Here I Stand

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifFor most of my life, people I know personally have challenged me on my interpretation of the Bible. They have insisted that I change my understanding. In the days to come, I expect those shouts to increase in both volume and frequency. To that end, I am writing this open series to explain my method of scriptural study and address some specific questions.

As I have thought about the questions, a famous scene from history kept running through my mind. Those familiar with church history will likely have already realized it from the title of this essay.

The date is April 1521. The place, Worms, a city south of Frankfurt in what will become Germany but was then the Holy Roman Empire. A meeting known as a Diet had been called by Emperor Charles V to address challenges faced by the Roman Catholic Church. The largest challenge came from a German monk who had the audacity to publish calls for reformation within the church. Martin Luther was accused of heresy and assured safe passage to and from the Diet of Worms to recant.

He was already in defiance. The year before, Pope Leo X censored Luther in a writing known as Arise O Lord (Lat. Exsurge Domine). Luther was given 60 days to recant. Instead, he burned the letter. The kind of writing was called a papal bull which simply means that it was sealed with the Pope’s official bulla. The reader might be familiar with the current pope releasing a similar type of letter Be Praised (Lat. Laudato Si).

Arriving late on the 16th, Luther was instructed to appear for his trial the next day at 4pm. On April 17, 1521, Luther appeared before the Diet. He and the presiding ecclesiastical officer, Johann von Eck, had clashed and held a 23-day debate in 1519. Eck asked if the collection of 25 books and writings on the table was Luther’s and if would recant them. Luther’s lawyer insisted the titles be read for the official transcript. These works included The 95 Theses, Address to the Christian Nobility, On the Papacy at Rome, and On the Freedom of a Christian. Luther admitted they were his and was granted 24 hours to give a proper answer to the question of recanting.

Luther spent much of the night awake, praying, meditating, and speaking with friends and mentors who were present. At the appointed time he appeared before the court. First, he apologized for not being as eloquent as the court might like. Then he asked which books he should recant, because they were not all alike. Some were well received by his enemies. Those he saw no reason to recant. The second spoke against abuses of the church. To recant those would encourage further abuses. The third category included attacks on individuals. For those he apologized for his harsh tone but not the substance of his statements.

Luther ended his defense with the famous speech. However, the most famous words of it, “Here I stand, I can do no other” while possibly historical do not appear in any official transcripts of the time. It is also often thought that the speech was said in staunch defiance of the court and its authority. Actually, the speech was given in humility. Luther knew this was his Rubicon. He had long worked for a reformation within the church that he loved and served. That was not going to be possible.

The speech, as tradition records it, is repeated here.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.

This, too, is my statement. I am bound by the Scriptures and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not turn away from that understanding of Scripture unless it can be shown to me that either Scripture is wrong or my understanding of it is wrong. To that end, this essay is the first in an open-ended series exploring and explaining my biblical hermeneutic.

“Hermeneutic” simply means the discipline of interpreting communications, including written, verbal, and nonverbal. It is best summarized by two passages from 2 Timothy.

2:15 Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.

3:15-17 and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

Everyone who reads the Bible has a hermeneutic. Unfortunately, there are bad hermeneutics as well as good hermeneutics. It doesn’t take a lot of training to establish a good one, but it does require careful thought and one must not let themselves be carried away on emotion and fads.

In this series I will explain and explore sound hermeneutics and address serious questions that have been presented to me and others possessed of a sound method of interpretation. For today, my hermeneutic can be summarized in two rules:

  1. Pay attention to the text

  2. Pay attention to the context

Pay attention to the text. Every passage and verse must be understood in its plain meaning before reading between the lines. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is useful…” The writers of Scripture chose the words and the phrases not by accident but because they were moved by the Holy Spirit to use that word instead of this word. As part of this, one interprets poetry differently than prophecy and prophecy differently than historical works. This is unquestionably sound.

When someone challenges me with the apparent contradiction of Proverbs 26:4 and 5, I simply note that those are Proverbs, not meant to be taken as solid rules for each and every day of your life. They aren’t the same as, for example, the Ten Commandments. Moreover, we know that these are not meant to be hard and fast rules for every occasion because the two verses, right next to one another, state exact opposite guidelines. What then can this mean? Simple. There are times to answer a fool and times to walk away from the discussion. To put it in the common vernacular, “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.”

Pay Attention to the Context. This includes not just the verses around the passage in question but the Bible as a whole, though one does not jump from the passage to the rest of the Bible in one step. Following this rule, the reader recognizes the history of the passage and allows the surrounding Scripture to shed light on the question. Also part of context is the question of what happened that this Scripture was written. Paul wrote his letters to encourage and correct churches. On the other hand, Luke wrote his Gospel and Acts to explain the history of Christianity and its spread from Jerusalem all the way to Rome. Naturally, the two sets of writings (Paul’s letters and Luke’s histories) will approach questions differently. Likewise, when Peter writes to encourage Churches to stand firm in persecution, his tone will be different than where Paul takes them to task.

Hermeneutics. Everyone who reads the Bible has one. Take the time to make sure you use a good one.

