For some time now, people have been rightly concerned about the trajectory of biblical literacy. Talking to those who have been teaching Bible/theology for many years, they all say that one of the greatest challenges they face is that people just don’t know the Bible like they used to. So they spend far more time teaching basic biblical literacy and consequently less time building on that foundation.
And it’s a real problem, one that affects people’s ability to understand the whole scope of what the Bible has to say, how that relates to individual stories and verses, and how all of it connects to the challenging issues that people face every day.
But it’s a problem that we will not solve by mastering Bible trivia.
I had a conversation a while back with someone who was a little frustrated after hearing a Bible teacher lament the decline of biblical literacy. The teacher had asked the study group a few questions, and after no one seemed the know the answers, made several comments about the state of the church and lack of attention to solid Bible teaching. But the person I was talking to was frustrated and confused because she had grown up in a church with solid Bible teaching and did not consider herself to be biblically illiterate. So what was going on?
The problem was that the teacher was focused more on mastery of Bible trivia than real biblical literacy. For example, one of the questions he asked was which gospel is the only one to record the parable of the workers in the vineyard (the one where they all get paid the same). I can’t remember all of the other questions, but they were along the same lines. For this teacher, failing to know details like this means that you don’t really know your Bible.
What’s your name? That seems like a relatively simple question. If someone asks, you probably have a ready answer. Maybe you have a few nicknames that complicate things a bit, but generally this is not one of the more challenging questions you’ll face today.
But when Moses asked God for his name, he got a little more than he bargained for.
In Exodus 3:14-15, we find a fascinating exchange between Moses and God about God’s proper name. Moses is about to go speak to the people in Egypt, and he wants to know what to tell them if they ask for God’s name. And this is God’s response.
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”* And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD,’ the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
So Moses asks for God’s name, and he gets three different responses? What’s going on here?
You can’t read more than a few paragraphs of Paul’s letters without bumping into something about Christians being “in Christ.” It’s so prevalent that many would say that it’s the most important theme in Paul’s theology, a concept you must grasp if you’re going to understand anything Paul says about salvation, the Christian life, or God’s plans for creation itself.
But there’s just one problem. No one seems to know what it means.
In steps Con Campbell with his book Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study (Zondervan, 2012). Campbell’s goal is to take another look at the biblical texts and see if we can work out what Paul means with this pivotal idea. And in the process he offers a thorough and insightful study of what it means to be “in Christ,” why that matters for how we read Paul, and, more importantly, how that shapes our view of salvation itself. Campbell’s book is a must-read for anyone looking to wrestle with these central issues.
Okay, so this video isn’t really a smackdown. And union with Christ vs. imputation probably doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of a cage match. But many people do think that if we emphasize our union with Christ as the central aspect of our salvation, we will end up downplaying imputation — that is, the “great exchange” between us and Jesus where we receive his righteousness and he takes on our sin.
According to Con Campbell, though, this is a false dichotomy. Rather than seeing the two in opposition to one another, we need to understand imputation as flowing out of our union with Christ. I’ll be reviewing Campbell’s book Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study later this week. Until then, here’s a short video of Campbell explaining how he understands the relationship between these two important concepts.
Every now and then someone comes along and helps you hear a familiar passage in a new way. Last week I was blessed with one of those opportunities. Sandra Richter, fellow newcomer to the faculty at Wheaton College, presented the following devotional as a reflection on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. And she’s graciously permitted me to post it here for your edification. Enjoy.
Further, Not Faster
If you have been so blessed as to have received an e-mail from me, you know that the signature line on my new Wheaton e-mail account includes an old African proverb:
“If you want to fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
I’ve placed it there because I want to remind myself, in this particular season of my life, of the wisdom that it teaches.