How to Study the Bible: A Thought or Two on Christian Education and Theosis

biblepage-781x1024We’re still talking about how to study the Bible. Really.

One of the great appeals of Scofield’s dispensation theories was that they were easy to teach — especially when teaching children.

In fact, I well remember going through the Jule Miller filmstrips and the various Dispensations when in junior high.

The outline of the biblical narrative I offered in the previous post of this series is much more detailed, but would be just as easy to teach, in a simplified form, to teenagers. In fact, I think teens would get it better than most adults. For me, the hardest part has been unlearning the old. The teens won’t have this problem. 

I used the C-A-B-A’-C’ outline to show how McKnight’s A-B-A’ fits into his own C-F-R-C outline. But it’s terrible for mnemonics. Maybe going forward we should speak in terms of C-B-A-B’-C’ — still beautifully chiastic, but much easier for a middle schooler to remember. Or maybe someone can think of a way to make each covenant period begin with a  “C.” Or an “A.”

Both adults and teens will struggle with knowing so little OT, since few churches spend much time on the OT, even in classes for children. Many will have no framework on which to build — and speaking from experience, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s easier to build from the foundation up rather than trying to remodel. Indeed, those who are taught this model will not struggle nearly so much with legalism, with the Spirit, and with the nature of the church — and perhaps most importantly, the relationship God wants with us.

Theosis

We parents want, when we die, to be remembered through our children. At our funerals, we want people to say, “He’ll live forever through the lives lived by his children” — not just the memories of our children, but how they live: their characters.

All parents raise children to be like themselves. We want our children to share our values, our passions, and our characters. God is the same with his children. And if we’d think of God more as a Father than as Lawgiver, we’d understand the scriptures much better.

But in the West, we make justification or forgiveness the centerpiece of our theology and so the centerpiece of our relationship with God. It’s about obedience to rules and, when we disobey, forgiveness.

Among the Eastern Orthodox, our relationship with God is seen in terms of becoming like God. Sin is defined as a failure to be like God. Therefore, the centerpiece of our relationship with God is our becoming like God — which is not only more positive, but truer to the scriptures

For example, in the West, we tend to define “sin” as the violation of a law, based on —

(1Jo 3:4 ESV) Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

And a typical interpretation would be —

Guilt supposes a person to be under a law, and to have violated it. Accordingly, sin is described as ‘the transgression of the law.’ The law of God, in common with all other laws, is primarily designed to be the rule of obedience; and, in order to its being so, it is a declaration of the divine will which, as creatures and subjects, we are under a natural obligation to comply with.

Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 2:84.

But this definition misunderstands God as well as this passage. What father would want to be known as, “This father forgave his children when they broke the rules”? Yes, all fathers would want to forgive their children, but who would want this to be the centerpiece of their relationship with their children?

The verse is not really speaking of lawlessness in general. As explained by the NET Bible translator notes,

For the author, it is not violation of the Mosaic law that results in lawlessness, since he is writing to Christians. The ‘law’ for the author is the law of love, as given by Jesus in the new commandment of Joh 13:34-35. This is the command to love one’s brother, a major theme of 1 John and the one specific sin in the entire letter which the opponents are charged with (1Jo 3:17).

In other words, the real point of the passage is that to sin is to fail to love as Jesus loved, the love that is demonstrated by the cross.

(1Jo 4:7-9 ESV) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 

Why love as Jesus loved? Well, because “love is from God” and shows us to be “born of God.” “Born” could be better translated “begotten,” especially since God is presented as our Father and gennao is better translated “conceived” or “begotten” when a father is in mind. (BDAG prefers “begotten” in this passage.)

Now, the ancients did not understand genetics as we Moderns do, but they did notice that sons often looked and acted like their fathers. They understood that to be begotten by God meant to be like God as a child is like his or her parents.

Why else love as Jesus loved? Because a Christian “knows God.” Why? Well, in part, because a child knows his parents and does so with an intimacy and insight no one else enjoys.

But also because we possess the Spirit. John calls the Spirit the “anointing” —

(1Jo 2:20 ESV) But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.

(1Jo 2:27 ESV) But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie– just as it has taught you, abide in him.

This anointing, the Spirit, gives God’s children a special body of knowledge that specially equips us to “abide in him.”

I could go on. The point is that, in the passage most frequently cited to “prove” that sin is about breaking the law, a better, deeper, truer meaning is that sin is about not abiding in God, ignoring the knowledge of God that he has given us through the Spirit, and breaking the perfect law of love, failing to love as Jesus loved/s us. It’s a failure to be like Jesus. It’s a failure to be like God.

And if that’s the case, then it only makes sense that the history of God’s relationship with humanity would be about self-revelation. It’s not about announcing law so much as announcing the nature and character of God — and that guides us in becoming like God — and that protects us from sin.

Just so, most of the steps in our A-B-C-B’-A’ scheme are not about God presenting laws to be obeyed. They’re about God presenting himself. The sole exception is the Law of Moses. Not a single other self-revelatory act is primarily about law.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in How to Study the Bible, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply