Art & Science of Biblical Interpretation – Hermeneutics & Challenges

hermeneutics

Leo Percer explains, “Hermeneutics is the art and science of understanding Scripture, [which then helps] provide historical and literary background, allowing for modern-day understanding and application.”[1] As believers, it is vital to be able to interpret God’s Word, so the original author’s intended purpose is revealed. Through this process, the role of the author is supreme and deciphering the context is critical to uncovering the honest meaning of the text. William Klein et al. demonstrate, “Hermeneutics describes the principles people use to understand what something means, to comprehend what a message – written, oral, or visual – is endeavoring to communicate.”[2] The art and science of interpretation is especially important when looking at the roles of the author of the text, how the original audience responded, and the role of the interpreter. In regards to the role of the interpreter, Klein et al. demonstrate, “while hermeneutics must give attention to the ancient text and the conditions that produced it, responsible interpretation cannot ignore the modern context and the circumstances of those who attempt to explain the Scripture today.”[3] Regardless of what role is being played, it is impossible to interpret any passage of Scripture without some prior knowledge of contextual data.

When looking at the role of the author, Klein et al. illustrate, “When general living conditions and specific life circumstances are known, [it] can provide helpful information for interpretation. Knowing all the conditions that surround the recipients of the original message provides further insight into how they most likely understood the message at the time of writing.”[4] It is important to note a passage of Scripture cannot mean something today, that was it was never intended to mean for the original audience. Klein et al. also warn against seeking to understand the meaning of a given text through a lens based upon a later revelation. Thus, the ultimate goal of hermeneutics will always be to understand the original author’s intent and how the original audience or first time readers would have responded. While it is often difficult to remain completely objective, Klein et al. cite any valid approach to interpretation must concern itself with two crucial dimensions, “(1) An appropriate methodology for deciphering what the text is about, and (2) a means of assessing and accounting for the readers’ present situation as we engage in the interpretative process.”[5]

Another important piece to proper interpretation comes from understanding while the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, God still chose man to write it. It is then by combining the science and art of interpretation, and by allowing the Holy Spirit to aid in a person’s understanding of the text, the reader is best positioned to decipher the author’s true message. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays caution against an over-emphasis of the Spirit’s role in the process of interpretation. Duvall and Hays explain, “Having the Holy Spirit does not mean the Spirit is all you need, [because] the Spirit does not make valid interpretations automatic; the Spirit does expect us to use our minds, proper interpretative methods, and good study helps to interpret the Bible accurately; and the Spirit does not create new meaning or provide new information.”[6] In the end, the role and purpose of the author provides the most valuable information in deciphering the meaning of the text and without this knowledge, it would be very difficult to apply the message in a modern-day application. Klein et al. further demonstrate hermeneutics is, “Essential for a valid interpretation of the Bible, [in order to] discern God’s message, to avoid or dispel misconceptions or erroneous perspectives and conclusions about what the Bible teaches, and to be able to apply the Bible’s message to our lives.”[7]

Distance is the ultimate adversary for biblical interpretation. The distance of time proves difficult since over 1900 years stand between when the last ancient texts were written and today. William Klein et al. explain, “We may be at a loss to understand what a text means because it involves subjects beyond our time span. [Additionally,] another time span that must be considered in interpreting the Bible involves the gaps that existed – more or less in various places – between the time the Bible events occurred and the time when those events were actually written down in today’s text.”[8] There is little question both Jewish and Christian traditions were held in high regard and were preserved as accurately as possible. Many of the stories were eyewitness accounts and written by the author who witnessed the events. However, some used additional sources and others edited preexisting material, so it is vital to understand the motivations behind such actions. Klein et al. demonstrate, “The authors’ unique perspectives and their goals for writing would influence what they felt was important, what deserved emphasis, or what might be omitted. In this process, the writers would consider their readers and the effects they hoped to produce in them.”[9]

The distance of culture is the next challenge that must be addressed, as Klein et al. illustrate: “On the pages of the Bible we encounter customs, beliefs, and practices that make little sense to us, [so] our understanding of ancient customs might be so colored by what we think they mean that we miss their significance.”[10] A person’s individual customs, values, and traditions play a significant role when reading Scripture and without a clear understanding of cultural conditions which existed at the time of the writing, one may inadvertently misinterpret the text. For this reason, this writer believes the cultural distance and by default, the distance of language are the most difficult distances to traverse. Historical criticism is a great tool to use when analyzing written works because it takes into account: its time, its place, the place of composition, when it was written; in order to comprehend who wrote it, when it was written, to whom it was written, and why it was written. By employing this method, the interpreter is then able to decipher what the author said, why he said it, and hopefully the reaction or response of the intended audience or first-time readers.

The geographical distance is the third challenge, which must be addressed. Having had the opportunity to visit Israel, this author has a much deeper appreciation for many of the stories found in the Bible. In many cases, the text now jumps off the page as images, tastes, smells, and feelings come to mind. Despite having visited Israel, as Klein et al. illustrate, “Even if we could visit all the accessible sites (and many Christians have), few of them retain the look (and none, the culture) they had in biblical times.”[11] Klein et al. use a great example of traveling up to Jerusalem. This journey was called the Ascent of Adummim and was considered a day’s journey from Jericho, but the elevation change was 3,500 feet. Traveling up this road the temperature dropped by fifteen degrees; so only by traveling to the places recorded in the Bible can one truly grasp the underlying themes behind the text. However, as previously mentioned, despite walking where Jesus, the disciples, and patriarchs did, the culture is no longer the same. For this reason, this writer believes the geographical distance is the easiest distance to overcome. Even if one is unable to travel to the Holy Land, with the Internet and technology that is available, there is much that can be vicariously learned, regardless of where someone lives. That being said, traveling to Israel is a life-changing experience every believer should embark on, given the opportunity.

The distance of language is the final challenge presented to those engaged in biblical interpretation and E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien believe, “Language is perhaps the most obvious difference between cultures.”[12] Because the Bible was written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, this final challenge has many obstacles to overcome and despite having scholars who have dedicated their life and work to this task, there are still areas that are debated over. Fortunately, as Leo Percer explains, “Where differences exist, none of them are theological issues and ninety-five to ninety-seven percent of the Greek New Testament is valid.”[13] One of the major hurdles of the language difference is the fact no known manuscripts have survived. However, there are over 5,500 copies of the New Testament, and within these copies, textual criticism allows scholars to come as close to the original text as possible. In the end, the distance of culture and language seem to be intertwined and prove the most difficult, especially for those in the Western world. As Richards and O’Brien further explain, “The most powerful cultural values are those that go without being said. Ironically, this is as true of language as of any other aspect of culture – and perhaps more so. Behind the words that make up language is a complex system of values, assumptions, and habits of mind that reveal themselves in the words we use and leave unsaid.”[14] This can lead to profound misunderstanding, and for this reason, Richards and O’Brien both believe language is the most obvious cultural difference that separates us from the Bible and this author ascribes to this view as well. On this premise, there are significant misinterpretations and ultimately misunderstandings that occur when there is a failure to recognize cultural context and all that goes without being said. Only by reading multiple translations and by understanding the culture and intended audience can a reader fully comprehend how a specific passage can speak in a modern-day application.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Duvall, J. Scott and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004.

Percer, Leo. “Introduction to Hermeneutics.” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 02:22. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 26, 2016).

______. “Modern Approaches to Hermeneutics.” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 09:45. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 27, 2016).

Richards, E. Randolph and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.


[1] Leo Percer, “Introduction to Hermeneutics,” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 02:22. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 26, 2016).

[2] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004), 4.

[3] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 7.

[4] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 10-11.

[5] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 13.

[6] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 229.

[7] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 19-20.

[8] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation: Revised and Updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2004), 13.

[9] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 14.

[10] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 15.

[11] Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 16.

[12] E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 25-26.

[13] Leo Percer, “Modern Approaches to Hermeneutics,” Filmed [2012], Liberty University Website, NBST 610 Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 09:45. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327796_1&content_id=_14931609_1 (accessed October 27, 2016).

[14] Richards and O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, 70-71.

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An Apologetic Approach to Postmodernism

postmodernism

INTRODUCTION

This paper will demonstrate how postmodernism is a self-contradicting illusion of spiritual apathy, which attempts to eclipse the fundamental truth claims of God and Christianity, by claiming all roads lead to God and everyone’s version of truth is acceptable. By contrasting postmodernism’s attempts to erode religious certainty, in the formation of spirituality lacking certainty, or sustained convictions, with the biblical view of truth found only in Christianity, the end-goal will be to formulate a sound defense of the Christian faith against this worldview and the existence of evil, through the proof of God’s existence and sovereignty.

SUMMARY OF WORLDVIEW

Without absolute truth and objective reality, postmodernists believe everyone should equally embrace the beliefs and perception of others. Douglas Groothuis illustrates, “The inconsistencies of postmodernism pose a direct challenge, since the irresolvable diversity of truth claims has no reliable criteria to test these claims against.”[1] One plus one should equal two, but for a postmodernist, even this truth does not exist. Graham Johnston furthers explains, “Truth by definition will always be exclusive, so the most important questions and tests of truth any worldview must meet are: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.”[2] For modernists, the issue in promoting Christian faith was credibility, but in postmodernism, the key issue has become desirability. It is no wonder postmodernism is thriving as the default setting among the most prevalent alternative worldviews. Everyone just wants to get along, forming an abomination of syncretistic beliefs. All roads may have led to Rome, but all roads do not lead to God, as postmodernists contend, and only Christianity provides logical proof about humanity’s origin, meaning, morality, and eternal destiny, which are found in God.

History of Worldview

From the ashes of modernity during the Enlightenment, postmodernism was conceived as the illegitimate offspring. It came out of a time of scientific certainty, where reason trumped faith, ultimately leading to an abandonment of God in the pursuit of knowledge. Some scholars date the modern age beginning in 1789, while others prefer an earlier date starting with René Descartes’ famous incorrigible truth statement of cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). In essence, postmodernism is simply a reversal of modernism. Johnston reveals, “Reason supplanted the role of faith and where modernity revealed in reason, science, and the human ability to overcome, postmodernity wallows in mysticism, relativism, and the incapacity to know with any certainty both what is true or the answers to life’s great questions.”[3]

Basic Tenants of Modernism

Modernity was based upon true knowledge, which was good and the world existed in a cause and effect relationship. Progress was ultimately used to produce a better world, through technology and scientific discovery. Additionally, as Johnston explains, “The world was perceived on two levels: the objective, physical, and scientific realm, (which was open to public debate,) and the subjective, spiritual, and moral realm, (which was a matter of personal conviction).”[4] This is a radical departure from the present postmodern worldview, which no longer believes knowledge to be inherently good. Instead, postmodernists reject objective truth, are skeptics, blur the lines of morality, and search for the transcendent in a material world.

