Over the years I have experienced scriptural fatigue. I have never doubted the Bible’s authority or ability to change sinners, but I have gone through phases where reading the Bible became a chore rather than a meaningful engagement with written truth. Overcoming this fatigue can be difficult at times. Patterns are hard to undo. What has truly helped me over the years is seeing the Bible through the lens of what God is doing in the world and our call as kingdom agents in it.
The Scriptures refresh our mission as actors in God’s theater. When the kingdom of God is seen as supreme than everything else is added, including a fresh love and perspective of God’s Word. When the Bible becomes a therapeutic, individualist manual, then love for its truth varies based on our shifting emotional status. But if the kingdom and God’s mission take a central role in our hermeneutics and reading, it may not solve our occasional fatigue, but it will reshape our view of reading and learning from God’s Word.
There is a venomous snake in the garden. While the great Messiah and his disciples enter the garden, a certain snake-like figure named Judas knows precisely where the faithful are. He enters the garden knowing that this was a place of constant fellowship and peace. But Judas is not a man of peace and his fellowship with the Messiah has been broken. He is now a man at war and his loyalty is with the darkness.
In the Garden of Eden, the Great Serpent entered the garden to bring about chaos; to tempt the first Adam. Indeed he was successful. The first Adam failed in his loyalty to Yahweh, being deceived by the serpent in the garden, and thus, thrusting all mankind into a state of sin and misery. Now in John 18, the New Serpent enters the garden. He is possessed by the same devil that possessed the serpent in Genesis. It is this precise battle that is unfolding before us in this text. The question is: “Who owns the garden?”
Does Judas with his new found commitment to darkness and evil own the garden or does Jesus own the garden? As the text reveals to us we see that Judas, the son of perdition, seems to have the upper hand in this sacred dispute. In verse 12 we read:
So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jewsarrested Jesus and bound him.
Jesus is arrested and bound. They take him out of the garden bound like a defeated enemy. Now, in every conceivable scenario, this would be the historical determination that Jesus has lost. But if the Messiah is to bring this unshakable and unmovable kingdom with his coming, then how does this binding, this apparent defeat in the garden connect with this glorious kingdom? The answer to this question is: paradoxically. The coming of the kingdom is paradoxical. The kingdom does not come in the way and in the expression that many expected.
Now if the kingdom of God comes paradoxically, in a way unknown to the first century, then there may be a different way of understanding this garden scene. In this text, Jesus is not being bound because of defeat; he is being bound because of victory. Jesus’ arrest is his release. His arrest is not his binding, it may appear to be, but it is ultimately the binding of the evil one, the father of lies, Satan himself. This is why the gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is the One who bound the strong man. He is the One who arrested the Serpent and dragged him out of the garden. Jesus owns the garden, not Judas or His master, Satan.
This arrest and this binding of Jesus in the garden is not a plan gone awry, it is exactly what has been planned. In one sense, this arrest is the cosmic Trinitarian conspiracy against the kingdoms of this world. When evil leaders and governments think they have the Son of Man trapped, he fools them. As Psalm 2 says, “God laughs at their plans.” The conspiracy of the cross is that the cross is Christ’s sword to defeat evil. But the serpent does not know this. He is virtually blinded to the Messianic plan and nothing will stop Jesus from conquering evil and bringing in a new world, a new creation. The garden belongs to him, because the garden is where his people gather, and eat, and fellowship. The garden is the sacred space, the place of peace. Make no mistake, we are a warring people, but we war against the enemies of Messiah. In the garden, the King, Master, and Messiah says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail. Death dies once and for all and victory will come and we will celebrate it this Sunday. Today, though we fast, it is only a prelude to our coming feast. Jesus’ death marks the end of the serpent’s sting of death.
Last night we had the honor of attending the send-off party for the Jordan family as they move to Birmingham, AL. Jim and Brenda Jordan have been dear friends of mine and my church community for some time. During my first three years as pastor I had the privilege of working side-by-side with Jim at Providence. He was especially encouraging in that first year. Not only did he add his tremendously musical gifts to our congregation, but his Sunday School series for those three years were life-changing.
Part of what Jim Jordan brings to the table is a life-long commitment to Sola Scriptura. He is, to borrow John Frame’s language, a true biblicist. He bleeds biblical theology. The fact that he does not simply repeat old slogans and the sheer fact that he is so innovative in the field of biblical theology make him a target to many.
His book Through New Eyes offers a profoundly rich theology of symbols; a theology, which if embraced, will make Bible studies not only fascinating, but will make the student of the Bible enlivened to read the Bible again and again and to find connections that affirm the remarkable onenes of biblical revelation.
Many have attached the hermeneutic of interpretive maximalism (Hence IMax.) to James Jordan’s theology. In his 1990 article What is Interpretive Maximalism, Jordan affirms that this hermeneutic contrasts with the minimalist interpreter. David Chilton is his famous Revelation commentary was the first to apply directly the rich nature of Jim’s theology to John’s inspired account. Jordan himself had already given a clear example of that hermeneutic in his Judges commentary, which Chilton references.
