Venn Theology

Charting the overlap of Christianity, Culture, and Communication

New Testament 301: Paul’s ethical principles in 1 Cor 8-11

The previous exam question on these chapters is: “Rights v Responsibilities” What arguments did Paul employ against the former and in favour of the latter in 1 Cor 8-11:1. Now. I am a betting man (though only for small stakes, or sheep stations), and I’m betting almost all my eggs on this question, or one very much like it, being in the exam. My reasoning is thus: of the five issues I predict the exam will feature, three are covered by the Sanctification post from last night (Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6 and Paul’s use of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15). So if I sort out Bruce’s argument from that post in my head – I should be able to deal with questions about sanctification, the resurrection, and Paul’s treatment of secular immorality. The oratory thing is the final question – and it’s very close to the essay question (though speaking to some people who’ve done Corinthians before – it seems they had the same essay question, and the past paper I’m looking at is their past paper).

So lets hop to it… most of this material comes from my essay from New Testament 2 (which you can find in full here - it’s a first year essay, so it’s not very good, but it has a semi-cogent argument and some good bibliographic stuff going for it).

Eating and Table Fellowship in the First Century

Paul’s argument in Corinthians is basically that you shouldn’t be doing stuff if it is going to lead your brothers and sisters astray, and make your witness to non-Christians harder. The reason where people eat is a big deal is that eating was identity shaping, and identity declaring, in the first century. You weren’t just what you ate – you were who you ate with, and where you ate.

Philo said this was a reason for Jews not to be involved in associations and clubs in the Roman world. Josephus records Jews avoiding olive oil and wine used in temple libations to avoid anything that looked like it could possibly be tainted. Cicero, Philostratus, and Tacitus, all record (and scorn) the Jewish approach to food.

Here’s Paul’s take home message:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” – Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

The issue of eating practices was a big one for the first century church, where Jew and Gentile were being fused together into God’s family – that’s why it’s at the heart of the Jerusalem Council’s decision in Acts 15, and why Paul writes about it in Romans and Corinthians. It was a big deal for Jews – as their avoidance of bacon was a huge part of what made them different from the heathen cultures around them. They made a big fuss.

Eating in Idol Temples was a big deal for the Corinthians movers and shakers who needed to participate in civic life to get ahead, but it was a bigger deal than they realised, for three reasons (in Paul’s argument against it).

1. It would lead the weak astray.

2. It would hamper their testimony to others.

3. There was more behind the “idol” especially the Emperor worship stuff – than they were acknowledging, because participation in these practices was an indication they hadn’t actually turned away from the past.

Paul’s apparent compromise/contradiction (eat food unless someone questions it) demonstrate that he is driven by the evangelistic imperative – eating with non-Christians(in their homes) is a great way to do evangelism, and you shouldn’t let trivialities like false idols get in the way. Eating in a temple sends a different signal.

The Corinthian Background

Bruce originally thought the “rights” the citizens of Corinth were exercising were related to the Isthmian Games, where people would eat, drink, and be merry, at the expense of the benefactors who put on the games, sharing in the spoils of all sorts of food from idol temples because they were citizens. Now he thinks the real historical location is in the launch of the Imperial Cult and the Imperial temple, in Corinth – the cup of Demons is actually the cup of the emperor – the latin word translated into the Greek word translated into the word Demon is the word used to describe the essence of the deified emperor. The Corinthian citizens are trying to exercise their rights to participate in civic life, recognising a king/lord/emperor who isn’t Jesus.

Gallio’s declaration about the legality of Christianity (as a Jewish tradition/issue) meant that Christians could avoid persecution for not worshiping the emperor, but worshiping the emperor was a big part of Roman life, and a way to get ahead. Treating the “so-called Gods” (1 Cor 8:5) and the demon of 1 Cor 10 as the emperor is more theological cogent (in the light of Paul’s declaration that idols are empty) than thinking there are demons behind all the other false Gods (who Paul deals with in 1 Cor 8:7-13). While Bruce has moved away from the Isthmian Games link – the Imperial Cult stuff is more relevant in his latest reconstruction regarding the arrival of the Imperial Priesthood in Corinth around this period.

Paul is addressing multiple circumstances in which a Corinthian might be confronted with idol food, in the temple, in the marketplace, in private dinners, and sharing in the cup of δαιμονια.  While the idols of 1 Corinthians 8 are false and subject to conscience when it comes to dining in homes, Paul is explicit about participation in the cup of demons in 1 Corinthians 10, and about dining in temples.

Christian converts were to distance themselves from idol temples – even if they “knew” there was no truth behind the idols (1 Corinthians 8:10, 10:14-22). There’s a bit of debate over whether or not Paul shared the Corinthian view on idols – Horsely doesn’t think Paul thinks the idols are “nothing” but that he’s simply quoting the Corinthian’s words (Horsley needs to read Isaiah). Garland doesn’t think the “strong” in Corinthians should be equated with the “strong” in Paul’s similar argument in Romans 14-15.

Paul wants the Corinthians to forgo their rights for the sake of others, like he did, so cites himself as an example (11:1), this is why 1 Cor 9 coheres with the arguments about food in 8 and 10.

This passage fits in the logic of the rest of the book nicely. Paul shows real concern about the role of food in establishing identity with regards to partaking in the Lord’s Supper (and thus the body of Christ) while also participating in the demon’s cup. He draws a parallel between Israel’s historic participation at the temple altar and the antithetical nature of participating in this Imperial Cultic activity (and other idolatrous demon worship) as being mutually exclusive with participating in Christian fellowship (1 Corinthians 10:20-21), employing similar reasoning for not engaging in sexual misconduct (1 Corinthians 6:15-18). It is as unconscionable to unite Christ with these demons through partaking in the cup, as it is to unite Christ with a prostitute through sexual immorality. Eating idol food would necessarily stumble others, and such stumbling of others is entirely unnecessary.

While our treatment of the young men as a case study in the Sanctification post discussed the lack of evidence for temple prostitution in Corinth, it seems plausible that temple dining practices would follow other models of  “dining” addressed by Paul (1 Corinthians 6:12-20, 10:7, which again has an Old Testament corollary in Exodus 32:6 – where idol worship, dining, and sexual immorality are intrinsically linked). Pagan feasts in temples were likely to conform to this model of behaviour. Paul reiterates the need to avoid sexual immorality in the context of dining and idol worship in the midst of this argument (1 Corinthians 10:7-8).

Concern for the other is Paul’s ultimate and guiding concern.