Categories of Postmodern Belief

Worldviews are made up of a comprehensive system of beliefs that shape every area of life. However, a statement or belief cannot be true and false, at the same time, so there are multiple contradictions found within postmodernism. First, ultimate reality fails, as Groothuis demonstrates, “No one “metanarrative” (or worldview) can rightly claim to be a true and rational account of reality. That would be arrogant and impossible.”[5] Despite this, postmodernists still assert there is no knowable objective reality. Secondly, postmodernist’s source of morality is skewed due to the absence of objective judgment and objective moral facts. Groothuis adds, “Sociology of knowledge is not about knowledge in the philosophical sense, but merely about how beliefs gain plausibility in various cultural settings.”[6] Thirdly, absolute truth becomes a matter of perspective only; it is something that individuals and communities construct through language.[7] Groothuis further develops this point, by showing, “Postmodernism holds that truth is not determined by its connection to objective reality, but by various social constructions devised for different purposes.”[8]

 Additional categories of belief, which contradict a biblical worldview, are postmodernists’ views on the authority of Scripture, mankind’s creation, original sin, redemption, the nature of God, the nature and purpose of man, and religion in general. Postmodernists claim perfect agreement with fact is no longer an issue, maintaining the Bible is only used to provide great stories and to motivate spiritually. On some level, everyone has a worldview or take on how the world is and how it works. These views may or may not be oppressive toward those who do not hold the same worldview. When dealing with the nature of God, Groothuis explains, “There is no “God’s-eye view” of anything; therefore, there is no objective truth. This is a direct contradiction to God being a God of truth, whose word is also truth.[9] Postmodernists’ faith and beliefs are not comparable, since everyone is entitled to his or her own views. God is the source of objective truth and for truth to be objective; it simply means the truth is fact, independent of a person’s say-so. This self-contradicting characteristic of postmodernism claims, one need not worry about intellectual consistency, spiritual fidelity to an ancient tradition, or revealed authority by the combining of different faiths together in a syncretistic way.[10] However, even this approach lacks intellectual integrity because it makes religious belief into something to use instead of something to discover and live by. Truth is the property of propositions and knowing is having reasonable justification or confidence about said truth. While knowing is a human enterprise, truth is an extra-human exercise.

If there is no such thing as truth, or truth is open to interpretation, postmodernism fails the law of self-contradiction, because agreement to the law is necessary to deny it. The nature of man then becomes individualistic, as Groothuis illustrates how, “The ancient philosopher Protagoras said, ‘Man is the measure of all things,’ instead of being measured by them. [Protagoras meant] each man is his own measure and there is no measurement apart from each person’s measuring.”[11] This concept ties right back into the distorted concept of man’s purpose and why postmodernists view religion as being too structured. Groothuis further demonstrates the shift from religion to spirituality is rooted in religion being, “Too authoritative, exclusive, and rigid. Spirituality on the other hand, is more customized, subjective, inclusive, and open to pragmatic experimentation.”[12] David Clark suggests several strategies to address these beliefs:

First, we must learn both to distinguish and to connect knowledge and truth. Apologists   must then reaffirm the reality of absolute truth while recognizing their limitations in knowing that truth. Second, we should recognize that we live in a pluralistic culture, not a monolithically postmodern culture. Third, we can use vivid analogies to express the unliveability of postmodernism in its deconstructive mode. Fourth, it may be helpful to retrieve elements of tradition without attempting to recreate the past. Fifth, who we are counts most. The life of covenant relationships in Christian community is potentially postmodernism’s total liberation from tradition.[13]

EVALUATION OF WORLDVIEW

Rachel Fischer demonstrates how, “Postmodernism’s precursors include linguistic theory, semiology, phenomenology, and modernism, and were closely associated with German philosophers like Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.”[14] Postmodernism seeks to blend beliefs together in a syncretistic way producing internal logical inconsistencies. There are also no clear ways to test any truth claims and due to the wide array of beliefs maintained, not everyone can be accurate. In terms of practicality, postmodernism is not a viable worldview, since just because a person claims a certain worldview works for them does not mean it is existentially viable. This is clearly seen in the shift from religion to spirituality, by mixing and matching elements of various religions to form what works for the individual. Additionally, a collection of non-contradictory ideas is not sufficient to form a coherent worldview. This is apparent in the conflict between science and religion. However, as Ravi Zacharias illustrates, “Only Christianity puts truth on the line, which affords it the possibility of verification of any theological truth claims.”[15] In terms of intellectual and cultural fecundity, postmodernism fails to inspire cultural and intellectual discovery, creativity, and productivity, and it is difficult to embrace and master, since truth is only relative. It also fails to motivate others due to internal inconsistencies. By asserting there is no knowable objective reality apart from our languages and concepts, Groothuis further shows, “To say we know the objective truth about ultimate issues is to set up a metanarrative that is intrinsically oppressive and exploitative.”[16] Because each person’s view of truth alters the postmodern worldview, radical ad hoc readjustment is continually present, in an attempt to modify the essential principles to coincide with others. This creates a perpetual self-contradictory wheel. As a result, postmodernism is faced with a multiplicity of self-defeating counter-evidence and deep philosophical issues. If all things are equal, simpler explanations are preferable to unnecessarily complex ones; yet postmodernism continually appeals to extraneous entities more complex than what are required. Ernest Gellner believes, “On questions of faith, three ideological options are available to us today. One is the return to a genuine and firm faith in a religious tradition. The other is a form of relativism, which abandons the notion of unique truth all together… The third upholds the idea that there is a unique truth, but denies that any society can ever possess it.”[17] A genuine return to firm faith seems unlikely and relativism is too much of a middle-ground position, leaving only rediscovering truth found only in Christianity.

Further evaluation of postmodernism will center on coherence, pragmatism, and cosmic impiety. Coherence theories of truth create what Groothuis defines as a “web of truth,” because what makes a statement or belief true is its coherence or consistency with other beliefs.”[18] The problem Groothuis identifies is two worldviews can be internally consistent logically, but still contradict one another, especially in postmodernism’s view of relative truth claims. Pragmatism proves not to be a useful theory of truth, since this belief is only true if it produces a positive outcome. Groothuis reveals, “The pragmatic view of truth is a metaphysical claim, [which] maintains that truth is what works.”[19] Postmodernism also contradicts the correspondence theory of truth, which establishes truth is what coincides with reality. Lastly, cosmic impiety ignores reality, much like pragmatism does, but then adds the concept of truth being dependent upon human will and something, which can be created and controlled.[20]

Chris Altrock offers seven faces of postmodernism, which are vital to understanding the individual qualities behind this worldview. He suggests: “Postmoderns are uninformed about the basics of Christianity, [making] them the first generation with little to no Christians memory; they are interested in spiritual matters, they are anti-institutional, they are pluralistic, they are pragmatic, they are relational, and they are experiential.”[21] Knowing these traits helps explain how to reach them on a deep and personal level. As Altrock demonstrates, most postmoderns are more concerned with life before death, rather than life after death and trust must be earned through experience and relationships. The cultural shift that has taken place in postmodernism is evidence of the need to repackage how the gospel message is communicated and lived out.

CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE

 Maintaining a biblical worldview is something George Barna cites only nine percent of “born again Christians” possess. Barna then explains what a biblical worldview looks like:

 A biblical worldview is defined as believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views are Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.[22]

In addition to these fundamental truths, a biblical worldview also explains the creation of the world, which points to a supreme God and Creator. This general revelation is crucial to understanding the nature and character of God. God’s nature is further revealed through the reading of Scripture. This is where believers discover God is a relational God and He is eternal, infinite, absolute, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Only a God with all these traits is worthy of devotion, service, and faith. Christianity is also the only religion where God reaches out to mankind in the form of a relationship. All other religions, the roles are either reversed, or there is no relationship to be had. The love and compassion of God for His children cannot be put in mere words and His sending of the only Son to die for humanity’s sins is proof. Absolute truth only exists in Christianity. However, the postmodernist says there is no truth, which is self-contradicting, since each person’s version of truth is supposed to be valid. Perception may be reality, but absolute truth can only be found in God. Christianity is also based on absolute moral truths laid out in the inerrant and infallible Bible. All Scripture is God-breathed. Unfortunately, the world has come to know more what the church is against, leading people to seek out more tolerance, which is the highest virtue of postmodernism.

Jesus Christ is also the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and He came as the suffering servant and the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. Christ then passed on the Great Commission to mankind in order to restore unity and fellowship between God and His children. Christianity is based on the ministry and supernatural life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All other religions lack one thing: an empty grave and a risen Lord. The sacrifice Jesus made, as a substitutionary atonement for sin was the final one, as He became the temple. Internal and external evidence further supports biblical claims and are historically accurate and trustworthy. There is no other religion or worldview that has the historical roots of Judaism and Christianity. In fact, the earliest recorded words were God’s to mankind. Through Scripture, it is proven, man was created in the image of God and the Lord’s love for mankind is unconditional. Additionally, the truth of the law of non-contradiction corresponds to the very nature of God and the working of His mind. Groothuis reinforces this notion, adding, “God is a God of truth and not of falsehood and God does not contradict Himself and He cannot deny Himself.”[23]

However, mankind is fallen through the sin of Adam, and Jesus Christ, the second Adam was humanity’s only hope for redemption. Now, only a relationship with Christ will restore fellowship with God. As Christians become saved, he or she is invited into the Godhead. Groothuis illustrates how, “God is a personal being who created humans in His image. The metaphysics of God and humans are closely related on this account. Humans fell into sin against God, but God provided atonement through His own actions in Christ.”[24] Christianity is the only religion in which death is truly conquered. Only the risen Christ has control and authority over death. A fact many fail to believe or recognize is every human has everlasting life, but only a relationship with Jesus Christ will ensure it is spent in heaven and not in eternal separation from the Father. This new view and mindset should change the way Christians interact with the people in their lives. Whether non-believers know it or not, each of them is a prisoner of war, and the spoils of victory are his or her eternal soul.