In fact, in his Judges commentary he contrasts his approach to the modern evangelical one:
“We have to explain this [i.e., the business about types and prophecies] in order to distance ourselves from the interpretive minimalism’ that has come to characterize evangelical commentaries on Scripture in recent years. We do not need some specific New Testament verse to `prove’ that a given Old Testament story has symbolic dimensions. Rather, such symbolic dimensions are presupposed in the very fact that man is the image of God. Thus, we ought not to be afraid to hazard a guess at the wider prophetic meanings of Scripture narratives, as we consider how they image the ways of God. Such a `maximalist’ approach as this puts us more in line with the kind of interpretation used by the Church Fathers.”
So, part of James Jordan’s controversial hermeneutic is an attempt to affirm the inherent beauty of the Old Testament narrative without depending on some New Testament affirmation. Further, as Jordan writes, IMax. offers a richer Old Testament narrative, since the typological images offer a fuller and more robust picture of Christ in the pages of the pre-AD 70 world.
Jordan sees the grammatico-historical interpretation to be valid, but incomplete without the aid of a rich biblical theology. And this was part of what led his break with some of the well-known theonomic figures. Jordan writes:
I think that those who take this kind of typology seriously are the only people doing justice to the Biblico-theological dimension of interpretation, and my criticism of the Bahnsen-Rushdoony type of “theonomy” is precisely that I don’t think they do justice to this dimension. In common with most of my teachers, I believe that the grammatico-historical “methods” of interpretation need to be complemented by Biblico-theological considerations, and that is what I have sought to do in my own work. (On “theonomy” see James B. Jordan, “Reconsidering the Mosaic Law: Some Reflections — 1988,” available from Biblical Horizons.)
In conclusion, James Jordan uses the term maximalist as a way of communicating that the Bible reader can gain more from the pages of Scripture than they can ever imagine. The Bible is given to us by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not waste his breath. His inspired data is not given simply to fill in empty space, but to provide a fuller and more beautiful portrait of the Gospel.
Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a
The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b.“ By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:
This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c
Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).
So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?
The answer is a resounding no!
There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:
First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?
Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.
Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.
Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”
Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d
Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.
Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.
Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.
Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.
Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.
This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.
For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at email@example.com.
See Terry Johnson’sThe History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph (back)
Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974 (back)
People of God, this is the first Sunday in Lent. And as we enter into this season we will take a look at Psalm 25. In fact, if you plan on meditating on a biblical book this Lenten Season, I encourage you to make your way through the Psalms several times. If you have been here at Providence for at least a couple of years you may be able to sing through about 25 of those psalms.
If we were to ask ourselves what is unique about the psalms, a good way to begin answering this question is by saying that “in the law and the prophetic writings, it is God who speaks to his people; in the Psalter, we listen to the saints speaking to God.” It is the language of God’s people. The reason the Psalms are so inviting is because it is the language of life, of worship, and of the deathbed. Geerhardus Vos wrote the following words: “Our Lord himself found his inner life portrayed in the Psalter and in some of the highest moments of his ministry borrowed from it the language in which his soul spoke to God, thus recognizing that a more perfect language for communion with God cannot be framed.” This morning we are called to place the psalms in front of you, and see the psalms as images of a Christ-centered people.
In the 25th psalm we see a man after God’s own heart. David’s trust, his many conflicts, his great transgression, his bitter repentance, and his deep distresses are all here.” The psalmist makes painful references to the skills and cruelty of his enemies. This is the lament of David under distress, and this is his response to the unfathomable pain he is enduring. But though we are looking at only the first ten verses, it is wise to keep this psalm together. David individualizes his pain in this section, but ultimately David is speaking on behalf of the bride. David sees his distress as the distress of God’s people, Israel. We get to that in the last verse of this song: “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.” David’s supplications are communal. As we consider this passage, do not forget that David is acting as Bride. David is us. He is the picture of redemption accomplished and applied in the midst of suffering; in the midst of grief; in divine guidance. Continue reading First Sunday in Lent: Psalm 25, David’s Distress and Deliverance→
Adherents of solo scriptura have not understood that “Scripture alone” doesn’t mean “me alone.” The Bible nowhere gives any hint of wanting every individual believer to decide for himself and by himself what is and is not the true meaning of Scripture. The classical Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura meant that Scripture is the sole final and infallible authority. It does not mean that the lone individual is the one to determine what that Scripture means. Scripture was given to the Church within a certain pre-existing doctrinal context that had been preached by the Apostles for decades. Solo scriptura denies the necessity of that context, and it denies the necessity of that Church. In doing so it denies Christ who established that Church and who taught that doctrine to His disciples. It is rebellion in the name of God against the authority of God for the sake of preserving the authority of man