11And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12Thus, sinning against your brothers andwounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”Paul, 1 Corinthians 8:11-12

Evangelism is also on his agenda. This is the purpose of his exemption for eating in the houses of unbelievers without questioning the origin of the meat (1 Corinthians 10:27-28), and for his whole dining rubric (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

Interestingly, the refusal to partake in idol food in a social context once it had been identified as such would have placed the Christians in the difficult social position of causing offence to the host, hence Paul’s instruction to eat without question.

Some names to throw into the mix

Witherington: Thinks the Acts 15 prohibitions are short hand for participating in temple life (food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality) – Bruce disagrees, he argues these things were typical of the entire Roman culture.

Barclay: argues that avoiding compromise with food was the biggest marker of Jew/Gentile distinction outside of Christian circles in the first century.

Garland: argues that all secular dining in Corinth, involving meat, probably had a “religious” nature – regardless of setting, and that Civic banquets – the type citizens enjoyed by “right” would necessarily have involved idol meat.

Gooch: Shows that civic dining often took place in temples in Corinth

Garland (again): Says that though civic dining took place in temples, these weren’t secular affairs – the religious connection would’ve been obvious to observers.

Newton: the “cup of demons” makes the Imperial Cult the likely setting of this exercising of rights.

Rosner: temple worship included sexual immorality, even if there was no temple prostitution.

Cheung: Questioning the host about the source of food was culturally inappropriate and offensive.

New Testament 301: Sanctification in Corinthians

In the thing Bruce gave us on the structure of 1 Corinthians, Roy Ciampa says that the sanctification of gentile believers that they may glorify God is one of the big themes – and that it is predicated on unity, prevented by idolatry and immorality, and consummated by the resurrection.

This post is a garbled mashup of two of the handouts Bruce gave us in class, and one of his book chapters that he didn’t.

Bruce published a chapter called Simul Sanctus Et Pecator in a book called Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament.

Paul states three times that the Corinthians are sanctified, not that they will be (1:2, 30, 6:10). Bruce thinks the church has lost its emphasis on holiness, replacing it with a consumer mentality, and Corinthians addresses that.

His chapter summary is:

1. Carnality covers more than sexual immorality.

2. That in Corinthians, Paul wants to demonstrate that Christ is our sanctification.

3. Corinthians is about unsanctified behaviour in the sanctified.

4. Unsanctified behaviour prompts divine discipline.

Ethics, evangelism and eschatology are connected (incidentally, the title of another book chapter by Bruce) .In this other chapter Bruce:

1.  Traces the two lifestyles of the first century.

2. Examines the priority meant to be given to evangelism.

3. Explores Paul’s paradigm for the Christian in the light of the resurrection.

He suggests the same problems exist today in our “self promoting and success obsessive society”.

Corinth and immorality

Corinthians isn’t just about sexual immorality – the old view, that it was a city full of prostitutes because of the temple of Aphrodite, is based on Greek Corinth, not Roman Corinth. By the time it was Roman (when Paul wrote), Aphrodite was Venus, and very respectable. And the temple is too small for the sort of activities suggested. In terms of quantity, in the three longest discussions, Paul addresses divisions in the church (1-4), the misuse of gifts (12-14), and eating in the idol temple as a matter of rights (8:1-11:1). Corinthians isn’t just about sex, it’s about what believers are called to do in a secular culture and environment.

Becoming a Christian necessarily means turning from the sins of the culture – this is Paul’s argument in 1 Cor 6:9-10. Some of the sins Paul lists are present in Corinth, and addressed in the letter.

Bruce cites Philo The Worse Attacks the Better to argue that it was a common view that the body was the soul’s house, which was a “major anthropological shift” from Plato, who saw it as a prison. So they maintained the body, and placed an importance on bodily presence in oratory. Paul uses the language of physical training in 1 Cor 9. Philo’s speakers, the followers of Cain, also believe in an established relationship between the body and the senses – sensual pleasures are, therefore, a good thing. This led to the “unholy trinity” – eating, drinking, rising up to play…

The Christian community in Corinth appears to be committed to the same pursuit of pleasure as their secular counterparts, a result of their cultural preconditioning. In this framework – fueled by Platonism, Epicurianism and hedonism – saw decreased pleasure as the only reason to discontinue any activity not just sexual expression.

The Young men as a case study

Paul uses young men mucking around with temple prostitutes as an example in 6:9-20.

He opens by stating that the unrighteous will not enter the kingdom of God, and describing the work of Jesus (6:9-11), opening with sanctification, then justification (as aorist passives – which is because it involves the past work of Christ)… and both are achieved through Christ and the Spirit. Then introduces 8 reasons young men should not don the Toga Virilis and indulge in eating, drinking and fornicating like their city counterparts. He counters their “everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial” maxim.

1. He says it is against their well being – and not beneficial. (12a)

2. He says they must avoid the addictive nature, or mastery, of sexual immorality. (12b)

3. He says it is against the creator’s intention. He says the idea that appetites are made for satisfaction is misplaced because the real “appetite” the body was made for is the Lord. (13)

4. He says it contradicts the body’s future destiny. He says that while they might argue that what is done in the body counts for nothing, the body is raised – and is important. (14)

5. He says it denies our union with Christ. He says their relationship with Christ is exclusive. They can’t two time with prostitutes, and sexual immorality involves a one flesh relationship. (15)

6. He says there’s no such thing as casual sex. He says that sexual immorality causes actual harm to the body. (16)

7. He says that fornication is a unique sin. He says that their bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit. (18)

8. He says this makes Christ the owner, and us the tenants. He says their bodies are for glorifying Jesus. (19-20)

Paul’s counter arguments are: don’t be deceived (6:9-10), flee immorality (6:18), and glorify god in your body (20). They should “fight wild beasts” like he does (which Bruce says is about sexual passion).

1 Cor 15 and 16:12-18 provide the final solution to the underlying issues in Corinth that Paul addresses earlier in the letter. The social order must be overturned, they should turn their existence away from hedonism (15:32-33) to do the work of the Lord (15:58) – they should be motivated by love rather than status (which is an answer to their desire to see the impressive Apollos return (16:13-14), the head of the house is a servant). Gospel responsibilities replace hedonism.

Bruce doesn’t think 1 Cor 15 is about the proof of the resurrection, but instead is connected to Paul’s argument – this seems an odd dichotomy.

The resurrection of the body is not as disconnected from the rest of the letter as some have suggested. The imperatives (15:33-34) are the key – don’t be seduced, wake out of evil, stop sinning…  15:33 is a citation of a well known play.