In an effort to reach the postmoderns, Rick Warren provides an effective tool using the five basic purposes of the church to meet the five basic human needs:

1. A purpose to live for (outreach)

2. A power to live on (worship)

3. A people to live with (fellowship)

4. Principles to live by (discipleship)

5. A profession to live out (service)

Warren then adapts the above needs to target important things in the postmodernist’s life:

1. A focus for living (outreach)

2. A force for living (worship)

3. A family for living (fellowship)

4. A foundation for living (discipleship)

5. A function for living (service)

Lastly, Warren offers how the church can meet the fundamental needs of postmodernists:

1. Significance (outreach)

2. Stimulation (worship)

3. Support (fellowship)

4. Stability (discipleship)

5. Self-expression (service)[25] [26]

 A new creative and biblical approach, like the one above, is needed if the church is going to be able to reach postmodernists. The gospel message has not changed; instead, what must change is how it is communicated.

DEFENSE OF CHRISTIANITY

The Problem of Evil

Some contend the existence of evil in the world counters the existence of an all powerful God and creator. The question, “If God is good and powerful, why does He allow evil to exist?” must be answered. Despite any level of sophistication or technological breakthroughs, the basic moral problems with humanity still exist. Mankind is in desperate need to be reconciled with God, and this only happens through a relationship with Jesus Christ, who suffered substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. Köstenberger further illustrates, “The challenge is therefore not to explain evil but rather to accept its reality and to resist it whenever possible.”[27]

Logical Problem of Evil

Why God allows evil in the world can be traced back to Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, which led to the fallen state of humanity. Evil is inherent in a fallen world where free will allows choices, which are contradictory to God’s nature. Norman Geisler explains, “The ultimate goal of a perfect world with free creatures will have been achieved, but the way to get there requires that those who abuse their freedom be cast out.”[28] Evil will not last forever and one day soon; God will make all things new. To justify the existence of evil with an all-powerful and all-good God seems on the surface like a paradox, but when properly analyzed can be summarized as:

1. If God is all-good, He will defeat evil.

2. If God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil.

3. Evil is not yet defeated.

4. Therefore, evil still serves a purpose and God can and will defeat evil.[29]

The Greater Good Defense

Strengths

In an effort to address the presence of evil in the world, some theists offer the Greater Good Defense, to suggest there exists a morally sufficient reason why God allows evil in the world. The defense proposes two premises: (1) Any instance of evil will result in a greater good; and (2) Eliminating evil would result in some worse evil. Proponents of this view often demonstrate the presence of human virtues, which would not be possible without the presence of evil and often refer to Genesis 50:20, “What you meant to harm me, God meant for good.” If this theory holds true, there would be no pointless instances of evil, which would mean God only allows evil to bring about a greater purpose.

Weaknesses

Upon further investigation, it becomes apparent the Greater Good Defense is susceptible to the evidential problem of evil, which undercuts social justice, and implies God would cause evil. The major breakdown occurs by simply proving any instance of evil was pointless, which would be evidence there is no God. Despite atrocities and genocide, this defense maintains God permits evil to bring a greater good, making the evil necessary. A further breakdown in this defense occurs when analyzing what happens if the required evil does not occur through random chance or by human means, essentially making God, out of necessity commit the evil Himself. No where in Scripture is this defense supported and there are a multiplicity of philosophical, theological and biblical reasons, which counter any strengths this defense has to offer.

Christianity’s Answer

Free will defense

This defense argues God has determined a world containing free creatures is better than one not containing freedom. Sadly, humans used their freedom to rebel against God, which allowed moral evil to enter into the world. Ultimately, human responsibility implies and leads to human freedom.

Sin and the Fall

Adam and Eve used the free will given to them by God to rebel and sin against God. This act would have permanent consequences for all who would ever live. The Fall in the Garden of Eden explains both: moral evil, which comes from the moral choices humans make, and natural evil, which is evidenced in natural disasters and pain and suffering.

Redemption

While free will and the Fall explain the existence of evil in the world, the question of why God allows evil to exist still must be addressed. Ultimately, it is the divine judgment of sin and the clearest expression of God’s goodness was found in His provision of redemption and restoration for mankind, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. The shedding of blood was required for the remission of sin.

Pastoral care

Christians are called by God to share His love and grace with others. The existence of evil is a stumbling block for many, especially when it seems like bad things are continually happening to good people. Here, it is important to know God’s creation was initially good, until Adam and Eve sinned, and despite mankind’s rebellion, God provided redemption through Jesus Christ and He continually provides grace and comfort through His Holy Spirit.

Proof of God’s Existence

The existence of the world requires an explanation and the most plausible explanation is the existence of God. Theistic arguments provide many opportunities to persuade people towards a biblical worldview and the use of an abductive moral argument for God’s existence best explains many moral facts: duties, obligations, values, intrinsic human worth, dignity, human rights, and freedom. It is interesting to note only things that have a beginning need a maker and God has always existed. Thus, God is the cause of everything, as Andreas Köstenberger explains, “It seems ironic that postmodernism denies the very possibility of access to ultimate reality and the existence of God. Postmodernists believe only in what can be seen and anything that is invisible or intangible can only be comprehended by religious instincts, not by human reason. Because all human knowledge is subjective and objective, absolute knowledge is impossible.”[30] Instead, postmodernists believe in only what makes sense and works for the individual. Fortunately, as Köstenberger clarifies, “The preexistent Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, who made His dwelling among humans, and has revealed God, [through both general and special revelation].”[31]

Defense of Objective Truth and Moral Values

Christianity is based on absolute moral truths laid out in the inerrant and infallible Bible. All Scripture is God-breathed and Christians are called to be Christ-like. When there is no absolute truth, it can be twisted and distorted to suit those who are in control. Morality, like belief then becomes a matter not of principle, but of what works for the individual. The search for morality can incur profound pragmatism, dismissing what is right and true, and simply settling for what works. As Johnston demonstrates, “We do not live in an immoral society – one in which right and wrong behavior is chosen; we live in an amoral society – one is which right and wrong are categories with no universal meaning, and everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.”[32]

Biblical Basis

  The Great Commission clearly identifies mankind’s purpose, but as Johnston explains, “One reason the Christian worldview is so highly criticized in a postmodern context lies in the apparent Christian unwillingness to coexist with any other viewpoint… [Thus] the privilege of speaking God’s truth into someone else’s life will not be granted; it must be earned.”[33]

Jesus is the Truth

 When Pilate stood before Jesus and asked, “What is truth,”[34] he had no idea he was talking to the very embodiment of truth and the only person truly qualified to answer this profound question. Christians are called to be Christlike and this is portrayed as Jesus instructed His disciples it would be by their love the world would know they were His disciples. Köstenberger makes it clear, “In our highly pluralistic, postmodern culture, it will be increasingly unpopular to proclaim the biblical message that ‘there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved’ but Jesus. [The real question becomes] are we willing to suffer socially, economically, or otherwise for our faith?”[35]

All Roads Do Not Lead to God

Groothuis explains, “There has been a drastic shift from religion to spirituality because religion is deemed too structured, authoritative, exclusive, and rigid. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more customized, subjective, inclusive, and open to pragmatic experimentation.”[36] However, the Bible is clear that Jesus the only road that leads to God: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[37]

Atheism

The logical problem of evil is a challenge many atheists use to form his or her worldview. Despite this version of evil not enjoying overwhelming success, it still must be addressed:

            1. An omnipotent God would be able to eliminate all evil, so is God really all-powerful?

            2. An omnibenevolent God would want to eliminate all evil, so is God really all-good?

            3. Evil exists, therefore God is either not omnipotent or not omnibenevolent.

            4. Because Christianity requires both, the Christian God does not exist.

If this argument were true, then there is no God, but as long as it is possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the evil in the world, then the logical argument fails.

Polytheism

The claim that all roads lead to God is not a new philosophy. However, Christianity states there is no other name by which mankind is saved. The way, the truth, and the life are found only in Christ Jesus. Good works are not enough to earn salvation and the worship of anyone and anything above God is idolatry. Monotheism is then left as the only viable option and worldview.

CONCLUSION

This paper has demonstrated how postmodernism is a self-contradicting illusion of spiritual apathy, by revealing how individuals create multiple versions of truth. These beliefs are façades, which attempt to eclipse the fundamental truth claims of God and Christianity. Additionally, the theory of all roads leading to God and everyone’s version of truth being acceptable has been debunked. Upon analyzing and contrasting postmodernism’s attempts to erode religious certainty, and sustained convictions, the biblical view of truth was found to be the only sound hypothesis. Lastly, Christianity and the belief God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful were proven and the existence of evil was explained, using a biblical worldview.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Altrock, Chris. Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004.

Barna, George. “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life.” Barna Group, December 1, 2003. https://www.barna.com/research/a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life/ (accessed October 20, 2016).

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Butler, Christopher. Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 30, 2016).

Clark, David. “Narrative Theology And Apologetics,” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36, no. 4 (December 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 511-514. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Cooper, John. “The Current Body-Soul Debate: A Case For Dualistic Holism,” – Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 13, no. 2 (Summer 2009), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 45-46. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Elbert, Paul. “The Globalization Of Pentecostalism: A Review Article,” – Trinity Journal 23, no. 1 (Spring 2002), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 95-101. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Fischer, Rachel K. “Postmodernism.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2014, 29-30. General OneFile. GALE|A408784915  http://p2048-ezproxy.liberty.edu.ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=vic_liberty&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA408784915&sid=summon&asid=4b06c417dbfd2c67b292ed042b074172                               (accessed September 15, 2016).

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990.

Gellner, Ernest. Postmodernism, Reason and Religion. London: Routledge, 1992. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Johnston, Graham. Preaching to a Postmodern World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Leitch, Vincent B. Postmodernism: Local Effects, Global Flows. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1996. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

Malpas, Simon, and Paul Wake. “5 Postmodernism.” Year’s Work In Critical & Cultural Theory 12, no. 1 (January 2004): 75-88. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2016).

