photo_21I love reading Andrew Wilson. He’s a winsome, articulate apologist for Christianity whose book, If God, Then What? presents Christian truth in memorable and disarming ways. His newest book tackles the question of biblical authority. Why should we believe the Bible? “Because Jesus did,” Andrew replies.

Unbreakable: What the Son of God Said about the Word of God is a brief, accessible introduction to the nature of Scripture. You can read the book in one sitting, but don’t let its brevity fool you. This is a book that makes a compelling case for biblical authority by bringing us back to Jesus over and over again.

Today, Andrew joins me on the blog to discuss biblical authority and interpretation.

Trevin Wax: Newsweek recently devoted a cover story to the Bible and how conservative evangelicals are mistaken to rely on Scriptural inspiration and are mistaken in their interpretations. How would Jesus’ view of the Old Testament be different than the Newsweek article’s?

Andrew Wilson: Ah, Newsweek. What a strange article that was! There have been a number of good pieces debunking much of it, so I won’t get into too many details here, but I think it would be fair to say that Jesus had a rather different view of the Old Testament to that of Eichenwald, if the historical record is to be believed.

According to Newsweek, the mere process of scribal copying makes it impossible to know what the original said; Jesus was quite happy to affirm that the text He was reading was what (say) Isaiah wrote, and represented the word of God. (A comparison of the Masoretic Text and the Qumran Scrolls shows that Jesus, not Eichenwald, was right about the levels of scribal accuracy.)

For Newsweek, Moses had very little to do with the writing of the Pentateuch; for Jesus, Moses’ influence on the Pentateuch was so large that He could simply quote it with “Moses says …”.

For Newsweek, finding salvation in Christ means abandoning everything in Leviticus; for Jesus, it means not abandoning it, but fulfilling it.

Newsweek emphasises the humanness of Scripture and affirms that it is riddled with contradictions and errors; Jesus emphasizes that it was written by humans inspired by God – “David, by the Spirit, said …” – and affirms that it cannot be broken. And so on.

Having said all that, Jesus might well agree with the heart of Eichenwald’s piece: that His followers should spend more time studying the Scriptures, and less time showing off their spirituality in public!

Trevin Wax: A common line of thinking today is that the Bible is inspired and authoritative but we can’t be sure what it really says because there are so many divergent and competing interpretations. But you believe the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and clear. What case do you make for its coherence and clarity?

Andrew Wilson: If the Bible says something, and we disagree about what it means, that could be for one of two reasons. It could be because the Bible is at fault, or it could be because we are at fault.

I think there are two reasons for preferring the latter: firstly, because we should probably leave the benefit of the doubt with the Word of God rather than the interpretations of men, and secondly, because there are numerous misunderstandings in the Gospels, and Jesus appears to hold the disciples accountable for every one of them:

  • Are you still so dull?
  • Do you still not understand?
  • How can you not see that …?
  • How slow you are to believe!
  • Seeing their hypocrisy, He said …
  • You don’t know what you’re saying.
  • Get behind me, Satan!

And so it goes on. For Jesus, misunderstandings of Scripture come about because humans are muddled, rather than because the Bible is. Fallen humans blaming the word of God for our confusion is like a bunch of drunks getting lost in broad daylight, and then complaining that the sun isn’t shining brightly enough.

Trevin Wax: You say your starting point is Jesus Christ. “I don’t trust in Jesus because I trust the Bible; I trust the Bible because I trust in Jesus.” But where else but the Bible do we learn about Jesus’ treatment of the Bible’s trustworthiness? In other words, don’t we have to accept the basic tenets of the Bible’s portrait of Jesus before we can say we see the Bible the way Jesus did?

Andrew Wilson: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the best historical records we have about Jesus are all part of what we now call the New Testament. But no, in the sense that we don’t have to assume the truthfulness of the whole Bible in order to believe that Jesus regarded the Scriptures that way.