Love of others as the key

The young Corinthians were justifying themselves by the aphorism “everything is permitted” – and the older men were exercising their civic rights to dine in temples. His response is to argue that they must seek the good of others, not themselves, be sensitive to others, imitating Paul and Jesus (10:24, 28-29, 33-11:1).

Both the young and the old were buying into the power culture which believed that if one looked after the body, indulged the senses, and advanced in society – they were guaranteed the good life. Philo was cautious about this theory, he thought “lovers of self” were trouble, probably based on the Old Testament. He is “an invaluable source” on one philosophical path in the period.

Paul’s others centred, Christocentric (cruciform) lifestyle is to be imitated. Not the power struggle of secular Corinth. Repentance, the eschatological nature of the body, and the hope of change should shape Christian ethics making us “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (15:33-34, 51, 58).

The ethical injunctions are made in the context of sanctification, their citizenship, and function as citizens, in Christ.

Sin leads to discipline from the church family (5:11) and from God (11:30). Though this must be matched with forgiveness from both God and the church (Paul preaches the gospel of forgiveness, and urges the church to forgive and restore the immoral person in 2 Cor 2:10-11. The believer’s position in Christ guarantees salvation, discipline is remedial.

He concludes that there are two errors one might make regarding sanctification in Corinthians.

The first error is thinking that sanctification is not positional like justification – so is a personal project.

The second error is the reverse, treating sanctification as a “positional” thing, and not committing to personal holiness. Positional sanctification is not a license.

 

New Testament 301: Corinthians with Dr Bruce Winter

Hi all. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Exam time means exam notes. Because blogging is my learning language…

And this semester at QTC we’re looking at Corinthians. Which is very exciting. It’s a fun book. Based on the content of the lectures, and the past papers, I’m guessing the “theology” questions on the exam will be as follows (and I’ll post accordingly)…

1. Something about Sanctification – hanging off 1 Cor 1:30 and Bruce’s passionate defence of the idea that the Christian life involves transformation and holiness – that we are both saint and sinner, while we wait for the new creation.

2. Something about the divisions in the Corinthian Church, and their relationship to the flashy preaching of the orators of the Second Sophistic, and the use of secular categories to assess and shape gospel ministry.

3. Something about Paul’s situational approach to ethics in 1 Cor 8-11.

4. Something about veiled women in 1 Cor 11.

5. Something about the resurrection in 1 Cor 15.

There may also be something on the famine in Corinth and its implications on Paul’s eschatological statements in 1 Cor 7. But I’m cutting that loose because it’s unlikely I’d be able to completely agree with Bruce, and disagreeing with your lecture is only a good idea if you can do it convincingly rather than just suggesting that your gut feel is something else.

Bruce has published articles and book chapters on all of these so where possible the following notes will draw on his material, and that of other people whose work he commends.

I’ve got essays in the bag on 2. and 3. so I’ll tackle those first, and I’ll be drawing pretty heavily on those for the posts. I’ll also knock something up on the background situation in Corinth, based on Bruce’s reconstruction (with references).

QTC Preaching Week: Steve Cree: How big is your big idea

We live in your world ads are the most contentious things on television right now.

How much do you have a sense of living in the world of the people you preach to. Are the world of the preacher and the world of the listener ever going to meet? The stuff we read, the stuff we study, asks questions and tries to answer them, that we’ve never thought of, let alone the people who are going to listen to.

The people listening to your sermons are dealing with all sorts of struggles. Have we thought about how we use our preaching to help people in the reality of daily life. If people only come once every two weeks, and are distracted half the time, we’ve got about 13 sermons a year.

How much can you remember from the talk you did last Sunday, or the talk you heard last Sunday. It can be a really depressing experience, as a preacher, to read a talk from a few months or years down the track and realise that it doesn’t really answer any questions, or explain anything.

Preaching is a journey that both the listener, and the preacher, are on for years.

Think about the cycle people are on – so, in Lismore, often you had uni students who were passing through town for three years. In the cities most people move every five years or so. What are they going to hear in that period of time?

Arguing from, not to, the idea that a talk should operate from a big idea. A coherent big idea.

With every big idea there should be a big question. The “so what” of your talk. What issue are you connecting with? State it up front. It should be a question that people actually want an answer to, not a question you find fascinating.

A good talk should have some conflict in it, and some resolution. Maybe this means pitting a worldly idea against a biblical idea. People are wired to participate, or engage, in choosing sides in a conflict – this is why so many shows have polls and stuff.

The big idea of a service
One of the real frustrations for me is to go to a church service where the talk has a coherent big idea, but there are multiple messages going on in the service through songs, announcements, interviews etc. The sermon, first of all, lives within a church service. You can have done the most beautiful crafting of your big idea in the talk, but its clarity is muddied by everything that comes before the talk and after it. It’s already a challenge to get a coherent message across. But if there are all these competing messages – what chance do people have.

We spend about as much time in a service singing as we do preaching. If we put hours of work into preparing the talk, there should be hours of work going into selecting, preparing, and thinking about how songs are introduced and will work alongside the big idea. Giving everything else last minute attention can destroy your clarity. We should be choosing songs that enable the particular part of Scripture that we’re looking at, which is pointing us to Christ, to resonate with the big idea. By doing this we’re also teaching people the role of music – that it’s a ministry of the word.

The Lord’s Supper – which we affirm as part of our ministry of word and sacrament – often comes as this disconnect. Why aren’t we putting it at the end of each series and connecting it to the big idea of our series as we describe what’s going on.

Sometimes what we’re doing at church looks like what happens at a bizarre club – we have weird karaoke (a story about a Belgian visitor to Southern Cross), small drinks once a month, no pokies but a collection bag. What is the outsider to make of what’s going on in our church services. We should explain stuff the whole way along, but also tie what we’re talking about to our big idea.

Shape every element of the service to give one message. In throwing out the old liturgy, which actually had some thought behind it, and replacing it with a random assortment of mixed messages, we’re doing our congregations and ourselves a disservice. If we’re going to turf something we need to replace it with something better.

The Big Idea During the week…

Does your big idea extend beyond your sermon, beyond your service, and into your coming week. One key way that Steve commends is linked Bible studies. Studies that link to the talk. We’re chasing transformation not just information, and dwelling on the same passage, and the same big idea, is a good way for what we’re teaching to make the step from just accumulating head knowledge.

The Big Idea of a Term or a Series

Your Church in Rhythm – Bruce Miller is a good book.