Michener, Ronald T. “Book Review: Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against The Challenges of Postmodernism.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 659-661.

Morawski, Stefan. The Troubles With Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1996. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

Robinson, Michael. “The Contours and Issues of Contemporary Apologetics.” Review & Expositor: An International Baptist Journal. 111, no. 3 (August 2014): 227-237. doi: 10.1177/0034637314535967. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Siniscalchi, Glenn B. “Postmodernism and the Need for Rational Apologetics in a Post-Conciliar Church. Heythrop Journal 52, no. 5 (September 2011): 751-771. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed September 15, 2016).

Stiver, Dan. “Baptists: Modern or Postmodern?” – Review and Expositor 100, no. 4 (Fall 2003), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 525-545. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1995.

Wicks, Marshall. “Toward a Missions Hermeneutic,” – Journal of Ministry and Theology 04, no. 2 (Fall 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 53-55. (accessed September 15, 2016).

Zacharias, Ravi and Norman Geisler. Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 130.

[2] Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 99.

[3] Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 27.

[4] Ibid., 25.

[5] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 119.

[6] Ibid., 121.

[7] Ibid., 119.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 128.

[9] Hebrews 6:18 and John 17:17

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

[11] Ibid., 128.

[12] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

            [13] David Clark, “Periodical Reviews,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154, no. 614 (April), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 225.

            [14] Rachel K. Fischer, “Postmodernism.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, (Fall 2014), 29. General OneFile. GALE|A408784915 (accessed September 15, 2016).

[15] Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Questions of Faith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 52.

[16] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 128.

            [17] Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992), 12. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed September 26, 2016).

[18] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 132.

[19] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 133.

[20] Ibid., 137.

            [21] Chris Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2004), 9-10.

[22] George Barna, “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” Barna Group, December 1, 2003. https://www.barna.com/research/a-biblical-worldview-has-a-radical-effect-on-a-persons-life/ (accessed October 20, 2016).

[23] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 125.

[24] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 54.

[25] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1995), 119.

[26] As cited in: Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists, 81.

[27] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 119.

[28] Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), 59-60.

            [29] Zacharias and Geisler, Who Made God?, 38.

[30] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 86-87.

[31] Ibid., 87.

[32] Johnston, Preaching to a Postmodern World, 40-41.

[33] Ibid., 78-79.

[34] John 18:38

[35] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 153.

[36] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 131.

[37] John 14:6 (ESV)

Power and Value of Prayer

pray1

There is no denying prayer is arguably the most important task of the spiritual leader and Colossians 4:2 only serves as evidence that prayer and thanksgiving cannot be dissociated from one another in the Christian life or for the spiritual leader. F.F. Bruce further demonstrates how, “The remembrance of former mercies not only produces spontaneous praise and worship; it is also a powerful incentive to renewed believing prayer. Men and women of persistent prayer are those who are constantly on the alert, alive to the will of God and the need of the world, and ready to give an account of themselves and their stewardship.”[1] Christians are called to be Christlike, which means doing the things Christ did. Prayer can often be the determining factor and Dave Earley makes a great point asking: “If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, needed to pray, how much more do you I?”[2] Making time to pray was vital in the life of Jesus and it should be the same for every believer and especially for every spiritual leader. Earley could not be more correct in his assumption that, “Time spent praying can be the best time-saving device you have,” since God can accomplish in seconds what would take a human a lifetime, or longer to achieve. In life, one will always make time for what is important and the greatest indicators are often revealed by analyzing where a person’s time, talents, and treasure are being utilized. When God is not the priority, it is not a matter of if; it is only a matter of when life will come crashing in. For this writer, this was a lesson learned the hard way, but one that will never be forgotten. When God is first in all things, everything else in life will naturally line up. This does not mean life will not have challenges; in fact, Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble,” so this only makes prayer and intimacy with God even more important.

The first application is maintaining intimacy with God because this is the sustaining force behind any ministry and one of the primary ways to develop this relationship is through prayer. Earley shows, “Jesus viewed prayer as the secret source of spiritual strength and the reservoir of real refreshment. Even when He was very busy, He was never too busy to pray.”[3] The statistics are frightening how many pastors are leaving the ministry either due to burnout or moral failure and those that stay in ministry often feel unequipped, discouraged, and disillusioned in ministry. According to Maranatha Life, fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches. In addition, eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. Of these that choose to stay, fifty percent are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.[4] This is a huge problem!

The second application reveals how prayer is a vital lifeline to God and many spiritual leaders like Billy Graham believe that more can be accomplished through prayer than by any other means. However, Earley goes one step furthers stating, “Prayer is our greatest weapon.”[5] To this notion, one must truly ask themselves is prayer really a weapon? There is often talk of spiritual warfare and Paul alludes to a believer’s fight not being against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. It can be easy to picture doing battle through prayer, but the only offensive weapon listed in the armor of God comes in the form of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, not prayer. While a believer’s protection does come from the armor of God, prayer only becomes a weapon when it is coupled with the Word of God. There is a cataclysmic event that occurs as prayer is used in conjunction with the Word of God. This can be seen after Jesus was baptized and went into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. In each occurrence, Jesus used the Word of God to counter every temptation. Knowing the Word of God is vital for every spiritual leader to understand because the quickest way to scatter the flock is to attack the shepherd.

A third application comes in knowing God certainly responds to His servants when they pray, but does this mean God acts only in concert with His servants’ prayers, must God wait until prayer occurs, or is God free to act as He chooses? To these questions, Earley does a great job explaining why eleven of the fifteen accounts of Jesus praying are found in Luke’s account because he sought to portray the human aspect of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen retreating alone to commune with God in prayer and from His model, it becomes apparent every believer must make time for prayer. In Revelation 5:8, the notion that the prayers of the saints are stored up until the golden-bowl is full enough to be poured out is indicated. While this text may point more to end-time events, it still shows there is power in continued prayer efforts.

Ultimately, it is important to understand God is free to act whenever and however He likes. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) demonstrates, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Some of God’s greatest gifts are often unanswered prayers and with finite minds it is impossible to see the bigger picture of what God is accomplishing in and through people and their situations. When humans see disaster, destruction, and atrocities, God may see countless people turning their lives over to Him and seeking His comfort and peace. While there are plenty of biblical accounts of God choosing to act due to the intercession of His followers, He is only bound by the promises in His own Word.[6] There are also examples of intercession occurring until God was moved. Abraham’s plea and God’s ultimate destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are prime examples.[7] In this instance, Earley shows how Abraham issued God a challenge based on His character and His promises.[8]

Lastly, while God most certainly is free to act in anyway He sees fit, that does not diminish one’s need to pray. Followers of Christ are instructed to cast their burdens and cares upon the Lord. Prayer should then release one’s cares and concerns to God and one of Martin Luther’s famous quotes was spot on: “Pray and let God worry.” A beautiful illustration of what happens when prayers are lifted up is picturing Jesus at the right hand of God acting as the mediator between Christians and God. As prayers are lifted, Jesus takes those petitions directly to the Father, interceding on their behalf. Jesus interceding with and for the believer is a powerful picture and God’s Word even promises, when one does not know what to pray, the Spirit knows the heart and lifts those petitions before God.[9] Douglas Moo further illustrates:

God knows what the Spirit intends, and there is perfect harmony between the two, because it is in accordance with God’s will that the Spirit intercedes for the saints. There is one in heaven, the Son of God, who “intercedes on our behalf,” defending us from all charges that might be brought against us, guaranteeing salvation in the day of judgment (8:34). But there is also, Paul asserts in these verses, an intercessor “in the heart,” the Spirit of God, who effectively prays to the Father on our behalf throughout the difficulties and uncertainties of our lives here on earth.[10]

While praying is crucial to a successful ministry and spiritual wholeness, knowing what and how to pray are the most important aspects. To truly turn prayer into an offensive weapon, one must know the word of God and the promises found within it. Earley explains, “The Bible contains 7,487 promises, many of which contain God’s willingness to answer prayer. [This means,] when we pray for things that we are confident God wants to do, we can boldly quote His Word back to Him.”[11] While knowing the Word of God is important, it is also crucial to live a life of integrity and honesty so that nothing hinders the prayers being lifted to God. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are some of the key ingredients to living a life above reproach and one focused on intimacy with God, but God also calls His followers to act justly, to walk humbly, and to love mercifully and intimacy through prayer is greatly needed to fulfill all of these commandments.

BIBIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F.F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.

Earley, Dave. Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders. Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008.

Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

[1] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), 172.

[2] Dave Earley, Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders (Chattanooga, TN: Living Ink Books, 2008), 18.

[3] Earley, Prayer, 21.

[4] Maranatha Life Website, “Statistics about Pastors,” http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/stats.htm (accessed October 26, 2016).

[5] Earley, Prayer, 11.

[6] Exodus 32 & Psalm 106:23

[7] Genesis 18:22-25

[8] Earley, Prayer, 45.

[9] Romans 8:26

[10] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 527.

[11] Earley, Prayer, 116.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman Encounter

jesus-and-samaritan-woman-by-well

An analysis of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well reveals Jesus’s Messiahship, it unveils His primary mission and purpose, and it also provides fundamental truths about worship, salvation, and the gift of eternal life, all of which are found only in and through Jesus Christ. Even more profound is how and why these truths were passed on to a woman, considered an outcast among her own people. It was through this divine encounter, Jesus overcame immense racial and cultural barriers, demonstrating a clear personification of the love He had for all people. It also opened the door to share the gospel with the Samaritans, leading to the salvation of many, and revealing the Messianic status of Jesus to a multitude of people.

