Sunday, December 06, 2009

Discovering a Biblical Theology of an Idea, Word, or Theme

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

Biblical theology traces an idea, word, or theme in a biblical book, author, genre, testament, or the entire Bible. While the process can be long and involved and requires careful thought, the steps are quite simple.

  1. Determine the idea, word, or theme to be studied. In this example, I will use the word "heart" (Gk. kardia) in Matthew's Gospel. You can use the search tool at biblestudytools.com. I used it, chose "interlinear" in the sidebar, and clicked "kardia" to fine all the uses of kardia in Matthew.
  2. Next, read each verse in its paragraph (!!!) and determine what this particular verse says about the idea, word, or theme. Make brief notes.
    • Matthew 5:8 can be pure; related to the perception of God
    • Matthew 5:28 can sin
    • Matthew 6:21 intention revealed in use of treasure
    • Matthew 9:4 related to response; ca do evel/good
    • Matthew 11:29 can be humble
    • Matthew 12:34 source of speech content; evidence of character
    • Matthew 12:40 interior
    • Matthew 13:15 related to understanding
    • Matthew 13:19 can have content stolen by evil one
    • Matthew 15:8 can be communal (had by a community); determines intention
    • Matthew 15:18-19 source of speech content/behavior
    • Matthew 18:35 location of true forgiveness of others
    • Matthew 22:37 able to love
    • Matthew 24:48 source of decisions/behavior
  3. Spend time reading over your notes. Look for the structure of the concepts, write the key concepts in bullet form, and cite the appropriate passages.
    • moral component, 5:8; 5:28; 9:4; 11:29
    • cognitive component, 5:8; 13:15
    • volitive component, 6:21; 9:4; 15:8; 15:18-19; 18:35; 22:37; 24:48
    • character component, 12:34-35; 15:18-19
    • vulnerable to evil, 13:19
  4. Read through the passages in their groupings and create a full sentence outline of the biblical theology.
    • The heart is the location of our moral decision-making (5:8; 5:28; 9:4; 11:29).
    • The heart is the gatekeeper and ultimate means of understanding (5:8; 13:15).
    • The heart decides our thoughts, motivations, and behaviors (6:21; 9:4; 15:8; 15:18-19; 18:35; 22:37; 24:48).
    • The heart is the reservoir of character (12:34-35; 15:18-19).
    • The heart is vulnerable to evil attack (13:19).
  5. You now have a biblical theology of the idea, word, or theme you have studied.
  6. Now, venture out on your own and trace heart in Mark's Gospel. If you would like, post your results in the comments.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Passionate Pursuit of Christ Produces Spiritual Growth

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

Claim: Spiritual growth is the fruit of our passionate pursuit of Christ.

Note the following verses (emphasis mine).

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom 7:4 ESV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:22-24 ESV)

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9-10 ESV)

In each case, fruit results from connection with Christ. This is not to say we sit idle while Jesus does all the work, for this is not the case. As Paul says in Philippians 2:12, we are to work out the salvation that God has put in. But, working out our salvation--producing fruit--cannot occur by our own effort alone:, for as Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing.”

Our motto for this past year has been, "Passionately pursuing spiritual growth in Christ." It is a very good motto and the programs flowing from that motto have encouraged many at TFB to begin bible reading and reflection they may not have practiced regularly before.

As we prepare for 2010, might I suggest we think about the true means to spiritual growth? You see, bible reading and reflection is good and necessary, but it is not enough. If we read the Bible and reflect on it regularly, but do so to "make ourselves holy" or "fulfill duty" then we have missed the point. The point of Bible reading and reflection is connecting with, trusting, and obeying Jesus.

In 2010, let us gather in small groups and large, thinking and praying together, figuring out how to pursue Christ, and deciding to trust and obey him with passion and persistence.

The fruit will, I am certain, astound us.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Must Christian Fellowship be Face-to-Face?

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

These gatherings are important, but insufficient. The relative infrequency allows for too much life apart. Our conversations, though they are many, are insufficient to carry our stories. Time and geography hinder more frequent gatherings.

What should we do?

Connecting in the New Testament

The New Testament (NT) describes many ways of connecting with other believers. Believers gathered face-to-face (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15) and connected through letters (2 Cor 13:10; Phil 3:1; Col 4:18) and intercessory prayer (Rom 1:8-15; Phil 1:3-11). Whether in the same house church or across the Mediterranean Sea, the soul-to-soul connections were very real.

Soul-to-soul connections are important, but because we have bodies, face-to-face connections are primary. Just as NT Christians gathered in homes (Rom 16:5) and temple porches (Acts 2:46), so Christians today gather in worship centers, Sunday school rooms, and living rooms. Such face-to-face participation is necessary for the spiritual growth of the community (Eph 4:15-16).

But what about connections that are not face-to-face? Are texting, email, Facebook, and Twitter valid ways to connect with fellow believers?

Connecting Soul-to-Soul

We are physical, but we are also spiritual. We see glimmers of this when we sit in a crowded room of strangers, talking with a friend on the phone: the connection with the strangers is likely minimal, while the connection with the friend is stronger. Another hint is seen in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt 17): somehow, the three disciples knew Moses and Elijah, presumably without ever having seen them before: they knew their souls. Soul-to-soul connections are real and valuable.

So, we are left with a question: What should non face-to-face connection look like?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Prayer for the Infirm and Lonely

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.
Previously published on Laura’s Writings

Theology is more than ideas; it is also life and, sometimes, life is difficult. Theology has something to say, and so, I offer this prayer.

God,

all in existence depends on you.

I ask you to give health to those

who suffer the body's rebellion.

I thank you for wisdom,

gained over centuries and across cultures,

working within your created systems,

to bring health, sufficient

not only for daily tasks,

but also for periodic enjoyment of your bounty.