  • How hard are we working at shaping a term so that even irregular attendees can pick up the big idea over a bunch of sporadic weeks.
  • Get your big idea, and key application for a series sorted early. Before you’ve put together your sermons. Or even your structure.
  • Break up the book.
  • Find the key passages from each week.
  • Think about song choices now.
  • Plan your applications from the book months before.
  • Think about the journey from application point to application point as you develop the series. Application shouldn’t be an after thought when you’re writing your talk, but a key part of your preparation.
  • Put your talks into a series before you start your month’s talk.
  • This means you can start planning your services and your studies. You can’t do this as you go along each week. You need to look at the whole term. In advance.

A big idea for the year
What does the journey look like across the year? What season are we in as a church. Being excited about something personally isn’t a good enough reason to preach a book. Think about what your church needs. Where we’re at. What’s a challenge that people need? Every part of God’s word is going to connect with people’s lives – but what is helpful for now.

How do series relate to each other.

For Creek Road – the start of the year is normally some sort of big picture, Biblical Theology series. This is a great way to start the year. Showing people how the Bible fits together in Jesus.

Topical preaching makes up about a quarter of Steve’s mix. But we should be thinking about all our talks a little bit more in terms of topical preaching. If topical preaching is known for actually connecting with things people are asking. Then maybe that’s something we should be doing every week. And topical preaching should be anchored in God’s word.

We need to be careful when we’re splitting up books to pay attention to the topical areas that might be incorporated in a list. So often Paul will write a lot about the glory of Christ, and then provide a “therefore” with a list of things not to do. And often we’ll break up a book in a way that tries to deal with all Paul’s application points at once.

Don’t be afraid to put a few books together in a series – like Deuteronomy and Galatians. Putting a couple of books together says something about how the Bible is one book and one story. It shows people connections.

One of the challenges is to know what season we’re in, and to go about our planning and preaching in that way. And to think big picture. Three years. One year. A series. A service. A sermon.

QTC Preaching Week: Gary Millar on Biblical Theology and preaching

Back to basics – Biblical Theology starts with the text, looks at the context, looks at the historical and canonical contexts, and comes up with an account that answers the question “what is the Bible about?”

Teaching Biblical Theology well is the fundamental task of every theological college. Geerhardus Vos, the father of Biblical Theology, saw that as foundational to his role at Princeton at the start of the 20th century (or end of the 19th).

The first step to forming a Biblical theology is to read the text. We have a huge text book. Read it. Multiple times.

Biblical theology as we know it pretty much died in scholarly circles in the 1950s. This was partly due to critical scholarship’s approach to the text. Graeme Goldsworthy almost single handedly relaunched Biblical Theology. Gary suggests Gospel and Kingdom is perhaps the most important Biblical Theology book written in the last 150 years. There have been plenty of people who have developed on his ideas, or their own frameworks. This was pretty much spawned by Goldsworthy.

James Hamilton III’s “God’s Salvation” book, published last year, is sensational.

So, how do we start thinking about the message of the Bible as a whole? Goldsworthy is a helpful starting point. But there are gaps. Goldsworthy doesn’t pay enough attention to the Pentateuch.

Gary’s five pointers on constructing a Biblical Theology.

  1. Understanding Genesis 1-3 is crucial to developing a robust Biblical theology. We’ve been completely sidetracked by debates that the authors had no particularly interested in. We’ve got to get past the date and time issues. More important to understand God’s purpose of creation, and man’s purpose in it – an expanding garden of rest, which man works on expanding. Beale’s Temple and the Church’s Mission is the most important book he’s read.
  2. Covenant, rescue, and grace are embedded in the Bible from the very beginning. Most things in the pentateuch come under these headings, or are built from these building blocks.
  3. Sacrifice is at the very heart of the Pentateuch. Leviticus needs more emphasis. Nobody ever gets past Leviticus when they decide to read the Bible cover to cover. The narrative disappears. But there’s a key point being made in the structure of the Pentateuch. Sacrifice is absolutely vital.
  4. The need for an establishment of a new covenant, beyond the exile, is pivotal for understanding the story of the Bible (Deut 30).
  5. As we try to put together our answer for “what is the Bible about” we have to take notice of the fact that God reveals his glory in salvation through judgment. Judgment has to be part of our scheme.

Biblical theology is important because it saves us from bad things.

  • Biblical theology saves us from legalism. It’s very easy to be accidentally legalistic. The idea that God’s kindness is somehow related to our goodness. We’ll read every part of the Bible in the context of what God does for terrible failures, who are just like us. We can’t say “you should try to be good” if we have our eye on the storyline of the Bible.
  • Biblical theology saves us from moralism. We are reminded that every text is all about Christ. Every sermon must lead us to Christ before we try to apply the text to ourselves.
  • Biblical theology will save us from irrelevance. If we realise that the Biblical narrative contains a grand drama that stretches across time and space, and that our job is to connect people to this drama, then we should be lifted above the nuts and bolts.
  • Biblical theology saves us from quick-fix pragmatism. There’s a real desire to fix people’s lives with an easy “how to.” Biblical theology helps us seeing that we’re all part of a major project that can’t be addressed with a quick fix that we point out, but rather through the gospel, which has been being worked out from before the beginning of time.
  • Biblical theology saves us from narcissism. We’re wired to think “me first”… Biblical theology says “it’s not about you stupid.” It’s about something far bigger. That’s why it really matters that we’re big picture.
It also frees us:
  • We will be free to preach the whole gospel. It frees us to preach the large parts of the Bible we will never go near because it’s too awkward.
  • Frees us up to help people see their place in the grand storyline of creation. We are God’s coworkers, his children, his treasured possession.
  • It gives us an answer to the question “what is the Bible on about” and in doing that, Biblical theology fuels evangelism. The most passionate evangelists should be people who have been mastered and excited about God’s plan for the world, not just people who want to save souls from Hell.
  • Biblical theology is not an academic game, or just a way of looking at the Bible. Especially in a post-Christian world, it helps us to understand why people need Christ. Most Australians are a million miles away from Christ, and they need to know the whole sweep of the Bible. We’re rapidly getting to the stage when people don’t have the categories or the back story that people used to have. We can’t just go straight to the story of Jesus and ask them where they’ll go from there. We need to teach them the whole story.

Doing Biblical Theology is not preaching. It’s a vital step in preaching, but it isn’t the same thing. Sitting in a Biblical Theology lecture is not the same as having the Bible taught on Sunday. We don’t have to show our working out (maths style) in church on a Sunday. We can preach the gospel without having done the work, we just won’t do it very well. Once we’ve done the Biblical Theology work, that’s when we start writing the sermon. It’s not the goal.