GOSPEL OF JOHN OVERVIEW

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates, “At the very outset, John’s Gospel claims to represent apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’s earthly ministry,”[1] yet only eight percent of John’s Gospel is found in the Synoptic counterparts. The differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel are overwhelming, but perhaps the biggest difference is John’s interest in drawing out the theological implications of Jesus’s ministry and proving He was the Messiah. T. C. Smith demonstrates, “The author of the Fourth Gospel used the term Christ as a title for Jesus with two exceptions,[2] both referring to the name of Jesus similar to the way Paul used the expression Christ… and perhaps this is why he gives such a noticeable place for questions concerning Messiahship.”[3] John the Baptist’s denial that he was the Messiah further evidences this.[4] However, in contrast, Andrew ran to tell his brother Simon Peter/Cephas that he had discovered the Messiah.[5] Again, this revelation is seen after the encounter with the woman of Samaria, as she went to the people in her village, saying, “Is not this the Christ.”[6] Given proper context, it is important to understand that claiming to be the Messiah was punishable by excommunication or worse by the Jewish rulers, so this declaration was not taken lightly, however the people of the time anxiously awaited the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy[7] and Jewish officials would regularly ask Jesus if He was the promised Messiah.[8]

Two further points are important to note: first, the Samaritans did in fact believe in the future coming of the Messiah prophesied about and secondly, the poor relations between Jews and Samarians cannot be understated. The animosity dates back to the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians. As a result, many Jews were taken off in bondage to Assyria, and outsiders were then brought in to tend the land and help keep the peace.[9] As a result, the intermarriage between the outsiders and the remaining Jews create a mixed race, an abomination in the eyes of Jews who still lived in the southern kingdom. The pure-blooded Jews hated this mixed race and considered them less than dogs, because they believed those who had intermarried betrayed God, their people, and the nation of Israel.[10]

Purpose of Signs

John’s use of signs highlighted the divinity and high Christology of Jesus and John 20:30-31 reveals the purpose of his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Unfortunately, the unbelief of the people was tragic as John writes, “Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.”[11] Despite seeing miracle after miracle, the people were still spiritually blind, causing God to harden the hearts of the people who chose not to believe Jesus had come to save the world and restore Israel. Despite changing water into wine,[12] clearing the temple,[13] healing the nobleman’s son,[14] healing the lame man,[15] feeding the multitude,[16] healing the blind man,[17] and raising Lazarus from the dead,[18] the Jewish people and leadership rejected Israel’s Messiah and perpetrated His death. However, John’s recording of two drastically different encounters provides a clear lens to illuminate the Messianic status and mission of Jesus.

Purpose of Encounters

Chapters three and four in the Gospel of John record two very different encounters with Jesus. In chapter three, Jesus meets with Nicodemus, and in chapter four He speaks with a Samaritan Woman. Köstenberger explains and contrasts these encounters by pointing out that, “He was a Jew, she a Samaritan; he a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, she ostracized from society to the extent that she must draw water at the communal well in the heat of the noon hour when no one else would be there; he a rabbi, a Jewish religious teacher, she steeped in folklore and ignorant about religion; he a man, she a woman.”[19] Despite the vast differences, it is Nicodemus, the respected Jewish leader who fails to grasp Jesus’s words. Jesus was emphasizing the need for spiritual rebirth and regeneration, which only came through being born again/from above. Following the light and darkness theme John uses throughout his Gospel, he places this first encounter late at night, and then reveals how it ends only in doubt and misunderstanding. It is evident this encounter had no immediate impact on Nicodemus or any of his friends. During dealings with the Pharisees and Jews, Jesus would often speak in veiled terms, but during the second encounter, Jesus chooses to provide one of the clearest statements of His true identity to the Samaritan woman.[20]

The second encounter took place during the middle of the day and as Thomas Lea illustrates, “shows Jesus exhausted after His long journey,”[21] which highlights the humanity of Jesus. Then, immediately after Jesus reveals His true identity and purpose, the Samaritan woman goes back to her village to share her testimony, which led to the Samaritans receiving the Messiah as the Savior of the world.[22] Despite her past and present sin, it was she who saw Jesus with unveiled eyes as the Messiah. It is interesting to note, since both the Jews and the Samaritans awaited the coming Messiah, what stands these two encounters apart was the Samaritans were not looking for the coming Messiah to be a politician or military leader. This allowed Jesus to reveal His true identity as the “I Am” to the Samaritans.

The Interview with the Samaritan Woman

The most direct route from Judea to Galilee went through Samaria, but strict Jews, like the Pharisees, avoided Samaritan territory as often as possible. However, even though most Jews and Samaritans did not get along, Galilean Jews still would travel through Samaria rather than taking the longer route through Perea. In this account, John writes that Jesus “must” or “had to” travel through Samaria, which as Leon Morris illustrates shows, “The necessity lay in the nature of the mission of Jesus. John often uses the word ‘must’ of this mission.[23] The expression points to a compelling divine necessity. Jesus had come as ‘the light of the world.’[24] It was imperative that this light shine to others than Jews.”[25] Although Jesus initially focused His ministry on the nation of Israel, He did not exclude Gentiles. In fact, Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah to this Samaritan woman very early in His ministry. Thomas Smythe demonstrates, “For a Jew to speak socially with a Samaritan would have been considered scandalous during Jesus’s day. The fact that this Samaritan was ‘immoral’ and a woman further strained the boundaries of acceptable mores.”[26] Frank E. Gaebelein further explains some other key details in this account, “the well of Jacob was located at the foot of Mount Gerizim, which was the center of Samaritan worship and the ‘sixth hour’ would probably have been about noon, which was an unusual time for women to come to a village well for water, so in consideration of her general character, the other women may have shunned her.”[27] Theologically, it is also important to note the Samaritans only regarded the Pentateuch as being divinely inspired and authoritative. Despite this fact, it was still a Samaritan who recognized Jesus as the prophesied Messiah.

All people are valuable to God

Ben Witherington III explains the customs of this time period insisted that, “Jewish men should speak little or not at all with women, especially strange women, in public places. This was all the more so in regard to women of ‘ill repute,’ [especially] Samaritan women who were regarded by rabbis as ‘menstruants from the womb’, i.e., unclean, untouchable, outcasts.”[28] Despite any customs, Jesus had left Judea out of a necessity to share His mission with Samaria and to declare Himself as the Messiah. It mattered little to Jesus what sins the Samaritan woman had committed, or the cultural divide that existed between Jews and Samaritans, so when Jesus spoke to her at the well asking for a drink, she was stunned and asked in return, “How is it that you, a Jew a for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The implications are profound, but Jesus uses this opportunity to discuss one of the greatest truths of spiritual life: that of living water.[29] When the disciples return Witherington explains how in the disciples’ eyes, “Jesus had no business talking with this woman at the well. Jesus, however, not only speaks to her but also refuses to treat her as unclean, engaging her in one of the most significant theological discussions in the whole of the Fourth Gospel.”[30] This lesson further demonstrates while Jesus’s male disciples were busy scurrying for food that only temporarily satisfies, this woman would receive and proclaim the message from Jesus of a food and water that offers eternal life.[31] Witherington believes, “The Fourth Evangelist then sees the Samaritan woman as one who properly models the role of disciple — to the shame of the Twelve, [so] this implies that even such a woman, as she was a proper recipient of theological information and indeed a proper candidate for discipleship.”[32]

Jesus as living water and eternal life

When Jesus claimed He would provide living water, which would forever quench a person’s thirst, He was proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah. Initially, the Samaritan woman did not understand, which makes sense given most Old Testament references of thirsting for God as one thirsts for water occurred outside of the Pentateuch.[33] However, Jesus’s interaction with the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles also came from the image of living water found in Numbers 28:7, Isaiah 58:11, and Isaiah 12:3. Wandering in the desert for forty years made water a necessity for survival, so when Jesus says, “Anyone who believes in Him will have rivers of living water,” it had deep implications of not mere survival, but overflowing abundance. Köstenberger shows these passages point to Jesus being the dispenser of the Holy Spirit, through whom those who come to Him for salvation will become abundant blessings to others.[34]

The Samaritan woman asked two important questions about this gift of living water: first she wanted to know where He would get this water and second, she wanted to know if Jesus considered Himself greater than Jacob, the very person who dug the well. To the first question, Köstenberger explains, “It is not so much that Jesus gives certain gifts – He Himself is the gift, [and] only He can satisfy people’s hunger, and only He can quench their thirst, not merely for material food and drink, but for spiritual sustenance.”[35] Jesus being “greater than” is a common theme in John’s Gospel,[36] but in this occurrence, Jesus was not only claiming to be greater than Jacob; He was also claiming to be the only way to quench thirst forever. This brings to light humanity’s physical needs being different from spiritual needs and how living water gives life. John Polhill demonstrates how, “Many interpreters would see this as a discourse on baptism, as an example of Johannine sacramentalism, but verse 14 rules out any reference to a mere external rite of water baptism. The ‘living water’ Jesus brings is a spring within one’s inner being, a life-renewing stream. The water is not literal but a metaphor for the new life that Christ brings.”[37] Matthew Henry then illustrates how, “Christ shows that the water of Jacob’s well yielded a very short satisfaction. Of whatever waters of comfort we drink, we shall thirst again. But whoever partakes of the Spirit of grace, and the comforts of the gospel, shall never want that which will abundantly satisfy his soul. Carnal hearts look no higher than carnal ends.”[38] The Samaritan woman was very interested in obtaining living water, if it meant she did not have to travel to the well everyday, but Jesus was speaking of so much more.

Need for true worship

After bringing the woman’s sins into the open, Craig Blomberg demonstrates how the woman, “On her own manages to call Jesus a ‘prophet’ and given the overlap in Samaritan theology between the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18 and the Messiah, she may have begun to suspect something even more exalted about Jesus. This would certainly explain the transition to her next topic of interest in, which explicitly deals with the role of the coming Messiah.”[39]  Blomberg advances this belief explaining, “Still, it remains reasonable to infer that John sees the Samaritan woman as inside the kingdom, despite some ambivalence concerning her faith, whereas Nicodemus remains outside, however close to the truth he may have come.”[40]

After this declaration, the issue of where to worship is brought up as Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know.” Morris explains, “Though they worshipped the true God, the Samaritans did so very imperfectly. When we consider that they rejected the writings of the Prophets, the Psalms, the historical books of the Old Testament, and much more, we realize that their knowledge of God was, of necessity, very limited.”[41] Here, Jesus’s concern is with the nature of worship, meaning it is more important what is worshipped than where the worshipping occurs. This truth becomes even more evident upon the glorification of Christ, as He becomes the temple. Smith explains, in the controversy between Jesus and the Samaritan woman concerning the true place to worship, “Jesus responded with an affirmation that He was the Messiah. [This] aligned with the Samaritan concept of Taheb, which sets forth a future prophet like Moses who would speak about the commands of God. The Taheb[42] would be the prophet predicted by Moses and would be like Moses, whose function was to restore God’s pleasure to the Samaritans.[43]

 Now, Jesus is foreshadowing how worship will look after His atoning death. It must be done in spirit and truth as Morris explains, “True worshipers worship ‘in spirit and truth.’ Here, it is the human spirit that is in mind. One must worship, not simply outwardly by being in the right place and taking up the right attitude, but in one’s spirit. The combination ‘spirit and truth’ points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God.”[44] Thus, worship centers both on doctrinal truth and complete devotion, which are guided by the Holy Spirit. Right on the heels of worship comes the topic of Messiahship, as the woman says she knows the Messiah, who is called Christ, is coming and when He comes, He will reveal all things. It is here Jesus makes several bold claims: (1) He claimed to be the Messiah; (2) He claimed to the great “I Am,” which was the name reserved only for God; and He claimed to be the One who would reveal all things. As proof, Jesus exposes the sin in her life and explains the only way to take care of the sin is to worship God in spirit and in truth. This meant dealing with God honestly and with an open heart.