God,

we, your people, walk together toward you.

I ask you to grow hospitality in these,

who suffer the soul's unwilling disconnection.

I thank you for humanity's relational nature,

yearning for the other,

building neighborhoods wherever we give love,

forming community

shoulder to shoulder

and heart to heart.

God,

you give deep purpose to our ordinary lives.

I ask that you use these

your infirm and lonely ones.

I thank you for the wealth of possibilities,

worked out in every facet of life,

giving back our skills and capacities

as offerings to you

as we serve and guard nature

and walk and work with one another.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Training as Christians in Ordinary Life

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.



In vocational training, the most effective programs use the movements and activities of the intended vocation. This is why apprenticeship and internship remain required elements in courses of study like psychology and business. I am beginning to realize that Christian training has much in common with vocational training.


What does this mean for the educational practices of the gathered Body?


Some insight can be gained from the educational notion of praxis. In praxis, practice and theory are interwoven, each intentionally informing the other. Practice expresses underlying theory and we use known theory to reflect on these underlying theories in order to correct and improve both the theories and the practices based upon them.


When properly administered, apprenticeship and internship programs are applications of praxis, guiding the learner in intentional reflection on both theory and practice. Two related goals are in mind: proper theory and proper practice. Both are necessary.


In many discipleship programs, the notion of praxis is nowhere to be found–unless our intended vocation is small group participant or some such. On the other hand, if our intended vocation is a life well-lived, expressing our passions and cultural language and moving toward the twin goals of Christlikeness and proper image-bearing, then most of our discipleship programs need to be scrapped and regrown from the ground up. And the ground from which they must be regrown is not the classroom; it is the dining room, the morning commute, our daily chores, and the work day.


Now, I am a fan of the classroom and small group Bible study and I think they have an important place in our practice. I’ve neither desire nor inclination to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. But let us keep one thing clear in our minds: classroom instruction and group Bible study are not Christian training. The car ride home probably is.

What might this look like in a real life gathering of Christians?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Theology--Getting to Know the One We Love

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.

Theology is the framework of our understanding of God and his ways upon which we are able to design a godly life as persons and as community.

Often theology is considered about as interesting as eating sawdust or watching grass grow—and just about as useful. Both perspectives could not be further from the truth, for theology, in its most basic form, is simply what we believe about God and his ways. It ranges from the simple yet profound lyrics of “Jesus Loves Me” to the complex multi-volume Church Dogmatics of German theologian Karl Barth. It has a place in the seminary, but it also has a place in the Little Lambs Sunday School class.

Now, just so we are clear, theology is not the foundation of our faith; our faith is founded on a person: Jesus Christ. Rather, we might think of theology as an adjustable, yet stable framework on which to design a godly life as persons and as community. Stability comes from two sources: the framework is firmly attached to the ground and it is secure, such that adjustment requires effort. It is not adjusted on a whim.

How does this apply to theology? Theology is an adjustable, yet stable set of ideas about God and his ways, firmly attached to Jesus Christ. While Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, our theological understandings are subject to correction. The theological thinking of the larger church is an excellent resource for adjusting our own theology, for the thoughtful, reasoned correction of hundreds of years has produced a stable framework (see below for some resources).

Each of us and all of us together has a theological framework, for we all have understandings about God and his ways. The unfortunate truth is that many of us have thoughtlessly built our framework and it does not correspond to the way things actually are. Often we do not even know what sort of framework it is, for we have not thoughtfully considered our beliefs.

If we truly love God, we will want to know about him, just as when we love a human, we want to know about that person [1]. If we love God, we will thirst for knowledge about him and the knowledge for which we thirst is theology.

Do you thirst for the knowledge of God? If not, ask God to make you thirsty. If you are thirsty, what are you doing to satisfy that thirst?

Further Reading in Theology (available in the Sanctify library; see Laura)
Bitesize Theology, by Peter Jeffrey
5 Minute Theologian, by Rick Cornish


[1] Idea courtesy of John Mark Reynolds, "The Glory of Jesus Christ: The Way Forward in the Dialogue Between Religion and Science," The Norton Lectures at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 18, 2009.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Justice: Obligation and Motivation within Appropriate Boundaries

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by Laura Springer, M.Div., Th.M.


Why do we have an obligation to do justice? We have an obligation to do justice because God is just. As God's creation and as his people, we are obligated to do justice.

What are the boundaries of justice? As the people of God, there are limits to how we ought to do justice. We cannot choose to do justice however we please; rather, we are constrained by the bounds of loving God and others. For example, as we look out in our comm8unity of Torrance, there are justice organizations and institutions with which we might engage. The decision whether and how to involve ourselves is bounded by the limits of God's law of love. As a community of God's people we must sit together and work out and probably struggle through, what the boundaries are and what activities are outside those boundaries.

What is our motivation to do justice? The first motivation is heart. As followers of Jesus, as the people of God our hearts are to run headlong toward God and his desires. God is a God of justice. Evil will be punished; it will be removed. The subjugation of evil is a divine human task (Gen 1:26-28).

The second motivation is the fact that God has placed us here in Torrance. This place, where he has put us, must be our primary mission focus, for all other mission flows out of where we are.This does not mean we set aside foreign or short term mission. It does mean that if we are not subduing evil and proclaiming God where we are, then something is desperately wrong. If we are not fighting for people, speaking wisdom to them, caring for them where we are in Torrance then we have no business going elsewhere. The commitment to do justice and be missional ought to shape how our time and resources are invested. Here, in our ordinary day to day lives, as we live in our neighborhoods, shop at grocery stores, dine in restaurants, and go bowling, the justice of God must be done and the good news of Jesus must be proclaimed.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 esv

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8 esv