We need to read the text, read it in context, see how it fits in the flow of Biblical theology, and then we need to start writing the talk.

 

QTC Preaching Week: Colin Buchanan: The view from the pew

Colin kicks us off with a couple of songs. It’s weird how excited grown adults get about singing kids songs together. There are cameras everywhere.

Anyway. Gary says that Colin is the most thoughtful non-preacher he knows when it comes to preaching and teaching.

He has a list of 49 reflections from the pew.

  1. Preaching has had a massive impact in my life. Sermons that I have listened to at church, while mowing, or while riding my bike. As many sermons as I can listen to has had a massive impact on my life.
  2. I don’t remember most of what has blessed, shaped, and fed me. Al Stewart says you don’t remember every meal you’ve eaten, but they bring you to where you are. It’s the same with preaching.
  3. A lot of the things I remember, I doubt the preacher would remember saying.
  4. When God decides it’s time for a truth to really penetrate, he will do it. This is especially true for simple truths.
  5. A truth known intellectually may not be a truth fully comprehended, believed, and obeyed. It can be helpful when a preacher knows I believe something but realises that it hasn’t penetrated. Probing from the pulpit is helpful.
  6. You may never say anything really new. But that’s no excuse for not saying it in a fresh way. I love hearing preachers say something that I know that they know, and I know that they’ve said it before, and they do it in a way that’s different and engaging. Playful is good.
  7. For a preacher to have mastery of a passage, a passage ought to have mastery of him.
  8. I love it when preachers tell me what arrests, intrigues, amazes, and captivates them from God’s word. A preacher’s delighted sobered, wide eyed insight is a massive aid to engagement.
  9. Preachers with a humble conviction about the authority of preaching pack more punch.
  10. “Unpacking a passage” is much less exciting, as a description, than releasing a wild lion into our midst. The feeling that something’s going to happen is part of the joy of listening to a sermon.
  11. A preacher who never quite knows what God might do with his word inhabits his preaching with infectious anticipation.
  12. I sense that when a preacher’s preparation has included preparation of his own heart because he preaches not only to me but to himself.
  13. I find preachers who walk boldly into any passage hungry for vital truth, fearless of apparent exegetical, theological, or pastoral difficulty are far more compelling for their courage.
  14. I am sometimes helped by a restrained explanation of possible interpretations but I like to hear a preacher’s certainty borne of a thoroughness of preparation and theological conviction.
  15. I’m really resistant to cheap applications… “so be on time for church.” The scripture is so rich. Lets get a good one out of this.
  16. I find it frustrating when a sermon has no application.
  17. I am discouraged when applications are effectively an exercise in heaping guilt on the listeners. Rhetorical questions “so we need to ask ourselves have we really x” are great at getting people feeling guilty. Better to challenge directly.
  18. I am captivated when I get a sense that the preacher’s hardest fight has been the fight for his own soul, his obedience, his own understanding, his own submission to truth.
  19. Only after taking God’s Word to his own heart is a preacher able to cleverly, sensitively, wisely, boldly craft a sermon that has the hearts of others as its goal. This is why pastors make the best preachers.
  20. The best gigs are the ones where the size of the audience doesn’t matter and you all get lost in the music.
  21. Laughter opens hearts and minds and helps me stay awake.
  22. Sometimes I sense that listeners have lost interest because the preacher lost interest first. Boring is worse than wrong.
  23. I am intrigued by some preacher’s ability to self-editorialise, knowing when to leave things unsaid to better deliver what is actually said.
  24. Sometimes preachers say so much that they end up saying very little.
  25. A favourite quote from an old preacher friend of mine: “Every preacher must ask himself at the end of every sermon, “So what?!”
  26. The God-breathed Scriptures are full of risk, adventure, danger, opportunity, drama and daring. Tame sermons turn the living Word into a lifeless museum exhibit. A sermon should never leave me feeling like I have the measure of the measureless God.
  27. Preachers shouldn’t be afraid of deep truths that may take average mortals time and thought to fully (or even partly) comprehend. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing that a listener doesn’t fully understand something this time around. [Geoff Bingham, on a deep aspect of Romans: "Look, if you don't entirely understand this right now, don't worry. Just make yourself a cup of tea, you'll be alright."]
  28. Preachers who preach God’s truth into life – births, deaths, marriages, job losses, debts, break-ins, car accidents, cancers, boredom, temptations, resentments, insecurities – give me the equipment to fight and survive as God’s child in the real world.
  29. I love preachers who obliterate the divide between the lofty infinite grandeur of God and the flotsam and jetsam of messy life, so I see and do something about the constant rub of idolatry vs discipleship.
  30. I love listening to preachers who don’t take themselves too seriously, but who take God’s truth seriously enough to die for.
  31. I’ve enjoyed the discussion, thought, and consolidation that comes from Bible studies that follow up on sermons that our pastors have preached.
  32. A rightly-managed Q&A can aid the practical, pastoral connection of a sermon. I’ve no idea why they’re so rare.
  33. My obedience (in thought, word, and deed) completes God’s purpose for preaching.
  34. Scottish theologian John Murray advised a friend of mine to never forget the three Ps of preaching. Assuming biblical faithfulness, solid, prayerful preparation and sound doctrine, Murray believed that a sermon must be personal, passionate, and pleading.
  35. A friend of mine who is a faithful, gifted preacher, and has been a pastor for over 30 years told me once that after preaching it wasn’t unusual for him to experience self doubt and feel a bit down.
  36. I treasure expository preaching. But I have been blessed when preachers go topical, historical, or biographical from time to time.
  37. I like hearing evidence in sermons of a preacher’s wide reading. And it encourages me to read.
  38. Introductions that go for 25 minutes make it hard to maintain anticipation for what follows.
  39. I feel secure when a preacher shares his sermon structure, or aim for his sermon with me – I feel like he knows where he is going and it’s easier to organise my thoughts or take notes.
  40. Passion in preaching is a byproduct of love for God. Passion’s a bit like the wind – its power is productive when it is harnessed by sails or turbines. Unharnessed, it uproots trees, blows boats off their moorings, and turns umbrellas inside out. Passion must be directed towards an end. It can’t be the aim of your preaching.
  41. Preachers who tell me how to feel – or how they feel – can leave my feelings unstirred. The challenge is to so use their words and their insight into the text and people to add the weight of all their energies to the Spirit’s sovereign work.
  42. If preachers are going to copy another preacher, I’d prefer they chose someone interesting.
  43. Better to emulate the spirit, theology, convictions and essence of another preacher than their manner and delivery.
  44. Poetry and art are the preacher’s friend. For these things move hearts and stir affections and if a preacher is trying to do anything surely they are trying to stir my heart and life to be warm to God.
  45. Biblical theses and models have been hugely helpful in my understanding (and recall) of the breadth, themes, and unity of the Bible.
  46. Biblical theses and models can suck the life out of sermons when they become wheel ruts.
  47. I have been impressed and delighted by what my young kids remembered from sermons.
  48. As he climbed the steps into his pulpit, C.H Spurgeon used to pray “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
  49. Two favourite memorable quotes from preachers, Chappo: “Well even I am getting a little tired of this sermon,” a pastor/butcher from Mareeba: “I hear Christians say they have joy in their hearts but it’s about time they told their faces about it.

