Monday, January 15, 2007


Sophomore English, Central High School. Above grade level, I might add. I sat near the back on the right, with “the guys.” Not the nerds (they were at the front). The guys. Football players, basketball players, swimmers… We weren’t the coolest at school, but we were on the fringe.

And we liked Encyclopedia Brown. Every week our teacher gave us some sort of Weekly Reader, and it always had a case from the files of Encyclopedia Brown. We would read them carefully, trying to see who could pick up the hidden clues that would lead us to the right answer. It was never obvious; you had to piece together different sets of facts to solve the case. Sometimes we got it, sometimes we didn’t, but it was always fun. My feeling was that the author wrote in a way to make them difficult, but not impossible, to understand.

Did the author of Encyclopedia Brown write the New Testament? Is it intended to be some sort of mystery that must be pieced together, uniting half a verse here with the Greek definition of a word from here in order to come up with what isn’t obvious? My belief is that it isn’t and that it can’t be. Partly for some of the reasons I’ve discussed in my last several posts. If people didn’t have their own personal copy of the Bible, if they depended on hearing the Word rather than reading it, then the message could not be based on nuances, inferences and word studies.

Look at the Old Testament Law. God goes to great lengths to explain exactly what He wants. More than 600 commands, explicitly stated. Some would argue that God replaced this inferior law with a superior one, one which is not always directly stated but is sometimes taught through “necessary inference” and “approved examples.” In other words, God went from being a God who spoke clearly to one who spoke in the genre of Encyclopedia Brown. “You missed the fact that John 13 says the Last Supper wasn’t on the Passover, therefore we shouldn’t use unleavened bread. And Paul says we all eat of one loaf, so we can’t use those individual matzah crackers anyway. And that grape juice had better be non-alcoholic because the Greek word actually means…” Folks, I just don’t buy it.

I believe that God speaks clearly. If something is truly necessary, it will be specified in the New Testament. I don’t have to piece verses together. I don’t have to fill in the gaps nor connect the dots. If the New Testaments plainly teaches something, I will teach it. If God has bound something, I will teach it as bound.

I still enjoy Encyclopedia Brown stories (I was pleasantly surprised just now to find out they’re still being published). But that’s now how I’m going to read God’s Word.

1 comment:

Joe Don said...

Tim,

My dad turned me on to your blog a couple of weeks ago and I have enjoyed reading your posts. This last post is especially relevant because we are going through some significant worship changes at my home church partly based on the idea that if God would have wanted worship done a certain way...he would have made it clear. Since He didn't, we are free to worship God in different but equally pleasing manners.

The problem comes in when people differ between what is plainly taught by the New Testament. Does "plainly taught" mean a command from God, a teaching from Jesus, an instruction from a NT author, an example, a necessary inference, or all of the above?

I whole-heartedly agree with the fact that I will only teach what is "plainly taught." And I just don't understand why everyone else doesn't agree on what I believe is obvious. (Note the sarcasm)

The solution is part of the problem and what you have been discussing in the past posts. We want to understand the "text" more so we understand what was plainly taught better.

I guess I am somewhere in between. I believe certain things are plainly taught and non-negotiable. Others are a mystery that clues (relevant church history and non-biblical writings relevant at the time)can help us understand and I will teach those with authority but not condemnation. Others, I will just have to wait to understand and hope I wasn't too far off...Those make interesting discussions and poor theology.

Joe Don Ridgell