There’s a historical point here: we have quite a lot of second-temple Jewish sources, and although they differ in their interpretations of (say) the Torah, none of them say anything remotely like, “Well yes, the Torah said that then, but that’s a load of rubbish, so we’re now going to dothis.” To my knowledge, nobody has made a scholarly case that Jesus, as a first century Jew, thought the Scriptures were full of mistakes (even if they think His readings of the texts were hugely controversial). A first century Jew who didn’t think the Old Testament was true would be like a twenty first century American who didn’t believe gravity was true: possible, but very, very unlikely.

Trevin Wax: You say that the Bible is mainly about Jesus and God’s purpose for the nations. What goes wrong when we don’t have Jesus and God’s purpose at the center of our Bible interpretation?

Andrew Wilson: Lots of things.

Individualism: I can believe it’s about me, rather than about Him and then us (so the David and Goliath story becomes about how I can slay my giants, rather than about how Israel slew theirs, and how Jesus, the true David, slays His).

Confusion: lots of the muddle in Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek piece came from failing to see how the story develops, and how (say) Leviticus is fulfilled in Christ.

Pride: I become the main focus of the Psalms, or Luke, or Romans, rather than God.

Greed: I assume that the blessings being spoken of throughout the Bible have their end in me, and my enjoyment, rather than in the purposes of God for the nations (which is where a lot of prosperity theology goes wrong, I think).

Emptiness: I never hear a story that shows me where my life fits in God’s massive plan for the world.

I’m sure there are others, too.

Trevin Wax: How would you encourage Christians who have doubts about the Bible’s trustworthiness and relevance, particularly on hot button issues of marriage, divorce, sexuality, etc.?

Andrew Wilson: I think it would depend why they had doubts. In my experience, lots of Christians from evangelicals are worried about what the Bible says about sexual ethics, not because they’ve come across a problem with the text (like “Jesus never said this” or “Paul never meant that”), but because they know people for whom what the Bible says can be painful. If that’s the problem, then no amount of exegetical or historical argument is likely to help; the issue is much more about the cost of discipleship (which is what I usually talk about on this one – following Jesus is a death to self, a life of tribulation and difficulty and persecution, which will sometimes mean loved ones abandoning or attacking you).

But if they’ve got doubts about whether Scripture can be trusted at all, whether for scholarly or more popular reasons, then I want to do roughly what I do in Unbreakable: talk about how Jesus regarded the Scriptures, and encourage people to imitate his example. A recent example of that sort of discussion is this exchange of articles I had with Brian McLaren here and here.

“Dad, come see this!”

My son’s voice echoed down the hall. It was the day after Christmas, and he’d arranged all his legos from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. For a few minutes, I plopped down in his room as he recounted every moment of the epic battle the legos had just finished.

“Look, Dad!” and “Let me show you this, Mom” are phrases we hear frequently around the house. If it’s not legos, it’s one of our kids showing us the world they’ve created on Minecraft, or their princess tea party protocol, or the bath toys that have been transformed into vessels for a sea battle.

While we were walking by the river last month, my daughter asked me to tell her a story about “Jimmy and Jasmine” (my imaginary tales about two children who are, conspicuously, the same ages as our oldest two kids). I quickly made up a story for her, and then I asked her to tell me one. She talked for fifteen minutes. It was the longest story arc I’ve encountered from a six-year-old!

“Dad, listen!” and “Mom, look!”

Due to the busyness of our lifestyles, I hate to admit that sometimes I’ve treated ”look at this!” or “look what I made!” like a distraction, an intrusion into my adult world. I’ve gotten away with giving my kids a passing glance, a quick word (“That’s neat!”), before going back to whatever it was I was focused on.

I’ve been missing out. Our kids aren’t intruding. They’re inviting.

When a kid says, “Look at what I made!” they are inviting us into the world of their imagination. They want us to share in the sparkle of their creativity. They want us to know their stories, their battles, their imaginary worlds of lego men and princess dolls.

What a privilege it is to be invited into the world of a child! To once again see those legos come alive, to feel the world on fire with wonder, to encounter toys that talk and move and breathe and feel!

I don’t want to be the dad of a passing glance. I want to enter the world of my children, just like God entered ours. I want to be a father who delights in the imaginary innovations of my children, just like God enjoys watching His children make something of this world He has given us.