Preaching Week: Phil Campbell: Just Preaching to the Choir?

Who are we preaching to? Or rather “to whom are we preaching?”

If you are the minister of a church, who is on your heart and your mind as you preach? Is it the newcomer, coming in off the street? Or is it the regular “choir” member? Keeping in mind, of course, Jesus talking about the one sheep who is found, versus the 99 who never left.

Jesus is always preaching to sinners, e.g Luke 15:1. But our common church experience is that we’re preaching to the choir/converted. We invented these phrases, which have passed into the vernacular.

There are theological arguments that church, as the gathering of God’s elect, is the place to be preaching to the converted. That’s what we’re saved into – if this were true, we’d never hear the gospel preached at church.

While there might be something in this – the picture we get from Jesus’ teaching (prodigal son, lost coin etc) – and his approach, teaching to sinners.

This is part of “minding the gap” between the visible and invisible churches – some “mind the gap” by trying to drive out the sinners. “Purifying” the church to keep the visible and invisible churches as closely aligned in your building as possible. But that’s not really what Jesus did, nor what Paul did.

What do we do with our preaching to make sure it’s first timer compatible. 1 Corinthians 14 gives Paul’s approach to church – and its being mindful of what might be understood by a non-believer who joins the gathering. It’s better to be understood, rather than to speak in tongues. It’s better to speak intelligible words that people can understand than gibberish. This principle, which becomes explicitly unbeliever focused in verse 24, is applicable to preaching. Presbyterians might as well have been speaking in tongues with all the 19th century jargon we throw into the mix. Not only do we have an incredible cast of characters from the Bible, but a club vocabulary we’ve developed that makes our speech completely unintelligible to others. There’s technical jargon and pious jargon. All this stuff is off putting.

Keller says we should realise that we live in a post-Christian culture. He uses a lot of Leslie Newbigin. Who left England for India, and when he returned, noticed that culture had moved to post-Christendom, but the church hadn’t.

Our approach to mission for a long time has been “tell them they’ve been naughty” – as loudly as possible. To make sure people hear (ed: ala Way of the Master).

Practical Steps

1. Be clear.

  • Col 4:3-4 – Paul wants people to pray that he will proclaim the gospel clearly. Think through what we’re saying and make clarity the goal.
  • Have an uncluttered big idea. Prune. Get rid of distractions. Weigh what you’re going to say and ask “does saying this make what I’m saying clearer.”
  • Avoid obscure vocab.
  • Explain, but don’t condescend. Think like the person who’s there for the first time. Think about your regulars but don’t pander to them. Try not to glaze over the “experts.”
  • Aim for clipped and concise sentences that people can take in.

2. Be culturally appropriate.

  • This doesn’t mean listening to the hip music. A guy like Keller is a really good cultural analyst.
  • This doesn’t mean selling out the gospel to cultural conformity, but rather getting rid of all the blocking stuff that gets in the way. A lot of the following points come from a Keller article.
  • Speak in the vernacular.
  • Avoid tribal language.
  • Avoid unnecessary pious evangelical jargon.
  • Avoid sentimental pious inspirational talk.
  • Avoid archaic language that seeks to set a “spiritual” tone.
  • Avoid “we”/”they” language.
  • Talk as if non-believers are present and eventually they will be. If you assume your whole neighbourhood is present then they’ll eventually turn up.

3. Be Christ centred.

There’s no point being clear just for the sake of being clear. We want to be clear to proclaim the mystery of Christ. Our conviction at QTC is to be preaching Christ from all the Scriptures.

Gospel minded people will love it when you explain what you mean when you say stuff.

  • We’re not here to preach law.
  • We’re not here to preach morality. Except as a consequence.
  • We’re not here to preach spirituality or experience.
  • We are here to preach Christ.
  • Studying/teaching the Scriptures isn’t enough – we need to show how the Scriptures point to Jesus.

4. Be Gracious.

  • Part of being post-Christendom Christians means changing our mindset. We actually don’t run things any more. If we’re going to get a hearing it’s going to be because we model the grace we’re talking about. We’ve still got some tough ideas to be talking about when it comes to life for most people. And about judgment. We’ve got to recognise that we share in some of the tough things.
  • We’ll get a lot further with some people if we take away some of the stridency that has been part of the tone of what Christians have been saying for years.

We get a three minute clip from Keller’s talk at google headquarters. This is the full version.

Points:

  • Welcome scepticism.
  • Talk directly to the unbeliever. Graciously and reasonably.
  • Value respect and social cohesion.
  • Speak to believers as a sub-group. He doesn’t just do that at google, but at church as well.
  • Be vulnerable.
  • Cope with ambivalence.
  • Don’t presume common ground.
  • Respect alternative views.
  • Use self deprecating humour.
  • Acknowledge fair critique.

Preaching Week: Gary Millar: How God Changes People

Starts off talking about Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”. Edwards wanted to teach the Bible in a way that moved people and resulted in change.

The New Testament commends a very straightforward method for preaching the gospel – 2 Cor 4. Paul has renounced underhanded ways of preaching the Bible.

We don’t want to be dull. Nor do we want to produce results through slick techniques. This isn’t a new tension. It’s the tension underpinning 2 Corinthians (NB – and much of 1 Corinthians).

We’re to commit to the open statement of the truth. “Open statement” is to cause something to be truly known and revealed. We’re to make the message of the text obvious. To see it. To feel it.

Paul is talking about expository preaching – where the message of the text is the message of the talk. The kind of message that changes people’s lives is preaching that allows the text to speak.

Preaching will fail if it understands the meaning of the text, but not the feel. Or the feelings involved in text are not communicated to the congregation.