Jesus’s explanation of evangelistic ministry 4:27-38

This seems to be the climax of the encounter as Jesus has just boldly proclaimed Himself as the Messiah saying, “I who speak to you am He.” Morris demonstrates, “There remains to be recounted only the effect of all this on others. John shows us both the surprise of the disciples and the evangelistic zeal of the woman. She bore such an effective testimony that people went out of the village to meet Jesus.”[45] Two things stand out here: first, the woman was an outcast to her own people, but the encounter with Jesus changed her to the point where the people of her village looked, listened, and believed what she said. Second, she was successful in her witness to the people and as a result many set out to see the Messiah. This is evangelism in its purest sense.

Disciples’ response to interaction

Upon returning, the disciples were marveled to see Jesus engaged in conversation with a woman, as this went against all customs and teaching, but as Morris explains, “Though the disciples were astonished, they did not question the action of the woman (the first hypothetical question) or that of their Master (the second). They had learned enough to know that, while Jesus did not always respect the conventions of the rabbis, He always had good reasons for what He did.”[46]

Work of Jesus and will of God

A common occurrence in John’s Gospel is the use of misunderstandings to teach profound lessons. In this scenario, the disciples have just returned from town where they most likely went to buy food. Upon arriving back at the well, Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” This must have been difficult to comprehend, just as the principle of living water was initially beyond comprehension for the Samaritan woman. Jesus then says to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” In this example, D.A. Carson illustrates, “Jesus is almost certainly echoing Deuteronomy 8:3, where Moses addresses Israel and seeks to explain God’s way to them: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’”[47]

The important concept Jesus is teaching here is every believer’s life should be centered upon the will and work of God. In day-to-day life, losing focus of the spiritual and being consumed by the physical causes a divide between earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus had just told the Samaritan woman about spiritual living water, and He also told the disciples He had food from another source, but they are still only concerned with the physical needs of Jesus. This demonstrates their lack of spiritual depth at this point in the metanarrative and clearly shows a lack of focus on Christ’s mission of salvation. Christ wanted His disciples to seek spiritual nourishment before tending to His physical needs, and this could only happen by seeking and doing the will and work of God. On the cross, Christ finished the work He was sent to accomplish and now He calls all believers to live in obedience and perseverance until the work and will of God is fully realized.

Köstenberger further demonstrates, “When the Samaritan woman leaves to tell the townspeople about Jesus, this creates a window of opportunity for Jesus, which He promptly uses to instruct His disciples about their role in the Messianic mission.”[48] In this discourse, Jesus is demonstrating the important principles of sowing and reaping. When doing the work of the ministry, Jesus demonstrates the importance of meeting the most basic needs first. In the disciples’ case, this was purchasing food and in the Samaritan woman’s case it was retrieving water. Upon meeting the physical needs, the door to meeting the spiritual needs opens. During the interaction, as Köstenberger illustrates, “Jesus develops water symbolism in the direction of His ability to give eternal life (evangelism); in talking with His disciples, He talks about His mission and how they have entered it (discipleship).”[49] One sows and another reaps, so here Jesus is explaining the spiritual harvest season has arrived and every believer has been sent to play a part in sowing seeds, producing fruit, and reaping the harvest.

The response to Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

John writes many Samaritans from the town believed Jesus to be the Messiah and this was largely because of the woman’s testimony. The Samaritans believed the coming Messiah would reveal all things[50] and since Jesus had told the Samaritan woman all she had ever done, many believed. Gaebelein indicates two necessary and interrelated bases for belief:

(1) The testimony of others, and (2) personal contact with Jesus. This woman’s witness opened the way to Him for the villagers. If He could penetrate the shell of her materialism and present a message that would transform her, the Samaritans also could believe that He might be the Messiah. That stage of belief was only introductory, however. The second stage was hearing Him for themselves, and it brought them to the settled conviction expressed in “we know.”[51]

This progression clearly shows the development of the Samaritans’ faith. Initially the Samaritans’ belief was rooted in the testimony of the Samaritan woman, but it soon advanced based upon their own personal encounter with the Messiah.

Messianic status of Jesus shown

The proclamation of Jesus’s Messianic status was a lengthy process, one in which Jesus frequently kept out of the public, especially in the Synoptic Gospel accounts. Despite this, Everett Harrison illustrates how, “Andrew’s use of Messiah in reference to Jesus stems from his association with the Baptist and Jesus’s use of Messiah in the presence of the Samaritan woman creates no real difficulty, since the barrier between Samaritans and Jews would prevent the saying from being heralded abroad.”[52] John the Baptist openly denied he was the Messiah when questioned by Pharisees, but it is clear from John 3:26-28 that John knew Jesus to be the Messiah and John the Baptist clearly understood his role as being the forerunner for Christ.

Merrill Tenney shows, “Jesus affirmed His Messiahship when He told the Samaritan woman, “I who speak to you am He.” When she announced to the town her belief, they listened to Him, and then believed, saying, ‘Now we know; this is the Savior of the world.’ Their equation of Messiah and Savior indicates their estimate of Him was theological, not political.”[53]

Smith then shows, “It was the intent of the Evangelist to prove to his readers that Jesus was Messiah [because] among the Jews ‘The Messiah’ had a definite meaning. They looked for a descendant of David who was a powerful person, a warrior and a hero who would deliver them from their oppressors, the Romans, and usher in an era of prosperity and peace.”[54] This was in sharp contrast to what the Samaritans were looking for, since their core doctrine came only from the Pentateuch. The Jews of the time could not understand the concept of a suffering Messiah, which caused many to be spiritually blind.

Mission and purpose of Jesus

Matthew Poole emphasizes, “What our Savior spoke metaphorically, comparing His grace, or His Spirit, or the doctrine of His gospel, to living water, this poor woman [initially] understood as being literal. So ignorant are persons of spiritual things, till the Holy Spirit of God enlightens them.”[55] The Samaritan woman moved from thinking of things strictly on the physical level to being able to comprehend them on a spiritual level. This allowed her to see the spiritual counterpart of eternal life and she then leaves her water jar at the well. Robert Hughes shows how, “The gift of living water relates to the gift of life-giving bread from heaven and the ongoing theme of Israel in the wilderness. Spiritual thirst and hunger are only satisfied by the living water and bread from heaven.”[56] D.A. Carson further demonstrates how this gift was to be spread:

Those who read John in light of antecedent Scripture cannot help but think of the prophecies that anticipate the extension of the saving reign of God to the farthest corner of the earth. It was appropriate that the title ‘Savior of the world’ should be applied to Jesus in the context of ministry to Samaritans, representing the first cross-cultural evangelism, undertaken by Jesus Himself and issuing in a pattern to be followed by the church: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[57]

There was a sense of urgency as Jesus revealed His mission, which would soon be passed on to His disciples. Morris explains, “The disciples must not lazily relax, comfortable in the thought that there is no need to bestir themselves. The fields are ready for harvest. There may even be the thought the kind of harvest in which they were engaged there is no necessary interval between sowing and reaping. The disciples must then acquire a sense of urgency in their task.”[58]

Power of testimony

Regardless of the Samaritan woman’s past, she immediately shares her testimony with others. This transformation and action is the model Jesus is passing on and Scripture indicates, by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony[59] believers’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death.”[60] It is evident that at some point in the Samaritan woman’s past a seed was sown for her to have knowledge of the Messiah, and during her encounter, Jesus reaped her soul, which led to the further reaping of many others.

Samaritan’s Response and Salvation of a City

Köstenberger recognizes but rejects the possibility that the Samaritan story can function as a romantic picture of Yahweh’s wooing back to Himself wayward Samaritans, but some of the similar characteristics are undeniable. He cites several elements reminiscent of a wayward Israel:

(1) Jesus is called a bridegroom in the pericope immediately preceding this incident;[61] (2) the well (v. 6), Jesus’s request for a drink (v. 7), and the reference to food afterward (v. 32) frames the story as a betrothal type-scene;[62] (3) the Samaritan woman is depicted as sexually wayward, with five husbands, much like the Samaritans who prostituted themselves with the gods of five nations;[63] and (4) the story ends with a reunion—the Samaritans embrace the bridegroom (vv. 39–42).[64]

Samaritans “believed”

To “believe” here means the Samaritans put their faith in and entrusted their spiritual well being to Christ.[65] Initially, the people believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, but after the Samaritans went out to meet Jesus and invited Him to stay with them, many more believed because of His word. When the Samaritans heard for themselves what Jesus had to say, they proclaimed Him to be the Christ and the Savior of the World. Further evidence of real and lasting transformation is revealed when Philip’s ministry takes him to Samaria[66] and as F.F. Bruce shows, “Philip would be able to build on this hope when he began to preach Christ to them. Jesus, it appears, was already identified by His followers in Jerusalem, both ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Hellenists,’ as the promised prophet like Moses.”[67]

Savior of the world is revealed

 It is interesting to note the words “Christ” and “Messiah” are the same word. Messiah is the Hebrew word and Christ is the Greek word, but both words refer to the same person and mean the same thing: the anointed one.[68] The Samaritans recognized the Messiah as the anointed one of God and as the Savior of the world. Savior here means deliverer and as Morris explains, “They had been impressed by what she had said, though their faith was not fully formed. The woman might introduce them to Jesus, but faith is not faith as long as it rests on the testimony of another. There must be personal knowledge of Christ if there is to be an authentic Christian experience. Their belief about Jesus is crystallized in the expression ‘the Savior of the world.’”[69]

CONCLUSION

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a profound encounter as Jesus breaks down cultural and racial barriers to proclaim Himself as the Messiah to an outcast among her own people. Francis Hayes reveals, “The evangelism of the future will depend less on sermons than on the prayers and testimonies of the many and its burden is like that of Andrew’s to Peter, and that of the Samaritan woman to her fellow-villagers, “I have found Him.” The new evangelism is the old in this particular, that it is preeminently the testimony of experience.”[70] Upon revealing Himself as the Messiah, Jesus then unveils His primary mission and purpose, and passes on to His followers the mission to engage in evangelism and discipleship. Lastly, Jesus shows how to remain “in Christ” through worship rooted in spirit and truth. This encounter is relevant to the church today, in that it shows how to break down racial and cultural divides to communicate the fundamental truths about salvation, and the gift of eternal life, all of which are found only in and through Christ Jesus.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blomberg, Craig. “The Globalization Of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3-4.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 05, no. 1 (1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 10-11.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Chan, Frank. “John, by Köstenberger.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 649-650.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Harrison, Everett. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III.” Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 308-309.