Essays to come in no particular order include:

  • Why I am not Postmodern (and Neither is Anyone Else)

  • The First Rule of Hermeneutics

  • The Second Rule of Hermeneutics

  • The Best Bible Study Tool I Know

  • Not All Interpretations are Equal

  • Marcion Lives! (Or What to do With That Pesky Old Testament)

  • Simony and Arson: Sins Jesus Never Mentioned

  • Why I am no Longer Cessationist

  • Inspired: The Very Words and All of Them

There will likely be more as the Spirit moves me.

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Joshua’s Pawn Shop: The Buick Eight

The first story of Joshua’s Pawn Shop is now available!

b8_finalIf you find Joshua’s Pawn Shop, you need Joshua’s. Usually, you don’t even know what you’ve lost, but at Joshua’s you get a second chance.

Years ago, Simon Johnson made a choice that changed his life for the worse. He’s looking to start over. After he sells some old jewelry tonight, he’ll send the divorce papers tomorrow. That’s the plan, anyway. At Joshua’s Pawn Shop, he’ll be given a different way to start over. The cost: he’ll have to not only let a tragedy happen, he’ll have to witness it.

 

Joshua’s Pawn Shop is a companion series to Lou’s Bar & Grill. Though set in the same world, they are also stand-alone stories. You do not need to read Lou’s to appreciate Joshua’s or vice-versa. Both series have a underlying themes that will become evident as the series play out.

I have currently finished the first and fourth Joshua stories. The second, third, fifth, and sixth are at various stages of completion. I often wish the muse would concentrate on one item at a time. While most of them are planned to be 6,000 words or so, the fourth (“Fun and Games”) qualifies as a novelette with 14.5K words. The sixth (“Legacies”), is already 24.5K words. It’s a novela and still growing.

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Lou’s Bar & Grill: Crazy Moon

cover by pro_ebookcover at fiverr.com

cover by pro_ebookcover at fiverr.com

The first story from Lou’s Bar & Grill is now available for Kindle!

Welcome to Lou’s Bar & Grill where the house special looks like a bargain but will cost more than you think. Lou and his staff have everything a person could want, and they know the best way to present it to you.

After being stood up, werewolf fanatic Laney McMurphy went to Lou’s to forget her sorrows. To her surprise, Lou offered her a place in the local pack. To progress within the pack’s ranks, she’ll have to give in to her wild side. And most importantly, she’ll have to indulge her wrath. Each victory means a step up in rank. What she knows about wolves will help. What she doesn’t know just might get her killed.

If you’re looking for a Christian piece with a Twilight Zone feel, look no further than Lou’s Bar & Grill.

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What is Christian Fiction

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I’ve been asked to write about Christian fiction for the Realm Makers Conference blog hop. For this post, I’ve chosen to write about something every one of us asks: what makes Christian fiction?

About a year ago, I downloaded a story from a Christian publishing house. This is not just a publishing house that is run by Christians, but its fiction has been very definitely Christian. Any reasonable reader would come to this conclusion. The story was set in a world that I have read and enjoyed. The author is an active Christian and his other books I have read have been evangelical without being preachy (not that I mind preachy, just trying to describe the works).

I was excited to see this new work. I read it eagerly, then I sat back and thought, “Wait a minute. What makes this story Christian?” None of the main characters were people of open faith (there’s one I’m curious about). I think some monks were mentioned almost in passing. I don’t think a deity was even mentioned, certainly not as important to the story. None of the characters had questions about God that were addressed either explicitly or implicitly. Most importantly, I had not learned anything about God in my reading of it.

So I asked the same question about my own works. What makes the Shylocke Averyson stories Christian? He doesn’t come to salvation in “Sunset over Gunther.” In fact, he goes from indifferent to God to hatred of Him in the course of the story. But in the process, he has come to understand some very important things about God. The only Child of the Son character on the page is a young boy who has less than 5 lines. He doesn’t mention faith, he’s just happy that Shylocke hasn’t killed him.

But the stories are Christian. At the end of the story, Shylocke has moved in his feelings toward the God of Aviterr. He has provided a negative example for the reader. The reader sees how Shylocke’s attempts to be the hero have resulted in his failures. He has tried to be strong in himself and failed. And the story sets him up for further episodes with additional explicit Christian characters that will try to bring him further in.

The same can be said of “The Strong Survive.” Granish is not saved at the end, but he has seen that his worldview is seriously lacking in some very important aspects. He has seen that the Children of the Son do not have these lacks, but he isn’t convinced they are the completely right either. But he has heard the gospel and is better for his time with the Children.

Stories like CS Lewis’ Til We Have Faces might have similar critics of what I have said about the first book. The Queen is vengeful and selfish for almost the entire story. The gods are those of myth (with a caveat that a greater one is coming). But the Queen learns in the end. She sees that her actions were misguided and selfish.

In the end, I decided that the only criteria I could apply that fit all works was subjective. For a work to be Christian fiction and not just fiction written by a Christian, it must be different. You have to ask “If this book were written by a non-Christian, how would it be different?” The answer should be “in significant ways no matter how much text is different.” If that is so, the work is Christian fiction.

What are your thoughts about what makes a book Christian?

As part of the blog hop, Realm Makers has a Tardis-sized* give away going on! Click below for details.

 
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*The basket is bigger on the inside than the outside.

Posted in Christian, Christianity, Fiction, Writing | Tagged | 1 Comment