This expository preaching, which aims at the emotional heart of the text, is the model used in the Bible, and described by the Bible. In Deuteronomy 4 – it is said that God speaks in order to change the behaviour of people. Israel is then called to “hear” and “listen” so that God’s word is on their heart – in Deut 6.

Isaiah 55 – God’s word, which does what God intends (v 11), changes people’s emotions – people go out in joy (v 12). Isaiah demonstrates this. He’ll style his message in all sorts of genres to make sure that he’s communicating the words of God in a way that will produce results.

2 Tim 3:13 – the public reading and teaching of Scripture is where it’s at for the preacher.

Hebrews 4:9 onwards – “the word of God is living an active” and “discerns the – God’s work in us, through his word, is what gives us any chance of keeping going and entering God’s rest (v 11).

So what then should we preach? The text and the message of the text.

At the core of our preaching will be something predictable. The gospel. Every time people pitch up to church they’ll get the same thing. An explanation of the gospel. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ. But at the same time, if we’re letting the Bible set the agenda, it should be “deliciously unpredictable” because we’ve got such great source material to work with. The variation of pace and genre – we need to allow the way we teach two books – like Job or Romans – differently. Romans you could do a sermon per chapter. Easily. But try doing 42 weeks on Job. The message of Job can be understood in a sitting – because the message of Job is at the end. It’s not in the rubbish advice from Job’s friends. It’s great to be able to mix things up. Allowing our talks to be shaped by the text means they should have a different shape or vibe week after week.

There’s nothing new in this approach. Luther on the Reformation “Philip and I drank our beer, and the word of God did the rest” – Calvin picked up his exposition of the Bible from the same place he’d left off after his exile from Geneva.

There are some advantages to this approach.

1. It does justice to the Biblical material. We take what God himself says seriously. It helps people to understand the word.
2. It minimises the danger of manipulating people. It takes away our power to use our power as preachers to direct things at particular people in our congregations. The text defines the message and we don’t set the agenda.
3. It minimises the danger of abusing power. This is closely related to point 2. If you’re teaching, people come to trust you. The only way to protect against the danger of abusing power is to get people to open their Bibles and ask them to point out when you fail to speak about what is in the text.
4. This approach removes the need for us to rely on our own personality. Sooner or later, in ministry, we realise that not everybody is going to love us. We can accept that we don’t need to win everybody over if we put our trust in God’s word.
5. This approach recognises that it is God alone who works. This is the most important point, and it’s so easy to stop remembering this.
6. This approach helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. Of course we want to be relevant. But we don’t preach to “fix things”… it feels like every time you think “this will be really useful for that person” they aren’t there. This saves us from being swept into revolutionary trends.

David Jones on Numbers 11

David is doing the actual Bible teaching this week. He’s preaching on Numbers. Kicking off with Numbers 11. Which is a weird passage about deadly quail.

Anyway. Israel whinges and complains (this is part of a cycle of behaviour in Numbers) – Israel’s grumbling and complaining, whining against God, is what keeps them from the Promised Land (cf Paul in 1 Cor). Jude also warns about ungodly men and ungodly acts – and it turns out they’re grumbling. Grumbling against God.

Grumbling is a deadly sin.

The spirit of the people in verse 23 is contrasted with the Spirit of God in verses 24-25. This contrast provides a lens which David uses to look at the passage.

Verse 4 – “the rabble” – the mix of people who came out of Egypt with Israel appears to be held in contrast with Israel – who begin to grumble in response to the rabble’s grumbling.

Grumbling often starts with the hangers on, and draws in those who should know better. Grumbling is contagious.

Verse 11 – Moses starts grumbling with the people, against God – rather than grumbling about the people.

They’ve only been travelling three days at this point, on an 11 day journey, and they’re complaining – they’re 8 days off the land of milk and honey. And they’re complaining about what they’ve left behind. Three days and they’ve forgotten that they were slaves in Egypt. They were eating the reject food of Egypt. Crying out to God.

Then God makes Moses a Presbyterian – he appoints 70 elders to help share the burden.

When you mix with grumblers your perspective is skewed. We need to be careful who we choose to listen to in ministry.

Grumbling is a serious sin. It undermines our churches. It kills our ability to convert people.

The definitive Australian guide to Tim Tebow

Chucking the word “definitive” into a title makes an article 16% more compelling. That’s a definitive statistic.

Anyway, we won’t be hearing about Tim Tebow until next season, after his Denver Broncos were bustled out of the playoffs today (Australian time).

Tim Tebow had arguably a pretty successful year on the field. But its his off field persona that transcends NFL, or gridiron. Tebow is famously Christian. And, based on the track record of other Christian sportspeople, the knee jerk response is to suggest that Christian sportspeople rarely live up to the hype off the field. The pressure of the weight of Christendom can be too much. It’s like having your Jesus fish labelled car followed by every member of the media. One moral failing usually spells an end to the athlete’s credibility and does immeasurable harm to the gospel.

But Tebow is different. It seems he’s not only genuinely a Bible believing Christian, but he’s a generally nice guy, prepared to deflect the attention away from himself with humility. Which is why a bunch of Christians are prepared to hitch their wagons to his engine and go along for the ride.

It helps that Tebow is not a classically brilliant quarterback, but rather has developed a reputation as an unorthodox game winner at the climax of big games – including an amazing pass for an overtime touchdown in a playoff game this week.

As a college player Tebow built a reputation for taking to the field with Bible verses etched into his warpaint. He famously appeared in a Super Bowl advert spruiking a pro life position. He prays on the field on his knee, in a position that has spawned a meme with its own tumblog (and a T-Shirt).

The meme spread to the armed forces – and annoyed atheists who saw this picture as government employees participating in prayer.


Image Credit: bookofjoe, which has the story about the response from atheists.

Sarah Palin even weighed in on the Tebow phenomenon.

There’s lots not to like. He could well be a holier than though pious type who gets on people’s nerves (and he does – see the American Atheists complaining that Tebow has hijacked conversations about football and made them about religion (ht the Contemporary Calvinist).

““When we watch a sporting event, we are all united for our team,” says David Silverman, president of American Atheists. “Tebow takes religion and injects it into the mix and divides the fan base.”

Silverman states that Tebow’s repeated references to God into his post-game comments after a win is “bad for football.

“(Religion) injects the divisive force into football,” Silverman says. “Why in the world are we talking about religion when we are talking about football?””

Here he is mic’ed up during a game. You can hear what he prays, hear him singing in practice, and hear him chatting to a young fan. And complementing his opponents.

With the game on the wire he prays “no matter what Lord, no matter what I do, give me the strength to honour you”…

But he’s winning sports pundits over with his genuine niceness off the field.