In a few years, our sons will outgrow their lego sets. Our daughter won’t be recreating Frozen with Anna and Elsa dolls. They won’t remember all the stories and adventures they made up.

But I hope they remember that Dad was there, and he loved it.

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(All images: Silas Barr Photography)

A few weeks ago, I ran across this snippet in World magazine:

After more than two days in the pulpit, Pastor Zach Zehnder of a Mount Dora, Fla., church has set a world record for longest speech marathon. The 31-year-old pastor of theCross church delivered a 53-hour, 18-minute sermon with the help of 200 pages of notes and more than 600 PowerPoint slides that began on Friday, Nov. 7, and ended at 12:18 p.m. on Sunday. The church organized congregants at all hours to hear Zehnder’s sermon that spanned Genesis to Revelation.

I was intrigued by Zach’s efforts to preach such a long sermon, and also encouraged to discover his desire to preach the Bible as a grand narrative (which is something W. A. Criswell famously did in 5 hours). I’ve invited Zach to the blog to give us some insight into the preparation and delivery of this message.

Trevin Wax: Zach, I’m guessing you had to do some research on the world records for longest sermon. What got you thinking about this idea?

Zach Zehnder: My wife leads the kid’s ministry at our church, and there was an activity she was doing with the kids that involved Guinness World Records. I remember thinking, “I wonder what the longest sermon ever preached was.”

First, I love to preach and anytime God’s Word goes out, it accomplishes something and so the longer I preach, the more opportunity for the grace of Jesus to be shared and make an impact in someone’s life. Secondly, I’m really competitive and so I thought it would be pretty cool to have a world-record! As I investigate with Guinness, they do not have a category for “Longest Sermon Marathon,” but they sent back the “Longest Speech Marathon” as an alternative.

30Trevin Wax: What was the preparation stage like? I’m assuming that preaching for 50+ hours straight means you had to put together a year’s worth of sermons. How did you get ready for this?

Zach Zehnder: The preparation was by far the hardest part of the speech. I had thought of this idea over a year before we actually did it, and I started preparing 6 months prior.

If people were going to come and listen to me preach for 2 or 4 hour shifts (some even stayed for more than 40 hours of it) then I wanted to make it a quality event. Nobody had ever preached this long before, so I started like any normal sermon by preparing an outline.

My goal was to preach through the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. So, I picked out 50 different stories/topics and arranged them chronologically.

From there I went through past sermons and tried to fill in the topics. I had notes and manuscripts for 35 out of the 50. So I had to fill in the other 15 just like any other sermon. All in all, this was about 2 years worth of preaching for a normal pastor who preaches every week.

Trevin Wax: You decided to do a sermon that tells the entire story of the Bible. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Zach Zehnder: I wanted to preach through the entire Word of God because I felt like certain things would stick out to me that previously I hadn’t noticed. As I did this, it just reconfirmed God’s ridiculous commitment to us despite us failing Him time after time. We know this, but when you look at the totality of the Word in one setting, it becomes even more apparent and even more amazing that God loves us as much as He does. Romans 5:8 stuck out to me as a key verse.

Trevin Wax: How did you determine what stories to include and what stories to leave out?

Zach Zehnder: I wanted to include all the major ones. Obviously, there was some bias there as I didn’t want to start from scratch. For instance, I had preached 20 weeks on Exodus a year ago, so I spent about 6 to 8 hours alone in Exodus. The same could be said of a series I did earlier this year on 1 Corinthians. I covered that for 4 to 5 hours.

Trevin Wax: When was the most difficult point in delivering the sermon?

Zach Zehnder: Training myself to eat while talking. I had a power nap about 24 hours in and woke up and was very light-headed. I hadn’t eaten enough the first 24 hours. So my medical team (I had 4 nurses from the church that rotated shifts during the speech) pumped me with a big breakfast and I got more comfortable eating in front of people while talking. I got so comfortable that I even ate steak and lobster at hour 36 while preaching through the Sermon on the Mount! It doesn’t get better than that.