Hayes, Francis. “The Effective Blend Of The Old And The New Evangelism.” Bibliotheca Sacra 064, no. 256 (October 1907), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 733-735.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Lea, Thomas D. and David A. Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Polhill, John. “John 1–4: The Revelation of True Life.” Review and Expositor 085, no. 3 (Summer 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 454-455.

Poole, Matthew. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Smith, T.C. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel.” Review and Expositor 071, no. 1 (Winter 1974), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 23-28.

Smythe, Thomas. “The Character Of Jesus Defended.” Christian Apologetics Journal 05, no. 2 (Fall 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 114-116.

Strong, James. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4100”.

Tenney, Merrill. “Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part I: The Symphonic Structure of John.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (April 1963), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 121-122.

Witherington, Ben III. “Women in the Ministry of Jesus.” – Ashland Theological Journal 17, no. 0 (1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24-25.


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 4.

[2] John 1:17; 17:3

[3] T.C. Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” – Review and Expositor 071, no. 1 (Winter 1974), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24-25.

[4] John 1:20 and 3:28

[5] John 1:41

[6] John 4:29

[7] 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 7:14, 9:7, 53:3; Zechariah 9:9; and Psalm 45:6-7, 69:8

[8] John 7:25–31, 40–3; 12:34

[9] 2 Kings 17:24

[10] Kenneth Kantzer, Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1757.

[11] John 12:37 (ESV)

[12] John 2:1-11

[13] John 2:13-22

[14] John 4:46-54

[15] John 5:1-15

[16] John 6:1-12

[17] John 9:1-41

[18] John 11:1-44

[19] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 68.

[20] John 2:18-22 and John 4:26

[21] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message 2nd Edition, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 188.

[22] John 4:42

[23] John 3:7, 14; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; and 20:9

[24] John 9:5

[25] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 226.

[26] Thomas Smythe, “The Character Of Jesus Defended,” – Christian Apologetics Journal 05, no. 2 (Fall 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 115.

[27] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 54.

[28] Ben Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” – Ashland Theological Journal 17, no. 0 (1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24.

[29] John 4:11-12

[30] Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” 24.

[31] John 4:39

[32] Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” 24.

[33] Psalm 42:1; Isaiah 55:1; Jeremiah 2:13; and Zechariah 13:1

[34] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

[35] Ibid., 85.

[36] Greater than Jacob: John 4:12; Greater than Moses: John 6:30-31; and Greater than Abraham: John 8:53

[37] John Polhill, “John 1–4: The Revelation of True Life,” – Review and Expositor 085, no. 3 (Summer 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 454-455.

[38] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 4”.

[39] Craig Blomberg, “The Globalization Of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3-4,” – Bulletin for Biblical Research 05, no. 1 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 10.

[40] Ibid., 11.

[41] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 238.

[42] Restorer or one who returns

[43] Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” 28.

[44] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 239.

[45] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 242.

[46] Ibid., 248.

[47] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 228.

[48] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 74.

[49] Ibid., 74.

[50] John 4:25

[51] Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, 58.

[52] Everett Harrison, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 308-309.

[53] Merrill Tenney, “Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part I: The Symphonic Structure of John,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (Apr), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 121-122.

[54] Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” 23.

[55] Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 4”.

 [56] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 470.

[57] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 232.

[58] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 246.

[59] Revelation 12:11

[60] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.

[61] John 3:29

[62] Genesis 24:1–61; 29:1–20; and Exodus 2:15b–21

[63] 2 Kings 17:24, 30–31

[64] Frank Chan, “John,” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 649-650.

[65] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4100”.

[66] Acts 8:5-8

[67] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 164.

[68] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – John (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Deeper Study 2”.

[69] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 250-251.

[70] Francis Hayes, “The Effective Blend Of The Old And The New Evangelism,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 064, no. 256 (October 1907), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 733.

Run Your Race & Finish Well

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With broken legs we chase perfection.

We need God more, but we choose to want Him less.

We deny the promise of God’s presence and His powerful protection.

Instead, we walk our own path, experiencing fear, doubt, and hopelessness.

We forget about the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us.

Encouraging us to run the race set before us with faith and perseverance.

All we must do is fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

When we seek the Lord, He will deliver us from our fears.

As you call upon His name, He will bind up the brokenhearted.

As you draw near to Him, He will write His Word upon your heart.

So, look to the Lord always, and He will be your constant source of peace and strength.

Pastoral Counseling Reflection Paper

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Abstract

There are various approaches used in the field of pastoral counseling; some are effective, while many are not. This leaves those seeking counseling for answers and help in a worse place than they were before because now they feel as though no one can help them and they have spiritually failed as well. Being a pastor necessitates a dualistic responsibility. The first is that of a shepherd and the second is as that of a counselor. However, due to the lack of proper training, most pastors are either ill-equipped or they do not possess the necessary tools to handle many of the situations and mental illnesses that present themselves on a daily basis. In order for this to change, there must be a radical paradigm shift in the academia requirements to become pastors. In doing so, pastors will be better equipped to combine the spiritual truths of God with the miraculous advances of science to bring about real life-changing breakthroughs. By examining previous experiences, as it relates to pastoral counseling, the goal will be to illuminate currents needs, while also providing quantifiable expectations from the introduction to pastoral counseling course.

Pastoral Counseling Reflection Paper

This reflection paper combines the past experiences of this writer in the pastoral counseling role with the recognizable needs of pastors today in meeting the many needs of parishioners. Pastors now, more than ever, are in need of training not previously offered in the scope of seminary degrees. As a result, many pastors are ineffective in their dualistic role of shepherd and counselor. Only by combining the truth of God found in the Bible with the art of psychotherapy and counseling can true breakthroughs occur in the lives of those seeking mental healing and real life-change.

Spiritual Guidance Versus Psychotherapy

Roughly one-third of the Western world can be diagnosed as having a mental disorder (Sherer, 2002, p. 1-5) and being ordained or even having a graduate or post-graduate degree does not qualify one to be competent in treating every disorder. Johnson & Johnson (2014) believe, “Because seminaries have only recently started to consistently teach professional pastoral skills… it is imperative that ministers honor the real limits imposed by their time, training, and competence in the arena of mental health care” (p.176). The same is true within the mental health counselor (MHC) world, and that is why there exists such a diverse range of specialties geared towards each MHC’s strengths and approach.

Most members of clergy find themselves as the first line of defense and often the first place faith-based people turn when a need or crisis arises. Howard Clinebell (2011) paints the picture vividly:
Whenever you look at a group of people, remember that many of them have heavy hearts and that they are walking through shadowed valleys… such burdened people often trust the entire fabric of their lives to the caregiving skills of religious leaders (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 2014, p. 175).

Johnson & Johnson (2014) also demonstrate ministers are frequently the first professionals who suffering parishioners will allow into their lives, but as pastors, we do those seeking help a disservice when attempting to counsel them in an area we have no business trying to address. Some would call this desire to solve every puzzle a God-complex and for ministers, this carries a sense of irony with it, since God is ultimately the one who provides the wisdom and strength to do all things. This way of thinking is also prevalent in the medical profession as the majority of doctors desire and strive to be the one with all the answers. Having all the answers and being right all the time is an impossible task for anyone. In fact, W. E. Oates (1974) believes:

One of the reasons that pastors do not have time to do their pastoral ministry is that they insist on doing it all themselves… They have failed to build a detailed knowledge of their community as to the agencies, professional, and private practitioners who could help them in their task (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 2014, p. 176).

This writer would be inclined to believe both Oates (1974) and Clinebell (2011) could not have illustrated the current problem facing pastors in the counseling arena any better and until there is a radical change in the training and education of pastors, there will continually be pastors in over their head unable to meet the vast needs of those seeking biblical-based-counseling.

Past Experience

This writer has been in full-time vocational ministry for the past five years and over the course of that time, marital and premarital counseling has been the number one reason for counseling appointments. In most cases, the biblical training, personality profiles, combined with other various marital tools available have properly equipped this writer to develop many of the necessary qualities detailed by Johnson & Johnson (2014). For example, by forming relationships, creating common goals, opening the lines of communication, establishing trust, showing genuine respect, demonstrating common values, and by acknowledging the supreme authority and work of the Spirit, many of the individuals this writer has encountered in counseling sessions have gone on to form strong foundational marriages (p. 177).

While the church is often the first place people turn when a need or crisis arises, that does not mean they should always have the answer, but it does mean they at the least should be able to point to someone who does. In all instances, a member of the clergy could point to God and say He knows, but that does not necessarily help the individuals move past the root issue in his or her life. Yes, God knows what they are going through and yes, He is more than able to meet any need, but He has also gifted MHC’s in this area, so that they can help bring about peace, restoration, and wholeness.

