocentric reading of
the Old and New Testaments and an Afrocentric understanding of the figure of
Jesus Christ undercut all Eurocentric pretensions.
*[English rather than American spelling
of several words.]
challenge of cultural hermeneutics is serious. If left unchallenged, it will
affect the church and create problems in understanding the Word of God.
to this challenge, we must not engage in debating such scholars, but in
preparing future scholars who see the proper role of hemeneutics in their
context. These will be people who can go from text (properly interpreted) to
significance in their various contexts. It seems to me that the argument for
cultural hermeneutics is confusing “meaning” (what the author intended to
communicate) and application of the meaning in our own contemporary context.
practical outworking of the cultural hermeneutics argument is disastrous. See
the next post tomorrow on “Cultural Hermeneutics Applied.”
See his full article online at http://www.unisa.ac.za/default.asp?Cmd=ViewContent&ContentID=7348
As 2012 comes to an end and 2013 looms, I reflect once again
on the nature of the gospel. Our work in training pastors is to help them
understand the gospel, practice it in their lives, and proclaim it to others,
all with a view to helping the nations worship God when they have understood
him through the gospel. In thinking through how God has used TLI and many other
ministers of the gospel, I cannot help but think again on the nature of the
gospel of which we are all ambassadors. Following are some observations on what
the gospel is. These are not new, but simply reminders of what we already
believe and hold onto. We must be reminded of these things lest we became lazy
and presume to know them when we don’t.
Simply, the gospel is the good news about God (and Christ).
It is a message of salvation addressed to a lost world, that tells what God has
done to save sinners and how those saved ought to live before God. The high
point of the gospel is not what we must do to be saved but what God has done in
Christ to save us.
The Nature of the Gospel Message
As we proclaim the gospel message, there are certain
elements that we must be conscious of and take seriously. Only then will we
proclaim it well and expect it to do its work. We note the following elements
of the gospel:
The Gospel is Power
The gospel is God’s power that accomplishes salvation for all
who believe (Rom. 1:16). God works through the gospel message to bring people
to himself. Through the gospel, those who believe are reconciled to God,
redeemed, delivered, and justified (see Rom 3:23, 24; 8:1; 1 Cor. 15:1, 2; 2
Cor. 5:18-21; 1 Tim. 1:15; cf. Acts 3:13; 4:27).
Source of the Gospel
The source of the gospel or the author of the gospel is God
and Christ. We read that it is “the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9), or “the
gospel of Christ” (1 Thess. 3:2). God and Christ as the source of the gospel
mean that both are the author of salvation. As such, it is not from man (Gal.
1:11, 12; 2:16) since man cannot produce the means for his own salvation. He is
unable to do so and so depends only on God (Eph. 2:1, 5, 9). Therefore, from
beginning to end, it is God alone who works in Christ to save man.
Emphasis of the
In the gospel message, the emphasis is not on man but on
God. The emphasis is placed on God’s sovereign work to save, and his unmerited
grace. Thus, it is the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; see also Rom.
3:23-24; Eph. 2:6-10; Titus 3:4-7).
The Message of the
What does the gospel communicate? Again, we look to
Scripture for an answer. We find that the message of the gospel centers on the
person of Jesus Christ. It reports the historical events surround the life of
Christ (Luke 1:1; 24:14, 18) and centers on his death and resurrection, all in
fulfillment of Scripture (1 Cor. 15:1-5; Acts 2:23; cf. Gal. 2:20). His death
was a saving event, in that he died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4). His
resurrection was for the vindication of Jesus (Acts 2:23, 24; 3:13-15; 5:30,
31), vindication of God (Rom. 3:25-26), and for our justification (Rom. 4:25)
Witnesses of the
By witnesses, we are referring to the evidence that supports
the gospel message. The apostles appealed to evidence to support their gospel,
and that evidence is Scripture itself (1 Cor. 15:3, 4; Rom. 3:21; Acts 26:22,
23). All of the Old Testament bears witness to Jesus, who is the center of the
gospel (see Luke 24:24ff). The apostles themselves were witnesses of the gospel
message, so what they proclaimed was true (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:48; Mark 3:14;
John 15:26; Acts 2:32). The witness of the Old Testament and the apostles is
primary in giving support to the truthfulness of the gospel message.
Demands of the Gospel
The gospel demands repentance, faith, and baptism. The
gospel clearly calls sinners to accept the gospel and repent from sin (Acts
3:19; 17:30; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Tim. 2:25), and turn to Christ in faith. The gospel is not something to be ashamed of,
since it is the power of God and through it God saves sinners (Rom. 1:16, 17;
Gal. 3:11; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 2:12, 13). The gospel then appeals very strongly
that we be reconciled with God (2 Cor. 5:20) and this is more so because there
is no other means of salvation except the means provided by God.
Messengers of the
Knowing the implications of the gospel, how are sinners to
hear it in order to be saved by it? God does not only send the gospel, he sets
aside people to proclaim its message (Rom. 1:1). Those set apart for the gospel
feel an obligation to proclaim it (Rom. 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16). We can say that all
believers are indeed ambassadors (messengers) of the gospel of God’s grace (2
Those who believe the gospel must affirm Jesus; that Jesus
is Lord and Christ (Rom. 10:9; 14:9; Phil. 2:9-11; Acts 2:36; 5:31); that God
has exalted him at his right hand and therefore he rules over all (Acts 2:32-33;
Promises of the
The gospel comes with promises, but not material promises.
Rather, the gospel promises the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy
Spirit to those who believe (Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19; 10:43; 13:38).
Being reminded over and over about the essential elements of
the gospel helps us to keep these things in focus and communicate the gospel
message to the nations in a way that is true to Scripture.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be
proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then
the end will come (Matt. 24:14).