“Who among us is this selfless?

Every week, Tebow picks out someone who is suffering, or who is dying, or who is injured. He flies these people and their families to the Broncos game, rents them a car, puts them up in a nice hotel, buys them dinner (usually at a Dave & Buster’s), gets them and their families pregame passes, visits with them just before kickoff (!), gets them 30-yard-line tickets down low, visits with them after the game (sometimes for an hour), has them walk him to his car, and sends them off with a basket of gifts.

Home or road, win or lose, hero or goat.

Remember last week, when the world was pulling its hair out in the hour after Tebow had stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers with an 80-yard OT touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas in the playoffs? And Twitter was exploding with 9,420 tweets about Tebow per second? When an ESPN poll was naming him the most popular athlete in America?

Tebow was spending that hour talking to 16-year-old Bailey Knaub about her 73 surgeries so far and what TV shows she likes.”

And winning some over via his bizarre and unpredictable heroics on it. His stats up until his game winning performance meant pundits were talking about his intangible qualities. His winning attitude. His self belief (the Freakonomics blog attributed his success to a belief in himself that correlates with a belief in God)…

“Tebow is hardly the first NFL quarterback to be demonstrative about his religious faith. But he’s very demonstrative – and it’s worth considering how that faith may affect his play. By definition, faith often translates into a kind of fearlessness. Tim Tebow doesn’t seem to be familiar with the phenomenon known as “fear of failure.” His belief – in himself, and in success – may be the intangible that lifts not only his own play, but of those around him.”

So much has been written about him that it’s possible to just produce a composite piece of other pieces, and still be engaging. Ala the Washington Post.

But he defied those same pundits with this performance. Here’s sports blog Grantland:

“Well, on Sunday Tebow delivered one of the finest performances a quarterback has delivered in recent memory. Not in some intangible quality — leadership, heart, grit, you name it, whatever — but an actual quantifiably great game. He’s delivered that before as a pro, but not as a passer, and not against a fantastic defense. In the wake of Sunday night’s remarkable upset, we are here to tell you that Tebow delivered a game as a passer that is worth your respect and then some.”

This sort of result has caused some to wonder whether God does have a hand in Tebow’s performances. So Conan O’Brien…

And in a piece that explores God’s providential interest in everything, including football results, Owen Strachan answers the question in a very public forum:

“But enough about sausages and Reformers and sparrows—what about Tim Tebow? Does he win because God miraculously propels him to victory? Is the “hand of God,” as footballer Diego Maradonna famously called it, directing his passes (or at least his fourth-quarter attempts)?

Yes and no. The Bible says that God oversees everything that happens in this world. He ordains what socks we put on in the morning, how burnt our toast is, what we think about in the day, and everything in between. All things happen “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” as the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 1:11. So does that include Tim Tebow and his playmaking? Yes, it surely does.

But, as you can see, this is saying less than you might initially think. I believe that God is overseeing all of Tebow’s passes, but he’s also overseeing the typing and reading of this paragraph. He’s overseeing the Denver Broncos, but he’s also overseeing the Boston Celtics (much as it may seem otherwise at present), the Museum of Modern Art, and the playtime of your nephew. He’s in control of all things. In this sense, which is called “secondary” causation (God’s oversight of all things), the Lord is directing Tebow’s life.”

Raising Awareness

Now. I’m about to write a post on St. Eutychus about another one of those stupid breast cancer awareness raising campaigns on Facebook that actually seek to raise awareness by being secretive and stupid. Raising awareness for the sake of raising awareness is stupid and a move made to appease white person guilt.

The same atheist who didn’t want religion and football mixing accused Tebow of hypocrisy, because he waits for the cameras to be on him before he prays. Which would be troubling if true. But it seems, from all accounts, that Tebow is the same if the cameras are rolling or not. And that’s where his approach to life gets really touching.

Brands and marketing experts are seeing big dollar signs when it comes to Tebow, and while its not fair to say he appears disinterested in the business aspect, he seems much more interested in using his profile to glorify God. Which is pretty awesome.

And it’s working. Not only are the mainstream media focusing on Tebow’s Christianity, giving guys like Owen Strachan the opportunity and platform to discuss fundamental Christian doctrine, not only are secular sports journalists giving as much air time to the way he loves those around him with integrity, as to the way he throws the pigskin, the general public is discussing him online, and searching to find out more about what makes him tick.

In the playoff game mentioned above, Tebow threw 316 yards. This was significant for numerologists, and potentially for the gospel. The verse he once painted on his face was John 3:16. Google erupted. The Billy Graham Foundation said not only did heaps of people click their John 3:16 ads when googling Tebow 316, over 150 people followed their online process to commit to Christianity.

“When outspoken Christian quarterback Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards to help Denver upset favored Pittsburgh in the playoffs, millions flocked to the Internet to search for John 3:16 — so much so that the day after the game, that Bible verse was the No. 1 search on Google.

As it turns out, some of those Google searches were of eternal significance.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reports that more than 150 people have made a decision to accept Christ as their Savior as a result of searching for “John 3:16″ in Google and then clicking on an advertisement for the BGEA’s PeacewithGod.net website. BGEA can track that data because it began advertising on Google on Monday so that people who searched for “John 3:16″ saw an ad for PeacewithGod.net. All total, 8,000 people searching for the verse clicked on PeacewithGod.net.”

That’s pretty cool. If even one of those 150 people was genuinely converted, this is something we should praise God for. And so I will continue to watch the rise of Tim Tebow as a fan, and continue to pray that his life and doctrine keep matching up.

Even after Tebow’s season came to a spectacular and messy end today with a thumping, the sports journos who are clambering to sink the boot in have to resort to fairly cheap new atheist tropes, or condemnation of Tebow as being a Christian who believes the Bible, and is into doctrines like God’s providence

“Earlier this week, some kids were suspended at a high school on Long Island for “Tebowing” — dropping to one knee in prayerful contemplation — in the hallways. Asked for his reaction, Tebow replied, “You have to respect the position of authority and people that God has put in authority over you, so that’s part of it. But I think it does show courage from the kids, standing out and doing that, and some boldness.”

First of all, God is involving Himself in how they select principals to run the high schools on Long Island? That’s a bear of an interview process right there. And you will note the obvious passive-aggressiveness in the second part of the answer. Obey your principal because God got him the job, but, damn, these kids are brave in their faith to defy the principal’s authority and, by extension of the first point, God’s. This is childish. It is silly. And it also makes my head hurt.”