As a pastor who is responsible for the needs of the church, this writer feels overwhelmed with the multitude of needs and during many seasons has felt pushed to the breaking point. There is nothing wrong with this feeling because humanity has a finite amount of strength. While scripture says, “We can do all things,” it also says, “Through Christ who gives us strength.” This does not mean with Christ we can fly or pick up cars, it means we can endure all seasons, circumstances, and things when Christ is the Lord of one’s life.

Current Needs

As P. D. Tripp (2012) suggests, “Ministry is a dangerous calling with its unrelenting personal and spiritual demands” (as cited in Johnson & Johnson, 2014, p. 1). Since pastors are typically the first place people turn to, there needs to be more training in how to help people struggling with addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder, marital issues, depression, mental illness, and other disorders. In addition to this increased focus on counseling, there needs to be instruction and guidance as to what pastors should do when they are not equipped to handle certain types of counseling. Additional courses during seminary will help prepare future pastors for what they are truly getting themselves into and will also hopefully help them not fall into the many snares of the world that lead one to need counseling in the first place.

Helping people to be realistic is also of the utmost importance. Culture today believes everything should be easier, faster, and a magic pill should be the answer. As each new generation arises, this facade only becomes more real in their perception and sense of entitlement. As Clinton & Hawkins (2009) suggest culture today is sold, “the false expectation that we can ‘have it all, and have it all now.’ This only reinforces the aching ‘hole in the soul’ that so many suffer in the midst of our material abundance” (p. 7). Our pastors, leaders, and professionals need to posses not only the knowledge, but also the means to speak into the lives of the lost and hurting, so that the broken might find love, acceptance, forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration.

Expectations

From this introductory course to pastoral counseling, the number one thing this writer hopes to take away is learning how to meet people where they are, then helping them get to where they want to be, and ultimately helping them become what God is calling them to be. Understanding why people do things and the driving forces behind their actions is also of interest. As M. Carbonell (2008) suggests, “Understanding personality patterns is one of the keys to improving your relationships and solving the people puzzle [and by] understanding the four-quadrant model of basic human behavior often explains why people do what they do” (p. 7 &11). God made humanity unique for a reason, and as the body of Christ, the individuals that make up the church each serve a specific function, so learning how to teach and equip people to reach their greatest potential is also a compelling goal.

Current Approach

There are short-term approaches, just as there are also long-term approaches when applied to the pastoral counseling setting. Just as every person is different, every need is also different and often times very complex dating back to a much earlier stage in life. The fundamental goal behind all approaches is to get the individual back on the path God desires for him or her. By assuming the future is only an extension of one’s past, Kollar (2011) illustrates what prevents us from seeing and acting on a new idea is often the same thing that hinders one from seeing new options, outcomes, and solutions (p. 13). In essence, it falls on the counselor to shed light on the eclipse, which has marooned the counselee in a sea of despair. The counselor and the counselee are essentially in a partnership and they both must be in agreement with the course of action and God’s intention for any progress to be made (Kollar, 2011, p. 20).

Conclusion

Humanity lives in a fallen state and anything God stands for Satan will either try to destroy, pervert, or counterfeit. Satan’s desire to corrupt every institution God has established is no secret as God has been systematically been taken out of schools, homes, marriages, the workplace, and even some churches, which are founded upon everything other churches are, except for God. Only by working together as leaders of the church alongside with mental health professionals can the deep-rooted needs of the lost and hurting be properly addressed. While God remains the “Great Physician,” He still chooses to use His children to heal in the natural when He does not heal in the supernatural. There are also issues, which must be worked through before someone can perceive how there could possibly be a heavenly Father who loves him or her when his or her earthly father abused or abandoned him or her. In a like manner, if someone were out evangelizing and they came across someone who was starving to death or severely dehydrated, they would offer them real food and drink before they spoke of Jesus being the bread of life or the water that would make you thirst no more. Only by meeting people where they are and satisfying their most basic needs will pastors and counselors have the opportunity to speak truth and life into the lives of the lost and hurting.

References

Carbonell, M. (2008). How to solve the people puzzle: Understanding Personality Patterns. Blue Ridge, GA: Uniquely You® Resources.

Clinebell, H. (2011). Basic types of pastoral care and counseling (Rev ed.). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Clinton, T & Hawkins, R. (2009). The quick reference guide to biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.

Johnson, B. W. & Johnson, W. L. (2014). The minister’s guide to psychological disorders and treatments, 2nd edition. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Kollar, C. A. (2011). Solution-focused counseling: An effective short-term approach for getting people back on track. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Oates, W. E. (1974). Protestant pastoral counseling. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press.

Sherer, R. (2002). Mental health care in the developing word. Psychiatric Times, 19 (1), 1-5.

Tripp, P. D. (2012). Dangerous calling: Confronting the unique challenges of pastoral ministry. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing.

Reconciliation Through Confession, Forgiveness, & Restoration

forgiveness
Forgiveness is the key to freedom and Brian Wilson and Brad Hoffmann are of the opinion, “When we offend another, we should not solicit their forgiveness. What others do or refuse to do in light of our confession isn’t the point. Our part on the road to reconciliation is simply to confess and repent.” This is a profound and for many people a troubling statement, due to the deep pain that occurs during an offense. This discussion board will offer why one should agree or disagree with this statement, while also demonstrating what most churches practice, and what most church members believe, as a result of this teaching. In addition, this assignment will also demonstrate what this writer believes should be taught, based on Wilson and Hoffmann’s concept.

Position on Reconciliation

To some degree, I believe in their assertion, but it took reading over it a few times in context and ultimately comprehending the rest of their plan regarding reconciliation and restitution, as they both bring about a proper understanding of their position. From the ministry perspective, I have seen people in such bondage on the issue of forgiveness and un-forgiveness. The very people who will not forgive others are essentially prisoners to the ones that have wronged them, whether the offense is real, valid, or not. In a like manner, those who do not seek forgiveness are either blind to their own sin, or they have rationalized their actions, and feel a sense of entitlement. It is amazing what lies and justification can be spun in one’s mind when sin is no longer regarded as sin.

What Most Church Members Believe

Most churches teach several biblical principles regarding forgiveness and reconciliation. The first is, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The second occurs when Peter asked the Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sinned against him. This was not uncommon during that time frame where some rabbis instructed people to forgive anywhere from three to seven times based on Amos 1:3 and 2:1.

However, John Butler demonstrates, “This attitude of forgiveness seems more concerned about forgiving too much [rather] than about forgiving enough. It is of the same sick spirit, which prompts people to seek the minimum requirement to satisfy God in regards to their duty.” Wilson and Hoffman also demonstrate, “Genuine repentance and reconciliation will result in an ongoing pattern of restitution, making a habit out of such healthy actions.”

Lastly, Jesus instructs Christians, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so the evidence of two or three witnesses may establish every charge.”

Practice of Most Church Members

Doing as I say and not as I do has become the norm in today’s culture. People remember what they should forget and they forget what they should remember. God instructed His disciples it would be by their love that the world would know they were His followers. This is not the case today in America and around the world. People know more about what the church is against than what it is for. Wilson and Hoffman illustrate, “To fully reconcile our horizontal relationships, some form of restitution may be needed [and] a desire for restitution is a natural byproduct of genuine repentance.”

Despite having these wonderful instructions available to the church, many Christians do not follow its commands and Jesus made it very clear, “If you love Me, you will obey my commands.” It falls on the leadership of the church to help educate the body in the understanding and enacting of this model for forgiveness and also to help facilitate the various steps. In some cases, someone in leadership within the church has committed the wrong and this presents a huge problem when not addressed properly and in a timely matter. This is a process that cannot be rushed and also one that cannot be ignored when an offense does occur. The longer an offense goes unaddressed, the more chance the schism will only grow into a larger issue, sometimes to the point where the original offense is forgotten and now in its place is nothing but contempt for the individual and often times against anyone on their side.

What Principles Should be Taught, Using the Author’s Concept?

As Wilson and Hoffmann suggest, “Restoration isn’t simply a matter of agreeing with God about your situation. We must also repent, changing our future course.” This point is fundamental when teaching people about the restoration process because, “Genuine repentance and reconciliation will also result in an ongoing pattern of restitution, making a habit out of such healthy actions.” The problem arises when someone confesses their sin and feels powerless and helpless until the other person forgives them. This is extremely problematic because it places that individual in bondage to the person harboring un-forgiveness in their heart. The authors are correct in proposing one should not solely focus on receiving forgiveness, but this writer feels that should be the motivation behind the act of seeking reconciliation.

There are also inherent dangers in seeking premature forgiveness or seeking it for the wrong reasons. Genuine confession and repentance is what God requires to restore fellowship with Him and this writer believes the same is true with interpersonal relationships. While forgiveness does not mean you are forgetting an offense, it does mean you are not going to allow Satan to turn it into a stronghold and that you are also not going to allow it to become a stumbling block in the restoration process.

In addition to Wilson and Hoffman’s restoration model, this writer also believes in the importance of renewing one’s mind. There is an inherent danger, when an area sin is vacated because if it is not filled with God, the latter condition of the individual will be worse than before. As the authors suggest, “Renewing the mind to better match God’s viewpoint is a helpful part of any attempt at changing behavior [and] practicing the process of restoration in our daily life will significantly contribute to our long-term health in ministry by taking care of things the moment we recognize something needs attention.”

Personal Experience

During the course of my ministry, I have seen the danger of both extremes pertaining to forgiveness. In my experience, I would attempt to facilitate a balanced and biblical perspective by teaching the fundamental reason of seeking forgiveness stems from wanting to restore communion with God and not just to be free of guilt and shame. Part of sowing and reaping means there are consequences to actions. Each party involved in the forgiveness and reconciliation process must make up in their own mind if God is big enough to help them move through it. The practice of forgiveness and reconciliation is an ongoing one, just as it is with our walk with Christ. What people must understand is that if we want God to forgive our sins, we must be willing to forgive the trespasses against us. That doesn’t mean you pick up right where you left off, but it does mean you are willing to move past it and not hold their past in the way of their future.

Bibliography

Butler, John G. Bible Biography Series – Peter: The Illustrious Disciple. Clinton, IA: LBC Publications, 1993.

Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffmann, Preventing Ministry Failure: A Shepherd Care Guide for Pastors, Ministers, and Other Caregivers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.