My throat felt awful about 8 hours in and I was unsure if I would make it, but again, I hadn’t taken anything at that point. They pumped me with some hot honey tea, throat spray, and lozenges and I was good to go. My voice held throughout and was about as sharp at the end as it was at the beginning.

4Trevin Wax: What did you do after you finished speaking?

Zach Zehnder: I went home and took a 7 hour nap and then watched part of a Sunday Night Football game then fell asleep again for another 7 hours. I was pretty out of it. Apparently my kids came home and I talked with them for a couple minutes, but I have no recollection of that!

Trevin Wax: Tell us about the ministry that gripped your heart and led you to take on this challenge. How much money did you raise?

Zach Zehnder: We raised over $102,000 for Hand in Hand which is a local non-profit in Lake County, FL. They recently opened a recovery house for men in our area and the money went to that house called PowerHouse Recovery Program.

I believe in second chances and I want to help those who have struggled with alcoholism and addiction. It’s been amazing to see God work through these men at the house and how He’s changing their lives. My motivation was to help this house succeed as best as I could. And if I can’t give $100,000, but can help raise $100,000 then I wanted to do my part. I’m very proud of the money that we raised and believe that many men will be able to change their lives through this event. People can still donate to the cause at longestspeechever.com/donate.

Trevin Wax: How many people were involved in this event?

Zach Zehnder: We had over 50 people that put a ton of time into this event before it even started. They were doing everything from marketing, finding sponsors, figuring out tech stuff, logistics team, rules team, and medical team. We had about 500 people that stopped in to show support over the weekend and over 200 different witnesses and spectators during the weekend as well. I want to say a big “Thanks” to my church for all their hard work.

The Hobbit and the Video-Gamization of Movies

the-hobbit-battle-of-the-five-armiesMuch of The Hobbit was about as enjoyable as watching someone else play a high-definition video game. In other words, not very.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a Tolkien fan, and I enjoyed the opportunity to make a memory by seeing the final Hobbit movie with my oldest son, especially since we read the book together last year. I’m also a fan of Peter Jackson’s work, although my appreciation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been tempered by what he has done with The Hobbit.

Still, I wonder about the extent of gaming’s influence on movie-making. It won’t be long before we can play Lego Hobbit on the iPhone, and you’ll be able to step into the boots of these characters and battle the bad guys as long as you want.

Is this a good thing?

For many years, popular movies have been made into games. From Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, movies have transitioned to games, and with the forthcoming Angry Birds film, it looks like things are going the other way too. But after watching The Hobbit, I got the feeling that Jackson already anticipated the tie-in to gaming, and that he was deliberately crafting the film toward that end.

That’s why many of of the battle scenes felt like a gamer trying to defeat a monster in order to get to the next level and “beat the game.” It felt overdone, as if every individual battle had to be invested with maximum significance, which then led to moments of sheer unbelievability. (Dain the Dwarf king takes out orcs dressed in full armor by headbutting them? Seriously?)

Instead of epic battle scenes, we were given one-on-one encounters between heroes and villains. Legolas’ battle with one particular villain went on so long that my son looked over at me and said, “How long is it going to take?” He wasn’t enthralled; he was bored, in the way you’re bored waiting your turn for the controller.

I don’t want to give the impression that The Hobbit was horrible. The moment when Bard used his son to create a crossbow and send the fatal spear into the dragon was the best part of the film. It merged the excitement of a David and Goliath battle with the trust and confidence of a son in his father. Dragon-slaying may be common in myths and fairy tales, but Jackson’s flourishes in this moment enhanced the inherent drama of Tolkien’s original story.

And who isn’t inspired by the lowly dwarves finally being led by their King Thorin into battle after his change of heart? Or the sight of the shire’s luscious green hills after the cold and snowy battles at the mountain? In these moments, we’re reminded why the battles mattered, and we’re given a picture of virtue, self-sacrifice, courage, and peace.

The problem is, gaming can’t deliver any of that. So when we watch lengthy individual battles go on and on for two hours, we are watching the video-gamization (that’s a word now!) of movie-making squeeze out the whimsy and joy from The Hobbit as a story. In the end, we have a spectacle that delivers on special effects but misses the reason the battles matter in the first place.

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